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The Road Less Travelled
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The Problem -- Trying to Beat Better Pairs While Playing Their Bidding Methods

If you fancy yourself a world level declarer and defender, then you should play majority bidding methods -- let your light shine once dummy is tabled, but, before that, try to stay with the field or with whoever is at the other table.  For me and many like me, however, that isn't a path to winning in tough fields.  As luck would have it, a big part of the game happens before dummy comes down.  Playing against top teams in the Vanderbilt and Spingold (which I used to do often before the invasion of Euro-pros and the advent of "customers who can actually play" made that futile), I discovered that there were lots of IMPs to be won before that dummy appears.  If you don't think so, then read a few years of back editions of Bridge World and watch top players take diametrically opposed views of hands, bidding and opening leads.  

When I lived in Boston, a national-level competitive sailor introduced me to the concept of "cover" tactics. If he thought he had the faster boat (usually the case with him), then he would tack when the opponent(s) tacked and take the same route to experience the same winds and currents ("covering" their tactics). With equal winds and currents, he was sure he'd win. If he thought he had the slower boat (which only happened for him in finals of big national events), then he would take the opposite approach -- striking out in a different direction hoping to catch a better wind or current.

Starting out playing tournaments in the Washington D.C. area in the 1970's was daunting.  The field was neck-deep in established partnerships comprised of national-and-world-level players.  Most were playing some version of what was then known as "Eastern Scientific," methods that evolved into what is now called "2/1." In the D.C. area, the version of 2/1 played by Robinson-Boyd became known as "Washington Standard," when Steve published his book by that name.  To win a Washington area event, we had to beat top pairs who were using that method and if we also played it, we'd have to beat them with superior technique and judgment.  Good luck with that!  I realized that I had a "slower boat" than the likes of Boyd-Robinson or Woolsey-Manfield or (and the list goes on, but trust me that list is long).  I needed to get the hell out of their bidding channels and strike out in search of a better wind or current.  

The Solution -- Adopt a Powerful Minority Bidding System

We "bootstrappers" need a bidding system that will generate swings before dummy comes down. Once dummy comes down, we won't win many IMPs against world level players (except when an inferior line gets lucky). It can't be some dreadful method, but rather should have sound theory and consistency. Something that supplants judgment with memory seemed the right way to go, especially back when I had a lot more memory than judgment. (Mother nature is a witch -- as my judgment has improved, my memory has faded.)  I tried Shenken, Precision, Matchpoint Precision, ACOL, EHAA and Kaplan Sheinwold. Shenken was too crude -- 4-card majors remained a very tough method to play. Pre-Rodwell, Precision was fragile and inefficient. I gave it up when a "Little Old Lady" psyched my spade suit and we couldn't sort out that we had a vulnerable game -- in spades. When LOLs were getting feisty against that big club, I decided it must be time to move on. Surely no one could do better playing ACOL than they could do playing something else (no offense to those who still play it, but you must be gods of the game if you can win with those methods). EHAA makes some sense if behind by 50 with 16 deals to play, but otherwise, it's just too far out there and will hurt more often than it helps. Fantunes might be another way to veer off the beaten course, but we now have to wonder if that system works without external aids. Polish Club is a serious possibility -- I really like the ambiguity of its 1 opening bid that keeps opponents from switching immediately to disruption mode. I have no experience with that system but "admire it from afar."

For me, K-S became the way to break away from those with "faster boats." To this day, it is a minority system that can win (or lose) matches and events for you. To survive, we have had to modify the original version of K-S in many ways, but that weak no trump (stodgy by today's micro no trump standards) will create swings in all kinds of auctions -- no trump auctions, minor suit auctions and major suit auctions. You get different declarers, different leads, different opportunities for one-level overcalls, different information available to opponents, whether declaring or defending. At IMPs, K-S is at least equal to some excellent 2/1 system (such as Washington Standard). At matchpoints? Well, not so much -- the weak no trump dominates your results and is a long-run 50% device, hurting about as often as it helps. 50% is not a score that wins pairs events. The kiss of death for K-S pairs is often +90 or +120 (when the world is +140 in the major suit fit obscured by the weak NT opening). But, game bidding, slam bidding and competitive bidding (IMO) are easier using a K-S base system rather than 2/1. Maybe I'm wrong -- maybe it's only equal, not better. But it is NOT worse; that's for sure. As much as it would make Edgar Kaplan turn over in his grave, Bergen Raises in first or second seat and Bergen-style weak two's in third seat fit extremely well into a K-S structure.

If starting out anew today, I would pick Meckwell Lite. (An outline of "Santa Fe Precision, the version of Meckwell Lite that I play with one partner, is available from Bridge Winner member Dennis Dawson for $20.)  Meckwell Lite remains a minority bidding system and it holds up in pairs events better than K-S. As modified by Eric Rodwell, Precision became an efficient, and even pretty durable, system. In best judo fashion, competition over 1 these days sometimes helps Precision pairs (for example, a one-level overcall lets them immediately divide their negative responses into 0-5 or 6-7 without wasting ANY bidding space). Precision lets you put lots of pressure on opponents with only moderate risk and that amorphous 1 opening bid stresses opponents out a lot more than it does Precision pairs, who soon develop a feel for how to survive its ambiguity.  That 1 opening bid is the Kudzu of bidding methods -- it comes up all the time and is extremely annoying when you see it to your left or right.  2 bids (now that a 6 card suit is required) and 2 bids (now that the majors can be 3-4or 4-3) are openings that put Precision pairs far ahead of others holding their cards and both take away easy one-level overcalls.  Annoyed, stressed out and preempted opponents make mistakes -- even if they are world level players. You make them compete in your auctions more often than 2/1 bidders do and your auctions can be full of guesses. When they must play your game, you have achieved "table dominance."

What you should not do to swing against better pairs is to just play 2/1 with more aggressive opening bids.  That generates too wide of a range of opening bids to be able to survive in the stiff competition you encounter these days.  If you want to get wild and crazy with your opening bids, then you for sure should play a Big Club system so that partner's expectations shrink to a manageable range.  If wed to a 2/1 system, it is far safer to be more conservative than average on opening bids -- and this will also generate swings. Dare to pass bad flat hands and partner will be there for you when you open the bidding, ready to bid games, slams and make penalty doubles.  

Identify and Patch System Flaws

Once you have selected a minority bidding system, you need to evaluate just where you have exposure in comparison to prevailing (in the United States) 2/1 methods and then set about trying to minimize them. If you play weak no trump, the first thing you have to work on is escapes -- before and after their double. This can cost you a little bit in your constructive bidding, but it is critical not to just offer up a huge bonus when they double -- and trust me, they will double. If you pick Precision, you better study up on how Rodwell suggests that you deal with competition -- because they will compete over 1 and 1.  All of the other Precision opening bids are extremely "durable" and cope with competition even better than those playing standard methods. But, you are potentially exposed on the two opening bids that are most ambiguous about shape, so there is no way to be "too prepared" for all possible forms of competition over those openings.

In picking bidding methods, you have to make an honest evaluation of your partnership's tolerance for disaster. If you are going to attack the opponents and try to make them err, you have to be able to accept the occasional disaster without commencing a bridge version of the Spanish Inquisition every time partnership aggression generates one. If you are going to "serve and volley" you will experience passing shots that do you in now and then. If you get upset? Go back to trying to never give them an IMP and not worrying about making them err. There is certainly more than one way to win. As in the stock market, sometimes the bears win; sometimes the bulls win; but the pigs always lose (at least at IMPs -- pigs may well win matchpoint events). One key matter of style is to identify exactly when you might be "blowing smoke" in the bidding. We have a list of situations where "the smoking lamp is lit" and we may just be messing with the opponents. If you know when partner might be doing that and when he will not (e.g., when vulnerable in second seat), then you will have created a way to be undisciplined -- but only in a very disciplined way!

If you are looking for the "perfect" bidding system, consider giving up the game. There is no such thing. Some are better than others, but every choice you make has what economists would call an "opportunity cost." If you play Reverse Flannery responses and you get dealt a perfect Weak Jump Shift, you will be cursing your choice for that hand. When picking methods, the issue isn't so much what is best in any absolute sense -- what matters is how they will fit into your overall structure. In my K-S partnership, Reverse Flannery lets us avoid some of the worst flaws in our methods, while we can easily get by without weak jump shifts because it takes a lot for partner to get us too high over a 1M response to an opening bid. It sure would be nice to have a 3m rebid after a 2M response to Stayman be forcing (or at least invitational), but the need to escape 1N with all varieties of garbage makes it more useful for us to define those bids as "to play."

Situations Where Weak No Trumps are Flawed

When evaluating a minority system for flaws, it is important to identify situations where you may be far behind 2/1 Pairs, because at least in the U.S., 2/1 will be the method of choice of at least 75% of those holding your cards in team or pairs events. An example of this in my KS partnership arose when we hold a major-minor two-suiter over our 12-14 1N opener. At the other table(s) responder knows right away if partner has a fit for his minor, because the opening bid there will have been 1m. (We don't permit a 5-card major in our weak 1N openers.) So, to help alleviate this situation where standard bidders have an edge on us in making game decisions, I invented a way to let responder show that minor without forcing game. A transfer to 2M followed by a rebid of 3m is natural and shows a distributional hand with 4+ of m, but forces only to 3M. To accommodate the possibility that responder only has invitational values, we define opener's rebids as follows: 

  • 4M = accepting to game with a 3-card fit for M (with 4, opener would have bid 3M or 3 over 2T) and denies a longer fit for m;
  • cheapest bid of om (3 or 4) = accepting to game with 3 of the major, but 4+ of m (thus making m trumps for slam try purposes).
  • 3OM = 4+ fit for m and a max (13 and a 5-card fit, or 14 and a 4 card fit)
  • 3N = 14 and both unbid suits possibly double stopped (remember partner has a stiff in one of them)
  • 4m = A fit for m but not for M and less than a max (12 and five or 12-13 and four).
  • 3M = default bid when none of the foregoing describes the hand. This does not guarantee 3 card support.

That structure would also work in a strong no trump auction (with numbers adjusted), especially when playing against a weak no trump pair at the other table who will have the early advantage on this hand. But, strong no trumpers likely will have lots of company in this problem hand because it is so likely that the others holding their cards will also be playing strong no trump and lack methods to handle invitational two-suiters here.  If you choose to open all out-of-range flat hands with 1 and make 1 show a distributional hand with 4+ diamonds, then this structure may help your 1N auctions compete with those who would open 1 instead of 1 with 3-3-5-2 shape (and thus locate diamond fits early in the auction).

One thing you need to do anytime you adopt new methods is "beta test" them by using a simulation program to deal hand after hand involving the new method.  When we did that for the method just outlined, we discovered that with invitational-only values, responder should never be 2-2 in the unbid suits or have a stiff honor in one of them.  Just bidding 2N instead of 3m worked better in that situation.

Another type of hand where 2/1 pairs will have an edge is when responder is 3-suited, short in a major with 12+ HCP. After 1N (12-14), 2, 2-??, responder is in the frustrating situation of knowing that we have a minor suit fit, but not knowing what it is. He also knows we have a game, but whether that is 5m or 3N depends on opener's holding in his short major. At the other table(s), at least the only issue will be wastage in the short major -- the opening bid will have established the minor suit fit (for responder). To alleviate this flaw, I invented a use for 3 -- to show this hand (three-suited with both minors and one major and GF). We would pass 2 if weak with diamonds and we would have started with a 2N response with diamonds and some 4 card major, and would have started with 3 with diamonds and invitational values, so 3 is close to an idle bid here (for us, but not for those whose 3 bid would be the way to show long diamonds and a 4-card major). Over 3, opener's rebids are:

  • 3M = a potential double stopper in M (AK(x) AQ(x), AJx, KQx, KJx), denying a potential double-stopper in OM; 
  •          AJx probably should not rebid 3M over 3 here unless that "x" is the ten or nine. The ace is not wasted 
  •          for purposes of 5m or 6m, so one of the reasons to bid 3M is absent.
  • 3N = a potential double stopper in each major;
  • 4m = a good hand but no double-stoppers in either major (might have 12 working w/o counting soft values in some major); or
  • 5m = a hand that can't have 12 working HCP due to soft values in each major that aren't good enough to generate a possible double stopper.

Playing K-S, opening a hand with 1-4-4-4 or 4-4-4-1 shape and 12-14 HCP can be a nightmare -- collateral damage from playing a weak NT. If you open 1m and partner bids your stiff you will be in trouble because rebidding 2om shows reverse values and rebidding 1N shows 15-17. For a while, I played a home-brew 2 opener that showed this hand (three-suited, short in a black suit, 12-14 HCP), but finally concluded that the cure was worse than the disease. Not having a weak 2 bid available to me was killing me often while not having this gadget available would just kill me now and then. I got comfortable with lying about shape (1N opener or 1 opener or rebidding a good 4-card diamond suit) or passing the weaker hands with this shape (especially 1-4-4-4) or overbidding the stronger ones (1N rebid). Those lies were mostly survivable ones. But, especially in third seat, a weak 2 bid is both frequently dealt (especially if xxxxx is a good enough suit nonvul) and powerful (shape doublers struggle over that opening bid when they lack one major or the other). This is a lesson in system tinkering -- not all your inventions will turn out to be improvements, so you have to be willing to eat a little crow and and get rid of your own creations now and then.

Sometimes you can find some relief for your bidding problems in methods created as part of other systems. Take the 1-4-4-4 nightmare hand, for example. One method that I learned as part of Santa Fe Precision (Meckwell Ultra Lite) that I then learned many others play in standard systems was "Reverse Flannery." When partner has 5-4 in the majors and less than game-forcing values, he can respond to 1m with 2 with game invitational values (in our methods that translates to about 9-11 HCP with 5-4 shape, maybe 8-10 with 5-5) and can respond to 1m with 2 with less than game invitational values (0-8 with a very bad fit for opener's minor or 4-8 with a 3+ fit for that minor). These turn out to be major disaster hands for us due to our K-S methods and now they are strong parts of the system. Cool.

We recently gave up on the ACBL permitting transfer responses to non-forcing 1 in GC games (such as BBO games where we practice online).   We now open 1 on all flat hands in the 15-19 range (and all distributional hands with clubs).  This lets us rebid 1N after 1-1M to show distributional hands with 5-4 or 4-5 or 4-4 in the minors or 4-5 in the reds or maybe a distributional hand with a 3-card raise.  We like our forcing 2 rebid by a 1 opener, but it was killing us on a lot of hands that others found easy.  

Make Use of the Sleeves off of Your Vest

When I was an attorney (for far too many years), I was frequently involved in both sides of negotiations of the conditions to be attached to various settlements between the government (in my case the SEC) and those subject to government regulation.  Early on, some senior attorney explained to me the concept of offering the other side "the sleeves off of your vest" -- something that didn't matter at all to you, but might be very important to them.  If a company would promise to do something that was beneficial for investors that they were not required by law to do, but which they were going to do anyway for business reasons, formally promising to do it might make the SEC staff happy enough to let that company engage in some new activity for which it would need special approval from the SEC or its staff.  

In fine tuning a bridge bidding system, you should look for bids that have no use in your current structure and find a way to make use of them.  For example, we had long ago decided that we would never bid spades over partner's 1 openers if we had 3+ card heart support unless we had a good spade suit and game forcing values.  So, in the sequence, 1-1, 1N-?? 2, we couldn't possibly have heart support without also having enough power and suit quality in the spade suit that we could afford to make a game-forcing 3 rebid.  That left 2 as the sleeves off of our vest!  So, I  found a use for it.  In that sequence, we play 2 as a relay to 2 with at least 5 spades and at least invitational values.  Opener completes the relay unless he has 3 card spade support and a maximum hand (with max-max, opener breaks the relay and bids 3).  That frees responder's rebids of 2m from any and all forcing or artificial meanings.  We play them as natural and non-invitational (opener must pass unless he has a max and a 3-card fit for m, in which case he may raise to 3m).   If opener completes the relay, responder can pass if he needed opener to have both a fit and a max for there to be a game, or he can rebid naturally, with 2N invitational to game with 5 spades, 3 invitational with 6 spades, and 3m bids game-forcing and natural with 5 spades and 4+ of m.  Could we have made other uses of this "idle" sequence?  Of course!  That was the one that most appealed to us, but you may have other ideas.  

Gamble When the Deck is Positive

It should come as no surprise that many top level bridge players at one time in their lives made money at blackjack tables through card counting.  One world-level bridge player who moonlighted as a card counter from time to time taught me a crude method that reduces the house edge (although not to the point where you have a positive expected value -- those systems are complicated and require more RAM than I possess). You keep track of aces and ten-count cards as they are dealt, counting -2 for each ace you see and -1 for each ten-through-king you see.  You ignore 8's and 9's and you count +1 for each smaller card.  What you are keeping is a running plus-or-minus total in your head. When that total is "plus," then the remaining cards have a disproportionate number of aces and ten-counts (cards that are favorable to the player because black jacks pay 3-2 odds) and when it is negative, a disproportionate number of small cards (which are favorable to the dealer because they keep him from busting on bad hands where he must take a hit).  The bigger the plus, the more favorable to the player the deck is.  Depending on the number of decks and how early the dealer shuffles, this can actually produce an occasional situation where on this deal, the player has a positive expected value.  The only variation that this method uses is to play for higher stakes when you know the deck is positive and to play for much higher stakes when it is very positive.  If you are like me and play at a cheap table, say your minimum is $10.  You play for that amount at the beginning, but if the deck reaches say +8 (if memory serves that was the number for a 4-deck shoe), you play for $20; if it is +16, you play for $30 and in general add a multiple of your base bet for each 8 the deck is plus.  Does this mean you will win?  Of course not!  Sometimes those available blackjacks in a plus deck are dealt to the dealer.  

How can this gambling strategy be applied to bridge?  When you know (a) the opponents are likely to have game and slam decisions to make and (b) your side is unlikely to face such decisions, it pays to switch to disruptive methods that, in other situations, might blow up in your face and disrupt your own decision making.  You are likely already doing this to an extent -- what I suggest is taking it to extremes.  If you are in a disciplined partnership, then it is critical to identify in advance the situations where you are going to adopt disruptive tactics.  We refer to these situations as ones where "the smoking lamp is lit," and we are free to blow smoke at will, without tricking partner.  Some of these are alertable; some aren't.  In almost all cases, we will be nonvul and the opponents will be extremely likely to hold over half the deck.  The key to surviving our aggressive disruption is to do it when their likely part score, game and slam bonuses will cover most or all of our exposure.  

In our methods, "The Smoking Lamp is Lit" when: 

  • they have opened a big NT (one that might be as strong as 17) and we are nonvul; (We used to make the cutoff 16, but so many of the 14-16 pairs will bless a 13 count that we decided to switch to more constructive and conservative weak-no-trump defenses -- and penalty doubles -- for them.)
  • we are in third seat, at equal or favorable vulnerability;
  • they open a strong 1;
  • they open a strong 2;
  • they have opened 1m and we are nonvul and have length in om;
  • the auction has gone 1X-P-1Y to us and we are nonvul; or
  • they have bid 1X and raised naturally to 2X.

These are all situations where we have concluded that we should focus more on disruption and less on description.  In all of these situations, the early bidding has suggested that they are more likely than we to hold the balance of power.  If they only have a small edge in power, or if we have a small edge, then it is especially important to get our side into the auction early. Taking away their ability to invite game, sometimes forcing them to wrong-side a contract and establishing a base for forcing them to the three level in part score battles is where these tactics gain.  Contrary to what many believe, the most extreme disruptive tactics are more successful at IMPs than matchpoints. -300 when they are cold for 140 is a small loss at IMPs, but a zero at matchpoints. -500 when they are cold for +420 or -800 when they are cold for +650- are small losses at IMPs but zeros at matchpoints. 

In KO or Swiss matches, there is one non-obvious payoff to disruptive tactics by otherwise disciplined bidders.  Once they have seen us bid 2 over their 15-17 1N opener with Jxxx Qxxx Kx Jxx, they will think we are wild and crazy bidders, and will play us for that style, even if we are extremely disciplined in most bidding situations.  If we follow that up with passing Axxx Axx Axx xxx, nonvul in third seat, then we will have them where we want them -- having no idea whatsoever what we might have for our bids or passes -- and likely thinking we have no idea what we are doing.  It's like the elephant touched by blind men -- the one who touches the trunk will describe it differently than those who touch the body, the ears, the tail or the tusks.  So long as we stay true to our style, partner will never be surprised.  Until proven otherwise, and despite all our alerts and forthcoming explanations, almost every player we face will play us for having adopted their competitive style.  If we bid 2 over 1N to show the majors with 4-4 shape and have a minor suit queen, it is almost certain to take a trick on defense.  

Play Top Teams as if They Were Your Peers  -- Because Sometimes They Are!

When you play a team you know is better than yours, do you adopt a different strategy than when playing against peers or a lesser team?  If you are playing their methods, maybe you should (although I don't).  If you have adopted a sound minority bidding system, then you should never swing against even the best of teams.  Let the system swings you earned when filling out your convention card and the good luck Bridgetta occasionally owes you take care of you, but make your decisions in the auctions, on opening lead, and declaring and defending hands as if you had no idea who was at the other table or this table. 

Argument by anecdote is usually less than persuasive, but I came to the no-swinging-against-top-teams position as a result of a specific, life-altering, 7-deal Swiss match in the early 1970's.  Our team had maybe 500 master points between the four of us and neither pair was an established pair.  Our opponents?  3 world champions and a "weak link" who was in the top 10 masterpoint winners in the ACBL for that year.  At our table, I went down one in a vul 3N that I could/should have made.  Result?  Win 3 IMPs.  At the other table, a lead-directing double in a puppet Stayman auction got our teammates off to the lead that guaranteed down two.  On another hand, our world champs bid a slam and -- I led to partner's ace and he led back to mine.  Down one, for 13 IMPs to us.  And on a third hand, the illustrious opponents at our table kept bidding competitively for one round too many -- we doubled their silly contract and collected 800 opposite a part score.  The rest were pushes.  That was a blitz and all we did was occupy our four chairs for that round! Why shoot when we just saw that these folks lose for the same reasons we lose (albeit less frequently) -- mistakes and bad luck?  If they want to lose, you must let them lose.  

Another incident affirmed that no-swinging approach for me.  We were the 128 seed in the Spingold (early 1990's), playing the 1 seed in the first round.  They nipped us by a few imps in the first quarter, but in the second quarter, my wife and I faced Ron Anderson and Grant Baze, a pair I name only because both are now deceased and because both are legends of the game whose status is unaffected by any two deals where one of them may have slipped.  They stretched to some contracts that didn't make and we beat them.  Then they bid a grand and, apparently thinking our defense was always as good as it had been thus far in the quarter, Baze conceded down one early in the play, when playing it out would have forced us to discard well to beat it.  Then the author of "6-5 come alive" followed his maxim -- right down the toilet.  He bid an unusual 2N, we invited game but stopped in 3M (slated for +140 and a small win).  After our stop, Baze bid 4 with his 5-6 in the minors.  Double.  +1100 out of thin air.  Up 25 at the half of a 64 board match.  We didn't hold that lead, but we achieved our goal of seeing sweat on their brows in the 4th quarter.  

Want another?  Who do you think is the best declarer in the world?  I won't say who it was, as he's very much still around and posting here.  But that declarer, with a Spingold match still very much alive in the 4th quarter (standing-room-only kibitzers around our open-room table) went down in a cold 6 that saw his peers (who were kibitzing) jeering and razzing him (easy end play that even I could/should/would have found).  They were trying to lose that match.  Did they?  Nah, teammates bid 6 and were down two -- lose 2 instead of win 14 (and it would have taken more than that for us to win). But if the pick of many for the best declarer on planet earth can make a simple mistake declaring a slam late in a "live" Spingold match, then it does happen.  He was mentally tired from having spent 15-20 minutes stroking dummy in a grand on the prior hand.  But even his successful grand proves the point -- that grand could easily have failed.  It was a push when our teammates found the same line in the same contract.  But, he had to pick which of two very close lines would work and there came a point in the hand where he had to pick one and reject the other.  Our teammates might not have bid the grand and the best line in the grand might have failed, or they might have bid the grand and then picked the other line and theirs might have worked, even if his didn't.  

How about one more.  Playing in a last-day regional Swiss at a nationals (because we had played our way out of the National Swiss quickly), we lost our first match (to a good team) by a score of 30 VPs to 0.  Then, to prove Bridgetta has a mean streak, many people's pick for the best player in the world (won't name him) came to our table and sat down, playing on a team where even the sponsor was better than anyone on our team.  He leaped majestically to a slam off two aces and our teammates lacked the imagination to bid the slam without checking for keycards.  Some unlucky team drew that team in the third round after getting only 4 of 60 VPs in the first two.  Bridgetta then blessed us the rest of the way and we won all of our matches and, with a slingshot last round, we passed the leaders and won the event by one or two VPs.  Were we great?  Nah, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man was king. 

If you think top level players getting caught speeding in the bidding and making careless errors as declarer or as defender is much rarer than you or I doing such things, you are right.  If you think they don't ever err, you couldn't be more wrong.  If in doubt, watch BBO Vugraphs and you will see it happen over and over.  A few years ago, both top-level established pro partnerships in the finals of a Spingold bid a grand missing the ace of trumps!  Two imps changed hands when one pair was doubled by the hand with the ace of trumps and the other player holding that ace saw no IMP advantage to disturbing the one contract he knew he could beat.  These guys don't even agree on whether to double a grand when holding the trump ace!  So, there is no way to be "sure" what they will be doing at the other table.  Just do your best at your table and find out in the compare what they may or may not have done.  Make them earn every stinkin' IMP -- don't do their work for them by taking silly actions trying to beat them.

Oh yes -- if you hadn't noticed by now -- you can really enhance your chances of beating top teams by never bidding a slam without first checking for aces!

Don't Keep Changing Methods with Every Disaster

If you have adopted minority methods (as suggested here), you must remember that they are minority for a reason.  If they were always best, they would not be minority -- everyone would adopt them.  When you have a bad board, or even several bad ones in a short period of time, due to your system, don't jump ship prematurely.  Wait for those good results you are due to even out the bad ones and stay with what you have adopted, at least until a long-term pattern has emerged that tells you change is necessary.  We used to pass 13 counts that lacked 2 quick tricks.  Over time it became clear that it was a losing strategy to pass those hands -- losses exceeded gains, both on magnitude and frequency.  So, we amended our opening bid requirements to say that 13 HCP forgives all other flaws in a hand.  The reason to wait for 2 quick tricks in an opening bid was so that partner could count on them when doubling the opponents.  But, as it turned out, 13 points comprised mostly of quacks meant that partner's points that might lead him to double something would be in aces and kings and our quacks will fill them in, even on defense.  It also meant that the opponents' holdings weren't solid and we would have slow tricks on defense.  One or two bad results should not engender reflexive system changes.  Wait till you know not only what is going wrong, but why, so that when you change, it is for a good reason.  

Don't Make "State of the Match" Bidding Decisions (especially if playing minority methods)

It is incredibly easy to forget that what is going on at your table may be a lot different than what is going on elsewhere.  Just because you missed a good major suit game because of your weak no trump opener doesn't mean that they found it at the other table(s) or that they made it if they found it.  When they opened 1m at the other table, a myriad of possibilities opened up that you don't have time to consider "on the fly" before going to the next board.  If left alone, sure they might have an easy route to 4 after a 1m-1 start.  Your teammates (or the field) may overcall and raise preemptively or make a preemptive jump overcall over 1m that was inhibited by your 1N opener.  Sometimes, it is just too dangerous to take the actions that would have let them find that 4-4 fit in the face of competition, especially preempts.  I'm not big on "state of the match" decision making in any circumstance, but if you can't be sure how the auction will go at the other table(s) then it is even more questionable than usual.  My favorite story of the evils of state of the match bidding comes from a Swiss match several decades ago.  Our teammate (in theory, the best player on our team) came to board 7 of the match certain that he was behind, as the opponents had been perfect and he and his partner less than perfect.  So, he doubled a vulnerable part score -- and ate it.  What was the actual score after 6 boards?  We were ahead 1-0!  My partner and I had been perfect at the other table and his own minor imperfection had been duplicated by the opponents holding his cards at our table.  Very annoying to play a perfect match and lose by 11 due to a silly state of the match double.  Let your teammates participate in the outcome of the match! Recently, in a regional KO event at a nationals, a talented young teammate slipped and pitched 14 imps in the last quarter of a close match.  (Stuff) happens.  We had that covered but could not cover the 16 he added by bidding a bad grand to "get those imps back."  Every swing need not be as a result of what happens at your table.  Let teammates earn their keep now and then.

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