The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Dammit, Trader Joe’s….

Driving into work I hear an ad “This program supported by Trader Joe’s. Buy our wonderful dough and make a nice ‘za for dinner.”

As someone who railed against the inclusion of ZA in the OSPD, this felt like a personal attack from T.J. I’m assuming that T.J. put the apostrophe (or maybe airquotes) and the announcer didn’t pronounce them…


Written by taogaming

March 21, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

March Madness

In January and February I played Mage Knight (with the TaoLing), Sentinels (with the TaoLing), Bridge and Factorio. Now that March is nearly halfway over, I’ve finally managed to play a few multi-player games. The most interesting of which is Sidereal Confluence. I’m not likely to play that often — I suspect I will be going to game nights a bit more often, but we’ll see. And I’ll try to get a game or two at the Gathering. Random thoughts after one game:

  • Kudos for the word “Adhocracy.” I’ve used this word a few times in the last decade (to discuss politics or the organizational structure at my job) and I enjoy it. I suspect TauCeti and I came up with it independently, but maybe one of us caught it from the other (or both from a common source I’ve forgotten).
  • But … offsetting that are Anti-Kudos for the colon in the game title (and sub-title). That bane of book titles must perish from the face of gaming.
  • For a simple game it felt daunting to learn, but I think I got it after about 30 minutes.  Even when you grok the rules players face the “Race Tableau” problem — you are staring at your own stuff and can’t work out what other people are doing. That will (like Race) probably take a few games to overcome.
  • My initial reaction to the number of trading goods was like the Emperor’s reaction in Amadeus. “Too many notes.” But as most of the items are just chaff for industrial processes (ships and VPs excepted) I don’t think its a problem. And I suspect that when playing with more than 4-5 it feels a bit looser.
  • I do like the trading mechanisms of “Trades continue until all players but one are done.”
  • I’m not proud. I picked the Caylion (a low difficulty race) that (I now see in the rules) has “no particular direction” so I could take what was offered. I won. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Anyway, I expected to be intrigued by this, and I was. Will play a few more times before rating, probably suggest (but not buy).

Werewords — Fine. I’m not in the Werewolf target audience, but One Night Werewolf (etc) is fine. Indifferent.

Meltdown 2020 — I had actually played this before. We played with a rule or two wrong, but this was fine. Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

March 12, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Never in a million years…

We are doing reasonably well in a Swiss teams, event. Earlier I held something like:

S:Kxx H:T8 D:Qx C:Jxxxxx

and partner opens 1 Heart. I could bid 1 NT (Semi-forcing) but since I’m playing Polish 1H is capped at 17 HCP (and rarely that strong). So, best to pass right away and prevent partner from jumping with his 15 points or (more likely) bidding 2 Diamonds and then I have to bid 2 hearts. If I’m lucky LHO will double back in and I can bid clubs over 1 Spade.

But LHO passes. Partner wins the opening lead and plays a small heart towards dummy …. Jack … small, pitch.

A 6-0 heart break. Sad trombone.

But we won that match and are sitting down against a Grand Life Master with multiple national championships and his partner (no slouch, either).

I pick up S:9xxxx H:Q D:xxx C:AJ92

Partner opens 1NT. I could pass, but I think I’ll transfer into spades.  If partner super-accepts then I’ll chance the game. If not, I’ll pass and hope that spades is OK. A bit weaker and I’d pass. (Passing 1N isn’t wrong, by any means, but this gives me chance to get into a borderline game and even if there isn’t game 2 Spades is probably as reasonable as 1NT).

I bid 2 Hearts and my LHO (the Grand Life Master) is in there with 3 Diamonds. This gets passed to me. I still don’t want to force to game, but partner doesn’t know if I have any values and may be wishing he could double 3 Diamonds. I double. Partner will likely sit with two spades. LHO passes and partner passes and now RHO goes in the tank. Eventually, he passes.

My partner leads the heart king and RHO says “Never in a million years will you guess my hand” and tables the AKQ8xx of spades. His full hand is

S:AKQ8xx H:xx D:x C:KTxx

The play is brutal and fast. Heart king, heart ruff, diamond to partners king, heart ace (I pitch the deuce of clubs encouraging), club 8 (conventionally, either a singleton or promising one higher card which must be the queen, as I can see the rest), king ace, small club back to partner’s queen, heart ruffed, club jack at which point declarer ruffs high and concedes another high trump.

The full hand


          S: xx H:AKxxx D:AKx C:Qxx

S:-- H:JT9xx D:QJTxxx C:xx    S:AKQ8xx H:xx D:x C:KTxx

         S:97xxx H:Q D:xxx C:AJ9x

The really impressive thing is that everything is so reasonable. East could have overcalled 2 Spades, but decided to wait and see, and must have been shocked beyond belief to hear my transfer into spades. West …. fearing that opponents may be off to the races got in a space eating lead-directing overcall. You can argue that any bid is pushy or poor judgement, but its not totally out of left field. East considered pulling 3D-X to 3 Spades or 3NT, but those have their own problems.

(At the other table East bid 2 Spades, off four undoubled, which is also beyond my ken).

And in the category of “poor opponents” we have the other weird hand of the day.

I pick up S:8xxx H:K D:AQJ98 C:Qxx

Partner opens 1 Heart, I bid 2 Diamonds (not necessarily game forcing), partner bids 2 Hearts, which could be a sixth heart or just waiting without extras. I bid 2 Spades, showing my shape and confirming a game force. (Yes, we might go down in game, but I have an opening hand, so I’m forcing).

Partner bids 4 Diamonds.

I think this is a splinter showing 4 spades and a stiff diamond, (since 3 Diamonds would be totally forcing and set diamonds) but delayed jumps are not alertable, so I don’t alert. I was just a mere game force and I have all my values in diamonds, so I signoff in 4 Spades. Partner thinks for a bit and jumps to 6 Diamonds.

(Now I think partner misbid and was slammish in diamonds). I pass. Thankfully nobody can be accused of “waking up” due to an alert.

LHO leads a club and I am surprised to find myself in a non-hopeless contract.

Dummy has S:KJx H:AQJxxx D:T7xx C:–

Wishing that dummy had my nine of diamonds, I ruff and lead a small diamond to my queen. Perhaps I should lead the diamond Ten, but I think I need a stiff king or Kx onside, since I’ve already ruffed a club. The DT wins against Kxx onside and 3-3 hearts, but losses against stiff King onside (unless hearts are 3-3). I’d really like hearts to be 3-3. I can’t figure out the odds and anyway that’s what I did at the table.

It goes small diamond, jack (keeping my 98 so I can overtake) and LHO wins the diamond king.

But … she starts to think. That’s good. Very good.  She doesn’t have the spade ace and (for her point of view) leading a spade into the spade bidder (who was willing to play in the four spade game) looks like a good way to solve the suit. She may be looking at the spade queen or afraid of finding partner’s spade queen.

She eventually returns a trump and I win in my hand (they break two-two) cash the heart king, ruff a club in dummy and claim when hearts break no worse than 4-2.

Looking at all four hands, LHO could have led her doubleton spade to her partner’s AQ and gotten a ruff and possibly picked up her stiff DK.

Sometimes there is no justice in Bridge.

         S:KJx H:AQJxxx D:T7xx C:--

S:xx H:???? D:Kx C:?????   S:AQxx H:xx D:xx C:A???? (E-W hands approximate)

        S:xxxx H:K C:AQJ98 C:Qxx

Written by taogaming

March 4, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Bridge

Damn, wish declarer was a point stronger

Played in a swiss, terribly. Got trump squeezed when I could have seen it coming, but I’m not terribly upset by missing it. Later on I’m defending 3N and declarer has had to concede her fourth trick to me (setting up her diamonds).

I have actually been paying attention, and the auction helped. I know the following cards:

           Dummy: S:AJ8xx H:x

Partner S:?? H:Jxx C:x    Me: S:T9xx H:x D:x

           Declarer S:? H:AQ9 D:2 winners

I’m giving partner the HJ, because if he doesn’t have it nothing matters (or if he’s stronger). He can’t have more than that (left) on the auction (one of his spades must be an honor as well, the KQ are still out, but declarer needs an honor for her bid). It’s clear to me that if I return a heart or diamond declarer will run her winners and end up in this position

        Dummy:  S:AJx

Partner: S:(K/Q)x H:J

        Declarer: S:(K/Q) H:9 D:Winner 

No matter what spades are, on the diamond partner is squeezed. If he pitches a heart, that’s it. If he pitches a spade declarer can lead her honor and overtake when partner plays the other honor and the jack is good. (Even if partner had both KQ of spades, he’s squeezed).

Well, nothing to it. Lead a spade. Break communication between the hands and when declarer runs her diamonds partner just pitches his spades.

I lead a spade and declarer plays her stiff Queen and …. partner thinks and plays the king. Hand is over. Declarer wins the ace, pitches her little heart on the spade jack, and claims.

As mistakes go, its a forgivable. (In fact, I made a terrible one just the hand earlier, so partner may have been fuming at that ….)

Only … I wish declarer had been a touch stronger.

If declarer held the spade KING, partner would have had no chance to go wrong.

Written by taogaming

February 25, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Posted in Bridge

A little embarrassing

They have a mentor-mentee system at the local bridge club, and for years I’ve been shocked at who is allowed to mentor. Simply atrocious. So this year I volunteered and had my first mentee game today. She’s a lovely lady from Indonesia and not exactly a novice. (The yenta who arranges the partnerships said she’d played, but using an Indonesian system. This turns out to be — as far as I can tell — basic Precision with some weirdness).

We’re playing simple Standard American bidding with the minimum of agreements (Stayman, Jacoby, Blackwood, Strong jumps, weak 2s and negative doubles) and practically no signals on defense.

Early on I have a few problem hands, because I can’t decide if she’s bidding ‘correctly’ or ‘like a novice.’ On the very first hand I have to decide if her jump to game is a weak preempt or an opening hand. I decide to treat it as a pre-empt (which is what it should be) and miss a slam.

Later on I bid 1 club with a balanced 12 count and the (expert) on my left bids 4 Spades. She bids 4 NT.

I’ve seen very strong partnerships (like a married couple with ~20k master points between them) get into hissing matches as to what 4N means in that situation. I’m firmly in the “game before slam” school of thought … it means you aren’t sure where to go, not Blackwood. There’s an argument that it could be to play. Partner has agreed to play negative doubles, but we defined very little of the card so far, so I have no idea how high we play them. I’m looking at AJxx of spades, so partner could have Kx of spades and mean it to play, but that’s ballsy. (On her part. I have no problem believing my LHO would preempt to the four level on a QT seventh suit non vulnerable).

I know that she knows Blackwood. I also know — from long personal experience — that even some strong players think 4N is always Blackwood. Newer players love having a bid where they know the meaning.

I treat the bid as Blackwood. Wrong! Partner bid 4N to play (with Kx of spades and about 17 HCP).

We get too high, and I apologize, tell her that her bid was fine but that I wasn’t sure what she meant.

We get to another slam off an ace and the trump queen, and the queen is off. No problem there, we just don’t play key card blackwood.

Apart from near-slams, we’re doing fine. One expert makes a matchpoint double, hoping for +200. Partner calmly collects +870 (doubled overtrick). She sometimes chooses an inferior line, but she doesn’t block suits, etc. By about halfway through the game, I realize she is in fact a good ‘novice.’ Every time we play another mentee (or even a player with only a few years under their belt) we do well.

I pick up S:xxx H:xxx D:QTxx C:Qxx. Not much to write home about, unless you like letters involving flat hands lacking controls.

My opponents are a married couple that are acquitances of the family. The husband (an intermediate) had lunch with my grandfather two days ago. He opens 1N and his wife (aggressive, but a better cardplayer) put him into 3N without much thought. Partner leads the three of clubs.

Since this is a teaching game, I note to myself that partner should prefer leading a major if its borderline and as dummy hits I also note that my RHO had her bid. Probably because her husband was declaring.

          Dummy  S:Qx H:JTx D:98xxx C:AKx

Club 3 led                     Me: S:xxx H:xxx D:QTxx C:Qxx

Declarer thinks for a bit, the plays the club ace. He now plays the spade queen, king and ace. I expect a fourth spade (and maybe a fifth) but declarer surprises me with the club jack, partner follows with the deuce and declarer studies that, then calls from the club ace.

I follow but before declarer can call for the diamond I realize I’ve made a mistake. She led the three, then played the deuce. If I trust partner, she started with five clubs.  I’m also kicking myself because I didn’t note the card declarer played at trick one. But if partner is telling the truth then a) declarer’s play is terrible and b) that’s not my problem, but I needed to throw my club queen under the ace.

But I’ve missed my chance. I play a small diamond and declarer’s jack is taken by my partner’s king. She cashes the spade ten and — thankful for the second chance and willing to look silly if I’m wrong — I discard the club queen. I’m pretty sure I’m right. Partner doesn’t play many signals, but fourth best leads she seemed solid with.

Partner notices my discard and quickly puts down the club nine — declarer started with JT tight — and two more clubs.  I have no problems in discarding and we get them another trick for down two.

Everyone is saying my discard was excellent but I quietly inform partner that it should have been done earlier. “If you hadn’t had the high spade, the suit would have blocked.” Dummy has a few words for her husband about his (double plus ungood) line of play.

Partner comes back down to earth later on, and I got a few points of discussion on standard bidding and cardplay. Amazingly, as we’re going over the hands I hear that we scratch in our direction in Flight A (and win B/C outright), with a touch over 50% (the three expert pairs sitting our direction destroying the field, mostly).

More importantly, I’ve avoided anything too embarrassing.

Written by taogaming

February 11, 2018 at 12:54 am

Posted in Bridge

A full weekend of Bridge

means a full weekend of weirdness. We had a day of pairs to knock of the rust to prepare for the North American Open Pairs Texas/Mexico qualifiers. (We did not knock of rust). We then played in the NAOP top flight and had a pretty good morning session and an atrocious afternoon to fall out of the running. Then we paired up with another non-qualifying pair to win the second bracket of the Swiss Teams.

I made my typical number of mistakes most days. In the NAOPs they were brutally punished and in the second bracket, they rarely were (unless the mistake did not require the opponents to do anything, like dropping the wrong card at trick 12).

Among other things:

  • I found a strip squeeze (for down one, of course), then the opponent discarded a suit he was guarding, which made me stop and recount … incorrectly. If everyone plays correctly, I’m off one. Defender plays incorrectly, so I should make; but my recount is wrong  — Down two. Typical.
  • Based on a mis-understanding, I doubled a cold 3N and then a non-cold 4m when they ran.
  • Partner held an all-black hand. S:AKJxxxxxx H:– D:– C:Q9xx.
  • Based on stupidity, I ran when they redoubled 4H. Amazingly, it may be possible to make it despite a 6-0(!) break. (Double dummy it makes, and the play may be railroaded into the right line).
  • You may remember Jeff Goldsmith’s Bridge without Sam columns. Met Sam.
  • Sam was playing a system that makes Polish seem pretty normal, a Blue-club style system except that instead of 1D, 1H and 1S showing 12-16 HCP, it shows 8-12 (in 1st and 2nd seat). Had an interesting hand where I knew everything I needed right away (it helps that I played Blue Club for a dozen sessions) but unfortunately all the information told me that I had a sure fire make if Sam held the club queen and would need a gross misdefense otherwise. (He did not, and they did not). On the other hand we got to a messy 3S instead of defending a non-hope 3H, but managed to make.
  • A deliberate dog walking by partner turned a likely  +620 /+650 into a potential +170/+200 and was rewarded with a double to net +1130.  (At IMPs!) Another hand I had a near game decision, chose to only invite, and was rewarded by being doubled in 3, but that was matchpoints, so just a top.

And finally, a single hand as seen by dummy:

I held a terrible S:xx H:J9x D:JT8xx C:xxx. LHO opened 2S in 3rd seat, partner bid 2N and I passed. The opening lead was a small diamond — jack, queen, discard by partner!

“No diamonds partner?”


“Uh, ok.”

He held S:AQxx H:AQxx D:– C:AQJx and thought the most likely auction after a double would be 3D be 2N (a weakness relay) followed by 3D (which was correct). That would have been the auction. As he said “”My choices were to bid 2N or to double and have to bid 3N.”

If I had 4 hearts and any values (or any 5 hearts), I could still bid after 2N. The only disaster would be if I had exactly four hearts and minimal values, I’d probably pass 2N. Risky, but correct today.


Written by taogaming

January 21, 2018 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Bridge

Fifty by Fifty update

As man ages, he ponders the ever-decreasing chances of finishing his fifty by fifty challenge.

Vhojha Moi! Three years since I posted it. And almost no games added.

Some were probably over fifty when I posted, but I waited a few years to get a few more plays. There are a handful of titles sitting at 40+ plays. For those, a small effort will get me there, but probably no more than 5-10 more.

Which means I need to play 5-10 games 25+ times each in the next two years to make it.

Unlikely, considering my declining gaming habits. (And number of games played so far this year? Zero, not counting a bit of Bridge).

But …. 25 games is slightly more than 1 play a month for each game. The alternative is to find a new game and crush it. There may be 1-2 of those in the next year, but I doubt it. So, I think I’m going to replace most of my ‘new’ games in the bag with ‘classic’ games.

Probably won’t make it to fifty, though. Not in time.

Written by taogaming

January 16, 2018 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Session Reports