BBO Focus: Summer 2020 NABC Robot Individual Winner, jcwla

Jordan Chodorow is a bridge player, film critic, crossword champion, tax expert and winner of the 2020 NABC Robot Individual tournament on BBO. Here’s how jcwla won the title – and some questions about where he finds time for all of it.

Alex J. Coyne (AJC): Tell readers about yourself: Bridge player, but also tax law expert handling yacht, aircraft and art sales as well as professional film critic and four-time Crossword champion.

Jordan Chodorow (JC)My dad’s a tax lawyer, so the one thing I knew growing up I’d never be is a tax lawyer. Of course, you know the rest. We work together and I’m glad to have the time with him.

My days as both a U.S. Open tennis umpire and a professional film critic are over, but I still see over 200 new movies a year (well, not this year…) and review them at JordanonFilm.com.

I did win four California crossword championships and remain the only cruciverbalist to complete a New York Times puzzle in under two minutes in live tournament competition.

AJC: When (and how) did playing bridge start?

JCWith friends at Haverford College. We had no clue what we were doing. (“Why did you redouble?” “I’m not telling.”) Eventually my friend Alex Werner and I started to take it more seriously, wrote up system notes, and drove to Swarthmore for our first club game. 

AJC: What pushed you to enter the NABC Robot Individual?

JC: I’ve entered all of them. To me, robot bridge is the purest, truest form of bridge. Don’t get me wrong; I love live bridge and other forms of bridge on BBO, but they contain a huge element of chance (whom you play which boards against, which system they’re using, how they choose to evaluate a hand, what mood they’re in…). And a club game? You’re a leaf in the wind.

AJC: Would you say that beating a bot is different to outsmarting a human opponent?

JCI reject the premise. I did NOT “beat a bot.” (Who would ever beat a bot? They’re so sweet and cute.) 

The robots are merely a conduit for a test of bridge skill in which, without sitting at your “table,” every other human who entered is competing with and trying to outsmart you.

AJC: Does your life partner play bridge, too?

JCNot even as a fourth. 

Daniel’s super chill. In twelve years together, we’ve never had a serious fight. We don’t argue politics and even if he played bridge, we would never play together.

AJC: Did you have a playing, preparation or practice routine for the Bot Individual?

JCAlmost every day, I play the five 12-board ACBL daylongs and the 18-board daylong. I won half a dozen of those in the week leading up to the NABC, so I was in good form. 

Occasionally I also play the SYC 18-board daylong; in fact, I won that the same day as the NABC. For the tournament, I find a time each day when I won’t have any distractions for half an hour (generally the afternoon or evening at the end of each session). 

AJC: Do you see more online and/or bot-driven bridge in the foreseeable future?

JCI sure hope so. When the first NABC Robot Individual was announced as an experiment in conjunction with the Summer 2017 NABC in Toronto, Justin Lall wrote [in a BridgeWinners comment – AJC], 

“Skill plays such a huge role in robot tournaments…especially in cardplay…I have no doubt that in this format it is more likely that the best player will win than in something like the Platinum Pairs…A weak player literally has zero chance of lucking into a high placing in this. IMO, we may be going down the ‘too much skill’ hole.” 

And Roger Lee wrote, 

“It is not possible to be good at bridge but bad against the robots. It is not possible to be good against the robots but bad at bridge. They are equivalent skills…The sheer density of decisions you have to make as the best-hand holder in a punishing format like MP means that someone who consistently makes better decisions will do better in the event…It is wrong to think that robot bridge is ‘not bridge’…Being good at deduction, deception, logical inferences, general cardplay technique and having good overall bidding judgment are not just ‘part’ of the robot game, it is basically the entirety of the game. I hope people who belabor the small differences between robot bridge and normal duplicate bridge could find it in themselves to agree with that.” 

To that, I would only add that the top 40 finishers in this event hold a combined 38 NABC+ and 18 NABC titles, with many more among the remaining 3,202 players. That kind of competition is as serious as a heart attack.

AJC: Anything you’d like to add?

JCDefinitely. Though I take pride in the event itself, I sucked on Day 3, falling off more than 8% from my Day 2. 

I’d been in high position after two days before (here I sat second), and yet again I hated my draw of Day 3 boards (defending ten times? blech). So in the second half of Day 3, I swung for a few fences (including two 7NT’s in four hands). I was just hoping for a respectable placing when I idly checked the results and did a Danny Thomas spit take. 

I also want to say a special word about Leo LaSota. 

I’ve tried to imagine how I would have reacted had I posted the 68.33% and he the 68.35%, but Leo was the first to congratulate me and compliment my cardplay. I’m not sure I could have mustered such equanimity, let alone such class, especially when we all know Leo is the king. (This win gets me to within approximately 1, 000 masterpoints of him for the month.)

Thank you to everyone who has sent along good wishes. 

Comments

  1. No. Robot bridge is not real bridge. You know you have more high card points than any other hand so you, naturally, use that information both in bidding and in the play of the hand; however no other hand/bot at the table is programmed to know that information and cannot use it to similar advantage. Further, all bots “alert” all bids from the perspective of the bidding bot not just the bot’s partner’s understanding of the “agreement.”

    None of these takes away from the significance of your accomplishment, though, because every other live player knows these things and uses them. Congratulations.

  2. As a rookie playing duplicate for less than five years, it’s interesting to listen to opinions from the leaders and learn how they honed their skills over the years. Bridge is so challenging and addictive. . . like golf. . . someday all your putts go in. I enjoyed this article!!!

  3. Congratulations again Jordan and welcome to the club 🙂

    I had forgotten about Jlall’s and Clee’s comments about the robodoops. #respect

  4. He forgot to mention the time when we used to play paddle tennis and a minor NABC DIVISION WIN ABOUT 14 YEARS AGO

  5. Thank you Jordan. I am new at robot play. I just finished the 12 HPs and thought I had done well. (I/m only at the Intermediate level.) I was making my bids fairly wee but only getting a couple of pts. I was so disappointed in myself. But I have already some things about Robot play learned from you just now/ What a marvelous career you have had. MANY THANKS

  6. Hi Jordan. Well done. I’ve said to my friend Alex Perlin, ten years from now we’ll look back on these early online tournaments and realize how important they were.
    Do you have any special techniques you use playing with the bots?

  7. Hi Jordan, Congratulations, nice to get to know you a bit. half-way through the interview I laughed at something you said and thought ‘Yeah OK, I like this guy, in spite of being jealous’. Well done and well deserved.

  8. I agree Robot bridge, best hand or not, is the purest form of the game for exactly the reasons that you gave. Well done.

  9. Thanks again to all.

    I made a YouTube vid called “Win an ACBL Robot Daylong With Me!” that gives a glimpse into my thinking during a sample robot tourney.
    For anyone who’s interested. Note my lack of technological skill, but hey, it was my first go at it.

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