Paul Cronin

Our grand old game!

Through July 23-26 at the Toronto NABC, the ACBL will offer an online, national-rated event on BBO. The 4 session game ($10 per session) will offer a limited National Championship and up to 48 gold/red MPs. However, this will not be your regular game, because your partner will be a robot, and you will be playing against robots. Additionally, all players will not play the same boards. The robots are well known to have significant bidding idiosyncrasies, and knowing those will be a great help to those who are familiar with the robots, and a great hindrance to those who don’t. The human player always gets the hand with the most HCPs – this does not represent bridge as we know it, and changes the frequency of being on defence, etc. The whole concept simply boggles my mind – and makes me worry even more about the future of our grand old game.

1 Comment

JRGJuly 6th, 2018 at 11:57 pm

This post by Paul has been re-created. Recreating the associated comments so they look the same appears to be difficult; however, they were not lost and the comments on this post are reproduced below. …JRG

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolff July 8th, 2017 at 7:47 pm

Hi Paul, I have been preoccupied and did not see your message till now.

I am in total agreement of your concern about the future of our ONCE grand old game. The direction it is heading is disheartening and if they don’t take a different attitude toward getting bridge into the school curriculum in Zone 2, we are headed for extinction. With Eleven European countries having it in their schools, with Two hundred million children in China alone .. compare it to One Hundred Seventy Thousand members of THE ACBL.

Time everyone got off their high horses and smelled the roses .. or rather the lilies?



Comment: Paul Cronin July 8th, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Hi Judy,

The idea of becoming a national champion by playing with three robots leaves me shaking my head. And playing with many sets of boards, while maybe good to try to prevent cheating, makes comparing scores a joke. Some players, like Leo LaSota, have enormous expertise re the bidding idiosyncrasies of the robots, and will undoubtedly do well. Those who are not familiar with the outdated programming of the robots will fare poorly. Only ACBL members can participate, so BBOers in foreign countries may join the ACBL just to be able to play. Couple this with the 4 session $40 fee, and you have a ……cash grab. Don’t know whose idea this is…. the new CEO who has less than 200 MPs? Maybe it will be a roaring success, but it sure isn’t bridge.
All the best to you and Bobby!

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolff July 8th, 2017 at 10:05 pm


What bridge assets does this new CEO have? It takes a helluva lot more than great executive. decisions when you are unfamiliar with the workings of serious, qualified, experienced bridgeminds. Paul, no one has to convince you that bridge is a game unto itself.

We are not going to a Toronto although we would like to meet such a staunch bridge loyalist like yourself! Our loss!

We have not attended an out of state NABC in about seven or eight years and I do not miss them. As I have alluded to before, I counted the minutes before leaving for the Philadelphia airport with Norman. Alas, no more.

Things are just not the same and my zest to partake in the flesh is history.

Have fun and do well!


Comment: Bobby Wolff July 9th, 2017 at 5:12 am

Hi Paul,

If your description is only partly true (and knowing you I am sure it is right-on), the game intending to be bridge is not even close. Few humans (only 25%) (totally random exercises labeled as excuses for bridge, 75%) Charging to play, ridiculous, similar to stealing, and likely humiliating as well.

The so-called master point has reached a new low, something Mr. McKinney, one of our stalwart leaders back in the 1930’s who basically invented what then was a great idea, the master point, must be crying in his grave at the utter disgrace of all things ACBL.

And what about our new CEO, who, I was told, took over about a week ago? If either of us were him, would we allow such a travesty?

I hope he will have the good sense to call it off, but perhaps it is now too late. Someone has to stand up to choosing such an event, and if not the new CEO, who?

Far be it from me to keep others from making money, but how is it even possible, after what is planned is done to have much, if any pride, in what our former rating system has now become.

Since I am far away from Horn Lake and have not had much contact with them for years, I doubt seriously that any up to now serious bridge player can maintain any form of respect for what once was unquestionably, along with Chess, the best mind game ever invented.

Sometimes we have to take a step backward in order to move forward, but to sponsor what you detail above, may never be able to be lived down.

If this is really happening, I never could have imagined such a horrible downturn in what, at one time, was a majestic and very proud enterprise.

Comment: Paul Cronin July, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Hi Bobby & Judy,

There is a 3 day practice session on BBO this weekend in preparation for the NABC online event. The day 2 winner had a 96.88% game, with two others being over 80%. Day 1 was a little tamer with the winner at 83.63%, and one other over 80%. The overall leader after two days stands at 86.57%. And this is bridge ???

Comment: Bobby Wolff July 9th, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your support and swiftly arriving at the apex of the result, Those percentage games mentioned by you have never been achieved by any honest means and, although infinitesimally possible we do not have to be a genius to understand why, if in fact, those virtually impossible percentages will soon become commonplace.

Trying to compare the planned game with some other endeavor(s) will always include the words, totally dishonest and unethical, the antithesis of what so many of us have fought vigilantly our whole bridge career to dread.

To each his own, but only by settling for total and complete disgust. Our only hope is that today is March 31st and this event will supposedly be occurring tomorrow as reported by Bridgewinners.

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolf July 9th, 2017 at 9:50 pm


The more thought I give to this maniacal idea .. methinks this is in preparation for a Halloween prank. I can’t imagine the purpose other than to draw curiosity seekers and perhaps rake in more money. Is there something I am missing?

Comment: slar July 10th, 2017 at 5:33 pm

I’m going to be the naysayer here. As someone whose limited schedule makes it difficult to play a lot of tournament bridge, I welcome this opportunity. Short of being at the table in person, this is about the most excitement I can think of for $40.

As for the game format, I don’t know that this is any worse than board-a-match, for example. A winning player is going to have very good declaring skill and bidding judgment and with that many boards there are going to be some defensive opportunities too. And if a Leo LaSota or Jim Munday (the winner of the 3-day practice) wins the whole thing, good for him. In the practices there weren’t enough players per board but I think that will be fixed for the real thing.

The only real issue I have is with the robot’s idiosyncratic bidding. Given the amount of money that is flowing into BridgeBase with ACBL games, they need to invest in better bidding algorithms. For every good slam I find, I get a quacky mess that makes the bot’s bidding exuberance look ridiculous. The thing is there is luck involved in every bridge game – that 2/3 slam won’t make a third of the time and sometimes your shrinking violet opponents will emerge victorious because today is TOCM Day and every reasonable game or slam goes down.

Comment: Bobby Wolff July 10th, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Hi Slar,

While I agree with both your enthusiasm, your acceptance of new ways to compete, and, of course, tolerance for imperfect methods as opposed to very little opportunity to otherwise compete.

However, i do not think you can conceive, beyond your wildest imagination how little of this enterprise has anything at all about the real game of bridge.

However since it hasn’t happened yet, and it is always possible for me to have no idea of how well this contest has been thought out, I definitely want you to participate and then inform everyone you can, including me, just how right or wrong I was.

Good luck and please prove me wrong, but in case it doesn’t work out that way, perhaps it will be an important learning experience on the dangers of what lurks out there in the ways of taking advantage of enthusiastic bridge players and providing them with nothing related to bridge substance.

Comment: slar July 11th, 2017 at 2:58 am

I will be sure to give a report somewhere.

Comment: Young Blood July 11th, 2017 at 5:16 pm

The interesting thing is….on this site and others (such as Bridgewinners), it is the, how shall I say this, much older players who are voicing the biggest objections. The younger generation (in bridge, think ‘under 50’) seem to be staunch supporters of such an experiment.

Doesn’t that tell us that it’s an idea with potential that should be tried?

Comment Bobby Wolff July 12th, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Hi Young Blood,

With a plea such as yours, how can anyone disagree?

However, after the fact, please join Slar in giving a complete report, together with a conclusion of how in your opinion, our favorite game, because of this competition, will be more popular and cause others to want to create various different ways to beard that tiger so that the best parts of what our game has always stood for, grow majestically.

Comment: Paul Cronin July 16th, 2017 at 7:57 pm

This online event may be "bridge-like", but it is certainly not bridge. For instance, Law 40, C, 3,(a) states
Unless permitted by the Regulating Authority,a player is not entitled during the auction and play periods to any aids to memory,calculation or technique.
The ACBL policy on "memory aids" specifically mentions

  1. Taking notes or writing down the auction and referring to it during the play
  2. Writing down one’s complete hand and referring to it during the play
  3. Referring to one’s own convention card at any time during the auction or play of the hand

All three of the above will be possible in this event.
Players will be able to make an unlimited number of psychs, as the robots do not keep track of same, and hence there is no "partnership understanding.
To make matters worse, you can simply place your cursor over your partner's bid and its meaning will be displayed. You can also click on any potential bid you are going to make and see its meaning before you make it.
Robots do not signal, and any signals you make will be ignored.
The "human" always gets the hand with the most HCPs and always declares the hand for his/her side. The "human" therefore never makes the opening lead.
The robots play 2/1, so if you play Standard American or any of the European systems, your bids will be taken by the robot as being 2/1.
Could go on and on here, but having a 96.88% game with the robots says it all!

Comment: Paul Cronin July 16th, 2017 at 7:57 pm

A couple of other things have been noticed by those studying the hands of players doing well in the online event practice sessions:

  1. the bots defend by the auction, not by the play, so players thinking of heading eventually for NT always open their shorter minor
  2. almost any hand is opened 1NT regardless of point count or shape, and a little stronger hand is opened 2NT
  3. players routinely lie in response to Stayman, as you want to be in NT where the bots defend very poorly, as in leading a singleton, etc.

Will there eventually be an American Contract Botlicate League?

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolff July 17th, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Hi Paul,

The more I read, the more my mind reflects on early ambitions of improving oneself to compete in the genuine game of bridge. Perhaps I am just an old fuddy-dud who was introduced to the majesty of real bridge by watching Silodor, Crawford, Jacoby, Roth, Stone, Schenken, Gerber, Mathe, Sobel, Kemp, Wagar and too many more to name.

How do you think these bridge icons would reflect upon robot play .. especially at an NABC which would be awarding masterpoints! Absolutely absurd! Perhaps our parent organization should rename themselves the ARGA (American Random Games Association). It would be more descriptive!

Any comparison to the original glorious objective of the game is off the wall.

Comment: slar July 17th, 2017 at 5:35 pm

I believe there is plenty of room in our game for this sort of event. A few points:

  • About 1,500 people have registered. There is something to be said for that.
  • Getting a Masterpoint award will be hard! It is looking like about 10% will get an overall reward and somewhere around 5% will get an award on each particular day. Most people (including myself, to be honest) would be better off entering 40 single-session 12-board ACBL events.
  • Writing down things is cheating and BridgeBase cheaters have been caught over the years. Most players have a pretty significant record and if they punch way above their weight, you can guess that something fishy is going on.
  • Psyching when you have the best hand is rarely a good strategy. If you psych 2C, for example (planning to pass 2D), you’re completely hosed if the bot bids something else because it will never let you out of the auction. I’ve had occasional success with stretches like 14-point 1NT or opening a good 4-card suit but those aren’t psychs.
  • Because you get the best hand, there are certain inferences that go with that. For example, with an 11 count you can open a minor, pretend your partner is a passed hand, and pass its 1 of a major bid. Taking advantage of available positive and negative inferences is just good bridge, IMHO.
  • Just because you have the best hand doesn’t mean you win the contract. It isn’t that unusual to be on opening lead, even against a game contract which makes against normal defense. Since the robots consider most doubles to be takeout-oriented, there aren’t that many opportunities to collect a penalty double. Even if you find a penalty double, you might still be looking at -590.
  • I hear you with regards to all bots’ bids and all possible responses being highlighted. It would be reasonable to do away with this for ACBL games especially since there are plenty of opportunities to practice without them. However, this would require GIB to publish detailed system notes and there would be nothing stopping players from referring these notes during the play. What’s the point? Having the hints speeds up the game.
  • The scores of the practice this past weekend were more moderated. I don’t believe anyone was over 80%. This should not be surprising because you aren’t subject to the ups and downs of your opposition. There is something to be said for having more degrees of freedom. Plus 48 boards of mostly declaring is a lot. The cream will rise to the top.

If you aren’t interested, don’t play. It is as simple as that. A lot of people are looking forward to the event and I predict it will be a success.

Comment: Paul Cronin July 17th, 2017 at 6:04 pm

As an illustration of (1) above, Justin Lall opened the following hand 1C
KQ2 Q962 AK64 94 Result: 100%
Re (2), above"taydog", finishing second in session 2, opened the following hand 1NT
852 Q4 J6 AKQJ109 Result: 100%
Re (3) above, "ralphb", finishing second in session 3, opened the following hand 2NT
A32 AJ102 AKJ98 2 Result: 100%

Comment: paul cronin July 17th, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Hello Slar,

It’s not as simple as “If you aren’t interested, don’t play” when we are really concerned about what effect this type of event will have on the future of bridge. Some things are detrimental ….cheating….professionals on committees……declining membership…….the aging of the membership…..bad table manners…….and it’s important to talk about them. In my opinion, this “event” needs all the discussion it can get.

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolff July 18th, 2017 at 3:36 am


The powers that be (whomever they are) call the shots. However, awarding masterpoints with robot participation is nothing short of heresy to our once-majestic game!

Comment: slar July 18th, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Yet they’ve been doing it for years and the world is still spinning on its axis. I believe most people see on-line bridge as a supplement to playing in-person, not a replacement for it. It gives those of us with day jobs and/or families an opportunity to show and improve their bridge play. I’m befuddled as to why some old timers view this as a bad thing.

Paul produced a list of far more important things to worry about.

Comment: Paul Cronin July 18th, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Hi Slar,

Sorry if I gave the impression that I am opposed to online bridge or see it as a bad thing, as neither is true. I play lots of online bridge myself, although not with robots, and thoroughly enjoy it. If people find value in playing with robots to sharpen their skills, etc., that’s fine too. What I am opposed to is holding an NABC level event online, with robot partners and robot opponents, and calling the winner a “national champion”. When you win the Spingold or the Vanderbit, you’re a national champion. When you win an online event against robots, you’re simply someone who has mastered the bidding and defending inadequacies of the bots, and should in no way be given the same kind of title and masterpoints as an actual national champion …Rodwell, Meckstroth, Grue, Lall, Wolff, Crane, Kaplan, Kay, Gordon, Murray, Kehela…

Comment: Judy Kay-Wolff July 19th, 2017 at 3:47 pm


You have capsulized the issue. Well said!

Comment: slar July 23rd, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Just one more thing here, this is an NABC event, not an NABC+ one. There are just gold and red points in play, no platinum points. Winning this would be roughly as prestigious as winning the Red Ribbon Pairs or NAP/GNT Flight C. No one should be confusing this with the Spingold.

Comment: Paul Cronin July 24th at 6:38 pm

Hello slar,

Just wondering how you made out on the first day of the online event.

Comment: slar July 26th, 2017 at 3:03 am

Thanks for asking. About as well as could be expected considering my stature. I was 440 out of 2600+ after 1 round, inching up to 416 after round two. I think I will probably drop slightly after round three. It wasn’t terrible (~54%) just not as good as the first two. I’m having fun with it and being around the 80th percentile is nothing to be ashamed of.

Comment: Paul Cronin July 26th, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Hi slar,

Those are really good results – well done! Best wishes for a successful fourth round.

Comment: slar July 27th, 2017 at 4:16 pm

I slid back some more in round 4, finishing 578. It was good enough to scratch. I have not had a chance to review my results but not a lot went right that round.

As far as I can tell, the tournament was successful. There was what I would consider to be a large turnout. I had only slight interruptions during the play. The only real issue is the quality of the bots. Nuances of bidding (like looking for a stopper in the unbid suit before bidding 3NT or looking for a control or shortness in opponent’s suit before driving to slam) are completely lost on them. These affect everyone of course but shouldn’t we all aspire to higher quality of play?

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