The Baron Barclay/OKbridge World Computer Bridge Championships II


by Alvin Levy

The ACBL hosted the second World Computer Bridge Championships, held at the Chicago summer NABCs.  The seven best computer programs from around the world competed.  Matt Ginsberg's GIB program was the big winner.

Can a computer play bridge at the expert level?   Will the world soon witness the equivalent of IBM's Deep Blue beating chess world champion Garry Kasparov?   While expert play may still be a few years off, the computer play at the 'Computer World Championships' in Chicago suggest that, in the near future, players at every level will have an entertaining alternative to playing against humans.

Up to recently, beginning and intermediate players have used these programs either as a diversion - playing when alone, or to learn from lesson hands, or to just practice.   While many of the programs on the market have good graphics, allow for storage of favorite hands, and contain built-in lessons, published reviews have rated the best of them as playing no better than at an intermediate level.

In order to promote computer bridge activities that might accelerate the development of these programs and to generate greater interest in computer bridge playing, a 'World' computer championship competition was initiated. At my request, the ACBL approved an official 'Championship' to take place at an NABC once a year.  I then organized and ran the Baron Barclay World Computer Bridge Championships at the 1997 summer NABCs in Albuquerque.  With bragging rights and cash prizes at stake, the competition attracted the leading programs from around the world. Bridge Baron 7 was declared the champion beating out Q-plus Bridge on the last few boards of the finals.

This year's championships, held at the Chicago NABCs, were sponsored by Baron Barclay Bridge Supplies and OKbridge.  Participants representing seven programs came from around the world to compete. Tomio and Yumiko Uchida, from Japan, entered Micro Bridge 8  Hans Leber, from Germany, entered Q-plus Bridge .  Michael Whittaker, from England, entered Blue Chip Bridge.  From the USA, Rodney Ludwig entered Meadowlark Bridge Don Farwell entered Bridge Baron 8, Matt Ginsberg entered GIB and Rolf Wilson entered Bridge Genii.

All rules, conditions of contest, and formats of competition were discussed and agreed upon in advance by all the participants.   Official conditions of contest included the types of computers to be used and computer 'thinking' time allowed per deal.   Also, all Convention Cards were exchanged in advance. Isn't e-mail wonderful?! I acted as the official Coordinator during the week long activities, coordinating conditions of contest, schedules of events, and overseeing all activities.  Sol Weinstein was the Director, supplying all the hand records in a new computer file format that was specifically created for this contest and will be the standard for future activities.  A three-judge panel, consisting of Chip Martel, John Solodar, and Kit Woolsey, was established to settle all 'appeals' that might arise.

The contest began on July 24th with a 10-board/match round robin scored on a 20 Victory Point scale, with the top four programs advancing to the semifinals.

The four programs surviving the round robin were:

GIB                    95

Q-plus Bridge     78

Bridge Baron 8   71

Micro Bridge 8   60

GIB won all its round-robin matches, with its match against Micro Bridge 8 being the closest at +4 IMPs. In that match Micro Bridge 8 gained 7 IMPs on a hand that demonstrated fine declarer play against best defense. At one table GIB played comfortably in 3D, making +130, while at the other table Micro Bridge 8 bid aggressively to a good 4S contract.

Dlr: West

Vul: N/S

K 4

K Q 9 3 2

J 10 7

8 4 2

10 7

10 8 7

K 9 6 5 3 2


A J 9 6 5

A 6

A 4

J 10 7 6

Q 8 3 2

J 5 4

Q 4

Q 9 5 3

West North     East South    
MicroBr1 GIB1 MicroBr2 GIB2
Pass Pass 1S Pass
2D Pass 2S Pass
3S Pass 4S All Pass

South led the C5 (third best).  At trick two the S10 was led, S4, S5, SQ.   North could cover with the K, trying to promote a trump trick in partners hand, or preserve the K to overruff dummy when a fourth club is led.  As North, GIB1 made the winning play of the S4, as declarer could make four clubs, two diamonds, one heart, and three trumps if the SK is played.  Now, as South, GIB2 cannot return a trump, as declarer would set up diamonds and have the club K as an entry.  So, GIB2 correctly returned a club.  Now Micro Bridge 8 played DA, DK, and ruffed a diamond with the SJ as South discarded a heart (a club discard doesn't help).  The CJ is covered by the CQ, and ruffed in dummy, leaving this position:


K Q 9 3 2




10 8 7    

6 5 2


A 9 5    

A 6



8 3 2

J 5



Now a straightforward line of play is HA, SA, S9 - winning against stiff SK or a 2-2 trump break. However, Micro Bridge 8 played the D6, intending to throw the H6 if North doesn't ruff, or to overruff if North ruffs. North played the SK, overruffed by SA, and South discarded the C9. Now declarer led the H6, won the heart return with the ace, and played the C10, endplaying South. If South discarded a heart instead of the C9, declarer would have played the C10, HA, and a small heart, endplaying South. Quite a well played hand by both sides.

In the 48 board semifinals GIB defeated Bridge Baron, 147-64, and Q-plus Bridge defeated Micro Bridge 8, 145-71.

Sometimes in bridge, as in golf, when you make a mistake, you can still make your par result by scrambling. Witness the following hand played by Micro Bridge 8 in its semifinal match against Q-plus Bridge.

Dlr: South

Vul: E/W
K 8 4 2

K Q 9 2

A K 2

8 3

J 10 6 5 3


J 7 5 3

Q 10 6


7 5 4 3

Q 10 4

5 4


A J 10 8

9 8 6

A K J 9 7 2

West North East South
Q-plus1 MicroBr1 Q-plus2 MicroBr2
Pass 1H Pass 3H
Pass 4NT Pass 5H
Pass 6H All Pass

West led a trump, won by dummy's H8. One line of play is to cash a second trump, the CA, cross to South's high trump, lead a club intending to finesse against the CQ. At trick two declarer played the HA from dummy and the H9 from hand. Either playing the HJ from dummy or the HK from South would have preserved an attractive line of play to make the slam, given the bad trump break - CA, CK, club ruff, overtaking North's trump and pulling the last trump. So Micro Bridge 8 had to scramble. Two alternatives present themselves. Taking the club finesse which required a 3-2 club break with the CQ on side, or the play Micro Bridge 8 actually made, leading the C2 at trick 3. Now the defense had to return a club to beat the hand. Micro Bridge 8 could not realize the risk of a club return, says its authors Tomio and Yumiko Uchida, but neither did its opponent - and the contract was made. The authors report that using a version of their program that uses more sophisticated algorithms, they placed the program at trick 3. This time declarer took the club finesse and went down, rather then relying on an opponent's error. These algorithms weren't used in this contest because the 'thinking' time allowed by the Conditions of Contest would have been exceeded.

GIB performed very well as it defeated Q-plus, 181-118, in a 64 board final match.

Here is a hand from the final match in which GIB made a fine defensive play.

Dlr: South

Vul: Both

J 8 2

J 10 7

A 7 6 5 2

Q 6

K 5 3

K 5 3


J 10 9 4 3 2

Q 7 4

6 4 2

9 4 3

K 8 7 5

A 10 9 6

A Q 9 8

K Q 10 8


West     North East         South
GIB1 Q-plus1 GIB2 Q-plus2  
1C (1)
Pass 1D Pass 1NT
Pass 3NT All Pass

(1) 17 or more HCPs

GIB1 led the CJ, GIB2 playing the C8. Declarer ran five diamonds putting pressure on GIB1 to make the right discards. It would have been a mistake to pitch two clubs and guard both Ks, as did Q-plus Bridge at the other table. This would allow declarer to drive out the HK, and make the contract, as there were no longer five quick losers.

GIB1 correctly came down to S K/H K 5/ D ---/C 10 9 4 3, which beat the contract.

A separate bidding contest took place, with hands and datum coming from top level international play. Larry Cohen was kind enough to supply the hands and data. It was surprising to see the results, as it was not expected any program would come close to having a positive result (average is zero IMPs). But, GIB, using 2/1 game forcing methods, won with a score of +2 IMPs, second was Blue Chip Bridge, using ACOL, with -30 IMPs, and third was Q-plus, using Precision, with -57 IMPs.

Besides bragging rights, GIB won $550 from a cash prize pool totaling $1,000, and second place finisher, Q-plus Bridge won $250.

As part of the weeklong computer bridge activities, a team of Juniors played a team of computers (a pair of Micro Bridge 8, and a pair of Q-plus Bridge) in a 12 board K/O match. The Junior participants received a one-year free membership to OKbridge, and $500 was donated to the Junior program by the sponsors. The players had fun as they defeated the computer team 23-7. Witness the following creative play by Michael Shuster, playing against Q-plus Bridge:

Dlr: North

Vul: None

Q 9

9 6 3

Q 4 3

10 8 7 6 5        

7 6


K J 10 9 8

K Q 3

10 5 4 3

8 2

A 7 6 5 2

J 9

A K J 8 2

Q 10 7 5 4


A 4 2

West North East South
Q-plus1 Westbrook Q-plus2 Schuster
Pass Pass 1S
Dbl Pass 2D Pass
3D Pass 4D Pass

South led the spade A, K, and continued with the 2. Declarer ruffed with the DK and Schuster, North, underruffed with the 3!   His idea was to see whether the computer would now play for the trump queen to drop (since there are now only two trumps remaining).  Against humans this might work for another reason. Would a player with queen third 'discard' a small trump?  Anyway, Q-plus Bridge now did play for the drop, and the contract was defeated.

2000 Bermuda World Computer Bridge Championships

Over the past year the overall playing abilities of the computer bridge programs have improved greatly, with GIB apparently leading the way.  The activities in Chicago generated international interest, and plans are being made for a January 2000 World Computer Championship, co-hosted by the ACBL and WBF, to take place in Bermuda at the 50th anniversary of the Bermuda Bowl.

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