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All comments by Chris Willenken
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Max,

I did underestimate you on the 3NT hand. I won't make that mistake again!

Chris
May 25
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In those early days, Margie not only partnered me on occasion, she also talked bridge with me and drove me to tournaments. I have always had a fond spot for her in my heart. This is a very sad week for the bridge community.
May 22
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I would never consider doing anything other than choosing the losing logical alternative. The laws specifically prohibit a player from taking his normal action in this situation– 16(B)1(a) is quite clear.

Of course, players will often escape punishment for violating this law, so those who “take their normal action” will score higher in the long run. Personally, I feel better about myself playing as I do even if my score is a little lower.
March 7
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I think the headline for this article should have been, “Nice Guy Finishes First.” WTG Dennis!
Dec. 7, 2017
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According to this proposal, a 1m opening is natural if it promises 3 cards in the suit. So, agreeing to open 1 with
AKQJxxxxxx


432
would be considered a natural agreement and would therefore not require an alert according to the current ACBL alert chart, which states that “Natural non-forcing openings with an agreed range of somewhere between 10-21+ HCP” do not require an alert.

Similarly, if a pair agrees to open weaker minor as long as the weak minor is at least 3 cards, for instance opening 1 with
Kx
Qxx
Kxx
AJxxx
that would not require an alert.

This problem can be solved relatively easily by making a 3-card minor opening natural only if that suit is opener's longest or co-longest minor. (Of course, the carve-out for 4=4=3=2 could exist independent of this change.)
Sept. 22, 2017
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Moving the events around might help a bit, but the best solution IMO is to schedule nested events with drop-ins. For example, run a 2-day pair game opposite the second two days of a 3-day pair game, with losing semifinalists in the 3-day pair game dropping into the finals of the 2-day pairs. That way, everyone who enters the 3-day pair game gets three days of NABC+ play unless they fail to qualify twice in a row.

This setup would yield substantial benefits above and beyond allowing for more days of NABC+ play, including:

- The 3-day event would be well attended because it offers
two chances to qualify for the 2-day event final.

- ACBL could collect a triple entry fee the first day.
(Players who miss both cuts would get a free entry to
the regional event of their choice on day three.)
Sept. 12, 2017
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“You have to take people at their word. If they choose to cheat, so be it.”

This principle is directly contradicted by Law 85(a)1, which states:

“In determining the facts the Director shall base
his view on the balance of probabilities, which
is to say in accordance with the weight of the
evidence he is able to collect.”

A player's explanation of his own thought process is one piece of relevant evidence, but common sense tells us that we should discount (though not disregard) such self-interested statements. Other relevant evidence could include the exact sequence of events, the player's actual cards, and the testimony of the opponents (also to be discounted but not disregarded).

In addition, the modern Laws were written specifically to avoid letting players avoid punishment/rectification by making the appropriate declaration. For example, none of the laws dealing with a player potentially having gained extraneous information rely on that player's declarations about whether he has in fact done so. That is because the drafters understood that trusting players not to cheat is not the same as trusting them to be 100% honest in the heat of battle.
Sept. 8, 2017
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Ray,

My interpretation is perfectly in line with that Laws Commission quote. 1 in 100 would constitute more than one of a player's peers (unless perhaps you feel that the world top 100 should be treated as its own peer group for this purpose)– most players have hundreds if not thousands of approximate skill peers. And as I explained in my previous post, pass could only be a LA “as long as a significant number of the bidders considered pass”.
Aug. 6, 2017
Chris Willenken edited this comment Aug. 6, 2017
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Rui, 100% agree that phones off, visible, and face-down is by far the best rule. In addition to avoiding players cheating by using a vibrating phone, such a policy makes it virtually impossible that a phone will accidentally turn on.

So, “Rui's Rule” is more effective at accomplishing each of the three goals of cell phone regulations:

1) We can easily ascertain that a phone is in fact turned off.

2) We reduce/eliminate the distracting ring when a phone
accidentally turns itself on.

3) We eliminate a major cheating opportunity.
Aug. 6, 2017
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Jenny,

Even if no polled players passed, pass could still be a LA under the Laws. Quoting 16(B)1(b):

"A logical alternative action is one that, among the class of players in question… would be given serious consideration by a significant proportion of such players, of whom it is judged some might select it." (emphasis mine)

The ‘some’ in the last clause refers back to the entire class of the player's peers, presumably a group of hundreds of players. Thus, even one passer in 100 would be enough to render pass a LA (as long as a significant number of the bidders considered pass) because that would mean that ‘some’ of the player's peers would pass.

The practical implications IMO are this: A director will never be able to poll enough players in real time to prove that nobody in the entire peer class would pass. So, the director should look to the comments made by the polled group itself. If we poll five peers and they all bid while stating that it's a close decision, it is quite likely that some among the hundreds of peers would come out on the other side of that close decision and pass. Once a director so judges, that prong of the LA test has been satisfied.

I believe that this line of reasoning explains why the lawmakers used the odd language ‘of whom it is judged some might select it’. That phraseology makes it clear that the director does not actually need to find a passer, but rather to judge from the available evidence that there are likely to be a few passers. Sometimes, the director will find a passer in the poll sample, in which case it is easy. But as we have seen from many director-poll followups on this site, finding no passers in a small poll definitely does not imply that no peers would pass.
Aug. 6, 2017
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I also consider this a fantastic decision by the WBF. To me, Matt's greatest attribute as a director is his tireless commitment to doing the right thing. Occasionally, Matt and I have debated the merits of a ruling, but in each of those cases Matt has presented a calm argument as to why his ruling is the fairest decision which the bridge laws allow.

I remember vividly a WBF case from six years ago where Matt made a ruling that was clearly correct under the laws but was obviously destined to be unpopular with many of the WBF higher-ups. Matt's ruling was overturned by a committee whose leading light was a now-disgraced cheater from the offending side's home country. I worried at the time that Matt's WBF career might be harmed by the situation, but it's great to see that relentless integrity is eventually rewarded.
Aug. 2, 2017
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OK, you convinced me to count the ‘countless’. I count 13 amateur winners in the 43 years of the event's existence. I didn't count amateur teams which were Bermuda Bowl contenders (such as Ross/Pender, Martel/Stansby). However, I did count teams which have members who have played professionally as long as the team itself would not be a professional-class team for the Spinderbilt.
There are also many amateur teams who made the top four over the past dozen years, although Meckwell's stranglehold on the top spot has kept the number of recent amateur winners low.

As for generating interest among the membership, most members won't be playing the Championship Flight regardless of format. However, when people see the area's best players at the club for the qualifying stages, the excitement will hopefully be contagious enough to induce them to enter the lower flights. It's the same reason that players enter the limited Spingolds. If we eliminated the open Spingold, those events would not last.
April 16, 2017
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The GNT format allows the district-winning team from each part of the country to play in the late stages of a major event. The conditions are ‘fair’ in the same way that the US Senate is fair– every geographical area gets to participate equally.

It seems bizarre to view this format as somehow unfair to the teams from weaker districts. In the Spinderbilt, those teams would labor under the weight of a low seed and would have virtually no chance to succeed. In the GNT, the weaker teams start on an equal footing with everyone else. And that equal footing is not an abstraction; the GNT has been won countless times by teams which would be underdogs in their first or second Spinderbilt match.

The current GNT format gives amateurs a real chance to win a national event against top US professionals. I think having one event like that is good for the game. As others have said, if players want an better chance to win, they should play in limited events. Perhaps the problem is that one can easily earn enough masterpoints to graduate from the limited events without becoming an expert. Given that reality, perhaps we need a 10K flight and maybe a 20K flight as well?
April 15, 2017
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Ned,

As someone who has spent thousands of hours teaching bridge, I feel like your approach might not be realistic for many students. As you observe, bidding systems are essentially languages. It is difficult enough for beginning players to learn one new language (“standard”) and to start answering logic puzzles in that new language. If you force folks to learn multiple languages just to play in a novice game, they might well decide to try a different hobby.

I do agree with you that it is important to stress that the guidelines of a standard system are not prescriptive. Otherwise, new players will become confused about the rules of the game. However, I strenuously disagree with the concept that bridge is a worthwhile pursuit only if one is thrown into games where each pair speaks its own language.

As someone who has played multiple American nationals playing Polish Club, modified Blue Team Club, and Swedish Club, I agree with you that there are many beautiful bidding languages. However, there is a reason that children in school are usually taught their country's home language first– that's what most people are speaking. Standard bidding is the same way in the US; that's what most pairs are speaking.
March 30, 2017
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Congrats again on your umpteenth Vanderbilt win!

I have noticed that bidding theory frequently evolves in the following manner: a young pair achieves great results with highly aggressive methods, but at some point the field develops effective countermeasures, the aggression stops paying off, and top level bridge looks different. What do you see as the next big adjustment to top level bridge along these lines?
March 29, 2017
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Danny,

The issue from my perspective is that to most newer players, Precision is as alien as transfer opening bids. So if you really believe that AAG players should be in the open, I have no objection, as long as you don't grandfather Precision (or other artificial methods) into the limited games.
March 29, 2017
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On the topic of small games (I guess there are some places where even the Gold Rush games are small now): those games will get smaller and smaller over time unless ACBL finds a way to promote bridge effectively. A simple and appealing set of rules for the less advanced games is not sufficient for this purpose, but I believe it is necessary.
March 26, 2017
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IMO it is a poor idea to force newer players to read, parse, and analyze the quasi-contractual language contained in this chart in an effort to figure out if the system they were taught in bridge lessons at the local Y is in fact allowed. I am extremely worried about sucking the joy out of the game for casual players.

Furthermore, I believe this chart represents a compromise which rates to satisfy almost no newer players who care about methods (either theirs or their opponents'). Players who enjoy homegrown systems or conventions will feel stifled. Newer players who are unfamiliar with Gambling 3N or Precision will feel overwhelmed.

The solution I propose is to have two “Level 1” charts: ‘Standard American’ and ‘Almost Anything Goes’. In Standard American events, the only artifical bids allowed would be the ones known by virtually everyone who has graduated beginner lessons (2C opener, Stayman, Blackwood, Forcing NT, Jacoby 2N, probably a few others). In AAG events, most anything other than strong pass and WBF Brown Sticker conventions would be allowed. Probably these events could run side by side– every Gold Rush game I see is huge.

In addition to being better policy for ACBL's current players, IMO this dual system would leave ACBL better placed to recruit new members. We can pitch the game to retirees as a game of logic as opposed to memorization. And we can pitch the game to young people as a fascinating matrix with endless possibilities for innovation and originality.
March 26, 2017
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“A low-high signal that sends a count message based on high cards or lengths in other suits is encrypted.”

This provision is ambiguous in three ways:
1) Is ‘in other suits’ meant to modify both ‘high cards’ and ‘lengths’? I presume so, but it's not totally clear.
2) Would it be legal to give count in suit X when you follow to suit Y? This should of course be legal, but as currently phrased would be illegal.
3) Why single out count, as attitude/SP can just as easily be encrypted?

Here is my suggested language:
“A low-high signal that sends a message about one suit based on holdings (high cards and/or lengths) in other suits is encrypted.”
Feb. 25, 2017
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The chart says: A “could be short” 1D that might contain a singleton below a queen is not quasi-natural.

clearer: A “could be short” 1m that might contain a singleton below a queen in that minor is not quasi-natural.

Of course a quasi-natural bid will often contain a singleton below a queen, but in a side suit.
Feb. 21, 2017
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