In recent years there have been great strides in artificial intelligence (AI), with games often serving as challenge problems, benchmarks, and milestones for progress. Poker has served for decades as such a challenge problem. Past successes in such benchmarks, including poker, have been limited to two-player games. However, poker in particular is traditionally played with more than two players. Multiplayer games present fundamental additional issues beyond those in two-player games, and multiplayer poker is a recognized AI milestone. In this paper we present Pluribus, an AI that we show is stronger than top human professionals in six-player no-limit Texas hold'em poker, the most popular form of poker played by humans. Poker has served as a challenge problem for the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and game theory for decades (1). In fact, the foundational papers on game theory used poker to illustrate their concepts (2, 3). The reason for this choice is simple: no other popular recreational game captures the challenges of hidden information as effectively and as elegantly as poker. Although poker has been useful as a benchmark for new AI and game-theoretic techniques, the challenge of hidden information in strategic settings is not limited to recreational games.
Pluribus is the first AI bot capable of beating human experts in six-player no-limit Hold'em, the most widely played poker format in the world. This is the first time an AI bot has beaten top human players in a complex game with more than two players or two teams. We tested Pluribus against professional poker players, including two winners of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Pluribus succeeds because it can very efficiently handle the challenges of a game with both hidden information and more than two players. It uses self-play to teach itself how to win, with no examples or guidance on strategy. Pluribus uses far fewer computing resources than the bots that have defeated humans in other games. The bot's success will advance AI research, because many important AI challenges involve many players and hidden information. For decades, poker has been a difficult and important grand challenge problem for the field of AI.
The AI, called Pluribus, defeated poker professional Darren Elias, who holds the record for most World Poker Tour titles, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, winner of six World Series of Poker events. Each pro separately played 5,000 hands of poker against five copies of Pluribus. In another experiment involving 13 pros, all of whom have won more than $1 million playing poker, Pluribus played five pros at a time for a total of 10,000 hands and again emerged victorious. "Pluribus achieved superhuman performance at multi-player poker, which is a recognized milestone in artificial intelligence and in game theory that has been open for decades," said Tuomas Sandholm, Angel Jordan Professor of Computer Science, who developed Pluribus with Noam Brown, who is finishing his Ph.D. in Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department as a research scientist at Facebook AI. "Thus far, superhuman AI milestones in strategic reasoning have been limited to two-party competition. The ability to beat five other players in such a complicated game opens up new opportunities to use AI to solve a wide variety of real-world problems."
Among the many achievements of machine learning in recent years, some of the most striking are the victories of the machine against human players in games, such as Google's DeepMind group's conquest of Go in 2016. In such milestones, researchers are often guided by theoretical math that says there can be an optimal strategy to be found, given a good algorithm and enough compute. But what do you do when theory breaks down? Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook went back to the drawing board to solve "heads-up no-limit Texas hold'em," the most popular form of multiplayer poker in the world. Theory isn't computable for this form of the card game, so they designed some elegant search strategies for their computer program, "Pluribus," to beat the best human players in 10,000 hands of poker.
Don't simply "all in" if there's a bot at your Texas hold'em poker table, because Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University's new Pluribus AI system just beat five human pros at the same time -- including a couple of World Series of Poker Champs. AI models had already bettered human poker pros one-on-one, but Pluribus's success in a six-player game signals a huge leap in ability. Texas hold'em is one of the most popular poker variants that involves game theory, gambling, and strategy. To win the game, each play must assemble the best five cards from any combination of two "hole cards" dealt face down to each player and five community cards dealt face up. Players can choose to check, bet, call, raise, and fold.