Test Your Bidding Against the Experts
264 pp. (paper)
Are you feeling thoroughly fed up? You go to your regular club
duplicate, week after week, and wait for the result at the end,
only to hear the tournament director read out a list of winners'
names in which yours is conspicuously absent.
Well, it is long overdue that you do something about it! The purpose of this book is to help you eliminate many of the basic errors that, over many years, I have seen being committed by everybody from beginners to world champions. It is a great mistake to think that those at the top are the nearest objects to gods on Earth. World champions have reached that status for no other reason that their mistakes tend to be fewer and less serious than those of the rest of us. I well remember a current multiple world champion appearing on television and admitting that he is a terrible bridge player. Let's give him full credit for his modesty, but is he so far wrong? He has dominated world bridge over the past couple of decades for no other reason that he is not quite as terrible as the rest of us. As he proceeded to play a series in front of the television cameras, I lost count of the number of very basic mistakes. It was almost embarrassing!
I have improved my game over the years after coming in for some scathing and well-deserved criticism and learning from my mistakes. I cannot claim to be at the top of the world and am not considered to be even in the top flight, but in one respect, I feel the situation is different, and that is the factor of memory. I claim no credit for this, but I was born with a phenomenal memory, notably for figures. I can reproduce lists of names, addresses, telephone numbers, and similar details from 50 or more years ago as though I had been told them just now. This, of course, has been invaluable when it comes to bridge hands. Naturally, these particularly interest me and my memory is therefore all the stronger in this area. Although I cannot give outright proof, if there is anybody in the history of the game who can beat me in this respect, I should be very surprised.
For this reason, I believe I can claim to have collected a series of hands where players of all standards have consistently found difficulty, and while one cannot be right all the time, the probabilities involved have been heavily in my favor. For this reason, I feel justified in questioning advice given by players rated far higher than myself. I leave you to judge whether I have made a satisfactory case.
As far as scoring is concerned, there are three basic methods for duplicate: pairs, teams (IMP or, on rare occasions, aggregate), and point-a-board, the last effectively being pairs on two tables. I am not intending to make this book into an extravaganza on the differences between the various methods. Where they apply, I shall certainly mention them, but the vast majority of mistakes I intend to discuss are applicable to all methods.
A number of problems in this book are orientated towards pairs play, and I must make an important point on general ethics as it applies to this method of scoring. Most people take the view that, in teams' events, they are responsible to their partner and teammates, i.e., the other three members of the team. At pairs' events, it is just one person, the partner. I want to stress most strongly that this is not the case. Suppose you are sitting North- South. You would be very pleased if, save for the round when they are at your table, pairs sitting East-West played well to give your rival North-South pairs poor results, thereby making yours look good. Effectively, therefore--and this is what very few people realize-- the East-West pairs are your teammates for almost the entire evening. They therefore have a duty to you, and similarly you have a duty to them. A number of articles and books have been written giving example hands where one can go for tops by playing anti-percentage bridge based on what you reckon is going on at other tables. It is called shooting, and I strongly urge you not to have anything to do with it. A lot of people try to win events where they are doing quite well but not well enough by 㳨ooting䍊late in the evening. Others who are clearly doing badly, start similar messing about, caring little or nothing about results.
Not only is this bad bridge, but, to my mind, it is grossly unethical. To look at it from the reciprocal point of view, if you were doing well in a pairs' event, you would, with full justification, bitterly resent it if East-West pairs at other tables were shooting and, most of the time, presenting your rival North-South pairs with good results to leave you with undeserved bad ones. So make up your mind that your only interest is sensible bridge, and rest assured the results will look after themselves.
There is no need to repeat verbatim the points I made in my latest book on the subject, Focus on Bidding. However, one basic comment is worth emphasizing. Just as with clothes, music, architecture, and countless other interests, there are fashions in bridge. In recent years, the trend has been very much towards aggression, in that opening bids, pre-empts, overcalls, and competitive bidding generally have tended to become lighter. You constantly hear comments like:
"It's a bidder's game." "Bridge is all about bidding; not about passing." "Get into the bidding whenever you can." "Winners of pairs' contests tend to be declaring, rather than defending most of the hands."
There are a number of areas in which players of all standards have demonstrated room for improvement in bidding, and the chapters in Test I will be structured accordingly, bearing in mind that there will obviously be a fair amount of overlap between the topics:
1) Making the effort to ensure that the right contract is reached and particularly refraining from taking a unilateral decision without sufficient consultation with partner.
2) Paying far more attention to the consideration of final contract when constructing a bidding sequence.
3) Appreciating the quality (or the lack of it) of a hand in the light of the auction progressing around it, i.e., being more flexible and therefore more accurate in hand valuation.
4) Deciding when it is or is not appropriate to pre-empt.
5) Giving partner sufficient information to help him handle competitive situations.
6) In conjunction with competitive auctions, deciding when to pass, double, or compete.
In Test II, we shall review what we have learned in problem sets that will include examples from Test I as well as other subjects, notably looking ahead and appreciating what to do in awkward situations, preferably well before they arise. In this connection, we shall do a fair amount of work on the travance (trance in advance) principle, which I introduced in Focus on Bidding.
Thus, in the chapters that follow, you will need to try to recognize which type of problem is being illustrated and show how to handle it. My most important requirement is that you should understand what you are doing rather than make a bid because 㳯me expert told you to do so. In all three branches of the game and at all standards, understanding represents the difference between the winning and the losing player. Notwithstanding the roaring (sorry, squawking) successes of the one famous fictitious example, parrots have little or no chance in the long term.
Each chapter will start with a group of 10 bidding problems. The problems will then be repeated with a discussion of my recommended answers. I shall suggest grades on a scale of 1 to 10 for each (you do not have to agree and probably will not!) so that you can assess how you are progressing through the book. Feel free to enter your scores on the score sheet on page 4. In the problem sets in Test II, you will hopefully score better, having benefited from what you have read so far.
I stress again that by no stretch of the imagination do I insist that what I say is categorically correct. While, in play and defense, one can very often give demonstrably provable answers, bidding is very much a question of judgment (even forgetting the elements of style and system), and there is almost always scope for difference of opinion. You need look no further than magazine bidding competitions for proof. Experts can give and justify up to half a dozen different answers to the same problem. However, I think you will be able to see how to arrive at solutions that likely would have earned rewards far improved on what actually happened.
In each case, you will be told where you are sitting and the conditions of play; any relevant conventional bidding and other information will be clearly explained. Assume that everything is natural otherwise. Enjoy your journey! will be hard but hopefully rewarding work! Assume that it is IMP teams scoring unless otherwise stated.