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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Henry,

I did not mean to imply that major tournaments needed to be run in the classical manner. I simply said that table presence considerations would be lost.

I do not agree that system disclosure is a problem with online play. In fact, I consider it a very good feature of online play. The player making an alertable call alerts both of his opponents about the meaning of the bid, while his partner does not get to see the alert. Thus, if a pair has a misunderstanding about the meaning of one of their bids, their opponents get the same information about the meaning of the bid (unlike with screens where they get different information), they get the information about what the bidder thinks his bid means, thus what the bidder has (as opposed to what his partner think the bid means which might be quite misleading), and the side making the bid does not know about the alert or explanation. Thus, the bidding side gets no unauthorized information, and their opponents always get the correct and identical information. In addition, a player may ask an opponent about the meaning of a call privately, so his partner does not see the question. As a result, the problems of unauthorized information and mis-information are virtually eliminated. This is a big plus, for online play.

Online play has other advantages. Irregularities such as bids and leads out of turn or insufficient bids are completely eliminated. Questionable claims are dealt with cleanly. If the defenders don't accept the claim, play continues with declarer's hand exposed but the defenders hand still concealed. Even tempo problems aren't as severe, since a delay could come from things other than a player thinking – a slow internet connection or a player stepping away from the keyboard. Also, for serious tournament play it probably wouldn't be difficult to modify the software so a player sees the bids and cards played by the other players come all at once (rather than as they are made), so there really is no information about who is thinking. All things considered, there would be almost no need for director or committed rulings.

Another advantage of online play is speed. Players don't have to take time to take their cards out of the board and sort their hands, Making bids and playing cards is also faster with online play. The amount of time needed to complete a specified number of boards is a lot smaller than face to face play.

Yet another advantage of online play is record keeping. The hand, bidding, and play card for card are stored and easily retrievable for later analysis.
May 28, 2011
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While the concept of online play for important tournaments is potentially a good one, there are a lot of considerations which can't be brushed off lightly.

Security is a big problem. The ACBL has prohibited players from having electronic equipment in the playing room for security reasons. Yet, online play automatically gives the player access to electronic equipment. Every player would have to have a trusted monitor at his side every minute to ensure no communication.

Even if people are playing honestly, there is always the problem of the perception of cheating. A pair takes a couple of unorthodox actions which happen to succeed. and their opponents feel that this pair must have known something. With online play, there is no way a player can do anything to protect himself.

There are plenty of technical problems. What if a player misclicks, which is easy to do with any online software. Can he take it back, or is he stuck with it. Also, what if because of some computer glitch a player takes an unintended action.

Another problem is internet connections. Not all internet connections are stable. What happens if, in the middle of a match, a player loses his internet connection and is totally unable to get back on.

There is potential unfairness involved. Some players are not used to playing on a computer, and are uncomfortable doing so. Some do not concentrate as well when they are referring to pictures of the cards on a screen rather than the actual cards. Also, table presence, which is definitely a part of the game, is lost.

Another problem is accessibility. Not everybody has a computer or internet access.

I'm not saying it can't be done. I enjoy online play, and there is plenty of potential in that direction. But there are a lot of questions which need to be answered before online play can be used for important competitions.
May 26, 2011
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That is correct. I prefer to play the double as expecting partner to pass unless he has unexpected distribution, which the East hand here does not have. I don't necessarily have a trump stack for the double, but I do have a definite preference for defending.

My reason for playing this way is that with the distributional hand I can usually find some suit to bid and have a reasonable chance of being right. On this hand, I would bid 4 with the West cards. But if the double is takeout (i.e. partner is expected to bid unless his hand is quite defensively oriented), then if you are dealt the strong balanced hand you are really stuck. Partner will certainly bid if you double and you don't want that, but if you pass you may be defending undoubled when your side has a game.

I am well aware that my view here is not mainstream, and perhaps the takeout interpretation is better on balance.
May 25, 2011
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You can't have it both ways. What are you going to do when you are dealt something like xx KJx Axx AKQxx. If you double with this showing “cards” as well as on the actual hand of AQx J Qxxx AK109xx showing “takeout” how is partner supposed to know when to pass and when to pull? But if you have to pass on the first hand for fear that partner will bid 4 on jack-fifth of spades, you risk getting stolen blind when partner isn't strong enough to reopen. Partner will not always be able to reopen even with heart shortness, since from partner's point of view you could have a weak notrump and it wouldn't be close to being your hand.
May 24, 2011
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I think the key issue here is the definition of the double in the partnership agreements.

If the double is defined as takeout, so heart shortness can be expected, then East should not let the opponents play 4 with a likely 11-card fit. Best is 4. While this could be a 6-card suit and a weak hand, West will assume it is a 5-card suit from East's failure to bid 2 over 1. It is likely that West has 3 spades due to the takeout double. Whether or not 4 makes, there is a good chance the opponents will be pushed to 5 holding so many hearts. With the takeout definition, West's hand is perfect for the double.

If the double is defined as cards/penalty, heart shortness will not be expected. With that definition East's pass is fine. East has club shortness and strength in the unbid diamond suit, which is good defensively. East has every reason to expect 4 to go down, and no reason to expect 3-card spade support. With the cards/penalty definition, I believe West should bid 4.

Either definition is fine. One definition will work better on some hands, the other definition will work better on others. But I believe it is vital for any partnership to have the double defined one way or the other. If there is no such definition, the partnership is guessing in the blind.
May 23, 2011
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Henry and Bob,

I'm not guessing about the meanings of 4 and 5. I talked to the director, and he said that both bids were explained as normal Q-bids. 4 was not any kind of RKC. 5 was not any kind of denial Q-bid.

May 16, 2011
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The guess about what 4 and 5 meant seems reasonable looking at the N-S hands, but that guess was wrong. 4 was explained as a Q-bid. 5 was also explained as a Q-bid, obviously a psychic Q-bid but he is entitled. 5 was of course a grand slam try. Apparently both players were on the same wavelength about hearts being agreed considering North's 6 choice.

In this sort of tempo sensitive situation, the opponents should never allow a fast signoff at 6 to be made without a screen huddle. Thus, if the delay were on the order of 20 or 25 seconds that would not mean anything, since it would be expected that the tray would be delayed for that long. If the delay were significantly longer, there would be unauthorized information that North was seriously thinking about doing something other than bidding 6. Whether that something was bidding a grand or trying to figure out which suit is trumps isn't totally clear, but it looks like that wasn't the issue. Since I wasn't at the table, I can only accept the director's judgment that there was a tempo break significant enough to make it clear that North had a real problem.

Should South bid the grand? North's 4 call clearly shows a secondary club suit, but does it promise 6-5? Probably not. If North's 5 Q-bid is assumed to show a diamond control that would make North's likely distribution 2-6-1-4, in which case the grand won't make unless North also has a spade card. If all this is accurate then South's 5 call should be asking North if he has something extra, and the 6 response says no.

In practice I imagine that South had sort of decided to shoot out the grand after the 5 call, but he hadn't really made up his mind so he stalled with 5. Of course this is bad practice. If South is willing to bid the grand over a signoff then he should just do so, since obviously he isn't considering an alternate strain. He was probably thinking something like: I'll punt with 5. If North does anything but bid 6, I'll bid the grand. If he bids 6, I'll reconsider. We have all been guilty of this flawed logic at some time or other. If the 6 call had come in tempo then of course South could do anything he wants. But when there is a meaningful break in tempo before the signoff, South is no longer permitted to take the inconsistent auction of making the grand slam try, hear partner's signoff, and then bid the grand. It can't be a crystal clear action or he would have bid the grand without inviting. The unauthorized information (assuming there was unauthorized information) clearly suggests bidding the grand. Therefore, the ruling is quite correct.

May 16, 2011
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Geoff,

Your point is well-taken. It is probably more likely that passing as opposed to bidding 6 will prevent the opponents from bidding 6, then it might well be the winning action. The question is whether the potential advantages of bidding 6 (perhaps buying it there, shutting out East's 6 Q-bid) are sufficient compensation is anybody's guess.

Of course, if the 6 call is expected to be made on a hand which would welcome a 6 call by the opponents as Geoff suggests, perhaps bidding 6 is the best way to stave off the feared 6 call.

Shall we all sit down for a friendly game of poker?
May 2, 2011
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John,

If your double is a total “shut up partner” double then I would bet that they aren't making. For example, if you had the same hand but were 3-1-8-1 would you have doubled? Maybe you should, but I'm betting you wouldn't – particularly since the non-diamond lead you will get may swing the contract in some variations. Thus, if you are doubling without a void I'll bet you have the nuts.

Assuming you do have a void, with his club/heart length differential it is probably at least 4 to 1 that your void is in clubs. Of course, you don't have to have another trick for the double. But you might have another trick, or the ace of diamonds might live. Imagine if your hand is xx xxx KQJxxxxx – and the diamonds are 1-1. That is -1100 instead of +500. If your teammates are +650, certainly possible, the save loses 10 IMPs (-1100 vs. -650) instead of winning 15 IMPs (+500 vs. -650), for a cost of 25 fat IMPs. That's why I said he is getting at worst close to even money IMP odds on passing. He might be getting a lot better.

Suppose he has the example hand I gave but the diamonds are 2-0, yet your teammates fail to reach slam (always possible). The save is a winner, but how much does it win? You will still lose 9 IMPs (-1100 vs. -710) instead of 14 IMPs (-1660 vs. -710), so under these circumstances taking the save gains all of 5 IMPs when right. Do you really want to lay 25 to 5 odds that the enemy diamonds are 2-0 instead of 1-1? I'll grant that I chose a total worst case scenario and magnified it by having your teammates avoid the slam, but I believe this illustrates just how bad the IMP odds can be for taking such a save.

In order for the save to be right, a parlay is needed. That parlay is you not having another defensive trick and the ace of diamonds not living. I'll grant that either of these probabilities individually are greater than 50%, but is the product of these probabilities greater than 50%? You may judge that to be the case. I feel otherwise.

I have always said that the only good save is one which generates a plus score, either because it makes or because it pushes the opponents to where you can defeat them. Bidding 7 is not going to generate a plus score.
May 2, 2011
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I agree with the 6 call. Sure, Brian knows that the opponents can probably make a slam. But his opponents don't know that. The 5 call was made under fire, and doesn't have to be a particularly strong hand. From their point of view the 6 call might be to make, with North having a strong hand. Are E-W in a force? It isn't so clear to me that they are, and many partnerships might not be on firm ground about this. The 6 call may buy the contract, doubled or undoubled, and it has the additional advantage of shutting East out of a 6 grand slam try. Brian can always save over 6, and the 6 call may make it more difficult for the opponents to determine if they have a grand.

The double is definitely defined as a Lightner double, as are all slam doubles when it isn't clearly our hand. Of course it may be pure penalty or, when partner might be saving, intended to shut partner up, but partner will take it as a Lightner double when considering his opening lead. The 3 questions John has to ask himself when considering doubling are:

1) Does the double increase (or possibly decrease) the chances of defeating the slam.

2) Might the double give us a shot at getting a number when partner would not have been able to double.

3) If partner would save if I don't double, would I be happy or sad about that.

Regarding 1), even though partner may lead the wrong rounded suit the double does increase the chances of a set when partner finds the club lead. Dummy might have a spade honor. The opponents might have a 10-card spade fit, in which case declarer will be on a guess after the club lead gets ruffed. Even on the actual hand, declarer must have wondered if he should be playing North for the stiff king of spades. The double is very unlikely to cost, as it is hard to imagine South not getting a trump trick even after doubling.

Regarding 2), the double could collect 500 or 800 on a good day, particularly if partner's ace of diamonds lives. This might happen even when partner is unable to double himself. If partner has something like Ax of diamonds and a king, he won't be doubling 6.

Regarding 3), if I were South, I would be quite unhappy if I passed and partner took a save. I have a totally unexpected trump trick on defense against 6. Partner could easily take a phantom. The double has the advantage of shutting him up.

Conclusion: I definitely agree with the double.

Should Brian save anyway? Not clear. He was certainly going to save if John hadn't doubled, and John doesn't have to have a lock for the double on this auction. In addition, while the odds are that John's void is in clubs that isn't certain. Still, John could have anything for the 5 opening. He might have them beat in his own hand, or the ace of diamonds might live. What are the IMP odds. 7 will certainly go down 500, maybe 800. At best, the cost of saving and being wrong is 12 IMPs (-500 vs. +200). At best, the gain of saving and being right is 15 IMPs (-500 vs. -1660). Thus, at worst Brian is getting close to even money odds on passing. If 7 goes down 800 or if 6 goes down more than 1, the odds on passing get even better.

I think Brian has a close decision, but I would have passed as he did. So, I agree with all the actions despite the awful result. Color me -1660.
May 2, 2011
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Of course the possibility of a redouble affects the odds. In practice, on an auction like this there will seldom be a redouble. Most pairs don't play as I suggest. And even if the contract is redoubled, that doesn't mean that it will make. If you do the same math taking into account the possibility of a redouble, I don't think the final results will be much different.

I am not saying that my 80% and 60% estimates are accurate on this hand. You can decide for yourself what you think the numbers should be. What I was trying to illustrate is that one needs only a small improved chance of defeating the contract to justify such a double, even when the contract is a favorite to make after the double.

The same argument works in reverse when a double might improve declarer's chances of making his contract by telling him how to play the hand, such as when you have an unexpected trump stack. In this situation it is often right to avoid doubling even though you think the contract is still likely to go down when you double and the double probably won't affect the play, because the cost when the double swings the contract is large. Players are familiar with this concept, but are less aware that a double which improves the chances of defeating the contract doesn't have to gain very often to be a winner.
May 2, 2011
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I totally agree with Adam. IMP pairs scoring is not the way to go for such a trials.

I had a very bad experience with this a while ago. The ACBL decided to hold an IMP pairs trials to determine USA2 for the 1991 Bermuda Bowl. My partner Ed Manfield and I qualified for this trials by winning the Blue Ribbon Pairs, but most of the qualifiers were winners of regional 4-session IMP pair games (yikes!). There were 20 pairs in the trials, and the quality of these pairs ranged widely. The structure was about the same as with the youth trials here, but scored by IMP pairs.

We survived the qualifying round okay(bringing the field down to 10 pairs), and were going along fairly well in the finals. Then the following happened:

On a hand where we opened a high-level preempt, our vulnerable opponents foolishly stumbled into 7NT, down 4. We might have doubled, but it was far from obvious. Still, it seemed like we were headed for a great result, as they had a suit slam which could make.

Not so! The board was played only 5 times, of course, and the results on this board were:

+300
+400
+800
+1100
+2200

As you can see our +400 was a disaster, losing a net average of about 9 IMPs instead of the expected big win. This result kept us from making the top 3 for the team.

The problem is that there is too much variance. The number of comparisons is too small, and the field is too random. This is true in matchpoints also, of course, but there at least each board counts the same. Edgar Kaplan once described IMP pairs as a matchpoint game where every now and then somebody rings a bell and the score on the board you are playing is multiplied by 5. This is exactly what happens, particularly in a small and uneven field.

The Cavendish is an IMP pairs event which is generally runs true to form. There are three reasons for this. The field is very strong, so if your opponents do something right against you you will usually get some field protection. The field is large enough so a couple of strange results don't distort a board too badly. And it is a 5-session event, giving pairs a chance to overcome bad fortune. Even with all this, there is still plenty of luck in the event.

IMP pairs events can be fun to play in. But for choosing a team from a pairs trials, that scoring is a bad idea.
May 1, 2011
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Bob,

Yes, I am a strong supporter of ELC. I would not make a takeout double on a pure diamond 1-suiter. If the hand were too strong to overcall 3, I would bid 3 (stopper ask) and take it from there (or if 3 were Michaels in my agreements I would simply bid 4). The takeout double must show tolerance for spades. However, it doesn't promise 4 spades. I could easily be 3-1-6-3 for a takeout double, and in my partnership agreements that is what would be expected from the 5 follow-up.

The meaning of 5 here is spelled out quite clearly in my notes – it is natural and non-forcing as opposed to a slam try in spades. But that is in my notes. You say that any established partnership would be on firm ground as to the meaning of 5. That would be true in Utopia, but this is real life. Many partnerships which have the seventh round of a constructive relay auction down to the last jack do not have adequate coverage of competitive auctions in their agreements. It is difficult to formulate such agreements which cover the wide range of auctions which might occur, and some choose to wing it, hoping they will be on the same page. Most of the time bridge logic and their partnership experience will get them on the same page, but occasionally the wheels will come off. You may be right, but I would bet that Joe and Curtis were not on firm ground about the meaning of 5.

There is one other aspect of this auction which has not been discussed. Why did Curtis bid 5NT? There can be no question that this is pick a slam. Virtually all expert pairs play that is the default meaning of a 5NT call. Also, if Curtis wanted to invite a grand he could and would have done so unambiguously with 6 or 6, and it is clear looking at his hand that a grand was not on his radar. He was looking for the best small slam.

But why would Curtis offer a choice in the first place? Suppose Joe had something like AJxx xx KQxx Qxx. Joe would choose 6 without giving it a second thought. Yet, 6 has no play while 6 is quite good. Curtis can easily visualize this possibility from looking at his hand. He should know that spades is the trump suit. Yet he did bid 5NT, offering a choice. Why?

As I see it, there is only one logical explanation. Curtis wasn't sure Joe had interpreted his double as a takeout double. He was afraid Joe thought it might show spades, and that Joe had “raised” on a 3-card suit. Once East bid 5 N-S would have to play at the 5-level anyway. From the enemy bidding Curtis was confident that if Joe had only 3 spades he would have to have diamond support, so 5 should be okay. I believe that was the reason Curtis bid 5. When he made his pick a slam 5NT call, he expected Joe to pick diamonds holding 3 spades, pick spades holding 5+ spades, and perhaps bounce it back with 6 holding 4 spades. If Curtis were sure that Joe had at least 4 spades for the 4 call, he would not have bid 5NT.
April 26, 2011
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When trying to bring partner into the picture, the most important thing is to make sure that you are sending partner the right message. It isn't so important what slam try you make. What matters is that partner understands you are making a slam try, and in what suit. I have seen experts make this error countless times. Cheek fell into that trap. 5 carries some degree of ambiguity. 5 does not – it is a clear slam try in spades. If Cheek chooses to invite, which is probably best, that should be his call.

What Grue would have bid over 5 is anybody's guess. But at least his choice would be based upon a proper understanding of what partner is trying to accomplish.

April 25, 2011
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Mike ….

Normally your idea about leading a trump would be right when your side has the balance of power. But I believe the auction says otherwise here.

The key is South's 2 call, asking for North's better major. If South had 3 hearts and 2 spades he would have bid 2, not 2 diamonds. South must be 3-3 in the majors, so there is only the dubious ruffing value of the fourth round of spades. Since West can ruff the third round of spades, West's trumps may be more valuable than South's.

I think West is right to lead a high diamond. If dummy is 5-5 in the majors, a forcing defense may be necessary to prevent establishment of the side spade suit. If dummy is 5-4 in the majors, a spade shift may be right to get a ruff. A trump lead is more likely to play into declarer's hands.
April 19, 2011
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Dean,

Thanks for the clarification. That changes things a lot.

Now the chances that South is short in clubs has gone up considerably. Still, why can't South be 4-2-5-2 and 3NT is where they belong.

Can North solve this problem by bidding 3? I don't think so. South will probably be bidding 3S. Now 3NT by North will sound like North has clubs stopped but was worried about the spade situation. So I still think North has to bid 3NT.

I believe it is up to South to act over 3. Probably 3 is best, showing a spade stopper and implying club shortness. If South does this, North will not bid 3NT without a good club stopper.

On the actual auction, I still believe South should not sit 3NT. He showed an unbalanced hand with the 1 opening, but this is more than merely an unbalanced hand. South has a void, and hands with voids don't belong in notrump.

April 19, 2011
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What South should do over the double is not clear and might depend on partnership agreements. Presumably 3 would be a signoff, and he clearly has too much playing strength for that. Passing can't be terrible, as it gives North the most room.

North's 3NT call looks automatic to me. What else can he do? He expects South to have a weak notrump type of hand. From North's point of view 3NT is the right game, and if he doesn't bid it South might not be able to do so.

It is South's final pass which is way off the mark. Distributional hands are not meant to be played in notrump, particularly when there is a good fit as South knows there is. 5 figures to be at least as good a contract as 3NT, probably better, and there could well be a diamond slam. A sensible continuation might be 4 by South, 4 by North, 4 by South, and after that North can hardly fail to reach 6 and might be able to work out to bid the grand if he can determine that South has a club void and the fourth heart.
April 18, 2011
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Jason …

That makes quite a difference. Now passing 5 is pretty clear I think, since South should definitely have longer hearts for the 5 call since 5 was available.

It does help to count to 13.
April 15, 2011
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On the first hand I agree that bidding 3 is too risky. That could (and probably should) mean just to play on a weak hand with long diamonds and spade shortness. But there was no need to commit to game. Either 3 or 3 would convey the message that you are interested in game, and partner can take a look and see what his 2 call was made of. I prefer 3, since that keeps 3NT more in the picture. If partner does bid 3NT over 3, it figures to be a better game than 4.

In situations like this, it is not so important to describe your hand perfectly. The important thing is to make sure your general message is understood. If partner knows what you are trying to do, he will usually get it right.

On the last hand, obviously South should have bid 5 – whether he then chooses to shoot out 6 over 5 is his business. Presumably his reason for not doing so was that he was afraid he would be seeing an empty bidding tray. If there was no danger of that, the 5 call is too obvious.

I think North should convert to 5. There must be at least as many spades as hearts, and if partner is 5-7 who knows which strain will be better. Once again, there may have been some doubt in North's mind about what was going on.
April 15, 2011
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Paul ..

With regard to declarer possibly being 8-4-1-0, I was referring to how things look to East. That would give West perhaps KQxx KQJ QJ9xx, which is completely consistent with everybody's bidding and the opening lead. If that is the hand declarer does not have the option of leading a heart from dummy, so he will be forced to make the heart play from his hand. Overtaking and returning the 9 of hearts would be a concession, but not overtaking and letting West continue diamonds would leave declarer with a guess in the heart suit.
April 13, 2011
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