Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 90 / NOVEMBER 1987 / PAGE 70

IBM Personal Computing

Donald B. Trivette

Silent Partners

How often have you sat around biting your nails, wishing you knew how to play bridge? Or maybe you've blown the game off as too complicated or too highbrow. In fact, it's neither. Many people who like programming computers also like bridge—they both require the same type of logic, order, and memory. Now, with Electronic Arts' Grandslam Bridge, you not only learn the basics along with many advanced techniques—you can play countless games, which any bridge guru will tell you is the only way to learn.

For those unfamiliar with the game, bridge is played by four players—two sets of partners—often referred to by the major compass directions: North and South against East and West. After all 52 cards are dealt, "bidding" begins. The purpose of bidding is to establish how many "tricks" you and your partner expect to take, and how many you expect to concede to your opponents. (A trick is four cards, one from each player.) There are 13 tricks in a round (52 / 4 = 13).

Bidding is a rather formal process that is the cause of most problems for beginners, but the idea is simple. If you could bid in plain English, the conversation might go something like this: "Joe, I have the ace through nine of spades, and the king and queen of hearts, and I don't have any clubs. Do you have the ace of hearts? What other cards do you have? Do you think we can take ten tricks?"

Of course you can't say this at the bridge table. Instead, you must use code words to try to convey to your partner the cards in your hand, and he must do the same. Thus, the bidding might go: One spade, pass, two diamonds, pass, two spades, pass, four spades. Notice that the opposing players have cards of so little value, they believe few tricks, if any, can be theirs. Instead of bidding, they pass. Your partner is telling you he has good diamonds. In reality, as the Grandslam manual and many other books explain, bidding is determined by strict convention. Each face card has a point value, and points are assigned for other factors. By adding up your point value, you determine what and how much to bid.

After Grandslam Bridge deals the cards, it allows you to bid your hand, and then it bids the other three. It alerts you if you try to make an invalid bid—two diamonds after a two-hearts bid, for example.

By bidding four spades, you and your partner have agreed that you'll try to take a total of ten tricks—the four you bid plus six more called the "book." You always add your bid to the six tricks of the book; thus, the most you could bid would be seven. That would mean you plan to take every trick, which is called a grand slam. It's the equivalent of a home run. For bidding and making a grand slam, you get a lot of points.

Playing The Hand

Once the bid has been established—here a "contract" of four spades—play begins. It is much like the card game "Hearts." One of the opposing players leads, putting a card on the table. Your partner puts all of his cards on the table—he is now the "dummy" (and usually goes for drinks and popcorn). You play his cards and your own. If he had mentioned spades first, he would be playing and you would be off popping corn. Grandslam Bridge plays the opponents' hands; you play your own hand and the dummy's hand. If your side loses the bid, Grandslam plays three hands.

Suppose your opponent leads the queen of clubs. You see that you can take the trick either by playing your partner's king of clubs, which is showing on the table (or "on the board"), or you can wait until the play reaches your hand and then play a spade. Spades are the trump suit because that's what you bid— four spades. A trump suit is higher than any other suit, and since you can't follow the suit that led (because you have no clubs in your hand), you may play a trump. Whichever, strategy you use, the trick will be yours. You scoop up the four cards and place them on the table face down. You must collect nine more tricks to make your bid of four spades.

In many ways, Grandslam Bridge is a tougher opponent than real players—it doesn't make mistakes or silly moves, and it plays with such finesse, I wonder sometimes if it peeks at my hand. That's in its best mode; Grandslam also has two less-difficult levels of play. As for you, you're allowed to replay tricks (or an entire hand) if you make a mistake or change your mind about a move.

Scorekeeping is as complicated as assembly language. People usually play for years before they learn how to keep score. Fortunately, Grandslam Bridge does the scorekeeping, and does it in such a way that you can learn by watching.

Grandslam Bridge is not frivolous software; it's a serious program for those who want to learn the game or improve their game, or those who just want to play but can't find three partners.

Grandslam Bridge
Electronic Arts
1820 Gateway Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94404
(256K, CG/EGA, key-disk protection, disk drive)