This blog provides supplementary thoughts and ideas to the site. If you haven't seen the main site, there is a lot there including the Martel and Rodwell interviews, photos, and articles. This blog is focused on advancing bridge theory by discussing the application of new ideas. All original content is copyright 2009 Glen Ashton.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Robot Battles Part I - Pay Attention

This is the first of a series of posts (some of them mini-posts) on battling the BBO Robots. There's some recent discussion on BBO robots on (gasp!) the BBO forums:

Adam Meyerson (awm on BBO) said it well here:

… the competition is between human players, who are sitting in the same seat and playing with equally good (or bad) robot partners. This is essentially a pure form of individual tournament, and it does measure the caliber of play of a particular human when compared to the other competing humans. In principle even if GIB played quite poorly, this would still be a fair event because the humans compete against each other.
The Robot tourneys are actually human tourneys, with humans competing against each other for masterpoints. These tourneys have allowed for individual events to return to the bridge scene, and given partnership complications everybody has, this would make bridge even more accessible to the public.

The most important success factor in the robot tourneys is to pay attention - count all the suits, watch all the discards, know what is going on as best as you can figure out. As an experiment, albeit one that I knew how it would likely turn out, on Saturday evening, I played in some tourneys, but at the same time I was handing out candies, watching a TV movie and hockey games, and doing online surfing. In short my results suffered by 10 to 30% (yikes!). This happened even though I was playing the hands slower due to all the interruptions.

The robots can be tricky - if one is doing a squeeze against most opponents in real life, you tend to come down to the squeeze card, there is a squirm as the opponents decide what to discard, and it is easy to read the end position. Against the robots, they tend to see a squeeze coming up a few cards before, and will dump an important card early, in case you are not paying attention.

As a result of this one factor, I will now use Robot tourneys both for preparing for live tourneys and, assuming net access, at the live tourneys themselves. For the prep work, I believe playing many hands in the few weeks before a tourney makes one sharper. If you are not warmed up, then you waste too much mental energy on rote hands as you are not accustomed to triaging your hands: which ones are rote, which one require some thinking, which ones are complex.

When I go to a live tourney I tend to be, well, brain dead in the morning. Even for the Robot tourneys, the first one of the day I would usually have some sort of horrendous mistake, before I started to pay proper attention. For the live tourneys I used to try to kibitz part of a morning event, in order to get my bridge brain back. However kibitzing is a slow process for a zombie.

Now the next time I go to a live tourney, I plan to play one or two robot tourneys a couple of hours before playing the live bridge. That will take me 25 or 50 minutes, but now when I later play the live bridge, I'm back to paying attention. It's one or two dollars of online bridge, that's like buying a cup of coffee to wake up!

And next up: the "tell" of the robots - how to make your finesses!


  • At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Chris Hasney said…

    Interesting Concept -- Triage of bridge hands. I'll have to incorporate it into my lessons when I return to teaching next year. It's a bit like Steve Bruno's use of a cute term "Bridge Pod" to describe one's teammates at Swiss or KOs. (From his book "Team Tactics.")

  • At 7:54 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said…

    Great post. Very interesting.

  • At 8:57 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said…

    I just played in a Robot Race (for the first time), so I could relate to your next post. Those things are wild and woolly!

  • At 11:14 AM, Blogger Joe and Cheryl said…

    It is a rationalization to claim all is equal because everyone faces the same complex system. That is only true if everyone knows the complete and minute intricicies of that system. Example: "My" robot yesterday failed to bid with, and later passed the opponents 2 diamonds contract in balancing seat, holding seven hearts to the AKQ and nothingin diamonds....This after I had properly overcalled one spade. The robot was willing to bid only for partners who passed. How could anyone predict that?

  • At 7:33 AM, Blogger Joe and Cheryl said…

    Now, I do love Bridgebase and playing with robots...and recommend it to my friends highly...BUT, with the warning that luck plays a lot more into it than with a dependable partner.

    A few examples: The robots' 1NT forcing is as bad as a psych...With me, they've done it with 3 points and also with an opening hand...Preempts range from opening hands to trash...Yesterday, it refused to let me play my 9 card suit (first I've ever had) going bid for bid up to 7 with its own puny 6 card suit...It regularly refuses to support my major suit with 4 card support, often rebidding its own puny 5 card major...It will double opponents with lengthy (and unbid) support for my suit and 1 or 2 points with nothing in the opponents suit, but also with a trump stack so you never know what's happening...they commonly refuse to bid a 6 or 7 card suit after I've made a takeout double...etc, etc. And these "quirks" force even a knowing partner to consider unsound bids to compensate.

    Now, I live with this and see that others deal with similar problems...just NOT the same problem at the same time. Bidding can just never be that precise. And the whims and intricacies of the robots' system are too minute, and esoteric for even skilled players in most specific cases, so there's more luck involved in each hand. True, over the long run, the skills of a player will prevail, but, pardoxically, each hand is more of a crap-shoot.

    It's odd that absolutely consistent bidding, with essentially unknowable minute variations, can add up to unpredicictible bidding and show up as "luck" for a player. But even if a player could fully fathom these minute variations, it would add up to what some might say is an unfair (and "non-bridge" related) advantage over opponents! You would then know their "partner's" oddities better than they would.

    Robots are great but it's a different game than points earned in a local bridge club.

  • At 9:59 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said…

    Now the next time I go to a live tourney, I plan to play one or two robot tourneys a couple of hours before playing the live bridge.

    I played in a live poker tournament over the weekend. Before going, I played in a cheap Sit and Go (online) to warm up -- same idea as what you said about bridge.


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