Squeezing The Dummy

Friday, April 28, 2006

Money Bridge Review

Bridge Base Online has recently started offering a format that enables its users to play bridge for real money. This is like a dream come true for me. I missed the days when money bridge was popular, and unless you live in New York, Chicago, or London it's tough to find any club that offers any kind of rubber bridge. Even if you do, they won't be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ability to play long sessions of bridge for money will not only satisfy my gambling needs, it will make me into a better player. All of this is great, but what about cheating?

BBO found a brilliant way to circumvent any kind of possible collusion or cheating. Instead of playing with a human partner, you play with a GIB robot against a human and another GIB. Kibitzers are also disallowed. Not only does this make it impossible to cheat, it is also very fair. Regardless of the mistakes GIB makes, long term it will average out. So if you are better than your opponent by a margin greater than the rake, you will profit.

Despite some (inevitable) complaints, GIB really plays pretty decently. Once the best computer program in the world, it is still in the top 3. Of the opponents I've faced for money so far, GIB was probably better than half. His declarer play is superb but his bidding and signaling are erratic. There are 3 speed settings and the slower he plays the better he plays. Unfortunately, the slowest setting is painfully slow. I prefer to play with GIB set to medium speed. You will never misunderstand a bid GIB makes because you can click on whatever he bids to see what it means. Figuring out GIB's strange tendencies and what bids trigger it to do costly things will be a huge part of being successful. Potentially you could do better than a player more skilled than yourself if you handle GIB better. This is true in live money bridge as well; handling partner is a very necessary skill.

If you like action, you will like the format. It is scored in total points with seating and vulnerability assigned randomly at the beginning of each hand. Basically, there is massive variance. I have already experienced swings of plus and minus 12,000 points. As the saying goes, the next best thing to gambling and winning is gambling and losing. Do not be disillusioned; if you are a winning player you will profit long term.

I do have a few gripes. Mainly, the maximum stakes to play for right now are a penny a point. Eventually, I hope to see this maximum get higher and higher, maybe to as much as 20 times that number. Since it's still in it's infancy, I can understand keeping the stakes small for now. Also the rake, though they cut it in half from its original cost, is still relatively expensive. They rake 5 points a hand per person unless the board is passed out. They also charge you a percentage of your deposit to pay PayPal. I hope if the stakes get higher, they will rake less proportionately for the bigger games. Perhaps 3 points a hand for a 5 cent game.

Besides those two complaints, I am very excited and happy with online money bridge. The potential is endless. Currently BBO is testing money bridge tournaments complete with a leader board and everything. I have a feeling those will be extremely popular. I encourage everyone to try it out unless you are in a state that classifies bridge as a game of chance. In that case, money bridge is illegal in your state, and you should write your congressman letting him know how stupid that is.

Keep in mind if you're playing against someone who you feel plays well you should quit. Many good players are playing under aliases (including me). It's always fine to just leave and play against someone else who is worse.

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