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Bridge phenom Noble Shore mastering game
Noble Shore playing bridge
Photo by Lincoln Ross Barbour
Noble Shore (second from left) is not only eager to improve his hand at bridge, literally, he’s also intent on developing a computer bridge program to compete with top players in national tournaments.

By Laura Bassett

Noble Shore, a first-year computer science graduate student, also happens to be one of the best bridge players in the nation. But he insists with a poker face that his outstanding math skills contribute nothing to his game.

“To play bridge, you only have to be able to count to 13,” he said. “People shy away from the game because it is very technical, but it really only requires logical reasoning. I am good at it, because I have played so much.”

Shore, 23, must have played a great deal of bridge in the past few years to accomplish what he has. In July, he competed in the U.S. Junior Team Bridge Trials in New York City, where he secured a spot on the team heading for the Junior World Championships in Australia next summer. The United States only sends two teams to this prestigious tournament, mostly consisting of players who have already been successful in the world circuit. A diamond in the rough, Shore was chosen among the many less experienced players for his talent and potential.

“It’s an honor to be able to play in the tournament,” he said, “but I am most looking forward to the free trip to Australia. I have never been out of the country.”

A native of Rockville, Md., he began playing bridge in 1999 during his first undergraduate year at Carnegie Mellon University. As the poker epidemic swept across other college campuses, Shore and his friends at Carnegie had their hearts set on a different game. They played a particular version of bridge, known as “Recursive Diamond,” developed by a Carnegie alumnus. The game involves a unique bidding system in which each player’s bid reveals the relative value of his hand.

“Only a few people know how to play Recursive Diamond,” Shore said, counting on his fingers and listing each name. “Twelve, I think. They are scattered around the nation now. I don’t mind playing standard bridge, but the Diamond bidding system makes more sense and makes the game more interesting.”

Apparently bridge expertise was in the cards for Shore, as he began climbing up the competitive ladder almost immediately after being introduced to the game. Only one year after learning how to play bridge, Shore began entering local tournaments and quickly discovered his competitive edge. The American Contract Bridge League inducted him into the Junior Corps in 2000, and he became certified to teach. He taught an accredited bridge course for six semesters at Carnegie Mellon while earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Shortly after graduating in 2003, Shore enrolled in U.Va.’s computer science program, where he studies game theory, knowledge representation, and search techniques, all relevant to his interest in computerized bridge. For his research project, Shore has partnered up with assistant professor Greg Humphreys to develop a computer bridge program that can compete with America’s top players in national tournaments.

“Standard bridge is my hobby,” said Shore, now classified as a Silver Life Master bridge player. “Computer bridge is my work. The bridge software that exists is weak — I want to develop a new technique for a bridge-playing computer program that is as competitive as computer chess programs. The hidden information in bridge makes it difficult for the computer to decide on the best moves to make, so I am researching new search techniques. It’s a largely unexplored area.”

As complex as this project sounds, Shore regrets that he may only be able to stretch that research through his master’s thesis. “For my Ph.D. I’ll have to move onto something bigger.”

Shore currently teaches bridge lessons at U.Va. and plans to become a computer science professor after earning his doctorate. With the hand he’s been dealt, moving onto something “bigger” also seems imminently in the cards for Shore.

History of Bridge

Bridge is derived from an earlier card game, called whist.
Both bridge and whist are of English origin, having evolved gradually from several other games, principally triumph, or trump.

The name whist probably originated in the early 17th century, and by the mid-18th century whist had become the pre-eminent card game among the upper classes in western Europe and North America.

Bridge supplanted whist in the 1890s. In turn, bridge evolved into auction bridge in the first decade of the 20th century, and contract bridge was developed in the 1920s and ’30s.

From the early 18th century, whist, bridge whist, auction bridge, and contract bridge have each reigned in turn as the most intellectually stimulating of all card games. Successive improvements in various features of the games have greatly enlarged the scope for inferential reasoning, psychological stratagems and partnership cooperation.

Rules of the game

In bridge, there are four players, two against two in partnership. They play with a 52-card pack, all of whose cards are dealt face downward one at a time, clockwise. When play begins, the object is to win tricks, consisting of one card from each player in rotation. The players must, if able, contribute a card of the suit led, and the highest card wins the trick. All tricks taken in excess of the first six tricks are known as odd tricks. Before play begins, a suit may be designated the trump suit, in which case any card in it beats any card of the other suits.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica online




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