Challenge Bridge – A Duplicate Bridge Diversion

Challenge Bridge

A Duplicate Bridge Diversion

3M Company – 1973 – 4 Players

Challenge Bridge is a system designed to allow bridge players to play the same hands that were used in American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) tournaments. The game includes the results from the tournaments so players can rank their play against that of the championship level players.

The key to the system is the “computerized deal cards”. The deck of cards that comes with the game is marked. Literally. There is a pattern of markings on the back of each card. When the cards are placed in the “card selector” along with a “deal card” only one marking will be visible through the deal card. This indicates which player that card should be dealt to. There are 100 deal cards included with the game and discussions of the 100 bridge hands in the manual which also includes commentary by bridge expert Oswald Jacoby.

I am not much of a bridge player and when I first reviewed this game I really didn’t see the attraction to it. Fortunately, Paul Bernhardt, the Educational Chair for the Salt Lake City Unit of the ACBL saw my review and gave me the insiders view of the game. He has kindly allowed me to reproduce his e-mail here.

Tonight, I read your review of the old 3M Challenge Bridge game.

I can see why you wouldn’t get the point of the 3M game, not being a bridge player. No problem with that, the 3M game would appear pathetically silly in that context. Let me try tell you a bit about how tournament bridge is played so that the point of the 3M game can be more clear.

In duplicate bridge, both at clubs and at tournaments, the hands are played in such a way that everyone in the room plays the same hands over the course of the evening.** Then each partnership’s outcomes on hands can be ranked against the other partnerships’ outcomes. By moving the boards from table to table, and changing opponents every few hands, a balanced competition where a mix of east-west pairs play against the north-south pairs over the hands in play for that competition. The luck of dealing is therefore somewhat removed from the game. Every person sitting in your seat will have the same cards as you; all EW and NS partnerships will have the same cards. The measure of skill is based on who does the best with the same cards over the course of the evening. The changing of opponents makes it so that you have to perform against a variety of opponents’ skills and styles of play.

When play on the hand is completed the score is recorded on a score sheet that travels with the board (in tournaments, it does not travel with the board but is picked up by a caddie after the round). Players scramble to see how they did compared with the other tables which have already had the board. At the end of the evening, players scramble around the computer screen to see how they scored overall.

And that is where the 3M game may become interesting. Included in the 3M game are 100 hands from ACBL Tournaments with the scores actually made by the players who attended in person. As a player of bridge I am curious how I might stacked up at an ACBL Tournament. This 3M game might give me some hope, or be sobering. Unfortunately, this game removes one of the important elements that makes duplicate work: rotating opponents. If you play all night against the same folks, with their limited or exceptional skills, you will not be able to truly judge how you might have done in the tournament.

Also, 100 hands is a terribly small number. At a typical tournament, where competitions have 2 sessions per day, players will play between 27 and 36 hands per session, 52 to 72 hands per day. Maybe 3M offered supplemental packs of ‘computer’ cards to make more hands. Still, as a bridge players, it is a lot to pay for 100 deals and an imperfect comparison against the tournament field. Still, for a more than casual player with little experience at tournament play, it may be interesting.

There would be no market for such a game nowadays, in my opinion. Computer bridge games (which often include the same information for several ACBL tournaments, and all the hands for the entire 7 to 10 day tournament, is a much more attractive buy). And online duplicate bridge, sometimes against the best players in the world, is very popular now.

**How we make sure everyone plays the same hands: The hands are dealt at the first table (or organized from the record of a computerized deal) and placed in duplicate boards (do a search at eBay on those words and you’ll find several versions). During the play of the hand, cards are not tossed to the center of the table as in typical card play. They kept immediately in front of the player, organized so as to indicate how many tricks each side has taken. At the completion of the play of the hand, everyone at the table confirms and records the outcome and the cards are returned to the duplicate board so the deal can be played at the next tables.

Hope that helped you understand what that old 3M game was about.

Yes it did, Paul, and thank you very much. If you are interested in contacting the American Contract Bridge League, you can find their website here: American Contract Bridge League.

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