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By: Jeff Rubens

Originally Published in The Bridge World, October, 1996

To date, bridge computer programs worth reviewing (except perhaps as a warning) have been few and far between. A hopeful sign that this situation may be changing for the better is the appearance of Mike Lawrence's "Counting at Bridge" (Bridge Base; requires Windows 3.1 or higher, or Windows 95; $34.95). The text consists of 99 intermediate-level deals, covering declarer's and defender's technique, to be played interactively with questions, answers and commentary (much like Bridge Movies); about 20 of the deals are replayed (for example, when there is a point to be made for both sides). The overall effect is a tutorial supported by numerous examples. The quality of the lessons is high, comparable with effective book-form Lawrence tutorials on other subjects.

The software is by Fred Gitelman, the Canadian international player who has pioneered in the development of useful computer products for bridge audiences. The user can proceed at an appropriate pace, consider a question before seeing the answer, return to a previous position, and generally be in control of each deal. The mechanism for communicating with the program is especially easy to comprehend, and should offer no difficulty to anyone capable of taking a finesse, even if the player has never used computers or Windows before. Especially noteworthy are user options to show cards either as images or in standard diagrams, and to retain or to conceal sight of the cards already played from one's hand.

Now that there is software worth having, what about price? Ignoring the interactive feature, the per-deal rate compared to analogous books is high, but not outrageous. The interactive feature will have different value to different players, so further evaluation must be left to each individual. Perhaps the best direct comparison with a non-computer product is with Autobridge, which offers similar capabilities. There, a basic set including 48 deals with explanations, is also $34.95. But then you can get 32-deal refills, for only $5.95. (And, of course, you don't need a computer.) So, if you like Autobridge and keep getting refills, that is cheaper. Autobridge is a high-quality product that is educationally effective, but it cannot offer some of the best features of interactive software, such as getting an explanation of what you should have done, and why, immediately after making your decision. If computer software can achieve the quality level demonstrated here while remaining at a reasonable price, we can look forward to a new generation of valuable products.

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