Garry Kasparov is Mistaken about Poker
In an article on chess and computers for the New York Review of Books, chess super ultra grandmaster Garry Kasparov briefly mentions poker, and shows that he hasn't understood it.
The article is a well written and insightful treatment of manâs old dream of building machines that can think like humans.
After machine defeated man in chess (something that Kasparov can relate extremely accurately, being the man who was defeated), the efforts of artificial intelligence researchers and computer programmers have turned to other games.
Poker being one of the main points of interest for this endeavor at the moment, in the end of the article Kasparov is naturally led to touch upon the subject of poker and poker playing computers.
His view of the Fine Game of Poker is not as educated as the rest of the article. Kasparov seems to drastically underestimate the theoretical complexity of poker:
âPoker is now everywhere, as amateurs dream of winning millions and being on television for playing a card game whose complexities can be detailed on a single piece of paperâ
Please show me that paper, Garry! For me itâs taken several pages just to explain some of the basics of poker theory.
In this passage, Kasparov's description of poker is partly correct:
â...poker has hidden cards and variable stakes, creating critical roles for chance, bluffing, and risk management.â
Fair enough, but Kasparov forgets decision making. In his article he talks about âusing the decision-making process of chess as a model for understanding and improving our decision-making everywhere elseâ.
It should be clear to anyone that poker is a much better model of human decision making than chess. With its many layers of unknown variables, poker mimics the decision making situation of the real world.
Chess on the other hand, with its complete information, is very unlike most real situations and more of a curious exception in the area of decision making.
Eventually, Kasparov opens up a small window for poker as something useful for human society:
âPerhaps the current trend of many chess professionals taking up the more lucrative pastime of poker is not a wholly negative one. It may not be too late for humans to relearn how to take risks in order to innovate and thereby maintain the advanced lifestyles we enjoy. And if it takes a poker-playing supercomputer to remind us that we can't enjoy the rewards without taking the risks, so be it.â
Amen to that, but why such a condescending tone? Poker is a fine, fine game, no need to treat it as a necessary evil.
I love chess, and I have an enormous respect for Garry Kasparov both as a chess thinker and a sensible intellectual. But what he says on poker in this article just isnât good enough.
Do your homework, Garry!