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Trapped By The Old Mind Syndrome
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The whole argument about “disruption”, “methods” and “suggested defenses” is based on the erroneous belief that getting to the right contract matters.

Before you have a knee-jerk “Yates has finally lost it” thought - (oops, too late) - I will elaborate on several levels.

First, for most ACBL play it, getting to the right contract does not matter on a practical level. Yesterday at the club, my partner and I achieved the following:

  • We missed two cold small slams.
  • We played a pretty good grand in six, under-declared for 12 tricks.
  • We played a really bad 6NT after a ridiculous seq for -2.
  • Went down in a really bad, no chance game. (Should be -2, went -1)
  • Went down in the wrong game.

Not a good resume for finding qualified Vanderbilt teammates. But we still finished first overall and our ACBL thought this effort deserved 4.08 master points. Almost as much as a first round Vandy win and just half the time. So who needs those teammates anyway? Apparently 64% is the new 43%. BTW. this is one of the largest clubs in the country.

I therefore see little empirical evidence that getting to the proper contract matters. The right contract is just some delusional idea placed into your mind by voting on too many ATB problems on Bridgewinners.

Full Disclosure

OK, in the interest of FD, maybe a right contract matters a tiny bit. Monday we were not first O/A because my partner decided to X the ops in 3 when they were headed to 4 for down 1. They were obviously happy to play 3xx for +960. It is particularly sad because I had never bid (bd#4, CG) to encourage a X by partner on 5 HCP and the bidders who “disrupted” the ops auction pushed opponents into 3NT making with OTs rather than spades. Also, my partner decided to pass my support X on another hand for a 6% board. Either would have been enough for a pile of those1st O/A MP. The right contract helps, but obviously it is not entirely necessary.

And the only reason we actually needed some degree of accuracy ourselves is because of our ops’ result on bd 16.


After the obvious auction, the Qx came down onside and instead of -4 they collected all the MP.

They were very happy and congratulated themselves on their bidding. Despite having no idea what 4NT was despite scores of years playing between them. 4NT was intended as Blackwood, so maybe East had been getting bidding lessons from Stevo.

If you think allowing weird methods is going to materially upset the otherwise finely tuned bidding machines in ACBLand, then you have been smoking way too much medical weed.

The Way We Were

Once upon a time, people did not have conventions. Well maybe Stayman and Blackwood - and they were damn glad to have them. But they did not need any stinking new minor forcing, 2-way new minor, or spiral asks.

We had “natural” systems. And we had inflections. Players always knew whether a bid was competitive, invitational or forcing. No one needed maximal doubles. And if that wasn’t enough, you probably heard the hand bid at least once before the board got to your table.

I remember my dad telling me: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you about the good old days. That is lie. I know because I was there. Depressions, wars, genocide, bigotry, segregation and the lynching of the week. The old days sucked.”

So I am here to tell you that in the old days, ACBL bridge people were nasty, the air was filled with smoke and most bidding was based on unbelievable amounts of UI. Bridge was exactly the Ron Anderson story of the ladies in his mom’s game differentiating club openings by saying:

“One club."

“A club."

“I will start with a club."

They were just a bit more sophisticated in the ACBL events. A bit better as bridge players, too.  That was the golden age of bridge. Cue Babs: “What's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget. . .

So getting to the right contract did not matter back in those golden days, because most people pretty much had bidding skills as far ranging as their vocal prowess. Since everyone (in contention, anyway) got to the same contract, only the play mattered.

See? I am right again.

What Really Happened in Bridge

Slowly, the bridge world cleaned up the game. Bidding boxes were slowly deployed despite players kicking, screaming and refusing to use them. The UI regs were reworded for the better. The old regs allowed one to argue that one’s option was logical, not that other alternatives were valid. Kit’s story in “Four Rulings” is absolutely not unique. Only that the ops use of UI was so egregious Kit & partner complained; to no avail. Most of the time you never bothered because you had no chance to get a ruling. Especially if you were young.

The bridge world even progressed from alternating smoking and non-smoking tables to none at all.

And bidding started to evolve a bit. There was always a good understanding of bidding theory and methods at the expert level. Edgar Kaplan certainly knew what he was doing. Not so much many of the people who had read some or all of his book. But now, the rest of the world needed to understand and adopt methods and systems to reach the proper spot more often.

These methods are necessarily more complex and sophisticated than making a double quietly or loudly. As Larry Edwards used to joke: “my quiet double is the one you cannot pull.” Now we have “What is This Double?” or “Is This Forcing?” postings on BW usually with a collection of pretty good bridge players lining up on both sides and the curmudgeons abstaining.

Forget about forcing pass. Multi. Or really eclectic methods like 1NT with a stiff. The fact is the vast majority of ACBL members cannot handle 2/1. Any more than Ron’s ladies could handle ‘natural’ bidding without their embellishments.

The Truth of the Matter

I do not deny that allowing methods like FP or transfer openings would be disruptive. But for the most part it would not be disruptive for the reasons people imagine.

Even today there is a lot of UI. Suppose opener is a good to strong hand with both majors and opens 1, responder is 13 or 23 in the Ms. As badly and as randomly as some players bid, they often learn how to handle such a scenario with tempo.

Versace-Lauria have methods. They will be close to 100% on working out the hand. JEC has methods. Meckwell and the whole Diamond team open 1 and have no problem.

Joe Blow has no method but can tempo the hand out. And when he does not, he is random. But if you look at the results, players who would be fairly random behind screens tend to solve these problems at a higher rate than expected. With 54 the JS is slow and with 55 fast.

Here is a hand from a recent regional. All vul, partner opened 1st seat 2 (wk) - P - ? I held: Jxxxx / KQ10 / Jx / Axx. So I raised to 3 and that ended the auction. Brian Glubock led the ten of diamonds. When dummy hit my partner looked at dummy and asked: “what was 3?” And both ops replied: “the book bid”. When partner ruffed the second diamond Brian joked: “hey, we found our fit!”. And we all laughed.

There were other good players but this was likely the best pair in the room. Glenn Robbins passed in tempo and they took a 12% board. Five diamonds came home because there is a one-way guess for the J and it is onside with the wk-2 bidder.

Glenn said afterwards that he did not think he was strong enough for a vul 4-level bid.  He thought Brian would likely balance on known shape and he could safely bid 5 over X and 4 over 3.   Unfortunately for them, Brian was a bit too light to X.  But if E did bid 4-D, how does Glubock’s hand not raise to game holding: A1098 / J / 10965 / K1043? If Glubock’s hand balances, how does partner not bid game with 3 dead hearts and Q/ xxx / AKQxxx / Qxx?

The traveler reveals that HALF the E/W pairs are in exactly four diamonds. There were six pairs in that contract and just three in game. I believe the explanation for exactly half being in 4+1 is the tempo told them they were light. Other players thought too long and eventually tracked 4. Advancer knew it was weak.  At MP, you always take the known plus to improve against +50.  One does not need the coin toss at best game.  But you could only suspect that with the tempo. 

I am not accusing anyone of cheating.  And perhaps the auction started differently somewhere. What I am saying is that “judgment” is always colored by EI and the jury cannot disregard what they heard. After the hand I was kidding them about being stubbornly ethical, and everyone was laughing about it, but we also all knew they were screwed.

So lets go back to the original problem with the majors.

The Real Effect of Weird Stuff

Joe Blow can work out his best game with better than expected success given lack of methods. After pass, 1 - 1NT; slow 3 and partner bids 3NT with 13M.

But when we open things up, Joe suddenly finds himself playing against Carrotti ops. Instead of pass, he is confronted with a 2 by RHO showing rounded or pointed with moderate values (6-11). There is no way he can tempo his way out of this one. By the time he or his partner finally emerge with calls, what is really lacking is the EI context they would otherwise have in an uncontested auction.  (And I already showed you how everyone bids uncontested on the first page).

Cynical, but true. Hereinafter CBT because the bridge community(BW), internet (WWW) and our military (USDOD) do not have enough abbreviations.(DNHEA)

Perhaps those “good old days” of natural bidding would have gone to hell with these disruptive methods. But we disrupted those methods with bidding boxes anyway. Screens would have totally ended bridge as they knew it. (CBT)

The antidote to losing vocal accuracy was to employ more sophisticated methods. Quite frankly, most people cannot handle this. Sometimes we still have tempo issues.  But many players don’t understand the methods and/or they are not on the same wavelength as partner. As proof of the later, I offer all the “WTF is This?” postings where the best and the brightest players - Bridgewinners members, of course - often cannot agree on anything.

The world we have now consists of pairs who can apply bidding principles and those who cannot. And the later group is huge by comparison - at least in the ACBL. This is why we keep raising the floor for Flight‘A’. It was a 500 MP threshold for ‘A’ when I came back to bridge and the not so brave, new & “flighted” world. Nowadays it is at least 3,000MP.

And the reason is not just MP inflation. To maintain membership levels we are recruiting retired people. We sell them a game they likely had little or no interest in when they were younger while their peers played. But now they are ‘old’ and do what ‘old people do’, So they take up bridge.

And for the most part, they will never truly 'get it'. The people we recruited ten years ago still wont go into an 'A' event because they would get crushed. Rick Zucker once told me that he believed that virtually no one who took this game up after age 40 is likely to ‘get it’. I do not know why I doubted him. He is an exceptional player and teacher and has been doing it for decades. He should know. And I certainly do not doubt him now that I have been teaching.

So you can argue all you want that they cannot possibly handle playing against Carrotti. That is probably true. What is also true is they cannot handle standard American.

Just check the line scores.

Point of View

Lets look at this alleged problem from a different perspective. Why should getting to the right contract matter?

If you have a problem processing this question, I will posit you probably have a case of OLD THINK. As an important tangent, I believe that ACBLand has always been infected with old thinking from the day I joined. Sure, things have changed a little. But only in context of whatever OLD THINK is currently prevalent and infecting bridge.

Answers like: “because that is the rule” or “we always did it that way” are a sure sign of OLD THINK. No youngster accepts those answers. That probably included you when you were young.

My perspective is that the right contract never mattered when I was learning bridge. Really, it did not. My mom would lay out a hand and tell me to how many tricks to take in notrump. Later is was how many tricks and what suit was trumps.  Bidding did not matter because I did not know what it was.

If you want to get good at this game, the right contract still does not matter. Let me bring in Rick Zucker again. His funny, but true line, is that one becomes a good player through bad bidding. When he was young, he always wanted to play the hand, so he just kept bidding. He would often find himself in some dumb contract, stuck figuring how to make it.

That is how juniors learn, too. And the way players should learn is focus on the play and acquire bidding skills over time. It really makes no sense to learn how to bid to thin games if the student cannot play well enough to make it.

But that is not how we teach the retirees. We have lessons and lessons and lessons on bidding. Clubs and pros love bidding lessons. (Ka-ching!). Gotta learn Michaels, DONT, U-NT, NMF, 2-way NM, Bergen Raises, Gambling 3NT, 4th suit forcing, splinter bids (Ka-ching!)

What we have is a system economically invested in maintaining the status quo. That is the same system that we always had. We have also always had is a system that is psychologically attached to “the way we always did things”. We have always had a system that tells you how you should think and bid. Even if the bidding evolves at a snail’s pace.

And then we ask why young people don’t want to do this - which is the ultimate in old think. If you have to ask, you do not understand a younger mind.

So what exactly would happen if we went more laissez-fair with bridge methods? I mean besides the ten plagues, mass hysteria and a total breakdown in society.

Most Likely

At first everyone will TOTALLY HATE the change. Guaranteed. Bridge players have always hated change since before Stayman took away a natural 2 response. Hating change goes back to the self-proclaimed “Official System” being challenged by Culbertson’s “Approach Forcing System”. People are threatened by change. Especially when it threatens that in which one is economically and psychologically invested. So those people always hate change and complain. Younger minds - and the bridge playing public was a lot younger back then - flocked to Culbertson when he won.

The eventual effect of laissez-faire may well be to lessen the importance of system.

Suppose the protectors of the faith are correct that laissez-faire bridge and forcing pass systems are one of the signs of the apocalypse. That total randomness and chaos will reign in ACBL events. Who exactly does this chaos hurt?

Answer: It hurts the better players by taking away edge they already have in bidding. Therefore, it helps the weaker players who the guardians of the gate profess to be protecting.

This is exactly true unless one can cope with the “randomness and chaos” by judgment. If a pair can use takeout doubles and natural methods to cope with weirdness better than another pair, what this means is that JUDGMENT and BRIDGE LOGIC can now rise to the top.

And isn’t that the mythical Nirvana that the guardians of yesterday who decry artificiality and change claim that the game should deliver? So why can a specific destination be reached via only one route? Just because they claim it? Bah! Every bit of empirical evidence - like Australia’s experience, for example - shows the premise of the protectors is pure poop. But the naysayers will cling to a blade of grass in a desert and insist their world is lush while ignoring the dust around them.

“Chaos” is nothing more than increased variance. Hal Sims and The Four Horsemen came and went and the apocalypse of bridge failed to materialize. Despite their psychic bidding.

The increased variance of no-limit poker was a major contributing factor to the poker boom. Hardly anyone is going to survive heads-up limit poker against a player like Phil Ivey. But make it no-limit and the underdog now has a chance. Change from heads-up to a tournament format and all of a sudden a journeyman like Chris Moneymaker can win. He can even take out Ivey on the way.

Tell me how this increased randomness and variance was bad for poker.

Bridge Methods - Choose Your Weapon

OK, you just drew team Diamond in the Vandy.

  1. Assess your chances of winning if your team plays Precision
  2. Assess your chances of winning playing 2/1
  3. Assess your chances playing something goofy from down-under

I like my chances better with each progression. Obviously, unless you actually can play and defend better, the same system is the worst scenario. Against Diamond that is possible on a good day for some, highly unlikely to impossible for everyone else.  If you play 2/1, at least you have some chance of systemic swings. The systemic swing - AKA randomness - benefits the underdogs, not the favorites.

The best chance for an underdog is the third choice. Start HUM-ing. More system variance plus a chance of catching them in a really tough, unfamiliar spot. Zia wrote about his 1980 Pakistani team and one of the pairs employing some goofy preemptive methods. It actually came up and they gained an important swing.

But the ACBL makes sure that stuff never happens. Supposedly because “they are protecting the children”.

What happens in ACBLand is they now have everyone at the clubs playing basically the same system. Once upon a time I always checked the ops CC, I never do at the club.  So if my partner and I have a particularly bad day with difficult hands, I don’t care. Everyone else will find the hands difficult too because they are using the same methods.

I sometimes decry players being “scared of pros”, but in reality they have a point. The ACBL hands players a sword and tells them to go beat Miyamoto Musashi. I do not have any edge anywhere playing standard against Bobby & Stevo. And club players do not have any edge playing standard against me. Their best chance really is to hire a pro. Not that they cannot and do not win playing standard.  But they are hardly favorites and they would actually have a better chance playing something goofy. The ACBL denies them that chance in the name of protecting them. How ironic.

Goofiness has not hurt bridge in Australia. They have two and half to three times the participation rate compared to the US.

BTW, Musashi was said to never bathe because he would not be without his sword. (Some bridge players seem to have adopted that tactic.) However, in some of his duels, when up against an expert swordsman, Musashi chose to use a staff.

You can fight fire with fire. But most often, fireman use something different. Like water.


If I Were Dictator

Besides the chance for natives to reacquire land as the interlopers fled. . .

Newbies would learn bridge differently. The contract would not matter and the play would. The contract would not matter because they would not even be bidding.

Players would then learn simple systems with consistent methods. It would be much better to teach new players a simple club system. But since we have so much invested in these awful 2/1 systems, I would teach new players a short club system with transfers.

This is what is totally insane about our ACBL’s refusal to make this method GCC is I believe it is not only vastly superior to standard, it is far easier to grasp as a noob. What you want new players to understand is that for the purposed of bidding there are two types of hands. Notrump oriented and suit oriented. These can be generally viewed as balanced and unbalanced. All balanced hands - roughly half of all hands you will hold - start with either one or two clubs or one or two notrump. Give them the scale. They learn to respond artificially over balanced openings. Once they get the idea of a transfer bid, everything is consistent. And they learn important concepts like natural vs artificial and forcing vs non-forcing bids right off the bat.  It is very easy to pick up and fairly consistent.

If someone understands play, they will have a basic bidding proficiency with half the hands they will ever hold in about two hours. But the ACBL for some reason thinks this is a problem and confuses the children. (And their SAYC stuff doesn’t?! Please!). Personally, I think it is far easier to teach someone “transfer to suits over balanced/potentially balanced openings, respond naturally in suits over ‘unbalanced’ suit openings.”

Players in the limited game play either a short club with transfers or simple club system. Open players would have great range for system.

In either game, players can always consult defensive notes before bidding. People freak out about this suggestion because: “that is not how we have done things!” (OLD THINK!!) If you believe the Vandy or Bermuda Bowl should have a higher standard, I wont disagree. But I find it preposterous that in club or regional tournament play (AKA sometimes bigger than a club game), people have no problem with LHO forgetting Cappelletti and explaining DONT. Then the TD is called and play is held up and disrupted. Then we have some committee (even if it is a TD meeting) that needs to figure out the play result in some preposterous contract to assign a ridiculous result.

And then these people tell me I cannot open multi because it causes too much chaos. Chaos? Really?! And letting people screw up their agreements at the other table wasn’t chaos? It certainly looked that way. Down -1,400 in 3Dx wasn’t preposterous, just bridge?! How about that? This is a Regional Pairs Event! It isn’t the Blue Ribbons!! Get over it. For Pete's sake, half your players have trouble remembering more than their grandkids’ names.

If I were dictator, I would banish OLD THINK. But that will never happen because that is what people hold on to. “The way we were. . .” Or more properly imagined we were.

Hey, how about not living in the past?  If we can at least get to the present, maybe there will even be a future.

Bridge USA in the Year 2066

Bridge might still survive. I would not bet on it.  However, if the game is still being played, there will not be any players employing SAYC or 2/1. Maybe FP systems will be standard. But our ACBL will likely be parsing the requirements of “PASS”. Is “PASS” defined by HCP or playing strength? If the values for “PASS” is 13+ HCP, can you upgrade with - / x / AKQJxx / 109xxxx or is that a psych?

Methods will change. People will not.

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