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All comments by John Miller
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I think in the moment I was more alert to the likelihood that we would simply lose, but sometimes we are fortunate enough to make the right decision for the second-best reason. I am confident the opponents were not trying to gain any unfair advantage.

Thirty years ago I was directing a college club game when I was called to adjudicate a situation with multiple infractions. Turns out opener had bid 2, weak (card was marked strong), and after pass, his partner was pondering what to do with his 21-count. During this pause, second hand, who had already passed, asked what 2 was, and opener (!) responded that it was weak. I think I ended up giving one pair an average+ and the other an average- (probably incorrect, in retrospect), but the situation comes to mind much more readily than my ruling.
Aug. 27, 2013
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A similar hand happened in a Swiss match this summer. At the other table, a less experienced opponent opened 2 in first seat with nine solid diamonds and out. It froze out (perhaps questionably) our teammates who were cold for 5. Eventually the pair settled in 4, making exactly. Had the pair been multiple NABC winners, we would have gone to committee. However, it was clear that they thought this was a legitimate 2 opener, so there was no intent to deceive. It was a little bit painful to concede the point, but in retrospect I think we were correct not to challenge the result.
Aug. 27, 2013
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One advantage of FADS is that hands lacking a stopper are precisely those which are most likely to fetch a 3 bid, and in those situations it seems advantageous to get in your initial two-level response. Other similar situations (2 size or clubs) seem less prone to having a problem with a raise, so we play SADS there. Not sure if this isn't schizophrenic, but it seems to have worked OK.
Aug. 27, 2013
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I'm primarily wondering where the line is and what the alert procedure basis for the line is. Intuitively, 1 - 1N - 2 by a precision pair is just like a standard auction. 1 - 1N - 3, I think, must be alerted because 3 is non-forcing, although the underlying reason is that it is much weaker than a standard 3. 1 - 1N - 3 seems to be a grey area. Perhaps there is some overlap between hands standard players and precision players would bid this way, but given how aggressively we upgrade with playing strength, we would start most good 15 counts and six hearts with 1. It would almost take a seven-card suit and a fourteen count for us to bid identically to a standard pair. That seems material enough a difference that it would require an alert.

I don't buy the pure claim that it is the responsibility of the defenders to know the system they are playing against. If so, then why alert 1 - 4? The issue is not a matter of having defenses prepared, it is knowing to use them if the bid is not alerted. If there are non-standard inferences available in the 1 - 1N - 3 auction, what singles this auction out as one not requiring an alert?
Aug. 16, 2013
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In the fast pairs we had the auction (1) - P - (1N) - X - (3) - P - (P) - P. After my partner had faced his lead, dummy mentioned that opener was limited to 15 HCP because they play a strong club. We play a strong club, and I have always alerted that bid. When I called the director (I had a marginal double in balancing seat that looks more attractive if LHO is limited to 15), he informed me flatly that it is not alertable. Opinions?
Aug. 15, 2013
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In general I like the XX of a preempt to bring the opening bidder back into the decision. If the preempter has extra offense, they can bid again. If they want to double, fine. If they have nothing to say, they can pass. If responder wants to double the runout regardless, then pass first and then double.

I think the four-level should not affect this, because I can't think of a hand I would redouble for business that I would not want partner to compete to 5 in if partner has extra offense.
Aug. 12, 2013
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J on second board … danger hand high!
July 20, 2013
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Couple of quick comments … 1) If west has only three clubs, then he must have five diamonds if unbalanced, so why not 2 in a GF auction, or 2N if 4243? 2) This auction is fraught with danger because the 2 bid may be probing for a heart fit, or a prelude to a slam-try raise in diamonds or spades. A practiced partnership must have well-defined rules to set trumps in this auction. After the 3 bid, I can think of no reason to bid 3 with fewer than four spades. Either 3N will be a playable contract, or east will have a normal 3 or 3 rebid.
July 16, 2013
John Miller edited this comment July 16, 2013
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It's interesting to look at this from Steve Bloom's “2nd fit” total tricks number. If partner is 64 in the majors, then we have a ten and nine card fit, and for a pure hand, our average defensive tricks is a little over 2. This applies to the opponents as well, so the total tricks in this case would be 22. Now, it's hard to tell how pure partner's hand is, but the 4 bid suggests it's not a total bust in that regard, else he wouldn't be suggesting a five-level sacrifice. My hand is pure, and has the added feature of the club void, which may add one to the trick count, assuming my partner doesn't score a trick with the Kx or QJx of clubs.

So, do we want to bid 6 if the trick total is 22? I don't know what precisely will happen at the other table, but it's simplest to assume they face the same decision. Let's imagine that they double 6. If the tricks are divided 11 and 11, then we will lose 7 IMPs for bidding 6. (I'm assuming all six-level contracts will be doubled.) If the tricks are divided 10 and 12, then we will gain between 12 and 15 IMPs by bidding, depending on who is making the slam. So, by passing, we are giving something like 2 to 1 odds that 22 tricks will be divided precisely 11 and 11. If there are 22 tricks, I think it is clear to bid.

If there are 21 total tricks, then the IMP calculus moves decisively to defending. We're not likely making or beating them three, and we'll lose 11 or 12 IMPs if neither contract makes. If they are making and we are down three we'll gain 14 IMPs. So we're giving about even odds that the opponents make, and the fact that we are looking at one likely defensive trick means we probably don't want to give those odds.

So, it comes down to this … can partner have a hand where the trick total is 21? That would likely require a club holding like those above, or a 54 or 63 pattern in the majors. Also, could our teammates have some disaster that changes the odds? After all, -1540 isn't so bad if our teammates are -500 and the best we can do is lose 7 by beating them one trick doubled. There's also the factor that the trick total is double dummy, and the offense is far more likely to benefit from an error than the defense.

I don't know how all this weighs together … that's why I put it out here.
July 11, 2013
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Tom, I think with the sample hand you gave both are not likely to make, double-dummy, unless someone has a singleton A. However, the slam that is destined to go down may very well depend on the lead, and moving that random factor in our favor is an argument for bidding.
July 9, 2013
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1N natural is only important white on white, so short of reverting to natural at this vul, I don't think it's worth giving up the extra distinctions and flexibility in the transfers to cater to it.
June 29, 2013
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Ron,

I wasn't claiming I care about masterpoints or that the system isn't fair in some crucial way. I'm just saying some of the results are comical. Furthermore, the source of the comedy is the same as the source of why you have a hard time sitting down in a strong pair field or playing in the top bracket knockout.
June 25, 2013
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Henry,

Nowhere in my post did I say that the league, or anyone, was “greedy.” Nor was I explicitly critical of the meta-stance I described. People who know me well will tell you I am a big believer in selling people what they want. If Zynga can make a few billion $$ selling virtual cows, more power to them. I was simply pointing out that this is a way to understand the ACBL's decisions. Just because an organization is not-for-profit or non-profit does not mean it does not operate from economic principles. We all want the ACBL to thrive. To do so, it needs revenue, and much of what it does makes more sense when it is viewed from this perspective, rather than from a general “promotion of bridge” perspective. Some results of this are good. The creative way STAC's work for New York is one example, although the idea locally of finding a weak club to get a 75% game to win the STAC is somewhat farcical. Some are debatable … I know many players like all-knockouts all-the-time regionals, but I miss greatly the strong pair fields of 25 years ago. Some are unfortunate, such as the challenges YP's have in the current structure of playing the best competition. Some are comical, such as my story above, or the idea that points won online have any relationship to points won in face-to-face competition. Convention restrictions make more sense in this context as well … would you rather make the game unattractive to a few young-buck partnerships, or to twenty average card-fee playing pairs who are bewildered and feel unfairly put-upon by weird unfamiliar conventions? All I'm saying is that selling masterpoints is a prism that shines a lot of light on how things work.
June 25, 2013
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As a comical illustration of the craziness of the masterpoint system, at the DC regional last year we lost in the afternoon of some knockout and played a six-table BAM in the evening. There were three A teams and three C teams. At the end of the session, all three C teams had nine out of twenty-five boards, and all tied for first in C. Masterpoints for everyone!

Most of the ACBL's behavior can be understood by viewing their main function in the world as selling an intangible (masterpoints). It's a lot like Zynga selling cows made of 0's and 1's. They have an unlimited supply, but to make the product desirable, they have to regulate the supply. They don't want to regulate it (primarily) by bridge ability or accomplishments, but rather by $$. Hence, the number and structure of competitions that award masterpoints to less experienced players at a rate higher than a strict assessment of accomplishment would merit. In a similar vein, there are Bronze and Silver and Gold and … life masters … always a new level for which to strive. Bridge ability certainly reduces the $$/masterpoint ratio, but there are irreducible minimums to that ratio. To the extent that YP's have more time than $$, they don't support the ACBL's function, so they will not design competitions catering to them.
June 25, 2013
4NT
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In my precision partnerships, we play pass/double inversion (P/X-I) whenever we would be in a classic forcing pass situation. There's no reason that you can't play P/X-I if you're not playing precision, however. What is unusual about this auction, in terms of our agreements, is that every time this has come up at the table, the partner of the player sitting over the opponent bidding has either shown zero or one suit, or we have a known fit. What is unique about this is that that player has shown two suits, but we do not yet have a known fit. By analogy, some agreements from the other situations make sense; e.g., X should be takeoutish (i.e. choose a minor), and pass is the path to defending, although responder can override if he has substantial extra offense/defense ratio. Also bidding 5m is weaker than passing and bidding 5m over the double. We have no agreements for 4S, 4N, or pass followed by these that make sense in the two-suit context, however.

We don't want to be too auction-specific here, so what might make sense as principles? 4N would ordinarily be RKC here, but opener is limited and 3 isn't necessarily slammish, so that can't make sense. Additionally, I don't have any six-KC agreements, and we have no suit agreed. It is useful, though, to have a stronger “both minors” bid to go along with X. In parallel with pass followed by 5m being stronger than 5m, pass followed by 4N should be that bid. All that's left for direct 4N is for it to be natural. As for 4, stopping on a dime in that contract is too narrow a window, so I would think it makes most sense for that to be spade concentration with a minor-suit slam try. I can't imagine actually pulling it out at the table, however.

I think the pass and pull auctions have to include a heart control, but I'm agnostic at the moment about whether that should be the sole criterion. If partner has a slam hand with two small hearts, you may miss something if you have a heart control with a hand you otherwise are not much fond of. That's a pretty small window, though, and my instinct is that the opener in this case should be able to express a general opinion about his hand's suitability, not just control in the opponent's suit.

Notice that I have ended up endorsing Yuan's scheme, but in principle most could be worked out at the table starting from a P/X-I framework. I think that's basically Yuan's point about the double, but sometimes formalizing “pass requests a double,” or the way I think about it … “pass transfers to double,” helps give context at the table for unusual sequences.
June 20, 2013
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I'd be happy if they always ran the top bracket as a BAM
June 6, 2013
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Meckstroth at the end of the day … “Don't play so well tomorrow, guys”
June 6, 2013
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Kit, if 2 was natural, then as a bridge judgment I don't want to double for takeout. I'm 43 in the unbid suits, and RHO's action has increased the odds that partner is trapping. If he is, then he will reopen with a double and the opponents will be in trouble. If he is not trapping, then he has 0-5 HCP, and with the hand looking like a misfit I would be happy to defend 2 undoubled. When LHO bid 2 it looked like they had a secondary spade fit and I would be in a minus position by selling out. An alternative way in which we could have been damaged, had partner's cards been different, would have been if clubs were our best suit and the opponents picked them off by the failure to alert. If my RHO had been psyching with a spade fit, that's bridge, but LHO had five spades and three clubs, so couldn't go back to 2. Her action clearly indicated she knew it was a raise.

As a matter of our partnership agreement, the double of 2 as an artificial raise is takeout of spades, not a club suit. Our thinking is that in a precision context that is a far more needed and useful treatment. Had 2 been alerted it was a 100% action with my hand, and the auction would have developed naturally with us getting to 4.
May 19, 2013
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Yes, that's what the 2 bid should mean if not alerted, but that's not what my RHO had. He had a limit raise of spades with a doubleton club. LHO had five spades and three clubs and went back to 2, so she clearly understood what 2 was.
May 18, 2013
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The discussion about East's ethics in asking about the 2 bid illustrates a catch-22 that I feel directors have put me in. To illustrate, a couple of years ago I held a 1435 19-count and opened a precision 1. LHO bid 1, partner passed, and RHO bid 2. There was no alert, and the auction continued P (2) P (P) to me, I doubled, and we settled in 3 making 4. Turns out the 2 bid was a “cuebid” limit raise. Had it been alerted, I could have doubled for takeout on the previous round, partner would have competed live over 2 to 3, and I had an easy 4 bid. I was told by both the director and the committee that I “knew” the 2 bid wasn't natural, and I had to protect myself by asking.

Seems to me like I am being put in the position of having to potentially deliberately give partner UI in order to protect myself from the opponents' MI.
May 18, 2013
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