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All comments by Ron Zucker
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Andrew, I was interested to see your view. I have been asked to withdraw. I've not been offended. I've even managed to avoid giggling in the face of the person doing the asking. I replied by asking who has seating rights for the next segment, because there's still bridge to be played. It's sort of a response that is as presumptuous as the question.

The reason it's considered bad form to ask is that it's spiking the football in someone's face. Look, even if I knew going into this match that the chances of pulling the upset were small, I was hoping for a close match. If you're asking, I didn't get one. You've been killing me. It may be that it's not our day, and every decision we make is wrong. It may be that we simply lack the technical skill or bidding tools to compete with you. Or it may be that it's just your day. I've played against MUCH better teams who still needed to depend on a couple of lucky boards to beat us.

But here's the thing. I've already figured all of that out in the time it takes you to ask for a withdrawal. And I'm not happy about it. Whether it's 108-0 or 80-15 or whatever at the half, I know the score. And I know I'm probably out-classed. I'm dealing with that, and resetting my goals for the rest. Whether that's to put together a run, or simply tighten up my auctions with partner, or to pay more attention on defense, I'm deciding how I'm going to make use of the rest of these boards in a way that will help me down the road.

Asking me if I want to withdraw assumes that I don't know I'm getting beaten. (Guess what. I do.) So it feels like you're doing a victory dance. Worse, you're not doing it over with your team. You're coming over to our table to do the dance. Many bridge players exhibit some lack of social grace. I don't hold it against them, since I, too, am more direct than most. But yeah, it's sort of annoying when you decide not to spike the football with your friends, but to come over and politely spike it in my face.

Note that I don't mind at all being asked at a dinner break. (I still say no.) The most polite players do it by saying, “So, game time is when? What time will you be back?” That gives me an opportunity to discuss with team mates if we want to continue without sounding like you're being rude. (It also gives me time to discover who I'm never asking to play with again. Unless someone is deathly ill, I don't play with people who aren't interested enough in the game to want to play against a team good enough to have us down by enough that we could consider withdrawing.) I like that phraseology. Asking what time I'll be ready to play the rest of the boards allows me to answer, “Never,” thus indicating that I'd like to withdraw. It also allows me to say, as I usually do, that I'm like Ernie Banks. “Let's play two!!!”
June 8, 2012
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Right, Barry, but note that, with spades 4-4, we do have 9 top tricks in 3NT. So it meets that standard. So, again, is this too good to bid 1NT immediately with its 19 count? (Jx Axx AQxx AKJx?
June 5, 2012
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In real life, partner also held the CJ. Is it still not too strong for 1NT? (That's not a needle, but an honest question.)
June 5, 2012
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Clearly, I think partner has almost any shape with a rock crusher. The fact that I know exactly what partner had, as I, too, sat East-West actually doesn't change my opinion. I pass at MPs and scramble at IMPs.

I'm not passing at MPs because it's a penalty double. That's sorta weird thinking to me for some of the reasons explained above. But I have no guarantee that we have a good place to play, nor that we'll find it if we do. Bidding 2NT, which I think clearly should be scrambling (if I have the major suit cards it promises if it's NT, I can pass for a better score), gets us to a 4-3 or 5-3 club fit no matter how many diamonds partner has.

I think of this as what Kit Woolsey talks about in his Matchpoints book. I have multiple ways to win. We might beat this more than the value of our bid, especially since they're red; in this case, down one by them will not be good bridge for them. Other tables might find the wrong fit, getting to a 4-3 club fit instead of a 4-4 diamond fit, or to a 3-4 diamond fit if my hand chooses diamonds when partner is 3-2-3-5.

At IMPs I run because I'm not doubling them into game on this hand. I'm hoping not to lose this match on this board instead of trying to win it on this board.
June 2, 2012
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Interesting that others seem to have a different agreement than the one I play after 1m-1X-2NT-3C-3D-3NT. I play that as a mild slam try in opener's minor. I find that to be a much more useful agreement than anything else, especially at MPs, where I don't want to go past 3NT lightly. Even at IMPs, going past 3NT is VERY committal. There are some hands that rebid 2NT that are more slam suitable than others. This lets opener make a reasonable judgement.

I play that 3M is (initially) choice of games, though if responder bids 4M over 3NT, it shows a slam try. I think it's best for responder to merely announce slam interest and leave it up to opener to do the investigation, since s/he has most of the partnership resources, so has too much to tell. As such, opener should ask.
June 1, 2012
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What's the old line? I placed the heart ace in the wrong hand. It was supposed to be in partner's hand.

I think the downside of a double minus swing (team mates bid 3H-2 for -100 and we can't make 3NT for -100) is just too outweighed by the chances I can make 3NT, and it sure seems unlikely for partner to have so much that acting is clear. I fear the pass sets the contract.

And, to be honest, I like having a 5 card suit. If they start doubling, I can decide whether or not to run to 4D. I might gut it out, but I like having a security blanket as much as the next guy.
May 30, 2012
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Wait. Doctor Who is a tournament director???
May 23, 2012
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As all of my partners know, I play penalty raises…

Partner has a hand that wasn't sure what it wanted to do, and thought he would know more on the next round. And he does. He knows that you have long spades and not very many points. Yet he still wants to try 4H.

That has to be a hand where he thought 3H or 4H in direct seat would be misdirected. I can guess why. A red preempt should be based on a decent suit, and it sounds like he lacks the HCP for an overcall. Something like – Q9xxxxx xx Axxx would be about right. He doesn't want to bid 4H if he thinks they're not bidding 4S, but if they're going to, he should get it going. Even with a spade void, 2H on that hand is a bit rich, I think.

I would think partner was operating with his spade void, hoping to get doubled in 4, if I didn't have the AK of hearts. But partner isn't operating hoping to get doubled red without those two cards.

It's mostly my heart length that argues for a 5H bid to me. They're making 4S, since they have 0 or 1 heart losers and they'll know where the length is, so they'll only lose one spade. Meanwhile, our save has to be good. I will defend 5S if partner lets me, but 4S seems like a make too often.
May 23, 2012
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A note on the bidding. Some think that a 1NT overcall shows 15+-18. If so, South's estimate becomes harder. I do tend to think aces are undervalued, so I'd consider it a good 15, but looking at 4 and only 4 tricks, some might not. Clearly, if you're not going to overcall 1NT, pass is best by the south hand. Perhaps it'll go (1D)-P-1S-P-2S, and now your double is sensible.

Of course, the 1H response is completely unreasonable, and 2D by N is worse. But the pass is only mildly wrong, and I know of some awfully good players who would argue it isn't bad at all.
May 22, 2012
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I've been playing around with a different approach for a similar problem. After 1NT-2C-2D, I've been using 2S as a 4 card major, 5 card or longer minor, game invitational. I combine this with garbage stayman, so that 1NT-2C-2D-2H is 4+-4+ in the majors in a drop dead hand.

After responder's 2S, opener bids 3C on a hand that would bid 3NT if responder holds diamonds, but not with a club invite, bids 3D on a hand that would go opposite clubs, 2NT with a hand that would go opposite neither, and 3NT with a hand that just wants to go. Responder can choose to correct 2NT to 3 of a minor non-forcing.

I decided to start this after a few too many 1NT-2C-2D-2NT auctions that ended up in a bad contract. I think this makes the most sense in a weak NT context, where the location of cards and degree of fitting cards is frequently more important.

The losing cases are, of course, playing in 3C holding 3-3-5-2 and sometimes (rarely) playing in a 4-3 major suit instead of a 5-3 major suit. I do tend to cater to the latter by transferring with really bad hands with a 5 card major. Given 9 major suit cards, it's not unlikely that the non-NT opener will need to ruff some minor suit cards, and a 5-2 fit is just better from that perspective than a 4-3, so it's worth it in my experience.
May 11, 2012
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As a weak NT'er fairly regularly, in about half of my regular partnerships, I think it's actually even more complex than Michael and John's respective points. That's because opening 1m with a strong hand opens up the hand to competition more. (It's one of the reasons I like 4 card majors with the weak NT, since it allows me to get my four card major on the table with a strong NT, and sometimes can stop them from cheaply competing in the other major, or allow us to compete successfully in our major.)

The advantage of a 4th seat weak NT includes the fact that you're not getting doubled here. So even if it's wrong, you will get to win part score deals more often. Against that, the difficulty of handling a competitive auction with a balanced 16 count is real.
May 7, 2012
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Bob and Michael, I'm curious about something. I admit that I reined in my preempting a few years ago when I actually did a hand by hand evaluation of my results at both IMPs and MPs to see how successful my preempts were. I found my preempts were (not surprisingly) most successful when they resembled the classic KQJTxx and out, and least successful on other hands. The break even, to my surprise, was completely around suit quality. That made me a less “aggressive” preempter.

But I also recognized that part of it had to do with my card play skill. I think if I was a truly expert declarer, as you are, I could eke out the extra trick often enough to make my percentages better on a wide variety of hands. Certainly, many of the best players in the world, including some on this site, are known widely for the aggressiveness of their preempts. It seems that many of the best are in Michael's PAW camp.

And that's OK. It turns out that I can still compete. Sometimes I conceded some IMPs to players who can make contracts I can't. i have to hope that, since most hands don't require such declaring acts of derring do, I can make it up enough when they over reach to make it even out. And if I can't, they outplayed me and deserved to win.

But do you think it's their declarer skill that makes some of the best in the world such aggressive preempters?
April 24, 2012
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First, thanks to all, as well as the players who contacted me privately offering help with deals. You have no idea how much it's meant to me.

Second, I think the nature of a non-LM column is a little different than another column. I always give my draft to a beginner friend to see if it resonates. If it doesn't, it's too hard. Your feedback has convinced me that I should also give the column to an expert player, who might have other feedback or suggestions.

Finally, a note about BridgeWinners. I am honored and humbled by the contacts I've enjoyed here. It's long been noted that the internet made the world a smaller place. I hadn't realized just how large the bridge world is, nor how nice it is to be a part of. I've long loved the game. This site has reminded me that I also love the people in the game.

Thanks to everyone.
March 29, 2012
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Obviously, vulnerability matters, but I'm assuming unfavorable, since it's a 10-12 NT.

Isn't this an, “If you're fixed, stay fixed” situation? You win anytime LHO has a balanced 8 count and any time RHO's 10-12 sitting over partner's 16 or so means you don't have game (assuming you can set this). In either of those situations, a heart lead rates to get 100 and might get 300 or more.

Moreover, there is some chance that RHO has a relatively standard “modern” opener and they can find their 4-4 spade fit, which I suspect exists. If so, and if partner has some stoppers, you're in better shape than the field.

So I think pass has more than one way to win, while bidding 2H has basically one way to win, since partner is unlikely to raise (though, if s/he does, it will clearly be right.)

So, OK, all you better players (including Noble). I don't care about the votes. Is this the right way to think about this hand?
March 28, 2012
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@Henry:

Thanks, but I wanted to ask a follow up question. The reason I've been trolling actual hands is to avoid plagiarizing. I'm very sensitive to that, as I write for a living. That said, there are different standards for plagiarism between, say, policy researchers, which I do for a living, and sports writers. Both are valid in their disciplines, but I don't know how to do it without footnotes.

Is there a writer's ethic on bridge hands? If I use an example from another person's article, is it considered acceptable to say, for example, “Henry Bethe, who (writes a column/offers lessons/is a mathemetician and bridge expert/however you describe yourself), suggested that hand X should be handled with method Y.”

Like all players, I read widely, and have noticed that some themes show up in multiple books with very similar examples. But I'm not writing for my peers. I'm writing for non-LM's. I tend to doubt they'll have read other treatments of these ideas. I don't want to give them advice that conflicts with advice they read elsewhere. But I also don't want to steal the work of some of the excellent writers I read.
March 27, 2012
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@Lynn, If that's the first time that a bid you made has led to -800, you're not competing enough, I think.

Yes, 1H (which I think is clear at any form of scoring, due mostly to the ability to double back in if they end up at a low level of clubs) can work out poorly. Maybe LHO, holding AKJ9x was planning to drive to game and is, instead, about to pound you into the ground. But even then, you might have a better spot you can find, and now they have to scramble to find the right game.

I'm firmly in the “lighter initial action/more careful later” camp in bidding. I just find the game so much easier against people who aren't always in your face as a bidder that I've decided not to be the easy opponent if I can help it.
March 27, 2012
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@Bob Heitzman - No, as a weak NT'er, I don't face this problem. I just go down. Which, given the quality of my declarer play, is no different than if I was playing in a better contract…

Seriously, though, I think you're a little wrong in how we typify it. Let's start with a recognition that there are a finite number of bids that are both cheap enough to avoid trouble and expressive. As such, almost every system overburdens some bid or set of bids. For Precisionaires, that bid is the “nebulous” 1D. For BWS/2/1 players, it's 1C. For weak NT'ers, it's 1NT.

We each argue that ours is the best catchall. As a weak NT'er, I say that it's best because, when it ends the auction, it's frequently right, and my other bids are so much more well defined that, in competitive auctions, I find I do better if I've opened a suit, so I'm willing to eat that I'll so worse on some auctions where I open 1NT. My precision playing friends argue for 1D because it allows them such good auctions with 1C. My SA/2 over 1 friends have similar arguments.

What you have to note is that each of us are effectively saying that our system works best when we don't open the overburdened catchall. I don't think that's a shocking statement from the weak NT'ers any more than it's a shocking statement from any of the other systems. The biggest difference is the frequency of our overburdened bid.

I am beginning to think about changing away from a weak NT because it's too frequent. But I'm not lying when I say that I don't face this particular problem as often as standard players do. That's the strength of my system. Just as the Bridge World nightmare hand is an advertisement for a big club, this sequence is an advertisement for a weak NT. Other hands are, well, other hands.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with you, but let's at least recognize that weak NT'ers have some good points.
March 12, 2012
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My bridge “education” came mostly in a cut for teams IMPs for money game in Oakland, CA. $2 per IMP, plus 6 IMPs for winning the match (so the minimum win was $14), with 10 board rounds, usually three per night. I went there to get better. In the first year, I lost almost $1,000. In the second, I broke even. In the third, I was ahead a bit, and I moved away during my 4th year, up almost $500. More importantly, I watched my other results improve. I became a better player, with better technique and better bidding judgment.

To make it easy, we all adopted a relatively simple weak NT, 4 card major system that allowed us to bid fairly naturally. Forcing 2NT (3C was Jacoby over 1M), UDCA, 3rd and low against suits, 4th against NT, and not a whole lot else.

It was an invitational game. If you weren't at their level, you had to prove that you were trying to learn. And I did learn. It doesn't take going down in a slam made at the other table too many times until you start reviewing your declarer play, or losing $26 (and $38 if it cost you the match) for not defeating a red game to sharpen your defensive skills.

I'm with Stevie Z. Bring back money bridge!
March 2, 2012
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I've been -x70, where x is a number from 4 to 9, before. I suspect that I'm about to be again…
Feb. 15, 2012
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I think 4NT is clearly minors with longer clubs. I chose it, since, when I pull 5C or 5D to 5H, that is clearly a heart slam try.

Now why am I so sure that partner is going to bid 5S, taking this as RKC, holding Ax QTxx Axxx xxx and I'm down two in 6H when I can't pick up the hearts, misguess the diamonds and I end up with a club loser in the wash? And, with that hand, even if s/he bids 5D, wouldn't s/he bid 6H over 5H, indicating that I've overbid?
Feb. 9, 2012
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