Monday, June 28, 2010


This past weekend I spent a lot of time watching on BBO Vugraph the Under 21 US Bridge Championships rather than the finals of the Open USBC. While the bridge for the most part was noticeably amateurish, I enjoyed it because I know almost everyone in it and want to see them play and mature and want to think that I had something to do with them getting to the 2030 USBC finals but then losing to me. ;)
The favorites - Adam Kaplan, Adam Grossack, John Marriott, Alex Hudson, Jourdain Patchett, and Jesse Stern - had no trouble winning. They are all rather established partnerships and quite experienced players and should do well in the world competition. The second place team, probably most people’s pick to be second, consisted of Zandy Rizzo, Murphy Green, Richard Jeng, and Andrew Jeng. Both teams will represent the USA in the U21 world championships in Philadelphia in October. The Rizzo team fell behind 40-0 in the USA2 final against Ricoh Das, William Dang, Mili Raina, and Angie Green but would up winning 169-90. All of the kids clearly have bright minds and a flare for the game and have potential to be very good. It is experience that was the main distinction between the top three teams. Each pair made their share of good plays but the top pairs were able to avoid bidding misunderstandings and didn’t suffer much from two very common problems of young players today.
The first common mistake is playing too fast. By junior standards, I am a slow player. By average bridge player standards, I play at lightning speed 95% of the time and then at a snail’s pace on an occasional difficult hand. There are some hands that do not require much thought but until you are sure of that, it is best to take some time and play deliberately. Even with the screens, the teams were sometimes finishing 16 board segments in an hour and a half, only about 5.5 minutes per board, while the open teams were only on board 11 or so. Time and time again, we noticed declarers playing too quickly, especially early in the hand, or defenders not pausing for a few seconds to think more about what’s going on. Then just a few seconds later they realize their mistake. Bridge players have big egos, and perhaps playing fast is just another (slightly delusional) way to show off one’s superiority to others but that’s another article. These mistakes happen at all levels – Friday, I saw Bob Hamman forget to pitch a quick loser away on an AK in dummy before leading trumps (missing the A of trumps).
The second major problem players in this phase of learning where people know enough to think about many possibilities but not enough to realize that most of the possibilities are so unlikely to actually happen is that they just bid too much, particularly without having a fit. By the same token, the same players that bid too much without a fit don’t bid enough with a fit. Having a fit with partner in a way, gives you a license to be more aggressive as there is some safety in going to higher levels – it means the opponents probably have a fit and can make more, and taking tricks, whether in NT or a suit, is just easier when you don’t have singletons opposite KJTxx. This is something that one must learn from experience. There are few life lessons that we can just accept from other people telling us – we have to go make the mistakes ourselves to learn. Learning when to quit bidding can be a hard lesson to learn. After going down in 3NT on misfitting hands several times, one slowly learns. Bidding NT is rarely a good way to “rescue” partner from a misfit. Pass and get out while it's still relatively inexpensive is usually best. Occasionally, you’ll get a favorable lie of the cards or have an unexpected club fit and it will work well, but more often than not, passing partner in 2S in a 6-0 fit is the best thing you can do. This is why I don’t like the idea of playing new suit non-forcing opposite partner’s weak two. There’s no reason to think partner will have better support for you than you have for him and you may only be getting yourself a level higher. Hands usually play better in the long suit of the weaker hand anyway. Plus, passing partner without a fit and making him suffer a hopeless contract has a side benefit of making him think twice, then three times, then not at all, about preempting on a T high suit or open 3C on a 5 bagger. There is a reason so few world class bridge players are young and it’s not because young people aren’t as smart or talented – we can’t learn from other people’s mistakes nearly as well as we learn from our own and it takes time to make mistakes (or, if you prefer, gain experience) and improve our neural network of card sense and bidding sanity.
I remember Richard Jeng finding a nice endplay in the last match to score an overtrick in 3S, I believe. Kaplan made a few impressive declarer plays – the play in a 4HX contract Saturday was pretty interesting. There were others, too, but those are two that stuck out in my mind the most. I could go back and write about specific hands but unless someone wants to pay me, I’m not quite that motivated to write about hands that don’t directly involve me, so I’ll leave that to the Bridge Bulletin and Bridge World writers for now. :)

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