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Results from my Slay-the-Spire/Bridge Training

As you recall (or can read), I was using techniques given by Kim Frazer in her Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge in Slay the Spire. My goal was to win 25% of the games I played, and the results are in: I played the same # of games as my sample size (where I won 12%) and got

IroncladSilentDefectTotal
17W – 33L (34%)11W – 39L (22%)6W – 44L (12%)34W – 116L (22.67%)
Not quite…

So, I missed, but not by much. I won more games with each character from the fifty prior games, nearly doubling my win rate. (I’m still much better at Ironclad than the other two characters, but that’s because its easier to play).

So, did it work? Well, it’s complicated.

(There’s an XKCD for everything)

This shouldn’t be taken as a complaint about the book. The real stumbling block is that it is incredibly difficult to categorize strategic mistakes in Slay the Spire. Bridge is easy by comparison. While it has grey areas, many of the typical mistakes are easy to diagnose by simply replaying the hand. Bidding has borderline cases, but the play and defense can be fairly rigorously analyzed after the hand.

In this respect, bridge is like shooting. You get instant feedback if a shot was good or not. In this comparison, Slay the Spire is … not quite Calvinball, but at least Cricket as understood by Americans. So, to take some notes from a random loss. “I died hitting the worst possible elite at the time, then drawing poorly. Despite that I might have won if I’d not used my potion a turn too early in this case, if I’d saved it for a turn later — with the draw I got then — I would have won”. So, clearly some bad luck, but also a micro-mistake (any mistake inside a single fight I call a “micro” or “tactical” error). But if I hadn’t used my potion and didn’t draw that particular card (about a 50/50) I’d lose in all cases. So, should I have used the potion? Maybe? I could math it out, but that’s just inside one fight. Many of the StS issues are “Should I rest or smith” and you don’t get feedback (dying) until five floors later, but smithng did save some health, and you had a few random events. Feedback is incredibly noisy.

There were some losses that clearly had horrible luck. But how much? Difficult to say. After about 1/3rd of the trial I realized that my guesses as to why I lost were pretty random. Even right after the game I sometimes couldn’t tell. I suspect that (in the future) it might be best to track more specific information.

Another reason for caution is that this last month was fruitful one for my outside learning. In particular, three StS streamers talking shop about their respective recent win streaks for 3 hours was an invaluable resource, and I probably got a few extra victories after watching that (and reading Jorbs debrief after his Slay the Spire Marathon).

But certain aspects did help:

  1. Mindfulness. My checklist wasn’t perfect, but it did catch some common errors I made. I might revise it.
  2. The act of reviewing the notes. I haven’t done a detailed review of the most recent set of 150 games, but I suspect there is data to be mined. (Some StS streamers appear to have all their runs in a DB where they can run queries to answer it. I haven’t gone nearly that far).
  3. Instead of trying to quantify why I lost, I switched at some point to just writing down a one sentence summary. That may help in clarifying thoughts.

Anyway, with all that said, I suspect that the techniques from this book will work quite well to help the intermediate (or better) bridge player, or really any game where you can quantify the mistakes easily. (Perhaps some StS players who are better than me can, so this would help them more than help me).

So — What’s next? Clearly more Slay the Spire … (its pretty much my pandemic relaxation). I’ll try for a 30% winrate for my next 150 games and we’ll see if maybe my last set was just regression to the mean (as I think 12% was low).

Written by taogaming

February 27, 2021 at 2:46 pm

If you’ve been desperately wondering what I think of a few dozen bridge books…

Written by taogaming

February 19, 2021 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bridge, Reviews

A Practical Test of ‘Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge’ using … Slay the Spire

One of the most unusual bridge books I’ve read is Kim Frazer’s Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge. Unlike the vast majority of bridge books, there is practically no advice on bridge. This is all about “how to think” (a topic that I love enough to have a category in this blog for). Bridge forms the majority of the examples here, but apart from that these articles would not be out of place in any coaching symposium.

Kim was an international caliber shooter who took up bridge and later represented Australia in International events, so she has definitely “walked the walk” in two separate sports. There are chapters on focus, positive mindsets, mental preparation, rehearsal, match preparation & fitness, relaxation, goal setting and tracking.

The book itself was interesting — I don’t think much of it will come as a surprise but having it all done in a nicely packaged book (and providing references to sports journals, etc for more information) is good. I’ve started to try and build up a routine for the playing of bridge hands (still more forgotten than observed) so as to reduce the number of stupid errors. In fact, the first night (on BBO) I did it, I think I played well and then I went and forgot to look at the checklist this week, didn’t use it, and had a large number of errors. (The checklist is just a routine to do at the start of each hand …. say “Focus” to start the routine, note the board information (dealer,/vulnerability) count the HCP, decide on my opening bid (should it pass to me), and my likely continuations, responses.

I normally do this (in some shape) on most hands, but not in a formalized way. But (as per the book) I wrote out a checklist and used it, to good results (the times I remembered).

While thinking about this training, I realized that I could run a quick experiment on the chapter on goal setting and tracking using … Slay the Spire. I mean, while this book is aimed at Bridge it is not specifically for it, and right now my StS play is much more prevalent. (And is a solitaire game). Consider it a training run.

So — what are my goals? I’d like to improve my win rate (a win defined as “Beating the corrupt heart at ascension 15” (which is what I normally play at). There is a “Victory?” where you win without getting to the heart, but I consider that a loss. It means I’ve forgotten to claim one of the three keys required to unlock the fourth act.

Control Data

Anyway, the first part of goal setting was to set a record keeping standard. I decided to review the last 50 runs I had for each of the three main characters I played (I do not particularly enjoy playing Watcher, so I rarely do). Fortunately StS keeps a record of runs, so I pulled out some basic information (like which floor I died on) and put them into an excel spreadsheet.

Here are the stats:

Died during….Character — IroncladCharacter — SilentCharacter — Defect
Act I (Exordium)1073
First Boss676
Act II (The City)111621
Second Boss335
Act III (The Beyond)335
Third Boss241
Act IV Elites113
The Corrupt Heart344
Victory!1152
Checksum505050
Not a huge sample size….

It struck me as odd that the Second Boss and Act III numbers matched, but I doubled checked and its just a coincidence.

First thought — I won at a 12% rate, which was lower than I thought (I would have guessed I won at a 20% rate overall), but perhaps I am just deluding myself. I do think I had some bad luck (a certainly have a better than 4% win rate as defect!) so I would expect over the next 150 games to improve the rate in any case. The book states that I should set a goal that seems difficult but achievable. Let’s try for a 25% win rate overall (doubling the control).

I also need to build a checklist for the game, so I did. (Commentary in Italics)

  • Start of Act
    • Examine the floor layout, pick likely path and alternates if I get good/back luck.
    • Note who is the end of act Boss!
    • (Act I only) Decide on Neow’s gift (a special bonus you get at game start), re-evaluate
  • Checklist for each fight/event
    • Upon revealing the enemies, decide on how dangerous this fight will be (win easily, win but take significant damage, likely die, etc).
    • Note relics that I have that may have an interaction
    • Set out my goal for the fight is (Not just winning while taking as little damage as possible, do I want to set up relic counts for the next fight, etc).
    • Decide on general fight strategy …. if I will likely be using a potion(s) (In general the fight strategy will be set by how my deck is built and not change much from floor to floor, but I wanted to explicitly call out this step).
    • Per Turn Checklist:
      • Examine hand, enemy action (if varied)
      • Is my luck good/bad enough to change strategy? (Maybe I’m getting killed an need to drink a potion or assume a good draw next turn….or maybe things have gone well so I can shift from “just win the fight” to “win the fight and set up my relics counts”)
      • Determine candidate plays, pick one (may iterate if plays draw cards).
    • (For events this is basically the same, but simplified since the fight is “picking which event outcome to take”)
  • Post fight analysis
    • Did I accurately judge the fight? Did I miss anything that I could have done better?
  • Post-fight rewards
    • Examine offered rewards
    • State how each option affects my deck. Do I need it to cover a weakness (a specific enemy/elite), or to solve a general problem (front loaded damage/scaling damage/blocking).
    • Double check for good/bad interactions. Look at your deck and relics when deciding!
    • Decide which is best and take it (or skip).
    • Determine a rough “State of the game” (my ‘equity’ in the game). (Don’t need an exact number, but has it gone up or down).
    • Adjust strategy based on state of game. Pick next floor.
  • Post-game analysis.
    • Record tracking information
    • Write up a quick summary as to why I think I won/lost
    • Think of at least one positive and one “need to improve”

Again, I probably did a lot of this automatically, but there are a few things I’m calling out to myself — Making sure to double check potions and relics (because forgetting to use them is a big mistake).

Things to track:

I’ll track everything as before, but also keep track of my mistakes and notes. (For the above, I didn’t show it but I also noted which enemy I died to).

“Oops” Mistakes — Playing too quickly (if I make a move I want to “take back” then that’s a mistake. You can quit a fight and restart, but I’ll only do that if I make an actual misclick. I’ve been somewhat casual about that, but the real goal of this is to slow down and think more — which is the one skill that translates directly to bridge). In order to make this more “Apples to Apples” I’ll divide this by # of floors which isn’t an exact measure since not all floors can have them, but is at least reasonable.

Why did I lose — For my losses, I will categorize them as follows. I’ve decided to assign points to each category, with a total of 10 points.

  1. Too Aggressive — Taking an upgrade when I should have rested, and in general not respecting that.
  2. Too Passive — The downside of that is not recognizing when I’m poorly placed and need to be taking more short term risks to be able to face the next boss, etc. Note that I think I can be too passive and aggressive in the same game (obviously at different times).
  3. Gross Oversights — I missed something and it got me (missed a relic interaction, etc). I’d really like this number to be low … that’s the point of the checklist. These are things that get me killed or a huge chunk of HP.
  4. Math mistakes — Sometimes you have to just run the numbers.
  5. Bad micromanagement of fights — Small errors in fights that cost a HP here and there, missing subtle interactions.
  6. Bad Luck — Sometimes you just don’t get offered great cards, you bottom deck the fights, etc. Things that are outside my control. In theory there should only be points in this category on half (or less) of my games, but sometimes you just lose without doing anything wrong. (Negative Points means I had good luck and wasted it), so if I assign less than 10 points, I’ll dump the rest here.

When I win I will assign a “Good luck” score, how much was it just destined (because I got great cards/relics, etc).

As I normally do, I will rotate characters (Ironclad, then Silent, then Defect), just to match the controls.

Final thoughts (before starting)

Just looking at the stats was useful, because I have noticed a few things:

I play Act I too aggressively as Ironclad. Ironclad’s “schtick” is that he does a lot of damage and heals a bit after fights, and I clearly rely on that too much and end up dying in the first act (or at the first boss) much more so than other characters. My Ironclad win rate is higher (caveat for small sample size), but many of the runs are short, quick deaths.

I may be too passive with the other two characters …. For the silent/watcher (who don’t automatically heal) my play gets through Act I but am not well placed and die in Act II. I suspect I am not taking enough fast damage or all out attack.

I need to respect the Second Act more and start looking “past the first boss” when I think I have it beaten.

Let the games begin.

Update — After thinking about it (and playing a round of games while I was editing this), I think that “Bad Luck” should probably average 3. Jorbs only wins 70% of the games, so assuming that 30% are unwinnable at my level of play seems reasonable. (He’s on a higher ascension, but a better player). I’m not going to agonize over it too much (especially since it would lead to negative thinking, a “no-no” in the book.) I had a few games where things just didn’t seem to line up….

Written by taogaming

January 30, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Another new, yet very old auction

(The second in a not-really-series).

Playing online, I pick up a typical (weak) 1NT opening:

S:xx H:AKx D:Axxx C:xxxx (ish)

So I open 1NT. And partner wheels out an unexpected bid — 3 Hearts.

What is that? In the olden days, that was a five card suit and choice of games or slammish. Nowadays Jacoby transfers handle the choice of games … although I had been thinking that making 3H mean “5 card suit slammish” is likely better than most systems.

In fact, which playing with new partners, I don’t normally bother filling out what 1N-3x means (with the exception that 3C should be Puppet Stayman). I haven’t heard this auction in a while, and I don’t know what it means. If I’ve discussed it, its so long that I can’t remember. Partner is in DC, and so may play some variant of Washington Standard, which I think makes this a 3=1=(54) forcing bid. But since I’m not sure and I don’t think its just hearts, I’m going to punt and bid 3NT. This gets doubled by my LHO.

Partner bids 4 Hearts. If he’s doing that with a stiff heart I think I’m going to make him play it as punishment for torturing me with an undiscussed auction. I pass and LHO doubles again. Partner doesn’t pull, so I guess he really has hearts. I pass and while he plays it he shows up with:

S: Axxxx H: Jxxxxx D: x C: x

I still don’t know what’s going on. Only hours later do I realize …. early on I learned (and still play with most people) that 3 Hearts is 5-5 in the majors, invitational. But its been probably a decade since I’ve seen that, even though I play it with most partners. The good news (from my perspective) is that four hearts doubled is that good place to be.

But A near-year of not even looking at a convention card is showing, I think.

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Bridge

The Giorgio Duboin Bridge Cheating Scandal

BridgeWinners has posted a summary of the evidence against Giorgio Duboin in recent online play. There are also links to the full hand records and analysis by several world class players. (The full report is here).

The one nice thing about online bridge is that it facilitates these kind of analysis into “Suspicious” and “Anti-suspicious” deals. (A suspicious deal is one where you make an abnormal decision that works out much better than suspected, whereas an anti-suspicious deal is one where the abnormal decision’s punishment works out even more poorly than normal). The methodology was to look at G.D.’s play when kibitzers were allowed (and he therefore may have been able to login with a second ID to see the layout or have an accomplice do that and relay the info) and when no kibitzers were allowed.

I haven’t read the full report, but even the summary seems damning with solid methodology and reporting, but perhaps gamers with more experience in this field will have a different opinion.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with

A typical slam

Playing on BBO with my normal partner against two local experts, I pick up a perk-me-up.

S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx

I open 1 Heart and hear a surprising bid from partner …. 2 NT, which is our strong and game forcing raise in hearts. (Jacoby 2NT)

There are a number of responses, but this is easy enough, I bid 4 Spades, which is our “ace” asking bid. (Kickback Roman Keycard Blackwood). Partner bids 5 Clubs, showing one ace.  Now comes the important part of the auction — I bid 5 Spades, the king ask. Importantly this promises possession of all the key cards partner doesn’t have. He’s shown the ace (of clubs). I’ve shown the other four aces (the heart king counts) and the heart queen.

A fairly descriptive bid for one supposedly asking.

Partner shows a king (we play specific kings rather than number of kings) but I’m done and bid 6 Hearts. If partner can’t count thirteen tricks knowing about my five cards, I have nothing else to say.

I get the Spade Ten lead and the following dummy.

          S: KJ H: JT9xxx D:Q5 C:AK3

ST Led

          S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx

 

I cover the ST with the SJ (why not) and RHO follows low. Trumps break 1-1, so now its just a question of which line is best. In both cases I cash a spade first to eliminate the suit.

Line 1 — I lead the queen of diamonds hoping that RHO has the diamond king and doesn’t cover.

Line 2 — I cash the ace of clubs then lead ace of diamonds and lose a diamond. Whoever wins the diamond king will have to lead a club, and I can play my jack (if RHO won) or let it ride to my jack (if LHO won).

Line 3 — I can cash AK of clubs and then lead towards the jack.

Which line is best?

Line one is a swindle. It starts at 50% (RHO has the DK) but it requires a mistake. RHO is an expert and will never make the mistake looking at the DJ, and will rarely make it not. Call it 5%

Line two works if the DK and CQ are in the same hand, which is slightly less than 50/50 (~48% due to the law of vacant spaces, not bothering to modify it for cards played). It also works if the DK is stiff or if the DK only has a single club and has to give me a ruff and sluff (Clubs are 5-1). Those are pretty small chances, so a touch better than 50% feels right.

Line three works on any 3-3 club break (I lose to the CQ but can pitch dummy’s losing diamond on the fourth round of clubs). If RHO has the long clubs it also works (either the club queen falls or I can set up the jack for the diamond pitch). If LHO has 5 or 6 clubs I have to switch gears and play the diamond ace, diamond queen and hope that RHO wins and has to give me a ruff and sluff. Only if LHO has four clubs am I down. Clubs break 4-2 (either way) 30% of the time, but that is just for either 4-2 split. LHO having four clubs is 15%. And 1/3rd of the time, RHO will have the doubleton queen. In fact, there are 15 possible cases of LHO having four clubs. I win in six of those — RHO having T9 (the 8 sets up) and all the Qx cases.

Line three must be north of 75% (even ignoring that I still have the stiff diamond king shot if all else fails). I didn’t work the math out at the table but I played Line 3.

Of course this was LHO’s hand

S: QT952 H:5 D:K74 C:Q9xx

Down one when line two works. My first thought (and second) was “Typical slam. Inferior line works.” But now, in the cold light of day…

Maybe I should have known this. The Spade Jack won at T1. RHO would have to be playing a deep game not to cover (since the lead of the ST shows the 9), so that card is confirmed. That’s a mildly attacking lead against a strongly bid slam …. why not a passive lead? A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner. Perhaps the reason for the mildly aggressive spade lead is that the other two suits looked even more aggressive? Perhaps because LHO was looking at a choice of bad leads?

How much should that change the odds? I don’t know. A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner, but in theory partner should have Jxx or worse on this particular auction. (But one of us may have stretched and Jxxx is possible). I don’t know if the lead changes the odds around enough to make Line two more attractive than line one. That’s a table feel issue. But against expert opponents whatever the base numbers say Line two has a “plus factor” because of the lead….ah well.

Written by taogaming

September 16, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

A new, yet very old, auction

Playing online (where else?) pick up a normal 1 No-Trump opener

S:K9x H:AKT9 D:KJ8 C:J95

4333 is bad shape, but the spots are excellent. Partner wheels out a novel bid — 5 No-Trump.

I think this bid was covered in my very first lesson of bidding. The college bridge club had a sheet with a 7×5 bid grid of all the bids, and one section of them was “What this bid means opposite a 1N opening.” 4N (the Quantitative Slam Try) was definitely there. But 5N as “Bid a grand with a maximum, else bid a small slam” likely was. Of course, it never comes up. By which I mean, I have been playing bridge for over 30 years and this is the first time I’ve actually seen 1N-5N at the table.

I bid 6N. The play was boring, I could finesse a queen for seven (or play for some random squeeze that seemed less likely than a finesse). I finessed, making seven.

Next hand.

Written by taogaming

July 14, 2020 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Bridge

Bridge in Corona

I’ve played on BBO (and earlier on OKBridge) for over a quarter century. I finally played a sanctioned tournament online. A few thoughts:

  • From a strictly time/money perspective, a big win. Although the tournament was only 18 boards (boo!) it took 2 hours. A full 24/27 board tournament still keep it ~30 minutes faster than a club game. And there’s no time driving too and from, etc. Cost was several dollars cheaper.
  • This is partially due to the fact that nobody has to get out/sort/put back cards and the clock is 7 minutes a board feels generous (instead of a touch rushed for most people). Also, the enforcement is automatic, after 14 minutes the hand ends. I assume it goes down as an average (unless the director can see timing and adjust).
  • The ACBL/BBO did well to make games sponsored by clubs. So most people go to “their” club and you know everybody. This does help a bit because when Hank and I are playing Polish we still have to alert, but most people aren’t surprised/asking a lot of questions (which takes much longer). So you are still “seeing” your regulars, but only a few sentences of chat between hands means the social aspect is much worse.
  • There is a big discussion about cheating. See Bridgewinners. What needs to happen is an automated way to fill out a recorder form (basically “I smell something funky, please investigate.”) These exist, but are such a pain to fill out nobody every really does. (Actually, I wonder. Jeff G. sits in review for national appeals committees, but maybe they only happen at high level). But by being automated BBO could provide a certified copy of the bidding/play to at least prevent “remembering with advantages” by either party. Right now there were a few questionable things that happened, but honestly in a club game I get a fair number. Most are just mistakes. But the ability to see exactly what happened is enlightening.

Anyway, I wouldn’t normally play a club game online and this doesn’t really change that. But you make do…

Written by taogaming

June 1, 2020 at 10:11 pm

Some Bridge Reading for You

Mats Nilsland has made his new book “Competitive Bids the Scanian Way” free to download for your Corona-reading pleasure. I’ve only scanned the first bid, but I have a few other books on Modern Scanian (which means approximately “Scandanavian,” with some differences I may not grok) bidding, and they are full of interesting ideas. Kind of like reading “Better Bidding With Bergen” in the late 80s … his ideas were rarely used in club circles, and are now reasonably common.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Bridge

RIP Josephine Grabow

Josephine (‘Jo’) Grabow is now the third bridge partner I’ve lost. Not only was she a much more frequent partner (I haven’t played with her in a few years, but we had 5-6 of us that would play practice and rotate houses, but she seemed in perfect health. She just performed the lead in a local theater production two weeks ago, and I saw her last weekend at the tournament. She played at the club on Monday, and Tuesday suffered a massive stroke. It’s infuriating and heartbreaking.

Written by taogaming

January 24, 2020 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with