Robot Bridge, Now Ranked by the World Bridge Federation
by Alex J. Coyne © Great Bridge Links 2022
Contract bridge is no stranger to the fight for recognition. Some players – many whom we’ve interviewed right on Great Bridge Links – have dedicated much of their entire lives to getting the game seen (and played).
Online bridge has long been viewed as a hobby; an accompanying instrument to the face-to-face game, and rarely a strong enough competitor on its own. International lockdown forced a reshuffle, and a rethink.
The World Bridge Federation (WBF) has introduced a ranking system for online, bot-powered bridge games. More than just for practice, future bridge bot games can count for points.
Here’s more about the WBF Robot Rankings – and why it could be an important move for the game’s online future.
From 52 Entertainment CEO
Most online bridge websites feature bot play, such as GIB (Bridge Base Online) or Argine (Funbridge). Robot bridge is a big part of the game, and a huge reason why it’s possible to find a bridge partner for practice – any time, and anywhere.
“Playing bridge with humans is great,” says Olivier Comte, CEO of 52 Entertainment. “Robots cannot mimic all the nuances of a game with other players. However, there are more reasons why playing with a robot is a great alternative.”
Olivier notes that the advantages of robot bridge includes its availability, speed, and non-judgmental nature. “It’s an excellent partner for practice and play. In two words, easy and fun!”
The World Bridge Federation: With Jose Damiani
“Bridge was a tough game to learn,” admits Jose Damiani, current President Emeritus of the World Bridge Federation. “Fortunately we have new methods to simplify the process, mainly based off minibridge that allows everbody to play the cards; notrump without any bidding, after a short explanation.”
When most people learn bridge, they learn bidding and play with teachers or clubs. “There we have to face two issues: first, that it’s hard (and sometimes not so pleasant) for a beginner to play against older, so-called good players. Second, what time of day?”
“It’s difficult when you’re a working adult, but easier for those who are retired.”
Robots have had a direct impact on bridge as a whole. “With robots, it’s much easier to learn and start practicing whenever and whenever you wish. Bots can be quite as good (or even better) than average players, and they’re attractive for the youth.”
Damiani says that bridge robots have become an attraction point for young players, many who are used to games on PCs or smartphones – and certainly used to games powered by artificial intelligence.
As players become more apt bridge addicts, Damiani says that comparison and ranking becomes more enjoyable. “That’s why the World Bridge Federation (and NBOs) will use robots to get new members, and to extend their ranking systems to them.”
“However” he notes. “Our goal as administrators is still to get more bridge players in competitions and clubs, but robots are excellent tools to achieve improvement and larger numbers.”
The Conversation Continues (With Al Levy)
“In the ACBL – and before the pandemic – about 10% of the 160, 000 played online. Now, over 50% play online – and robot play is over 40% of total online play.”
The conversation on robot bridge isn’t complete without Al Levy, organizer of the World Computer Bridge Championship.
“The World Bridge Federation’s robot structure was set up to give players another bridge experience that might be interesting to many players worldwide.” says Levy.
The choice to bring bot games into masterpoint rankings is a pivotal shift towards the acceptance of online competition.
Masterpoints, he says, are important. “The ACBL, where I was chair of online play for my 24-year term on the board, integrates online and robot play as part of their regular masterpoint system (with some limits).”
This integration, he says, was necessary to get online players involved. “Most players would not play online, with or without robot play, if rewards (masterpoints) were not part of the regular masterpoint structure.”
WorldBridge.org: WBF Online Robot Tournaments
Where to play against Robots online?
Great Bridge Links has a great listing right on this site. Find them on our Play Bridge Online page