Join Bridge Winners
But is it bridge?

A few months ago at the club I heard this auction: P (me) 1 2 2; All Pass! The opponents were playing vanilla 2/1 and definitely weren't playing Negative Free Bids. Opener wasn't psyching, didn't have a sub-minimum, and didn't have a defect. The dummy was just a boring 11 or 12 count. Declarer was understandably perturbed. Opener shrugged and remarked that he didn't like his hand, vaguely challenging his partner to prove him wrong which declarer promptly did by setting up a diamond side suit to make five to which there was no defense.

When I tell you this was an Eight is Enough† teams event you might stop reading. But wait the opponents were the strong half of the team! Declarer is a very sensible and competent player with several thousand masterpoints. Opener is a Platinum LM pushing towards 15,000 MP who won many, if not most, of his masterpoints online in BBO robot games. He is known to be a poor bidder though in fairness his card play is quite good.

I don't mean to rehash the often poor correlation between masterpoints and skill. Still, I know a quite a few face to face players in the 5000-10000 MP range. They are not invincible but they usually have an all around competence. They know which bids are forcing, they know their agreements in their regular partnerships, and they have good bidding judgment. As declarer they can find a simple squeeze or endplay if necessary. Their defense is decent. Most of them would go ape shit if their partner passed a 100% forcing bid in a pedestrian auction.

Does Platinum LM now mean nothing? Can we only rely on national (and world) titles and perhaps the tally of Blue Ribbon quals?

A couple of months after this incident, I learned that the human player always has the highest number of HCP in BBO Robot hands. This got me thinking that maybe our Platinum LM forgot he was playing face to face. Afterall, how much hope is there for game if your hand is flat and you know partner has no more HCP than you?

Now I'm questioning whether BBO Robot bridge is even bridge. It seems perfectly harmless to have the human play the hand when his robot partner becomes declarer so that the differences in each human's skill level are better examined. But giving the human the hand with the most HCP seems to fundamentally distort the logical of bidding. If the human player is to be preferentially given the strongest hand at the table it seems like this should be done in a probabilistic fashion rather than in an absolute manner.

†Eight is Enough teams is a method that tries to balance team strength by assigning each player a number 1 (weak), 2 (intermediate), 3 (strong) and requiring that the team total add up to 8 or less. Typical teams are a 3-3 pair playing with a 1-1 pair or two 2-2 pairs (often the best setup), though two 3-1 mentor-mentee pairs is a possibility. Naturally the numerical assignments are based on masterpoints so the usual caveats apply.

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