Posts about photography, contract bridge, astrophotography, astronomy, Java development, internet systems.

Teaching bridge with a hand dealing machine

Prepared hands for class.

Here are five tables worth of hands ready for my next class. Each table gets boards one through four, in a distinctive board color.

Last month I took a leap and purchased a bridge hand dealing machine. The PlayBridgeDealer4 is very popular with bridge clubs and tournament managers for preparing pre-dealt hands and duplicating them across many sections of a tournament.

Some day down the road I may find myself directing bridge games for a local club. When I do, I’ll use the machine to prepare randomly shuffled hands before the game, and provide hand records with analysis afterward.

Meanwhile, I can put the machine to excellent use for preparing hands for my bridge classes.

The Dealer4 comes with some excellent Windows-based software for generating random deals, doing hand analysis, and printing hand records. It also works very effectively for constructing bridge hands manually. I’ve prepared hands for the first three class series from the ACBL curriculum, the club, diamond, and heart series classes. In fact, you can download each series as a zip archive of .PBN files from whiteoaks.com here.

ACBL offers these card decks that allow students to manually sort class hands during class. It’s confusing for some, frustrating for others, but foolproof for the teacher. (Photo from BaronBarclay.com)

Before I had the Dealer4, I was a great fan of the special cards prepared by the ACBL specifically for these classes. The backs of the cards are marked in a way that lets the students sort out the hands manually during class. It’s (mostly) foolproof, and requires no more preparation on my part than dropping a deck of these cards on each table of students.

I can’t really say that having the dealing machine has made class prep “easier” in that regard. I’m not saving time in class preparation.

But I am saving time during class itself. Sorting the cards is a common source of frustration for the students, and it eats up a lot of class time. When the sorts don’t always come out exactly right, it takes more time to correct the problem.

Plus this classroom card sorting exercise is not something that has the slightest bit of value later on in their bridge playing, either at home or the duplicate club.

So the benefit of pre-dealing the hands is for the classes. It means that I spend more time fretting and worrying. I’ve had nightmares where I show up for class with the wrong hands sorted into the boards, or a mix of hands in the wrong boards. I find that I just have to be more careful with class preparation. So far everything has come out perfectly, but I still have to spot-check my work.

So now that I could deal hands magically and reliably, I had to get a little playful with the process as well. What if I could provide pre-sorted hands for the students?

Having sorted hands is meaningless at the bridge club. When a hand is played once, it will no longer be sorted. In class though, it again saves time the students might have spent sorting their hand and laying them out double-dummy for study. It’s true that hand-sorting is a useful skill, but they have plenty of time to pick that up with their own shuffled decks.

If I start with a completely sorted deck of cards in the Dealer4, the hands that arrive in the pockets will be sorted as well. So the puzzle for me was how to use the Dealer4 to sort the decks before dealing them into four hands.

Sorting by suits is trivial, simply send all the spades to one hand, the hearts to another, and so on. But I wanted to sort the cards by rank as well.

I came up with a two-pass deal that gives me an approximate rank sort as well as a suit sort. For the first pass, I send all the lowest ranked cards to North, the next highest to East, next to West, and the highest-ranked to South. Here’s the deal I use:


That gives me a deck with all the low cards on the bottom, and the high cards on the top. Then I pass the deck through again for a sort by suit:


The result is a full deck that is sorted by suits, and approximately sorted by rank as well.

Since the Dealer4 needs to have two decks in the hopper, I work on two decks at a time to get this sort. So after four passes through the machine, I have two mostly-sorted decks of cards.

Then I use these sorted decks to populate my boards for class, and know that I’m the coolest bridge teacher in my zip code. :)

Postscript: I now have a three-pass deal that returns fully sorted hands. I’ll write it up in a followup blog post. :)

The card dealing machine is a fascinating bit of mechanical engineering, and I know you can’t resist seeing it in operation. So I made a little video (3:00 minutes) that shows how I feed decks into the machine for the pre-sort, then load boards into the machine to set up hands.

Internet service has no maverick

If you’re like me, you have exactly two places from which to buy high-speed internet service: your phone company (mine is Verizon) or your cable TV provider (mine is Time Warner Cable).

That sounds like competition, doesn’t it? If you don’t like one, you can go to the other.

Why would I switch?

After nine years (and about $10,000) [...]

Home theater upgrade, part 2, fixing HDMI

(Part one found here.)

First I’ll mention that the AV preamp I started out with, a Marantz 7005 purchased as B-stock from Outlaw Audio, turned out to be hopeless. It would never successfully handshake video output to either of my displays, even with no sources connected. Sometimes on a hard reboot, it would send some video, then [...]

Home theater upgrade story (Part 1)

Old system:

Rotel RSX-1065 receiver
Panasonic TH-50P9UK plasma display
Old Pioneer DVD player
InFocus ScreenPlay 5700 projector
B&W CDM7NT 5.1 system, with broken tweeters on the front mains
Logitech Harmony One universal remote

Why upgrade?

The Rotel receiver has annoyed me for years with its few seconds of silence after mode switches (like Dolby Digital to PCM during a TV broadcast). It’s volume behavior [...]

April Observing: Supernova and a Comet

The weather forecast for our favorite spot, Amboy Crater, called for decent conditions but high winds. (Why do we care about the wind? Here are four reasons I can think of: simple comfort, blowing charts and equipment, maintaining a target in a telescope, and blowing dust.)

The best forecast in the area was at our old favorite [...]

Finally some observing weather

See Jane’s observing report from the same evening — some great binocular observing with Kemble’s Cascade.

The 20D mounted piggyback on the Traveler and Mach One GTO mount, hoping to catch comet PANSTARRS on its first opportunity.

Several months ago, David Green of the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association invited me to give a talk on astrophotography [...]

“Why didn’t you just …”

Here’s one post that’s equally valid for bridge and computer programming.

Have you ever accomplished some task and had someone say “Why didn’t you just” do it some other way? Usually their suggestion is assumed to be the obvious or simpler way to do something.

In bridge, maybe you misplayed the hand, or chose a different lead on [...]

Ruby gem problems around libv8, therubyracer, mac vs. linux, native extensions

I haven’t done a techie blog post for a while, and this “solved problem” keeps raising its head at work, so here goes.

Here’s the situation:

A ruby web app
Develop on Mac OS X
Deploy on Linux
Using bundler to control gem versions
Using therubyracer and libv8

You build your app on your Mac, install your bundle of gems using bundler, and [...]

Kaiser Low Calorie Diet, Terrible Execution

Like so many of us, I need to lose weight. My doctor at Kaiser referred me to a new in-house weight loss program, a low-calorie “meal replacement” program. The program appears to be a franchisee of Robard Corporation’s “New Direction” program.

The program itself is very good. The class materials are current and instructive, and the high-protein [...]

Hot, dry astronomy

My piggy back shot of Scorpius taken in the early evening. Note the Pipe Nebula near the center left, a dark dusty pipe in silhouette against the Milky Way. Click for the full-resolution image.

Observing report for June 16, 2012, Amboy, CA

The forecast for Amboy had a high temperature of 104°F and a low of 72°F. [...]