The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Bridge

Results from my Slay-the-Spire/Bridge Training

As you recall (or can read), I was using techniques given by Kim Frazer in her Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge in Slay the Spire. My goal was to win 25% of the games I played, and the results are in: I played the same # of games as my sample size (where I won 12%) and got

17W – 33L (34%)11W – 39L (22%)6W – 44L (12%)34W – 116L (22.67%)
Not quite…

So, I missed, but not by much. I won more games with each character from the fifty prior games, nearly doubling my win rate. (I’m still much better at Ironclad than the other two characters, but that’s because its easier to play).

So, did it work? Well, it’s complicated.

(There’s an XKCD for everything)

This shouldn’t be taken as a complaint about the book. The real stumbling block is that it is incredibly difficult to categorize strategic mistakes in Slay the Spire. Bridge is easy by comparison. While it has grey areas, many of the typical mistakes are easy to diagnose by simply replaying the hand. Bidding has borderline cases, but the play and defense can be fairly rigorously analyzed after the hand.

In this respect, bridge is like shooting. You get instant feedback if a shot was good or not. In this comparison, Slay the Spire is … not quite Calvinball, but at least Cricket as understood by Americans. So, to take some notes from a random loss. “I died hitting the worst possible elite at the time, then drawing poorly. Despite that I might have won if I’d not used my potion a turn too early in this case, if I’d saved it for a turn later — with the draw I got then — I would have won”. So, clearly some bad luck, but also a micro-mistake (any mistake inside a single fight I call a “micro” or “tactical” error). But if I hadn’t used my potion and didn’t draw that particular card (about a 50/50) I’d lose in all cases. So, should I have used the potion? Maybe? I could math it out, but that’s just inside one fight. Many of the StS issues are “Should I rest or smith” and you don’t get feedback (dying) until five floors later, but smithng did save some health, and you had a few random events. Feedback is incredibly noisy.

There were some losses that clearly had horrible luck. But how much? Difficult to say. After about 1/3rd of the trial I realized that my guesses as to why I lost were pretty random. Even right after the game I sometimes couldn’t tell. I suspect that (in the future) it might be best to track more specific information.

Another reason for caution is that this last month was fruitful one for my outside learning. In particular, three StS streamers talking shop about their respective recent win streaks for 3 hours was an invaluable resource, and I probably got a few extra victories after watching that (and reading Jorbs debrief after his Slay the Spire Marathon).

But certain aspects did help:

  1. Mindfulness. My checklist wasn’t perfect, but it did catch some common errors I made. I might revise it.
  2. The act of reviewing the notes. I haven’t done a detailed review of the most recent set of 150 games, but I suspect there is data to be mined. (Some StS streamers appear to have all their runs in a DB where they can run queries to answer it. I haven’t gone nearly that far).
  3. Instead of trying to quantify why I lost, I switched at some point to just writing down a one sentence summary. That may help in clarifying thoughts.

Anyway, with all that said, I suspect that the techniques from this book will work quite well to help the intermediate (or better) bridge player, or really any game where you can quantify the mistakes easily. (Perhaps some StS players who are better than me can, so this would help them more than help me).

So — What’s next? Clearly more Slay the Spire … (its pretty much my pandemic relaxation). I’ll try for a 30% winrate for my next 150 games and we’ll see if maybe my last set was just regression to the mean (as I think 12% was low).

Written by taogaming

February 27, 2021 at 2:46 pm

A Practical Test of ‘Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge’ using … Slay the Spire

One of the most unusual bridge books I’ve read is Kim Frazer’s Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge. Unlike the vast majority of bridge books, there is practically no advice on bridge. This is all about “how to think” (a topic that I love enough to have a category in this blog for). Bridge forms the majority of the examples here, but apart from that these articles would not be out of place in any coaching symposium.

Kim was an international caliber shooter who took up bridge and later represented Australia in International events, so she has definitely “walked the walk” in two separate sports. There are chapters on focus, positive mindsets, mental preparation, rehearsal, match preparation & fitness, relaxation, goal setting and tracking.

The book itself was interesting — I don’t think much of it will come as a surprise but having it all done in a nicely packaged book (and providing references to sports journals, etc for more information) is good. I’ve started to try and build up a routine for the playing of bridge hands (still more forgotten than observed) so as to reduce the number of stupid errors. In fact, the first night (on BBO) I did it, I think I played well and then I went and forgot to look at the checklist this week, didn’t use it, and had a large number of errors. (The checklist is just a routine to do at the start of each hand …. say “Focus” to start the routine, note the board information (dealer,/vulnerability) count the HCP, decide on my opening bid (should it pass to me), and my likely continuations, responses.

I normally do this (in some shape) on most hands, but not in a formalized way. But (as per the book) I wrote out a checklist and used it, to good results (the times I remembered).

While thinking about this training, I realized that I could run a quick experiment on the chapter on goal setting and tracking using … Slay the Spire. I mean, while this book is aimed at Bridge it is not specifically for it, and right now my StS play is much more prevalent. (And is a solitaire game). Consider it a training run.

So — what are my goals? I’d like to improve my win rate (a win defined as “Beating the corrupt heart at ascension 15” (which is what I normally play at). There is a “Victory?” where you win without getting to the heart, but I consider that a loss. It means I’ve forgotten to claim one of the three keys required to unlock the fourth act.

Control Data

Anyway, the first part of goal setting was to set a record keeping standard. I decided to review the last 50 runs I had for each of the three main characters I played (I do not particularly enjoy playing Watcher, so I rarely do). Fortunately StS keeps a record of runs, so I pulled out some basic information (like which floor I died on) and put them into an excel spreadsheet.

Here are the stats:

Died during….Character — IroncladCharacter — SilentCharacter — Defect
Act I (Exordium)1073
First Boss676
Act II (The City)111621
Second Boss335
Act III (The Beyond)335
Third Boss241
Act IV Elites113
The Corrupt Heart344
Not a huge sample size….

It struck me as odd that the Second Boss and Act III numbers matched, but I doubled checked and its just a coincidence.

First thought — I won at a 12% rate, which was lower than I thought (I would have guessed I won at a 20% rate overall), but perhaps I am just deluding myself. I do think I had some bad luck (a certainly have a better than 4% win rate as defect!) so I would expect over the next 150 games to improve the rate in any case. The book states that I should set a goal that seems difficult but achievable. Let’s try for a 25% win rate overall (doubling the control).

I also need to build a checklist for the game, so I did. (Commentary in Italics)

  • Start of Act
    • Examine the floor layout, pick likely path and alternates if I get good/back luck.
    • Note who is the end of act Boss!
    • (Act I only) Decide on Neow’s gift (a special bonus you get at game start), re-evaluate
  • Checklist for each fight/event
    • Upon revealing the enemies, decide on how dangerous this fight will be (win easily, win but take significant damage, likely die, etc).
    • Note relics that I have that may have an interaction
    • Set out my goal for the fight is (Not just winning while taking as little damage as possible, do I want to set up relic counts for the next fight, etc).
    • Decide on general fight strategy …. if I will likely be using a potion(s) (In general the fight strategy will be set by how my deck is built and not change much from floor to floor, but I wanted to explicitly call out this step).
    • Per Turn Checklist:
      • Examine hand, enemy action (if varied)
      • Is my luck good/bad enough to change strategy? (Maybe I’m getting killed an need to drink a potion or assume a good draw next turn….or maybe things have gone well so I can shift from “just win the fight” to “win the fight and set up my relics counts”)
      • Determine candidate plays, pick one (may iterate if plays draw cards).
    • (For events this is basically the same, but simplified since the fight is “picking which event outcome to take”)
  • Post fight analysis
    • Did I accurately judge the fight? Did I miss anything that I could have done better?
  • Post-fight rewards
    • Examine offered rewards
    • State how each option affects my deck. Do I need it to cover a weakness (a specific enemy/elite), or to solve a general problem (front loaded damage/scaling damage/blocking).
    • Double check for good/bad interactions. Look at your deck and relics when deciding!
    • Decide which is best and take it (or skip).
    • Determine a rough “State of the game” (my ‘equity’ in the game). (Don’t need an exact number, but has it gone up or down).
    • Adjust strategy based on state of game. Pick next floor.
  • Post-game analysis.
    • Record tracking information
    • Write up a quick summary as to why I think I won/lost
    • Think of at least one positive and one “need to improve”

Again, I probably did a lot of this automatically, but there are a few things I’m calling out to myself — Making sure to double check potions and relics (because forgetting to use them is a big mistake).

Things to track:

I’ll track everything as before, but also keep track of my mistakes and notes. (For the above, I didn’t show it but I also noted which enemy I died to).

“Oops” Mistakes — Playing too quickly (if I make a move I want to “take back” then that’s a mistake. You can quit a fight and restart, but I’ll only do that if I make an actual misclick. I’ve been somewhat casual about that, but the real goal of this is to slow down and think more — which is the one skill that translates directly to bridge). In order to make this more “Apples to Apples” I’ll divide this by # of floors which isn’t an exact measure since not all floors can have them, but is at least reasonable.

Why did I lose — For my losses, I will categorize them as follows. I’ve decided to assign points to each category, with a total of 10 points.

  1. Too Aggressive — Taking an upgrade when I should have rested, and in general not respecting that.
  2. Too Passive — The downside of that is not recognizing when I’m poorly placed and need to be taking more short term risks to be able to face the next boss, etc. Note that I think I can be too passive and aggressive in the same game (obviously at different times).
  3. Gross Oversights — I missed something and it got me (missed a relic interaction, etc). I’d really like this number to be low … that’s the point of the checklist. These are things that get me killed or a huge chunk of HP.
  4. Math mistakes — Sometimes you have to just run the numbers.
  5. Bad micromanagement of fights — Small errors in fights that cost a HP here and there, missing subtle interactions.
  6. Bad Luck — Sometimes you just don’t get offered great cards, you bottom deck the fights, etc. Things that are outside my control. In theory there should only be points in this category on half (or less) of my games, but sometimes you just lose without doing anything wrong. (Negative Points means I had good luck and wasted it), so if I assign less than 10 points, I’ll dump the rest here.

When I win I will assign a “Good luck” score, how much was it just destined (because I got great cards/relics, etc).

As I normally do, I will rotate characters (Ironclad, then Silent, then Defect), just to match the controls.

Final thoughts (before starting)

Just looking at the stats was useful, because I have noticed a few things:

I play Act I too aggressively as Ironclad. Ironclad’s “schtick” is that he does a lot of damage and heals a bit after fights, and I clearly rely on that too much and end up dying in the first act (or at the first boss) much more so than other characters. My Ironclad win rate is higher (caveat for small sample size), but many of the runs are short, quick deaths.

I may be too passive with the other two characters …. For the silent/watcher (who don’t automatically heal) my play gets through Act I but am not well placed and die in Act II. I suspect I am not taking enough fast damage or all out attack.

I need to respect the Second Act more and start looking “past the first boss” when I think I have it beaten.

Let the games begin.

Update — After thinking about it (and playing a round of games while I was editing this), I think that “Bad Luck” should probably average 3. Jorbs only wins 70% of the games, so assuming that 30% are unwinnable at my level of play seems reasonable. (He’s on a higher ascension, but a better player). I’m not going to agonize over it too much (especially since it would lead to negative thinking, a “no-no” in the book.) I had a few games where things just didn’t seem to line up….

Written by taogaming

January 30, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Problematic hands

While I think that Polish Club is a good system, it has a few weaknesses. One big one is strong hands with primary diamonds and a secondary major, or two suited hands with the minors. (Standard American also has problems handling these in the strong and artificial 2 Club opening). So … while we open 1 Club with “Most” 18 point hands, we will sometimes open 1 diamond with a hand up to about 20 or 21 HCP. But normally those only show up a few times a year.

Playing at the club, I pick up S:x H:AK D:KQTxx C:AKJxx

Tough. If I open 1 Club I won’t be able to show both minors below 4 Clubs, when 3N is the right place. So I open 1 Diamond. Partner bids 1 Heart and I bid an artificial 2N. (Since we open all balanced hands 1 Club or Notrump, this bid is free). This shows an strong (18+) hand, either primary diamonds or a minor two suiter. Partner bids 3 Diamonds, showing that if I have a minor two suiter, he prefers diamonds.

That’s excellent news. Unless partner is 4=3 in the minors he likely has a doubleton club and 3+ diamonds, taking care of a diamond loser. No point in fooling around. I bid 4 Hearts, key card blackwood in diamonds (kickback) and partner bids 4 Spades, showing one ace. Since we have a loser,  I settle for 6 diamonds, which should be pretty reasonable.

LHO leads the spade king and I find out that partner has pretty much the worst hand.

S:ATx H:T9xxx D:8xx C:Tx

Partner took a shot at improving the contract, but not only does he have the ‘wrong’ ace he has no extras. But he could have a lot more points and this would still be dicey, so I have no complaints.

I win the ace and have to decide how to play. I can finesse the clubs, but then I’ll need something good to happen in diamonds and I may still have a club loser. But if the diamond ace is onside (or maybe the jack) I don’t really need much in clubs. Any 3-3 break or the long hand to have the long trump. So I play the diamond off dummy and RHO follows with the jack. I win with the diamond king.

If the diamond jack was stiff I’m down, but I think it was from AJ tight, so I can make if RHO has two or three clubs (because if he over-ruffs dummy he won’t be able to pull dummy’s last trump). I lead the AK and a small club and LHO stares at this and shows up with the diamond nine. Ah well.

Amazingly I pick up another problematic hand later the same session.

S:AKxx H:– D:AQTxxx C:AJx

I open 1 Diamond again, and LHO bids 1 Heart which goes Pass Pass to me. I bid 2 spades, which could be weaker than what I actually have but partner will strive to keep the auction alive. Partner bids 3 Spades and I reveal the monster hand by making a slam try with 4 Clubs. Partner bids 4 Diamonds — possibly a singleton but likely the diamond king. I don’t have quite enough to force, but I try again with 4 Hearts. Partner bids 4 Spades.

After some thought, I pass. If I give partner the diamond king, what else can he have. If he has the club king and the spade queen (as well as four spades), he wouldn’t have passed over 1 Heart. Even with two kings he may have bid with a spare jack, especially). Realistically the best hand he could have is the spade queen + diamond king or two kings.  And Hank isn’t shy. If he had that he might have taken control.

I don’t think he has it.

I get a spade lead (the ten) and I see I’m right:

S:9xxxx H:Qx D:Kx C:Txxx

I win the Spade A and K (RHO following once, but then discarding), so I have a spade loser, but when diamonds break I can pitch three clubs from dummy and make six.

Still — a club lead would set the slam (unless spades split) so it’s reasonable to not be there.

Even though we were in the non-making slam and out of the making (on this lead) slam, I still feel like we acquitted ourselves well enough.

Written by taogaming

December 21, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with ,

Thoughts about recent games


  • Regarding Jeff G’s comment about “it just ended.” Before we encountered the end we had a similar problem where its not clear what scenarios we can do. But I think we forgot to write down a party acheivement. (And we did the final scenario early, because the TaoLing missed one of the requirements had to be fulfilled multiple times. So, room for improvement and/or better design for campaign books. No doubt one or more of the apps handles this, but I don’t have any apps. (Update— based on Sean’s comment below, I’m using “the end” as Jeff did … the end of the main villain, the ‘big bad.’ It is not the ending of the game or even the scenarios (of which I’ve now played a bit north of 1/3rd). I did not mean the town record or anything. I don’t particularly care about ‘the story,’ it’s a nice thing to have, but not why I play board games. Another note, last night I opened some content that revealed a little puzzle-y thing. I have zero interest in this and just glanced a spoiler thread to confirm that I miss nothing of value).
  • I also agree that the money could be a bit looser. I keep expecting something to say “Double all money you receive” or otherwise discount things, because things like enchanting a mid-level card are basically impossible or something you have to sell all your stuff to do.
  • After three dozen-ish games we had seven or eight characters retire. One was a cheat, because we just said that taking a character up to level 9 is enough of a reason to retire (if you haven’t hit the others). Once you have a dozen or two games in the campaign some of the cards get much easier because they require a specific thing you’ve acquired or you have unlocked the final scenario you need to beat. One character started and retired after ~5 games. (Another took about ~8). Some scenarios are — while not literally required — big enough to fulfill 50% or more of your requirements. (If my new character had started ~4 scenarios earlier, he could have retired after a single perfect scenario, despite his goal being quite generic)! But we’ve already played that, so I’m not going to “go back”). Other scenarios do nothing to help your goals. It is hard to tell for some goals which scenario is which.
  • There is actually a really good mix of scenarios, and the fact that there is fan based content and other expansions is nice. I’m clearly going to make this to fifty games, and I suspect I’ll get to 100 just by finishing the 99 base game scenarios (or dungeons).
  • Achievements are also based on party dynamics. The TaoLing often plays characters that go invisible and suck up gold and treasures, which makes any looting based achievement harder. Possibly the game could have had “starting advancements” for the first characters (two for the scoundrel, two for the brute, etc) and then randomized the rest. But given the components that was just perhaps too much. Or perhaps some cards could say “Do not use for your first character!” at the top and you just draw two until you have reasonable choices.
  • I think we’ve gotten a fair number of rules wrong, but it really doesn’t matter too much.
  • You set your levels based on “Average party level / 2 rounded up.” As a practical matter we’re pretty much been at Level 3 for most of the campaign. I do like that some scenarios vary the levels for individual monsters. I wish more did that.


  • I’m enjoying the new science recipes, but I quickly turned off biters again. Once 0.17 is stable I may play a biter-enabled game… probably a train map SpaceX…


  • I taught a few gamers (who had expressed an interest) bridge for a few hours. Tournament this weekend….


  • I played QMG:Prelude. I’m down on (non-varietal) expansions, but I’ve got to admit this was a bizarre fun little mini game that totally changed the feel. Germany started on the ropes (because a UK army, which we just said was actually a French army, started in Western Europe. German blitzed it, built an army using a pre-war card, and then knocked the UK out of the North Sea, but that failed and the UK attacked Western Europe again!). By mid game it became clear that this was an Allied win, but would it be an unconditional surrender on T15 or later, and the Axis just managed to hold on for a conditional surrender on T20. This also makes Economic Warfare early on better, because the prelude response cards require a discard to activate.


  • I’ve finally pledged a kick starter for the 2nd Root expansion, despite not having played the first. But I did play a game with the Vagabond (and lost), but enjoyed it.

Bios Megafauna et al:

  • Apomorphies, cratons, and a bunch of other words I don’t understand? Why yes, I did get a new Eklund game. (Actually, three. I suspect these are all in the play once and then get rid of, but who knows. But it will take me a while to read the rules…It seems like SMG has finally learned how to put the rules in the right order, but they have two interleaved color coded sets to work out. At least Bios Megafauna’s rule book is a type that I seem to be able to read, Neanderthal’s type was hard to make out. My poor eyes….

Written by taogaming

March 15, 2019 at 9:33 pm


Tired of working on my latest Factory, I fire up the robots for a few hands of bridge solitaire. I pick up the sort of hand you get in solitaire…

S:KQ7xxx H:A D:KQ62 C:xx 

(You get them because the computer deals out the hands, then swaps your hand with the best hand if you don’t happen to hold it).

Suprisingly, your robot partner opens 1 Heart. I bid 1 Spade and CHO bids 1NT. I bid 2 Diamonds (natural, forcing) and the CHObot admits to having two spades. I suspect four spades is cold and six spades is odds against, but I’m playing against robots and just goofing off. We’ll be light on points but maybe hearts will run (and I do have a sixth trump). Six spades it is.

I get the five of clubs lead and I don’t have time to wonder if I’ll be down before I won a trick because dummy is already tabled.

Dummy S:A9x H:KT9754 D:xx  C:Ax

Hand  S:KQ7xxx H:A D:KQ62 C:xx 

(Club 5 led by LHO)

That’s my type of opening … minimum. Well, I fly with the club ace and think. This is a decided underdog. Do I have any lines of play? In fact, I do see one. The nice thing about slam hands is that you usually don’t have a tangle of possible lines.

I win the club ace (naturally) and lead a heart to the ace. (Technically I should probably lead a spade the king and then cash the heart ace, but that’s a minor improvement and If hearts are 7-0 I think I would have heard something). I lead the spade king and then a spade to the ace, as spades break 2-2.

I needed that.

Next comes the heart king, pitching my losing club as LHO shows out. Uh, ok. I lead a diamond and it goes ten-queen-small. It looks like the diamond ace is onside.

I needed that, too.

But I also need RHO to have started with the ace and shortness (A, Ax, or Axx).

Nothing to do but lead a small diamond. LHO wins the 9 (RHO completing an echo!) and leads a club. I ruff the lub, ruff a diamond and … RHO plays the ace.

Score it up.

Once the diamond queen won, my odds were pretty good. RHO was known to have six hearts and two spades. Not much space for four diamonds and if he did have four, LHO had 8 clubs. I definitely think that would have been mentioned.

I also belatedly realize I missed another improvement.

If an honor had fallen on the second round of hearts, I would have had options. If RHO plays the honor I can play for him having QJx tight. If LHO shows up with an honor I could play for QJx tight or Hx. In the latter case I can run the HT for a ruffing finesse through RHO and (assuming it wins) get back to dummy with with a diamond ruff after losing the diamond ace and winning the other diamond, and pitch my last diamond on dummy’s good 9 of hearts.

I hadn’t considered it, but if the honor had popped up, I probably would have noticed. A minor demerit for not thinking about it ahead of time, but it turns out I had just enough luck on this hand.

Written by taogaming

September 24, 2017 at 9:25 am

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Bridge

Tagged with

On the same wavelength

Playing a club game with Hank, I am off my game (I blame anti-histamines and not having played in roughly a month). But due to the movement we skip the only difficult pair, and we’ve received lots of gifts (including the following auction (1D)-1H-(1S) – P – (6S) when I’m holding five spades to the ten.

So I’m in a good mood when I pick up the following collection:

S:QTx H:A D:KQT C:AK9742

It gets even better when Hank opens One Diamond in second seat. Our opponents are silent throughout.

I have an easy 2 Clubs bid, so I make it. (Despite playing 2/1, we don’t play this as game forcing).

Hank bids 3 Clubs. We have two ways to raise clubs, and this is the weaker one. I could cue bid, or even just sign off in Three NT, but slam would have play opposite some 7 point hands (Kxx xx Axxx xxxx). We may be off two fast spade tricks, and I could cue bid three hearts and then pull 3N to 4C, but I decide to not advertise my weakness and just check for key cards. I bid 4 Diamonds.

Hank bids 4 Hearts, showing one ‘ace.’

Since I’m looking at the 5th ‘ace’ (the king of clubs), I know it is an actual ace.

I want to check on the club queen so I bid the next step 4 Spades.

Hank bids 5 Clubs, denying the queen. It occurs to me that in this one instance perhaps we should play 4 NT denies the queen (instead of returning to the suit) because I could have passed that.

If Hank doesn’t have the queen of clubs, how many does he have? I have an inference in that Hank could have also bid 2 diamonds over 2 Clubs, which just shows five diamonds (and is forcing one round) or 2 hearts, which shows a balanced hand. So if he only had 3 clubs to the jack, he had the option of not raising, immediately. As compared to that, 3 clubs shows a weak hand and two diamonds is wide.

As I consider this, I also realize that 5 Clubs is going to not be a great scoring contract. 3 N will probably make 4 for +630 (or +660 if it makes 5) and even if I play in 5 Clubs, I’m only getting +600. If Hank does only have three clubs without the queen I’ll need the clubs to break, but that also means that Hank is likely to have the Spade King. In short, Five clubs making exactly isn’t a great score, so even though I think I’m an underdog I bid 6 clubs.

(Funny auction. I bid 4S to check on the queen, but apparently I was going no matter what).

This gets passed around and LHO leads the diamond jack and Hank puts down:

S:Kx H:Kxx D:A8xxx C:Jxx

That is, in fact, a minimum, but at least it has the Spade King, so I have a play. I win the Diamond King and lay down the club ace. Do I get a 2-2 split? Do I get the stiff queen?

I get the rail.

RHO discards the three of spades. Looks like I’m off one, but worse contracts have made. Let’s put LHO to the test and force her to decide what to do. I lead a small club towards the jack and she … ducks. Huh. I win the jack, come back to the king and let LHO win her club.

RHO has been decidedly unhelpful in his pitches if he has the spade ace, playing up the line for the first three and then discarding a heart. If LHO is looking at the spade ace she’ll cash it, but for all LHO knows I may have the SA and be missing the HA.

LHO plays a small spade and RHO wins his ace and I claim the rest. Down one is not unjust, but I’m vaguely annoyed that she guessed right, because it was a guess as far as I can tell.

(Actually, later on I notice that RHO had four diamonds to the 9, so it was hopeless as long as he never pitched one).

The post-mortem is amusing. Hank’s first comment is “You know, 4N should deny the queen, but that’s not our system….” which is exactly what I had been thinking. He also was torn between 2 diamonds and raising to 3 clubs. We decide that raising to 3C can be done with only three clubs, but they should include the queen (or better).

I was still right to bid the slam (once I had decided to ask). It only took a 2-2 clubs split (which is over 40%) or the stiff queen (which is 1/4 of 50%, so 12.5%) so about 50/50 (dropping a few percent for a ruff on opening lead or ace of spades, ruff). As the only pair to bid it, we got a zero, but five clubs would only score a ‘1’.

I was getting 5:1 odds for an even money proposition. I would have been right if Hank’s clubs were Txx or worse, which then means I need the 2-2 break.

At least we were both on the same wavelength every step of the way.

Written by taogaming

August 28, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Bridge, Session Reports

Tagged with

Computer Bridge

There is currently a bridgewinners discussion on “When will computers beat human bridge experts?“. This is (unsurprisingly) triggered by the recent advances in Go playing computers, based on the deep learning system. The news from Google — taking time out of their military robotics schemes to focus on less Skynet-y ventures — was an interesting demonstration. My only expertise in this (apart from the fact that I’m not exactly a stranger to military robotics programs, but also medical robotics!) is that I’ve followed computer opponents in classic games somewhat.

There are three salient points to the system — the training method, the use of monte carlo systems in evaluation, and the hybrid engine.  For now, lets just consider a simplified bridge AI. It plays standard american, and expects its opponents to do the same. Teaching a program to handle multiple bidding systems is one of scale and scope, and not that different (in practice).

Training — The Go program was trained with 30 million expert positions, then played against itself to bootstrap. This method could be used with bridge, assuming a large enough corpus of expert deals exists. However, there are some issues.

Every go (and chess) program starts from the same board position, a fact that isn’t true of Bridge. To counter balance that the search space for an individual deal is much much smaller. Still, it’s not clear that 30 million deals is enough. Presumably you could use some non-expert deals for bidding (take random BBO hands and if enough people bid them the same way, that’s probably good enough). Top level deals can be entered, especially those with auctions duplicated at two tables.

Card play could use a similar method — for a hand and auction, if the opening lead is standard, you could assume (absent further training) that it is right. A clever AI programmer could have a program running on BBO playing hands, and then comparing it’s results (already scored, no less!) against others. Your scoring system may want to account for weird results (getting to good slams that fail on hideous breaks, etc), but that’s pretty simple.

So, there may be a problem getting enough expert deals, but there should be enough to get a large corpus of good deals (particularly if the engine weights others and then uses better players as a benchmark).

Randomness — Some people on the BW thread are saying that randomness will stop an AI.


The news out of Google is ahead of schedule, but it didn’t surprise me as much as Crazy Stone (the precursor to Alpha Go). Crazy Stone’s innovation was that if it couldn’t decide between two moves (because they were strategic, not tactical, or if the search depth got too great), it would simply play a few hundred random games from each position, and pick the move that scores better. Adding randomness to the evaluation function (of a non-random game!) greatly improved the structure, so much so that I believe I commented on it at the time. (Sadly, that was before the move, so I don’t have a tagged post. See my posts tagged go for some tangential comments.

Randomizing bridge hands would present different challenges, but the idea of just saying, “I don’t know, let’s just try each lead a few hundred times against random hands (that match with what we expect” is obvious, as well as using randomness (to decide whether to continue or shift suits). Because bridge doesn’t have Go’s massive search depth, you could also drop each hand into a single dummy solver for each position, or have it play randomly only until breaks are none (so plays randomly but not with a known position).

The thing about random play is that it’s fast. So you’ve won the opening lead, what to play? Whip up 100 random deals (not hard since you can see two hands plus a few other cards, plus all your bidding inferences) and try them out.

Hybridization — The trick is that you only resort to randomness if your trained algorithm isn’t confident of its training. This happens quite a bit in Go. (Go is amazingly frustrating in that expert or even master level players will be unable to communicate why a play is correct. I remember a lecture at the Pittsburgh Go Association and the lecturer, an amatuer 3 dan or so, was reviewing a game between two pros. And someone asked “Why did so-and-so play that move on that spot. Isn’t one space to the right better?”

Neither move had a tactical flaw, and the lecturer stumbled, then called out to a late arrival (a graduate student from Japan and — I believe — soon to turn Pro after getting his degree). The arrival went up to the big magnetic board, stared, said “Ah! It’s because of” and then laid out 10 moves for each side. Then reset, shifted the stone, and laid out ten different moves for each side then walked the few people who could understand the differences through it.

The point of my story? Go is hard. Go is hard enough so that the professional players routinely make moves that  amateur experts cannot reasonably understand. Go experts can look much farther ahead than bridge players (and computers) — yet random simulation coupled with deep learning can handle it.

The Go playing program might very well have learned to play the move on the correct spot, and not one-to-the-right, in our example. How did it learn this? Because the experts did it. It gained a feel for what to do in those situations. But even assuming that it hadn’t learned, and was sitting in the back of the room (like a 20 year old me) and couldn’t see a difference between the two. It might still grope its way to the correct move using a Monte Carlo simulation on both moves. (This is assuming that it’s near term tactical engine couldn’t find both sequences and judge one obviously better).

Right now bridge computers have many advantages, and can play perfectly once enough is known about the hand. You’d never use a random engine at that point. This hybridized strategy would be for your master solver’s club type things where experts disagree.

And, if you are deciding between those two things, you are (by definition) an expert.

So, I stand of the opinion that Bridge hasn’t been solved because nobody has thought to attack it. Or perhaps there is not a large enough body of expert deals that can be conveniently fed into a computer. A clever programmer (which I am not) could probably have a system learn just by having it log onto BBO, assuming that it could learn which players to trust and which to not (and which ones to use as bidding examples). 30 Million deals, each played 4 times by experts may not be enough, but it’s probably in the ballpark.

Why hasn’t this been done? Probably nobody cares. Go is (by far) the sexiest game right now because it’s search space is unfathomably deep. Go players routinely scoff at the simplicity (by comparison) of chess. In terms of search space (for a single hand) bridge doesn’t compare. If Google put its money behind it, I think a Bridge computer would do well in a match against a top team. Also, there were prizes offered for Go programs that could play at a high enough level, which spurred on development over the last 20 years.

Written by taogaming

February 7, 2016 at 12:05 am

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Bridge

Tagged with , ,

Why I’ve got little to say

I’m playing the same games over and over. Right now I have five Quarters for the year, and only one of them (Coup) is short (and I have almost 50 plays of that). Netrunner is fairly fast (~20 minutes) but  I’m over 80 games so far. The others are Bridge (2-3 hours per session), Sentinels of the Multiverse & Mage Knight,

At my current rate, The City is likely to make it to 25+ games but that’s it.

And none of the newer games have really captured my attention (except Federation Commander).

I suppose at some point I could write a few thousand words about The City, but honestly I’m not sure that anything I say would be non-obvious. I do believe that fountains win slightly more than any of the alternate strategies, possibly because of the number of synergy cards.

But that’s all I’ve got right now.

Actually, while I’m rambling I’ve slightly burned out on Bridge, and have cut back my number of club games in the last month or two. It was bound to happen after ~5 years of pretty constant play. Having a terrible regional didn’t help.

Also, while I’m thinking about it. Congrats to David Grainger on his first (US) National Victory. (He’s won a Canadian National event). I met David at the Gathering this spring, and he was at the San Antonio Regional, where his team unsurprisingly destroyed mine in the evening Knock Outs.

Written by taogaming

August 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

Musings on Bridge Bidding

(This is probably not of interest to non-bridge players. Tough. Learn to play).

Over the course of the years, I’ve read quite a few bidding systems. This week I read Marshall Miles book “The Unbalanced Diamond.” It’s interesting, particularly the aforementioned diamond bids.

Standard American (at least, the 2/1 variety that most experienced tournament players use) actually handles things quite well, but it’s interesting in that there is only one strong forcing opening (2 Clubs).  Precision (and other Big Club systems) also only have a single strong forcing opening, but it has to handle moderately strong hands (16+) as well as the huge hands that 2 clubs openings cover.

[I’m ignoring the 2 No Trump opening which shows 20-21 in most systems, and any openings above 3 Spades. Some tournament players tack on some openings to show a long major suit that can almost make game (The Namyats convention) OR 3NT to show a long running minor. And some hands can just open Blackwood, to ask about aces].

So what’s interesting to me is seeing systems that have multiple ‘big opening’ hands.  The Unbalanced Diamond actually has three big opening hands, 1C usually shows 15-19 (strong, but not overwhelming hands) but can include a few well defined hands that show more. (24-27 point balanced hands, and game forcing hands with both majors), 2 Clubs shows 20+ hands with a five card major (or two), 2 Diamonds shows 20+ hands without a five card major (excpet hands that are exactly 22-23, with 5332 distribution).

In the old days, of course, any 2 bid was strong. Four strong opening bids (for 20+ point hands). The problem is that these hands are pretty rare. Better to condense all strong bids into 2C (and use the rest for something else, typically pre-empting).

Bidding requires space — consider it an auction from 1-35, where each number affects play (and scoring). There’s an argument to bidding “1” say “I have a great hand” like precision does, but then your opponents will typically use their bids to quickly reach the highest safe number possible without worrying that they could have a bonus available. (Your bid has told them they probably can’t). Which may not be that high, but it’s often around 9-13. So precision’s advantage isn’t the big club. It’s when you open something else and get all those negative inferences. When a precision player opens 1 Spade, you often don’t have to worry about whether you can make a slam and bid slowly, you just bid your game. (Sure, you may rarely miss a slam with a perfect fit, but you’ll probably wind up making enough games because the defenders have no information that a revealing auction would have). Also, when a precision player opens one spade, the opponents compete, and then he bids at the three or four level, his partner knows that he’s doing it on offensive strength, not just high card points.

So in some sense, the strength of precision is every time you don’t use the big opening. I’m intrigued by the Polish Club systems, (where 1C shows all the big hands, but also shows the “balanced, barely enough to bid” hand, which puts some uncertainty for the opponents.  If they have a “compete quickly based on shape” system, often they could miss a reasonable game, or sacrifice when the opener can’t make much of anything. Or they could bid reasonably and then discover opener does have a huge hand.

Miles system works the opposite way. The 1 Club is usually moderately big, so the partner of opener will often be able to quickly determine that the opponents have gotten too high, but there’s no shot at slam (or game) and be able to punish them. Opener’s tightly constrained hand (almost all opening bids in this system have a 5 point range, except for the few exceptions on 1C (which are rare) and the 2C/2D bids technically have a 17 point range, but effectively 5 points.  (Only 1.5% of the hands have 20+ HCP, and only 0.02% have 26+)

Anyway, there’s very little discussion online about this system (at least, not that google can see), although I know that sometimes commenter JeffG plays with Marshall Miles (and in fact they were on the same team for the Vanderbilt’s a few weeks ago). The ACBL regulates bidding at tournaments somewhat draconianly (although I understand the reason behind it, it does annoy me), but this system is (apparently) legal. I guess I enjoy tinkering with systems, just like as in other games.

Anyway, in my mind, the unbalanced diamond compares with Precision (since they are both “Big Club” systems) and seems to compare reasonably well. It’s certainly interesting.


Written by taogaming

March 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with

Recent Rumblings

Regarding El Capitan, the graphics are slightly awkward, the game play is reasonable. I’ll need to try it with the expansions. No major change in my opinions.

I got to try Ad Astra; with very low expectations. It was fast … (3 player game), I’m told that it dawdles with more, but with fewer players the score cards cycle more (and each player is more likely to win the “first place” bonus), so the game flew by. Honestly, a bit too quickly to make a judgement, other than “Don’t let someone get in the lead in two categories, as he’ll play all his scoring cards each turn.”

Silk Road — Meh.

Airships — Inoffensive. Not quite willing to purchase a copy, even at 50% off. Makes me wish that the To Court the King expansion saw the light of day…

Campaign Manager — Broke the dime mark. The “we’re waiting for more people” game of choice these days. I need to work on my expansion cards.

Bridge — Won a few small club games recently with a good partner, and got a good team for the next sectional’s Knock Outs. Which is important (my first tournament I’ve had a reasonable team in a decade or so). Almost won the self-declared 8 board championship of the Universe last night (self-sponsored), but our touchy slam had a bad trump break. Thinking a lot about bridge ….

Written by taogaming

March 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm