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All about robots

What are robots?

They're very handy 'virtual' bridge-playing machines which can be used to replace human players. Robots have various uses in BBO, some of which we make use of in our Bath BC sessions:

  • Robots as substitutes  Robots can fill the gap if a player is disconnected. This is the easiest solution for the Director, who may not have a human volunteer immediately available.
  • Robots as the 'spare pair'  Online bridge doesn't do 'sit-outs' – you need a whole number of tables. But it can be difficult to find two players willing to make up a half table only if needed. Robots are always willing and available.
  • Robots as partners  In the EBU games on BBO, you'll often come across an opponent playing with a robot partner. This can be tricky as you have to play the robot's system – see below. 
  • Robots as partners AND opponents  Just you and three robots. There's lots of this on BBO – see below.

What system do robots play?

One way or another, you're going to come across robots when playing on BBO, so it's worthwhile getting familiar with their system.

When it comes to bidding systems, Acol-playing Brits are the odd ones out. Most of the rest of the world play a version of what's called 2/1, which involves 5-card majors and a strong (15-17) no trump – and so do robots. How do these work?

  • 5-card majors  You can only open a major suit if you have 5+ cards in it. If you only have 4, you open your 'better minor' – one with at least 3 cards in it. Responder can show a 4-card major, however (as can you with your next bid) and it goes on from there.
  • 15-17 no trump  Not difficult. With a balanced 15-17 you open 1NT. With a weak balanced (12-14) hand, you open a suit, then rebid 1NT. In other words, you're simply switching around the Acol opening 1NT and 1NT rebid. After an opening 1NT, fewer points are obviously needed to raise to 2NT or 2NT or to use Stayman.
  • 2/1 means that a response of (say) 2♣ over an opening 1 is forcing to game – a handy way of making sure game isn't missed!

If this seems daunting (which it isn't, really) there are ample opportunities – free of charge! – to practise the robots' system on BBO ...

Solitaire – practising with robots

If you'd like to familiarise yourself with robots, learn the bidding system that most of the world plays and have lots of fun at any time of day or night, totally free of charge, look no further than playing Solitaire on BBO.

After logging in, choose  Solitaire  from the options top left and then  Just Play Bridge (Free)  – you'll find yourself sitting South at a table that looks like this. Your partner and opponents are robots and you're all playing 2/1 ...

How do I know what the bids mean?

That's the beauty of the BBO Solitaire game – every time a robot bids, an alert appears telling you exactly what it means. Here, your robotic partner has opened 1NT, and the alert on the right explains (some would say overexplains!) its meaning.

Not only that, when you start to choose your own bid it also tells you what your bid means – before you bid it. (Using a mouse, click on eg  and then hover above ♣ and it'll alert it as Stayman; with a touch screen, change your settings to  Confirm bids  and you can check out your bid before you confirm it.)

And without a clock running, you have all the time in the world to explore the bidding system for yourself ...

Why does it say  15-17 HCP  and then  18 total points ?

With 2/1 there's a system of adding points for length and shortages – the equivalent of our 'counting losers'. To see how it works, click on the link below.

What about the other Solitaire options?

We've seen that the first option brings you an unlimited number of hands to play with robots. The others are:

  • Start a Bridge 4 game (Free)   You play a set of just four hands. At the end, you're told you're ranking (my best so far is 20th, my worst around 5000th!) and invited to have another go with four new boards. As many times as you wish.
  • Instant tournaments   These are 8-board matches which record your performance and give you an overall grade. The first two options allow you to choose between Pairs scoring (MPs) and Teams scoring (IMPs). Ignore the last two options. It costs BB$ 0.45 to play the 8 boards. It's this tournament, BTW, that Pete Hollands (see above) uses as the basis for his weekly bridge videos. Beware: they can be addictive ...
  • Bridge Master   Declarer-play practice at various levels. Clever stuff: if you make the wrong decision the defenders' hands are redealt so that you go off! This is fun and free of charge.
  • About Solitaire Bridge   Useful information covering some of the same ground dealt with here.