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Psyches, Conventions, Popularity, and Bans

by Alex Martelli, Bologna, Italy

in reply to comments by Yuri Buzjko, of Odessa, Ukraine


Yuri Buzjko wrote:
.... outlawing everything that isnt clean enuff per ACBL definition and the game is declining since that.

The game is rampantly growing elsewhere than in North America (mainland China and several European states being the most notable cases, or so it seems to me), with official recognition, growing government support, Olympic status, and so on. And not because of a drastically different approach to "outlawing everything" in these other countries, mind you. I can speak in detail of the current approach in Italy, and contrast it with the extremely permissive attitude of 20-5 years ago; there is a detailed presentation and analysis of the FIGB attitude to systems available on the net, and the conscientious director and organizer at the small club I've started playing at enforces it thoroughly.

My girlfriend, a beginner, decided to open 1NT (natural, 15-17) with: A-KQx-Jxxx-KQJxx a very debatable choice to be sure, but I suspect she had the best ideas in mind -- worry about rebidding after opening 1C and getting the expected response of 1S (1NT or 2C an underbid, a reverse an overbid with the misfit). We stole the contract at 1NT (at other tables, opponents had mostly won the bidding at 2S after a 1C opening bid); the defense gave away a trick by misreading opener's hand (and my GF handed it right back with a misplay -- she IS a beginner). The director was called and adjusted the result back to A+/A-. Nor was he allowed to do otherwise in a FIGB-sanctioned tournament: opening 1 NT with a singleton, except in a 4441 shape, automatically carries that sanction according to FIGB-published rules, so I did not appeal.

I think this is far more rigid than the ACBL approach.

And yet, agonistic bridge is booming here. 20-25 years ago there was one main bridge club, with one MP duplicate per week and some other occasional events, and a couple other clubs offering occasional duplicate bridge, for a total of about 3 matchpoint duplicates available in this town on the average week. Today, 6 clubs in this town alone do duplicate bridge, all with at least two duplicates per week; a total of about 15 matchpoint duplicates available in town on the average week. Agonistic players are not in the same proportion (not 5 times as many as 20-25 years ago), but must surely be at least twice as many as of yore.

And yet 20-25 years ago "anything goes" was the norm, today, there is much rigidity (different in many details from the ACBL's, but, in some areas such as 1NT opening bids, I think greater).

So, available data would seem to suggest, if anything, that putting more restrictions on enhances the popularity of the agonistic game of bridge. I suspect the cause-effect relationship is somewhat the other way round -- when competitors were few, they were more likely to be keen, highly competitive, driven people, ready and sort of willing to put up with any strange system; today, with many more competitors, most of them are looking for a pleasant evening out rather than cut-throat all-out battles, and, eventually, their "popular opinion" influences policy through normal democratic processes. In any case, whatever proportions of cause, and effect, are at play, the correlation surely seems to be in this sense.

I sure wish you neophile guys dropped this losing and discredited line of argument about restrictions on psyches, conventions, etc, diminishing the popularity and vitality of the game. There ARE good arguments against the proliferation of such restrictions, and your mindless adoption of this easily demolished "strawman" is impeding you from making them.

The KEY argument, in my view of the world: the agreement to open 1NT with the above hand could be called a convention and therefore it would be permissible for a sponsoring organization to ban it. If 1NT was a psyche, a gross and deliberate mis-statement of values with intent to deceive, it, or at least partners "grand-stand" catches of it, could be regulated. But in fact, it was a judgment decision -- maybe a wrong-headed one, but, if so, then it is the opponents' job, AT THE table, to show it up as such, NOT the sponsoring organizations' job.

My GF had it drilled into her head that minor suits are second-class citizens, that NT play is most often desirable unless a major fit is present (and sometimes even then), that rebidding problems must be kept in mind when choosing a bid. From these notions, she chose 1NT, considering it a minor mis-statement, preferable to what she saw as greater distortions that might come after a 1C opening bid; there was definitely no intent to deceive, no conventional agreement whatsoever, and her NT bid surely expressed willingness to play the hand at NT (and in fact 1NT is where we ended up -- I had a perfectly normal pass).

If, playing a weak NT, she had opened 1C, and decided to rebid 1NT over a 1S response, she would have been showing just about the same values as she did with a 15-17 natural 1NT opening bid (except the slower sequence would have denied a spade fit, of course) -- and nobody would have legally objected. It is in fact quite debatable from a technical viewpoint if 1NT is not actually the best rebid with this hand on a weak-NT system (it depends on how light you can reverse, I think; but even in K-S or Acol, with weakish reverses allowed, I would be SORELY tempted to rebid 1NT -- the hand is nowhere as strong as point-count places it, with the weak diamonds and honors in the short suits). I do believe NT openers on irregular shapes are long-term losing strategy, so I think a 1NT opening bid here is an inferior choice, but, it's a judgment call. The law should have nothing to do with it!

Note that, in the FIGB, A-Kxxx-QJxx-KQJx would have been a permissible natural 1NT opening bid (4441 is specifically singled out in the regulations as the only shape with which opening 1NT with a singleton is OK). Surely, it IS a matter of judgment, which of these hands is more notrumpish?! I'd MUCH rather open this hand 1D, with the option of a 2C rebid, than 1NT; the good 5-card suit of the former hand is likely to be better for NT than the 4-card suit here.

But such rules are VERY popular, and, if they're detrimental to anything (which I think they may be), it's DEFINITELY not to the agonistic popularity of the game.

Another data point: recent posters from Poland expressing their happiness about the extreme dearth of regulations there, AND, in the same breath, deploring how the game's popularity has sharply declined in their country of late. See the trend...?

Note, by the way, that stars from all over the world seem as keen as ever, or, in fact, keener, to move to the US to play bridge there. UK stars have always done it in the past (cfr Truscott as an example of permanent move, Flint as an example of a shorter-term trip), but stars from many other foreign countries are now doing so (cfr Zia or Garozzo as examples of permanent moves, and just about everybody else as examples of shorter-term trips -- apparently, today, if you haven't won at least one ACBL National, you're not a "somebody" on the world-wide bridge scene... a Vanderbilt final between a half-Polish team and a half-Italian one would have seemed science-fiction 20 years ago...:-).

Yuri wrote:
Sure ! ACBL and WBF succesfully make bridge LOLs and LOMs game, making everything to convert it from competitive and creative sport into pleasant pastime!

On the contrary, bridge is at last gaining Olympic recognition, WITH these rules, which it didn't have when the WBF allowed everything at all (the ACBL never did, AFAIK).

The key analogy may be golf, which has held quite steadfast against technical innovation -- they key to the game of golf, so the consensus seems to run in THAT sport, is selecting between a fixed set of clubs and handling them optimally; it's NOT inventing new and improved clubs that will technically finesse the classic problems of selection and handling. Perhaps some reader is enough of a golf expert to critique this summary of mine -- I don't really know enough about the game, and this is more of a second-hand impression I have -- that while the debate about technological innovation stays alive, conservatives have very much the best of it. And yet, the game flourishes, and its nature as a competitive and creative sport is unchallenged (it can ALSO be a pleasant pastime of course -- but so can be chess, bridge, tennis, soccer -- basically any sport except the most extreme of them).

Yuri wrote:
Bridge stars are the same as 10-20 years before, even 89-years old Boris Shapiro still competes quite good ! He is of course unique, but it shows.

No he is not -- Oswald Jacoby, a few years ago, also won the Reisinger when well over 80, for example. Bridge is unique in that a few great old geniuses can sometimes compete on equal terms with bright new stars. As to "new stars", there seems to be no dearth of them -- the Hacketts, Helgemo, Bocchi and Duboin, etc -- where were they 20 years ago?

Yuri wrote:
.... that nothing really new did appear in bridge since invention of Precision Club (well, I'm wrong, of course - many things are invented - but all of them are banned !)

Actually, not much was new in the Precision Club, technically -- the opening bid structure, for example, is amazingly similar to good old Nottingham Club. I find much more that IS new in more recent developments, such as Klinger's Power (which, AFAIK, is not "banned"), Kickback approaches and other advanced variations of K-C Blackwood, the growing use of 2nd and 3rd round relays, puppets, and transfers, and the enormous number of new tools devoted to competitive auctions (and preparation for competition), such as Bergen raises. "New" does not necessarily equal "better", of course (don't get me STARTED on devoting a zillion different bids to raising partner's suit...!-), but, if "new" is indeed what you want, there seems to be plenty of it.

Yuri wrote:
Bridge gets rigid and dinosauric - and if this trend will continue, in 20 years it'll hardly be more important than cribbage....

The trend over the last couple of decades definitely contradicts this doomsday prediction -- see above. I think the looming dangers from "enforced uniformity" are of a completely different nature.


Gopher Editor's note:

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