Omar Sharif on Bridge. (Evaluation)
by Richard C. Leinecker
For bridge enthusiasts with some aces to play, there's finally a bridge game that'll help you fine-tune your game while you have a great time. The only thing you'll miss is your partner's frowns when you pass while he's holding all the points, or when you go down because you miscounted the trump.
Omar Sharif on Bridge is so easy to use that I didn't read the manual for several weeks. Pull-down menus and popup dialog boxes make it all happen. The well-designed interface logically groups choices together, and a single mouse click or keypress does everything.
A digitized voice narrates gameplay; it sounds like Omar himself. On my Sound Blaster the voice sounds great. On my computer at work, equipped with only a PC speaker, it sounds so bad I have to turn it off.
Beyond the cosmetics is the real bridge engine--bidding and card playing. In both areas the program performed well. If I could be as consistent, my game would improve dramatically. Bidding followed all of the standard conventions. None were mentioned in the manual, and you couldn't pick the ones you wanted to observe. But it dutifully responded to my 4 No Trump bid by going into Blackwood. Weak 2 bids and takeout doubles were also part of its standard arsenal.
I did note several oddities that made the bidding uncannily human. Here's an example: I was dealt a hand with nine spades (missing only the ace at the top) and some other points. Needless to say, I wanted to get the bid, but so did West. He outbid me and ended up at seven hearts. I had at least one loser and prudently stopped at six spades. He should have known he had at least one loser, too. At the first opportunity I played my ace of diamonds, took the trick, and probably created some new silicon-based curse words in the process.
If the programmers wanted a perfectly playing bidding routine, they didn't quite make it. If they wanted to simulate human play, they got pretty close. I can't count the number of times I've faced an opponent who was determined to take the bid, no matter what.
The card-playing half of the game regularly took advantage of my mistakes. It never made mistakes and remembered every card. It took my best effort to keep up. If you're practicing the card-playing portion of your game, this'll give you a real workout. It's a good way to do your calisthenics before you get to the table and risk the ire of your partner.
Here, too, I noted some oddities. think it's fair to say even to this day that academics are sorting out the issues of artificial intelligence. It's difficult, to say the least, to get a computer to really think. While the game played remarkably well, some insight and intuition on its part would have helped.
On one hand in which I took the bid, I got a hint for each move. l wanted to understand how the computer was thinking. It was the dummy's lead, and was eying a possible finesse that needed to lead from the dummy. The computer advised me to play a low card from the dummy instead of taking it with a high card. The advice box told me that this was so I could lead from my hand. On the very next play it told me to lead a low card from my hand so the dummy could take the trick and gain the lead. I could have taken either trick from the dummy or my hand. It then made the finesse I wanted to try. I had to scratch my head over this. Even though the net effect was the same, it was a rather illogical way of doing it.
If you're serious about bridge and have trouble rounding up three other people to play, or if you want to practice so you can win more matches, this is a great benefit. You can play anytime you want. You'll face a reasonably good opponent, and you can get advice and learn more about the game. And best of all, you won't get any frowns after a bad play.