Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm over my cold. It's great to be able to breathe freely again.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My cold's getting better. I went in to work today, and hopefully did not pass it on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I have two tickets to see Aretha Franklin at Radio City tonight. Anyone want them? I'm not going on account of my cold.
It's official. My doctor says all I have is a cold. I feel better today than I did yesterday, so hopefully it will be short-lived.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I just learned that I was exposed to the H1N1 virus, AKA swine flu, in São Paulo. At least one bridge player has been hospitalized.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The margin is now 40 with 2 deals to go. That is all but insurmountable. Congratulations to the Nickell team.
Correction, USA2 (the Nickell team) leads by 39 with three deals to go.
USA2 leads Italy by 36 with three deals to play in the Bermuda Bowl final. It's not over yet, but a comeback from this point is improbable.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We tied for first in the BAM but lost the tie-breaker. Typical luck for our tournament!

The case of the curious hand record

The technology used at the tournament here in São Paulo is amazing. For most of the events we can get complete results on-line, including hand records and a report of the contact and result at every table. We also get real time standings during each match and after each match we get Butler results, showing the score each pair would have achieved had the event been scored as an IMP Pair game.

I did see one curious thing in the board-a-match event. The hand record for the first session showed the wrong dealer for boards 15 and 17. One constant since the advent of duplicate boards has been that the dealer rotates through the North, East, South, and West positions starting with board 1. Thus South should be dealer on board 15 and North on board 17. Here North was shown as the dealer on 15 and East on 17.

The hands were correct at the table. They couldn't have been otherwise, since duplicate boards are standardized. Thus, this is the first case I've seen of fouled hand records.

I was curious how this could happen. I had presumed that the hand records are prepared by a computer program, and I couldn't imagine how it could make such an error. I asked the head director about it and learned that while the form is prepared by computer, the dealer for each board is entered manually. That being the case the mistake is easy to understand, especially at the end of a long tournament. I trust this item will be automated in a future version of the software!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We're leading the BAM after the first of three sessions. It's not an important event, but given that we've entered we'll try to win!
We were in qualifying position with one deal to go. Alas, we were not afterwards. Our next event is a three session board-a-match teams.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We finished the RR last night by winning 76-3. Steve and Peter had a great game. We could have used those IMPs in some of our other matches!

Good result?

Here's a deal from our fifth round match against Chile Bulgaria:
Board 7. Dealer South. All Vulnerable.
♠ A K Q 8 2
A K 7 6 3
♣ K J 3
♠ -
A 9 8 7 5 4 3 2
8 5 2
♣ 8 6
Bridge deal ♠ J T 7 6 5 4 3
J 4
♣ Q 9
♠ 9
Q T 6
Q T 9
♣ A T 7 5 4 2

West opened 3 and Doug, North, bid 4 showing a strong 2-suited hand. I bid 4NT which I hoped showed some values. I planned on raising the expected 5 to 6. West passed and Doug jumped to 6. When East passed I was not tempted to bid a grand slam -- with a really strong hand and first round heart control Doug could have cue-bid 5. Now West doubled, asking for an unusual lead. East had no trouble working out that this requested a spade, but when the A didn't cash Doug took the rest of the tricks for +1540. He set up the Q for his thirteenth trick, but even if West had exited with a low heart Doug could ruff three rounds of hearts in his hand to get a complete count.
You can see the results from all 11 tables here. Apparently some Norths overcalled a 4H opening with 4♠, not a successful approach here. In most matches we'd have won 13 or 16 IMPs. At the other table in our match, though, our teammate opened 4 and then doubled 6 for a push.

Did I miss an opportunity? I could have redoubled, but then EW might have run to 6which goes for only 1100. If West runs,  though, and Doug makes a forcing pass, I might try 7♣! In practice West is unlikely to run, since for all he knows he's going for 1700. If he does run I'm unlikely to bid 7♣, since West's void could easily be in clubs.

The road to São Paulo

At the end of 2008 Doug Doub and I agreed to join the Robinson team, starting with the Vanderbilt in the Spring of 2009. The team, which had previously been playing four handed, was:

Steve Robinson
Peter Boyd
Kit Woolsey
Fred Stewart

We lost a close Vanderbilt match in the round of 32. In the Jacoby Swiss Teams that weekend we finished 27th. The tournament was not an auspicious start for our team.

Our next major event was the US Bridge Championships in White Plains in June. We were one of 27 teams entered. Two teams would qualify to represent the USA in the Bermuda Bowl in São Paulo in September. Five teams had byes to the round of 16 or later. We were not one of them, because we had not earned a bye through high finishes in major team games over the previous year. We thus started out in the round robin, where we took an early lead and held on to it. Winning the round robin let us choose which half of the knockout bracket to play in, a small edge which we used to full advantage.

We played 5 knockout matches, taking an early lead in each and found we were never behind at the end of any quarter. We rotated pairs, giving each pair a break after two sets in. We were lucky not to have to face the Nickell team, who lost their quarter-final match.

After winning I took a 3 month leave of absence from Google to prepare for the World Championships. Doug and I played a number of online practice matches, bid Challenge the Champs hands, and fleshed out our system notes. We hired Marty Bergen as a coach for our partnership. He helped us with some stylistic issues, especially takeout doubles.

Our team played in the Spingold KO at the Summer NABC in Washington DC. We again lost in the round of 32, but by a larger margin than we had in Houston. The following weekend we played in the NABC+ Open Swiss Teams, sneaking into 10th place by winning our final match.


I'm a software engineer. I live in NYC where I work for Google. I've been playing tournament bridge for 32 years, with some successes here and there. My first national championship was the Blue Ribbon Pairs in 1992. My most recent were the IMP Pairs and the Fast Pairs in 2008, both with Doug Doub of West Hartford, CT.

I started playing with Doug on more than an occasional basis in 2002. We had some great results, winning the Reisinger BAM that Fall, then the Team Trials in the Spring of 2003, and finishing 3rd in the Bermuda Bowl in Monaco in the Fall of 2003. We've continued to play regularly since.

I'm one of the best amateur players around, but there are many stronger players, most of whom are full-time bridge professionals. One reason I've done as well as I have is because of the way professionalism works in bridge. Most top teams have a sponsor who plays as a member of the team. This sponsor may be an expert in his own right, but typically he is not as strong as his teammates. Because the teams are handicapped in this way a team of all amateurs has a decent chance against them. Even though their best players may be better than ours, ours are usually all better than their sponsor.

I don't see anything wrong with professionalism in bridge. It's great in that it gives the top players a way to earn a living while devoting themselves to improving their game. I play professionally myself sometimes, but so far I prefer to earn a living writing software, something I also enjoy tremendously.

I often wonder whether I could improve substantially if I were to play full time. There's only one way to find out! I'm not ready to switch careers just yet, though.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We lost to Italy by 34, but Doug and I played well. Our last match is vs Brazil. Neither of us is in contention, so it should go quickly.
In 20 minutes Doug and I come in against Italy on Vugraph. The match is significant for them, but not for us. We'll still be doing our best!
We beat Chile this morning, 64-11, as Doug and I sat out. Steve and Peter bid 3 slams missed at the other table. This was our first blitz.

Friday, September 4, 2009

This afternoon we beat Norway, the event leaders, by 36 as Doug and I sat out. Then tonight we lost to China by 55, our worst margin yet.
Doug and I had by far our worst set of the tournament against Russia. We lost by 43, for 5VP. We now have only a tiny chance to qualify.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We beat Egypt by 23 for 20VP. Doug and I start tomorrow, on BBO Vugraph against Russia.
We beat India by 18, for 19 VP. Doug and I will be on Vugraph against India tonight. Here's the link for the Vugraph:

Greetings from sunny São Paulo

It would be traditional for a first post to set the stage, introduce myself, and so on. However, I was never much of one for tradition and I'm anxious to try out Fred Gitelman's "Handviewer" software for laying out bridge bidding and play diagrams on a web page.

I will say that I'm playing in the World Bridge Championships and that, though it's Winter in São Paulo, today the temperature is 86°F.

Our team is not doing well. Doug and I have more bad results than good, but I'll start with one of our better efforts. This is from our fifth round robin match against Bulgaria. I was South. Doug and I play weak notrumps, so 1NT showed 15-17 HCP. East's double called for a heart lead.

The ♥2 lead went to the 5, 7, and A. I ran the ♦7, then played a diamond to West's king as East pitched the ♥4. West tried the ♠J. I thought about this for some time and eventually decided to win since I did not want a club shift. A third diamond went to the ace as East threw the ♣2 and West continued with the ♠4 to East's queen. If East was 3-4 in the black suits, as seemed likely, I could set up nine tricks by ducking a club, but the defense would get five first. I ducked the spade and East shifted to the ♥Q. Ducking to rectify the count for a round suit squeeze against East was not necessary, since if East had the club queen I could always squeeze him out of a heart winner and throw him in to lead away from the club. Accordingly I won the heart and played a club to my ace. I led ♦J and discarded a heart from dummy in this position:

East pitched a club smoothly. I'd taken long enough in the play that he'd had plenty of time to plan his defense. Keeping the queen guarded would essentially be giving up on setting the contract. I cashed the ♠A and everyone followed. West played the ten, the card he was known to hold. Now I had to guess who held the ♣Q. I took my time about it, knowing that it was a hugely important decision, but I had two indications to go right. One was that East seemed to have started with four clubs to West's three. The other was that East's double would be awfully thin without the ♣Q. I'm not sure how good an inference this is. The double was thin as it is. East knows that game will be close because of our invitational sequence. He might double simply to get a heart lead in, along with the chance of increasing the score since he suspects the hand will break poorly for us.

In any case I played a club to the king and scored up 950. At the other table my hand opened a strong notrump, North used Stayman and then invited with 2NT which North naturally accepted. On this auction West had an easy diamond lead, and eventually declarer guessed to squeeze East and scored 9 tricks, so we won 8 IMPs.

Double-dummy West could have beaten me. He needs to win the first diamond and switch to a low spade. This would be difficult to find even looking at all four hands.

This deal made up for one from the Team Trials in June where we lost 300 on the same sequence.