Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not prime time yet, but . . .

Last month, bridge blogger Linda Lee posted with this catchy title: "Are bridge robots ready for prime time?" Her conclusion was that robots still have a lot to learn about bidding in contested auctions. She does say in the comment section that: "The next generation of robots could be scary good." You can read her piece here.

The World Bridge Series Championship just concluded in Philadelphia. I've seen lots of articles about the winners and the deals they played. Did I say lots of articles? I should say lots of articles about humans.

Computer programs (called robots or "bots" for short) had their championship, too. Robots from the U.S., Denmark, Japan, Germany, France and the Netherlands took part. They call it the World Computer-Bridge Championship and this was the 14th year the event has been held. It's sponsored jointly by the ACBL and the WBF. A team consists of four identical robots.

The winner in Philly was Jack (the Netherlands). It might just be a robot, but you can't say it doesn't know jack about bridge. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) In the 64-board final, Jack overcame a 45-IMP deficit with 12 boards to play and defeated Wbridge5 (France) in an exciting match.

Here's one of the deals that helped Jack mount its comeback:

A Q 10 6 2
A K Q J 10
A 7
9 6 4 3 2 A 5
9 8 K 7 5 3
9 2 7 4
Q J 10 4 K 9 8 3 2
K Q J 10 7
J 4
8 6 5 3
6 5

West North East South
Wbridge5 Jack Wbridge5 Jack
2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3
Pass 4 Pass 4
All Pass

At the other table, Wbridge5 played 3NT. This failed with a club lead. Jack played and made 4 with the same cards, for a 13-IMP pickup. At first, it looks like 5 might make, but Deep Finesse says that no other game makes for North-South.

The event coordinator, Al Levy of Commack NY, maintains the official web site that gives the history of the event. This great site,, has a comprehensive description of the event and many bridge articles on robotic play. I got the deal above from one of Al's reports. Go there and check it out.

Here's a link to an article by two programmers at Great Games that explains how computers play bridge (go here.)

You can read what Wikipedia says about computer bridge here.

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