1997 Baron Barclay World Computer Bridge Championship

Computer Bridge is Catching On, Bit by Bit

by Alvin Levy

It started with a note from Alan Truscott asking me why the computer competition planned for the 1996 spring Philadelphia NABCs didn't take place, and ended with the Baron Barclay World Computer Bridge Championship, held during this summer's North American Bridge Championships in Albuquerque. I shouldn't say ended - as this is just the beginning of many future bridge promotional events involving computer bridge.

The computer contest scheduled for the spring 1996 NABC didn't take place because - well - no one took it seriously. With the long term promotional opportunities associated with computer bridge in mind, I submitted a motion at the 1996 fall Board meeting to hold the first ACBL computer competition and software demonstration. The motion passed and the league allocating $3,000 towards the activity (renting four computers at the tournament site cost over $1,000). I discussed my ideas with CEO Roy Green and volunteered to organize and run the activity. Roy said yes and put at my disposal key ACBL personnel. I was off and running.

Up to that point I had never even tried one of the computer bridge programs, so I tracked down bridge program reviews, including those by Bulletin editor Brent Manley, Jim Loy, and Kathy Anday-Fallenius. I picked up some of the bridge software, added SoftWindows and memory to my Mac, and took a first hand look at some of the current bridge software. In time I e-mailed, called, and wrote to the owners of the top reviewed programs, including Tom Throop, developer of Bridge Baron 7 (BB7), Matt Ginsberg, developer of GIB (Goren in a Box), Dr. Rodney Ludwig, developer of Meadowlark Bridge, Tomio & Yumiko Uchida of Japan, developers of Micro Bridge 8 (MB8), Johannes (Hans) Leber of Germany, developer of Q-Plus Bridge (Q+), Bob Richardson, developer of BridgeMate 2 (BM2), and Doug Bennion of Canada, developer of Bridge Buff 4.0 (bbuff), along with some other lesser programs that chose not to make an entry.

Early on I brainstormed with Tom Throop, Fred Gittelman (developer of Bridge Master, the best bridge single-dummy software), and Matt Ginsberg. I then cornered Randy Baron at the 1997 spring NABC in Dallas, babbled something about a computer bridge contest, and got him to sponsor the event. I think he was just so busy that he didn't quite understand what I was saying and just nodded to get rid of me. All kidding aside, Randy was enthusiastic from the start, and even though all I had was a plan, Randy was in.

Entrants were sought and the event was publicized in various bridge publications. In the international press, thanks to the tireless Henry Francis, who is the current International Bridge Press Association president; in the Bridge Bulletin, thanks to bright newcomer to the editorial staff, Paul Linxwiler; in The Bridge World, thanks to Jeff Rubens and Edgar Kaplan, and on bridge e-mail lists, thanks to Adam Wildavsky.

After some organizational plans, such as devising the different contests, coordinating with meeting service Director Nancy Foy on the space available to us in the Convention Center, discussing computer rental arrangements and the making of a banner with Jeff Johnston, printing the promotional script good for Baron Barclay books and supplies, I was ready - maybe - for the ACBL to host their first official world computer bridge competition. The activities would run from Monday, July 28th through Friday, August 1st, thanks to all these people, and special thanks to my wife Beverly, not only for her greatly appreciated help, but for her encouragement.

So off I went to Albuquerque with my many planned activities, not having a clue what was going to happen. Would everyone show up? How were we going to run a human versus computer IMP Pairs game? There were some technical points to agree on. For example, a computer cannot choose from the options spelled out in the Laws in situations where their human opponents have a penalty card or make an insufficient bid. We agreed that in all such situations the infraction would be corrected without penalty and unauthorized information would be invoked. I haven't yet checked with Edgar on his views in this matter, but I just know that he will be able to find a current rule that addresses this situation.

The computer bridge challenges started with a 2-session computer versus human IMP Pairs game, scored barometer style. BM2 and bbuff can't stop from peeking at their partner's and opponent's cards during the play. So rather than risk a C&E hearing they withdrew from the main contest but did enter the separate bidding contest. Each computer program entry played as a NS pair, and human players were the EW pairs. At each table the computer operator sat North or South with his computer on a separate side table. Including the computer operator there were four people at each table, so it looked like an ordinary game, with all the players holding cards, using their bidding boxes, and playing the cards - only the NS pair were not using their own judgments, but rather getting their bids and plays from the computer, while the EW human pairs bid and played normally (except they called out their bids and plays to make it easier for the computer operator to make the entries).

Before play each round the computer would study the opponents convention card (the opponents convention card is input into the computer). The procedure for alerts was different from an all human game. Since the computer knew the humans conventions there was no need for the humans to alert. On the other hand, when the computer made a bid that was alertable, the bid was immediately explained by the operator.

The 2-session event, using hands from the Miami IMP pairs championship, got started without much delay thanks to NABC manager Jeff Johnston. Jeff set up and maintained our computers, ran extension cords to every table, and 101 other things, even before we knew what we needed. Also, many thanks to National Director, Solly Weinstein, for his enthusiasm and for directing such a smooth game. The human opponents appeared to enjoy the experience, with many of the better players fascinated with any good contracts and plays made by the computer. Witness the experience of Kathleen Burt and Robert Harken (2nd place EW finishers in the second session). Playing boards 13, 14, and 15 (hands from the Miami NABC IMP Pairs) against MB8, operated by David Yates, they expressed excitement at the end of the round over the fine computer play.

Board 13     S 10 6 3

Dlr N          H  J 8 4 2

Vul Both     D  Q J 3

                  C   7 6 2

S A K 8                  S Q 9 2

H A 7 5 3               H 10 6

D 10 6                     D K 9 8

C K Q 5 4               C A J 10 8 3

                S  J 7 5 4

                H  K Q 9

                 D A 7 5 4 2

                C  9

MB8         MB8

N       E      S       W

P       P       P       1NT

P      3NT   all P

North/MB8 led the DQ against 3 NT, and South/MB8 overtook Dummy's DK, and apparently realizing that the suit couldn't run even if North had the DQ J 10, shifted to the HK, holding West to 9 tricks. E/W were impressed even if the play only saved 1 IMP.

Board 14        S 10 8 7

Dlr E              H Q 10 6

Vul None       D A 8 2

                     C Q 10 7 3

S A Q 9 5 2                      S 6

H K J 4 3                          H A 9 8 7 5 2

D Q 3                               D 9 7 6 5 4

C 9 8                                C 2

                    S  K J 4 3

                    H  ---

                    D  K J 10

                    C  A K J 6 5 4

N    E      S     W

       P     1C    1S

2C  P     4C     P

5C all P

West led the SA, and now had enough respect for MB8 that he didn't believe the S4 false card of South/MB8, and led the S9 at trick two, giving partner a ruff and hoping for a H return away from partner's HA. Good try, but declarer ruffed the return. After pulling trump MB8 led the DJ. West can think as long as he likes and not give away the position to MB8 (although his partner can't use the information). West took his time deliberating the possibilities - one possibility considered was that MB8 might be taking a backwards finesse, playing him for most of the high cards, and another possibility was the routine attempt to encourage an erroneous cover. West chose the losing play of covering. Maybe the computer can be made more human by having it emit a snicker when it hoodwinks an opponent.. After the hand was over West asked what would have happened if he hadn't covered. In real life an opponent can answer but you can't be sure of his truthfulness. If you ask the computer it doesn't lie. Backing up and replaying the trick without West covering, MB8 went up with the DA and took the percentage play, based on the spade division, of finessing against East.

Board 15 was a routine slam bid by most of the field in the Miami NABC IMP Pairs, and MB8 got it right. Kathleen and Robert were impressed, at least for this set of boards.

Q+ led the field after the first session (20 Boards) by a 26 IMP margin, and held on to its lead after the second session (15 Boards). Second and third overall finishers were BB7 and MB8. The latter two played a semi-final 24 board head-to-head match to determine which program would meet Q+ in the final match. BB7 survived the semi-finals in comfort, and met Q+ in the final match, which was worth an additional $500 to the winner and $250 to the loser. With three boards to go in the final match the programs were tied. BB7 picking up 22 IMPs on the last three boards and was declared the winner.

$2,150 in prize money went to the competing programs for session awards, ‘best hand’ awards, a separate bidding contest (won by Q+), and a play contest (not completed). Congratulations to the K/O champ BB7 and second place finisher Q+. While all the programs won some prize money, Q+ was the big winner with $800, followed closely by BB7 with $700, and MB8 with $500.

Congratulations to humans Newton Brightwell and Marilyn Wolff, from Westport, CT, for placing first in the first session of the IMP Pairs, and Harvey Wolfe and Judith Simon, from Boca Raton, FL, for placing first in the second session. My wife Beverly and Toyoko Shibutoni formed a new partnership, and finished second in the first session. Players played for free but could only play in one of the two sessions. Every player received a gift certificate and high finishers also received masterpoints. In addition, $1,000 in gift certificates, good for Baron Barclay books and supplies, were given to the people that came to the computer software demonstrations and to the human players that took part in the human versus computer IMP Pairs game. Randy Baron and I wanted to support the young players that attended the tournament, so just before leaving on Saturday morning Beverly and I could be seen hunting down unsuspecting young people (Junior players and bridge playing caddies) who want to read a bridge book (and not all did). We gave them gift certificates toward a book of their choice.

Other companies have expressed a desire to co-sponsor next year's events, which I am already planning. Other computer competitions will take place sooner. Possibly a Juniors versus computer team match. In addition, we will be making a contribution to the Junior program on behalf of the participants and sponsors.

On a personal note, all the time, effort, and fear of the unknown outcome was worth it. I had a wonderful time working with so many motivated people. I hope that this activity will be the beginning of a dialogue between a great number of people from around the world who are involved with computers and bridge, and will help to accelerate the progress already made in computer bridge software - as well as promote bridge throughout the world.

Prize money

IMP pairs, humans versus computers, Challenge

1st session 2nd session Overall Finish

1. Q+ $100. MB8 $100. Q+ $300.

2. MB8 $50. Meadowlark $50. MB8 $150.

3. BB7 $25. GIB $25. BB7 $75.

Championship K/O Challenge

1. BB7 $500.

2. Q+ $250.

3. MB8 $125.

Bidding Challenge

1. Q+ $150.

2. BB7 $100.

3/4. MB8 $25.

3/4. BM2 $25.

Round Robin Play Challenge, Match award

GIB $50.

Special Awards

Best Declared Hand MB8 $50.

Q+ $800.

BB7 $700.

MB8 $500.

GIB $75.

Meadowlark $50.

MB2 $25.

bbuf $0.

total prize money $2,150.

Competing Programs Principal Company Name e-mail

Micro Bridge 8 Tomio Uchida Tomio & Yumiko Uchida mcbridge@tky.threewebnet.or.jp

Bridge Baron 7 Tom Throop Great Games Products brbaron@erols.com

Meadowlark Bridge Rodney Ludwig Meadowlark Software meadowlark@rrnet.com

Q-Plus Bridge 4.4 Johannes Leber Q-Plus Software GmbH 100675.1114@CompuServe.com

GIB Matt Ginsberg Ginsberg@cirl.uoregon.edu

Bidding Contest only

BridgeMate 2.16 Bob Richardson BridgeMate bobr@aa.net

Bridge Buff 4.0 Doug Bennion BridgeWare bbuff@bridgebuff.com

Sponsor Randy Baron Baron Barclay baronbarclay@baronbarclay.com

Organizer Alvin Levy allevy@aol.com

 back to District 24's Home Page