Should Bridge get the High-Tech Treatment Too?
When it comes to playing cards online, most people automatically think of poker or blackjack. One game not on that list but still played by millions around the world is bridge. Interestingly, although bridge even boasts a global governing body – The World Bridge Federation – it has not crossed over into the online world in the same way as other card games have such as poker and blackjack. These are two of the most popular games in the online casinos industry which generates over £4.5 billion in the UK alone – £2.6 billion of it coming directly from casino games. Bridge, though, has never really made the move in anywhere near the same way, and has arguably even lost its place in mainstream consciousness because of it.
Poker is definitely a game that has crossed into the mainstream on online play. In fact, it’s viewed by many as not only a casino game but a mind sport, which was greatly helped by its 2010 recognition by IMSA – the International Mind Sports Association, which also focuses on bridge and games such as Go, draughts and chess.
The popularity of poker, especially after the “poker boom” of the early noughties, has given rise to a series of popular poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker, as well as a number of specialised poker websites, catering to the poker crowd as well as containing detailed interactive tutorials and information for newbies who want to learn the game or improve their strategy. From sit-and-go tables to large tournaments boasting huge jackpots, online poker is now believed to be played by over 100 million people around the world all looking to become successful poker players.
The popular live streaming platform of Twitch, known for its coverage of video games with live commentary, is also home to a series of poker streams, where poker pros offer players insight into their thought process when playing difficult hands of poker or laying out betting strategies, for instance. Most if not all of these developments wouldn’t have been possible had the game not embraced technology but remained solely in poker clubs and casinos.
While maybe not as popular as poker in terms of reaching the mainstream, blackjack is still definitely a casino staple and one of the most iconic card games in history. The beginnings of the game are shrouded in mystery, but it’s believed blackjack originated in the early 17th century. Whether you know it as blackjack, pontoon or twenty-one, this is a card game that you’ll have most likely played at one point in your life. It’s the simplicity and speed of the game that is perhaps blackjack’s most appealing feature, from the dealing of the cards to the betting process.
The move online has been a huge victory for blackjack, with technology working very well with the game. Nowadays, in addition to online casinos, blackjack is offered by as a mini-game by some sportsbook websites. Still, it’s the speciality of online casinos, the most prominent of which will make an effort to offer different blackjack variants for the enjoyment of their patrons. A good example is Betway Casino, which offers 24 different types of blackjack, something that fans of the game in the pre-internet era had a hard time finding in one place. These include Perfect Pairs European Blackjack Series, Vegas Downtown and Atlantic City Blackjack.
Advanced streaming as well as OCR and RFID technology has also allowed for blackjack to be played as a live casino game online. This means that players get access to real-time video streams, where real dealers deal their blackjack cards and chat with them from a remote blackjack room, simulating a casino experience in an immersive way. Live streaming has also given rise to players sharing blackjack videos, such as the ones on Twitch and YouTube.
Why Hasn’t Bridge Crossed Over?
Bridge is a lot of things; a fun and challenging game that can be enjoyed by players of all ages. As the English Bridge Union explains, the history of bridge can be traced back to 16th century Britain, with the modern version of the game established in the late 1800s. With tournaments played across the world – including the European Open Championships, held this year in Italy, from the 10th to the 24th of June – it’s clear that bridge’s lack of success online isn’t a fair reflection of the game’s continued popularity elsewhere.
Just over 10 years ago, it was reported that bridge was played by more than 80 million people in the U.S. alone – proving just how big the game has been in recent memory. There are quite a few lost opportunities though – take learning bridge for example: Yes, there are many good books on learning bridge and perfecting your game, including Paul Mendelson’s The Right Way to Play Bridge and The Times Beginner’s Guide to Bridge, but card games like poker and blackjack benefit from poker and blackjack web tutorials, which make use of the interactive capabilities of HTML5 and Flash technology to teach new players by showing rather than telling. The closest we’ve come to that when it comes to bridge are dedicated websites such as No Fear Bridge and some informative videos, but this potential technology offers to help new players has been largely untapped.
For links to software, websites, and video which will help you learn to play bridge, check out the Learn To Play page on Great Bridge Links.
Okay, so bridge isn’t as simple a game as poker or blackjack, for sure. In fact, we even know that regular games of bridge can actually help make people smarter, with a 2014 study by Scholastic found that card games such as bridge improve older people’s motor skills, among other similar findings. That isn’t always something that grabs Joe Public, though, many of whom want to keep it simple. Going high-tech could increase the appeal of bridge as well as get some more millennials – a crowd that does seem to take well to card games, from collectible titles like Blizzard’s Hearthstone to poker and blackjack – on board.
Could bridge become an online success?
Yes and no. The sheer numbers that play bridge around the world show just how popular the game still is. If those people were to play the game online, bridge would be one of the most played games online. As with poker and blackjack, that loyal fanbase alone would be enough to make the game a success and indeed, there are online bridge communities such as Bridge Base Online, OKBridge and Bridge Player Live that host hundreds of thousands of players at any given moment, 24/7. These online clubs offer practice play, club play and tournament play. The thing is, there is no money involved. The players play for a currency known as ‘masterpoints’ which is global, or they play in order to rise on results list or gain levels of authority in the specific online community.
But why don’t we play for money?
The biggest roadblock to money bridge online is the basic nature of the game. Bridge is a partnership game. It can only be played with a partner. The ‘bidding’, which is the first stage of a bridge hand, is a language used to communicate with partner information about your hand. In fact, many partnerships have a custom ‘convention card’ full of agreements made specifically for their partnership. The ‘play’ which is the second stage of a bridge hand, also uses communication signals and the two hands work together to earn as many tricks as possible.
In playing online bridge, it would be so easy to cheat. Your partner could be in the same room as you, and you could simply tell them what your hand holds. Or you could have two computers open, typing details of the hand to partner. Or you could be on the phone. Yes, this is possible with the online bridge that is currently being played, but when one is playing for personal esteem, it’s not that common. Bring money into the mix, and it would become more so.
There is a solution. The game can be set up as what is known as an ‘Individual’ tournament. In this kind of game, the players are matched with strangers. The partnership ‘convention card’ is standard and cannot be changed.
This kind of money bridge is available primarily through Bridge Big. In Bridge Big Partners and opponents are randomly selected and change with each hand. You cannot choose a partner. In fact, you have no idea who your partner or opponents are until after the hand is played, at which point you sit across from a new partner, again anonymous. To make it even more difficult to share information between players, the board numbers are scrambled, everyone plays South, chatting is disabled and kibitzing is not allowed (kibitzers are watchers). More information about Bridge Big’s fair play (not currently available) can be found here. Bridge Big allows players to drop in for a few hands or stay as long as they like, similar to other online card games.
Although Bridge Big uses only real people for partners, there could easily be ‘robots’ available for money play. The experience is never as good with a robot, but if coins are dropping out of your phone, it’s probably not a big deal.
With technology helping take poker and blackjack to a new tech-savvy audience it remains to be seen whether bridge follows suit. Make online money bridge easy to find, easy to learn, and fun to play and there would be very little to stop it taking centre stage in entertainment options.