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Humans narrowly beat computer in poker battle

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Two professional poker players narrowly beat a computer late Tuesday after four tense rounds that scientists called the world's first man-versus-machine poker championship.

Phil Laak and Ali Eslami, two poker players from Los Angeles ranked as the world's best, prevailed against a program named Polaris by just 570 points in the fourth and final game in the match.

Rows of weary-looking computer scientists and a few spectators watched the grueling poker battle in an overheated hotel conference room as it stretched on until 11 pm (0600 GMT) on Tuesday.

When the humans won, the room erupted in cheers.

"I really am happy it's over," said Eslami, 30, adding that playing against the computer was more exhausting than any previous game in his career.

Eslami, a former computer consultant, praised the machine and the computer scientists.

"I'm surprised we won.... it's already so good it will be tough to beat in future" as scientists make further improvements on Polaris' programming.

Much was riding on the tense last minutes of the fourth match because the previous three games over two days resulted in one draw and one win each for humans and the machine.

Scientists had billed the competition as a milestone for computer artificial intelligence, similar to the 1997 match in which a computer named Deep Blue beat Russian genius Garry Kimovich Kasparov at chess.

Darse Billings, a one-time professional poker player and lead architect of the Polaris team at the University of Alberta, said even though the program lost in the end it played "brilliantly."

Polaris showed scientists that it is possible for a computer to do well at the essentially psychological game of poker, he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we can beat them tomorrow," he said.

The competition was held as 1,000 scientists from around the world converged on this western Canadian city for a conference on artificial intelligence.

"I was expecting a draw," said computer scientist Michael Littman of Rutgers University in the United States.

Littman served as the official arbiter of the game and at the end declared the humans "clear winners."

Poker is a special challenge for computers -- which can already consistently beat humans at chess, checkers and backgammon -- because the gambling game includes deliberate deception, unpredictable emotions of opponents and elements of chance as well as mathematics.

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