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Online bridge

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There's nothing like playing bridge across a real table ...
There's nothing like playing bridge across a real table ...

... but playing online does have some very real advantages.

Here's my list:

smiley 1  There aren't so many ways of messing up.

You can't bid – or play – out of turn. You can't make an insufficient bid. You can't revoke ... That's 90% of director calls out of the way at a stroke.

Plus, of course, you can't accidentally drop cards, and you don't have to worry about 'holding your cards up' or counting your cards before looking at them.

And you can forget about the STOP card.

smiley 2  You aren't held up by slow play.

The EBU pairs tournaments on BBO allow 14 minutes for a 2-board round, which is plenty for most players (especially given the time savings enabled by 1, above).

If you haven't finished your 2nd board when the time runs out ... wham! – you get an adjusted score and are playing in the next round.

The downside is that the system can slow down under very heavy use (eg the other night there were 8600 tables in play on BBO worldwide) and this can run you out of time. sad

smiley 3  You don't have to announce or alert partner's bids (BBO only *)

Instead, you alert your own conventional bids. So after partner's 1NT you type 'transfer to spades' and click ALERT before making your 2 bid. Or after she opens 1♠ type 'splinter' and click ALERT before bidding 4.

This takes a bit of getting used to, but 'self-alerting' is great because

  • only your opponents can see your alert (your partner can't!)
  • you don't get the complications that arise if partner forgets to alert your bid or explains it wrongly: you're alerting and explaining it yourself.

As in face-to-face bridge, whether your partner understands your bid is of course his/her lookout ... indecision

smiley 4  Being dummy is easier – and more interesting.

It's easier because the system isolates you from the play entirely: you don't have to play cards, remind partner where the lead is or remember to keep your fingers away from the card you think she ought to be leading next ... You're effectively bound and gagged – except perhaps for a 'glp' (= good luck partner) message as dummy goes down.

It's more interesting because you get to see partner's hand and so can see the play unfold and compare her line of play with what would have been yours – thus providing much food for later discussion.

This works both ways, of course. When she's dummy, she's watching you ...

smiley 5  Goodbye body language

It's difficult to kick your partner under the table when playing online – and thankfully BBO has no clickable emojis indicating a deep sigh, rolling eyes, delight, rage, impatience ... The online game is mercifully free from all body language.

By the same token, if you do feel the need to emote in front of your laptop, feel free to rant away: in online bridge, no one can hear you scream! Just don't do it in writing.

smiley 6  And talking of hearing ...

... online bridge is free of the scourge of the overheard discussion of the hand you're about to play: 'We should have been in slam', 'Sorry, partner, I should have led a spade', 'Well, I had 6 hearts and a 17-count', etc. Not to mention the ritual (and inevitably loud) recital of all the results so far by the player holding the Bridgemate.

smiley 7  The invisibility cloak

You're not only unheard when playing online – you're invisible too. So no need for makeup (or a shave). Play in your pyjamas if you like. 

And no-one's going to notice if you bring a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine to the table. Well, in the case of the latter, they may, eventually ... blush

That's my top seven. Not necessarily in order. Your comments (and/or additions) welcome: email

Chris Jones, 1 April 2020

* I'm grateful to Frances Dewar for the information that self-alerting only applies to Bridge Base Online (BBO). On the other main platform, Bridge Club Live (BCL), partners announce and alert as in face-to-face bridge: on their site, click on Information, then Bridge, then Alerting for details.