Just Ask Martha

Author: Bridge Bulletin Magazine
Date of publish: 02/10/2002
Level: Intermediate

Just ask Martha: no hanky panky with computer deals

In some circles, computer-generated deals have a decidedly bad reputation. Many players believe the deals are manipulated to:

  1. Be more difficult.
  2. Assure that all finesses fail.
  3. Have wilder distributions.

In fact, computer-generated deals are truly random deals – no more, no less. If you prefer the less-exotic deals you sometimes find in your regular club game, it may be because the deals have been inadequately shuffled, which tends to produce more even distributions.

Then again, some of the truly outlandish deals reported in various publications were dealt by humans.

Here is the process by which the computer-generated deals are created:

Once a month, Martha Walls, who works in the Publishing Department, unlocks the room near her office where the deals are created. The office stays locked at all times.

To start up a new set, Walls boots up the computer and opens the random-deal generator created by ACBL systems analyst Jim Lopushinsky.

Walls, looking at a screen with blank spaces for 52 cards, takes out a deck, shuffles it at least seven times and deals out four hands. She then enters the cards in each of the corresponding compass directions on the screen. She then fills in the number of sets of deals she needs, and starts the process. Last year, Walls used the computer to generate 10,825 sets of deals for tournaments, including NABCs.

The deals come out in sets on a laser printer hooked to the computer. After the printing is completed, the deals are packaged and sealed immediately, along with a sheet containing all the deals in the set. That sheet is photocopied at the tournament so that players can have the hand records after each session. No one sees the deals until a tournament director opens a package at a tournament for duplication by players.

Walls, who has worked at the ACBL for 21 years – mostly in the now-defunct print shop – has never played bridge. If she was so inclined, she wouldn't know how to "manipulate" a bridge deal. "I wouldn't know a bridge hand from Adam," she says.

Lopushinsky says the program he wrote to generate the deals is capable of creating all deals possible, but no one reading this piece could ever see them. The number of possible deals is a mind-boggling 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000.

If you could examine one bridge deal per second 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the number of years it would take to see all the deals possible would be a 29-digit number.

Lopushinsky said the deal generator operates with a seed number and a 20-digit number that combines with the clock in the computer to assure that no deal is ever duplicated. The chances of having a duplicate deal, he says, would be the same as your chances of getting the same deal on consecutive nights after a thorough shuffle the second time around.

After he first wrote the deal generator, Lopushinsky says, he checked it once a week for about a year to assure that the deals being created conformed to mathematical expectations. It was right on target every time, he says.

If you are one who objects to the use of computer deals, consider how long it would take to start a game with several different sections if hand records were not available for duplication in all sections at the same time. The alternative would be to have players in each section play their own deals without duplication, not a desirable choice in events where there is an overall winner.