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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unforced errors

As we drift from the Spingold back to bidding discussion, let's look at two of the unforced errors made by the Italians in the semis.

First we have:

Spingold - semi final - board 49

Fantoni opens 2 in 2nd seat, showing 5+s, (9)10-13, and if just 5 will have a 4 or longer minor with a singleton. Garner overcalls 2 and now it is up to Nunes - he has four card trump support, a singleton, 11 HCP, and is opposite a shapely hand. He picks 3NT, which is down 1, against 4 making 5 in the other room - lose 11 IMPs. Did 3NT show a raise, or was it just a low percentage gambling action?

Later, we see Lauria and Versace in action:

Spingold - semi final - board 56


This was down 2, against 3 making in the other room - 3NT was cold.

A overcall would have worked better, but since Lauria-Versace overcall on junk, Lauria decided to start with double. However if one is doubling offshape, one can't allow cuebids with 8 HCP, albeit that Versace upgraded his hand since the spade suit was semi-solid. North jumped to show the 17/18+ hand, with hearts, South bid his suit, and now I don't like Lauria bypassing 3NT on a likely misfit auction. Still I give most of the blame to Versace, for cuebidding when 2 was available to advance the double without trouble.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Your play?

You are West, the dealer, the bidding goes Pass-Pass-1D(Precision, 2+Ds)-1S;-All Pass

You lead the club ten, and find this layout:


The first trick goes T, 4, 7 (upside down attitude), ace. Declarer thinks, then plays the diamond nine. If you play the diamond king or queen (do you?) what do you play next?

--- ---

--- ---

The full layout was:


In the problem I've switched the hearts and spades (and changed slightly dummy's doubleton), so the final hand of the Spingold is not so quickly spotted (the auction was the same, except for a 1H overcall instead of 1S).

At the table declarer won the club ace and exited with the two. Now it was clear for the defense to know what they needed to do - East played the other high club and got out a diamond and the contract finished down 1. Making the contract would have tied the match and forced overtime.

Now GIB shows all lines at trick 2 resulting at down 1, but if declarer plays the diamond nine at trick 2, it is harder on the defense. If West ducks, and declarer lets the nine run to the ten, East will end up later on being endplayed. If West wins the diamond queen or king, and then plays a club, East will later be endplayed: South will win the 2nd diamond with the ace, play a spade to the jack, and East will either have to play hearts or spades, and end up in overtime for the Spingold championship.

Of course a factor here is system (you didn't think this blog would stop talking about bidding, did you?) - the 1D Precision opener, handling all the balanced hands less than 15, makes it hard for declarer to know what to play East for. However there was another key to this hand:

West actually led the club nine, playing coded tens - that is the lead of the ten would show HT9 (e.g. QT9 or KT9) or Tx - the 9 was from 9x or T9x etc. Thus East is marked with club length at trick 1, and will not be long in diamonds.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Spingold Top 18 - Review

1. Nickell
Expectation: Win if H-M get in sync quickly
Result: Loss to Meltzer in the quarters

Team seemed not to gain as much IMPs as expected. This will not hurt them in Boston's Board-A-Match (BAM) scoring. Hamman-Compton stil listed for Beijing Open, thus Hamman-Mahmood teething pains not relevant

2. Weed-Cayne
Expectation: Will win if Nickell exits and don't hit a bad patch
Result: Hit a bad patch in the semis, losing to Welland

Cayne-Seamon were fine. Italians seemed out of kilter (watch out for Scotish teams out of kilter) - suggest Italians take some time off bridge for R&R.Will not win in B & B (Beijing or Boston) playing as they are.

3 O'Rourke
Expectation: Can beat anybody, can win with a bit of luck
Result: lost to Welland in the sweet 16

Duboin-Sementa might be the best Italian pair in the Beijing Open

4 Strul
Expectation: will win if other teams self-destruct
Result: Lost in the round of 64

Early exit when didn't generate a lot of IMPs - style will be fine for Bostom BAM BAM

5 Gromov
Expectation: Will chew up lesser teams, touch-n-go matches against the top
Result: won

With Poles exported to Russia, country will be a strong contender in world championships

6 Schwartz
Expectation: Will lose to one of the super talented teams
Result: Lost to Lusky in the sweet 16

Gawrys-Lesniewski will be fine in Beijing

7 Sadek
Expectation: Will win until they get behind too much at the half
Result: lost to Weed-Cayne in the quarters

Sadek-Elahmady will anchor the Egypt team, Sadek Team will be strong in Boston

8 Meltzer
Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team
Result: lost to Gromov in the semis

Helgemo-Helness will be strong and steady in Beijing

9 Ekeblad
Expectation: Unpredictable, might exit early, might win
Result: lost to Meltzer in the sweet 16

10 Narasimhan
Expectation: Will battle every match, will need a bit of luck
Result: Lost to Sadek in sweet 16

11 Milner
Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team
Result: Lost to Lusky in round of 32

12 Lynch
Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team
Result: Lost to Gromov in sweet 16

13 Robinson
Expectation: Will exit round of 16 or 8
Result: Lost in the round of 64

14 Onstott
Expectation: None - not sure of the partnerships
Result: Lost in the round of 64

15 von Arnim
Expectation: Unpredictable
Result: Lost in the round of 64

16 Mahaffey
Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team
Result: Lost to Brogeland in the round of 32

17 Brogeland
Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team
Result: Lost to Nickell in the sweet 16

18 Welland
Expectation: A lot of talent here, will be in semis
Result: Lost in final

Will be strong in Boston - Welland must not have liked sitting out half the matches

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Spingold Day 7 - the winners are ?

With my 0 for 2 predictions yesterday, I will pick a team and you can expect the other one to win.

Welland vs Weed-Cayne. Weed-Cayne is up by +23 at the half, puts in Lauria-Versace and Fantoni-Nunes to seal the deal, and gets nailed in the second half for 34-75. That's 75 IMPs over 32 boards given up by the Italians, a whole bunch due to their unforced errors, but that 75 includes 9 IMPs for a penalty of walking out of the room unescorted and talking with a non-playing teammate - I don't know who did this.

Meltzer vs Gromov - Gromov gives up 136 IMPs, but Meltzer, who was playing well, gives up 148, including 104 on the first 32 boards.

Today's final:

Gromov (136, 97, 115, 112, 137)
Welland (95, 141, 120, 117, 168)

Gromov dropped more IMPs in the last match, but they were protecting a big lead.

We have:

4/4/4 Gromov-Dubinin
4/4/4 Balicki-Zmudzinski


4/4/3 Welland-Glubok
4/4/3 Garner-Weinstein
3/4/5 Cohen-Smith

I think this match hinges on Cohen-Smith against Gromov-Dubinin. If the cards work for being careful, then Cohen-Smith has the advantage, while if the cards work for bidding, then Gromov-Dubinin pick up the IMPs and the trophy.

My pick will be Gromov.

In the Swiss, who is coaching this team: Bob Hamman, Zia Mahmood, Richard Freeman, Eric Kokish and Melih Ozdil?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Spingold Day 6 - the final 4 - hitting the wall

I was 2 out of 4 predictions - my two wrong matches:

Nickell against Meltzer - I was concerned about Meltzer giving up 138 in one of their matches, but I had noticed Nickell seemed a little underpowered in gaining IMPs - yesterday they won the final quarter 61-22, but since they had just scored 42 IMPs over the first 48 boards, Nickell with the new Hamman-Zia configuration were out.

Lusky against Welland - I picked Lusky the underdog and they were winning 77-59 at the half. According to reports during the vugraph, two Lusky team members had to go home (family illness), leaving the team with one regular and one irregular partnership.

For today's two matches, let's look at the IMPs given up first:

Meltzer (103, 73, 138, 88)
Gromov (97, 115, 112, 137)

Weed-Cayne (119, 106, 74, 36Withdrawl)
Welland (141, 120, 117, 168)

Based on these we would pick Weed-Cayne and Meltzer for the finals, but let's look at the partnership rankings we started with (ratings are ability to gain + IMPs, ability to stop -IMPs, consistency):

3/3/4 Sontag-Bates - this now seems at 4/4/4
4/3/5 Helgemo-Helness - this seems to be at 4/4/5

4/3/3 Gromov-Dubinin - now at 4/4/4, but I've seen them get worn out at the very end of a tournament - playing as a 4 bagger, after 5 days you can "hit the wall" of mental tiredness.
4/4/4 Balicki-Zmudzinski

Now that's a close set of players - it could well be that random luck or fatigue decides this match.

5/4/4 Lauria-Versace
4/4/5 Fantoni-Nunes

4/4/3 Welland-Glubok
4/4/3 Garner-Weinstein - after some bumps in the US trials, seems back to 4/4/4
3/4/5 Cohen-Smith

The Italians are in great form, and we see them generating +IMPs when their opponents are left stalled. However Welland-Glubok against Cayne-Seamon could develop into some IMPs for Welland.

My picks will be:

Meltzer over Gromov, as fatigue hits the Gromov team in the final quarter.

Weed-Cayne over Welland, as the Italians pull away in the second half.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Spingold Day 5 - 8 is enuff - close!

I was 6 out of 8 in the predictions yesterday, the 2 matches wrong involving the lower seed "Cinderella" teams Markowicz and Lusky. I had a chance to watch the Lusky final quarter on the vugraph and they are playing in fine form. Stamina and stress management will be keys for these two teams - however they will be cheered on as everybody loves a "Miracle at the Bridge Table", aside from the pros and their clients!

Again we use the IMPs given up as a key predictor, and the most recent match is given first:

Nickell (99, 92, 94)
Meltzer (73, 138, 88)

Gromov (115, 112, 137)
Markowicz (111, 87, 135)

Weed-Cayne (106, 74, 36Withdrawl)
Sadek (108, 91, 81)

Lusky (106, 92, 113)
Welland (120, 117, 168)

First this tells us that Lusky should beat Welland, so let's go with a huge upset - they certainly can win if their weak notrump style fits the hands of the day (the Cinderella shoe fits theory). We like Weed-Cayne over Sadek, as the table read of Levin-Weinstein doesn't have the same pizzazz against the Italians. Zia and Hamman played well yesterday, and we will pick Nickell in a nail-biter. Finally I'll take the higher seed Gromov against Markowicz.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spingold Day 4 - the sweet 16 - collision!

When the event reaches the round of 16, it now becomes a matter of which teams are playing in top form. The best predictor of this is how much IMPs a team has been dropping to other teams. When you make mistakes, they usually show up as IMPs losses to the other team. However your IMP gains might be due to your good play, or they could just be gifts from the other team self-destructing. Thus IMPs given up are a better predictor of playing form.

Here are the sweet 16 match-ups, and IMPs given up by the teams in their last two matches, recent match listed first:

Nickell (92, 94)
Brogeland (125, 136)

Ekeblad (143, 83)
Meltzer (138, 88)

Gromov (112, 137)
Lynch (133, 138)

Tuszynski (118, 94)
Markowicz (87, 135)

Weed-Cayne (74, 36Withdrawl)
Ladyzhensky (155, 123)

Narasimhan (142, 48)
Sadek (91, 81)

Schwartz (102, 83)
Lusky (92, 113)

Welland (117, 168)
O'Rourke (131, 113)

We can expect wins by the Nickell, Weed-Cayne, and Sadek teams. The Ekeblad-Meltzer match is too close to call: having to call something, we will pick Meltzer as the Ekeblad-Weichsel partnership may not be in full form. For Tuszynski-Markowicz, again close to call, we will pick Tuszynski, as the Markowicz team is a 5 bagger, which means heavy playing time and multiple partners for somebody. Gromov is only a 4 bagger team, but they've played like this before without being overstrained, and thus we will pick them against Lynch who is a touch weaker. Schwartz and Lusky teams are both in good form - on Drew Casen's home turf of Vegas, our horse in this race will be Schwartz. In Welland-O'Rourke, I like the partnership of Welland-Glubok better than O'Rourke-Jacobus, and I expect Welland's teammates to hold off a late charge by Hampson-Greco and Duboin-Sementa against Garner-Weinstein and Cohen-Smith.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spingold Day 3 - We see who and what are in top form

High seeds dropped yesterday, as expected with such a deep field.

#4 Strul lost - one problem is if there is a bad session, their ability to produce a whole bunch of +IMPs out of nothing isn't there - Strul scored 106 IMPs in the match, to 149 by the #61 Konow team (one of teams we mentioned in the ratings)

#55 Goren beat #13 Robinson, one of the matches noted to watch in day 2. #20 Tuszynski, which has had good results in NABCs in the last few years, will need to be in top form against Goren today.

In another match we noted, #50 Ladyzhensky (with Meckwell experts Johnson-Simson) beat #15 von Arnim 141-123. (The bulletin didn't mention this seed drop).

In the Phil Gordon match, they were ahead but dropped 102-100 to #26 Ozdil.

Another match we noted, Ekeblad-Sher, wasn't close and team Ekeblad had different partnership configuration than I had thought - I'll update the ratings once I see them in action again.

#14 Onstott was knocked out by #60 Deschner, one of the matches I didn't note, as I still had no idea of the Onstott configuration - this match was close, 143-141

For day 3, we have 14 of the original top 18 left - who are at risk?

Given the high talent in the remaining field, they all are, except for the top 3: Nickell, Cayne (Weed), O'Rourke (sorry Justin)

#6 Schwartz against #27 Hollman is a typical upset pick - the Clerkins can make stuff happen, Hollman's Poles against Schwartz Poles results in a Pole dance, and Ferguson is superstar sharp.

Others: #12 Lynch is up against a solid squad in Beatty, #9 Ekeblad battles the Polish club of Diamond, and #5 Gromov has to face a dutch treatment of Ivatury - since Gromov won big yesterday, they seem to be in fine form.

Nice to see Graves and Carruthers on the winning Senior Swiss team, with Frobouck, Lair and Hamilton.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bridge Questions to BridgeMatters

Older email addresses I've used for BridgeMatters and published on the web receive 1000s of spam emails daily, to the point I've had to disable some of them - you get your message bounced back if you send to them.

I've now setup a gmail account for your bridge questions - please email me at:

Bridgequestion (at) gmail (dot) com

I established this email account after I received a real letter, instead of an email, as somebody wasn't able to reach me.

Their question was on the bidding sequence 4H-5C-P-P;-?

At the table opener bid 5H with a shapely hand. When this hand came up on the vugraph, I noted some partnerships play double by opener here as "I have a 5H bid, but you decide whether to pass my double for penalties or bid 5H". In some of the ETM notes (e.g. Goldilocks) I call this the "Can't Bear It Double", and it is based on earlier work by others, including expert Robert Lipsitz.

The question asked in the letter was "if double was I wanted to bid 5H, what would 5H instead mean". It means I wanted to double for penalty, but was playing this stupid convention. Just kidding. It means "I opened a heavy and shapely 4H, to the point 5H should be a make and the best spot for us, if not higher". Thus the double shows a 5H bid based on shape, but the best spot (double or 5H) will depend on the location of partner's values.

Can't Bear It Doubles are played when you preempt with a game bid, or when you preempt, and partner immediately places you in game. In these circumstances, if the opponents bid over this, it is important to nail them when you can.

For example it goes 3H-P-4H-4S;-?

4H might be based just on shape, or it could be based more on power. Double caters to both hand types, with responder pulling the double if shapely, and passing the double on a power hand with tricks o'plenty.
Spingold Day 2 - the upsets will start

We didn't see top 18 upsets on day 1, but with a field this deep (where the 106 seed can almost upset #1) every day is danger day for the top 18.

Remember those dangerous teams in the 50s seeds? Today:

Sher team (with Marshall Miles) playing Ekeblad - Weichsel-Granovetter better get into top form quickly

Goren team (with the Blooms) playing Robinson - stand tall or fall time

Ladyzhensky (with Meckwell experts Johnson-Simson) playing von Arnim - immediate challenge to the Rosenbergs

Others to watch:
Ozdil against Phil Gordon (on Celebs poker home turf)
Hollman against Morse (upcoming details in the Korbels blog?
Nickell against something-to-write-about Rigal
Mahaffey against the all Canadian 4 Gartaganis
Nickell almost upset but the top 18 all advance

The ACBL bulletin reports no upsets in the top 18 we discussed and rated in the last post. However Nickell was almost upset - we may see more details in Paul Gibson's "beercard" blog:

If you haven't switched to Google Reader yet and still use Bridge Planet, it seems to be here now:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spingold Ratings

The Roster is out for this year's Spingold (see:, and with the beginning of the new cycle, when teams get reconfigured for the next two years, let's look at some of the best teams and how we might expect the partnerships and teams to perform.

This will be a very subjective set of opinions, and reaction to this entry will be mixed. Thus some may want to comment vigorously to reject and/or improve what is said here - to help this out, if you do comment and want your comments to appear right in this blog entry, inside of just in the comments you have to click on, please put *INLINE* in your comments - I will then edit this entry to place your comments inline here, and thus this entry will have a counterbalance of opinion.

First, note this is a very strong field in terms of depth, with teams with seeds in 50s and 60s (check out the teams in 50s, it's amazing - and in the 60 seeds see, for example #61 Konow, #63 Stauber, #65 Rigal, #68 Czerniewski) clearly capable of upsets. Thus any top team that falters can expect to be out.

In this entry, we will rate the top partnerships on the top teams by three factors:
- Ability to generate +IMPs. Does the partnership have the style and talent to generate good results.
- Ability to stop -IMPs. Does the partnership have the style and talent that makes it hard to score good results against.
- Consistency. Is this partnership mostly steady, or do results vary considerably between sessions.

The rating scheme (remember, very subjective), will be: gg/ss/cc, where each number is between 1 and 5, with 5 the highest, gg=generate, ss=stop, cc=consistency.

We will not rate pro-client partnerships unless exceptional.

1. Nickell
5/3/5 Meckwell - the best partnership at pulling IMPs out of thin air
4/4/3 Hamman-Mahmood - are the wildcard here, and will be the most fun to watch. No doubt coach Kokish has worked hard to get these two in sync, but top pairs can take over a year to get fully in sync at the level required at the very top.
2/4/5 Nickell-Freeman - they do their job very well - hard to get much IMPs against these two - they keep punting until you make an error

Expectation: Win if H-M get in sync quickly

2. Cayne
5/4/4 Lauria-Versace - sometimes have a bad session, but can produce killer sessions
4/4/5 Fantoni-Nunes - excellent mix of generate +IMPs/stop -IMPs

Expectation: Will win if Nickell exits and don't hit a bad patch

3 O'Rourke
5/3/4 Greco-Hampson - like a Meckwell clone, just slightly less consistent
4/4/3 Duboin-Sementa - they might take some time to get in sync

Expectation: Can beat anybody, can win with a bit of luck

4 Strul
3/4/4 Berkowitz-Cohen - would get a 5 out of 5 for consistency, except they have a bad session about 1 of 10. Aside from that, very solid.
3/5/5 Martel- Stansby - super steady, aim to play error free

Expectation: will win if other teams self-destruct

5 Gromov
4/3/3 Gromov-Dubinin - variable, often good, sometimes great
4/4/4 Balicki-Zmudzinski - excellent mix of + and -

Expectation: Will chew up lesser teams, touch-n-go matches against the top

6 Schwartz
4/3/4 Fallenius-Fredin - solid, active
3/4/4 Gawrys Lesniewski - solid, thoughtful

Expectation: Will lose to one of the super talented teams

7 Sadek
3/5/5 Sadek-Elahmady - hard to get any traction against this pair, very good at keeping a lead
4/4/4 Levin-Weinstein - great table presence, deadly against players without poker faces

Expectation: Will win until they get behind too much at the half

8 Meltzer
3/3/4 Sontag-Bates - solid big club pair
4/3/5 Helgemo-Helness - they take their shots as they see them

Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team

9 Ekeblad
4/3/3 Ekeblad-Rubin - one of the few canape pairs at the top levels - can generate huge sessions with the cards
4/4/3 Weichsel-Granovetter - may not be fully in sync yet, but watch out when they are
4/4/4 Jansma-Verhees - solid

Expectation: Unpredictable, might exit early, might win

10 Narasimhan
3/3/4 Passell-Bramley - steady as it goes, unflappable
4/4/3 Bocchi-Ferraro - another partnership that will be deadly when in sync

Expectation: Will battle every match, will need a bit of luck

11 Milner
3/5/4 Lev-Pszczola - tough to get anything against
3/3/3 Cohler-Baze - a pair that will keep everything in the fairway

Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team

12 Lynch
4/4/4 Moss-Gitelman - they seem to be rated by some as 3/3/3, but they keep producing wins
4/3/3 Grue-Cheek - they are close to being 4/4/4

Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team

13 Robinson
3/3/3 Robinson-Boyd - solid
3/4/4 Woolsey-Stewart - as seen in the LM semis, can produce big sessions
Expectation: Will exit round of 16 or 8

14 Onstott
Not sure of the partnerships here, will update later

15 von Arnim
4/3/4 von Arnim-Auken - style produces swings
3/3/3 Rosenberg- Rosenberg - rating will improve as partnerships gets fully in sync - working very hard last few months

Expectation: Unpredictable

16 Mahaffey
4/3/4 Nystrom-Bertheau - active, can hit home runs
3/4/4 Jie-Zhong - steady, underrated even perhaps by me here

Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team

17 Brogeland
3/3/3 Brogeland-Shugart - tough to play as a 4 bagger
4/3/4 Delmonte-Demuy - 3rd in LM Pairs - wonder if both will move to the US to play the pro circuit

Expectation: Competitive, but will exit to a top team

18 Welland
4/4/3 Welland-Glubok - will they play Welland's style from Fallenius days or Glubok's natural style?
4/4/3 Garner-Weinstein - talent+system+style
3/4/5 Cohen-Smith - not giving much up here

Expectation: A lot of talent here, will be in semis

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Balanced range splits

This post derives from what I posted on the tri-bal thread on BBO forums, and the reposting here is for reference in upcoming blog entries

If one wants:
- 11-19 balanced to open 1C, 1D, or 1NT
- a subset range to stay together (unlike in standard where 12-14 balanced can open 1 of any suit)

Your splits will usually be into three ranges, often either:
Range 1) 11-13/14-16/17-19
Range 2) 12-14/15-17/18-19
Or something close to either of those

Using the first set as the set of range, we can produce a table of possible combinations:
11-13/14-16/17-19 (the splits, which then have these implementations below)
c1) 1C / 1D / 1NT
c2) 1C / 1NT / 1D (strong D systems)
c3) 1C / 1D / 1D
c4) 1C / 1C / 1NT (close to the Power System)
c5) 1C / 1NT / 1C (with range 2 Polish)

d1) 1D / 1C / 1NT
d2) 1D / 1NT / 1C (Meckwell Precision, or range 2 with strong club and 15-17 NT)
d3) 1D / 1C / 1C
d4) 1D / 1D / 1NT
d5) 1D / 1NT / 1D

n1) 1N / 1C / 1D (with range 2, Nightmare)
n2) 1N / 1D / 1C (various strong club systems such as ETM Express)
n3) 1N / 1C / 1C (with range 2, Fantunes and various club systems that start at 15)
n4) 1N / 1D / 1D

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Study of Highly Effective Bidders

Karen Walker in her Bidding Matters (I've wondered if she would have used Bridge Matters if this site hadn't used it first) column of the ACBL bulletin, continued her long running series "The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders" in the July issue - she was still on "7. They strive to be sensible, not brilliant." Here she tackled "some of the failed ideas I've tried over the years".

"The Nothing 2D" she describes seems aligned with the approach of BridgeMatters's 2Dlay ( She describes the Nothing 2D as "In a 2/1 system, opener's rebid of 2D over 2C response is an artificial catchall that denies extra length in his major and adequate stoppers for a 2NT rebid". This set of hands would be quite large (any hand with exactly 5 in M unable to bid 2NT), and her further discussion seems to imply that it is either Ds or the awkward hand with exactly 5 in M that has no other good rebid (some 2/1 styles, like Bergen, park this awkward hand in opener 2NT's rebid, others, like Lawrence, put it in opener's 2M rebid, making 2M either 6+ or the awkward 5).
She says testing of the Nothing 2D has been "costly" on the first three tries. On the first they had "a painful auction" to 3NT by the wrong side. On the second opener couldn't show five-card diamond length.

The actual auctions were not provided, and I was left wondered if the Nothing 2D was implemented with Nothing for follow-ups. The key to 2Dlay was not just to agree to park the hands into 2D, but over 2D to use 2H as an artificial Checkback by opener to find out what responder did have. This Checkback will find when opener has 5Ds (directly if extra, or via 1M-2C;-2D-2H;-2S(Ds)-2NT/3C;-3D if no extras). The Checkback allows opener to right-side 3NT by having opener rebid 2NT over 2D if opener should play it, or use the Checkback if either player or just responder should play it.

In employing multi-meaning conventions and systems, it is necessary to have the appropriate follow-ups to unwind the types - Nothing follow-ups are just guessworks. Proper follow-ups are the brilliant parts of sensible bidding approaches.

On the 3rd problem hand with the Nothing 2D, "use of the 2D rebid elicited a lead-directing double and we scored one fewer trick in 3NT than the field". This is certainly a problem with conventions, and underscores (pun intentional) the difference between IMPs and Pairs. At IMPs you are willing to pay the costs of lost overtricks in return for additional bidding science to the best spot. At Pairs, the cost of slow revealing sequences are often too high.

Karen Walker's column also covered this idea of modified Bergen:

3C: 4-card constructive raise or 3-card limit (3D asks which)
3D: 4-card limit
3M: Preemptive

She implies this idea "failed" since 3C has trouble if the opponents overcall.

That doesn't seem a lot of trouble to me to put this convention into her "failed" category. One wonders if keeping the bids categorized by values would not work better in competition:

3C: Limit raise, either 4-card limit raise or 3-card limit (3D asks which)
3D: 4-card constructive
3M: Preemptive

In the approach my wife Karen A. and I use, all hands with 14/15+ and 3-4 card support start with 2/1 - we find the slow revealing to work well on hands where slam is possible, and the opponents poorly armed in points rarely come into the bidding.

Using this, one can have a structure like:

2NT: Limit raise, either 4-card limit raise or 3-card limit (3C asks which)
3C: Game raise but not much extras, and not a splinter hand type
3D: 4-card constructive
3M: Preemptive

Over these bids opener will often just place the contract.

At Pairs we want to splinter less often with minimum game going values, to further the aim of maximum non-disclosure. Thus we could have:

2NT: Limit raise, either 4-card limit raise or 3-card limit (3C asks which)
3C: Game raise but not much extras. 3D asks for singleton/void.
3D: 4-card constructive
3M: PreemptiveSplinters: Singleton/void with extras.

We will miss the slams where both opener and responder have minimums, but the splinter hits the perfect mesh of hands to produce slam. However at Pairs, the cost of looking for the mesh is 40 or so revealing sequences, and if at least 2 of those cost overtricks it is not worthwhile mesh hunting.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Success Factors and the Meckwell approach

One of the best sources of discussions on bidding theory is the "Non-Natural System Discussion" forum of BBO forums, at:

Recently, young US top expert player Justin Lall had a very insightful post ) on the Meckwell approach:

Having played a version of Meckwell's system for several years I can say that getting to the right partscore seems to be a low priority for them. You almost always get to a playable partscore, but often an inferior one. A lot of their system is based on being able to place the (game) contract as early as possible, giving away as little information as possible, while still having excellent tools and a lot of room available if you want to investigate slam. To me this is a winning style, and something missing in most systems.

A few years ago a senior top expert player told me, when I asked about his system design for part score choice, that "I’m too old for partscores", meaning his system work was designed for the game and slam success factors of IMPs.

Note the key points covered in Justin’s post:

- Non-disclosure is key
- Early identification of fit/spot
- At IMPs, partscore perfection is not a success factor

At MPs, we have:

- Non-disclosure is even more important
- Quick move to right spot to reduce non-disclosure risk
- Choice of partscore will be an important success factor

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mike Bell, in a comment to the previous entry, asks "These are all good things to be aiming for, but I don't see why you think they are (much) more significant at MPs than at IMPs"

Let's say we have a hand, where there is:
5% for a 100% slam
5% for a 60% slam
70% - game only
20% - game only, but trying for slam will stop overtrick

At IMPs it is clear a plus chance to try for slam - the overtrick is costing an IMP, while the slams are delivering big IMPs

At Pairs (with matchpoint scoring) it is a minus chance to try for slam - the slam when making delivers a good board, but the lost overtrick costs a bad board, and occurs more often.

At Pairs there are far more of these overtrick costing situations than at IMPs.

At Pairs the decision to compete or not for a partscore is more important - at IMPs being +100 for defending 3C or being +110 for being 2S is equal. At matchpoints, that mere 10 points is key. Getting to the "par spot" quickly gives the opponents less information to judge these important decisions at Pairs.

1Beach is getting there quickly. Part of this includes the "Pressure Bidding" style that is successful at IMPs, but 1Beach is more than this - it is the non-disclosure part that also works often at Pairs.

Even for pressure bidding, at IMPs one can handle it by:
- take the # if offered by the opponents
- bid a game - it only needs to make a decent % of the time

At Pairs, pressure bidding at Pairs means:
- taking the # could be wrong, if that # is less than the higher paying value of making your contract
- bidding odds against games are wrong

The first step in using a 1Beach approach is to watch how much you and/or your opponents give out in standard sequences. Say 1H-1NT(forcing);-2D-3H(limit raise);-4H - compared to 1H-4H or 2H-4H - when your slower revealing sequences come up in play, watch how they help the opponents. When the slower revealing sequences are used against you, see how they help you pick the opening lead and subsequent defense. The results are amazing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bidding system for pairs - the success factors

In the pairs system given in the previous post, note these success factors:

- We want to have many 1beach sequences - that is there will be many bidding sequences where the partnership gets to the final contract by taking one bid each ("1beach") - thus a bidding system design for pairs aims to reduce the number of bids you make! Even better these 1beach sequences will give the partnership extra time and offer less strain compared to pairs using the common slow-to-our-spot methods.

- A bidding system at pairs wants to increase the number of opening bids you make - first in is key at pairs, especially not-vulnerable.

- When vulnerable it's okay to pass 11 to bad 12 counts that are flat with no four card or longer major - the opponents will likely compete over whatever we open and either get to their contract or force us to be down 100 a trick. The 11-12 counts with a major or both, at least have the dual upsides of finding our major fit and/or having no major fit available for the opponents.

- We want to open 1NT lots and lots, but we take out of 1NT the hands that are maximum with a major, since these hands risk having a better major fit. If it goes 1NT all pass, and we had a major fit then the opponents will most often have a fit too and values to get there if we had opened a standard 1x.

- The 1H opening provides the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too method of NT - you get to play weak and strong notrumps - weak, open 1NT. Strong, open 1H, which shows the proxy bid for the 15-17 NT.

- We want to get into the bidding with spades, and we want to block the opponents from bidding 1S when possible. The 1H opening does not stop the opponents from bidding 1S, but it changes the risk/reward equation as the opponents know responder is well placed - certainly any hand that would compete over a 15-17 1NT, is going to compete over 15-17 "1NT" 1H opening. However the opponents will not compete on much more than those hand types over 1H. Meanwhile the 1NT, 2C, 2D, and 2H openings all are obstacles that force the opponents to introduce spades at the two level, or higher, and that expose them to the frequent risk of bid-2S-pass-pass;-double-all pass.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Here's the system I'm designing for mid-chart (ACBL convention chart) pairs:

Note: N12 = Not vulnerable in 1st/2nd, V34 = Vulnerable or 3rd/4th

1C: Big, 18+ or 15-17 with playing value, either:
1) 15-17 unbalanced, a 6+ suit or a 5-4-3-1 or a 5-5
2) 18+ any

1D: Mini catch-all, 10-14, promises 4 card major or 5Hs except if 13-14 balanced N12.
1) Balanced, or semi-balanced:
1a) a 4 card major, 11-14, 11-12 optional V34, 11 optional N12
1b) 5Hs, a 5-3-3-2, 2-5-4-2, 2-5-2-4, 11-14, 11-12 optional V34
1c) N12 only, 13-14 and no 4 card major
2) 5Hs, 10-14, not including 1b:
2a) 4Ss, 5Hs, 10-14
2b) 3Ss, 5Hs, singleton in a minor, 10-14 - optional, can open 2H instead
3) 4Ss, longer minor, 10-14
4) 4Hs, 3Ss, 5 card minor, 10-14 - optional, can open 2m instead
5) Any 4-4-4-1 10-14 (the 1-4-4-4 hand is the only hand where a singleton S is possible)

1H: 15-17, balanced or semi-balanced. Can have a five card major or six card minor. Can be any 4-4-4-1. Not a 5-4-3-1 unless singleton is A, K, or Q.

1S: 9-14, 5+Ss

1NT: 11-14 V34, 10-12 N12. 4 card major or 5Hs possible only if minimum (11-12 V34, 10 to bad 11 N12)The objective here of no four card or longer major if maximum is that responder does not have to move out of 1NT on bad invite hands that have a four card major.

2C: 5+Cs, 10-14, fewer than 4Ss, if just 5Cs must have a singleton. 3-4-1-5 can also be opened 1D.

2D: 5+Ds, 10-14, fewer than 4Ss, if just 5Ds must have a singleton. 3-4-5-1 can also be opened 1D.

2H: 5+Hs, 10-14, if just 5Hs must have a singleton and fewer than 4Ss. 3-5-4-1 and 3-5-1-4 can also be opened 1D.

2S: 5-9, 5+Ss

2NT: 6-5/5-6+ in majors, 10-14

Since almost all 10 counts are opened N12, for not vulerable 34 (N34), 1NT should be 12-15 (a major only if 12-13 and optional), and the balanced range in 1D should be 12-15. 1H will be 15/16-17 balanced, 15s with a five card suit.

1NT in N12 should include the dismal 13s - the 3-3-3-4 and 3-3-4-3 hands.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

For a detailed look at the restricted choice principle, you can see the entry in Wikipedia, but even better check out Richard Pavlicek's entry on his popular site:

With 5432 opposite AJT76, you lead small to the T and it loses to the K or Q. Later back in the 5432 hand what do you do?

The key chart is his "four possible events" chart, breaking the restricted choice into (the player behind the AJT76):

KQ and plays K - 3.4%
KQ and plays Q - 3.4%
K singleton - 6.2%
Q singleton - 6.2%

(He did some rounding)

KQ is 6.8%, compared to K singleton or Q singleton, both at 6.2%. Since with KQ, the player can pick either, assuming they pick randomly, the 6.8% splits into two 3.4%s, and it is considerably better to play for the singleton honour than the player having KQ exactly.

Can these odds change? - certainly if the player has shown shortness in other suits, decreasing the chance of being singleton in this suit. In addition, you might know the player - some club players always play K from KQ (they love the look they give you when they "tricked" you into giving them the Q later), while others want to always play the proper card, and thus will always play the Q. Also, if you are playing against an expert, and you see him or her flip a coin before playing the K or the Q, you can assume they've taken this playing randomly idea too far.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Let's modify the Monty Hall problem this way (no, this is not the Drew Carey problem):

On a game show you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car (low gas mileage) and behind the other two doors, a deck of cards.

You are told that there is a 50% chance the car is behind door 1, 25% each for the other doors.

So you pick door 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens door 3, which has a deck. He then gives you the chance to switch to Door 2. Should you?

The starting odds of getting the car were:
Door 1: 50%
Door 2: 25%
Door 3: 25%

Now when the host opens door 2 or door 3, to reveal a deck, the odds now change to:
Door 1: 50%
Door 2 (if not shown): 50%
Door 3 (if not shown): 50%

Using the chart from the Wikipedia article:

Car location Door 1 (50%)
-- Host opens either other door --
Door 2 open (25%) - switching loses
Door 3 open (25%) - switching loses

Car location Door 2 (25%)
-- Host opens Door 3 --
Switching wins (25%)

Car location Door 3 (25%)
-- Host opens Door 2 --
Switching wins (25%)

Thus it is equal odds to switch or not, in this case since door 1 was 50% before you picked a door.

The point here is you need to know your beforehand ("a priori") odds (e.g. was each door equal probability or not?) and then use the additional information based on how it was discovered or given to you.
Wikipedia can have some nice surprises, such as this detailed entry on the Monty Hall Problem:

This relates to the bridge "restricted choice" problem, and the Wikipedia article even refers to Phil Martin’s Bridge Today article "The Monty Hall Trap", reprinted in the book "For Experts Only" - and Steve Bloom in a later part of the book calls it a "beautiful article" - the book article caption is "Information that the opponents give you is not the same as information you discover yourself". Put another way, information "Monty gives you is not the same as information you find out yourself", as you can discover from the Wikipedia link.