The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Scenes from a Bridge Sectional

I played in the Bracketed Knockouts yesterday at a “local” sectional. It was actually about an hour away, which makes it the farthest I’ve traveled for a tournament in well over a decade. Now that I’m mildly entrenched back into bridge, it was interesting to look over the room.

I may have been the youngest player there. I didn’t walk past the pairs game, but it was held in the same ballroom, and nobody strikingly youthful jumped out at me (apart from the caddies, who are usually teenagers). Bridge really is dying in the US, at least in the current form.

Our team came in 2nd in our bracket (which was teams with ~2-6 thousand master points). That was mildly disappointing, since I think we had the best team. Still, I contributed my fair share of mistakes (ironically, mostly in matches we won), so I should refrain from casting stones. But one thing amused me.

The bridge writer Danny Kleinman often advocates simple, old-fashioned bidding (particularly in casual partnerships), and is somewhat infamous for disliking Blackwood, the ace-asking convention that most bridge players learn in their infancy (in fact, I learned it the first night I played). Tournament players, not content with blackwood, use Roman Keycard (where the king of trumps counts as an ace). But after reading all of Danny’s archives, I’m surprised I’ve never seen him mention Minorwood.

In standard Blackwood, 4 No Trump (4NT) asks for aces, and the various 5 level bids show the specific number. This works out pretty well when spades are trump, because you can always bid 5 spades if you are missing two aces, and no response goes past 5 spades. When clubs are trump though, most of the answers to blackwood are higher than 5 clubs (your stopping point if you are missing two aces).

So Minorwood shifts the ace asking bid from 4NT to 4 of that minor (and shifts responses accordingly). Easy peasy. But the problem is that 4NT is so easy to understand … “We we’re bidding clubs, what’s with 4NT? Oh right, blackwood.” That’s why it’s so popular. It’s so easy and unambiguous that it invites use; and overuse.  Minorwood sounds like … well, lots of things.

So in the 2nd match of the day at our table I saw (after a convoluted auction) a four diamond bid intended as minorwood passed. As soon as the auction was over one opponent starts arguing with her partner. “You can’t pass that! We may have a slam, and now we’re only going to get a part-score bonus.” Since I happened to be looking at two aces, I knew that slam wouldn’t make, but game was cold, so our opponents earned 150 points on the board instead of 400 (or 430 for their game in no trump). I figured we would earn 6 or 7 IMPs, since our team-mates wouldn’t stop short of game.

But I underestimated Minorwood.

In fact, our team-mates had a nearly identical auction up to and including the minorwood bid. Again, the non-bidder took it for a natural bid. But he figured that game was odds on, and bid it. This put the minorwood bidder in a pickle. She knew that partner had not answered aces, so now had to guess if there were enough. She bid the slam, so we lost six.

In fact, the winning team had one pair that played the bare minimum conventions. They made mistakes, but avoid disasters. (I still recall that Exclusion Blackwood disaster I saw a few years back).

The rest of my team (with replacement-me) is heading to the Gaitlinberg Regional this week. I like bridge, but I’m not sure how I’d feel after 6 days with 9+ hours each. I can breeze through a Gathering, but even then I normally take a day or two of minimal gaming, and there’s a lot more variety. I don’t think I was noticeably less sharp on board 72 than on board 1…

Since it’s now over for this year, any Gathering thoughts?


Written by taogaming

April 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

Posted in Bridge, Open Thread

2 Responses

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  1. “Since it’s now over for this year, any Gathering thoughts?”

    No huge new games – Tichu was the most played game – though Macao, The Speicherstadt, and Telestrations got a lot of table time.

    I played more prototypes and old favorites, and correspondingly fewer new games, this year. But there weren’t any games new-to-me which I absolutely have to own.

    Joe Huber

    April 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

  2. I know for me, my bridge playing (other than social here and there and giving some beginner lessons) dropped to near zero due to poker.


    April 15, 2010 at 10:12 am

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