The Room Do I dare disturb the universe?

Blackjack in 10 Lines of Modern Perl

There is this thread on Reddit (and StackOverflow) about what’s the coolest thing you can pull off in 10 lines of code. Obviously the first question people have is how do you define a “line”, cause unless you have significant whitespace issues you can do a lot on a single line.

If you limit yourself to a line is equal to a single idea or step in an application you restrict things a lot, but it’s still amazing what you can pull off. For example, here’s a game of Blackjack in 10 lines of code:

use 5.14.1; use IO::Prompt; use List::Util qw(shuffle);
sub deal { state $shoe = [ shuffle map { my $c = $_; map {"$c$_"} qw(❤ ◆ ♣ ♠) } ( 2 .. 10, qw( J Q K A ) ) x 6 ]; push $_[0], shift $shoe for ( 1 .. $_[1] ); $_[0]; }
sub value { my $v; for ( local @_ = @{ shift() } ) { s/[ ❤ ◆ ♣ ♠ ]//; s/[JQK]/10/; $v < 11 ? s/A/11/ : s/A/1/; $v += $_; } $v; }
sub show { say sprintf "%s (%i)", "$_[0] @{$_[1]}", value( $_[1] ) }
my ( $player, $dealer ) = map { deal( $_, 2 ) } ( [], [] );
while ( prompt( "@$player\nHit? ", '-tyn1' ) ) { if ( value( deal( $player, 1 ) ) > 21 ) { show( "Busted!", $player ); exit; } }
while ( say("Dealer @$dealer") && value($dealer) < 17 ) { show( "Dealer busted!", $dealer ) && exit if value( deal( $dealer, 1 ) ) > 21; }
value($player) >= value($dealer) ? show( "Player wins", $player ) : show( "Dealer wins", $dealer );

Simple no?

Okay so this wasn’t the most legible code I’ve ever written, let’s run Perl::Tidy on it and step through what’s going. The first thing you’ll notice is that tidied up the code is 3x longer, but that’s still only 30 lines of code.

use 5.14.1;
use IO::Prompt;
use List::Util qw(shuffle);

We start with importing the stuff we’ll need, we’re going to rely upon David Golden’s work to make ArrayRef’s work properly with push/shift. This feature was introduced in 5.14 we we’ll make a hard dependency on that, and also take advantage of the other modern features this will import (like say and state).

sub deal {
    state $shoe = [
        shuffle map {
            my $v = $_;
            map {"$v$_"} qw(&#x2764; &#x25C6; &clubs; &spades;)
            } ( 2 .. 10, qw( J Q K A ) ) x 6
    push $_[0], splice($shoe,  0, $_[1]);

The second thought, or major chunk, is dealing cards. This little subroutine is doing a lot in a small space so let’s break it out a little.

A deck of cards can be though of as the cartesian product of the values of the cards (2..10, J, Q, K, A) and the Suits (❤ ◆ ♣ ♠). We use nested maps to build this cartesian product. We do it for six decks of cards because that gives the house better odds.

The six decks of cards are shuffled and stored in an ArrayRef inside a lexical variable. We use a state variable so that we don’t build a new shoe every time we ask for a new card to be dealt.

Finally we actually deal the cards. The hand is passed in as $_[0], and the number of cards to be dealt is passed in as $_[1]. We just splice off of the shoe and into the hand.

Now that we have a way to deal hands we need a way to calculate the value of a hand.

sub value {
    my $v;
    for ( local @_ = @{ shift() } ) {
        s/[ &#x2764; &#x25C6; &clubs; &spades; ]//;
        $v < 11 ? s/A/11/ : s/A/1/;
        $v += $_;

so the hand is passed in via $_[0], since we’re going to munge the value we need to take a local copy of the hand. The idiom local @_ = @_; is what gave me the basic idea.

Once we iterate through each card in the hand we start by stripping off the suit since in Blackjack they’re all equal. Then if it’s a face card (but not an Ace) we replace it with it’s value. Can you spot the bug in the next line?

Aces in Blackjack are a little special, they can be either 1 or 11 depending which one is to the player’s advantage. If the value of the hand is less than 11 we’ll want the Ace to be worth 11, if the value of the hand is more than 11 we’ll want it to be worth 1. In the real world the value of a hand is the same irregardless of the order of the cards, Q 2 A and A 2 Q should both be worth 13, not 23. I spent far too much time trying to figure out how to make that work here, and couldn’t come up with anything simple. Patches welcome.

Finally we return the running tally.

sub show { say sprintf "%s (%i)", "$_[0] @{$_[1]}", value( $_[1] ) }

We had a common idiom for displaying a hand with some extra information so we make a simple subroutine here that takes a String and a Hand and prints them plus the value of the hand to STDOUT.

These last four chunks have all been setup for the main game. The game we’ve implemented is a little different from Casino blackjack. I don’t play blackjack at a casino and I’m not a stickler for the rules. I may go through and clean up this up to be more accurate … but right now “meh”.

my ( $player, $dealer ) = map { deal( $_, 2 ) } ( [], [] );

Deal two cards to the player and the dealer.

Now we let the player choose to Hit or Stay. This line is a little convoluted so let’s dig into it.

while ( prompt( "@$player\nHit? ", '-tyn1' ) ) {
    if ( value( deal( $player, 1 ) ) > 21 ) {
        show( "Busted!", $player );

First we prompt the user what if they want to Hit. If they choose to take another card check if the value of that new hand is greater than 21. If it is we tell the player they’ve busted and quit. Eventually the player will either bust or quit taking cards, and it’ll become the dealer’s turn.

while ( say("Dealer @$dealer") && value($dealer) < 17 ) {
    if ( value( deal( $dealer, 1 ) ) > 21 ) {
        show( "Dealer busted!", $dealer );

According to Wikipedia Dealer’s in Blackjack are constrained to always draw if the value of their hand is less than 17. So we draw for the dealer and perform the same check to see if they bust.

Finally if nobody has busted.

value($player) >= value($dealer)
    ? show( "Player wins", $player )
    : show( "Dealer wins", $dealer );

We check to see if the player’s hand beats the dealer’s hand and show the winner.

All told the original draft of the code took me less than an hour to write, and the rest of the evening to clean up into something I’d be willing to show off. It’s this kind of thing that keeps me fascinated by programming, and part of what got me started with it all those years ago.