Join Bridge Winners
Is there something better than BBO?
(Page of 2)

As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

We've all been enjoying cheap bridge via Bridge Base Online for many years now. And so we've grown to tolerate it. But just like anything else that's cheap, it's not necessarily of good quality. I think we should demand more.

Here are the aspects of BBO that I find to be in serious need of improvement:

  • The skill level of the robots: GIB is very good at counting (no big surprise there) and in general will put up a better defense than most club opponents. But its bidding is terrible (about C-player level) and most of the time it doesn't even have the hand that it promises. There are several top quality bridge-playing software packages out there (see recent ACBL bulletin report on the results of the bridge software World Championships). So, why are we stuck with the GIBs? We all know countless examples of their ineptitude but perhaps top of my list is that whenever I bid 6NT at matchpoints (in preference to 6 of a major), GIB always goes to 7 of the major. (Since drafting this article, I'm told that this problem may have been fixed). Just for fun, here's an actual hand that happened just recently in an instant tournament: 
    North
    K2
    J9
    AK852
    J1086
    W
    N
    E
    S
    1
    1
    2
    P
    2
    P
    3
    P
    3
    P
    4
    P
    5
    P
    5
    P
    6
    P
    6
    P
    P
    P
    5 was making, 6 was down two at least.

 

  • The difficulty of finding a suitable game to play in: The ACBL tournaments are excellent and well-run. Of course you need a partner but the partnership desk is available and useful. However, such games still take an hour to play and if one is looking for a shorter pickup game, there is really only one viable option: the "casual" tables. The ability of the other players is, for the most part, abysmal. The only good thing is that you have two such opponents and only one partner. But they are slow, they don't claim, they don't accept claims. Many people don't play SAYC (the de facto standard) and have no idea what a transfer bid is, for example. Why can't we have tables where the players at least agree to play a particular system: SAYC, Precision, 2/1, whatever?
  • The hopelessness of pickup team games: another possible outlet for frustrated bridge players is the so-called Team game. These can be fun. But it's far more likely that we will get only halfway through a six or eight board match before one of the eight players leaves for no reason (usually they didn't like their partner's bid/play). This typically ends up with the match being suspended. Perhaps players could gain/lose reputation points for  finishing/withdrawing from team matches. A huge improvement could be made to team matches if it was possible to (easily) join as a pair. If pairs could play in pickup games, most of the reasons for people quitting half way through would go away.
  • The host's ability to summarily eject a player at the casual tables without cause or explanation can also be very frustrating. The system will try to eject players who are "stuck" but that doesn't kick in until it's obvious that a player is either asleep or dead. Hosts often preempt that service, therefore if they feel that a player is slow (or for any other reason). Unlike the system, however, they don't give any warning. I recently bid to a very good slam that most players wouldn't get to. The host thought for a while, presumably concluding that I would make, and promptly closed the table.
  • The inability to message players if they are playing in a tournament. There is no reason to prevent emails going to players in a tournament. Simply don't allow them to read their messages while they're in a tournament. But why should the sender be prevented from messaging? Another frustration with messaging/chatting is that if your message fails to go to the correct recipient, you have no easy way to repeat the message. You basically have to type it in again.
  • I haven't even mentioned the web interface because I use it all the time and find it quite good. But I know many others are frustrated about being forced to use it.
  • The smartphone/tablet interface has improved a lot recently but still has a way to go. It is far too easy to inadvertently click the wrong card. It would be nice if the selected card (or bid) would highlight or move slightly for half a second before being played so that we would have the chance to catch such errors. The other weird thing is, when looking at results, We means N/S while They means E/W. But when we happen to sit E/W our results are always in the They column. Strange!
  • Finally, the rudeness of players seems to be at an all-time high. There isn't a lot BBO can do about this, but they could surely do more.

Perhaps you are thinking "what can you expect from a free service?"  But BBO isn't free, in general. You must pay to use the robots, play in many (most?) tournaments. You can play for free at the casual tables (or in team games) but these are so frustrating that it simply isn't worth the time expended.

There are many good things about BBO of course, in addition to those that I've mentioned. Vugraphs give us a way to see great players in action. The bidding tables are a nice feature, although it would be nice to have robots to generate some intervention. And, it's a great place to "meet" your friends -- nearly everyone I know is on there somewhere (although it can be hard to find them). 

But, let's be honest. BBO hasn't really improved much in recent years. In particular, they don't offer alternative bots. When was the last time GIB won the world computer bridge championship?

The BBO management appears to me to be resting on their laurels. Perhaps it's time to start looking for a better alternative.

What do other people think?

74 Comments
Getting Comments... loading...
.

Bottom Home Top