Thursday, September 18, 2014


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.