EBU Virtual Bridge Clubs and why we need online bridge

These are hard times for bridge clubs, and speaking personally I greatly miss the bridge sessions we enjoyed before the UK went into “social distancing” lockdown.  None of what follows is meant to suggest that playing bridge online is a perfect substitute for the enjoyment of playing face to face at a club, and I very much hope we can get back to doing that safely before too long.

In the meantime, clubs are currently unable to meet, and it is also possible that return to normal will not be smooth or immediate, but a process over a long period. There may be further lockdowns, and there may be understandable reluctance on the part of some members to return to club meetings while there is any perceived risk in doing so.

Playing bridge online is real bridge. You can play against a computer but compare your score with other humans (Funbridge); or you can play with other people just as you would if playing at a club (Bridge Base Online (BBO) or Bridge Club Live). We should acknowledge too that online bridge has some advantages. You do not have to travel; you can play at any time; you can easily find a partner or find somewhere to play with your normal partner; there are no worries about rooms or tables or preparing the boards or car parking. While we hope that our clubs will emerge in good shape when the current crisis is over, I also suspect that some of us will get a taste for online bridge that will continue. Perhaps it will make sense for some clubs to run regular virtual bridge sessions.

The EBU is doing a few things to encourage clubs to play online. Note first, if clubs play competitive tournaments on BBO they can continue to submit sessions for master points and NGS (National Grading Scheme); in fact, we very much encourage you to do so.

We have a spreadsheet which will automatically convert a results table into the XML file required by the EBU’s system and this is available on request. The club can then submit its results.

Virtual Bridge Clubs

With that out of the way, here is a quick look at the EBU’s arrangements for virtual bridge clubs, announced last week. All clubs should have received an email with details.


The idea of the virtual bridge club is that an EBU club can play pairs sessions on BBO as a club with a trained director (TD), who can be one of your existing directors after training, or a TD who we can help you find. The fundamentals are as follows:

  • Once in the scheme, you can run pairs games of any size at any time, subject to the availability of a TD.
  • Your members can pay “table money” through BBO in which case the the minimum cost is $3.00 per player (about £2.50). During the current crisis, the club receives 70% of this (it is normally 50%). Alternatively you can arrange with us to have members play without paying BBO direct, in which BBO charge about $1.00 per player. Clubs can then make their own table money arrangements with members. In both cases, the club submits its results and is charged UMS in the usual way.
  • All virtual bridge club sessions must be submitted to the EBU under UMS. You can exclude sessions from NGS if you prefer by choosing the code. Code 10 is normal, with master points and NGS, Code 11 no NGS or master points, Code 12 master points but no NGS, Code 20 for counties.

A TD offer for virtual bridge clubs

Playing on BBO is a little different from playing in a face to face club. A group of EBU TDs has got together to offer some paid help, and we can put you in touch if needed. There are three offers:

a) You can have a BBO session set up and run for you at £40 for 18 boards or £45.00 for 24 boards. This includes finding hosts for single players, making rulings and correcting results for up to 20 minutes after play, publishing results to your website, submitting UMS, and providing a BBO TD.

b) There is a “support only” offer which provides assistance with rulings and results, publishing results to your website, and submit for UMS. £20 per session.

c)  You can have one or more of your club TDs via two online sessions with screen sharing. You will get support material and assistance with users struggling to get online. This costs £100.

Questions about BBO virtual bridge clubs

Once in the scheme, do clubs have to pay for a BBO TD?

No. Once a club is in the scheme you can play as many sessions as you like and run them yourselves with your volunteer TDs just like a normal club night.

Do our TDs become BBO TDs via this scheme?

Not exactly. You have TD privileges within the virtual bridge club scheme, but not outside it. When setting up a session, you can appoint any BBO member as a TD for that session. But you cannot create pairs tournaments outside the virtual bridge club scheme, unless you are already a BBO TD. Our understanding is that BBO is not currently appointing new TDs because of the stress on their system during the COVID-19 crisis.

Is there a cost to join the scheme?

No. However the EBU administers the scheme and must be satisfied that the club is ready to run sessions. This could be via paid assistance as mentioned above.

Is it fair to award master points and NGS for online games, given that you cannot physically check that pairs are playing according to the rules?

We have posted about the ethics of online play here. It is a matter of trust, on the one hand, and also that anomalies become obvious, on the other. Normal disciplinary measures apply. But clubs have an option to exclude sessions from either or both master points and NGS if they prefer.

Do online sessions drag on because of disconnects, or players leaving their computer for some reason?

No. There is a setup option to have the time per board limited, for example to 7 minutes. EBU sessions are run like this. In this case, the round always ends when the time is up. Boards not completed get an adjusted score. Details of how this works are in the BBO guidance, but it is designed to be fair.

Can we control who plays in our sessions?

Yes. You can create what BBO calls a custom list of those allowed to enter. This can be just your members, or you can get together with other clubs.

I still have questions, can you help?

Yes. Please contact us with your questions. If you are an EBU club and have not received the application form, contact our club liaison officer Jonathan Lilycrop.

Teaching bridge online: a necessity and an opportunity

Membership development is all about teaching bridge to new players. With bridge clubs closed and people stuck at home that is challenging; but it also an opportunity to give people something fun and absorbing to do while housebound, by setting up online classes or discussions.

It is also true that people everywhere are discovering that working or socialising remotely is now pretty easy to set up, thanks to technology, and that might give bridge teachers some ideas for the long-term, particularly if finding premises is a problem – though of course we are all also looking forward to the time when we can meet in person again.

How do you teach bridge online? This will require a video conference; it is not absolutely essential that you can see your students, but it essential that they can see you. There are a number of solutions for video conferencing. The big winner in the current crisis is Zoom, mainly because it works, is easy to use, and is free for up to 40 minutes. The free usage is generous and you can, for example, have a 40 minute session, a break, and then another session. Or you can take out a plan, currently £12.00 per month. The service does cost something to operate so paying is not a bad idea.

The other essential feature is screen sharing, so you can show students what is running on your PC or Mac.

Microsoft’s Skype or Teams, or Google Hangouts, are other solutions. They all work and have the required features, so it is a matter of personal preference.

If you use Zoom, take a took at the meeting settings. Here is a possible setup. Notice I’ve checked the option to record the session, so students can view it again for a recap (and you can review it to see how it went):


Zoom has also posted some advice on online teaching – check the Educating section here.

One other piece of advice: check your audio setup carefully. Ensuring that your students can hear you easily is perhaps the single most important thing you can do. You’ll notice above that I’ve also suggested “Mute participants on entry”. Distracting noises from participants can be a problem, so encourage them to stay muted unless they are in a quiet environment. It is easy to unmute to ask a question or chat.

What to show on screen

The next obvious issue is what to show on screen. Here are a couple of suggestions. If you are an EBTA teacher, you have access to HandPlay, software which lets you display a hand on screen and play through it. You can load hands from a library (the screenshot below is from the pre-empts library) or make up your own.


Another useful tool is good old PowerPoint, or similar software such as LibreOffice Impress, which is free.

Online bridge software like Funbridge, BridgeBase Online or Bridge Club Live can be useful for grabbing example boards as a screenshot for inserting into a slide presentation. You can also grab screens from Bridgewebs or similar, for recent games from your club for example. And don’t forget that the Play it again feature in Bridgewebs takes you to Bridge Solver Online, which shows you exactly how many tricks you can make depending on which card is played from a hand, a great teaching feature. Bridge Solver also integrates with BBO.


Our partners at EBTA also have some advice on online teaching, which members can find in the Teacher Zone.

Giving students actual practice

Students will want to do some actual online play as well as learning how. You can setup online games for them, for example on BridgeBase Online. BridgeBase has a teaching tables feature and see here for more information (scroll down to Teaching on BBO). You can use text messaging with students in BBO, or use the Voice feature, or you can have a simultaneous video conference so you can talk them through games.


Don’t lose touch with your students

One last point: whether or not you decide to do online teaching, it is critical not to lose touch with your students during an enforced break of uncertain duration. Even if you don’t want to do online teaching, why not have a virtual coffee morning so you can get together online and chat?

As ever, we would love to hear from clubs and teachers about what works and what does not, so we can benefit from your experience.