Status Report

As you can see in the repository’s feed over on the right, development of Old Lady continues. I’m at a good point to talk a bit about its current status at a higher level, for those of you not checking each diff to see what’s happening with each checkin.

Thus far I’ve been going through the introductory bridge book I bought, implementing its bidding system (a simplified version of Standard American, though the book never calls it that) along the way. The most recent commit as of this writing more or less finishes Chapter 6. With that, the computer can open bidding at the 1 level, handle a 1NT opening essentially all the way through, and get through the first four bids for other 1-level openings.

Well, mostly. There’s lots of cases that wind up in the “todo” state, the catch-all for parts I haven’t figured out or gotten to in the book yet, but where more bidding might need to happen. As a result, the computer can get through most of the bidding, but then not know what to do when it comes times to seal the deal and pick a final contract.

Thus far, the decision logic has been based on the contents of the player’s hand and the bidding history. It doesn’t look at the information it’s derived about other hands from the bidding history. In other words, if it’s choosing a response to partner’s 1♠ opening bid, it will look at “partner bid 1♠” and not “I know partner definitely has at least 5 spades and 13-22 points”. This works fine early on, but becomes a pain after a few rounds of bidding, thanks to combinatorial explosion. Late-auction bids will probably need to take this latter route, when a fairly good picture of partner’s hand should be available, and it can start making decisions like “which suits do partner and I have at least 8 cards in together, and do we have enough points for game?”

There’s several more chapters on bidding I haven’t implemented yet. In the short term, I’ll work on those and leave the aforementioned loose ends for later. The next chapters are:

  • Opening bids at the 2-level or higher, and the bids that come after them. The decision logic here needs to consider the vulnerability of the partnerships, which is information the Prolog code doesn’t (yet) have access to.
  • Bidding slams and grand slams. Right now, the highest bidding the computer will ever try to go to is game.
  • Overcalls and takeout doubles; and the following chapter on competitive auctions. Right now, the computer gives up on bidding as soon as the other partnership bids anything. You might think that’s an easy way to stop the enemy computer plays from ever reaching a contract, but keep in mind that your partner also stops bidding! Not good.

After that, of course, is implementing the code for playing tricks. Right now a pretty dumb Python AI is there that doesn’t take advantage of any information learned from the auction or what cards have been played. The whole point of writing the bidding code in Python is to provide that information.

When all that is done, the computer players should be roughly as good as a beginner who’s been practicing, at which point you could actually consider Old Lady playable.

There’s lots of other features I’d like to add once I reach that point:

  • Making the code much faster. There are cases where the computer will spend a very noticeable and excessive amount of time “thinking”. A lot of the code is definitely sub-optimal, but it’s too early to start optimizing yet.
  • Support for other bidding systems. Standard American is just one of the ones out there, after all.
  • Support for having each partnership use different bidding systems.
  • Hints and other help for players who don’t know how to play bridge very well. This would include being able to explain the meaning behind bids and cards played.

It might be useful to write a domain-specific language for bidding systems. The closer they can be written in a way that matches how a person thinks of them, the better. That would also make it much easier to add help information for each bid. Ideally, the implementation in the DSL would be the help information for the bid.

But let’s finish implementing the basics before I start with any of that.