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SOFTWARE REVIEW
By: Linda Lee

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, October, 1996


Bridge Master for Windows, an update to Fred Gitelman's Bridge Master software, is the best product that I have seen for developing your skills as a declarer (don't confuse it with Capstone's inferior Bridge Master, software). If you are interested in improving your bridge skills and you do not already have a copy of Bridge Master, you should buy this software. The new version comes with thirty-six hands at each of five levels, which should provide you with both education and entertainment for quite some time. There is also an import feature which will allow you to purchase and import additional sets of hands in the future.

For those not familiar with Bridge Master, the program provides a series of play problems graded by difficulty from Level 1, for developing players, to Level 5, which provides solid challenges for experts. The user must play the hand properly since not only does Bridge Master defend perfectly, it actually changes the distribution of the opposition hands to make sure that if you make the wrong play, you go down: there can be no lucky lie of the cards to compensate for a technical error. If you make the right play, on the other hand, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you will be rewarded. You can play the hand over and over again until you get it right. When you have completed the hand you can watch a "bridge movie" which clearly describes all the nuances of the play. This allows you to follow along easily by changing the hand diagram to illustrate various points in the narrative, such as various possible defensive distributions or end positions.

The user interface in the new version of Bridge Master can only be described as state of the art. You can start up Bridge Master without reading the manual and will have no trouble using it. The display is very colourful, and the hand diagram is large and clear. In this new version, almost any feature you could want is there. One option, for example, is to display a box which shows the count, any information you have about the opposition hands, and how many cards in each suit have been played. You can control the speed at which Bridge Master plays its cards, and whether or not each trick must be confirmed. In fact, you are in control (as you should be) of most parts of the user interface. The only criticism I have here is that you cannot claim and get on to the next hand even when, for example, you have only high trumps left. To complete the hand you must play it out until you have made your contract.

If there is more than one bridge player in your home, each of you can log on with a separate user ID. Bridge Master keeps track of the hands played and the hands successfully completed by each player. You can select hands to play by type (avoidance plays, communication, squeezes, etc.) and by status (unplayed, incomplete, etc.), as well as by level. You can also review the most recent play of any completed deal.

The user manual is professional and very clear. Done in a small format, in full colour on glossy paper, it is inviting and helpful without being overwhelming. Besides detailing all of the features of the software, it provides a description of Bridge Master's bidding and signalling methods. In particular, understanding the bidding is important since drawing the correct inferences from the auction plays a role in the play of some of the hands. The contextual on-line help is excellent.

If you own the original Bridge Master, should you purchase the $25 upgrade? You now get all five levels from the first version in one package, and thirty new hands as well. The user interface is significantly better and you will presumably be able to buy additional sets of hands. Assuming that new hand sets are forthcoming in the near future, I would recommend the relatively small expenditure of upgrading. I cannot think of a better or more entertaining way to improve your dummy play.

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