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.



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.



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 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.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You know you're playing a high level of bridge when you execute squeezes like they're routine and the opponent being squeezed concedes rather than agonizing over the discard. The latter happened twice last week. Then there was that one time an expert opponent erroneously tried to concede... no further details.

Anyway, Jonathan's pictures from the Dallas NABC are up so there's actually a photographic record that it happened.
I really do like that he does this. Many of us bridge players, myself included, get home and realize we didn't take enough pictures. I particularly like picture #80 of Cristal and me. Being an editor of the District 7 News, it is particularly nice nice to have easy access to the photos.

Over the 10.5 days, I ate probably 26 meals (lunch only on 4-5 days I worked out in the morning) including 13 free meals at the hotel and 7 Chipotle burritos.

Next up on my bridge calendar: maybe a Gainesville sectional this weekend, maybe some sectional next weekend, maybe Gatlinburg in 3 weeks, maybe some sectional in May or June, I'm not sure, but I'll consider reasonable suggestions/offers. All I know for sure is I have definite plans for the Columbia regional July 7-13 and tentative plans for the Vegas NABC July 17-27.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hello from Dallas

Success at the bridge table has been hard to come by, but it’s been an interesting week in Dallas for the NABC. Jonathan (and possibly others) has been wondering why I keep meeting different women for lunch or drinks or whatever, whether it’s Meg or Cristal or one of the others. They’re all taken or otherwise off limits, though. This is a problem that exists in my real life as well, and I don’t dislike that problem, but it would be nice to befriend some lady who isn’t off limits.

Anyway, we missed making the first cut in the Platinum Pairs by about 1/3 board. At least we did better than Capp and Meck. Then we had plenty of opportunity to knock off the 15 seed Schwartz in the Vanderbilt. Neither pro pair (Boye Brogeland and his partner, Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz) had a good day, Jonathan and I took care of business but teammates let us down a lot in the first and fourth quarters. Oh well. Here are a couple of interesting boards.

AQJx, AKxxx, AJxx, -
At my table the Israelis had a cute auction:
1S-2H-2S-3D natural game try
4D natural raise promising 5 diamonds
5C exclusion for diamonds
5H 1 key card

Apfelbaum and Shuster had a less scientific auction: 2D-5NT; 7D. The hand with long diamonds was -, xxx, KQTxxx, xxxx

There are two legitimate lines:
a) cross ruff, cashing the 3 major suit tricks on the way, needs the hand behind the long diamonds to have 4+ spades (quite likely)
b) take a ruffing finesse in spades, then draw trumps, and ruff out a heart to come to 2 spades, 6 diamonds, 1 club ruff, 4 hearts.
Both lines require 3-2 hearts and they both work in this case. I have no idea how they went down at the other table.

Another hand I liked was when I held 7 solid clubs and a side K and found myself on lead against Lotan’s 3NT after a 1D-1S; 3NT auction.

Well, I guess that’s all for now. Good night.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hands from Hilton Head and Valentine's Day weekend

It's February 13 and I am dreading the next few days. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day - arguably a single person's least favorite day - and it's a 3 day weekend with no real plans. Last year, I took off to play 2.5 days at the Palmetto, FL regional before coming home to play/work entirely too much at the Macon regional. I'm debating about what to do this weekend. I made some mild attempts at a typical Valentine's Day activity but to no avail, and my friends have been useless at finding me another date. I'm thinking Mercer baseball season opener on V-Day, then dog park, then bar. Saturday, direct bridge in Macon then go to the dog park and have a relaxing evening at home. Drive to Atlanta Sunday morning to see the first few innings of GT's baseball game, then go to some Husky owner meet up at a dog park in John's Creek, hike at Sweetwater State Park Monday morning and visit the Sweetwater brewery in the afternoon, and of course eat lots of Chipotle burritos while in Atlanta. Who wants to join me on any of this?

I played three days at the recent Hilton Head regional. Results were respectable but below expectations. The bar is pretty high these days. Anyway, Emory and I were 6th two days in a row in the Open Pairs, followed by 7th in the Swiss with Bob Simkins and Denny Cahan. Here are a few interesting hands.
Dealer: S
Vul: EW


I got the T lead, which I ducked once just in case he had tried something like a preempt on a five-card suit. I won the club continuation, seeing LHO shed a spade. How would you play this one? Would you play it any differently in an IMP game?

Playing wide open, I would double-hook hearts, and in matchpoints I think it is a reasonable line of play, especially given that it seems like most if not all of the field would reach 3NT.

However, even in a reasonably strong field, this isn’t quite an automatic enough contract to not take a safer line of play. So when I led the J at trick 3, LHO covered and I ducked. A diamond at that point would put me to the test because that would take out the only entry to my hand – cashing both top diamonds and hoping hearts run would be the only chance, and it’s close whether to play to drop the J or play a heart to the 9. Playing hearts from the top wins when RHO started with Tx or Txx with RHO, and ensures no worse than -2. Finessing wins when LHO started with KTxx, gets out for -1 when LHO started with KTxxx, but risks -3 when RHO has the T.

I was faced with a slightly different dilemma. My LHO confidently returned the Q, squashing RHO’s ten. Now, I had the option of leading a spade back and setting up a marked finesse for LHO’s 3rd high spade, assuming RHO’s T was not from T9 doubleton (I was pretty sure it wasn’t). That would now ensure -1 at worst (with a bad heart split and not finessing the 9). Furthermore, the 5-1 spade split means the available spaces for hearts is now almost even so odds of RHO having 3 hearts go back up a little.

On the actual deal, my LHO took my 8 with the 9 and still didn’t lead a diamond, which would force me to cash my DAK, then take a spade finesse and almost certainly lead to -1. Instead she led a low heart, opening the door to an overtrick (I otherwise wouldn’t be able to lead toward the 9 and the 7 for finesses), but I took the AQ and gave up a heart to just make my contract. Should still be a good score even though double dummy the contract is cold by simply playing a heart to the 9 at almost any point in the play.

With a combined 25 hcp, stoppers in all suits, and no eight-card fits, I would expect most pairs to reach 3NT, and expect making 3 and down 2 to be the most common results. It’s kind of interesting to look at the results on this board from the 4 different levels of pair games:
In A/X: 17 out of the 24 pairs that played the board were in 3NT. 2 made 4, 6 made 3, 2 were -1, and 7 were -2.
In the side game, only 15 out of 36 pairs reached 3NT: 3 made 3, 6 were -1, and 6 were -2.
In the Gold Rush, 10 out of 32 reached 3NT with 3 making 4, 4 making 3, 1 down 1, and 2 down 2.
In the 299ers, 5 out of 23 were in 3NT with 3 making, and 2 down 2.


In the Sunday Swiss, I picked up -, AKJxxx, QJx, AJxx and partner opened 1NT. Do you have the methods to intelligently investigate for slam/grand slam? As little as xxxx, QTx, AKxx, Kx, a 4432 12-count is pretty much lay-down for 7H but as much as AKQJ, xx, Txxx, KQx, a 4432 15-count, would be a bit of an underdog to make 5. Michael Seamon, playing with a client, jumped to 7. I transferred to hearts, then bid clubs, partner supported hearts, then we cuebid and stopped in 6H, expecting to be off a minor suit king, which we were and the finesse was off.

In another deal last night, I held AJx, -, T9xxxx, KQxx and saw my partner open 1. So I splintered 3, which was doubled and passed back to me so I redoubled, theoretically showing first round control. Partner bid 4. I think 4 here ought to be exclusion (really, in this particular situation any ace-asking bid, even 4 minorwood or 4 kickback ought to be Exclusion key card) but 5 definitely would be. Over one of the lower key card bids, I would have room to find out about the K but over 5-response, I no longer had room to do that below 6 so I gambled and bid 7. Even if partner didn’t have the K, either the finesse might work or he might be able to discard his spades on my clubs (if he has at most 5 black cards, fairly likely on the auction).

Another interesting one from the Sunday Swiss was when I picked up AJxxx, Ax, -, AKxxxx. It’s kind of impossible to accurately bid this hand, especially playing DONT. I started with double, theoretically showing a one-suiter. It went P-2-X, so I bid 3 and it went 3-P-P so I bid 3. The auction couldn’t have progressed much better for getting to show this monster 6-5. Partner, with QTx in both black suits and nothing in the reds, understandably bid 5 and took all of the tricks.