This blog provides supplementary thoughts and ideas to the site. If you haven't seen the main site, there is a lot there including the Martel and Rodwell interviews, photos, and articles. This blog is focused on advancing bridge theory by discussing the application of new ideas. All original content is copyright 2009 Glen Ashton.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What Good Are Experts? The Expert Squeeze and other writings

Happy holidays everybody! Let's take a stroll through some 2008 non-fiction that I haven't mentioned before.

In the February issue of the Harvard Business Review, the "Breakthrough Ideas for 2008" articles set, we have the article "What Good Are Experts?", with the sidebar "The Expert Squeeze" . Is HBR being influenced by Buffet/Gates? No, the article by Michael J. Mauboussin, quickly states the theory:

… At one end of that spectrum are the problems with immutable causes and effects that can be confidently solved using rules-based processes. Today, computers increasingly solve such problems—credit scoring, for instance—more cheaply and reliably than experts can. At the other end of the spectrum are probabilistic problems, such as predicting stock market behavior, whose causes and effects are not clear and whose outcomes are significantly governed by chance. The collective wisdom of ordinary people often proves to be better than experts at addressing such problems. Nonetheless, research across many fields, from complex systems to psychology, suggests there is a sweet spot where experts still have a unique edge. They're well equipped to solve problems that have rules-based solutions but that allow a high degree of freedom in arriving at them. …
The author goes on to note that the best experts to keep are those that "tend to know a little about many aspects of their field and are not wedded to a single approach in solving complex problems".

Thus if you know a little about squeezes, and finesses, and endplays, you are better off than just being wedded to finesses. The nature of bridge is such that it will always pose players problems that involve rules-based solutions, pattern matching, and provide a substantial degree of freedom of choice - that is bridge may need its experts longer than other games.

July saw the paperback edition of Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (hard cover was Sept 07, the traditional dead trees approach to making money with multiple editions). This book uses shock & awe techniques: shock with discussion of the latest torture methods, and then awe with incredibly detailed economic stories covering decades. The book is essentially polemic, and the author is not one to let countervailing details drift into the narrative.

For bridge, it teaches us the best time to switch bridge systems is after a disastrous tournament. Say you got back from Boston, where Meckwell dominated, and everybody else performed less meck well. This is an ideal time to say to partner, why don't we switch to the Milton Friedman system, where we can both freely bid what we want when we want, as long as we are the one holding the cards.

September had the publication of "The Brand Bubble: the looming crisis in brand value and how to avoid it" by John Gerzema and Ed Lebar. This is a must-read business book, but is poor written across wide expanses of the book. The core of the book:

It's clear to us that the traditional business models and strategies marketers have used for generations no longer work. Their failure is not simply the result of living in a world of high technology, it stems from the birth of a fundamentally different consumer.
Later in the book: "for a brand to sustain consumer interest, it can't just be different; it has to keep being different."

This means for BridgeMatters, I have to keep coming up with different systems, right? Well no, although that might work. It means that I can't just keep saying the same thing repetitively - if I want continuing readers of this site I need to say new things, and in new ways. Stay tuned - this will happen.

One other notable point: "consumers now trust each other more than they trust brands". That is you will not use BridgeMatters methods just because they are branded, but you might use them if a friend suggested them.

In November Malcolm Gladwell released Outliers, the Story of Success, a must-read for parents and very well written. In the book he quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin: "The emerging picture … is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything. … It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

I would say this is true about bridge bidding system design. In my work during the late 70s and throughout the 80s, as the taxi meter counted up those ten thousand hours, I suffered from a lack of clarity and consistency. The bidding system designs were unique, and interesting, but often were enmeshed in a swamp of complexity (picture the depth of ETM Gold, but a lot messier and confused - okay, don't picture that). After a lot of time, at least ten thousand hours, I found system design became a lot easier and even second nature. Thus if you want to delve into system design work, I suggest you either put in many, many hours, or go with pre-packaged solutions that you and your partner feel comfortable with. In particular, if you want to be a very good bridge player, you need to put in at least ten thousand hours of playing and thinking of bridge beyond the system design work. For example, in studying to be a very good bridge player, you would be better off studying how Hamman played a hand than what bidding methods he had available at the time to bid it.

Outliers is about opportunity, the need for community, traits and hard work. For the development of bridge players, this would be about the opportunity to play with the right partners, to be in a bridge community to wants to get collectively better and that encourages the best approaches to success. Still there is no shortcut to those ten thousand hours, so if your bridge club is closed for the holidays, get online to play!

I know this and other postings might show a concentration on business related writing, but most of my non-fiction reading has been in military history over the last two years, as I work on those ten thousand hours (a favorite book from 2008: Forczyk's Sevastopol 1942) - I have part of a book written but have far more research to do, and I'll need a good map illustrator - if there is your area, drop me a note please. This book will not be completed in 2009, but my bridge fiction will be, although publication could easily be in 2010 since it will need lots of editing - if there is your area, drop me a note please (hey, this blog is getting repetitive). Also if you have a neat hand you played very well and want to see it in fiction, send it to me - there is no real payment, but if your hand is used, then you will get credit at the back of the book for contributing the hand, and a free copy of the book.


  • At 1:50 AM, Blogger Martin said…


    I tried to send you an e-mail with a bridge hand I found interesting, but the mail bounced back (I tried info and ask at bridgematters dot com). Could you give me a working e-mail address?

    Many thanks,
    Martin Schaaper

  • At 5:21 AM, Blogger Glen Ashton said…

    bridgequestion (at)

    I've switched to gmail since they seem to have great spam filters, and when you post an email address on the net you get great gobs of spam email

  • At 1:14 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said…

    I'm nost sure what kinds of deals you are interested in, but you may use any that I've blogged about.

  • At 2:03 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said…

    "ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything. … It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

    I enjoyed Blink and didn't know about this book (I've ordered it), so thanks for the heads-up.

    I'm reserving opinion until I've read it, but my guess is that 10,000 hours is enough if you have the talent AND if you start young enough.

    Almost all bridge players who take up the game late in life will need more, I'm afraid (with a few exceptions, of course).


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