Pre-duplicated boards are my idea of a perfect technological innovation. Players are able to enjoy the benefits without having to learn how to operate anything or worrying about hitting the wrong little button. You just sit down and the boards are right there ready for play.

In the old days tournament sessions began with the tournament director announcing "shuffle, deal, and play". If there was to be duplication between sections, after the play the players spread their hands out on the table, and used another deck to copy another board for another section. This all took time, and with 52 cards spread out on the table in order to copy another 52 there was a substantial possibility of error, which resulted in matchpoint penalties for the offender and his partner.

Producing hand records for the players was theoretically possible, but it would have taken several hours and day-old hand records have never been a big seller.

In the 1960's the ACBL began using computer technology to generate random deals. This produced printed records of each deal which were distributed to each table and the players would distribute the playing cards in accordance with the hand record. Of course the players preparing the deal couldn't play it, so the boards were usually passed to another table before play began. Occasionally, some players were required to duplicate more than one set of boards. This all took time.

Computer-generated deals also enabled post-game hand records to be printed before the tournament and made instantly available when the session ended.

Security was paramount. Only two people in Memphis ever had access to the hand records, and one was the printer and neither was a bridge player. The hand records were printed and mailed to the Director-in-Charge under seal to be opened only at the beginning of each session. Sort of like the Academy Awards.

Computer-generated deals also enabled STaC's where identical deals are played in hundreds of locations. Barometer events also became much easier to operate.

For years there was considerable debate about whether hand-shuffled or computer-generated deals more accurately reflected pure random reality. It got to the point where scholarly articles were appearing in academic journals. There were theories that the computer had some bad habits and theories that human shuffling produced flatter hands because most players didn't give the deck the recommended seven riffles. Players now accept computer-dealt deals (and other computer products), and seem to find other things to argue about.

Around 1999 the ACBL began adding a brief analysis to the post game hand records. A software program called "Deep Finesse" tells you the number of tricks possible in several most likely contracts. The analysis is purely double-dummy, where stiff kings are automatically picked off and every declarer play works no matter what the odds in the real world. People are perfecting systems that take human reality into account, and we might start seeing them soon.

A machine capable of reading the hand records and dealing hands as instructed has been around for awhile. There were several patents in the late 1960's, and some machines were available in the 1970's. But the idea never really caught on until the late '00's, and when it did it spread like wildfire.

The machine is basically simple. The operator inserts a deck of cards and a hand record and a few seconds later the machine deposits the four hands into a special board that simply needs to be snapped shut and it's on to the next deal. Dealing cards has to be a mechanical process, so compared to iPods and cell phones it looks and sounds like something out of the early industrial revolution. But looks can be deceiving. First there is the blinding speed. The fastest machines can produce a deal in less than five seconds. The latest machines are loaded with sophisticated information technology, and capable of all sorts of tricks. You can see one in operation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMLE4Yjub_g\

Players love pre-duplicated deals because they don't have to spend ten to fifteen minutes performing manual labor at the beginning of each session and they don't have to worry about a match point penalty if they mess up. Tournament directors love them because they have a lot more flexibility in setting up a movement and human error in the duplicating process has been virtually eliminated.

District 17 host units love them because the district organization pays for the pre-duplication and the tournament no longer has to bear the expense of providing playing cards and boards for pair events. Of course, most team events still use the old "shuffle, deal, and play" since no duplication is necessary.

The district board is happy because we have had to make no financial investment whatsoever. Dan Williams of Denver provides pre-duplication for all our regionals for a fee based on the number of boards needed. (Does anybody remember the old joke about some things being cheaper to rent than buy?) Taking into account the savings from playing cards and boards, the net cost is less than ten cents per $11.00 entry.

Dan started with a regional in Las Vegas three or four years ago. Everybody liked his performance and he now provides his service to more than twenty regionals throughout the west plus a few other events. His track record is very important to those in charge of tournaments since even a minor human error can result in a major disruption in the tournament. Dan presently owns four machines and almost 4,000 decks of special cards, including two sets in large print, for a total investment probably approaching $20,000. And he frequently has to replace playing cards that suffer wear and tear from the machines as well as the humans.

Every few weeks Dealin' Dan loads a couple of machines and a few thousand decks of cards in boards into his van and hits the tournament trail. Operating in a locked room, he and sometimes one trusted assistant prepare the boards. The machine receives its instructions from a sealed electronic file, and paper hand records are only in the possession of the DIC. The security procedure reminds one of what it takes to launch an ICBM missile. Dan usually prepares all the boards before the tournament even begins, and servicing a 2,000-table regional requires almost eight hours of duplicating time.

Although Dan has a machine that can use plain cards, District 17 has always used the bar-coded version. Pre-duplicating with plain cards takes about 1.5 seconds longer per deal than bar-coded cards. This may not sound like much, but when you multiply by 3,000 deals you end up with almost another hour and a half per tournament. More time means more money. Let your district board representative know how you feel.

In the beginning there were some objections to the somewhat different bar-coded playing cards, but people become accustomed to them and some players even prefer them because they use four slightly different colors for each of the four suits instead of just the traditional red and black, thus reducing the chance of a revoke.

You don't even need the latest $4400 version to be able to perform all sorts of technological tricks. Providing hands for real-time vugraph and internet viewing is relatively easy for someone who knows which buttons to push. You can even shuffle, deal, and play old fashioned style and then put the hand into the machine which will read the hand and then produce a hundred duplications and print out the hand record complete with Deep Finesse analysis. I don't know why anybody would want to do that, but it is possible.

Club players are happy because the machine can handle the whole process without bothering with the ACBL, including hand records with Deep Finesse analysis.

The use of pre-duplicated boards is a technological innovation where everybody wins.

If you're looking for a game where some people sometimes lose, the Rocky Mountain Regional is happening in Denver May 25-31 followed by the Las Vegas Regional beginning June 7. If you're planning on doing the full circuit you can schedule a layover at the Durango Sectional June 4-6 and drop by Albuquerque June 18-20.

You can always drop me a line at johnvanness@comcast.net or call me at 970-923-2500.



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