Thursday, September 18, 2014

Think!

Over the years, I’ve been accused of not sharing enough information and being vague about my plans, but I also am often the one trying to plan activities in advance more than other people. A few times I’ve been accused of giving too much information or being too persistent in getting other people to commit to things, so I don’t quite know where the happy medium is. I guess it's different for everyone. Regardless of the specific situation, I aim to encourage other people to think and reach their own conclusions rather than feed them information, even when it is on a subject that I am an expert on.

When I was a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech, I asked people to explain things rather than simply look at the result and checking the work as done. College, especially in engineering, is about learning how to solve problems more than anything else. In presentations, I asked tough questions like why they chose a particular algorithm for controlling their robot. All too often, teachers give a formula and say it applies in these circumstances so all they have to do is plug in numbers into a formula (or in the case of non-math based classes, recall facts that they memorized). In the real world, things rarely if ever fit that mold - we'll generally have time to look up the formulas or facts but what is critical is knowing how to use that information. Essay questions, particularly those that get students to put their thoughts into coherent sentences and articulate rather than regurgitate what was in the book are great and help create a strong level of understanding.

As a bridge teacher, I try to teach people what to think about during a bridge deal rather give them formulas for what to bid and what to lead. Of course, students always like the plug and chug methods because they are easier and require less brain power. When a beginning student asks if he should open 1H with a particular hand, I ask “What does 1H show? Does your hand fit that description?” When a beginning bridge student asks which card he should play, I ask “why do you want to play that card or that suit” and remind him of the few general guidelines (like leading top of sequences, leading partner’s suit, etc) and “what might happen if you play that card”. Even beginners can intuitively figure out the right plays when forced to think about the right things and visualize potential outcomes. The problem is many people were never taught a proper thought process, particularly for defense. When he asks if he should bid again, I ask whether he has already shown and whether he has something close to that, and whether his partner made a forcing bid. In bridge, what you can assume from the student varies widely depending on their level, but everyone should have some base from which you should assume they know or can figure out something and work toward something more.

As a friend, I also apparently want to try to make others think and connect the dots by leaving out bits of information. This probably isn’t quite as good a quality as being friends isn’t supposed to be exercise of the mind like school and work and bridge are. Basically, I don’t like telling people how to get places or trying to give them directions or telling them what time they need to leave to get somewhere on time, in much the same way you probably don’t like having a back seat driver or your mom nagging you to clean your room and brush your teeth. We all have smartphones and GPS now so we can fend for ourselves if you give us an address, right? We’ll meet at X time ay Y place. The end. I will assume you can handle all the intermediate steps like planning your day to meet the schedule, making arrangements with whoever else is needed, driving, parking, taking toilet breaks, and calling if you’ll be late or need help with something. Time and time again I get bitten by this because some people just need the details spelled out.

While playing bridge when, it is assumed that my partner is already thinking plenty, I like to do what I can to guide him to the right decision. Similar to the other examples, he still has to think and process the information and form his own conclusion. I often times hear other people say “well, I told you to lead hearts when I discarded a high heart.” I think that is fundamentally a bad way to look at signaling. Giving an encouraging heart signal more appropriately is saying, “I have a preference for hearts (possibly because I have good hearts, because I want to trump hearts, or because I have nothing useful anywhere but this looks lease detrimental)”. Regardless, partner has the right and obligation to think and decide for himself, based on his hand and other clues, whether to agree to your suggestion or take an alternate defense. I would rather partner take time, think, and come up with some reason for his play, whether right or wrong, than to play quickly not considering the options. Anyone who plays bridge with me can tell you that the errors that bother me way more than the other are ones that come as a result of not taking time to think about a play that would be clear if you took a few seconds to analyze the situation. If you think, then you must have some rationale and if you have rationale, all is good. The logic used to get there may be flawed but it's a heck of a lot better than having no logic.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Memorable Atlanta regional

The Atlanta regional last week was one of the most memorable tournaments. Emory was inducted to the Georgia Bridge Hall of Fame, and Bryan and I teamed with Emory and Olin for a respectable showing - 2nd in a KO, 3rd in Sunday Swiss, and just missed overalls in the Monday Swiss. We ended up being the only team to beat Meckwell all week (in the semis of a KO). In addition to the bridge and the ceremony, I had a ton of fun hanging out with some really awesome friends.
 
A critical deal in that match was when Levin and Weinstein had the uncontested auction 1C-1H; 1S-5C; P. What do you think he should have for this 5C call? Basically, is it exclusion or natural? I believe it's exclusion, that's what I thought at the table, and that's what Levin intended. I'd be interested in hearing their post mortem about this. Meanwhile a bunch of good players were pretty much split on the issue but many said they wouldn't bid it without having previously discussed it. Tim Crank had the interesting idea that it should be exclusion but for hearts instead of spades. For spades, you can splinter and then bid exclusion; there are lots of ways to bid clubs (and 5C natural here is a rather unilateral decision especially when the opponents aren't in the auction); but there's not really any way to set hearts and then exclusion for hearts with a club void. You'd have to go through 4th suit forcing and then bid hearts and a 5C bid over that would still be very nebulous.
 
Yesterday I finished up the September D7 News as well so like will be kind of calm for awhile for 3 weeks. After that, the fall looks busy again. I'll probably make to 8 tournaments with 4 or 5 different partners between Sept 26 and the end of the year - all just weekend trips except the Charleston regional at the end of the year.
 
I don't particularly like my column this time. There are a couple of other things I wanted to write about - relationships in bridge including drama with the youth programs/international teams, reasons people quit bridge, the bridge rating/mp system as compared to tennis/chess/scrabble - but couldn't organize my thoughts in a coherent manner.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Vegas Wrap Up

The verdict is in: 21 days at bridge tournaments in a 25 day span is too much. However, it's not so much the bridge that is exhausting but all the other stuff that goes along with bridge that makes for many very late nights. No other time of the year are there so many good friends in such close proximity. Even three people I normally spend a lot of time with at bridge tournaments (Joel, Alli, Mikey), I hardly saw in Vegas.

At the Las Vegas NABC, Sean and I peaked in the Wernher Open Pairs in the middle of the tournament, putting together four fairly solid sessions for 20th place in that event. The day before the Wernher, I won B in a regional pairs with Mila, good for 16 points. The rest was really not very good. We stumbled through the LM Pairs and just missed qualifying for day 3 to start the tournament and weren't close to qualifying in the fast pairs or Open Swiss at the end of the tournament. Given three missed Q's and Monday that was already a planned day off, Sean and I didn't play a whole lot of bridge together. I enjoyed reconnecting with Mila for the first time in awhile, and on two of the off days I played with her. On the other off days I played a lot of poker and wandered up and down the strip taking in the sights and sounds.

I had intentions of actually resting and catching up on sleep while in Vegas and staying out of a lot of the casino/bar/social scenes because I was pretty exhausted at the beginning of the tournament, right on the heels of the Columbia regional. Two days early in the week, I did go to the pool in the mornings and get to bed around 1 am, but then I realized that gambling can be fun and enjoyed reconnecting with Mila who I hadn't really interacted with in a couple years. The casino atmosphere with bars that don't close encourages staying up much later than a normal city. It was clearly getting to us by the end of the tournament. I think I might have to start imposing a 2 am curfew or myself and my partner. That still leaves a solid three hours for socialization after the evening session which ought to be plenty.
So, upon taking a redeye flight home and going straight to work, I'm supposed to be super exhausted and sleep a ton for a couple of days. That strangely hasn't happened. I'm still been sleeping only about 5 hours per night, waking up before my alarm each morning. Weird. Maybe it's because for a change I have actually missed my home life and have been looking forward to this weekend, which should include a pool party at my condo in Atlanta, and catching up with Elena and sharing stories of our long vacations.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jack Doubletons in Columbia

One more day left in the Columbia regional. We have amassed 45 points somehow, but this is the story of the jack doubletons.

In the first KO, in which we finished 3rd/4th, I went down in a slam when I finessed for the HJ holding Qx opposite AKTxx. I knew that clubs split 6-2 and in another side suit each opponent had at least two but that's as much of a count as I could get before having to decide on the heart suit. Apparently the odds still didn't sway in favor of taking the hook, but that one didn't really matter in the outcome of the match - we won anyway.

The next one comes from the second round of the second KO and cost us another date with Joyce Hill's team in the semis.

-
AKTxxx
AQxxx
KQ

QTxxx
Q9
KTx
xxx

We were white and they were red, and lho opened 2S in 3rd seat. This pair plays weak twos 3-7 often with a five card suit.

She led a low club, ruffed in dummy, I played a heart to my hand to ruff another spade and seeing no ace decided she opened a five card suit. She then showed three hearts. Now the question is how to play diamonds. If she was somewhat sane, she wouldnt be 5332 so that rules out 5-3-3-2. A 5-3-1-4 hand would be much more suitable to a preempt.

Alas, the lady had Jx of diamonds and I finessed into her. It was a 26 imp swing and we lost that match by 9 (and lost the other match in the three-way by 4).

Thursday in the Swiss I was put to the test again.

Txx
KT9x
Kx
Qxxx

AQJxx
A8xx
Axxx
-

We reached 4S. LHO had overcalled 2D, and the hand eventually came down to getting the heart suit right for no losers. He had dropped the J under the HA and I knew from the play he started with exactly 5 diamonds and 2 spades. This one was pretty easy to work out to drop the QJ doubleton rather than play him for a singleton J and finesse through RHO. The main inference is from  the fact that he did not make an unusual 2NT overcall. with 2-1-5-5 distribution he may well have done that instead of overcalling 2D: Kx, QJ, QJxxx, AJxx is more consistent with the bidding than Kx, J, QJxxx, AJxxx. It was just funny seeing Sean's reaction and being worried that I was going to finesse and lose to yet another jack doubleton.

Winter has had a good time here. The DoubleTree is pet friendly, making this one of my favorite regionals, even if it is a bit on the small side. I really like Columbia. The Riverwalk along the Broad River and Bush River has been a place Winter and I have been almost every day to walk/jog. The final table count will probably be around 1650, substantially down from 2010, but that was kind of expected given its position right between an Atlanta supersectional and the Las Vegas NABC and a Raleigh regional just over a month ago.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Later today I will begin my summer travels, sort of, with 3.5 days at the Atlanta super sectional. It’s already off to an ominous start as team plans dismantled at the last minute. After last weekend’s plans didn’t pan out, I had decided to make no more plans and just play everything by ear. That’s so not me. I got anxious last night and started making plans – or at least attempting to, and that was probably a mistake.
 
Although I’m usually pretty adaptable, I like having a plan because it gives me peace of mind. I recognize that some people simply have difficulty planning ahead, and I’m kind of afraid that I’ll lose them if I push them too much to plan something rather than go along with their non-plan of “I’ll call you when I get free that day.” There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. Anyway, it’s lunch at Chipotle, bridge with Sean, then brewery and whatever else needs to be done to celebrate David’s birthday today. More of the same tomorrow except it’ll be the nation’s birthday instead of David’s. Saturday and Sunday look about the same, with a tennis match thrown in Saturday morning and possibly an evening session of bridge. Hopefully I’ll get to see all of my Atlanta friends and make some new ones during these evenings with no bridge. It’ll be fun.
 
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I actually like these morning and afternoon games, at least when I don’t care about being productive like this Atlanta sectional. Many tournaments, however, I have other responsibilities and things I’d like to accomplish like jogging, playing with the dog, and working on the D7 News or the daily bulletin – the morning and dinner break are much more conducive to productivity than an evening with no bridge.
 
I don’t really have anything actually about bridge today because I haven’t played serious bridge in several months. I’ve been having quite an active social life, and the whole buying and fixing up a condo in Atlanta has taken up a lot of time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Restructuring tournaments for substantial cash prizes

Since the Dallas NABC in March, I haven't played a lot of bridge. Well, actually I have - it's just mostly been in bridgebig.com. If you are unfamiliar, this is a site where you play bridge for money and it's an all individual format and you don't know who your partner is so cheating really is eliminated. There is, however, a decent amount of randomness based on who you happen to get for a partner on a particular board. Plus, the bidding system isn't very well defined so if the auction gets complicated at all, you're pretty much just guessing.

About a month ago, they made some major upgrades to the site, which is based in the Netherlands, that have really attracted a lot more people. The big 32-board Sunday afternoon game used to draw 20-25 players and is now getting about double that, and daily tournaments of 20 boards, and cash games are doing well too. If you're scared about playing for money, there are some free games and low-stakes games, but if you're not in it for the money, you're probably better off on bridgebase where you can socialize. But really the biggest improvement they made since the initial bridgebig release a year or two ago is the mobile-friendly version so it is not tedious at all to play on a smart phone.

I've been playing pretty consistently on bridgebig and have won a couple of sizeable prizes. All in all, I'm just a little bit in the green but am optimistic about winning more.

When people ask what can be done to increase interest in bridge, they suggest teaching classes, making it a school elective, newcomer games, easybridge, and so forth, but very few seem to suggest monetizing the game. I think that would be great. Money makes the world go round, and the majority of bridge players are upper-middle class people who can afford a few extra bucks in the entry fee for the chance to have a real cash prize.

Look at how poker took off in the 1990's. Why was that? Because the game is simple enough that you can learn it relatively quickly and the fact that you can lose a little bit of money or win a substantial amount in a tournament is exciting. That gets the masses involved and then they can find what types of games work for them later on. It won't work with the kids but might work with the empty-nesters, recent retirees, and middle aged white collar workers, and that's really the demographic that will produce the most bridge players.

At a typical regional, entry fees are $11/player/session and in the MABC, 8 free plays are given to winning KO teams and 4 free plays to winning pairs in regional pair events. Let's take a look at this past Thursday in Raleigh - seems like a typical regional schedule. 69 tables in the two-session pair events so that's 552 individual session entries, and since there were four flights (A, X, 750, 300), 4*4*11 = $176 in free plays were awarded. That's 32 cents per entry. In the KOs, there were 70 teams in 6 brackets. That comes to 148 team sessions so 592 individual session entries. 6*8*11 = $528 were awarded in free plays, so 89 cents per entry. Like the masterpoint formula, this is skewed much in favor of KOs, although smaller regionals will favor pairs more (KO brackets sized are fairly fixed but pair game sizes can vary a lot). Regardless, it's less than $1 of each entry that goes back into the prizes for the winner. That's almost negligible.

I'd like to see some restructuring of prizes and entry fees. Raise the entry fee of the top bracket by $5/person that will all go to prizes. Over the course of a 16-team bracket, that's 120 individual entries or $600. If we put that on top of the $100 or so that is already being allocated to that bracket's winners, it's a $700 prize pool. Let's pay out something like $450 to 1st, $225 to 2nd, and $25 to the ACBL. Do a similar thing with the flight A pair event. In lower brackets and flight B events, give players an option to buy in to the prize pool, and only the people who paid the extra are eligible for a prize. Obviously, that will make the prizes lower.

In the 20 tables A/X pairs (9A and 11X), everyone pays $5 extra so that's 160 individual entries or $940 to the prize pool for that event. Since there are 40 competitors instead of 16, we'll pay more than two places and the X prize pool will be 11/20/2 times that for A so that's $737 to A and $203 to X. That payout for flight A might look something like $330 for 1st, $180 for 2nd, $120 for 3rd, $80 for 4th, $27 to ACBL. For X, $115 for 1st, $80 for 2nd, and $8 to ACBL. In the 49 table gold rush game, maybe only 20 tables pay in to the prize pool, meaning about $1100, counting the initial 80 cents/entry. Similar payout structure as for the A/X pairs but only people who opt-in are eligible for any winnings. And maybe the flight B or gold rush games should have only a $3 or $4 extra charge. Maybe the open games should be more like $8-10 extra per session. This could start a trend of players playing pro without a sponsor.

Yes, radical ideas for bridge because we are so used to seeing no monetary prizes in bridge, at least in the US, but a lot of other games give cash prizes, and European bridge tournaments often have cash prizes, so it's really not such a strange idea.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spades to Bridge

For the last couple of years, 3-4 days I play spades during lunch with co-workers. There are often two tables of us, sometimes with an extra player or two, and I've tried on occasion to get them to learn bridge, but there's something about the mentality of people where I work that makes them not want to exert much brain power and bridge is definitely more intense than spades. There are really only two of them who would be decent at bridge - the ones with good card sense, the ones that actually understand basic card play techniques.

Any bridge lessons quickly lost their interest, but I still try to teach them how to play the cards properly. I can tell which ones would be decent at bridge by how well they pick up on things like finessing, leading top of a sequence, establishing tricks in a suit, and to a lesser extent drawing trumps. Of course, spades is much more random than bridge. Two or three of them do consistently play pretty well - they can execute basic plays like finessing with AQ, playing second hand low, leading sequences to establish tricks, but the others just don't get it. They remain stuck in the idea that things like cashing unsupported aces, leading unsupported kings and queens, and playing second hand high are good strategies. Why do some smart people - even engineers who naturally are good with numbers and spatial relations - have such difficulty with bridge?

In my previous office, we had regular scrabble games. It was also a bunch of engineers but generally an older group than the mostly 20- and 30-somethings in the spades group, but I was still by far the best player. I guess it's understandable that engineers may not make great scrabble players, but they refused to learn bridge as well. I guess I did get one lady to come to a bridge class for a week or two but then she quit. Anyway, they've all heard me talk about how great a game it is and are well aware that I travel a lot to play and sometimes make it financially beneficial, so hopefully someday these people will cross over into bridge.