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I'm inclined to say "no" because because each of the following could be considered lucky:

  • A finesse can be tried 2 different ways and your partnership selects the one that works
  • You play a routine, obvious hand against the strongest partnership of the match
  • You play a challenging hand against the weakest partnership of the match
  • You play a hand that better maps to your bidding system than that of the other partnerships playing the same hand
  • You purposely pursue a poor risk/reward chance at an overtrick and make it, earning top score, in order to avoid an average result

But in discussing this a few minutes ago, I got to wondering what if you controlled for most of these things - assume 2 human partners playing a Duplicate Bridge (standard Matchpoints) tournament against a bunch of expertly programmed robot bridge players, all at the same level, all using the same bidding system.

In these more controlled circumstances, would Duplicate Bridge be a game of pure skill?

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Even team games are called duplicate. Are you interested in only Matchpoints? –  Aryabhata Mar 5 '12 at 18:37
    
@BAryabhata I'm not understanding your comment/question. My intention is to describe typical club and tournament play, where you play with the same partner but against a bunch of different partnerships. Is my wording ambiguous? If so, which part? –  Joe Golton Mar 5 '12 at 18:56
    
Duplicate bridge is not necessarily Matchpoints (the club/tournament play you describe). The title of your question can also be applied to different forms of duplicate, like IMP teams, BAM teams etc. Perhaps in the title you should mention Matchpoints somewhere. I was trying to clarify this because my answer might have depended on what you exactly wanted :-) –  Aryabhata Mar 5 '12 at 19:07
    
Thanks @BAryabhata. I adjusted based on your comments. –  Joe Golton Mar 5 '12 at 19:26
    
There is still luck in guessing where cards are, just because they are "fixed" in duplicate bridge doesn't mean they aren't random. You could have the dice rolls for a game of settlers chosen in advance and kept secret, then played duplicate style. I'm not convinced it would reduce the luck factor though. –  Nick Aug 7 '12 at 10:30
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Even with the same experts playing North-South, there will be luck involved.

For instance

  • When you have a pure guess in a two way finesse for a Q or distribution etc.
  • When you have a guess during bidding (sacrifice or not etc)
  • System wins/losses.
  • When you overbid/underbid/play incorrectly and hit a lucky lie of the cards.
  • Same hand could be played differently on different tables, because of different actions taken (during bidding or play) by the players. One might play like a bozo, but resulting in the expert to take the wrong inferences, handing you a win (it happens!) etc.

What you say will reduce the randomization of the field (some people call it field protection), but will not eliminate luck completely.

For instance, a world class level Matchpoint contest will have very little randomization (similar to your proposed situation), but to win you need to play well (skill) and need some luck.

Of course, most of the time it is your skill that matters, but luck does factor in, especially against equally matched opponents.

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Essentially your argument is that "pure skill" can't exist in a game with (relevant) hidden information, since you're always taking a gamble, right? –  Alex P Mar 5 '12 at 19:03
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@AlexP: I would not say you are always taking a gamble! There is skill involved in estimating the odds and playing so that the odds are in your favour. Playing for the odds is not gambling (unless you mean anything other than 100% is gambling :-)). The weaker player might play against the odds, but get lucky. So I would not say my argument is essentially that. –  Aryabhata Mar 5 '12 at 19:12
    
@AlexP: But yes, luck comes into play because there is incomplete information and because you are almost never 100% sure that your action will win, there is luck involved. Perhaps that is what you mean by taking a gamble? –  Aryabhata Mar 5 '12 at 19:19
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I would expand on Aryabhata's answer by noting a fundamental fallacy in the question: the assumption that correct play by a given system always results in the same action on a given hand.

There are many reasons - psychological, strategic, and game-theoretic - why in many situations the correct play is not constant. One of the most common answers given by good players to the question "Wasn't I right to bid the game/slam?" is "Did you need to force a top-bottom swing?" Part of improving one's play is better reading of when to force a swing, and when to play for an average-plus, or even an average-minus. Likewise in possible preemptive or psyche situations, one should not be too predictable - the optional game-theoretic strategy is to make the action part of the time.

There is a further fallacy in the assumption that a given bidding system prescribes a single action for all bidding situations. Bidding systems are presented this way to novices and intermediates, to teach them the fundamentals. In reality, complex auctions sometimes can be approached soundly in different ways by players sufficiently knowledgeable both of fundamentals and the intricacies of their system.

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Of course there is still an element of luck in Bridge for the reasons laid out.

In pairs competitions there is the luck of the "field", i.e. what your opponents do against you when they arrive at your table. If they do all the right things, your prospects are limited. However they are still there. The skill is in making the most of your own prospects on a hand. There will always be some hands where the opponents do all the right things, and there you "range" of available scores maybe only between 0 and 25% (at MP). Just ensure you get the 25% and don't end up with the total bottom under some illusion that "it's going to be a bad score anyway". Those 25MP will add up in the whole total you get at the end of the tournament.

And here is where your own skill will come in over the course of a lot of tournaments. Of course you'll also throw some points away but assuming you throw away fewer than anyone else, you won't always win but you will sometimes and when you don't you'll probably not finish last very often.

The other factors that have been mentioned, of course, is that the percentage play or bid is not always the winning one.

Most games, even ones that are pure skill, have an element of luck. For example tennis is pure skill but you can get a lucky net-cord shot. Similarly you can get flukes at snooker and even at chess, your not-properly-thought-out move could happen to be the right one. Not that you had worked it out, but it just so happens it was. And in a round-robin chess tournament of course with grandmasters, you may play very well in most of your games and still only come away with draws.

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