~ Practice Apps

Here we review some of the best bridge-playing and practice apps available. These are generally no good for playing against real people. See the Live Playing Sites page for those.

To find any of the apps listed here click on their highlighted name below or put their name into the search function of the Appstore on your iPhone or Google Play if you use an Android device.

In this section we start with Funbridge:

§ Funbridge is a great playing app which is free to download and you are given 100 deals to start with. Prices are then very reasonable: another 50 deals costs $3.99 (about £3.45 today, March 21st 2020), 400 deals is $21.99 (£19) and 1,000 deals is $109.99 (£95). Heavy users can subscribe for $13.99 per month or $129.99 per year. For that you get unlimited deals, so if you find yourself playing more than 20 hands a week (easily done!) then subscription would be best for you.
§ Funbridge works across all platforms: iOS or Android devices (phones or tablets), Apple or Windows computers or any web browser. So, you can use the same account on your phone, desktop or tablet.
§ The interface and graphics are very clear and there is a small amount of customisation in terms of cards, sounds, speed of play etc.
§ For your North-South partnership you can choose from various bidding systems including Acol. Then there are a couple of levels within that system. You can then edit the system in more detail in terms of openings, responses etc. Card play conventions (leads, signals etc.) are limited, but you should still make your choices as the default settings are unlikely to suit you.
§ By default you play against AI robots. You sit south and robots ‘occupy’ the other three seats. If north declares the hand rotates so that you play it. If east or west declare you defend as south with a robot partner. The AI engine that powers the game is extremely good and the bidding, play and defence are all top notch.
There is also an option to invite a friend to play with you as N-S. You then play against E-W robots. I haven’t tried out this function yet, but it would seem particularly useful in the current situation of social isolation.
§ You can begin by playing practice hands where your performance is rated against the computer, but you can also see how other players fared with the same hands. I recommend choosing the MP (matchpoint) scoring system where your performance is given as a percentage (as in duplicate pairs scoring in a bridge club).
As you grow in confidence you can play in tournaments and be compared against other players (although you are still playing with/against the AI robots). There are 13 levels of tournament from new players to elite. As you play tournaments you receive a rating and can move up (or down) through the rankings.
You can also challenge other players to a tournament; either friends, random players or the AI engine (which is called Argine).
§ You can have bidding explanations displayed during the auction, but there is no ‘hint’ function. In other words you can’t ask the AI what it thinks you should do, only what particular bids mean.
You can have a ‘take-back’ function where you have to tap the screen / press a button to agree a card once you have played it, but only for the one card. In other words you cannot go back through previous tricks if things go wrong. You can play a hand again, but you are stuck with your original score for that hand.
§ To play Funbridge you need an internet connection (and probably quite a good one) so it may not be much good if you are in a queue at the shops. However, you play at your own pace and you can pause hands and return to them later.
> One disadvantage that I have found with Funbridge is that you cannot program the bidding system for the East-West robots. They play a French system of 5 card majors and a strong notrump (15-17) – Funbridge and the AI is based in France. This puts players choosing Acol at a slight disadvantage, partly because you may not understand the robots’ bids (although you can click on the bids for explanations), but also because the majority of players in tournaments will be playing 5-card majors / strong NT and you will always fare slightly better in the long run if you ‘play with the room’.
However, overall Funbridge is excellent and currently the leader of the playing app-pack. I highly recommend it.
If you have any feedback or tips on using it please let me know.

More reviews coming soon…….