The Best is Yet to Come
By: Fred Gitelman
Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, April,
Why is it that we keep reading about computer chess programs challenging
World Champions while the best computer bridge programs would have a hard
time coming above average in most club games? One of the main reasons is
historic. Since the 1950s hundreds of highly skilled chess players and
computer scientists have worked on the problem of getting a computer to
play a good game of chess. Indeed, developing good chess programs has been
a defining goal for the field of artificial intelligence (AI).
As far as I know there is only one person in the world who is both a
top AI programmer and an expert bridge player. The good news is that this
person is actually working on the project of programming computers to play
a good game of bridge. His name is Matthew Ginsberg and the software
he is developing is truly remarkable.
Matt, 41, received his doctorate in mathematics from Oxford at age 24.
In 1992 Matt founded the Computational Intelligence Research Laboratory
at the University of Oregon. He directed this facility for several years
and still does his research there. Matt has written an AI textbook and
has published dozens of papers. He is one of the leading AI researchers
in the world. Matt is an excellent bridge player and a serious student
of the game. Unfortunately, the demands of his research do not afford Matt
much time for bridge these days. Matt lives in Eugene Oregon with his wife
Pam and 2 year old son, Navarre. His other interests include stunt flying,
writing plays, card tricks, and baking fancy deserts. Matt has also had
some success writing programs to help make stock market decisions.
Matt has developed a program called GIB (short for Goren In a
Box). GIB in not currently a full bridge playing program. Presently
it can be used to solve declarer and defensive play problems. Matt's latest
work has involved teaching GIB to bid, as well as improving the
speed and accuracy of its card play.
At the heart of GIB is a program that can look at all 52 cards
in a bridge deal and decide how many tricks can be made (a double dummy
problem). GIB can solve a typical 52 card double dummy problem in
about a second. Since some particularly fiendish double dummy problems
have been constructed that stump human experts for days, GIB's performance
is really amazing. We all have memories of playing bridge hands and wondering
"could I have made that contract?". GIB could tell you
in a second or so.
GIB can go one step further. It can answer the question, "should
I have made that contract?". By performing a double dummy analysis
on 100 or so possible layouts of the unseen cards, GIB can figure
out the best card to play in any situation. Since this process involves
some random simulation of the unseen hands and due to complex programming
issues, GIB occasionally errs in deciding which cards to play. Matt's
latest ideas should solve these problems and lead to near perfect card
play by the next version of GIB (to be known as GIBSON).
Even in its current "non-perfect" state, GIB's card
play skills are in a completely different league than anything that is
currently commercially available. Matt recently performed an interesting
experiment to test GIB's declarer play skills. GIB's "victim"
in this test was Bridge Baron, one of the best existing bridge programs.
Matt used Bridge Master, a program that I created, to perform the
Bridge Master is an educational program that is designed to improve
the user's declarer play. The user is presented with a series of instructional
deals to play at whatever level of difficulty they like. We have recently
begun selling Bridge Master for Windows which comes with 180 lesson
deals, 36 at each of 5 levels of difficulty. One of the nice things about
Bridge Master is that it allows your contract to succeed only if
you play correctly as declarer. Any mistakes will be punished by the defeat
of your contract. As we all know, in real bridge a lucky lie of the cards
or a misdefensive often allows us to get away with card play mistakes.
This does not happen with Bridge Master where mistakes are always
punished. This property of Bridge Master made it an excellent medium
for Matt's experiment.
Matt had both GIB and Bridge Baron play all 180 deals
in Bridge Master. Here are the results:
||# of Problems Solved (out of 36)
Those of you who have tried Bridge Master will find these results
amazing. For those of you who have not, I would guess that there are less
than 20 players in world that could match GIB's performance on the
Level 5 hands. It is also interesting to note that GIB's performance
was fairly consistent regardless of the difficulty level of the deals that
GIB is scheduled to play a 96 board match against Bridge Baron
in June. The winner of this match will win $2500 and play bridge against
human experts in the upcoming Hall of Champions - a competition between
the best human and computer players of several strategy games.
What is Matt's goal? Nothing less than world bridge supremacy. Zia
Mahmood once bet one million British pounds that no team of 4 computers
will ever beat a team of 4 people that Zia puts together. Matt was hoping
to collect on this bet but when Matt approached Zia, Zia turned tail and
ran, claiming the bet was not on indefinitely. Zia had heard through the
grapevine about Matt and GIB.
If Matt can get permission from the ACBL he is hoping to enter GIB
in some National events. GIB is already a member of the ACBL and
may play in a side game at the upcoming Nationals in Dallas. As GIB is
only 3 years old, it has already improved the ACBL's age demographics!
My company is trying to join forces with Matt in an effort to develop
GIB into a commercial product (likely with a new name). The resulting
product will play much better than anything currently available. GIB
will finally provide a challenge for tournament level players who are sick
of programs that bid and play worse than they do. Expect to see a commercial
version of GIB early in 1998.
Our game is sadly lacking in media exposure. The recent success of chess
programs has received front page coverage in most major newspapers. Major
corporations (like Intel) put millions of dollars into to chess tournaments
between people and machines. If GIB turns out to be everything Matt thinks
it will be (and, after meeting Matt and seeing his work, I believe him)
this project will give bridge some badly needed publicity.
If you have an interest in computer science and would like to talk to
Matt about GIB he can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to read more about GIB, visit GIB's web