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All comments by Ron Zucker
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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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OK, first my experience, since it might help people think about things, and then my opinion. I'm currently the sectional tournament chair as well as a board member for the Washington Bridge League. Those two functions should not go together, but our tournament chair passed last year, so I'll fill out my term on the board and then just be the tournament chair.

Here in the Washington, DC area, our sectionals (4 per year) run up against the local club. There is one that's close, and more that are farther away. We don't worry about the farther away ones, as few players would come down for the Sectional, and those who do will always come down and have for years. The one close club has normal games Thursday morning, Friday morning, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The agreement we've made is as follows. For years, our sectionals started Thursday night, same as our local unit game. Now:

Thursday morning: Sectional begins with a game at the club. The club is the profit center for this game, after paying for the extra sanction fee and ACBL director.
Thursday evening: Unit game becomes a sectional game.
Friday morning: Both the club and the sectional run. While it's always a tad uncomfortable, as some players play at the club instead of the sectional, it's just not fair to ask the club to shut down. The sectional seems to have little, but some, effect on club attendance. Our theory is that it's largely two distinct sets of players, and that's fine.
Friday afternoon: Sectional game (no club game normally on Friday afternoon)
Friday night: Sectional - club cancels his normal Friday night game
Saturday morning: Sectional - club cancels his normal Saturday 1 PM game
Sunday: Sectional - no conflicting game normally

Basically, we buy off the club with a Thursday morning section in return for closing his Friday night and Saturday games to allow for the largest possible sectional.

In general, the club is a threatened entity in the US (can't speak for Canada or anywhere else). The ACBL is still built on an old time thought of clubs with one or two games a day, unit games once a week as sort of a super club, and sectionals and regionals bringing out everyone. Here in DC, at least, our experience is that few people play in the clubs and most are not interested in playing in sectionals or regionals. The unit game is quite large (~50-55 tables per week, including stratified non-LM, stratified B-C-D, and a separate A-X), but the clubs are dying. People either play online or, like me, once a week, at the unit game.

Now, for my own take. A lot of it has to do with the suburbanization of America. When most of us lived in central cities, the population was large enough to support a club out of the small percentage that were duplicate players. That's why there are still clubs in NYC. But, at least here in the DC area, I'm the only member of the board of the Washington Bridge League who actually lives in Washington, DC, and I'm planning to leave the board this year at least in part because it's too hard to get to meetings after work. The bridge playing population lives in the suburbs, and are more spread out. It's hard to find the density of players necessary to support a club except at the retirement community.

BBO, and OKB before it, made it even less likely that people will make that trek. If it's too far, we can just play online. Leo Lasota, who commented earlier in the thread, is a DC area player well known for his online exploits in the robot tournaments, but he started playing those in part because he was working too late to make it to a club, and wanted to keep his (prodigious) card-playing skills sharp. Leo is one of my favorite opponents (despite my record against him), but he really can only make it out for the sectionals. When players as interested in the game as Leo and I abandon the clubs because of distance, and because we have other options and outlets, the clubs are in trouble. The clubs need us to be their backbones, playing at least a couple of times per week. Instead, I don't know where most of the local clubs are.

At least, that's my $.02
Jan. 18, 2012
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Oh, and I echo the “don't stop writing, please” plea. I know how hard it is to write these things, but I really appreciate it. Whether you're done with these or not, thank you for all of the articles you've written.
Jan. 12, 2012
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Interesting that this comes up right after I sent the following email to a friend who was my opponent in a Sunday Swiss at the local sectional this weekend:

“In the last match Sunday, I held Axx xxx KQTxx Ax. I opened 1NT (12-14), Tibor transferred and bid 4S, a mild slam try. I decided that my good values and 3 card support merited cooperation, so I bid 5C, T bid 5D and I bid 5S. T passed, though he had KJx of hearts. You led the obvious heart to Rusty's Q and ace, and when the hearts weren't 5-2 and the spades weren't 4-0, I claimed. (Dummy was KQTxxx KJx AJx Q)

Did you have a heart lead if the auction had gone 1NT-2H-2S-4S-6S? I was tempted to just bid it. It does take a heart lead to beat it, as I have 5 diamonds, 6 spades and a club good to go. I was loath to engage in such a descriptive sequence, but also loath to bid slam with three heart losers. I'm beginning to think that maybe I ought not have been loath to go for it.

As Steve Robinson and John Adams keep saying, if you never give your opponents a chance to get it wrong, they won't. Is this another hand to add to the data bank?”

Then I read this. The more I think about it, the more I think Josh is right and I should have just blasted. If partner has the HA, no damage. If, as in this case, partner holds the HK, we've already wrong sided this sucker with our weak NT, so I shouldn't give away the information. The problem is that, at the table, I thought, “I can get us to the right slam when it's right and stay out when it's wrong.” I didn't consider the alternative. I think I'd better try considering it more. And if I bid a few bad slams, well, it's not like I've never brought back -100 vs. -650 before…
Jan. 12, 2012
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One of the things I always like to discuss in new partnerships is the minimum quality at different vulnerabilities of a preempt suit. My own proclivities make Josh Donn's and Clee's agreements the ones I prefer, i.e., OGUST nv, feature vul, but if partner thinks JTxxxx is a preempt, I'm OK with that. But I do need to know that I can't necessarily raise to game without going through 2NT on certain hands.

I also like a very simple card, at least to start. If I find that partner and I have problems with a certain type of hand, whether because it's a hand that one of us tends to overvalue for the other's bidding or because some set of agreements we've decided on make certain hand types difficult (think 1=4=4=4 12 counts in a weak NT structure), I'm willing to invest in the memory strain to come up with a way to handle those hands.

The only agreement that I prefer to add Josh and Clee's card even in a first time partnership is not using 1m-2NT as invitational. I prefer the “Horse with no name” 3 way 2H to show either a strong jump shift in hearts, an invitational hand in NT or a mixed raise in the minor. That's because I'm a pretty strong believer in 1m-2NT as a game force, and I like 1m-3m to be TRULY weak and preemptive. But that's just me, and I can easily be talked out of it.
Dec. 21, 2011
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I'm a fairly fast player, largely on the theory that, when I can declare them like Michael Rosenberg does, I can take as long as he does. But I think his point about resetting expectations is an important and un-noted one.

Here in the DC area, Bill Cole has worked significantly to speed up his play. As an opponent, I've certainly noticed. He still takes a long time on certain difficult hands, but he's really tried not to on other hands.

But he still has the reputation. And when I played against him recently, and I was the one who took a long time on a difficult hand when partner and I both overbid, the directors just assumed it was his fault. And I had to explain that it wasn't his fault, that it was mine.

That's difficult for him to overcome. He earned his reputation for slow play. Now that it's not true, unless there's some sort of automated system, his pleas that he's no longer the problem fall on deaf ears. Our local directors are good, but they're not superhuman. Unless the fast players sometimes admit their own fault (and most fast players don't, because we're often so frustrated with slow play), there's just no incentive for someone with a slow reputation to do anything about hit. S/he is going to get the blame anyway. S/he might as well get the benefit from thinking in his/her own fashion, at his/her own pace.
Nov. 14, 2011
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