Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Recurring themes

Strange how something will come up and then suddenly it's everywhere. I think it's the collective unconcious, but my friend the physicist assures me it's just coincidence.

The other day in a class in the 2/1 club an expert pointed out that when partner opens 1c in fourth seat it's almost never right to pass.

Today, I'm running to the library to pick up Right Through the Pack. I was lamenting that bridge text doesn't excite me like I'd like it to, and and that I'd learn better if somoene was writing them in narrative from the point of view of the two of spades (or do I mean Two Of Spades?) and it turns out someone did. Sadly, the Nassau County Library system doesn't have Bridge in the Menagerie.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

From the table

Last night I learned many things. I woke up this morning thinking of three of them.

The first of these, I found complicated and hard to grasp, but I think I've got it. Hopefully, I understand well enough to write about clearly.

P led the 8 of spades against 1nt. Declarer played K from K 4 in dummy. I held J523. What to play?

(We play UDCA) Turns out we should give attitude here. We play the 5. The 5 says I don't have the queen. Had the dummy had the queen the 5 would have denied the Jack and the 2 would promise it. Ok, so hopefully I can break this down. P takes a lead. 8 could be fourth best. P could hold the Queen, but so could declarer. And P might be wondering where that honor is. He knows I don't have a higher honor, because I'd have covered. So, it's the honor below the one played in dummy that we want to tell p about. With the honor under the one played we give positive attitude, without negative. We don't however do this with the 10.

With a five card major we want to bid when p opens a minor. I held QTX QTxxx XX XXX. Han opened a club. I passed. We got creamed in clubs. And you know thinking back it's not the first time this has happened. In fact, it might be right to bid a heart even without the Q spades.

The third thing last night, reminded me of something that Justin said last year. Sometimes in a suit contract you need to count your winners. Ax AQJx AKxxx Ax. I opened 2nt we play in 4s.

So, here we are:

KQXXXX xx xx xxx

Ax AQJx AKxxx Ax

I count my losers. Two clubs a possible heart, and with a bad split a spade. I didn't have a plan. I had a thingy (a thing like a plan, only less specific without the details.) And I thought, Can I somehow trump a club, and then I didn't pull trump and bad things ensued. And bad scores ensued. And yes, this is a story about how if you plan the hand this doesn't happen. However, it's also a story about counting your winners. 5 spades (six on a good break) 2 hearts 2 diamonds and a club is 10. The moral is, if you have your tricks, take them. Sometimes you have to stop and count your losers and go right on ahead and count your winners too.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Like a dog with a bone

So, here we are, a few days later, and still I'm thinking about Bergen raises, whether to play them, and if not how to replace them. I've talked to a lot of very good and even great players. I've run it over in my head. Here's some of the conclusions that I've reached.

I play bergen because when I was learing bridge the first time I was taught by someone who played Bergen. He said : This is the only way righteous people play and any one who doesn't is a heretic who should be bbqed. G_d fearing folk play Bergen, he said.

So, I played Bergen.

But I didn't want to play something because a million years ago someone I no longer speak to said I should. There should be a better reason.

Some of those reasons include:
Many people play this way, and when you sit down with a stranger it's nice to have common ground.
Most intermediates who play 2/1 play Bergen, and when I'm looking to sit down at a table, it's often an intermediate table.
I think I like the preemptive bid 1M-3M.

Why try something else?
While I like the 1M-3M bid, I'm less excited about the jump raises. I'm not sure if they are descriptive enough to give up bids that reveal a great deal about my hand. For instance invitational jumps which show a 6 card suit, or minisplinters which show a distributional supportive hand.

I'd like to expand my vocabulary. Look at a new idea. Test something against what I'm used to and see which I like better.

I came up with the above all by my self. (Right or wrong I like to come up with an opinion. It makes me feel like I know something.) People have said some interesting things on the subject which I am weighing as well.

Bergen is easy.
The preemptive 1M-3M may not have as much value as I've assigned it, and that auction may be better used for mixed raises.

Inv js are common too, and a lot of people I respect use them.

I don't have to choose. I can play Bergen with some people (random pick up partners and those with whom I don't have detailed agreements) and something else with others.

What I'd like to try is to use 2nt as limit plus, the jump shift as an invitational suit showing bid, and maybe try these mixed raises all the kids are dancing to. Now I just need victims to bid them with me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What if I gave up on Bergen?

Assume this: p-p-1s-p-3c. This scares me. 3c has to say no spade support, 6+clubs and invitational values. This is scary. You're at the 3 level with no known fit and p could have opened on a good 8 count and a club void. What happens here?

In you're a passed hand you can't use Bergen, and really would you want to? That's what drury is for. And two way drury you can even show a fourth trump if you have one.

This all started when at a class in 2/1 an instructor said that bergen should be on in all seats. I question this. First, as just stated we have a bid for an invitational hand with support. Second if we don't have invitational values is it crucial that we go to the three level? Just because with 9 trump we can play at the three level, does it mean we must? If p makes a game try then we can, ith a 7-10 point hand, look at our 4th trump and factor it in. I don't think I want to use Bergen in all seats.

So, I asked an expert. (When in doubt ask an expert.) He said Bergen raises are silly. He suggested I give them up. Well, I believe him. I mean if you ask someone a question because you trust their expertise, isn't it foolish to dismiss their response because it wasn't what you wanted?

So, what if I gave up Bergen? What do I gain? What to I lose? I gain a way to show an invitational hand with a long suit.
What scares me isn't that I lose the ability to show a fourth trump on the hands where I have 7-12 points, though I worry about giving up my preemptive 1M-3M. What scares me is being out of step with the other players at my level. Now, I recognize that the players at my level aren't going to make me better. But playing a lot will. And they're the people I get to play with most.

What would happen if I gave up on Bergen Raises? And do I ever want to bid 3c invitational when p opens in 3rd seat?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Forums

On the forums today, there’s a discussion about leads. Something I’ve thought a lot about lately is leading from 3 small. What I decided is this: I want to lead low. The reason is that I think it’s often easier to discern from the bidding where the honors live, but it can be of great use to know the more about how the hands break down.

Again, I don’t have a firm enough grasp on logic to defend this position. I know some experts say I’m entirely wrong. Richie Reisig says anything but low from three. It’s an interesting question and one I may just ask on the boards and see what answers come back.

Also on the forums Fred Gitelman posted some thoughts on learning bridge. He said:

In response to this question: Fred,

What would you recommend to the student of basic bidding theory? Any particular good books or articles? Anything else?

I am sorry, but the only good books I know of on this subject were written more than 50 years ago. Probably for some they would still be interesting to read, but the game has changed so much since then that I expect most non-experts reading such books (if they could even find a copy) would end up becoming confused.

I see most of today's books about bidding as analogous to those spam-like ads "work part time from your home and earn $100,000+ per year!" or "eat all the chocolate you want and never gain any weight!". Most modern books on bidding I have seen are nothing but hype and what they are hyping is some bidding system or collection of conventions that will "improve your results by 10% without you having to learn the basics!".

Here is what I would suggest:

Don't give a great deal of consious thought to this subject in your first few years of serious play. Learn a simple bidding system and only the few conventions that are so popular that they have essentially become part of "standard bidding" (unfortunately there are now quite a few conventions that fall into this category).

Keep your mind uncluttered with conventions that you don't really understand and play as many hands as possible, ideally with either a keen regular partner who is at roughly the same level as you or with a much better player who understands that it will help you more to spend your time discussing concepts like "a jump shift is forcing to game but a reverse is not" rather than the latest flavor of modified DONT.

Your brain is a remarkable machine. You will learn a lot of what is important by osmosis, especially if you manage to avoid distractions (like trying to come up with the best possible scheme of rescues when the 10-12 1NT opening that you shouldn't be using get doubled).

If you can afford to hire a professional player to be your partner or to give you online lessons (or whatever) you should do so, but do not hire anyone unless they are highly recommended by a person you trust and respect. If the pro or teacher starts by telling you that you must learn to play "4 of our minor is always 1430 Keycard Blackwood with specialized followups to the trump Queen ask" then find someone else - this person is trying to sell you snake oil.

After each session you play you should think about the hands and talk them over with your partner. If your partner is at the same level as you, try to make friends with an experienced player who is willing to discuss the hands you are not sure about (and who is the type of player whose idea of good advice does not involve teaching you that you would not have had a problem if you used his preferred variety of Extended 2-way Reverse Drury).

If you are fortunate enough to have access to an experienced player who is willing to help you, do not waste this opportunity by asking him questions that are designed to boost your ego (by trying to convince him/her to agree that your disaster on a particular hand was your partner's fault for example). LISTEN to your expert friend/teacher even if you disagree with him or her. Then THINK about it later. Do not get defensive when you are told that one of your bids was horrible. Instead try to understand what went wrong with your thinking process so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Once you get to the point that you consider yourself to be solid intermediate player (this should take 2 or 3 years of hard work) you should buy a subscription to The Bridge World magazine (and if you have friend who has a collection of back issues try to borrow them). Each month this magazine has a feature called The Master Solvers' Club. Read it and think about what you read. Re-read it and think about what you read.

You may find the other features of this magazine to be interesting as well, but it is fine if you read only The Master Solvers's Club in each issue.

This will help you to learn things like:

1) That bidding is not just an exercise in language, it is also an exercise in logic
2) How strong players apply logic to solve unfamiliar problems
3) The axioms that form the basis of this logic (which are "the basic principles of bidding theory" that I referred to in an earlier post)
4) You will also learn plenty about the language aspects of bidding, but most of these lessons will not involve learning the names and mechanics of new conventions.
5) That bidding situations in which the "right" answer is not at all clear are far from rare, regardless of how well you play.

This will also help you to improve your bidding judgment. Good bidding judgment is largely a function of experience. Reading what a bunch of good players have to say about a bunch of interesting bidding problems allows you to benefit from their vast experience without having to experience the same hands yourself.

Keep in mind that in many ways "learning the basics of bidding theory" is similar to things like "learning the basics of probability theory" or "learning the mechanics of compound squeezes" - these are all just parts of the game. On any given hand any given part of the game is unlikely to matter. You can survive (and you can certainly enjoy bridge) without learning such things.

All players are better at some parts of the game than others. For most parts of the game it is not necessary to be highly proficient in order to achieve reasonable results at the table.

Fred Gitelman
Bridge Base Inc.

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