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, April 29, 2009

Is it all gold?

I had a chance to hold an Olympic gold medal last week and I was impressed by how heavy it is - I thought it would be some trinket but instead it is a solid circle of metal. I was told that it was pure gold, but the Internet says it is approximately 244 grams of silver covered by 6 grams of gold (that is some cover-up - the last gold medals made of all gold were for the 1912 games). That still is a nice take-home prize for winning an event at the 2008 Mind Sport Games, if they used the same medals - or for the 2002 Grand Prix in Salt Lake, won by Canada, if they handed out Olympic medals.

The first modern Olympics were in Athens (1896), and recently there was some more Gold in victories there - not Olympic Gold but ETM Gold, the bidding system. The pair of Nikos Delimpaltadakis & Dimosthenis Dionysopoulos were part of the winning team of the Greek National Teams Championship, and they also won, as a pair, the Athens Matchpoints Championship, and came in third in the National Matchpoints Championship. Given they were in a process of converting to ETM Gold just this fall, these are solid gold results!

If you read Greek you can read the results here:

Let's take a look at how you can look at those results when you don't know the language. First do a search on the web page you are interested - in this link I've used the main page of the above site:

Now Click on "translate this page" and the page is no longer seemingly mathematical formulas.

Here is an example of translation already done, with a picture of the winners:

At this point you might want to switch to ETM Gold but hold your horses!

Last weekend an Icelandic Teams championship was won with one pair, Sveinn Eiriksson & Hrannar Erlingsson, using the ETM Spry system.

If Google would translate the Icelandic language, you could read it here:

Swan has the final boards and IMP exchanges here:

This summer Nikos Delimpaltadakis will be playing with Sveinn Eiriksson in the Washington NABC's - this again demonstrates that the NABCs are no longer a North American only Bridge Championship, but a world event hosted by the ACBL, albeit without gold/silver metals.

Should they play Gold or Spry?

Spry is faster to pick up, but now requires a small adjustment to play in ACBL general events. 1D as a "catch-all" opening is allowed in ACBL events, but they no longer want "catch-all" to end up just catching one defined suit - in Spry 1D shows spades. Thus it is necessary to incorporate other hand types into 1D so that it catches more that just spades. One adjustment is to play 1D as it is in Spry, or having an eight card minor with 13-14 points. Please note that Spry does met the ACBL regulations as written, and this adjustment is only necessary as there has been a selective interpretation of the regulations that appears not to have used Google translate on "catch-all".

Gold is more sophisticated, and provides more depth in agreements - this can be counter-productive for a new partnership: do you both remember what is on page 82 and agree with it?

The key success factor is how comfortable both players will be with the system picked. That seems simple, except here we have one partner who needs to adapt to a new system, while the other has to teach them how they want the system played. This teaching aspect is very important too, since how a system is portrayed on paper is often not how it is actually used by a skilled partnership.

For other partnerships reading this post, you might think: "Great, we just pick Gold or Spry, which ever we feel most comfortable with, and it's off to the races".

Not so fast.

Systems assist partnerships in doing well in events, but they are not key factors in themselves. The events noted above were won by very strong expert players. If the players were not very strong experts, the system would not have been enough to put them in a winning position.

If I was given Lance Armstrong's best bike, sadly I still could not compete in any serious bike race, even with the aid of this marvelous technology (Armstrong accidently twittered his email address this week to 700k of us, so I could email him about his bike). The bike assists Lance Armstrong in winning events, but it requires a very strong cyclist to use it to win.

Playing any particular system does not make you instantly competitive in every event. To use a system effectively, first you must be already competitive in the event, able to play well against the participants, and then the system can assist you in winning. Use systems like Gold and Spry to give you an edge, but don't never expect a system to take you from last to first.


  • At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Nikos Delimpaltadakis said…

    Hi Glen and thanks once more for your help.

    I'd like to give some background info and make a few comments on my experience playing ETM Gold.

    We started with my current partner 2 years ago, playing the Fantunes system. We had success playing it but we never felt quite comfortable for 2 reasons:
    1) We never had a detailed version of it. We had just copies of their convention cards, some personal advice to my partner from Fantoni and some modifications made by our Greek trainer Giannis Militsopoulos.
    2) The Fantunes system have some gray areas. For example the two level openings are quite crowded and is easy to loose important information. Fantoni is aware of this but he insists that the opponents are in even worse position. Of course his results prove him right, but this ambiguity didn't fit our style very well. The same happens in less extend with the weak NT. Once upon the time the opponents used to intervene less and then weak NT was a valuable weapon. Now everyone overcalls and very often you end up doing the guesswork.

    In a period when I was trying to find a way to improve our understanding of Fantunes, I discovered your ETM systems. I studied many of them and I discovered that ETM Gold seemed perfect.

    Oversimplifying things one can say that it is similar to "Fantunes" system but uses strong instead of weak NT. All the other changes are based on this fundamental difference. Moreover it was described in every detail.

    It was exactly what we were looking for, so we started practicing with bidding exercises for 4 months before we played it in a major tournament.

    Here are some of my observations for the system:

    1) It is very good for "boxing" very fast the information you have about partners hand. This way you may decide quite early about the potential of your hand, and avoid useless competition if the board finally belongs to the opponents.

    2) It doesn't preempt the opponents it's true, but in a magic way it helps you use the information from opponents intervention in order to avoid bad games or part scores. It reminds me the way some Asian martial arts help you use your opponents strength to your benefit.

    3) Guesswork and aggressive auctions are stressful. ETM Gold minimizes both, and this way you enter the declaring/defense stage, with a more clear mind so you usually are more efficient.

    4) ETM Gold includes some great concepts. I wont name every one now, but I will say that they are not ideas that look good on the paper, like other systems, but ideas that prove their value on the table. One example is the way the system treats three card support for partners major in many auctions. Another one is the regular use of low level splinters in minor based auctions.

    I could write much more but I have to travel early tomorrow. Keep up the good work. I think your documents are invaluable help for every serious student of the game.


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