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All comments by John Torrey
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Thanks, Collins. I've fixed the typo.
July 20, 2011
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A meta-comment.

Decades ago Edgar Kaplan campaigned to move hesitations from the realm of ethics and into the realm of “irregularities”. The Laws reflect this approach, grouping bridge with games like golf, where players are expected to put the integrity of the game ahead of the desire to win. This is in contrast to closely-refereed games like American football, where many violations are okay if you don't get caught. (Self-reporting a revoke is an interesting in-between case in bridge, fully addressed in the Laws.) In bridge we assume that our contestants are attempting to play within the Laws and the Proprieties.

This move enabled us to adjust scores without telling offenders that they were unethical or cheating. Kaplan thought this was desirable and I agree. In this view the loose invocation of “cheating” is unfortunate at best.

We need to distinguish between questions of alertability (a very murky, poorly-defined topic) and explanation (where complete disclosure should be expected at all times, and deliberate failure is indeed troubling ethically). The player who did not Alert in Wolff's multi auction was not cheating. Period. He may be (after lengthy committee deliberation, no doubt) mistaken, but he is not cheating. If he is asked about the pass and says “no agreement” he is not cheating unless this is a lie. (As opponent I would take this as meaning that the pass neither confirms nor denies that his suit is spades - which seems quite appropriate. Even if the pass shows spades its alertability is not clear, but an explanation should be.)

To the extent that alertability questions can be resolved, the process should acknowledge that it's an intrinsically difficult area, and assume that disagreements are honest. Putting “cheating” into the mix adds an unnecessary emotional slant that is counter-productive, in my view.
June 24, 2011
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Collins was proposing an explanation, not an Alert. Not a problem.

The root problem is the lack (and, perhaps, the impossibility) of a clear definition of what bids need alerting. The current guideline is “unusual and unexpected,” but that is frequently difficult to apply. The original Alerts were supposed to be for conventional agreements that affirmatively conveyed information, or were clearly artificial. On that basis, if the pass in the Multi auction affirmatively showed spades, I would think it alertable. But if it means the more natural, “I do not choose to make a call at this time,” I'd say not. There is nothing unethical about declining to make a call that will clarify an ambiguous situation for the opposition (particularly so when so declining exposes you the risk of a bad result).

The ACBL has a Directors forum called “Rulings - Q&A”. There has been a Q on it since January asking whether 1x (1NT) Dbl(takeout) should be alerted. No answer yet.
June 21, 2011
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Actually I was not dealt that hand and didn't play that deal, as I was directing. That particular hand is, I believe, exactly as likely as

K85
Q1063
KJ
9642

I have no reason to believe that the hand was a setup - it's not particularly interesting, really, for either bidding or play. Why bother?

If you put that one hand in the context of the number of deals played in duplicate competition somewhere in the world in the past 40 years (It came up about 16 years back), it begins to seem less unlikely. Actually, an interesting probability to speculate on is the chance that NO Bridgewinner reader has encountered a randomly dealt 7NT claimer, either through play or reliable report.
June 12, 2011
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Actual hand from a club game:

AKQJ
AKQJ
A
AKQJ

The post-mortem involved whether you would be brave enough to open 2 and rebid 3, trying to get doubled in 7NT. Partner can't pass that, right?
June 11, 2011
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The Deal program has many capabilities, mostly described but not documented, that I do not know how to use. It can do its own DD analysis and can accumulate statistics: potentially powerful, but how do you DO it?? If a bridgewinners person knows how to use these I'd be interested…
May 1, 2011
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It's a pretty good, extended article, positive for bridge as combining social and mental aspects. Unfortunately it (more than once) describes bridge as requiring a great deal of memorization.

The “bridge” in the article is actually funny, it's so far from the actual game. Maybe somebody needs to become available as the official sanity-checker for non-bridge articles involving the game. A free service. To be fair, there is a real problem here: the writer (who has no clue) wants to say something that will sound bridge-y to other people who have no clue. There was one article years back where the writer told me he could not use the word, “trick,” because that sounded like prostitution.
April 26, 2011
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There is a conflict between the WBF instruction and Law 16B1(a), which says that a player with UI “may not choose from among logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information.” The law almost has to read as it does, because we cannot adjust a score without an “infraction.” But from a purely ethical perspective it must be right to take the action you believe to be bridge-correct, even if there are “logical alternatives”; anything else leads to the kind of dilemma Gavin faced to begin with.

This is double-tough because UI can play with the mind of the best ethically-intended player. Partner enters the tank…the longer he's there, the more you're thinking, “If he passes I have to double,” to the point where later you are completely sure that your double was automatic.
April 23, 2011
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Funny hand. The old-fashioned bashers may have it right: if we simply bash 3NT we'll make it (given 3-2 ) if they don't lead clubs, if the suit blocks, or if they're 6-3 with the ace of spades with the 3. Probably better than 4. Even bidding 3NT after partner announces club shortness may steal the pot. Someone said the way to win at IMPs is to bid bad games and make them…

3 is a pretty good matchpoint contract and has its own play challenges…
April 10, 2011
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(Rats! The (quote) and (/quote) tags didn't work…)
April 2, 2011
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I recommend Secrets of a Mind-Gamer - How I trained my brain and became a world-class memory athlete, by Joshua Foer. You can find the article online at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html

He writes,
At one point, not long after I started training, my memory stopped improving. No matter how much I practiced, I couldn’t memorize playing cards any faster than 1 every 10 seconds. I was stuck in a rut, and I couldn’t figure out why.
His coach – he was lucky enough to have an expert coach – advised him,
I would recommend you check out the literature on speed typing.

He found that typists go through stages in learning the typing skill:

When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it’s strange. We’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don’t they just keeping getting better and better?

Foer calls this the OK plateau: it’s OK because it really is quite good. Psychologists used to think that improving beyond that plateau was impossible, but now there is evidence that it is not. Psychologists have found that the performance wall

often has much less to do with our innate limits than with what we consider an acceptable level of performance. They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. … To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail.

The whole article is greatly interesting to anyone interested in improving at bridge, or in teaching others to do so.

April 2, 2011
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Whoops. Yes I did.

Actually I'm unsatisfied with my whole presentation, though I do like the hand. The hand diagrams are very nice, but have to balance with the time it takes to load them - but that's not an excuse for the incoherence of my post. I'll do better next time.
April 2, 2011
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Assuming (given the date, with some risk) that the announcement is for real - I don't know you but will miss you. Bridgewinners (which obviously owes a lot to your participation) is one of the best things I've found in a long time.

Could one of your Bridgewinners articles tell us your perception of the differences between high-level bridge and high-level poker? (I mean, other than the obvious that poker pays better…)
April 1, 2011
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The North hand and the result are arguments for having Leaping Michaels (a jump to four of a minor after opponents open 2 of a major, to show the bid minor and the other major) show 6-4 rather than the standard 5-5. You can overcall your major with 5-5…
March 28, 2011
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