Dealing With a Machine

Most of you only see the Bridge Center of Buffalo from the Front Room. You enter by the Front Door, sign in at the Director's Desk up front then sit down at your assigned table. There's a lot going on behind the scenes in that dark, mysterious world known as the Back Room.

The Director circulates through the room distributing boards to start the round simply declaring "Ready to Play" as each set hits the table. This is important. Most clubs require you to shuffle the boards at this point but not at the BCB. Here the hands have been pre-dealt so the boards dropped before you are in fact "Ready to Play." That means not only the drudgery of shuffling is unnecessary, it also means you will receive a printed hand record (or will find hand records online) after the game. Hand records not only chronicle the hands themselves but also include analysis of make-able contracts.

This doesn't just happen. It takes a lot of effort to orchestrate all this. First a volunteer using a specialized computer program (Deal Master 4) generates a series of 36 dealing files. Each of these files defines a session of 36 deals for one session at our club. The program has embedded analysis software called Deep Finesse to determine the achievable contracts on each hand. Hand record files are also created by this software. We need boards for about 8 sessions a week to keep our club going.

The hand record files are emailed to a volunteer who has them printed and returned to the Back Room. Dealing files are used by another volunteer who operates our dealing machine, the PlayBridge Dealer 4. This is an impressive machine. The operator places a standard deck of cards in the hopper. The machine "reads" the first card directing it to one of four bins, then "reads" the next card until all four hands have been dealt. Reading the card is accomplished by an optical sensor similar to a digital camera attached to sophisticated recognition software processing a complete hand in about 7 seconds.

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The heart of this sophisticated series of steps is the Dealing Machine, our PlayBridge Dealer 4. Not only is this machine fast but it is reliable. Other than regular cleaning and an annual maintenance check, this workhorse deals over and over error free throughout the year. We did have one agitated service issue from a volunteer dealer recently. The machine jammed on a card deck with an error message on the computer screen, "Cannot Read Card." The issue was quickly resolved. No cleaning was required. No realignment of the sensor was made. No reloading or reprogramming needed. A joker had been inadvertently left in the deck. Everything was back to normal once it was gone.