With all clubs closed, and all CBAI and IBU competitions cancelled or postponed until at least mid-July, if we want to get our bridge fix for the foreseeable future, we will have to do it online.

This website already had a brief outline of the various platforms for electronic bridge, but in the current circumstances we are conscious that additional guidance will be helpful.

The biggest and most popular online bridge platform is BridgeBaseOnline (BBO). It is available via a website, or as an app for mobile devices. Given that the entire world is now forced to play online, BBO has become a LOT busier in recent weeks; in pre-coronavirus times the maximum numbers playing averaged the low tens of thousands – more than 15,000 players was a busy night. Now normal volumes are around three times that number, and on occasion more than 50,000 players have been online … the vast majority of them paying absolutely nothing for the privilege. But as the site has got busier, BBO’s services have been under strain, and the ability to access new services has been constrained.

A number of Irish organisers are managing tournaments online, either as open events or on behalf of a club. Most notable are Eamon Galligan (BBO name eamongall), who is running two daily open tournaments, one at 17:00 and the other at 22:00, Feargal O’Boyle (ansuid), and Aileen Ward (ApwarD). In addition, Pat Egan (PaddyI), Declan Byrne (RegentMan), and Kieran Crowley (kieran c) are running tournaments for the Bankers, Regent, and Railway Union clubs respectively. There are probably lots of others we are not aware of, and all are due great credit for the work and effort they are putting in to ensure we can all continue to enjoy a game of bridge. Unfortunately, the capacity constraints mean that BBO is not currently entertaining any further applications to set up as a tournament organiser. However, the CBAI has approached them (and also a sister platform, Funbridge) to see if we can be approved to run regular online tournaments. We will keep you posted on that.

Of course, you can do a lot more on BBO than play in scheduled tournaments. We are writing up a full guide for newcomers, so watch this space. In the meantime, we can refer you to a couple of sources that may be helpful. BBO itself has a brief guide for new players, which includes an introductory video by Australian Peter Hammonds (sliynk) that you will find useful. And Paul Gipson (paulg), an Englishman now resident in Scotland, has produced an excellent series of short videos that will give you chapter and verse on a lot of BBO activities, from the basic to the complex. Our thanks to Paul for permission to include the link to his work here.

In addition to online play, there are lots of other creative ideas being pursued to keep bridge players active. Balbriggan Bridge Club, courtesy of Seamus Costello, is offering regular quizzes for novices and intermediates via its website, with all the editions to date still available. Bridge teacher Michael O’Loughlin is doing the same via email – contact him on michaelolough@yahoo.com.

The Australian Bridge Federation has organised a digital care package, including some free downloads of well-known books, and free access to magazines and quizzes. Suitably inspired, Baron Barclay came up with a similar package. Plenty of free material for you to get your teeth into.

And while they are not free, internationally-renowned bridge experts Andrew Robson and Marty Bergen are offering discounts on activities on their respective websites, in Robson’s case three daily Bridgecast videos, one aimed at beginners, one at intermediates, and one at more advanced players, and in Bergen’s his set of interactive online lessons. Both men are among the world’s top bridge teachers, so while you will have to pay for this content, your bridge is guaranteed to improve as a result! (Disclaimer: improvements not actually guaranteed.) While he is not as well known as Robson or Bergen, Jack Stocken is a highly-regarded English teacher from a long-established bridge family; he is offering a series of daily podcasts, again for a small charge, at either intermediate or advanced level, on his website.

And finally, the CBAI’s bookshop is still open for business, so if you see anything you fancy on our booklist, let us know by¬† email to info@cbai.ie and we’ll get it to you as soon as we can. And of course, if anyone else is running or enjoying bridge activities they would like us to feature here, just let us know and we’ll be happy to make the details available to everyone. Please note that our offices are closed, in accordance with government guidelines, and phones unattended, but that all email accounts are being monitored regularly.