OCT_08_EB_p42-43 Debate 12/9/08 12:44 pm Page 39
Or vote by post (Editor, English Bridge, 23 Erleigh Road, Reading RG1 5LR).
Comments for publication (not more than 200 words, please) are welcome. David Burn
Can you imagine Shakespeare or Michelangelo about ten minutes. Of course, the com- West North East South
or Beethoven being satisfied with not making puters would need to play an infinite Meckstroth Helness Rodwell Helgemo
mistakes? Would Botticelli have given us the number of extra boards to decide the title, 1♥ Pass
Divina Commedia just by not chucking? but everyone would have gone home to 3♣ 1 Pass 3NT2 Pass
— The Hideous Hog watch Strictly Come Dancing instead (a 4♣ Pass 5♣3 All Pass
competition in which the outcome is Invitational with clubs;
The right contract;
IF I asked you to name the first great decided entirely by the judges’ and the 3
The wrong contract.
bridge player to come to your mind, I’d be public’s flair for selecting people who
surprised if you didn’t pick Zia Mahmood. cannot dance and encouraging them to North led a diamond, and you or I or some
Or, depending on your nationality and age demonstrate this as often as possible at the computer would have won with the ace and
group, perhaps Geir Helgemo, Benito expense of people who can). played a heart, hoping that the opponents
Garozzo, Paul Chemla, Jeff Meckstroth, Flair is less easy to define. The Oxford would not find a switch to spades (not that
John Collings . . . Now, what have all those English Dictionary says that it is ‘power of computers can hope, but computers would
players in common? Their knowledge of “scent”; sagacious perceptiveness; instinc- be in 3NT anyway). Meckstroth didn’t do
the technical side of the game – bidding tive discernment.’ In bridge terms, this that: he called for dummy’s ten of diamonds,
judgement, percentage plays, Scissors means that flair consists in picking the right won by Helgemo with the queen. Obviously
Coups and compound squeezes – is no moment to do the wrong thing. Because the Norwegian maestro could have broken
better and no worse than other champions. bridge – even duplicate bridge – is not a the contract by playing either major, but he
But what sets them apart from the rest, what game of pure skill, it is always possible that returned an innocent diamond. Meckstroth
make them the people who are surrounded by doing the wrong (anti-percentage) thing pitched a heart, won in dummy, played a
by kibitzers at the table or online, is flair. you will obtain a better result on a single heart, and made his contract.
Percentage bridge is easy to define, occasion than by doing the right (percent- Was this good bridge? No, not by any
though very difficult indeed to implement. age) thing. This does not mean, of course, stretch. Was it great bridge? Undoubtedly
It consists in taking, every time it is your that you should do the wrong thing on – this deal arose in the 1997 World Cham-
turn, the action that maximises your every deal just in case it happens to work pionships and on the morning when the
chances of success assuming that everyone out well; the percentages will in that case details were published in the daily
else at the table is acting rationally. In work inexorably against you. What it does bulletin, the talk among the world’s finest
theory, a computer could be programmed mean is this: was of nothing but the wonderful play
to ‘know’ what action will work out best in Meckstroth had made (if Rodwell had any
the long run given any position that might comments on his partner’s bidding, he
occur at the bridge table (in practice we are Game All ♠ K753 kept them to himself ). I’ve seen a lot of
a very long way indeed from creating such a Dealer East ♥ K8 bridge, but that ten of diamonds – not the
machine). Four such computers pitted ♦ KJ974 two, which would leave a dangerous
against each other would play the best ♣ 32 holding in dummy, but the ten – remains
percentage bridge the world has ever seen – ♠ 10 4 N
♠ A98 the greatest play I have ever seen.
but would anyone consider it ‘great bridge’? ♥ Q3 W E ♥ J 10 6 5 2 In short, if you always play the per-
Would anyone even watch it? ♦ 5 ♦ A 10 2 centages you will be a good bridge player.
Imagine a world championship final ♣ A J 10 9 7 6 5 4 ♣ K8 But to be a great bridge player, you need
contested by two teams of computers. At the ♠QJ62 flair. Victor Mollo opened my address for
end of 160 boards the match would be a ♥A974 me; it is only fitting that he should close it.
0-0 draw in IMPs, but at least the spectators ♦Q863 Those who do the right thing and lose
would not be bored, for with current ♣Q cannot forgive their betters, who do the
processor speeds the event would be over in wrong thing and win.
www.ebu.co.uk October 2008 English Bridge 39