Friday, November 12, 2010

The Best System (Part 3 - Conclusion)

I know I missed plenty of systems, but for a generic overview, there is only so much one can do. So now I guess I'll answer the three original questions:
"What is the best bidding system available?"
 This depends on your goal, the level of opponents, the form of scoring, and many other factors. In my opinion, the best system available is some form of relay precision, if played properly. What I mean by this, is that if you don't have extensive practice and discussion not only on handling interference, but followups to your side's constructive auctions, and detailed agreements in a very large number of situations, you will lose more IMPs from misunderstandings and guesswork, than you will gain from your system advantages.

Therefore, in most partnerships, I prefer a fairly standard 2/1 with a lot of gadgets and modifications. One thing that I would highly recommend is a Short Club with Transfer Responses. Although there are many systems out there, designed to do so many things, sometimes it's best to go back to the basics. Over the years, systems have developed to meet the changing styles of bidding, and to reflect the player's personal styles and preferences. In modern bridge, there is a lot more competitive bidding than there used to be. This makes many systems that used to be superior, ineffective.

A very good example of this would be CanapĂ©-style systems. Before the auctions were so lively, CanapĂ© players could open their shorter suits without any problem: They would have room in later bidding to sort out their hands. Nowadays, when the opponents are in the auction so much, showing the crucial second suit before the auction is too high, is often extremely hard, if not impossible. The style of opening a shorter suit first works in Constructive auctions where the opponents don't bid, however, the more intervention in an auction, the harder it is to actually resolve the opener's hand.

This is also true for a Strong Club system, which is why it does not fare so well with intervention. Even the top players in the world have trouble sometimes with auctions like 1C - (2S) - ?? - (3S). Without these problems, in a constructive auction, a strong club is clearly best. However, with these problems, I feel that a 2/1 style can handle most hands fairly well, and is not nearly as vulnerable to pre-emption.

2/1 has my vote for the best system. Simple is sometimes good.

"If you lived in a perfect world, where you had unlimited memory and practice, what do you think is the best system or combination of systems?"
The above logic brings me to my dream system, which I believe would combine the advantages of both a Strong Club system, and a 2/1 style system. I believe the best system is a combination of the two:
Strong Club when the opponents are Vulnerable, and 2/1 when the opponents are Not Vulnerable.
The value and frequency of pre-emption over a strong club when the opponents are Vulnerable is a lot less. Also, it is much easier to penalize them at this vulnerability. Therefore, when they are more likely to interfere (when NV), the solution is to play 2/1. My personal choice of 2/1 would be with a Short Club and Transfer responses, along with plenty of other gadgets and modifications.

"What would be the best bidding system to learn if I want to learn something new?"
 I get asked this question quite often. There seem to be "stepping-stones" for learning new systems, sometimes people skip them, but in order to have a full understanding of each system, I would recommend you focus on something that you can understand well.

If you currently only know Standard, or are not very comfortable with 2/1, I would highly suggest you learn and become very familiar with 2/1 before moving to other systems. These two systems are the base of most complicated ones, and understanding them before learning others is vital. If you are looking for some books on it, I would reccomend Eric Rodwell and Audrey Grant's book on 2/1. There is also Paul Thurston's book, and Max Hardy's book. Hardy's book is excellent for advanced players looking for more reading material on 2/1.

If you currently are comfortable with both Standard and 2/1, Precision is the next step for you. Learning Precision will increase your understanding of the system, and make it much easier to play against those who already play precision. I highly recommend David Berkowitz's Precision Today for a fairly simple version of Precision. It is extremely well-written, and covers all the important aspects of a Strong Club system. From there, you can explore other options, for the more adventurous there are Relay Systems available, Daniel Neill has put together an incredible collection of systems at his webpage. Most any system you could possibly want is available there.

If you are comfortable with Standard, 2/1 and Precision and are looking for something to learn for fun, or as a challenge, I'd recommend looking at Daniel Neill's page as well. There is some fun stuff on there that may interest you. Jassem has a very good book on Polish Club as well.

So basically I think there are stepping-stones, as you progress more and more, you'll learn more and more systems. If you're really bored, you can even create your own! Um, not that I've ever done such a thing... :)

The Best System (Part 2 - More Systems)

Continuing with the next installation of the Best System. It's a bit harder to clearly state/show pros and cons of most systems than I thought, but will try my best.

4. Precision
  • Strong Hands are shown immediately, and bidding starts at a lower level
  • Limited openings, which allows for much better competitive decisions for responder, and for Opener to be able to show intermediate 2-suiters accurately
  • Can be used along with 2/1
  • Allows a lot of room for system changes/additions
  • Can use a weak (or very weak) NT, and not damage the rest of the system
  • Allows for light openings, and pre-emption (Therefore sometimes tough to defend against)
  • As long as you know the system well, you can benefit from it, however it may take practice to reach this point
  • (for Relay Precision) Allows extremely well-defined auctions, where opener/responder can show full shape, strength, controls, honour location etc.
  • Very vulnerable to pre-emption by the opponents (Takes some time to get comfortable dealing with interference)
  • Not a universally-known system (Perhaps a advantage as well)
  • Depending on the level of complexity, it can be a very memory intensive system
5. Polish Club
  • Strong Hands are shown immediately, and bidding starts at a lower level
  • Limited openings, which allows for much better competitive decisions for responder, and for Opener to be able to show intermediate 2-suiters accurately
  • Can be used along with 2/1
  • If used properly, can be very pre-emptive, but yet very constructive
  • Can handle interference fairly well (since responder assumes a Weak NT hand-type), while allowing strong hands to be opened 1C.
  • Multi 2D and Polish 2 Bids allow for a much greater spectrum of hands you are able to pre-empt on.
  • Strong hands sometimes are forced to overbid after opening 1C, to show their values.
  • Some aspects (if playing Multi etc) are Midchart.
  • Not well known in the US
  • Memory intensive, and not much room for changes
6. Forcing Pass
  • Tough to defend against, especially since most people have very little experience playing against it.
  • Allows for light and (extremely) pre-emptive openings
  • Strong Hands are shown immediately, albeit in a bit of an odd way.
  • Extremely vulnerable to pre-emption and psyching.
  • Not allowed in almost all events (Certainly no ACBL ones...)
  • Memory Intensive
  • Very little pre-emptive value to "Pass", and opponents can bid early/often
Will follow with the conclusions in a little while.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Best System (Part 1 - Introduction and First 3 Systems)

I came across a few very interesting questions today:
"What is the best bidding system available?"
"What would be the best bidding system to learn if I want to learn something new?"
"If you lived in a perfect world, where you had unlimited memory and practice, what do you think is the best system or combination of systems?"
I've been asked these before, stumbled across them again, and figured it would make a good post. It's one topic that I think most bridge players don't consider too often, and if they do, they often don't have enough experience playing such systems to make an informed decision. I'm not suggesting that I am anywhere near the best person to answer this question, however I do have a fair amount of experience playing a fair amount of odd/non-natural systems as well as a reasonable amount playing standard stuff, and figured I'd write something on the general pros and cons of several systems, and what I think is the best system, and combination of systems.

As a general theory, one of the best ways to learn how to defend something, is to learn how to use/play it. This is especially true for systems and conventions. Often knowing what the opponents are doing, and their other inferences they may have from their partner's bidding is often very valuable. A simple example would be Multi 2D. When the auction goes (2D) - P - (2S), and it is alerted as "Pass or Correct", you are missing a negative inference that the opponents have, and may make your bidding/play easier on this hand. When responder bids 2S here, there is an additional inference that he has longer hearts than spades, and often an invitational hand opposite a heart pre-empt. The opponents are not required to tell you this (I don't think?), and there is no way you would know it unless you played Multi yourself.

There are often small inferences available in the auction that unless you have experience playing your opponent's system/convention, you would never know. This is just another reason to be well-read on systems, and to have some knowledge of what your opponents are playing.

I'll start with a general rundown of systems, not an extremely comprehensive list, however I think it covers most general systems, going in order of difficulty, with 1 being the easiest:

1. Passing Always

  • Easiest to remember
  • Can never misbid
  • People have tried this system in a local game, and gotten above average with it (Provided you are good at defense)
  • Able to practice defense (always)
  • Many boards are passed out, making for a faster game
  • Completely insane
  • Never any chance to practice declarer play (always)
  • Opponents have uncontested auctions
  • About 50 other downsides as well -- Not recommended!
2. Standard American
  • Very simple to learn (and play)
  • Mostly natural bidding
  • Allows some room for creative changes
  • Can play with most pickup partners, and is widely known throughout the world.
  • Handles inference fairly well, since you can bid naturally most of the time.
  • Hands with 10-11 HCP with invitations can often show their suit at a lower level, and find the right contract
  • Not enough forcing calls, often you are forced to jump and pre-empt the auction when it would be better to bid constructively.
  • Usually not well-defined bids, much more guesswork than preferred
  • Extremely easy to play against
  • Game forcing hands opposite a 1M opening usually cannot create a constructive auction, and instead must guess at the final contract sometimes (See the first Downside).
  • Strong hands cannot show strength immediately
3. Two-Over-One Game Forcing
  • Constructive and slow auctions when responder has a game-forcing hand
  • Fairly simple to learn (and play)
  • Mostly natural bidding
  • Can play with most pickup partners, and is the most popular/highly known system in the US, as well as most other countries.
  • Handles interference pretty much the same as SA, usually pretty well.
  • The most room for creative changes (One treatment I highly suggest is a Short Club with Transfer Responses, although it is not too popular in the US.)
  • Strong Hands cannot show strength immediately
  • Very easy to play against
I'll continue this later tonight or tomorrow with more. Headed off to an Ian Anderson concert now.

Greg's 7AM Squeeze and an Update

A friend of mine sent out this hand a few days ago, it's a very cool ending that I hadn't seen before... Figured I'd share. Apparently it came up in a BBO robot tournament around 7AM. It's a very fun four card ending, fast forward in the handviewer diagram to check it out. Enjoy!

On a separate note, I have been exceptionally bored lately, so I am going to try to keep this blog updated for real!

No, this isn't another one of my "I will post more" posts, that winds up in no more posts for several months/years. Hopefully not, at least. I'm playing a fair amount online, and working on some new relay systems with Owen. Orlando is coming up in a couple weeks, and I will post some cool hands and bidding problems from there as well. Then I have some time off before a cruise with the family, and lots more bridge.