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.

The post is here.


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