Years ago when I worked at Yodle the engineering team held a Connect Four bot competition. The goal was for each person to write a Connect Four playing bot and then let them loose to determine the winner. We had either a few days or a few weeks to do this and my failed approach was to use genetic programming to evolve a bot. The best it did was beat a completely random bot 80% of the time while the winning entry leveraged Minimax with Alpha Beta Pruning.
If you end up giving this a try I’d love to know how it went.