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50 English Bridge February 2018



ome of Cheltenham's keener players spotted a

Facebook post in March 2018 that outlined

how a few creative clubs in the USA were

experimenting adding a BBO table to the normal

club movement, so that rather than face a sit-out,

the half-table would be completed playing against

two robots. This seemed to offer many advantages

to Cheltenham so we quickly checked out how this

could be made to work in the UK, and agreed to

experiment at the club to use robots to save pairs

missing boards when there was a

half-table. If we could get this to

work easily then avoiding long sitouts

at the club's swiss pairs or

pairs league would be invaluable. A

nine board sit out is no fun for

anyone! Our intention was that

the 'sit-out' pair would play the

same hands using tablets and be

integrated into the movement with

the robots as opponents. Help and

guidance would clearly need to be

available to the human players if

the robots were to integrate

seamlessly into a standard club


Cheltenham Bridge Club's Bridgeathon, taking

place over seven sessions in three days in midOctober,

provided the ideal opportunity for a

thorough trial and we went ahead with the use of

three borrowed iPads (one for each of the human

players and the host at the 'BBO' table). One of the

attractions of the Bridgeathon was that players

could drop in and drop out to play as many or as

few boards as desired. The robots provided the

director with the necessary flexibility to

accommodate an odd number of pairs; they were

deployed in four of the weekend's seven bridge

sessions. As the Bridgeathon was run in a swiss pairs

format it was very easy to add or take away the

Robot table and we quickly gained experience of

doing this seamlessly.

We put three iPads on the 'BBO' table, loaded the

hands for each session into BBO, and had the

human pair at that table play the appropriate hands

against the robots with the host keeping score on a

Bridgemate.This approach worked remarkably well.

Many players were already tuned in to online bridge

or touchscreen technology; those players unfamiliar

with online bridge accepted the challenge with

grace and determination and different bidding

systems didn't seem a problem for either the robots

or the Cheltenham players although a number

commented that the different context needed a bit

of getting used to.

The robots won the Bridgeathon Saturday

evening event - 1st out of 12 pairs. Cheltenham is

now looking to enrol the robots as EBU members

so they can collect masterpoints, but do we charge

them table money for their UMS fees?

When two of Cheltenham Bridge Club's more

senior members, Margaret Hyde (turned 100 last

December!) and Anne Haussherr (both pictured

with Roger Williams) managed to win their match

against the robots, everyone in the club was

delighted. Beating the robots then became the goal

during the weekend and surprisingly no one

objected to playing them, rather it was another

challenge to overcome.

We believe that this is the first time that this

approach has been implemented outside the United

States. Our trials were extremely encouraging and

were well received by club members. There are

some technical matters to work your way through

although it was quite straightforward. We are so

pleased with the trial that out next step is to

purchase three iPads for the club tsecretary@cheltenhambridgeclub.comd like more information please

contact r


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