Playing on BBO

The coronavirus outbreak is causing problems for many bridge clubs and, for those wanting their weekly fix, it is time to venture into the world of online bridge.

There are alternatives to BBO such as FunBridge (now owned by BBO) and Bridge Club Live. I have an account on the former but my experience with BBO is more extensive.

The club has run events on Bridge Base Online (BBO) in the past, when snow closed the club. The look and feel of BBO has changed a couple of times since then and it also offers many different types of bridge.

It is worth reading New to Bridge Base Online? if you have not played on BBO before.

BBO's home page is

On the home page you are able to log in or register using the red button on the top right of the screen. A BBO username allows you to chat with friends, play with other players, compete in tournaments, and participate in team games and see how you did. It means you are not anonymous.

BBO has recently added an email confirmation step to the registration process.

Here is my four minute video showing the registration & login process and navigating the home page:

You can retain your anonymity by playing one of games on the home page: Just Play Bridge, Just Declare, Matchpoints, IMPs are free games for individuals where your partner, and opponents, are robots who play a strong no trump and 2/1. You will not get significant comparisons on how you do in these games, but your partner and opponents are very quiet and do not mind if you take a long time to make a bid or play a card, and will not object if you stop in the middle of a hand to make a coffee.

The Bridge Master game shown on the home page is not really a game. It is a very good teaching program on declarer play. You can choose your level (I suggest starting at intermediate) and see if you can make the contract. There are dozens of hands for each level which get progressively more difficult: Level 5 is particularly impossible.

Playing with real people on BBO is a little like the Wild West. The key is to find and make friends and gradually expand your network so that you can always find a game when you log in. 

For example, many Berwick players participate in the Acol Club, which is a free club where behaviour is monitored and unpleasant players asked to leave. The advantage of this club is that almost everyone plays Acol, whereas on most of the site the expected system is 5-card majors and a strong no trump.


The Acol Players Club at BBO

The Berwick Bridge Club is very unlikely to establish its own online bridge club. Although it sounds attractive to play in an environment with club members, and not have to endure the antics of the more boisterous BBO member, in reality most of the time the club would be empty or have tables partially filled. We do not have critical mass.

If a few people want to play a game at a set time, just log onto BBO and start a table in the Relaxed Club, reserve their places, and just play there.

My recommendation is to use the Acol Players Club at BBO if you want to play for a few hands or a few hours. This is a friendly public club on BBO that is for people playing the Acol bidding system. It is already frequently used by many Berwick members and you will quickly make friends with everyone there.

The Acol Players Club is large enough that there are always tables in play and you do not have to wait long to find opponents, and partners, if you start your own table. It is moderated and complaints taken seriously, especially bad behaviour.

The Acol Players Club is free and you do not need to be a member to play in the club or start a table. You do have to be a member to participate in their tournaments: Thursday (pairs) 8pm, Friday (individual) 8pm, Saturday (pairs) 9.15am, Sunday (pairs) 9.15am.

Information on the club, including registering for tournaments, is available on its website -

I have created an 8-minute YouTube video showing what you need to know to enjoy playing in the Acol Players Club at BBO. The video assumes that you have a BBO username.

General advice on playing on BBO

  1. Play with friends and friends of friends, as they will tend to remain at the table and play. The average BBO player has the attention span of a mayfly and can easily just leave a table at any time.
  2. Most people speak some degree of English on BBO and it is not impolite to request that they chat in a language that you can understand, especially when explaining their bids.
  3. Tell your mentor that you will be playing: they may be able to watch and give advice.
  4. When you host a table, choose the Relaxed Club rather than the Competitive Club.
  5. When you host a table, check the Permission required to play option. Then, if a player gets disconnected you can wait for them to return without lots of people ‘jumping’ in.
  6. When you host a table, allow all kibitzers and permit them to chat at the table. This will allow friends to comment and chat to you. 
  7. If you arrange to play with friends, then use a Vugraph table (or use the Deal Source menu at the table to select vugraph boards). These provide just two comparisons but more realistic results.
  8. In general, always have a look at how many comparisons were used in calculating your score. The more comparisons, the more realistic your result is. You can refresh these during play to get more accurate results as well.
  9. If you go to Competitive->Tournaments, you can find a number of tournaments, many of which are free to play. You can play 3 of the Daily Free tournaments per week and the Weekly Free Instant Tournament (under “Solitaire”->”Weekly Free Instant Tournament”) completely free of charge. These are popular and so you can get many comparisons, although you can only play them alone, that iis with a robot partner and against robots.
  10. There are also pairs tournaments here, where you will need to register with your partner to play or find someone from the partnership desk.
  11. Challenges are a great way to compare your play with others. More experienced juniors and ex-juniors (that is everyone who is not a junior ;) ) are usually happy to play and even if you don’t have a chance to discuss the results, you can have a look at the comparisons on your own.
  12. Kibitzing is a great feature on BBO. You can watch some of the best players in the world or watch some players you know. It is good to vary between kibitzing seeing all four hands and just watching one player and comparing what they do to what you would do.
  13. You can organise bidding practice with your partner against robots. This option also includes a lot of useful features: you can set your opponents’ bids to “pass” only or specify how many points you and your partner will have, etc ( Paul is an expert on this). While somewhat unrealistic, this is a good way to hammer in your agreements.

BBO self-ratings in your profile

From the BBO Help

It's tempting at times to overstate one's skill level. Sometimes players also understate their level because they're timid or just don't realize how good they really are. It's very helpful to be as accurate as possible in advertising how well we play bridge. Following these guidelines when stating your level of expertise will make for a more pleasant bridge playing experience:

This indicates you do not wish a skill level to be displayed when people view your profile information.

Someone who recently learned to play bridge.

Someone who has played bridge for less than one year.

Someone who is comparable in skill to most other members of BBO.

Someone who has been consistently successful in clubs or minor tournaments.

Someone who has enjoyed success in major national tournaments.

World Class
Someone who has represented their country in World Championships.

Of course, you may at times find that you disagree with another's assessment of their expertise. If this is the case, it is not appropriate to mention this to them via private or public chat. You may be correct, but it may also be that they are just having an off day.

Playing with robots on BBO

  1. The robots only play their own system (system card) based on five-card majors and a strong no trump. They expect their opponents to play the same system too, so if you play something different they will misunderstand your bidding. Hovering over the bid, you can see the explanation for GIB’s bids (even if it is your robot partner’s bid). Furthermore, if you partner a robot, you can see what your bids would mean before you bid them.

  2. Paul assumes no responsibility or liability for the robot's bidding, play and defence. Most of the robot bidding disasters are due to you not understanding what the robot thinks your bid means! Swearing at it can help.

  3. The robots can be used at a normal table where you are the host. A particular advantage of using the robots as opponents is that they do not mind how fast or slow you are, they do not mind you chatting to your partner, and they are more polite than many random opponents.

    The robots are always free on the first day of the month and in certain tournaments but otherwise they need to be rented ($1 per week). Details on how to do this at

  1. The robots sometimes make some very basic mistakes in bidding, but their play and defence is better than the majority of players on BBO.

  2. The disadvantage of the robots is that they play very fast. DO NOT play at their pace - take your time and think, they will not complain.

  3. GIB also provides analysis of how many tricks were possible to make and which defence would have been the most successful. This is useful to look at and it will improve your play if you include this in your discussion, especially if you practise regularly with your partner. However, do this with some caution as GIB’s analysis is double-dummy and sometimes the successful lines of play are unrealistic to find or flat-out wrong (as in: anti-percentage).

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Useful videos

Paul has made a set of useful videos on YouTube to show you some of the important steps in using BBO. Most are two to three minutes and they are available on his YouTube channel.

They cover:

Let Paul know if there are other topics you wish him to cover.

Berwick club members on BBO

The following is a list of club members’ BBO nicknames that should be friendly if you see them online and be able to assist you.

Paul Gipson - paulg
Helen Gipson - todheugh
Sandy Duncan - ahduncan
Diana Drysdale - bordergirl
Reg Drysdale - reg2
George Martin - geomar
Ros French - rosa7
Penny Davidson - dunslass
Trish Frew - kirkbanny
Julian Bales - yportne
Ian McCreath - paxtoian
Jean Mole - moleey1
Marion Mead - emgee31
Tony Reed-Jones - TRJ1
Jo Rowley - jorowley
Len Hutton - madlenpopp
Jane Smithson - rhua
John Smithson - 57squire
Tony Houghton - cyclingt
Nicola Corbyn - nickj7

Let Paul know if you wish to be added to this list.



Future tournaments

Occasionally the club runs tournaments on BBO:

  • Every Saturday: matchpoint or cross imp pairs, 12 boards, 11-12.30pm

You need to register to play in tournaments and it is first come, first served. Seats cannout be reserved in advance. Registration opens two hours before the tournament starts.

Paul intends to run his popular Play and Learn sessions through the summer as normal, but using BBO. The evenings will include a 12-board cross imp pairs tournament followed by a Zoom discussion at a teaching table.

  1. Thursday 4 June: 2-4.30pm
  2. Thursday 2 July: 2-4.30pm
  3. Thursday 6 August: 2-4.30pm

Advanced topics on BBO

These videos cover topics for more experienced users.

Uploading hands - for bidding practice, teaching, and other purposes

Team matches - creating team matches with example of random or preset hands

Team matches - creating team matches with random players, substitutions and cancelling the match

Partnership bidding - using the partnership bidding rooms to improve your understandings (robots are free and can be used as a partner or opponents)

Using advanced options at the partnership bidding table (advanced users only)

👉 3 common mistakes when creating team matches


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