Playing the Robots

After a couple of practice runs on Bridge Base Online I was tempted to tackle the challenge of the second NABC Individual: three sessions of 24 boards each over three days – a bargain at $40. In this format humans compete against each other by playing with a so called GIB robot against two similar robots. You are South and always get the hand (or one of equals) with the highest high card points. As a result your side plays most of the boards. I played 62 from 72 boards, as you are always declarer when your side buys the contract, sweet. Your card play will get a real workout. The robots use a pretty standard 2/1 and are quite aggressive, so if you try too hard to compete for part-scores you end up too high in games. A disciplined approach to bidding is better. The quality of the robot defense is a mixed bag, and often in the same position they branch (like us) in different directions thus increasing the luck factor. When you have to defend, logic is all you got, as the robots use no signals. To minimize the “sharing”, each board is actually a set of sixty boards and you get randomly one of them, so I was competing on identical cards against 27, 26 and 25 humans over the three days. Two-thousand-and-ten ACBL members from all over the world entered the tournament.
On board 59 (South deals, all white) my hand was:
♠ K Q 4 2
10 9 8 5
♣ A 10 6 4
To pass or not to pass? Holding the spades and prospects in three suits, I opened 1. West came in with 4 (aggressive weak jump overcall, 7+ hearts and 3-11 HCP), and North doubled (showing by system 13+ HCP and 14+ with distribution). Now what: I knew that North cannot have more than 11 HCP, and smelling a rat, I took the safe course by bidding 4♠. This turned out to be the right decision, as my partner had:
♠ 10 9 7 3
A K 7 6
♣ K J 5 3,
and after fighting the 4-1 trump break I managed to go down only one for -50. West’s hand was:
♠ 6
A K J 9 8 7 6 4 3
♣ Q9,
so 4 doubled was cold!
I was expecting a good result, but got only 35% on the board. On 14 out of 25 tables the board was passed out! Clearly the robots have no idea how to open this hand, but have no trouble overcalling to game – go figure. Man over machine on this one.
An example of robots against notrump:

Dlr: North ♠ J
Vul: N-S K J 9 8 6 4
Board: 5 K 8 4 3
♣ A 8
♠ A Q 9 5 3 ♠ K 8 5
5 3 Q 7 2
9 7 6 5 JQ J
♣ 9 5 ♣ J 6 4 3 2
♠ 10 7 4 2
A 10
A 10 2
♣ K Q 10 7
West North
East South
1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2 Pass 3NT
All Pass

After settling for the speculative matchpoint contract of 3NT (the majority preferred the safer 4), I cannot blame the robot for not leading a spade. Against notrump the robots very often lead the highest from short suits on the theory of not giving away tricks. Keen to avoid a spade switch, I went up with ♣A and took the heart hook to the 10 to keep East out of the lead. After A and entering dummy on a diamond, I ran the good hearts pitching all my spades, and hooked the “marked” ♣J. When the diamonds obliged I had all the tricks for +720 and my only clean 100% score.
Steady play payed off as all my sessions were good, finishing with 61% over three days for 92nd place overall (and 32nd in Flight B, highest from Florida). I really liked this challenge and would play it again, time permitting. Each board is available for replay, and you can compare your actions to the bids and plays of other players, providing a great tool for analysis and improvement.
The next NABC Individual will be held July 23-25. Registration opens July 9. For more information, visit