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, December 31, 2008

"Gossip is the province of small-minded people"

That was the start of the advice of Dear Abby today, to a man who "wears skirts for comfort" but now runs into that "some family members who disagree have talked behind our backs, started rumors and turned people against us with false information". The full column is here:

Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren) replied, in part:

Gossip is the province of small-minded people, and it is sad that your relatives have used the fact that you have chosen to be different as an opportunity to spread malicious falsehoods. ... Because fashion trends not only change but often revolve, who's to say you're not on the leading edge of what's to come?
Now I don't wear skirts, in or out of the house, but I do like to wear shorts around the house, and outdoors when it is not a Canadian winter or a work day. However I do "wear skirts" when I play bridge - I use a non-traditional style that poses problems for opponents. I consider this style to be on the leading edge, but I do understand those who might consider it reckless.

I have held off until now for discussing this style as it is dangerous to use, and since it requires a high degree of judgement of many factors, it is not appropriate to players learning the game. For this reason, postings on this subject will be marked "dangerous - not for developing players".

Warning: PROFIT Style is Dangerous - not for developing players

The PROFIT style is led from these principles:

Probability - take actions that win in the long run, even if the individual application fails

Represent - understand that your calls and your cards played represent certain holdings and situations to the opponents, and to partner, and use this representations to your advantage

Opportunity - quickly recognize opportunities to act - there are many

Friction - whenever possible introduce friction into the gears of the opponents, so that the easy and routine become hard and unusual

Immediate - don't wait to act - act now

Take - Take the initiative, take advantage of weakness, take up bidding room.

For those poker players out there, you will recognize some components of the modern approach to the game, especially those reflective of the Gus Hansen style. For those who read military history:

... the fog of war and friction were paramount forces with which the methodology of combat should seek to harmonize, not suppress
(Stephen W. Richey, "The Philosophical Basis of Air Land Battle, Military Review 64.5)

For well-read bridge players, aspects of the style are discussed in the great bridge book: Robson/Segal's "Partnership Bidding in Bridge" (see Dan's site: )

Now let's look at a hand:

Very exciting, a whole three points.

Even worse, you're vulnerable and the opponents are not. And you are playing IMPs.

Your partner opens 2D, RHO passes, and you are to bid. Alan Truscott's the Bidding Dictionary describes a 3D bid here:

Accentuating the preempt. Opener is barred. Vulnerability is a crucial factor. At favorable vulnerability very weak hands may raise to the three level or more vigorously with a singleton or void.
We are at unfavourable vulnerability here, so the traditional, regular, sensible, safe bid is pass. And this is even more safe and sensible since partner's 2D bid can be a five card suit!

Now let's look at the PROFIT of 3D:

Probability - there are actions that will result in a bloodbath, such as 2D-P-3D-X-All Pass and 2D-P-3D-P;-P-X-All Pass, but most of the time the opponents will not know when to double or when to pass the double.

Represent - by bidding 3D here, we represent a nine card or better fit with some shape - thus the opponents will consider not leaving 3DX in if that is likely the case.

Opportunity - we quickly note that 3D is possible.

Friction - if we pass the opponents will have a relatively smooth auction - if we bid 3D the actions of the opponents are more unsettled - any bid here might be shapely without extras or have lots of extras.

Immediate - if you think a long time, and then either pass or bid 3D, not good. Instead act now.

Take - 3D takes the initiative, and takes up bidding room.

How did the 3D PROFIT bid work at the table?

These were our two hands, and the weak two bidder did have just 5Ds - we were on the three level with just a seven card fit!

3D doubled goes for 1400. Did I warn you this was dangerous?

However my LHO doubled with 4-4-3-2 exactly, and then raised RHO's 3H bid to 4H. This made six, since the heart king was under the ace. It could have been over the ace in other layouts, in which case there would be no slam.

After the hand was over, one of opponents said, openly, that we "just could not care less about playing bridge" - in a way this was true, we do not care to play traditional dull edgeless bridge. However it was sad that some see a guy wearing a skirt in such a poor light.

In the next post, we will look how one plays a hand in the PROFIT style.

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.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Sorry State of Redoubles

In the last two years I've moved to a more active doubling approach in (relatively) weak fields - that is if I have 3+ cards in the takeout suits, and close to opening points or better, I double if the hand is not an overcall. This approach is flawed, since frequently one doesn't find much of a fit, and could result in some massacres in a very strong field. Non-expert partnerships often have no way to nail these doubles, and the doubles cause them lots of problems.

One problem the double creates for non-expert partnerships is that it changes their whole structure if they implement a standard strength-showing redouble. Say, for example, the partnership is playing 2/1, constructive 2M, Jacoby 2NT, Strong Jump Shifts. The bidding goes 1S-Pass-?, now:

1NT: forcing, can be a non-constructive raise to 2S or a game invite with 3Ss
2/1: natural, game force
2S: constructive
2NT: Jacoby
Jump shift: strong
3S: game invite with 4+ trumps

Now we throw in a double, 1S-Double-?. If playing common methods, their structure is now:

1NT: natural, and perhaps not clear what bottom range is for the bid
2/1: natural, non-forcing, unclear how good or bad a hand could be to bid this
2S: wide ranging, since 1NT forcing not available for non-constructive hands
2NT: game invite or better, but no agreement on follow-ups
Jump shift: weak
3S: preemptive, but little discussion on which hands fit this bid

The double has trashed their responding system.

They've also gained another bid, the redouble. Their agreement is that this is 11+ or 10+, but there likely has been little discussion of follow-ups. Nobody knows which passes are forcing, and responder's non-jump bids after the redouble may or may not be forcing. They don't have the judgment/experience to know when to double for penalty and when not to, and if they defend against a doubled contract their defense is often not optimal.

With the problems that the double imposes, you want to frequently throw in immediate doubles against non-expert partnerships.

Imo, it's been wrong teaching non-expert partnerships the strength-showing redouble. Just like many non-expert partnerships use the stolen bid approach to keep their 1NT structure, they should use a "Parking Lot Redouble" approach.

For details on how Parking Lot Redoubles were first intended, please see:

(ignore the headline of "Parking Log" - I'll edit this out once they have it fixed, and ignore that the link is for ParkingLotDoubles, not Redoubles)

What non-expert partnerships should do is play that, over a double:

- all bids retain the same meaning as before
- pass can be made with strong hand with shortness in partner's suit (if any) and length in all other suits - it will double at the next turn to bid
- redouble, the parking lot redouble, asks partner to make the cheapest bid unless considerable extras, and then, at the next turn to bid:

- Pass, non-jump bids, game bids are to play
- Jump bids below game are natural invites
- Even if a bid is in an opponent's suit, it is natural

Parking lot redoubles are not ideal, but at least it keeps a non-expert partnership from driving over a cliff.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Freeze Redouble

Meckwell were dominant at the Boston NABC: Meckwell won three major events (Reisinger BAM Teams, Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs, and Mitchell Open BAM Teams), Rodwell was 2nd in the Nail Life Master Open Pairs (playing with John Diamond), while Meckstroth was 14th in the same event (playing with Perry Johnson). Rodwell himself earned more masterpoints (623.75) than the combined results of the six Italian World Champions (136.38+110.65+100.65+83.88+83.88+84.58). Results and masterpoint lists at:

Meckwell is seen here in action during the Reisinger final - actually it's inaction for Rodwell:






I believe the board was against Zmudzinski and Balicki, but I've listed them as Opp1 and Opp2 in the diagram as the vugraph record is incomplete (and the ACBL has no detailed results for session two posted on their site).

Let's look at the board first from Rodwell's seat. He passes in third seat, even though their style allows light initial action, and partner will not have a hand that would want to invite in notrump - North would have opened almost every 11+ hand, so at best he has a 10 count - thus Rodwell could open 1D, and if Meckstroth bid 1S, he could rebid 1NT (showing up to 14, since 1NT 3rd seat red against white would be 15-17), knowing Meckstroth would not bid 2NT now.

After he passes, Rodwell sees partner make a passed hand double of the 1H opening - partner likely has a shapely 8-10 hand. Rodwell has to pick between 1NT and 2D. However RHO redoubles - now Rodwell can pass and await developments - there are many ways the auction can bid out, giving Meckwell plenty of opportunity to find the 5-3 club fit. Note the style: don't rush to get a bid in if you don't know if that's the best spot for you and the bidding is not over yet.

Now EW park themselves in 2H and Rodwell would like to compete over this if Meckstroth had 5Ds or the right hand with 4Ds - however the redouble has froze him into allowing the opponents to play two-of-a-major, which can be terrible at Board-a-Match, with +110 beating +100 (3 something down 1, not doubled) and if 2H is down, -50 or -100 (down 2) then that would win the board against anything that makes NS.

From the East perspective, he wants to show some values, and if possible land in 2H if partner doesn't have much extras. In most expert styles he would have available, over Meckstroth's double, a bid that would show a good raise to 2H. However if he made this bid, it might spur the opponents to compete, taking them out of the nice 2H spot, and it could be awkward for EW to know when to double NS, especially if NS are able to compete in spades - for example say it went P-P-P-1H;-X-2D-2S-P;-P-?, where 2D by East shows a good raise to 2H. Now does East double 2S, or let them play there, or bid again?

Thus East uses the freeze redouble - show values, say to partner we own this hand, and freeze NS from wanting to compete.

After the Redouble, West does not sit for it to give NS the bids to find out their best fit - instead, with a hand that is relatively poor defensively for the point count (no aces, kings in diamonds and spades may find an ace over them) he shows his second suit. This then got EW to a comfortable 2H contract, just making at this table. In the other room, Hamman and Zia used a Flannery 2D opening (11-15 with 5Hs & 4Ss) to get to 2H, and then made two overtricks on a less-than-optimal defense, but you need your opponents to be doing some less-than-optimal things if you want to return from a NABC with 623.75 masterpoints.