NASCAR Team up with the World Poker Tour while Artificial Intelligence Breaks New Barriers

This week sees a wide-ranging set of stories hitting the industry headlines, with NASCAR, the WPT and Artificial Intelligence all in the mix…

By: Andrew Burnett

NASCAR and WPT Charity tournament heads online

We’ll kick off with news that the annual NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Memorial High Speed Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament will be moving online for 2021, with the World Poker Tour’s online sweepstakes-based poker platform, ClubWPT™ playing host on January 11th.

Phil Hellmuth and Maria Ho will be joining actor Michael Rooker as well as a number of NASCAR legends, including Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr and Brad Keselowski to raise funds for charity.

“This year has certainly presented its challenges,” NASCAR Foundation Chairman Mike Helton stated.

He added: “But it has also created new opportunities and we are very excited to host our first virtual poker tournament allowing greater participation as we raise funds to help the children in our racing communities.”

Adam Pliska, CEO of the World Poker Tour, said of the move to virtual poker: “The World Poker Tour looks forward to extending its online poker partnerships on ClubWPT with The NASCAR Foundation for this event. Philanthropy is top of mind at the WPT®, and the WPT Foundation along with its $27 million raised since 2012, is partnering with The NASCAR Foundation to raise awareness for a great cause and provide a safe environment to play.”

The six player final table, to be held at a later date, is expected to include two NASCAR drivers, one poker pro, one celebrity and two qualifiers.

Money raised will benefit The NASCAR Foundation’s Speediatrics Children’s Fund, and the top 3 finishing driver’s in the tournament will see $25k, $15k and $10k respectively going to the charity of their choice.

More details can be found at

The robots are still coming…

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long been discussed in the poker world, for many spelling the eventual death knell of the game, for others opening up a wide new world of understanding and knowledge.

A new AI bot, known as ReBel and designed by Facebook, has broken new ground with the ability to play both poker and chess – two games which are considered widely divergent when it comes to computers learning them.

Chess, a game of ‘perfect information’, recently saw AlphaZero conquer all machines that came before it – after teaching itself to play from scratch and mastering the game within mere hours.

Poker, however, as a game of ‘imperfect information’ has proved much more difficult for a machine to master, although certain versions have seen the bots outplay humans on recent years.

ReBel is set to prove that an AI bot can master both fields, already showing expertise in HUNL (Heads-Up No Limit Hold’em) and a game known as Liar’s Dice.

The algorithm was described by Facebook as “as a major step toward developing universal techniques for multiagent interactions, and thus as a step toward complex real-world applications like fraud detection and cybersecurity.”

Poker bot professor awarded prestigious AI prize

Continuing the AI theme, Tuomas Sandholm, the man behind the poker-playing AI bot ‘Pluribus’, has been awarded the ‘2021 Robert S. Engelmore Memorial Lecture Award from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) in recognition of his AI research and his service to the AI community.’

Sandholm, along with his student at Carnegie Mellon University, Noam Brown, devised the poker bots Claudico, Libratus and Pluribus.

Though a team of pros, including Doug Polk, won against Claudico, the later version called Libratus won $1.7million from four strong poker pros in the rematch.

Sandholm’s AI then  moved on from Heads-Up play to win at 6-max, the Pluribus version defeating pros including Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Darren Elias.

Poker is only a small part of the AI’s brief, however, and Sandholm’s award cites him for ‘outstanding research contributions in AI, its application to electronic marketplaces, his highly original use of AI in strategic multi-player games such as poker and the application of AI to optimize transplant organ exchanges.’


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