Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part I

January 19, 2011 at 4:50 am 11 comments

Khokan yesterday raised big questions which I think will take a while to answer and right now I’m waiting for information to add to the discussion. Not to mention, I’m on anti-blood clotting drugs at the moment and I’ve cut my finger which is going to take hours to stop bleeding. So, we’ll do this in parts and start off with something that I started writing earlier in the day.

Yesterday Khokan wrote this:

On that subject (i.e., how to raise the prominence of Australia as a bridge-playing nation), IMO about the only time that Australia had any world profile was around 1986-1989, when Marston-Burgess came third in the World Pairs, Marston was nominated as the IBPA Player of the Year and Australia made the semis of the Bermuda Bowl.

Before and since then, it’s been pretty lean pickings, with some seconds and thirds at the PABF, and some OK performances at invitationals (e.g. Cavendish and NEC).

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about the situation with Australian chess, so maybe a strategic approach to bridge administration in Australia can be developed.

Khokan, I think you are dead right that the mid-eighties were the last time Australia had a profile in bridge that meant something.

To be fair, that had something to do with system as well. We had ‘our own’ system in Australia and NZ: Symmetric Relay and in its more extreme form, ie forcing pass relay, it acquired an enormous amount of attention around the world. When you have a notorious system in the hands of people who are getting flashy results, that is bound to give you a profile when the result itself might not.

Unfortunately I suspect that the system itself became the victim of a process that happens often in bridge. One starts off with a fabulous, simple system that does the job and you tweak it and refine it and meddle with it until it becomes untenable. My first experience of this was Precision as played by the Borins. If you’ve read Norma’s book on it and given it a go, it is a wonderful system and incredibly simple. But it went throught that process systems often do where its practitioners started introducing double-dummy solutions into it. By that I mean, getting a result which could be blamed on system and changing system or adding to it in order to rectify the situation. This is a complete disaster for bidding methods generally. I can’t think of a more important thing to do to system than NOT change it until one has done a profound investigation of the implications. Even doing no more than adding to a system, rather than changing it, may have effects that are far-reaching without one realising at the time. I played with Norma for some time and the tweaking was relentless. It meant, however, in the end there were perfectly normal hands one no longer had a bid for. It became a nightmare.

I feel like this happened to Symmetric Relay as well. There was a period where it was like backroom. You could sit down with anybody and say ‘SR, 5 card majors’ or ‘SR, 4 card majors’ or ‘SR FPR’ and you didn’t need to have one moment of bidding discussion past that. But more and more, people started interfering with it so that in the end this was no longer possible. A great, great pity. It also made the methods inferior. And before you know it, the whole era is dead.

It was an era. The system made it an era. Marston and Burgess made it an era. However many nice results the odd Australian has overseas these days, nothing will compare because it was more than just results. It was a methodology, a philosophy, an approach. These two believed with complete conviction in what they were doing and they did it SO well. And because they believed in it, so did the rest of us. The odd thing, writing this now Khokan, in terms of the connection between chess and bridge that you raise, is that these were the first people who made me think that bridge could be like chess, that players worked hard and treated it in a professional way. All aspiring chess players do that, even if they are never going to be professional. Later as I became involved in Double Bay, I realised that Tim was the real professional, unsurpassed, but still. Marston and Burgess were utterly inspirational.

More tomorrow!

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Entry filed under: bidding, history, thoughts on bridge, Tim Seres.

How chess players think: opening lead continued. Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part II

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. phil markey  |  January 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    “that process systems often do where its practitioners started introducing double-dummy solutions into it. By that I mean, getting a result which could be blamed on system and changing system or adding to it in order to rectify the situation. This is a complete disaster for bidding methods generally. I can’t think of a more important thing to do to system than NOT change it until one has done a profound investigation of the implications. Even doing no more than adding to a system, rather than changing it, may have effects that are far-reaching without one realising at the time”

    hmmm – can we agree that tweaking is crucial but that most if not nearly all bridge players are terrible tweakers ?

    Reply
    • 2. cathyc  |  January 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Absolutely we can agree on that!!

      Reply
      • 3. khokan  |  January 20, 2011 at 6:28 am

        Yes, it’s like Ponting changing the field every time a ball gets hit to somewhere where there are no fieldsmen, only to find the ball goes through first slip next time.

        Reply
        • 4. cathyc  |  January 20, 2011 at 6:33 am

          Great analogy!

          Reply
  • 5. khokan  |  January 19, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Ben – point taken, and I should have mentioned that those players won the Far East in 1969 and 1971 (?). However, I’ve mostly thought that their world standing in bridge was largely hyped by other Australian players, because they were so much better than anyone else in Australia at the time. I guess Henry Francis’ comment gives the lie to that view.

    Tim had an awesome profile in the Far East, along with Patrick Huang, Robi Roy and, later, Zia and Jaggy. However, apart from Zia, I don’t think any of those players have produced world beating performances a la Forquet, Hamman, Chagas, Manoppo, Helgemo, Meckstroth, Lauria and others. I guess what I’m saying is that Australians’ views of their players’ world standing is coloured (rosily) by their parochiality – a bit like most Australian movies, actually.

    Cathy – having played Forcing Pass Relay, I don’t think there was any time you could just sit down and play the system without discussion. However, I take your point that a lot of (younger) players played the system. In terms of sensitivity to interference, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that it should be any more sensitive than, say, strong club relay. I think the reason it died was that it was just too hard in the end to deal with the world bridge administration’s (Bobby Wolff etc) opposition to primarly “destructive” systems.

    Reply
    • 6. cathyc  |  January 19, 2011 at 7:47 am

      I beg to differ. Tim was seen as outstandingly special at the world championship level and he was quite clearly one of the very best players in the world for decades. What is utterly amazing in his case is that he did this without the benefit of strong competition the way all the others have that you mention. He had reasons for staying in Australia and not becoming a ‘professional’ on the circuit in the US as he was regularly invited to be. But to say that this is rose coloured parochial glasses is quite wrong. Marston and Burgess may have been the partnership that got noted, and as suggested, partly for controversial reasons, but Tim was in a different class altogether. Quite exceptional.

      Reply
    • 7. Ben Thompson  |  January 19, 2011 at 8:01 am

      If you look at the “cycle”, Australia must be just about due for another “profile” period!

      Patrick Huang of course collected a couple of Bermuda Bowl silver’s in the early 70s, and a solid collection of minor placings over the next 25-30 years.

      Still, world championships are hard to win – and that’s real “profile”.

      Reply
      • 8. khokan  |  January 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

        Yes, I really undersold Huang’s achievements. As far as I know, he’s still playing. He’s also in recent Challenge the Champs competitions in The Bridge World.

        I think that people like Zia and Huang generally had a tougher ask than Tim. After all, Tim had some pretty talented people with him – Dick, Roelof and Jim – whereas Zia and Patrick, who both made the finals of two world championships when playing for Pakistan and Taiwan, respectively, played largely with much less well-known teammates.

        Reply
    • 9. cathyc  |  January 20, 2011 at 6:37 am

      (1) You completely underestimate Tim. He made the others, not the other way around. You can see how limited their actual bridge interest was by the fact that only Dick in the long term stayed a bridge player. I don’t think any of them would disagree on that: of Dick, Roelof and Dennis. Jim Borin is not part of that group at all. There were lots of reasons why Australia just missed being more successful, but I think it would be fair to say the botom line was that the others weren’t ready. That’s something to do with psychology, not ability.

      (2) Sorry, but you are wrong about Forcing Pass Relay. There was a point at which it simply was what it was, written down, a few pages long and you could play it with anybody who had read those few pages. You really didn’t have to discuss a thing. Well, I never did and I played a lot of Symmetric Relay structures at the time. If you had to discuss it, you were already playing with people who saw fit to mess around with it!

      Reply
  • 10. Jenny Thompson  |  January 19, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Khokan wrote:
    IMO about the only time that Australia had any world profile was around 1986-1989, when Marston-Burgess came third in the World Pairs, Marston was nominated as the IBPA Player of the Year and Australia made the semis of the Bermuda Bowl.

    That’s a bit harsh. For example, I just happened to read this by Henry Francis about the 1971 Bermuda Bowl yesterday:
    The Australian Far East champions and the second North American team were also considered good outside bets to reach the final”

    And Australia duly finished 3rd.

    That sort of commentary, and noting that Tim Seres is/was one of the world’s great players is easy to find in world championship books of the 70s.

    Seres, Smilde, Cummings and Howard (and Jim Borin a little later) were all created World Life Masters on the back of their performances for Australia in the 1960s and early 1970s.

    Reply
    • 11. cathyc  |  January 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

      I think you are quite right, Ben. It would be better to say it was the last time. We forget that Tim and co did a huge amount of hard work with great success but perhaps were quieter about it.

      Tim and Dick did make a great impression on their travels way before the 1970s.

      So, by not means only, but is it unreasonable to say last time?

      Reply

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