Libratus Demoralizes Poker Pros in Heads-Up No Limit Hold ‘Em

[SS] “Oh, the humanity!” Stan the Stat moaned.

[LL] “Destruction of the Hindenburg zeppelin, 1937”,1 Leroy the Lion filled in.

[SS] “Destruction of the human poker player, 2017. Libratus just carved its name in the history books.”

Games Conquered by Computer Programs

Year Game Computer Program Human Champion[s]
1994 Checkers Chinook Martin Tinsley
1997 Othello Logistello Takeshi Murakami
1997 Chess Deep Blue Garry Kasparov
2011 Jeopardy! Watson Ken Jennings & Brad Rutter
2016 Go DeepMind several top players
2017 Heads-Up No Limit Hold ‘Em Libratus several top players

[RR] “And less than two years after we beat Claudico, right?” Roderick the Rock enjoined.

[SS] “Yes, a slightly different human team this time, but I don’t think it would have made a huge difference. Could have reduced the winning margin some, but Libratus was simply that much better than its dad.”

[LL] “I don’t know. The two best players from last time didn’t play this time.”

[SS] “The humans lost nearly 15% of a big blind per hand!2 Congratulations to the Carnegie Mellon programmers, Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown.”

Claudico and Libratus Results

Player vs. Claudico
April 24 to
May 8, 2015
(20,000 hands)
vs. Libratus
January 11 to
January 31, 2017
(30,000 hands)
Bjorn Li +529,033
Doug Polk +213,671
Dong Kim +70,491 -85,649
Jason Les -80,482 -880,087
Daniel McAulay -277,657
Jimmy Chou -522,857

[RR] “At least it was just heads-up No Limit Hold ‘Em. Maybe we can hang on for another decade in full-table Hold ‘Em.”

[SS] “I doubt it. I’m guessing we’ll be underwater by 2020.”3

[LL] “It may only depend on how much effort programmers put into the task. Their research has much broader utility.”4

[RR] “Watson went on to more useful work in lung cancer treatment, for example. Hopefully Libratus, or at least its algorithms, will too.”

[SS] “And help save humanity.”


  1. Radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison uttered those immortal words on WLS Chicago.
  2. The big blind was a constant 100 chips. Chip stacks were reset to 20,000 for each hand, so in theory, humans might still be better with bigger stacks (on the other side, small stacks are simpler for both sides).
  3. For those of you who missed it, and that would be almost all of you, Sealab 2020 was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon about living in the ocean that only lasted for a single season in 1972.
  4. On February 13, 2017, CMU Ph.D. student Noam Brown, who helped develop Libratus, conjectured, “I think that with some minor improvements to Libratus, you’d be able to see it beating humans at six-max within two years.”

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