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All comments by Henry Bethe
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I asked Mike Flader of the “Ruling the Game” column about “always hesitating 20-30 seconds at trick 1”. Here is his response:

Dear Henry,

I suppose if they always do this there is no problem, but, I can't say that I would believe it. I remember seeing a card that had “random hesitations” written on it. That definitely would not fly.


Mike Flader
April 5, 2011
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I think the issue on 4/4 choice is whether 4 would deny a control. North does not “know” that South has enough length in to infer it when the opponents could have anywhere between nine and eleven diamonds. The more serious issue to me is whether North should even be forcing to game. I think if the red suits were reversed, so the auction had started 1-(1)-1-(3) the known possession of a ninth trump would persuade me. When we could well have only eight trumps and ruffs will come with high trumps, even 4 could be in serious jeopardy. If I were given the N hand as a “Master Solvers” problem, my vote would be for 3.

I do not believe there should be a strength difference between 4 and 4. Just as there is no strength difference between a splinter and a game raise in an uncontested auction: the game raise just denies a distributional control (as I play them).

I suspect that Kamil also expected more for the 4 bid: a sixth club and maybe even the K instead of the Q. None the less, I think 5N and then 7 were very aggressive. But would Fleisher have done less after 5-5-6? He does have great trumps and a void, not a stiff.

So if this is “You be the Judge” I assign 50% of the blame to Fleisher for the initial overbid of 4. remaining 50% is split between both players each of whom looked at their hands through rose-colored glasses.
April 4, 2011
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“Don't be impertinent, boy!” is a little harder to take at 67 than it was at 27!
There are 165,000 members at the moment; Roughly 7500 are Gold LMs or above, or a little under 5%. There is significant accretion of MP among active members: 100th place all time grows at about 500 points a year; thirty or forty players a year reach 10,000 MP, and thirty to forty a month become Gold LMs. 51,000 have 500 MP or more, and nearly 70,000 are over 300. In 1966 there were almost as many total members, and only 6,000 were life masters. (All of the current information is available in the “My ACBL” section of the League's website. The historical data comes from my memory.)
One interesting thing is that fewer members today participate in local tournaments. In the 1960's upstate NY sectionals routinely had about 40-50 tables on Saturday. Today we get that only in Rochester and Syracuse (which were 60-80 in the distant past). Central NY has 1200 or so members. If even 10% of them came out for our sectionals we would get 30+ tables. In most of our locations we get 8 to 10 for the A/X event, a dozen for the “B/C/D”. The number of Sectionals has increased greatly; the average table count per session is way way down.
The same is true, I believe at regionals.
I believe most of what the League has done over the last thirty years has been to make things more comfortable for the unambitious. I am not sure that was wise in the long run. I think it has stifled eagerness to get out into the greater worlds of bridge.
April 3, 2011
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I don't know any easy solutions. When I was a young player, in the days before computer scoring, the interval between the end of a session and the posting of scores was a time for discussion of the hands just played. Since scoring typically took 20 minutes to half an hour, there was ample time to rehash four or five, sometimes more, of the really interesting hands. The instant gratification of the computer has stolen that time.
I often tell players that bridge is like a sewer: the more you put into it, the more you will get out. But some peoples minds are more like strainers. I have taught a group of ladies of uncertain age (Old enough to be your mother; don't be impertinent, boy) several times over the last ten or fifteen years. Two years after a set of lessons the last solid material has vanished and I need to teach the same things over. And over. And over.
I have been involved in bridge administration and bridge teaching off and on for forty years or so; I celebrated (is that the right word?) the fiftieth anniversary of my first duplicate game last June. Le plus ca change le plus c'est le meme chose. (I may be wrong as to gender; It might be LA instead of LE.) But I think more of us wanted to get better in my salad days than do now. And I think that was because there were fewer ponds and pools in which to play.
April 3, 2011
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I'd also like to respond to Ellis and Adam.
2-day pair events were never common, at least not in my experience. New York ran and still runs the Goldman Open Pairs at the Eastern States regional. The first time I played in it, 1963, there were 260 or so tables. Now I believe that they are glad to start with 60 tables!

LA ran one at Bridge Week. (Bridge week originally was a Memorial Day tournament, as was the Easterns. One memorable year Barry Crane completed the Bridge Week Pairs, hopped on a red eye and came to NY to play in the Goldmans.) I think that has gone the way of all flesh, consigned to the dustbin. I may be wrong. The Central States also ran a two-day pair game in Chicago. That vanished in the late 1960s or early 1970s I believe. Part of the reason that four-session pair games disappeared was the overwhelming popularity of the Swiss team. Only about half the eligible pairs eliminated Saturday would show up for the Sunday Consolation event. It was a matter of economics.

New England used to run a three-session pairs. That too has vanished. New England does still run a four session individual. Experts mostly, I believe, enter the concurrent knockout. And New York runs a four session team game at its December Regional. Enlighten me about other more-than-one-day events (other than KOs) at other regionals.

I think, personally, that Sectionals should run events you don't get in clubs. Sectional events should be two sessions. Routinely. I really don't want to drive for an hour or two to play in a glorified club game. Regionals should run events you don't find in Sectionals. So if Sectionals ran two session events, Regionals should offer at least one four session event. Either a four session pair game or a four session Swiss or Board-a-Match on Saturday-Sunday. But I am in a minority in these views.

Now to respond to Adam's kvetch about Swiss Teams. I do not know how big the Swisses are in his area, or how many matches they run, or whether they use Win-Loss or Victory Points for scoring. Swiss is a very good method of determining a winner, provided there are enough matches. Its not so good at determining lower rank order. VPs are better than W-L for that. A good Swiss runs at least 40% more matches than are needed to determine a KO winner from the same number of teams. A decent Swiss runs at least two more matches than needed to determine a KO winner. If the number of matches is fewer than this, an early “accident” derails the winning opportunity of the better teams. There is, to me, a distressing tendency to shorten Swisses these days to let people get home early: play six 8s or seven 7s rather than the historic eight 7s. I do understand the motivation, but I decry the effect it has on the events.
April 3, 2011
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Gavin recommends baby steps. I won't aim at the same group, but at the inexperienced player heading for their first NABC. NABCs provide the whole range, from the backyard wading pool to the ocean filled with sharks. It is a unique opportunity to experience them all. Here is a sample schedule from the spring:
Day 1: enter the NABC Imp pairs. Jump right into the ocean. The biggest “sharks” will, mostly, be in the Platinum Pairs, but there will be plenty of barracudas and other large fish. You probably won't do that well, so
Day 2: take it easy. You have several choices: a two session daytime stratified pair game @10 and 3, or a “Gold Rush” 0-750 two session pair game; or you could enter the one day compact bracketed KO.
Day 3: Get in the big lake: the one day A/X Swiss, which will have most of the players who did not make the finals of the Platinum Pairs and most of the players from the IMP pairs which is over.
Day 4: Back in the ocean: enter the Vanderbilt! One day against really polite (mostly) Sharks. Don't ask questions during the game, but you will find these players willing to talk to you and answer questions later in the week.
Days 5 and 6: Back to the pool: there are stratified pair games either at 10 and 3 or at 1 and 7:30. Or pick up teammates for the Bracketed KO that starts on day 5.
Days 7-10: You have two chances to reenter the ocean: the Open Pairs that starts Day 7 or the Open Swiss that starts day 9. You will play more of the “big fish” in the pair game unless you do quite well in the Swiss. Pick one. Or if you are really feeling brave by now, play both. On the other days you have your normal lakes and pools to enter.

By planning this sort of schedule, you should get a useful and satisfactory experience out of the NABC. You will learn a lot. You should win some points. (I know that is important.) And you get a chance to meet some of the people you just will not find in your local club or sectional, and that you won't play against at most regionals.

April 3, 2011
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My word how the world has changed.

Swiss teams were developed at least in part because only experts ever won BAM events. A typical Sectional or Regional would lose forty to fifty percent of its attendance between Saturday (open Pairs) and Sunday (Board-a-Match Teams). We, the hoi polloi, (and I was definitely part of the unwashed masses in those days) had little chance of doing anything on Sunday, and none of winning. Swiss Teams were an instant success – as soon as the two 0-7 teams realized that they still had 0.35 RED POINTS riding on the outcome of their match. By the way, there really were two 0-7 teams in those days. In fact at one Lancaster Regional there were two teams that finished 0-8. The total entry was, I think, 496 teams! The introduction of Swiss meant that in short order Sunday was 10% larger rather than 40% smaller than Saturday.

All of this event discussion, though, is drawing this thread away from the original point: play against the best you can even if it means losing often. The event discussion began as a complaint that with the burgeoning of bracketed events aspiring players cannot play against the best with any regularity.

I don't know how to meet the conflicting desires: give me a small lake to play in vs let me test myself in the ocean.
April 2, 2011
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Randy, how do you define a pro? Is a pro anyone with a lot of master points? Or only someone with a lot of points who makes a living from bridge? Or anyone who makes any money from playing bridge? What about teachers?

I, for example, have quite a lot of master points. I played professionally briefly, in the early 1970's. I do some semi-volunteer teaching these days – semi because I charge $10 per person for a two hour lesson to about 8 to 10 people. I charge because I have found that people value more what they have to pay for even if it is not expensive. When I go to tournaments I generally play with my son or with friends. Sometimes I pick up a peer. Am I a pro by your definition?

Who among pros outside of NABC events play complex systems? Passell playing with a client? Cayne and Seamon? Weinstein and Levin? Martel and Stansby? All of these people play something close to standard – either 2/1 or K-S mostly. They have closer agreements than you or I do, at least in the case of the partnerships listed above, but that is a function of work on their part. It does not make their systems “complex” in the sense that you need special preparation.

Again I do not know you. Experts I know are very forgiving of “average Joes'” mistakes although not mistaken explanations of conventional calls. IMHO that is correct procedure because if you chose to play/use a convention you should know it well enough to give a correct explanation.

Why “waste a whole week playing with no chance of winning?” Mostly for love of the game. For the excitement of the from-time-to-time board where you do come out ahead because you did something good. Because by playing in the ocean of top flight bridge you can gain the experience and knowledge that will let you do better in your local aquarium (club), pond (sectional) and eventually in the lake of regionals and the ocean of NABC events. And without that experience, that learning, you will never “graduate,” at least I don't think it is possible. Perhaps you regard immediate gratification as more important than long term growth. Many players obviously do.


I got your post while I was composing this one. I agree that there are too many events. If I were Tsar, either Saturday or Sunday at regionals would be a two session (stratified but single field) event. I would run fewer Flight B events and fewer Seniors events. Let us all play together. At least some of the time.

On the other hand, I tried that at our local Sectional a few years ago – and almost none of the non-LMs came. Even many of the LMs with fewer than 1000 points boycotted the tournament. I learned my lesson.
April 2, 2011
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I have two questions for the two of you:
1) Isn't it reasonable that there be a few events intended for experts? Of some fifteen or twenty NABC events, only the two LM pairs, the Blues and now the Platinum pairs have point/prior-achievement requirements. In my youth the summer NABC events all required at least 100MP, at a time when less than 20% of the membership had that qualification.
2) Do you think it is the experts or the “rank and file” who ask for bracketed KOs and “round robin Swiss teams?” In my experience the experts are more than happy to have open events. I may be wrong.
April 2, 2011
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Other than bracketed KOs, I know of no events that restrict “playing up” anymore.

Nothing prevents a pair or a team from entering the highest flight of a flighted event, except their own greed for the semi-tangible reward of master points.

The existence of bracketed KOs is strictly a result of players with few master points not wishing to enter open KO events. If you think about it, it would be unfair to let teams “Play Up.” Either it knocks a team that wanted to enter a higher bracket down, or it puts a “strong” team into a bracket with people who wanted to avoid strong teams. In the “old days” of open KOs nothing gave me more pleasure in my formative years than beating a high seed, and later when I became a high seed myself nothing gave my early-round opponents more pleasure than beating me.
April 2, 2011
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Amen, Bundy. Amen.

For those of us who started bridge before the 1970's there was no choice. There were open events and on rare occasions masterpoint restricted events where we lesser mortals could not play: Master's pairs for people with 50+ MP and events with even higher lower limits. We used to say proudly “In bridge anyone can have the opportunity to play against Goren. Its not like Golf, where Arnold Palmer plays in events that are not accessible to the tyro.” (I never actually played against Goren. He retired from active bridge at about the same time that I began playing.) I think that this made many of us better players more quickly than we would have been if we had quickly become big fish in small ponds.
It is, of course, very attractive to be a relatively big fish. And very humbling to move from the back-yard pond to the lake and from there to larger venues. But it is oh so satisfying to start to be accepted in the stronger events as a real competitor. Try it. Eventually you will like it.
April 2, 2011
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you are of course right. In fact it does not matter what partner shifts to on that hand. Mea culpa. I do not think that obviates the point that sometimes you do want a continuation: suppose it is matchpoints and your whole hand is Kxx of spades and Axxx of hearts. Now you need the immediate spade continuation to hold them to 4. Or your hand is Kxx Axxx xxx Kxx and declarer is 2=4=4=3 (not impossible these days). Now declarer could win a shift, draw two trumps and concede the club. Probably on that layout he is always cold by playing for trumps 4-1 (I have not checked) but definitely cold without the immediate spade continuation.
April 1, 2011
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I really, really hope this post is in honor of the day and not serious. We would be losing an irreplaceable member of our community. If it is real, Steve, I wish you the best of good fortune. May the river card always be the one you need and not your opponent's filler.
April 1, 2011
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1. Declarer might chose 3N rather than 4, with KQx, but he is vul vs not, so unlikely to pass 3.
2. If you analyze example 3 you will see that East can be strip-squeezed without a club shift.
3. Partner really can't have KAA unless you believe that people routinely open Qx QJ10x Qxx KQxx. By my way of counting that is about a good 9 count.

March 31, 2011
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Trick 1 Signals

Shane Blanchard and I had an extended discussion about third hand’s trick one signals when dummy has a stiff. Shane’s contention is that common expert practice is to play suit preference. I said that third hand may well want to signal attitude in order to start an attack on declarer’s trumps. A hand last night made me think further about the problem, with no conclusion.

Let me show you the primary layout:
Dealer South, Vul N-S
West: S - AJT8754 H -8 D-975C - 64
North: S - 6 H-K932 D - KJ4 C - AJT73


West leads the A, 6 and East plays the 3 or the 9, South the 2.

There are three relevant cases for partner’s hand:

1.Partner has S -K93 H -A765 D - xxxx C -Kx (or H - QJ76 or the DA instead of the CK), in which case you have to continue a spade;
2.Partner has S - 93 H -xxxx D -AQxx C - Kxx in which case you have to switch to a diamond;
3.Partner has S - 93 H -xxxx D - Axxx C - KQx in which case you have to switch to a club.

Suit preference caters to situations 2 and 3. Attitude and “most obvious shift” cater to situations 1 and 2 (since you will shift to a diamond and not a club). There is no way to cater to all three. So the choice of which signaling method to adopt should depend on which of the possible relevant layouts is most likely.

My guess as to the best practice is: if partner is known to have trump length, then attitude and most obvious shift is best. If dummy has excess trumps or trump are known (by you) to be breaking favorably, then suit preference is best.
March 31, 2011
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An interesting concept, but I think wrong in theory. Although 2 openings are rare, they are already overloaded with hand types. Folding in the (relatively common) 18-19 balanced puts even more pressure on hands where the high opening has already used a lot of room.

People have tried many approaches to these hands: the French for a long time played an intermediate artificial 2 opening and a stronger 2 opening. Then there was and is the Mexican 2 for exactly these hands, which was played for a while (I do not know whether still) by Lauria-Versace and, I believe, for a while by Levin-Weinstein. They I know have given it up. Many have further weakened the 2N opening to 19+ to 21 to take the “good 19s” out of the one level openings.

More common globally is to use 1 to include all balanced hands not in the 1NT range. 1 may be played as non-forcing, but never passed with fewer than four clubs. People who play this often play transfer responses to 1, with a 1 response showing 4+ diamonds if very weak. Opener's 1N rebid is 18-19; accepting the transfer shows a weak NT with less than four card support.

My own belief, for what it is worth, is that one should tighten up the 2N opener, and play 21- to 22+, and play 2-2-2N as 23 to 24+. I think one should avoid 3 point ranges for high level, non-forcing openings. I think your idea of flipping these two, and playing two of a major as saying “if you have a 2N rebid, I suggest we play here,” has merit. If you do that, I suggest playing a 2N response to say “if you have a 2N rebid, I want to get out at three of a minor.”

March 31, 2011
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Rick, clubs and diamonds are already positioned either on the first round (2C-2D) or on the second (usually 2N-3C-3D) so why bother with an easily forgettable conventional inversion?

Jeff, the easiest defense is surely for Gavin to cash the DA before exiting with a heart?

Gavin, I think this is truly wonderful. I think you should package these as a CD eventually, and offer them through Barclays or the ACBL for broader distribution.
March 30, 2011
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Peg, I know you are not alone. The Law says you should play in as even a tempo as possible. But taking a pause when you do not have a problem, and during that pause deciding what to do at some future point when you do (or might) is not “playing in as even a tempo as possible.” It is transferring the break in tempo from one point during the hand to another. I submit that that is exactly what the law says you may not do.

I am in a minority in this view. I freely admit that. But I believe that here I am “a minority of one,” that a literal, legalistic reading of the Law says that the common practice is like crossing the street in the middle of the block. Everybody does it, but it is still not legal.
March 29, 2011
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Let me see, Peg. I as declarer take 15 to 20 seconds before playing the 2 from 2-3 doubleton in dummy. How much time should you take to play? Your standard 30 seconds? or 10-15? Suppose I take 30 seconds. Should you be ready immediately? Or should you take another 30 seconds?

The Law seems to say that I am entitled to information from your breaks in tempo (although your partner is not). I take inferences from your tempo at my own risk, but you may not deliberately conceal or convey false information. You are correct that there is information – and your opponent is entitled to that information but your partner is not. If you take a standard pause as third hand before playing to trick one, in my opinion you do so to conceal from declarer whether you have a problem or not. I do not think the Laws permit you to do this.

The Law, in this case may “be an ass,” but I think, perhaps wrongly, that it is black and white.
March 29, 2011
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Bundy, I am not sure that that agreement is actually legal: see the Laws above.
March 29, 2011

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