The topic of computer-generated hands comes up in conversation with CBAI members every now and again. When they first play computer-generated deals, as for example in the recent Simultaneous Pairs competition, some bridge players complain that the hands are “unfair” because they produce more extreme distributions (such as voids and singletons) than the human-dealt deals they are used to. And we hear on the grapevine that some clubs steer clear of using computer-generated hands for that reason.

We were therefore very interested to read this recent article on the topic, written by an expert in statistics and artificial intelligence. As the article makes clear, in fact the issue is that the computer-generated hands are truly random, whereas human dealing (or more accurately, human shuffling) very often results in less than truly random combinations. So the apparently more extreme distributions experienced are actually entirely normal and to be expected statistically.

We hope that the commentary will (a) resolve any doubts you have about the fairness of computer-dealing, and (b) at least encourage you to shuffle much more rigorously if you are determined to stay with manual dealing. While we are on this topic, the CBAI is also sometimes accused of manipulating the computer-dealt hands for our competitions to encourage extreme distributions; please believe us when we tell you that our dealers are so busy at those times that they wouldn’t have time to make any manual interventions even if we asked them to … which we don’t!

Aside from the true randomness of the hands, one of the other major advantages of computer-dealing, of course, is that printed or online hand records are readily available to the players after play. Reviewing the hands and identifying what could have been done better in bidding, play, or defence is a vital element of development for any player with aspirations to improve at the game. So if your club hasn’t ever used computer-dealt hands, why not give it a try … we’re confident you’ll like it.