Grand Slam Bridge II, Micro Bridge Companion. (computer games) (Evaluation)
by Richard C. Leinecker
I love to play brige, but sometimes it's hard to find the three other people you need to play the game. With Grand Slam Bridge II or Micro Bridge Companion, you can play anytime your heart desires.
These games take different approaches to simulating the classic card game. Grand Slam is very graphical and includes sound card support, but it plays only an intermediate-level game. Micro Bridge Companion skips most of the graphics and sound but plays like a bridge expert.
Bridge presents a unique challenge to the computer programmer. Most computer chess games give even good players a challenge; most good bridge players can trounce computer bridge games. Chess deals with straightforward logic, in which standard artificial intelligence techniques excel. Bridge has the added dimensions of probability and statistics (because you're unable to see all the cards).
If you're a competent bridge player, you'll beat Grand Slam more times than not. You'll need to be much better to beat Micro Bridge Companion at the same rate. I had a bit of difficulty evaluating the games' playing strengths during contract bridge matches. The luck of the deal has a lot to do with the final score. It's easy to get carried away with your brilliance after getting several consecutive good hands.
Micro Bridge Companion supports duplicate bridge, and you can pit yourself directly against the computer. I barely managed to keep parity with the computer during duplicate play and succeeded only whrn I really worked hard.
Besides the usual openings and responses in typical situations, both programs offer a verity of bidding convetions. Weak two-bids and special notrump bids are among the choices offered. Both programs play using the Stayman convention, but this was only evident in Grand Slam after playing several hands that called for his convention. Its manual, unlike Micro Bridge Companion's, didn't mention this feature explicitly.
Missing from Grand Slam's bidding are the Blackwood and Gerber conventions. These are always present in Micro Bridge Companion's play; in fact, the programmes thought them so important that they can't be turned off, even from the conventions menu. It's almost impossible to bid a slam without these conventions. This is an especially haunting omission that detracts from Grand Slam's playability.
Both games let you load and save deals, so that you can play an especially interesting hand again later, show it to a friend, or challenge someone else to do better than you at playing it.
In either game, you can choose who gets the best hands--either you, your team, or your opponents. Grand Slam will also let you select the deal type, such as slam, game, no-trump, or a part-score hand. These options let you tailor the games to give you the particular kind of practice you need.
One valuable bonus included with Micro Bridge Companion is a set of 24 deals drawn from The Bridge World magazine and designed by Alfred Sheinwold. They're intended to challenge even experienced players, and each of the deals tests and illustrates a different concept.
If you like bridge, you'll definitely want to get one of these games. Even if you prefer to play with real people, these games will help keep you in practice. My wife and I use these games to develop our strategy before matches, and they help tremendously. Practicing with these programs may not only help improve your game, but it may also reduce the number of glares you get from your partner.