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All comments by Larry Lang
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I hope he's okay with it. I didn't ask for permission.

Looking at Donald Trump, all publicity is good?
March 29, 2016
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I'm not so sure about changing the card. In my opinion, a 5-card suit that is perhaps known to the opponents is worth about 1/2 point extra when playing no trump. An unknown 5-card major, on the other hand, adds a full point in playing strength because it ambushes the opponents.
Perhaps I should cross out HCP and put in “playing strength” – but don't all of us add a point for 2 extra tens and maybe degrade a hand that has no spots and scattered repugnant values?
If I do that, I have to mark 1NT as 14 to 18 HCP and then I'll get some raised eyebrows.
March 26, 2016
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I guess I'm a clear minority. But if you play 1NT semi-forcing you should open 1NT with all 14-16 HCP-5M 332 hands. 1NT response morphs into “6 to 12” rather than “semi-forcing”. 1M – 1N – 2m shows 4 card suit.
Ran a bunch of hands, and this is clearly superior.
March 26, 2016
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The initial stages (and final outcome) make more sense in the light of an ACBL power struggle. Now, the whole saga makes more sense to me. Each player taking “reasonable” actions, and still ending up in a mess.

Nicholas,
How did Jim Lopushinsky fit into all this? Did he feel his toes were getting stepped on? Did the ACBL technical folk want to do this themselves? Did they buy in to management's goals?

The code is difficult to wade through. I finally found some very helpful text files that come close to providing a “preliminary spec”. However, as for the code itself, the global variables are numerous and pretty much like a Chinese Puzzle. Was there any thought to having Jim document some of it to help out? I've given up on contributing anything. I sense that no matter what I came up with, it would not be appreciated and they would find some reason not to like it.

The Technology Committee has not been very visible the last 6 months. It wouldn't surprise me if the ACBL never did a full bore rewrite of ACBLScore. Do you agree?

Do you think they'll ever come up with a well documented DLL (or similar) and then invite other programmers to contribute accessory applications or add in programs?

What do you think the final timing and outcome will be?

Personally, I'm seeing all this new kind of stuff come out. I'm impressed with the Common Game and their analytic stuff.

I read about Bridge More. It sounds interesting. I can't tell how serious they are.

It seems like things are moving so fast that eventually ACBLScore may become a moot point.

Feb. 18, 2016
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I"ll be in Moses Lake. I was hoping you wouldn't be there so our team will have a better chance of winning. But will be happy to chat anytime

We've had some success addressing these things in private. Might work for you too.

I know some of these directors you mentioned. Of the ones I know, you would have to dump a pile of bricks on their head to make an impact on their thinking. (Very thick skinned). I'm not as concerned as the rest of the site about mentioning them by name.
Feb. 14, 2016
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Okay John,
Your call. But I would suggest you do have an obligation to pick the Unit Recorder carefully.

It's not a matter of Director education. The Directors know what they're supposed to do. They don't have any skin in the game, so why should they run their game to benefit you?

I think you do need to address your “ethically challenged” player. Do you have the tenacity to confront this person and ask for more ethical behavior? Or are you going to let him sit around like a broken window in a warehouse, as a reminder that “dirty behavior” is okay in Spokane?
Feb. 14, 2016
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I must be a hard nose. If I bid any form of Blackwood, I should have all of my replies thought out over every possible response. There should be no excuse for a hesitation unless partner responds with something truly weird. Any so called expert should do the same. Rulings on Blackwood auctions, in my mind, are a no-brainer.

Also, if there is UI, I like to consult with the peers of the beneficiary, and not experts on the telephone. Consulting with their peers usually turns it into a no brainer as well. Experts bring a whole new dimension of complexity into the problem not associated with the naivete.
Feb. 14, 2016
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I want to throw in my two cents.

If John Adams is brutally honest and names people, “the system” will benefit. An honest broker does more for the people at large than a sneaky broker.

If John is “discrete”, he may save his reputation, but people will get away with shit, and the general population will suffer more than the damage he personally suffers (depending on the circumstances)

I think if we're really honest about it – the reason we're “discrete” is because we are gutless, we don't want to be known as a tattle tale, and we value our own reputation more than we value the society at large.

No matter how outrageous this may sound, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Feb. 13, 2016
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Hi John,
Yes, absolutely more slack for novices. Also, you are probably NOT getting treated fairly when you call the Director for UI because you are a big fish.

I am a Unit Recorder. Even though I live 150 miles from Spokane, I have heard rumors of at least one player who is consistently unethical – a cheater (even though I'm not supposed to use that word) – and he gets away with it over and over again. I'd say your Unit has a problem.

In our Unit all the directors/club managers compete against each other for players. Hence the directors tend to be less strict than they should be. Sure enough, in our area, the most lenient director has the biggest game. That says something. However, the Director I'm referring to is very nice and gives his all to the game, so I can't complain.

If one or two players get really out of hand, we have been known to meet as directors and decide what we're going to do. We do this without a representative from the Unit, but either way is okay. We vow that we're all going to rule consistently, and if we have a problem child we decide if we should take joint action. It might help in Spokane's case, I don't know.

I hope you understand that the clubs report to ACBL Headquarters and not the Unit.

Still, the Unit Recorder can get involved in club incidents that involve cheating or actions that border on physical abuse or worse. Perhaps you need to appoint a Recorder that is more active. As the Unit President, you have powers that are equivalent to a Recorder.

As you probably know, you cannot take any direct disciplinary actions, except for unethical behavior (cheating or close to it). The Unit Conduct & Ethics Committee can adjudicate and act when requested by the Unit President/Recorder. The Unit President and Recorder sometimes act as team.

I hear a lot of complaints in my Unit about – “Freddy is a poo-poo bear and I want him talked to.” But in my 3 years as Recorder I have not recorded one incident in my Recording File. I tell everyone I have no power to do anything – which is true. But behind the scenes, The Unit President and I sometimes work with the Directors and other people to address problems that are bugging people. It helps to sometimes mediate, and stir the pot a little until a resolution finally pops out. You won't always get resolution, but usually we try to leave a situation better off than we found it, and so far, thank the stars, no formal action has ever been taken.
Feb. 13, 2016
Larry Lang edited this comment Feb. 13, 2016
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Ed Reppert,

I agree with all of your remarks. But it sounds like I have more sympathy for the ACBL than you do.

As an example, I used to “present” at 2 sessions of EasyBridge! After 3 sessions, they started playing duplicate for ACBL points. Some of the participants were brand new to Bridge. At some tables they would finish 2 hands in 12 minutes (more quickly than in a regular club game). Other players could barely finish 8 hands in 2 hours. I wanted to encourage them to take the hands out and look at them afterwards if they were so inclined.

At first, I kept bringing over piles of “bonus boards” to the faster tables that didn't count. But finally, I decided that while some people want to play fast, many beginners are trying to soak it all in, analyze every detail, and think about what they are doing. In my mind, that is part of what's fun about Bridge – to look at the hand afterwards and see how we could have done better. Why should I punish the thoughtful players just because others play like greased lightning?

I finally settled on 15 minutes per round for 2 boards or 21 minutes per 3 boards, but told them that if they wanted to just finish 2 out of 3 boards per round, that was there prerogative. The last board would be a no play. It turned out, even if the last board was a no play – they wanted to finish all 3, and I probably only give one no play a session. I think this is quite acceptable for the club I run (aimed more at learning) but would be quite unacceptable at a Sectional or Regional.

It partly depends on what you think the purpose of a club game is. We actually have semi-segregated clubs at our Unit. My two club sessions are more for learning, having fun, and being social. At least 2/3 of my club participants do not expect to ever be Life Masters, but I think it is a positive for them to get points when they score well among their peers. The night clubs tend to be more serious. I think this works well, and everyone is happier because of it. But obviously I'm biased because I'm one of the perpetrators that bends rules in ways that might appall some other ACBL members.

Now for another example. I played in a more serious Night Game against a playing Director who is also the Club Manager. They were playing an oddball derivative of Precision. They had an auction that was alerted several times. At the end of the auction I asked what it meant, and was mis-informed, causing me to give up a trick on defense. I'm not going to go into details as it would require 5 more paragraphs. I was mis-informed by the dummy. The declarer knew I had been mis-informed because he did not have the hand as explained to me by the dummy and didn't say a word. Because of the misinformation, they made an impossible contract and we got a bottom instead of a top. Declarer later said he didn't correct the explanation because he wasn't sure what they were playing. When asked for formal documentation as to what they were playing, they said their notes were at home. Apparently, the explanation I was given disagreed with their notes at home, and declarer had bid correctly.
I asked for an adjustment. Denied. I asked for an independent decision. Denied. I mentioned this to the ACBL. Too bad.

I think allowing a playing director/ club manager to knowingly break ACBL rules for his own personal gain is improper, and I was disappointed. But on the other hand, if the ACBL had gotten involved it would have been a big mess and cost a lot of money.

So, once again, I find their attitude reasonable, but not ideal.

Feb. 12, 2016
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My understanding is that the Club Managers are absolute kings over their domain. The ACBL doesn't like to admit it, but almost anything a club does in the interest of attracting Bridge Players (especially new ones) is okay – including breaking the spirit of the laws – and probably ignoring the laws outright. As an example, giving no plays to slow players is probably incorrect, but it is done by many clubs and the ACBL knows this.

As far as the ACBL is concerned – unless it is really gross – if you don't like the way a particular club game is run, you have one option and one option only. Don't play.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't be concerned, or that the rulings were reasonable. I'm saying – that's the current attitude the ACBL has. I neither applaud or disapprove of their stance, but it seems reasonable. Not surprisingly, they would rather not talk about it.
Feb. 12, 2016
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I think ego blinds us to the possibility that we are really only a bag of slow acting chemicals that think at approximately 60 Hz. Computers think 10? orders of magnitude (ten billion) times faster yet still we can easily do things that are almost impossible for a computer.
Impossible tasks used to be, play chess, speak, and speech recognition. Back in the 80s, I was told that it is impossible for computers to pick the best route from point A to point B. Now we are debating, can they play bridge?

I've gotta tell you, my last job involved teaching a computer how to differentiate a flute, for example, from a saxophone while listening to a symphony orchestra. You have no idea how complex this is, based on our current understandings of how to process this kind of information. It involves statistical analysis, Fourier Transforms, and rotating possible orientations of the orchestra and Bessel functions. The computer created huge matrices, crunched on them, rotated them, crunched on them again, and kept rotating and crunching, and maybe eventually surmised that the note heard 4 minutes ago probably came from a flute, or at least the wind section of the orchestra. What's amazing is that as humans we do all this naturally and take it for granted. I look at all this and think, “we must be missing something.”

My Master's Thesis (I had the choice of doing a project or a Thesis and made the wrong choice) involved picking 25 16 bit numbers that would do the optimum job of simulating a perfect FIR (Finite Impulse Response filter) for a given frequency response. Sounds simple. But sure enough, just to pick the best 25 numbers required more computing power than I had in my lifetime, at least at that point in my academic career.

I came up with a simple “discovery” that back then was significant and won 1st prize from the local IEEE when I presented my paper. (I should mention I was the only person who entered the contest).

Basically, paraphrased to the max, I came to the conclusion that when you are guessing at a solution and trying to pick optimal values, start with the most significant (largest) value first. In other words, when packing suit cases in the back of your car and trying to get them to all fit, pack the biggest suit case first.

Imagine that, two years of work – pack the biggest suit case first.

That was back in 1995, and I'm sure we are much further along now. But perhaps it illustrates how truly illiterate we are about how we think, and how we can translate this across to computers.

Feb. 10, 2016
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Are we saying that the “optimal” move depends on who you are playing against? I've often speculated that the late Barry Crane's best “legitimate” talent at the Bridge Table was recognizing who he was playing against and altering his strategy accordingly. Thus, the “optimal choice” is impossible to prove one way or another, unless you can delve into the brain of your opponent, and see how they are going to react at the exact fraction of time when such a decision comes up.

Maybe this isn't exactly what Andrzej is saying, but it certainly is a factor that must be dealt with.
Feb. 10, 2016
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Sometimes we tend to forget that technology advances and things change. 7 Years ago we hit “Peak Oil” and we were all going to run out of energy. Now I hear that fusion is “just around the corner”, but I've been hearing that for 40 years. I suppose eventually it will become practical.

On my wedding day, 1983, I was told by a self appointed computer expert, that computers would never be able to play chess. They didn't have the capacity to learn heuristics. I knew he was wrong then, but I'm not so sure about the future of Bridge.

Advances are being made on teaching computers how to learn. Ironically, one of the requirements is an “economic model” so that a computer can figure out what to learn next.

Neural nets and genetic algorithms provide the capability to connect many programs together, tell them to play Bridge against each other and steadily improve their game. They can play all night, all day, on as many computers as you can find, and they never grow tired of it. They don't need to solve all possible permutations. They just need to keep playing experts (or themselves) learn each time they make a bad decision, and adapt.

In a sense, we already have computers that “program” themselves via large libraries. The technology for computer learning is already available but who knows what it might look like 5 or 10 years from now?

Will anyone have a job 20 years from now? I hope not.
Feb. 9, 2016
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Imagine a Bridge Program that switches bidding systems every hand, partly based on vulnerability and state of the match. It's convention card is 200 pages long – there for you review. It's partner knows each convention exactly, down to the nano HCP because they are both running the same program.

Also, like a poker player, the program changes personalities every 20 hands or so, just to further confuse you.

It monitors the size of your pupils. It watches you closely during the first couple of seconds when a new stimulus comes your way, and your mammalian brain is running amok because the human portion of your brain that is in charge of putting on a poker face hasn't kicked in yet.

It has trouble with the opening lead. But as others have mentioned, there are neural nets and genetic algorithms that can be trained with enough data.

I look forward to playing against this creature – in Hell.


Feb. 7, 2016
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Bridge Mates can be controlled through ACBLScore or by the controlling program provided by the Bridge Mates. The Bridge Mate documentation for the version we have recommends that if you have ACBLScore, control them through ACBLSCore, and that is what we do, for the most part.
Jan. 20, 2016
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David,
“A few tweaks to ACBLScore” is probably a gross mis-characterization on my part. I would have to study the Bridge Mate Interface Technical Manual more carefully to give a fully vetted answer, but here are few options.

If you're a truly obsessed director with nothing better to do, it can be done manually. ACBLScore allows the director to switch on or off percentages and/or the travellers at any time, through out the entire game. The director changes the option on ACBLScore, and then uses the BridgeMate control program, which runs simultaneously, to push the new options to which ever and how many tables the director chooses. Thus the director can allow table 3 to see results or percentages but not table 2. He can change them back if he wants.

The director can use the Bridge Mate control program to see the results “come in” from each table. He can see immediately when they are entered even before they are transferred into ACBLScore (by pressing Control-P) . He can see that table 2 is well into the 2nd board and is having no problem keeping up while table 1 hasn't even finished the first board yet. So, he could turn off results viewing for table 1. Later, if they do catch up, he can turn them back on.

When BridgeMates are running, communication between ACBLScore and the Bridge Mate server is established via an Access database. (*.BWS is either Access 2000 or Access 97 compatible depending on your version of Bridge Mate). If you have the correct version of Access, you can open up the file and take a peek. You can download the complete software control technical manual off the Internet. It's powerful stuff. The options are many. So this could be handled by a software application as well.

Here is another option. Either in ACBLScore, or another software application, the director controls a clock that knows when each round starts, how long each board is expected to last, and at which point to turn off a table's ability to look at traveler/percentage for that board.

This probably seems like a lot of polling between the devices, and it is, but for computers it's not a problem. Exactly how complex the software might be is another guess.

I think the interaction between the clock, the director, and setting up the exact rules for when the program turns off or turns on the travelers is the most complex part.

Jan. 20, 2016
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I like Jeff's idea. How Libertarian! Instead of treating bridge players like children, allow them to see the results when they are on schedule. Actually, very doable with a few tweaks to ACBLScore.

Jan. 19, 2016
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“I'll bet if you polled all the players exposed to UI, they would agree almost unanimously that they were able to ignore the UI and bid their hands, so what's the point of calling a director to rule on UI?”

Well, if UI is not a problem, don't call the director.

And if everyone agrees UI is not a problem, then all the gripes about Bridge Mates allowing people to hear results at other tables is over-rated.

Believe me, it is so easy to cheat if you want to. You can hear all the actionable comments you want, even without Bridge Mates. I believe that 95% of players at club games are honest. They won't cheat, except in very weak moments. I am not going to become an international celebrity featured in Aqua Velva commercials just because I cheated at club games. The cheating 5% get everything they deserve – the knowledge of how truly pathetic they are.

The players at our clubs make their own boards. It saves time (and indirectly it saves money).


Jan. 19, 2016
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At our Unit we have 5 different clubs. All use playing directors. Director pay is $15 for a session. But most of us are also Club Managers, so our real rate of pay is probably less. We don't worry about “paying customers”. We just worry about keeping everyone happy so they'll come back.

I play half the time because I'm on standby at my two club games.

We treat the club games as simply that. Club Games. A typical game has 3 to 6 tables.

The ACBL allows clubs to use playing directors.

Although no-plays are not endorsed, the ACBL will turn their head the other way. Especially if the club is using them to make the game more friendly to new players. I use them frequently. I find slow play easy to deal with and I let the players see the Bridge Mate results, as if they were using travelers. I will use a no-play anytime when play is slow but I'm not yet willing to give a penalty. The players typically howl that this was the board they were going to make grand slam on (even though they haven't even pulled their hand out). For some reason, you do it once or twice, and the slow players seems to disappear, without any need for badgering by the director. Why make things unpleasant?

It is amazing how we, the 5 playing directors in our Unit, agree that UI is not a problem for us, and shouldn't be a problem for anyone that is not “actively paying attention” to the talk of others. When I play, I probably make 5 or 6 rulings a session – maybe 12 times a week. I don't recognize the boards I make rulings on when I play them later, but I don't try to recognize them either. I am not cursed with a photographic memory. I consider myself to be very ethical. I remember boards, if I want to. But if I rule on a board, that knowledge does not come to the forefront when I play it later. I probably run into an “ethical dilemma” once a year. That might happen when there is drama at another table, and a complex ruling, and the board shows up at my table next. I suspect the other 4 director/managers feel the same way.

There have been cries of impropriety occasionally against a few of the directors, but never over unauthorized information. More likely a director loses his temper and handles a situation badly.

There are good reasons not to have playing directors, but I think it has more to do with the size of the game.

I bet our games are a lot cheaper than those of you “who do it right”, cross every T, and have “paying customers”.

Jan. 19, 2016
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