Friday, April 18, 2014

Classified ads for Team Matches on BBO

If you have ever played "pick-up" team matches on BBO, you know the routine. You show up with a partner, reserve seats for yourself and pard and wait for people to join your team match.  Ten to fifteen minutes later, the match picks up 8 players and you start playing.  After the first board, two people leave declaring that their partner is an idiot.  Finding substitutes is a royal pain and substitutes keep bailing in the middle of a game.  What you wouldn't give for reliable opponents!

Is there a better way? How about if you could come with a local team of players you know. Perhaps the team of four that you use to play the Grand National Teams.  What if other such "serious" players register online as a team, and specify their typical availability (weekends? weekdays? weeknights?).  You could private-message them, set up a match and play.  

The closest analogy would be an Inter-city league or classified ads for team matches.

A couple of objections raise themselves.  How do you know the other team is any good? Here, being part of a social circle where people use their real names is ideal, and Bridge Winners provides one for serious bridge players.

So, here's the way it works:
  1. Register your team online.  Essentially, you provide your BBO and Bridge Winners user names. You also specify your availability and self-rate how good you are.
  2. Look at the list of teams who are registered and choose a team that is around your level. To do this, look at their self-rating, the Bridge Winners name of the team captain and the best team that they have beaten in the past.  Send the captain a private message on Bridge Winners suggesting a match within the next week.
  3. Plan out when you are going to play, how many boards and the format (Board-a-match? IMPs? ACBL GCC?).  Swap convention cards using Bridge Winners.  Do all of this over email.  Also swap the list of BBO user names so that one of the captains can create a Team Match on BBO.
  4. After the match (or in the case of a no-show), the winner should report the results of the match.  This goes to update the Team List. Essentially, people looking to schedule future matches can learn when the team was last active (I will periodically delete teams that haven't been active for 3 months), whether their scheduling is reliable and whether their self-rating is accurate.
Use the "Test" and "Test1" team names to try out the forms and see the results.

A couple of caveats:
  1. It's mostly on the honor system, but I hope that it will work and be of use. Obviously, if people start reporting bogus matches, the ratings cease to be of much use but it will probably still function well as a classified ad service.
  2. I created the system because I have been wanting to learn the Google Apps API, and this was a small enough task.  There is one glaring problem that I hope someone familiar with the Google Apps API can help me with.  If there is a problem with a registration or match result (such as if the user specifies a team that doesn't exist), I ignore their submission.  I obviously need to alert them that they gave me a wrong team-name, but the documentation warns that "user-interface elements are visible only to an editor who opens the form to modify it, not to a user who opens the form to respond." and sure enough, it doesn't seem to be possible to display an error dialog to the user submitting the information.  So, how can the user be told his request did not go through?  Gah!  Until some kind person can tell me how to do this, wrong submissions will be silently ignored.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Right through the pack

Over Spring break, we made a family trip to the Pacific Northwest.  We spent one rainy afternoon in Portland immersed in Powell's World of Books, the largest used book store in the world or something close to it.  It's a Portland institution.

We went into the store as a family of four, but in a couple of minutes, we had all dispersed.  The wife went to the pottery section.  The daughter took down every knitting book in the store looking for cool animal-pattern hats.  The son made a beeline to origami books.  And me?  I went looking to see what books they had on card games.

For the most part, the used bridge book selection was terrible -- their buyer must not play bridge.  There were really dated books on Kaplan-Sheinwold and the like.  Among the dated books was a paperback with a publication date of 1947 with an introduction by Ely Culbertson. The bidding on a deal I saw had the dealer opening 1S holding 4 spades and 5 (much better) hearts. I was replacing the book on the shelf when the blurb on the front cover caught my attention.

"Rated one of the top three bridge books in a 1984 ACBL survey!", the book proclaimed. A 1947 book that people remembered 37 years later?  That piqued my curiosity and I started to read the first chapter. It seemed very weird, and definitely not likely to be rated best of anything. So, I flipped over to a middle chapter and started reading the chapter.  And was immediately hooked.

It is an awesome, awesome book.  The bridge deals are amazing and the writing crystal clear. They are mostly run-of-the-mill hands, but the depth is incredible.  Darvas and de Hart manage to capture the ineluctable beauty of card play, The stories are cute and the illustrations charming. How could I have not heard of Right Through The Pack before?  Forget Victor Mollo who gets repetitive after a couple of stories.  Robert Darvas never bores you.  Every story is different.

This was by far the most entertaining bridge book I have ever read.  If you have not read Robert Darvas' classic, run thee off to a bookstore and get thyself a copy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A misfit auction that doesn't call for a trump lead

Playing a 10-board online robot tourney, I am leading until the last board.  On the last board, I hold:

and the auction goes (I am South):

and it is now my lead.

What do you lead?  Does this auction call for a trump lead?

Normally, if you double for takeout and partner passes, you ought to lead trumps.  The idea is to cut-down ruffs in dummy.  And that's what I did, to poor effect (click Next to see the play):

But here, even though they have had a misfit auction, the high-card points are evenly divided. South is better off establishing side-suits.  Leading a club was worth 91% and a win.  Leading a trump got me 50% and second place.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Broken streak

When a streak starts, you don't even notice it.  The first three boards of an online pairs tournament, our opponents got a little overboard and I didn't think much about it.  By the sixth or seventh board of only positive scores, it starts to be a little obvious.  Is the streak going to continue?

Well here was our scorecard for the night:

The board that broke the streak of positive scores (#10) was a bit of a fix. Partner opened his 4-card spade suit in 3rd seat, stealing North's bid. I raised with my 3-card suit and South balanced with 2NT showing the minors.  North simply passed instead of bidding 3D.  3D, which is the normal contract, is down 1, but 2NT made on the nose ...

Not that we avoided all disasters of course. In #9, we played a hand that was cold for 7NT in 6C ...  (#7 was simply them taking all their tricks). Still, 12 positive scores would have been a nice streak ...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Robots have no humor

Playing in the bridgez tourney, I was doing very well until I got a near-bottom on the last board of the 16-board tournament:

After the robot North opened 2C and rebid 2H, I knew that we were headed towards 3NT. But 3NT should do better being played with the strong hand hidden, so I decided to temporize by showing my 5-card club suit. Bad mistake, as the robot now put me in the no-play slam.

10% on the last board cost me at least two places in the final rankings, but it didn't drop me below the Wbridge5 robot.

So, on to my list of bad predictions, goes the title of this post.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virtue unrewarded

This is the hand you pick up as South in a club game:

Three passes, and it comes to you.  What's your bid?

There are arguments for either 1NT (15-17 balanced), or opening 1H.  I decided to open 1NT.

Partner now bids 2NT.  We play 4-suit transfers, so that's a transfer to diamonds.

I bid 3D, saying that I like diamonds (with a doubleton or three small cards, I would bid 3C).

Now, partner bids 4C.  This is a cue-bid for diamonds and denies spade and heart controls.  Well, I can see three losers then. I bid 4D, to play, but partner drives to 5D.

"Down 1," I am thinking as the dummy comes down, but it turns that we have had a bidding misunderstanding. Partner was simply showing his shape (we have no way to show 5/5 in the minors, since we use 3C and 3D as shortness bids) and had forgotten that we only accept minor-suit transfers if we like them.

It would have been nice if they had started with a spade, but LHO led a club.  To prevent 3 spade losers, I have to ruff a spade in my hand, but if I play spades immediately, they will probably find their club ruff.  The alternate route, to avoid playing spades now, is to ruff hearts in dummy.  I proceeded to do that (click Next on the hand above to see the play).

5D bid and made!  Virtue is unrewarded of course.  Other tables opened 1H, and ended up in 3NT., making 4, since there is no way for the defense to cash more than 3 tricks before we take our 10 minor suit ones.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Conventions are never simple

A friendly blogger, Phasmid, put me in touch with one of his regular partners and we played at a Boston-area club.  I sent my new partner a "plain-vanilla 2/1 card" to use as a starting point.  We decided to play pretty much that card except that partner said he had very specific views on leads.  4th-best leads were fine at NT, he said, but in suit contracts he very much preferred 3rd and 5th because it helped get the count right on the hand much quicker.

I agreed. Sure, it was going to be a bit more mental work, but I thought I'd be able to figure it out. And I was. When partner led the deuce of spades after bidding the suit, I knew he had a 5-card suit.  In a few deals, it did help me get the count right. This 3rd-and-5th thing was a pretty easy convention.  If any new partner wants to play it, I thought, I'd be happy to agree.

In the last round, though, we ran into this hand.  This was the auction (we were East-West):
All Pass
(1) invite

Partner led the 9 of hearts.  This was the whole deal, so you can follow along:
Board: 6
Vul: E-W
Dlr: East
Lead: 9

On partner's lead of the 9 of hearts, declarer played a low heart from dummy and I played low (otherwise his 10 becomes a trick).  Declarer ducked and partner continued with the 4 that declarer took with his Ace.  Next, declarer played two rounds of spades foregoing the finesse ("nine never").  I am forced to discard clubs of course, so I discouraged clubs by discarding the highest club I thought I could afford (the five).

Next, came a heart from dummy. I won with partner discarding a low club (encouraging).  I led the three of clubs. Declarer went up with the ace and led a low diamond to the queen.  When that finesse won, he ruffed a heart back to his hand and led a club.

This was the situation when declarer led the 7 of clubs:
Board: 6
Vul: E-W
Dlr: East
Lead: 9
Partner wins this trick, but has now been endplayed.  3S making was a bottom board; 3S down one would have been average. The cause of this happened two tricks previously: when I led the club, partner needed to unblock the Queen of clubs, but he didn't because I had led the wrong card.  Apparently, playing 3rd and 5th, the right lead from my club holding was the 9 (second highest), not the 3 of clubs.  Partner, realizing then that I have the one card higher than the 9 unblocks a club, allowing me to win the trick with my Jack and lead a diamond through.

My usual lead agreements are different. We play fourth highest leads from length, but that is only on opening lead. Here, in the middle of the hand, after I had discarded clubs, etc. my lead would simply be an attitude lead. I would lead a low club from an honor, and a high-club denying one.  Since partner has just seen all the honor cards, he would then be able to place me with the Jack.

In other words, playing either convention, the right play is obvious. But once I had led the wrong card, partner had no choice (just as he would not have unblocked had I led the 9 of clubs, denying the Jack if we were playing attitude leads). The moral of the story is to not agree to play unfamiliar conventions -- there are subtle extensions that an expert partner will play you for.