Twenty-five years ago, Zia Mahmood offered a £1 million bet that no team of his choosing could ever be beaten by computers. A mere four years later, he withdrew the bet: robots were already exceeding expectations, and who knew how rapidly things would progress? In fact, computer bridge still hasn’t reached world-class levels (unlike computer chess). But it’s not that far off. For the past two decades, robots have even competed in their own world championship, which runs alongside the human one, and although it gets next to no coverage, it’s well worth watching. Robots may lack a certain flair and imagination, but you can be sure that every move they make has been analysed to perfection. At this year’s championship in Lyon, there were seven contestants (robots and their developers) from seven countries, including France, Germany, Japan and China (who eventually won).
Above is an example of the US’s Bridge Baron (EW), competing against Japan’s Micro Bridge (NS)
West made the excellent lead of a trump (any other card but a trump or the ♠A gives away the contract). Declarer now led a low spade. West rightly rose with the A♠ and shifted to a low diamond to East’s queen. Declarer ducked, and East continued with the ♦4 taken by declarer’s ace. On the run of the hearts, West discarded a club and then (slowly — a lot of computing was needed) — the king and jack of diamonds, thus avoiding being thrown in at the end. East could now win with the ♦10 and push a club through — one down.