As more people are beginning to play bridge online [“OLB”] solely, some players are joining us who have never or rarely played in real life [“IRL”], or in face-to-face [“F2F”] games. Let us look at some of the differences, starting with obvious ones.
If you have never played a single F2F game it may surprise you to know that mechanical mistakes occur, like players bidding when it is not their turn, or bidding 2 when the previous bid was 3, or playing out of turn, or not following suit [“revoking”] or even bidding with the wrong hand of cards! All this is lost in OLB, of course: the software does not allow these sort of mistakes.
However, the three biggest problems in F2F also exist in OLB. These are bad behaviour, using unauthorised information from partner, and misinforming opponents.
As regards behaviour, a somewhat more robust approach is tolerated in OLB, because you cannot see the other players. IRL smiles are expected to water down otherwise somewhat offensive comments: smileys might have the same effect, but generally online you have to tolerate a bit more. Also, it is normal if playing in a club IRL that you know everyone you play against: this leads to a different approach to manners and courtesy. But good behaviour is a basic requirement both online and in real life.
Unauthorised information from partner is relatively common in F2F bridge. The commonest form is a hesitation, which shows doubt: unfortunately partner can often tell what the doubt is. He is required by Law to bend over backwards not to take advantage, but often this is misjudged, or the player does not make any effort to be ethical, or he was not aware of a hesitation, and so on. The reason this is more common in F2F is that it is often not clear in OLB that there is a hesitation, or BIT as it is often called. This stands for break in tempo, and also applies to a call made unreasonably quickly. Is a player thinking, or has he gone off to answer the phone? Not being able to see him makes a difference. Players should always say if they leave the table for something like phone, doorbell or cup of tea, typing 'brb' being traditional. But not everyone follows this.
Finally there is misinformation. People who play in clubs are likely to be used to partner: there is much more pickup bridge online. But alerts and answers to questions come from the partner of the player making the call, while in a majority of OLB games self-alerting and self-explanations is the norm. The problems of misinformation are very different as a result.
We shall look at some of these differences in more detail in the coming months.
Please remember to write to me with your problems. I am afraid I will not guarantee to answer each query personally, but I shall look at everything sent, and will write about some subjects submitted this way.