In 2020 a lot of things are different. One of these things is the card game named bridge. Almost all bridge competitions, from top-level championships to club games, have been cancelled because of the worldwide corona measures.
But that does not mean there is no more bridge in the world. On the world wide web there are several websites where you can play the card game online. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Bridge Association (NBB) supports the online platform Stepbridge. Normally you pay a yearly fee to play here, but during the corona crisis all the bridge clubs in the Netherlands have the possibility to organise their club game for free.
Another site often used by Dutch players (and players from all over the world) is Bridge Base Online (BBO). Here you can play bridge for free, day and night. BBO also organises tournaments, for free or with a small entry fee.
Professional bridge players are going through difficult times. Normally, the best players in the world are hired to play at big live tournaments, and are paid by the event sponsor. The sponsor also makes sure professional players get a good partner and good teammates. All live tournaments have been cancelled because of the worldwide corona outbreak. But even these tournaments are now taking place online.
The first online tournament available for top players was the so-called ALT tournament (ALT from ‘alternative’). This tournament was organised by, amongst others, Jan van den Hoek, the founder of bridge website Netbridge. Netbridge started organising online tournaments in 2019, even before the corona outbreak. The main reason for this was to give top- and sub-top level players the opportunity to practice online against each other in serious matches. Because of this experience with organising online tournaments, for Netbridge it was an unforeseen but logical next step to organise online tournaments for top professional players.
Using BBO as the online platform, Netbridge organised an invitational tournament for top players. The first event was played between eight teams, but soon there was interest from all over the world to play in the tournament. Furthermore, many spectators enjoyed watching the matches. They could follow every match, card by card. In the past several months, various kinds of ALT tournaments have taken place.
In the meantime, more online tournaments are being set up for top players, for instance the OCBL (Online Contract Bridge League) tournament, the E-Open tournament and the Bridgehouse tournament.
One of the difficulties for the organisers of online tournaments is to guarantee the game is played in a fair way. In face-to-face games, played live, such as the European and World Championships, the bridge partners are separated by a screen, placed diagonally across the table. In that way they have eye contact with one opponent, but not with their partner. This prevents the players from receiving so-called unauthorised information.
Online there are other challenges. Every player plays from his or her own home via the internet. If spectators are allowed to watch live, there is a possibility that information on the hand in play reaches the player. Two top players (Michal Nowosadski of Poland and Cédric Lorenzini from France) have admitted to have used a second account to watch their own game under a different name. In that way, it’s simple to make difficult decisions easy.
Some organisers therefore don’t allow spectators at all tables. To ensure the public can follow the tournaments, one match is available to watch, but with a delay of about half an hour. Another weapon to be used against cheating is analysing the hand records afterwards. Currently the Italian top player Giorgio Duboin is “under investigation”. A report on this player’s performance was published on 6 November on the popular bridge website bridgewinners.com. The organisation of the ALT tournaments sticks to its policy that all matches are open for the public. They offer players who have cheated online the opportunity to admit their mistake, say sorry, and have a second chance.
Hopefully, in 2021, online tournaments will be played in a fair way. And above all, hopefully bridge can once again be played face-to-face.
Written by Kees Bouwen