Bridge is a very popular game, but there is a lot to learn before you can start to play, and even more to learn after you have started playing. To learn bridge properly you need good teaching and opportunities for regular practice, and these can be difficult to find.
Bridge Master has been designed for the complete beginner, and uses the Spectrum to help with the teaching and to give you playing practice.
Bridge Master comes in a sturdy box which contains two computer tapes, two commentary tapes, an instruction booklet, and a Penguin paperback, Begin Bridge With Reese by Terrence Reese.
The instruction booklet explains how to load the computer tapes and use the commentary, and gives information about using the program.
Full instructions and all of the bridge teaching are on the commentary tapes. The commentary is spoken clearly and at an even speed.
The Terrence Reese book is not used directly in the Bridge Master teaching, but is included for reference and supplementary reading.
The commentary begins right at the beginning, explaining the mechanics of playing bridge, and then takes you on to the first practice deal on the computer tape. On the first deal the commentary explains how to use the program and takes you through the play of the cards step by step, illustrating the basic information on how to play bridge that was given in the first section of the commentary.
The computer tapes contain between them 55 bridge deals which you use to practise playing bridge. On most of the hands the commentary gives you an introduction and some hints, and you are then expected to play the hand for yourself before continuing with the commentary, which goes on to explain the play of the hand in detail with emphasis on the new ideas introduced in the hand.
There is an "autoplay" option where the computer plays through the hand for you and you are expected to use this when following the explanatory part of the commentary.
The program will only allow you to play each hand in one way and gives a beep if you try to play any card except the one it is programmed to accept. Often, there are several cards you could play without affecting the outcome of the hand, so when you get a beep you have to stop and think about whether you have actually made a mistake.
However, this is a minor point and does not really affect the use of Bridge Master. It would probably be impractical to include the amount of data that would be needed to handle even minor variations in the play.
Bridge Master introduces the various features of the game in easy stages, beginning with playing the hand and taking tricks, then moving on to contracts and bidding, and later introducing the scoring.
This is just the mechanics of the game, and most of the teaching is devoted to helping you to reach a good standard of play. Bridge Master concentrates on the important fundamentals, such as planning the play in order to make your contract, and keeping track of the cards that have been played. All of the basic strategies in the play of the cards are covered, and the 55 deals give you plenty of practice in the most important plays.
The bidding is based on the widely used Acol system, but Acol, or any other bidding system, contains much more than can be covered in any introductory course. Bridge Master deals with the most important and most commonly used parts of the Acol system, which is fairly easy to learn as at this level it is almost entirely "natural" bidding. The only completely artificial bidding mentioned is the widely used Blackwood convention.
The program is very reliable and will stand up to any errors. The main menu, which you use to select the deal and playing option you want, will ignore anything except a valid choice, and as mentioned before the program gives a warning beep during the play of the cards if you type in anything except the card that is expected.
Bridge Master is an excellent introduction to bridge, and makes very good use of the computer in its teaching. If you follow the course faithfully you should soon reach a level where you can play with friends without disgracing yourself.
All the fundamentals are dealt with thoroughly and many of the less elementary features of the game are introduced.
The weakest part of Bridge Master is its treatment of defensive play. In all the practice deals you play the declarer's hand and although you learn something about defence from the explanation of the play in the commentary, you do not get any practice defending a hand.