Sunday, 25 May 2014

Buchanan Men's Teams

So, last Sunday I went to the Berwick Congress. I played with Sally Stephens in the pairs, and Peter Stephen's (Martin and Phil's dad) in the teams, where Sally played with Martin. We had an unimpressive performance in the pairs, Sally doing a few silly things, and me doing a few equally silly things, to just sneak into the top 50 (out of 54). However, we rallied quite a lot in the teams and managed to finish a creditable 5th out of 21, not bad given that Sally really doesn't play that often, and me and Peter have only played together twice before.

I have one interesting hand from the session I played with Sally, which leads to the question: can dummy revoke? However, I can't find the hand records from that session right now, so I might write it up later.

On Tuesday it was the Men's teams in the Buchanan Congress. Playing with Peter Cairns and Jim McGlauchlin, who recently won the National Pairs and will be 1/3 of our team in the National League, we had high hopes going into the competition. However, we didn't even come close to competing for the prize - failing to win even a single match.

This was probably the hand of the night: 
At our table as, I expect, at most tables, the auction began 1♣ 4♦ X (some people might have opened 2♣, I guess or 1♠), and some people might have contented themselves with 3♦). I was sitting North, and passed without really thinking about it. On reflection, I think I should probably make a bid, although it's really not clear what. 6♦ is an obvious choice, or at least 5♦. However, maybe I should try something like 4NT, to really muddy the waters. 

At our table, our opponents stumbled into the grand after I passed (I think the auction concluded - 5♦ - 5♠ - 7♠). I'm not sure how much I like this bidding, as East really doesn't know if the grand can make. However, it looks quite likely to be at worst a 50% shot (the cards you're really interested in are the ♣Q, ♦A and ♥K, any two of which will mean you're at worst on a finesse, assuming the spades come in), and it's not clear how he's going to find out much more about his partner's hand - what do East's available bids even mean on this auction?

Maybe if the opponents end up doing this much guesswork at the 5 level even when I'm silent then I was right to stay out of things. Anyway, congratulations again to the winners, and to the team of Jim Forsyth and Nigel Guthrie, Charles and Vi Outred, who won the teams competition, which was held yesterday.

I'm off to Harrogate at the weekend with Martin and Phil Stephens, Jun Pinder, Ed Jones and various other "young" bridge players (I think Jun's probably the only one of us who still regularly gets referred to as young when doing anything other than playing bridge), so will hopefully have something to report back from there.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Buchanan Congress

This week is the annual Buchanan Congress, which has been going since at least 1967. I know it's been going since at least 1967, because 1967 is the date of the first winners who are engraved on the trophy for the Congress Pairs, which is currently sitting on my mantlepiece...

We did reasonably well in the qualifying session for the pairs, finishing something like 5th with a score of 54%, and then were run-away winners in the final with 65%. I have to admit that it really didn't feel like a 65% game, and when Horst was reading out the results, I wasn't quite sure if we'd have just sneaked ahead of the second placed pairs (Grace and James Walker and Jim McGlauchlin and Peter Cairns), who were tied on about 58% or if we'd be just behind them.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've decided that it's probably time that I learn to actively try to count a bridge hand, rather than get by on general principles and having read a lot of books, and I've been practising this with GIB, and it has made a surprising difference to the experience of playing - one of the more unexpected benefits is that I actually hope to be defending on most boards, as then I'll get to practice my counting (counting a hand as declarer is the next thing on my list of skills to acquire...). And I get to defend twice as often as I'll get to declare!

Here's one where I was glad that I had a full count on the hand - I'll go through my thought processes in tedious detail...

The auction was - - 1♦ - 1♥ - 2♥ - 4♥. This seems like pretty reasonable bidding, North liking his singleton and his holding in partner's suit. I led the ♠10. This went to the 7, 2 and Ace. So I'm pretty confident partner has the ♠Q, but not quite sure how many ♠s he has yet. Declarer drew trumps then led a ♣ to the Q. Partner cashed the  ♠Q, and then played the ♣A. Declarer ruffed and exited with a ♠.

I'm now on play with two ♦s, 1♠ and 1♣ in my hand, but I know that declarer's starting shape was exactly 3-5-4-1, and he hasn't played a ♦ yet, so it's clear that I can afford to give him a ruff and discard in either of the black suits - if he has any ♦ losers then 1 ruff and discard isn't going to help him, whereas if he has the ♦J, then a ♦ might give the contract away. Now, I'd probably have played a black suit card anyway on general principles, but having a full count of the hand in this situation certainly made life easier.

Danny already blogged about this hand, where he and Anna managed to find their way into 3NT - we got 92% of the match points in the main final by playing in 2NT rather than a ♠ partial. As it happens 3NT is absolutely cast-iron (although it does require the ♠T to be in the East hand). 

We weren't quite as successful in the men's teams, despite the fact that our team-mates were one of the two pairs that finished joint 2nd in the pairs... I think both of us brought back cards that would have been lucky to win even one match playing with anyone in the event, but at least we were both terrible at once. Congratulations to the team of Alasdair Forbes, Bill Durning, Ian McClure and Raymond McShane, who won that event.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Drills vs Skirmishes at bridge - a bleg

So, I seem to have gone the entire month of April without writing a single post to this blog. There were a few hands I kept meaning to write up, but never quite got round to it, and then I broke the screen on my Chromebook, so I didn't have a reasonable means of writing anything. I'm writing this with a new Bluetooth keyboard which I bought to use with the iPad as a stopgap before I get a new computer.

In the month I haven't been blogging, I've had a disastrous showing the National Pairs qualifier at the Buchanan, had a spectacular -600 in a vulnerable 3NT at an aggregate tournament, and a famous victory at the Melville Congress teams with Danny, Martin and Jake. There were a few interesting hands in those sessions, and in particular one hand where I'm fairly sure Martin andI should have bid a grand slam but didn't - I might well get to writing those up at some point this weekend. However, the title of this post is not about that.

The title of this post is taken from a concept which I read in the book Practice Perfect, which is written by some teachers who have spent a long time trying to figure out how people should practice something if they want to get good at it. One of the key distinctions they make is the difference between skirmishes and drills as a form of practice. A skirmish is something that accurately represents (or sometimes takes to extremes) the activity that you want to practice. So in basketball a skirmish is playing a game against your team-mates in practice, or even playing 2 on 2. A skirmish at bridge is playing a hand or even (in my opinion) solving a problem in a book. It very nearly simulates the entire experience of playing a bridge hand. A drill is an exercise that isolates one particular skill that you might need and allows you to practice it until you're good at it. So in basketball a drill might be shooting shots from a particular point on the court, or faking passes, etc. I've noticed a distinct lack of drills related to bridge. 

Here's something close to a complete list of all the drills I think I've ever come across explicitly described as drills:

1. starting with a number between 4 and 13, repeat all the possible divisions of 13 cards into groups of 4 where that is the longest suit. ie, commit to memory all the patterns such as 6331, 7222, 8410, 6430. Do this until you can instinctively complete the hand pattern given the first three numbers in the sequence. 

erm... that's it

There's also another book I own which I can't remember the name of (and can't find at the moment - I think I might have leant it to someone) which consists mostly of double dummy problems with 5 or less cards. This is also pretty close to a drill, as it teaches those patters in isolation.

Clearly the line between drill and skirmish isn't quite as clearcut as I might have suggested. For example, solving problems from a book, while I would regard it as a skirmish, is clearly not quite the full experience of playing a bridge hand, and if solving problems with a common theme, could well come closer to a drill. However, I think that my personal bridge education, and probably those of most people I know, has been quite heavily skirmish-biased. That's something I'm thinking about how to fix.

Luckily for me, I have a series of quite competent opponents who are happy to indulge me in whatever nonsense I may decide to throw at them. I'm talking, of course, about GIB. With the ability to play never-ending games against opponents who don't complain, there's lots of scope for designing good drills. Here's one I've been trying lately. Playing with GIB, I defend every hand (pass throughout, and re-deal when partner is declarer), and I make my sole mission in every hand to count declarer's shape. (I've also, incidentally, started doing this with the suits in order, so that a 3541 shape is different from 4531 - not sure yet if this is useful, but I figure it can't hurt). I think I've probably made more progress in my ability to count in defence in the 2 hours or so that I've been practicing this drill than in the 10 years or so that I've been playing the game.

Anyway, I was mostly wondering if anyone has any suggestions for other drills to improve specific bridge skills, suggestions for specific bridge skills that it would be worth designing drills for, or suggestions for other good sources of drills that already exist (or books that are more drill-like than skirmish-like). I'll probably be posting some more ideas for drills in future posts.