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.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Robot Battles Part VI - All for the best

"Are you alive? … Prove it"

The opening lines of the BattleStar Gatlactica series.

This is the last of a series of posts on battling the BBO Robots, although the next posting will discuss notrump structure based on robot tourney experiences. The robots don't bid or play the best, but they might be the fastest method of testing a new bidding structure or complete system.

The robot tourneys give you the best hand, or at least a hand that has the most or equal number of high card points as any other hand at the table. This has certain implications for the bidding, but one has to tread carefully.

When you have the best of the best, you can open 2C, but you have to live with the robot getting to notrump first by bidding 2C-2NT, and now the system is awful, with all suit bids showing 5 or longer and the robot sometimes hiding support. When it goes 2C-2D you've dodged the 2NT response bullet, and will usually have a nice auction.

Having the worst of the best, a hand in the 11-13 range, gives you key information: nobody has a better hand. It robot partner overcalls, and you have an 11 count, you know that robot opener likely has a shapely 11 count to open, and that partner has a minimum overcall. There is no need to jump the bidding or cuebid here, as you can pass or manage the bidding to the right spot.

Likewise opening a "weak two" with a poor 12, or any 11, tends to work well since partner will not have many hands with game interest, and this usually gets to the right spot quickly, avoiding robot silliness that can occur on slow auctions. However opening a weak two with just a five card suit frequently fails, as the robot's decisions on when to compete or not to compete is erratic. When a robot opens a weak two against you, that erraticism can work for you, but the lack of "system on" after your 2NT and 3NT overcalls is painful.

When you open 1H or 1S on 11-13, the robot will tend to bid 1NT forcing since it usually doesn't have enough to force to game. It is dangerous to pass this (assuming you have the five card major promised), since the robot can easily have three card support and a shapely game invite hand. However the 1NT forcing structure is imperfect - I've had a robot bid 1S-1NT;-2D-3C on a 2-4-3-4, and the definition of 3C just says 4+Cs - the robots don't like to correct back to 2M on doubleton support. If the robot bids a 2/1 after 1H or 1S, it is never safe to pass it, even if robot is a passed hand - they love to hide support - for example, P-1S;-2D can easily have 3Ss. If the robots need any convention it is Drury, and it wouldn't hurt for them to read (scan) a book on 1NT forcing.

If you open 1C or 1D on 11-13, the weaker you are the stronger the temptation will be to pass robot's suit response. First remember by passing a new suit you are having "trick disposal" robot play the hand, and results tend to be less than the best. However if robot "partner" has already bid the major suit your side is going to play in, then passing an 11 or poor 12 count can at least keep robot at a makeable level, and the robot opponents tend not to balance on the auction 1m-1M;-P. If you don't know if you are in the right strain, then don't pass unless you are shooting for tops - then you might pass an auction like 1C-1S with a 11 count and 3 spades, hoping to catch five spades and a hand that would push too high if you had bid again.

After an inverted minors raise, 1m-2m, you can pass if minimum since partner will have a worse hand and you are playing it. Passing the inverted minor when 12-14 balanced tends to work poorly, since 2NT and 3NT will usually be a better scoring parking spot: after the inverted minor, bid 2NT on most balanced 12-14s, even though the system will tell you that 2NT is just 14 - give yourself 1 or 2 bonus points for being declarer. If your hand is minimum and unbalanced, passing the inverted minor is best, though occasionally responder is so shapely that five of a minor turns out to be a nice spot.

When robot opens and one is in the 12-13 range, opener is quite limited (equal or less high card points than you) even though he doesn't know you know that. When you can place the contract do so - for example after a 1M opening, with a good fit, don't bother with Jacoby, but just bid 4 of the major. Likewise if you open 1H or 1S on 11-13, and responder uses Jacoby, slam is quite unlikely with two minimum hands, so either just bid 4M even with shortness, or bid a fake shortness (e.g. 1M-2NT;3C showing singleton/void in clubs, then retreat to 4M) to sow the seeds of robot confusion.

Sometimes you can have quite a weak hand, which means the points are about even around the table, and you have a questionable opener. Never pass out - if need be reduce your amount of alcohol consumption. Actually there is one case, aside from 20 tequila shots, when you should consider passing out: doubleton or shorter in both majors, and 11 (or even 10, but never saw that) - on these the robots will often compete in a major, and it's hard to bring in a plus score.

Sometimes the robot will assume you have the best of the best, but you don't. For example it goes 4S-P-P-? to you, (4S by left hand robot). If you hover your mouse over various bids you will see that partner will assume a bid of 5C by you now has a lot of playing value. When I first started playing the robot tourneys, it would go 4S-P-P-5C(me);-P-6C-All Pass down one with lots of swearing by me. Now after playing thousands of hands, it goes 4S-P-P-5C(me, I'm not here to defend);-P-6C-All Pass, down one but no swearing, as I now know the robots have great earplugs.

If the robots were to take those earplugs out, and pass along some recommendations to the programming team, here are my top three:

1) Eliminate the Bot Tell (discussed in a previous post).
2) Only give the South hand the best hand 95% of the time, removing the certainty that everybody has a worst hand.
3) When North becomes declarer, rotate the hands temporarily in order that the non-robot plays all North-South contracts - as discussed on BBO forums this would make these individual contests (see previous post on this) even more a matter of skill.

The bridge crew of Battlestar Galactica believe that the Cylons plan to eradicate all human participation in order to increase the tourney's skill level, and have one of the "final five" robots reach 100,000 masterpoints first. To prevent this bot plot, please encourage the ACBL to keep the tourneys alive: let humans remain in the online robot tourneys.


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