For those clubs considering the purchase of a dealing machine, Martin Lee kindly gives us the benefit of his considerable experience in using them.
A question I am often asked is "What dealing machine do I recommend and why?"
There are two dealing machines on the market which I have used many times. In no particular order of preference, they are:
(There is another machine called BridgePartner marketed by the Danish Bridge Federation, but it does not appear to be in use in this country, and the DBF has just confirmed that it is discontinuing production of this machine.)
I regularly use both Duplimate and PlayBridgeDealer and I have met the UK distributors for both. I have also emailed both Jannersten (maker of Duplimate) and PlayBridgeUK about this article and have attempted to include their factual representations to me. Let me thus try to describe each of the two machines:
A) Duplimate is intended for use with bar-coded cards. Both the latest versions can deal ordinary cards, but those should only be used in an emergency and would need to be suited and put in card order by hand first. The machine takes up to four packs of cards in a 'hopper', although it is recommended that just three packs are placed there. As each card passes through the machine, the bar-code is read and the card is inserted into the correct slot (N, S, E or W) of a board. The cards move by means of one motor which rotates four thick rubber bands which pull the cards along a strip and drop them into the correct slot of the board.
When I started out with my present "Bridgestore" business back in Sept 2009, I asked for prices for both machines. I also needed to buy 5000 packs of cards, 2000 boards and also 70 sets (of four) bidding boxes. As a 'special' bulk purchase I was able to negotiate a better price for the Duplimate than for the PlayBridgeDealer, and that is why I ended up buying that machine in 2009. However, the value of Sterling against the Euro has weakened considerably since 2009, and this has been reflected in price increases for further purchases of playing cards from the Continent. Please note that There are models that can process any deck of cards, but for maximum output and security you will need bar-coded cards. (Quote from Jannerstens website.) Bar-coded playing cards can be more expensive when compared to non-bar coded cards, which are more freely available, but I do consider the quality of the bar-coded cards to be 'good'.
Since Sept 2009 (until today, April 2011) I have dealt over 18000 packs and had two minor problems with the machine. The problems were (a) after three months, one of the rubber bands snapped (I was "unlucky" apparently, they should last over 12 months, and I have not had any other bands break since) and (b) one of the wires that drop the cards into the correct pocket was loose and needed regular 'tweaking'. Both problems were resolved very quickly and efficiently by the UK distributor.
You do not need separate dealing software it is included in the package, and new machines also come (I am advised) with DealMaster Pro included as well (for generating deals). If you wish to transfer files to BBO's online service, this is also automatic. The huge advantage (for me), though, with this machine is that it is easily transportable it comes in its own strong case, and I take it all over the country with me.
B) I also have had PlayBridgeDealer (on loan). I have used it at clubs in my area which own one as well. The machine is made in both Australia and Poland, with the latter being distributed by an English company. This machine is, in my opinion, far more robust than the Duplimate it has four motors that turn spindles (as opposed to rubber bands) to move the cards after they have been read. Again, two packs are placed in a hopper, but this time nearly any type of playing-card can be used it does not have to be bar-coded and it can be in a language other than English. This means the cards tend to be cheaper than those required for the Duplimate (although the quality may or may not be as good depending on your supplier). PlayBridgeDealer has a clear maintenance screen (as does Duplimate) to assist with monitoring its performance. It comes carefully packed in a box but not a case. For my own needs it is not as easily transportable as the Swedish one (although I am told that a 'Stanley Tool Case' is ideal protection for it, and the company owner takes his machines all over the world without a problem). It comes with dealing software and, for the future, it is planned that this will include Deep Finesse analysis and other software. The present software is not as versatile as other dealing software such as DealMaster Pro, which you would need to buy separately from this machine.
Both machines use standard dealing machine boards which you open and slot into the machine.
Both machines need to be sensibly maintained by the user the hoppers and drive mechanisms need to be cleaned (either blow hard to remove the build up of fluff or get an 'Air-cleaner' for the purpose). Both machines have USB connectors. Both machines that I have used deal cards quickly (about eight seconds a board). However, I am advised by both Jannersten and PlayBridgeUK that their latest machines can now deal a pack of cards at six seconds a board. As such, an experienced user can easily deal a set of 32 boards in five minutes or so. Both machines are updated quite regularly and are each currently on mark 4. Of course, once you have bought a particular model, you are stuck with it unless you want to buy a later version.
Both machines sometimes fail to recognise cards, resulting in the dealing being stopped and a warning message being sent pending rectification. This is usually due to dirty or slightly bent/twisted cards it is not necessarily a machine error. The difference, though, is that if the Duplimate does not recognise a card, it still sends it to the North pocket in the board prior to stopping the deal. PlayBridgeDealer keeps the card in the hopper and stops dealing. With Duplimate it is thus necessary to remove the board from the machine and retrieve the 'unread' card before putting it back in the hopper for re-dealing, having first replaced the board. With PlayBridgeDealer the misread card is still in the hopper (the bottom card), and there is no need to remove the board. The replacement of the misread card is quicker, and for larger clubs that deal lots of cards this latter system is, in my experience, better and far quicker.
PlayBridgeUK have stated to me that they supply their machines with a warranty for 3 years or 40,000 boards, whichever comes first, and the warranty can be extended by another 40,000 boards by having the machine serviced. However, their website at the time of writing states that Our machines come with an initial 12-month warranty and the option to increase this through our annual service option. Duplimate comes with a 1-year 'money-back' guarantee and 2-year standard warranty. It is obviously best to check on the latest warranty information before considering a purchase.
I do not personally know of any club having any problems with PlayBridgeDealer, but perhaps that may be because there are more Duplimates currently in use. I am advised that PlayBridgeUK has sold over 700 machines worldwide (except Australia and Poland) with none having needed to be replaced because of a fault, but I have no idea as regards Jannersten sales/returns. I know of users that have had more serious problems than I with their Duplimate (resulting in its being replaced) but then again I also know of other clubs that are very happy with the machine and would not change from it. Conversely, I know of PlayBridgeDealer users who are very happy with it as well and would not change to a Duplimate.
Finally, Jannersten have asked me to point out that their Duplimate scoring software works with BridgeScorers (which they also sell) and can analyse results retrieved by the BridgeScorers against what the computer analysis believes is the optimum score obtainable.
So, overall, when it comes to replacing my machine (and it will need replacing as all mechanical items do sooner or later), what will I buy? Well, price will be a factor (again), and the machines are very price-comparable at about £2600 - £3000 each + VAT (please get exact prices from the distributors), but I am concerned about the present weakness of Sterling against the Euro. For me personally though, I like the case and the fact that the Duplimate is so portable. I repeat that I regularly take it all over the place, and the case is reasonably compact, sturdy and is easy to carry. When the time does come to change my machine I will be taking a long hard look at the Stanley Tool Case and only then will I make a final decision. It may also depend on the current price of bar-coded cards compared with non-bar-coded ones. The prices of both vary.
Both distributors are very helpful, and I hope this article has helped you to identify some of the issues you need to think about before you decide to buy a dealing machine.
More information on Duplimate is available at www.duplimate.com/dupuk/. It is distributed in the UK by David Stead who can be contacted at email@example.com
More information on PlayBridgeDealer is available at www.playbridgeuk.com. It is distributed by Terry Collier who can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org