BridgePal Scoring System
BridgePal is a freeware wireless scoring system for bridge sessions based on the use of smartphones or tablets,
rather than dedicated scoring units, and providing a comprehensive set of features. The devices are networked via a wifi router to a Windows PC which runs the
scoring software, but no mobile network or internet connection is required and therefore the system can be used in any location.
Because it is based on commodity hardware a complete system can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of a commercial system based on purpose built scoring unit hardware (see below for a comparison). Also, in contrast to other smartphone or tablet based solutions, there are no software purchasing, licensing, or usage charges of any kind.
The software includes a BridgePal app which runs on android smartphones or tablets. It is also possible to use non-android devices as scoring units providing they are touchscreen devices with a web browser. This means that iPhones or iPads, for example, can be used as scoring devices if required. It is unlikely a bridge club would choose this option if purchasing their own equipment, since the android devices are much cheaper, but some individuals may prefer to use their own phone and so the option is there if required.
BridgePal was developed by John & Mirna Goacher in 2011 for use initially at Chislehurst Bridge Club in Kent. We started introducing it in club sessions in November of that year and it has been used in the club twice weekly for all sessions since January 2012. It is also now being used on a regular basis by a growing number of other clubs. Although it is no longer the only smartphone based bridge scoring system in existence we believe it was probably the first to be implemented.
We originally developed BridgePal for our own interest, but subsequently decided to make the software freely available to anyone who wishes to use it. We are always prepared to answer questions by email, but obviously because we are not charging for this product we cannot provide unlimited technical support. Anyone who decides to use this software needs to be able to perform their own hardware selection and setup, be familiar with setting up a wifi network, and have the ability to resolve routine issues.
The BridgePal scoring system is intuitive, feature rich, and and easy to use. The hand record related features in the list below are optional and individually configurable by
the director from the scoring program or BridgePal server:
For many years there have been commercial wireless scoring systems that use dedicated units such as BridgeMate and BridgePad. However, a few years ago it became obvious that low end smartphones, being commodity devices produced in large quantities, were dramatically undercutting the prices of dedicated scoring units while at the same time providing superior displays, touch screen input, and superior functionality.
It is now usually possible to purchase new entry level contract-free android smartphones in the UK for prices in the region of 30 pounds (as of September 2017). The total price is less than a quarter of the price of a dedicated scoring unit from one of the main wireless scoring system vendors. Other options are to purchase new low cost android tablets, or to purchase second hand phones or tablets on eBay.
Our scoring system also uses an off the shelf wifi router, rather than a specialised wireless server designed solely to support dedicated scoring units. This again represents a significant cost saving.
A PC is required to host the scoring program, and interface to the scoring units via wifi. However, even the cheapest new Windows PCs have adequate performance and capacity for this function. Alternatively, some users choose to use an old second hand laptop which is no longer considered to have adequate capacity or performance for their day to day use.
At the above prices a scoring system for (say) 10 tables, excluding the cost of the PC, could be put together for less than 350 UK pounds. By comparison a 10 table Bridgemate II system is advertised at 1655 UK pounds at September 2017 prices.
The BridgePal scoring system originally interfaced only to Mirna's own scoring program BridgeScore, which is used by a number of clubs in the UK and elsewhere. However it can now be used with other scoring programs as well - see Scoring Programs section.
The smartphones or tablets do of course require relatively frequent recharging, whereas dedicated units tend to use disposable batteries which may last several months. For example, our experience with the Alcatel Pixi 4 4" model suggests that the battery should last for three 3 hour sessions on a single charge, assuming it is set up so that the screen display times out between scoring rounds and that the phone is powered off between sessions. Bear in mind that rechargeable batteries will self-discharge at a slow rate over time even with the device powered off. In practice we recharge our club phones after 2 sessions, using cheap usb charging units that can each recharge up to 10 phones simultaneously.
Wifi probably has a shorter range than the lower frequency wireless networks used by dedicated scoring systems, and therefore may be less suitable for events in large multi-room venues. In practice, we have found the range to be perfectly adequate in a large hall with 20 tables. We occasionally use a wifi extender unit in our local club when the number of tables overflows into a second room. For venues where a wireless extender unit cannot be placed within wireless range of the main router, an option would be to use wifi over powerline extenders. These operate by relaying the signals from the main router via ethernet over the building's power cabling to one or more wireless access points. These can be located in any room which has a power socket.