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Practise your bidding on Bridge Base Online (BBO)

BBO is a wonderful free resource for bridge players who are happy to play their cards on a screen. Originally set up to allow people to play bridge on their computers over the internet, its facilities have expanded and it now offers many variations on this theme.

The lesser known BBO feature that I wanted to write about, however, is a bidding table. This lets two people on different computers practise bidding the same deal. You can just bid random hands if you like but if you want to practise particular aspects of your system you can closely specify hands in terms of card distributions, high card points etc.. For example:

shape(east, any 4333 + any 4432 + any 5332 - 5xxx - x5xx)

and hcp(east)>=12 and hcp(east)<=14

are the commands to ensure that East has a hand suitable for a weak NT opening bid without a 5 card major. After specifying these conditions, subsequent deals at your bidding table would conform to the above conditions.

You can specify more than one hand, so in order to practise your defence to 1NT you can set up a situation where the opposition would open a weak NT and you (South, say) have a hand which may be suitable for competing. You want hands strong enough to consider competing but not strong enough to double and you don’t want flat hands so you might add:

and hcp(south) >8 and hcp(south) < 16

and not shape(south, any 4333 + any 4432 + any 5332)

This ready ability to tailor the hands dealt at the bidding table really makes it possible to practise particular aspects of your bidding.

If you don’t already use BBO then you first have to join.

Joining BBO

The following instructions apply to accessing BBO via a web browser such as Chrome or Firefox. If you use an iPad or Android tablet you can also download a BBO app but I suggest you first follow these instructions in a browser since the apps may work a little differently. You and your partner first have to register with BBO. Go to in your browser and click on ‘play bridge now’. On the next screen click ‘Register’ and fill in the form.

Click ‘Next’ and fill in the next form. For ‘skill level’ you just say what you think it is, there are no exams or checks. Agree to the terms of service, click Register and then logout. You will get an email which will ask you to ‘click here to confirm’ then you are registered. Your partner must also register and then make sure you know each other’s BBO usernames before attempting to start a bidding table.

Setting up a bidding Table

To share a bidding table, one of you (the host) must start a bidding table and your partner must join it. To start a table, go to BBO, login and then: click ‘Practise’. Now click 'Start a Bidding table'.

On the next screen it’s a good idea to click the button by ‘Permission required to play’ to stop unwanted people joining the table. You might also also click the button by ‘Allow kibitzers’ to stop people watching at this table. Leave ‘Opponents bidding’ set to pass throughout for simplicity at first but under ‘Reserve Seats’ click North and enter your partner’s user name then click South and enter your username. You are now ready to click 'Start Table'.

At the table you will see that your username is already in the South seat but the North seat has your partner’s username followed by (Reserved). You are waiting for your partner to join the bidding table.

Joining the table

By contrast, your partner has it pretty easy. They just have to login, wait for an invitation to join the table, then accept the invitation. The invitation doesn’t stay up for ever though so if they are slow they may lose the invitation screen. It’s a good idea to be talking to each other by this point to synchronise things. You could use different computers in the sane room, talk over the phone, use Skype or whatever. If your partner waits to login until you have started the table then the invitation will be shown as soon as they login.

As soon as they join the table a random hand will be dealt. You should now bid a few random hands to get used to using the system. If the hand bar in front of you is yellow then it is your turn to bid. At the top right or top left of the table you will see three horizontal light blue lines on a darker blue background. (A ‘hamburger menu’ as it is colloquially known.) Click on these lines then click ‘Redeal’ to get another random hand to bid. Only the host can do this.

You may notice a blue ‘Voice’ button on your screen. You can use this to talk to your partner but I find Skype or a phone clearer and more reliable.

When you are happy with bidding the random deals it's time to move on to tailoring the deals to practise bidding in specific situations.

Tailoring the deal

Again, the host does all the work. Click on the hamburger menu (three lines) and select ‘Deal Source’ then click on the 'Advanced' tab. Click in the checkbox for the 'Use this input for the Dealer program'. You can then enter your own hand descriptions. If you want to learn the language then click on Dealer syntax help and follow the links. For the moment let’s just practise our transfers over 1NT so we’ll give South a 1NT opener.

To set South as dealer click on the line ‘South, West, North, East’ then untick all the blue boxes that appear except South then click somewhere off the dealer form to close it.

So that both you and your partner get the chance to practise your responses click the tickbox by ‘Randomly rotate generated deals 180 degrees’.

Now copy the red code below, click ‘use this input for the dealer program’ and paste the code into the deal source using CTRL-V. (hold down the Ctrl key and press V).

shape(south, any 4333 + any 4432 + any 5332 - 5xxx - x5xx)

and hcp(south)>=12 and hcp(south)<=14

Click the x at the top right of the deal source screen to close it and then click the hamburger menu and redeal. Either you or your partner should now be ready to open 1NT.

To practise responding with shapely hands with some points you could add:

and hcp(north)>10 and not shape(north, any 4333 + any 4432 + any 5332)

If you have problems with the syntax, contact me with the conventions or bidding situations you would like to practise and I’ll see if I can sort something out out.

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