Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Poker vs Chess

Earlier, we posted this item about computers, chess and poker. The post provoked a couple of exchanges with a contribution by former chess player Bradley Loh. But now another poster has waded in and he has some interesting things to say. We think it worthwhile to give that a response a post of its own.

If poker is easier than chess, can you tell me why it takes chess players so much longer to become elite players than it does poker players? There are poker players who only began to play seriously several years ago that now dominate the tournament circuit. The Grinder comes to mind. Can you name a single top level chess player that did it in five years? Such a thing is *IMPOSSIBLE* in chess. What about in ten years? In fifteen? In 20? A rare breed can do it in 20. A true prodigy in fifteen. The best chess players without exception begin to seriously study the game before age ten and the vast majority do not reach grandmaster level until in their 20's on average. Another few years to reach the very top (there are about 1000 grandmasters in the world).

The idea that because a computer can play chess better than poker means chess is easier is utter stupidity. Computers can do differential equations too. Does that mean poker is harder than a career in math? Computers also don't experience emotion. Does that say something about the difficulty of humans to feel emotion? Is it "difficult" to feel emotions? Some effort involved? No, it's just something we have innately that computers do not possess. There are elements of poker that require abilities beyond that of a computer. This says nothing about how "difficult" it is master poker.

The amount of time and effort it becomes to be a world-class chess player dwarfs that required to become a world-class poker player which is easily proven and does indicate that for humans, chess is far more difficult than poker.

4 comments:

Winawer said...

There seems to be some confusion in the linked post as to why poker and chess might be hard for computers or humans. The main problem for computers is that poker is a game of imperfect information, while chess is a game of perfect information. Perfect information is a term from game theory, which means that information about other players' actions is available to all other players immediately and in full. In chess, you see all of the moves that the other player makes, and s/he can see yours. In poker this is not the case. In draw poker, for example, the cards that you discard cannot be seen by the other players, and so they do not have perfect information about your actions. For a computer, this is a difficult state of affairs to deal with. Humans are skilled at dealing with situations like this by inferring probabilities from the other players' demeanour or actions (the 'tells' that poker players try not to make) or knowledge from reputation or repeated interaction. But a computer has no such abilities. Even in the absence of such external clues, poker is a simple game when compared to chess; the odds of each hand occuring are manageable to learn through relatively limited experience (compared to chess), which puts the human on an equal footing with anything the computer can do.

When it comes to chess, the computer has an advantage because it is a game of perfect information. In principle, if enough computing power could somehow be tapped chess could be completely solved by a computer (which is not practically possible before the death of the universe with our current or any foreseeable technology, but that's not the point :-). Humans have nowhere near the brute force calculating ability that computers have, so to reach the top levels a human must absorb thousands of chess patterns and be able to use them in effective ways. This takes many years.

Effectively the problem can be stated as this:

- With more speed and memory, a computer becomes better at accessing the perfect information of chess.

- No matter how much speed and memory a computer has, it cannot break the barrier of imperfect information in poker.

Chess is easier than poker for a computer. Chess is harder than poker for a human. There ya go. :-)

This comes with a caveat, however; unless you're pessimistic with regards to A.I., it is entirely plausible that there will one day be computers agile enough to read social cues and react to them like a human would (e.g. if we can construct a computer that can pass the Turing Test in face-to-face interactions). When this happens, poker will become much more accessible to computers and all bets will be off. Yes, I meant that pun. :-)

Bradley Loh said...

"If poker is easier than chess, can you tell me why it takes chess players so much longer to become elite players than it does poker players? "

Whether something takes longer than another is no indication as to whether it's more difficult. To add the numbers 1+2+3 ... +99+100 manually takes a long time. Carl Gauss, as a boy, did this sum very quickly by noticing it was 100*101/2. His insight was more difficult. Didn't take as long

"The idea that because a computer can play chess better than poker means chess is easier is utter stupidity. Computers can do differential equations too. Does that mean poker is harder than a career in math? "

I am a Mathematician, and would say a career in poker is harder than a career in maths. Because dealing with people's behavior is harder than dealing with facts.

"Computers also don't experience emotion. Does that say something about the difficulty of humans to feel emotion? Is it "difficult" to feel emotions?"

Totally missing the point. Of course we all feel emotions, which is not difficult. However, we do not all READ other people's emotions very well. This is the difficulty, and what poker is largely about.

Anonymous said...

I started playing poker since I was 10 and chess since I was 8 . I consider both games difficult and even.

Chess is a game easy to learn , very difficult to Master.
Poker is easy to learn and difficult to master .
Difference: in poker you never know how good you are .

Chess : The article sais there are only 1000 grandmastes in the world .

In poker only 5% can make money and the elite players is a small group of maybe 200 people .

Difference: the bad player in chess gives up eventually, in poker he don't know how bad he plays .

Chess takes 20 years two master
Poker takes 5 .

The difference : in chess you entering I completely new , non realistic world of pawns and bishops . In poker you apply skills from your life like reading people . Both if you don't have the skills you can not be successful for living.

In chess you require a high mental skill in logic and a lot of reading.
In poker you need to use logic , physiology , sociology . determination .... and lots more .

Conlusion :

Both Poker and Chess are difficult . The fact that a computer can a poker player fascinates me a lot . Chess pleyers can win the computer by using imagination . Eventually they won't be able to do it . It takes a lot do time for a computer to beat a human in poker. It seems to be an easy game but the sky is the limit . In a chess game their are 8x8 squares and 32 pawns . In Poker the information you process are infinite . Because some players use 2 and a good player 18 doesn't mean that poker can not be more complicated. For every move in poker there is a response and there is not such a think as a perfect play . You can always do better. I can't say the same for chess.

Anonymous said...

"It takes a lot do time for a computer to beat a human in poker. It seems to be an easy game but the sky is the limit . In a chess game their are 8x8 squares and 32 pawns . In Poker the information you process are infinite."

The number of possible Chess games is estimated to be 10^120 The number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be 10^80.

Computers have to crunch through millions of Chess positions to come up with a good move. Humans use intuition, long term planning and pattern recgnition to reduce the number of positions they have to search. But there's no denying the superior complexity of Chess.