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All comments by Chris Willenken
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I think the headline for this article should have been, “Nice Guy Finishes First.” WTG Dennis!
Dec. 7
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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

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
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
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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
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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
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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
Chris Willenken edited this comment Aug. 6
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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I was involved in a wild deal in the Grand National Teams years ago where a world-class pair defended three notrump doubled and vulnerable, which should have been set two tricks on correct defense. Three tricks went away, and declarer was soon +950. That was good enough for the defenders to win 10 IMPs, as teammates had collected 1400 from a poor slam in a 4-3 fit when a winning opening lead tapped declarer out.
Jan. 21
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I have played some canape in high-level events, and in my opinion a “freewheeling” canape system (where relative suit lengths are ambiguous) simply does not work– no truly world-class pair has played such methods since 1998, I believe. Such methods fare even worse at matchpoints than at IMPs, where playing the best partscore is often crucial.

So, I'd recommend using 2-level openings to clear up any systemic ambiguity regarding suit lengths. For example, you could play 2M as showing exactly 5M with a 4+ card minor, or you could open 1 with 5M and diamonds, saving 2M for the M and specifically clubs. In this “disciplined canape” style, opening 1M and rebidding 2m guarantees exactly 4M and a longer minor. You can actually play forcing notrump with this– I'd recommend 2/1 bids as “less than invitational” with 6+ cards and using 1M-1N-2x-step1 as an artificial game force (with other rebids by responder natural and invitational). I don't have a link to provide, but the methods I'm describing are reasonably straightforward to work with. You might not like these suggestions because you don't want to lose your weak two bids, and most experts agree, which is why 4-card majors are in danger of extinction in the top events.

Good Luck!
Jan. 21
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This looks pretty good. “Rule of N” and “Quasi-Natural” and the resultant proposed regulations are big improvements IMO.

That said, I think it would be a mistake to make light responses to opening bids alertable. Here are my reasons:

1) Most everyone entering the events covered by this chart would respond on many 0-3 HCP hands. If most pairs are alerting their natural responses, we harm the core goal of the alert procedure, which is to inform players when something unusual is happening. For example, a pair might be playing Kaplan Interchange and the opponents might fail to ask, assuming that the alert of 1-1 is “could be light” as it would be at virtually every other table. And only asking for an explanation in this spot when one cares is just as bad– see #2 below.

2) In events without screens, an alerted response will invariably draw questions from an opponent with a good hand, while an opponent with no prospect of entering the bidding will generally pass without asking. The resultant UI is to some extent a necessary evil of the alert procedure, but we should be especially sensitive to it when mandating an alert of a strategy which has a ‘stealing’ component to it. In such cases, the alert procedure itself would be undermining the bridge purpose of the light response.

3) The rule is vague and impossible to enforce fairly. If someone responds light at my table without alerting, how will I prove the frequency of the pair's light responses in order to qualify for an adjustment? And if the directors did somehow judge that my opponents respond on X% of light hands, how do we know if that percentage meets the threshold for ‘common’? In practice, this rule will lead to arguments, bad feeling, and few adjustments due to enforcement difficulties.

IMO a better approach would be to require a pre-alert for pairs who rarely pass a natural one-bid (or even better, a check-box on a new convention card). We should expect light responses to quasi-natural or artificial bids as nobody wants to play in the opponents' best suit, so those responses should not be alertable at all at this level of play. (Note that the currently proposed wording of the rule would make a 2M correction of a Flannery 2 alertable because Flannery is nonforcing.)

Over the past few years, ACBL has made great strides in trimming alerts in order to make the procedure more effective. Let's not start back down the path of making normal bridge alertable.
Dec. 28, 2016
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