Questions of style.

June 9, 2010 at 1:03 am 13 comments

Towards the end of comments on this post, this interesting exchange took place (comments 10-14):

Peter Gill:

I must be a lunatic then. With North being a passed hand, I agree 100% with E and W ‘s actions. The likelihood of a re-opening double is so high that W’s Pass seems best.

You have to be careful about criticizing E and W here, just because they have a different bidding style from you. Plenty of BBO commentators, post mortemers and appellants make the same error. Diversity – different styles of bidding – should be praised and appreciated, not condemned as lunatic, in my opinion.

Ben Thompson:

“Style” is a very dangerous word. It lets you say “that’s not my style” when you disagree without having to justify it.

The argument that North is a passed hand, so that East is therefore likely to be able to reopen, so that West is therefore ok to pass over 2D as he is likely to be able to defend 2DX, is worthy. Style doesn’t enter into it, it’s just a reasonable argument (and I happen to think that the EW hands are on the wrong side of the margin).

A reasonable context for style is “we do [whatever] because of [whatever] so we therefore have to [balance with a X in these situations]“.

An unreasonable context for style is “we do [whatever] because it’s our style”.

When I hear an argument including style, it’s almost always the latter type, not the former.

Cathy Chua:

I think this comment is 100% true in its general observations about the idea of style and how people use it, but given that you suggested EW were lunatics and invited them to bid against you in this way as often as possible, you are in fact attributing a style.

On the other hand, I suspect there IS some style involved here. At relatively low levels this partnership is far less likely to pass in direct seat with slightly imperfect hands for entering the auction than other partnerships. So the balancer did not have to be as concerned with partner having ordinary opening hands as other balancers might have had to be. I guess that increases the chances of partner having what he had.

Ben Thompson:


Actually, this comment about EW entering frequently with ordinary but imperfect hands is a very good argument for the balancing double.

I take it all back. I think the “enter with ordinary imperfect hands” approach has upsides and downsides, but it’s not provably wrong, and it’s quite playable (if you’re prepared to accept the increased volatility).

With the context, the balancing double is quite reasonable.

On the one hand, I completely agree with Ben. There is that thing where your teammates come back with -50 on their grandslam hand and tell you ‘that’s our style’, like okay, well, pardon me for asking.

At the same time, may we not say ‘this is our style’ as a shortcut method of explaining, yawn, our system. Eg now and again a teammate might say ‘but shouldn’t you have upgraded that hand to a 1NT opening?’ and might one not wish to reply ‘that’s not our style’ rather than having to say, ‘Well, it’s like this. For reasons that we think justify the idea, we prefer not to use invitational bids. These reasons include the desire not to give away unnecessary information to the opponents and the wish to utilise the bids saved as a consequence for lowlevel slam enquiries which we find to be useful. We think this tradeoff is worth it. As a consequence we bid aggressively to game opposite 1NT openings. Because we do this, we find it is dangerous to upgrade hands the way other people do. It is to our advantage that we sometimes get lucky as responder and find that declarer actually has a good hand for his bid. Thus the whole concept of upgrading is not our style.’

In this case, although I did put forward an argument for our partnership (refer to the link at the top of this post) being more comfortable than others might be that partner has trap passed, I think the argument is a little dubious as the two level is almost too high for free-wheeling auction entry. But then, maybe it depends very much on the opponents and their ‘style’ of weak twos, ie the less disciplined their action, the less disciplined we should be.

Then again, maybe it is about the circumstance. Suppose you are a couple of Australian patzers playing Versace. How do you beat him? Well, in my opinion, the action we took is very likely the best approach. Do others disagree on this?

Yet again I think the thing we really have to be aware of is how incredibly complex bridge is, the situations, and how and why we deal with them as we do. I hope this doesn’t sound trite, it isn’t meant to.


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Too irritated for words. Drugs in bridge. Groan. Victorian team wins VCC

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sartaj  |  June 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    • 2. cathychua  |  June 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      The trouble with bridge is that we have a partnership and unfortunately that forces us to ‘disclose’ and by definition we have to have a style. The moment we claim not to, we are moving into territory that looks unethical. I don’t think this is so, but it is how we behave and we probably have to unless we went back to playing bridge as God intended – ie rubber.

      If you asked me what our style is on matter, eg opening a weak two and our reply is ‘we don’t have one’ you’d have the director on us faster than a ton of bricks.

      Karpov is absolutely correct, it is the right way to play. BUT in bridge, unfortunately, it is not permitted.

      Is this not so?

      • 3. Richard09  |  June 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

        If you are playing with a complete stranger, for example, in a scratch game on the internet with no discussion, you can say that you have no agreements and no style. If you are playing with an acquaintance with whom you have played off and on over a period of years, you know how he plays and you know how he expects you to play. You have a partnership style, and you have agreements, even if they haven’t been explicitly discussed on this particular occasion.

  • 4. phil markey  |  June 10, 2010 at 10:45 am

    ben is obviously right to note people say “style” when what they really mean is that they have no other argument to A) avoid looking stupid and/or B) continue with the pretence they always say clever things – i often try to relish looking stupid as some defence to the human condition but sadly most people just think i’m more stupid and the rest know its B

    i dont buy that not upgrading is style – it is in effect saying that you are a slave to high card points as the best means of hand evaluation – it might be correct to explain that you didnt upgrade this particular hand but not as expressed a general position of never upgrading – i think a 1nt opening has a value that isnt determined by what might happen after you open it

    • 5. Andrew  |  June 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm

      This risks moving into – or maybe it already has moved into – a somewhat philosophical zone. But the decision to open 1NT is always determined by what might happen afterwards; if you open a 12-14 NT it’s because certain things will happen after that that wouldn’t happen after a 17-20 NT. No bid has an “ideal” hand independent of systemic context. I might go further, and say independent of “play” context; if you value turnover, that is also a context that frames your bidding decisions.

      Another point is that the decision to upgrade a hand actually has two meanings. One is that there is some boundary at a fixed place, and you decide that some hands should be inside that boundary that others might consider to be outside. That’s what I take Phil to be saying. The other is that you shift the boundary to include more hands. That’s what I take Cathy to be saying (that her partnership doesn’t do). When I fill out a system card, which, true, I haven’t done for a while, I write (11)12-14 for the Phil style, and 11-14 for the style Cathy is eschewing.

      What interests me is how style is communicated to the opponents. Since it highly likely that a partnership has operational knowledge of its style, that knowledge needs to be shared.

      Does Cathy tell her opponents – “Our 15-17 means 15-17 because we NEVER upgrade a 14 count because we don’t use invitational bids?” (assuming that accurately describes the style). Does Phil tell his opponents – “Ignore the HCP for NT on the system card, we use a different evaluation method, which is …”

      BTW, did anyone ever experiment with a loser-count NT definition?

      • 6. Chris Mulley  |  June 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

        Make sure you remember to add 2 to any number you come up with. 🙂

      • 7. phil markey  |  June 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

        hmmm – i hate system cards so now i am slowly putting together a document that explains what i do in what i regard as a readable format for me and other bridge players – when opening 1nt it expalins that high card content ranges from 8 to 15 and where it sits on a given hand depends on many factors including;

        – if its the first 2-3 hands of a match you always want to be opening light
        – if the person opening thinks that opening 1nt again will annoy his opponents he should stretch to do it
        – if the hand contains 4 or 5 spades but is at the outer limits of other bids to describe such a hand then it should be opened 1nt

        so i tell people when they ask about my 1nt opening range that “its the first board of the match so he is 8-an average 14” – or “if he thinks it will annoy you he could be as few as 8 here” – and i always try and say “if he has 4 spades he is a better chance to have as few as 8 here”

        most of the time people look at me like i’m an alien when i say these things – i showed my system description to simon hinge recently and he reckons i’m cheating

        i often think of 2 legal examples of what makes a good definition in considering this issue – one was from a lecture i once had to sit through from an expert tax lawyer about fundamental changes to the tax act that happened around 25 years ago – at the end he was asked if the additional clarifications that were proposed meant that there would be less legal disputes about how the changes operated – he laughed and said it was 50 pages longer so there would be more disputes

        the other is that the most litigated section of the australian constitution which runs to over 100 different sections is perhaps the smallest section which reads in its entirety “trade between the states shall be absolutely free” – seems clear to me but apparently not

        i think no amount of explanation written or verbal changes the fundamental difference for bridge players – your actively ethical or your unethical

        i should say that in considering 1nt openings after the event the discussion assumes that there is a line – it may be very difficult to define the line but there is always a notional line

      • 8. cathychua  |  June 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm

        Andrew, It’s a bit of a joke, is it not, that I put 15-17 on my system card and have to DISCLOSE that this means 15-17??!!!!

        • 9. andrew  |  June 11, 2010 at 7:40 am

          Well, synthesising this point & one made my Phil – ethics are independent of system cards, so arguably they (the cards) are a waste of time & wood pulp. But arguing about the accuracy of what’s written on the card is less emotional than arguing about the ethics of the opponents, so I think we’re stuck with it.

          I admire Phil’s attempt to document his thinking on NT; but I doubt it will make him many friends.

          Many years ago, I sat down to play with an old friend without any system discussion of any kind. At one point I was asked, What are your leads? to which I was compelled to reply, We have no agreement. You must know whether you overlead or underlead, I was told. I don’t, I replied. We used to underlead in the late 70’s, and then we tried overleading in the mid 80’s, but today (the mid-90’s) we haven’t discussed it.

          The director was called, and we were compelled to arrive at an agreement. I don’t know if that was correct by the black & white laws, but having an agreement didn’t make us 1% as hysterical as not having an agreement made our opponent. So prgamatically the director was correct.

          • 10. cathychua  |  June 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

            In the Shanghai world championship a few years ago, Pablo Lambardi had a situation against the US where this issue came up. I can’t recall the exact auction, but it was a question of whever a bid was natural or a transfer. Perhaps 1NT Double 2H. His partnership had no agreement. They had no agreement because the last time they’d sat down together was ten years prior. One of their American opponents was, I gather, extremely unhappy with this situation, but I don’t see why this should be.

            • 11. Andrew  |  June 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm

              In the absence of an agreement it should really be natural. But it’s funny, I used to play “no gadgets” on BBO, and people would introduce splinters, Lebensohl, checkback etc. etc. apparently under some delusion that these were embedded in the concept of natural.

              Stress is inclined to make people pernickety though. Not everyone is relaxed enough to sit down at a world championship without pretty comprehensive discussions. That’s probably a pity. Perhaps we could replace the Rosenblum with an event where teams are put together by random draw, and have to do the best they can. It would introduce that rubber-y feel back to the top level.

  • 12. andrew  |  June 10, 2010 at 8:05 am

    It looks to me like the consensus, in the end, was that the re-opening X was substantially normal. Even Ben came around.

    So, to beat Versace, the trick is to bid normally?

  • 13. Chris Mulley  |  June 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Maybe it’s me being charitable (for once), but generally when people say “it’s a style thing” i give them the benefit of the doubt and take it as implicit argument, with the context indicating the argument … which can then lead to a discussion on “style” if they think it’s a good idea to bid 50% grands against chooks.

    If I am in any doubt as to the arguments, I generally ask. So, for example, when faced with Braithwaite playing some bizarre system in Canberra one year, where I just couldn’t see the up-side, I asked him about it and received a very useful reply. I didn’t agree with the evaluation, but at least I saw what it was trying to achieve.

    Maybe it’s because I’m so much more of a “system person” than I am anything else as a bridge player that I enjoy those types of discussions/arguments.


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