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The case for convention free bridge

#1 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 19:17

Hi all

I hope this post doesn't upset anyone. I have very strong views on the etiquette/ethics/rules of bridge in relation to conventions and bidding accurately with minimal use of psychs, in order not to mislead opponents at the table and/or gain an advantage in duplicate.

However I know I am relatively senior, despite no doubt still being much younger than the average bridge player. Like many of us I would have learned as a child from parents and been immersed in the tradition and spirit of the game. Also those who play in clubs and tournaments play according to very strict guidelines from world and national bridge associations, and play according to established systems. When I started playing bridge I was trying to write computer games on a 8K Commodore PET. The world has changed a fair bit :)

Watching the trailer of the video on the future of bridge this morning and having started playing online again over the last year (the last time I played online was the 90s before robots) I have observed a massive change in online players' philosophy towards the game. Many have not learned through the older methods of learning - it is a computer game, often played against robots. The internet and gaming age has changed the attitude to games towards an anything goes, highly competitive, environment, and dare I say a large component of anti-authoritarianism or anti-estbalishmentism - which I do admit to having a great deal of sympathy for that philosophy in many areas. However there is a trend in all fields in the world of anything goes, cheating, gamesmanship. Not just sport and games but work, business, education anything. People steal others ideas and IP. They cheat to achieve. They undermine competitors by any means. I know we all have to compete in a tougher and tougher world but most people play honestly by rules and it is galling to see people who don't come out on top. The other sad things is the attitude of people who break rules towards those who they "cheated". They tend to despise and mock people who play by rules, regard them as losers in this world. Very sad, not just bridge but everywhere. Rant about the state of the world over.

So how do we match these things up. Maybe people in professional circles and certain bridge gaming circles do play no-system bridge like poker. I enjoy poker. It is exciting, full of psychology, bluff, all kinds of tactics. Bridge, also is an exciting psychological game (or can be) - even if played under strict conventions. However I think maybe non-bridge players or newer players are not aware of that if they are used to online/computer bridge

So as someone with no real stake in the game, despite enjoying it my whole life, and I admit somewhat of a traditionalist how do we all move forward to take account of:

1 - The mainstream game played throughout clubs and up to the top level where people play by rules, conventions etc
2 - All those established players with the masterpoints they all earned playing according to more traditional approaches
3 - Online/computer/robot bridge
4 - Psyching in computer tournaments against a bot rather than a thinking and flexible human
5 - The desire to attract young people to the game
6 - Allowing for the excitement of individual flair and innovation
7 - Potential rule changes for computer bridge and tournaments
8 - Potential for rule/convention free bridge - does this already happen - some in online comps and forums clearly feel they are allowed to play this way
9 - Many other related points

I would be interested in the views of any experts, directors, club managers, anybody really

As I said, I'm very much a traditionalist in the sense of playing to convention, however I do like to stretch my own point counts much more than many players would, I have a certain anarchic streak myself, and have certain sympathies for people who like playing games that way. How do we balance it all up

Over the experts and people with a stake in the game :)

Sorry for my indulgence

P
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#2 User is offline   helene_t 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 19:36

Personally I find the invention of new conventions to be the most interesting part of bridge. I would see little reason to prefer bridge over so many other games if it wasn't for the possibility of inventing conventions.

Of course, some people have different interests and that's ok. And if some of the players at the local club don't like opps who have umpteen pre-alerts, and play methods that require a prepared defense, then I am sure we can work out regulations that would make everybody happy, maybe except for some xenophobes that would oppose anything non-standard just for the sake of it.

Another thing is that restricting conventions sometimes has the opposite effect of what is intended. For example, if you are not allowed to play artificial forcing raises, you will automatically have the implicit agreement that a new suit by responder doesn't have to be genuine but could be a preamble to a raise. I don't think many players prefer to play against pairs who have ill-disclosed "in principle natural but who knows what it really means" methods, as opposed to a more formalized system.
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#3 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 19:52

Hi Helene

I wasnt arguing against the use of complex conventions and alerts. What I was getting at is that many people playing the game now feel they can bid what they like without alerts, especially in online games and even more so against computers. There is no mechanism for alerting bots, and I very rarely see alerts at online tables between humans.

I agree with you that bringing in and allowing new and different conventions is a good part of the game but they are all alerted or announced under the rules of the game

I was kind of moving a step further to discuss those who are not in the rules space and play from different philosophy or knoweldge base

regards P
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#4 User is offline   helene_t 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 20:05

Hi Possum,

Yes full disclosure is of course important. My experience from real life bridge is that directors take this seriously, not just at tournaments but also at clubs.

Online you often don't have a director, or not a very competent one, so the enforcement is not always great. But it is my impression that regular partnerships online alert their agreements, especially if they play some artificial non-standard stuff.

If it bothers you that many random opps don't use the alert feature, then you could ask them at the beginning of the session/round to alert anything artificial, or you could play primarily in tournament with competent directors or against people you know. But there will always be a problem with alerting of "non-standard" bids since what it standard in Poland or China may not be standard in EBU-land.

And non-regular pairs, of which there are many online, don't have many agreements so there isn't much to disclose. We have had the discussion many times before if you should self-alert a convention that is not discussed with partner. There isn't really a solution to the problem, other than just accepting that pairs that don't have a system don't play serious bridge, so if you want to play against them you just have to accept that the conditions are non-serious bridge.

Some people don't alert stayman etc because they think the regulations of their home country applies online as well. This is really difficult to do something about. BBO wants many players so they don't want to require people to pass a bridge knowledge test before they are allowed to play.

As for people making weird bids when playing with/against GIB, I think we have discussed that sufficiently already :)
... most of the new ideas I get are pretty "boring", mostly focusing on constructive methods rather than destructive ones --- Kungsgeten
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#5 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 20:20

Someone famous, it might have been Bob Hamman, compared team matches to a pair of prize fighters, placed together in the ring, struggling to knock each other out. In comparison, he equated pairs events to the same two prize fighters, who were then blindfolded and place in two separate rings full of palookas, being judged on how many baby seals they could club to death.

Two very separate games, both called bridge, sharing some common characteristics, but very different from one another.

Playing "bridge" against the bots is much the same as the way Hamman views match points.

1. Its is a bridge like game.
2. It shares many of the same skills with bridge
3. It is a mistake to equate it with other versions of the game
4. The fact that this game exists has little to do with other versions of the game
Alderaan delenda est
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#6 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-March-14, 22:56

Hi Helene and Hrothgar

I agree and concur with everything you say. I wasnt intending this to be a thread about strange bids with GiB.

I was trying to build on the video posted today about the future of the game and possible alternative sanctioned variants that could be considered in the future. I have no stake or authority in the game and am more in the traditionalist camp. However other games and sports have added different forms to appeal to different markets - often at the dismay of the traditionalists who feared the death of the real game. Howvever, often those fears have been misplaced and the new forms of the game have brought in many new people, sponsorship, money, support for the grass roots and the traditional elite "pure" game is still as strong and respected as ever

It was just an idle thought. Call it Free Bridge or some other name that is vaguely based on the same game under the same auspices but with different rules

Apologies for thinking out loud. I fear often my posts are misinterpreted and people think I am having a go at something I'm not. But that is my fault for the way I write sometimes :)

Thanks again for replying :)

regards P
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#7 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2019-March-16, 17:21

View Postthepossum, on 2019-March-14, 22:56, said:

Hi Helene and Hrothgar

I agree and concur with everything you say. I wasnt intending this to be a thread about strange bids with GiB.

I was trying to build on the video posted today about the future of the game and possible alternative sanctioned variants that could be considered in the future. I have no stake or authority in the game and am more in the traditionalist camp. However other games and sports have added different forms to appeal to different markets - often at the dismay of the traditionalists who feared the death of the real game. Howvever, often those fears have been misplaced and the new forms of the game have brought in many new people, sponsorship, money, support for the grass roots and the traditional elite "pure" game is still as strong and respected as ever

It was just an idle thought. Call it Free Bridge or some other name that is vaguely based on the same game under the same auspices but with different rules

Apologies for thinking out loud. I fear often my posts are misinterpreted and people think I am having a go at something I'm not. But that is my fault for the way I write sometimes :)

Thanks again for replying :)

regards P


There is, of course, minibridge. This might attract players to the game. At the moment it is used only to teach children.
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#8 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2019-March-16, 17:51

View PostVampyr, on 2019-March-16, 17:21, said:

There is, of course, minibridge. This might attract players to the game. At the moment it is used only to teach children.


I spent 10 or so days in Morocco last month with three friends from undergrad.
I brought along a deck of cards and we played mini bridge the majority of our evenings.

I think that its a great way to introduce adults to bridge and see if they enjoy declarer play and defense without needing to invest any time in learning how to bid.
Alderaan delenda est
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#9 User is online   Cyberyeti 

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Posted 2019-March-16, 18:20

View Posthrothgar, on 2019-March-16, 17:51, said:


I think that its a great way to introduce adults to bridge and see if they enjoy declarer play and defense without needing to invest any time in learning how to bid.


Student bridge is much like that too
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#10 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2019-March-17, 21:35

View PostCyberyeti, on 2019-March-16, 18:20, said:

Student bridge is much like that too


When I was a student my eating club had a detailed written system. But this was decades ago.
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones -- Albert Einstein
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#11 User is offline   Tramticket 

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Posted 2019-March-18, 03:51

What is "Convention-free Bridge"? More fundamentally, what is a Convention?

There has been a lot of discussion about what a bridge convention is on another site. The poll result there was that a convention is "any agreement, artificial or natural". It seems to me that we tend to regard things that we play as normal bridge, but things that other people play are Conventions.

Stayman, red-suit transfers and Blackwood (or some variant) are pretty universally played. Would your Convention-free bridge exclude these? I think that players would object very strongly if you tried to get rid of these conventions. So maybe they are exceptions?

But there are lots of Conventions that we play without even being aware that we are playing a convention. Any form of take-out double is surely a Convention (the natural meaning of "Double" must be penalties!), as are Preemptive bids. Fourth-suit forcing and splinter bids are clearly Conventions - but if you sat down to partner a stranger, you probably wouldn't think to mention these Conventions, when discussing your system in the 10 minutes available before the start of play. But these are far from simple Conventions (Is Fourth-Suit-Forcing a game force or a one-round force? Is the three heart bid a splinter in the auction 1, 2; 3?).

Now look at an even more fundamental level. When you open 1NT you promise say 15-17 High Card Points. Isn't this a Convention? When you open one diamond, I am happy to respond one spade with a nice 15-count, because I know you will bid again. Agreeing that a change of suit is forcing is surely a Convention?

And don't forget that leading 4th highest, or Ace from Ace-King are conventions, as is following suit with a high card to show an even number of cards or discarding a high card to ask partner to switch to the suit.

You might think that some of these examples are absurd, but I am reducing to the absurd in order to show that playing bridge without conventions is an unattractive idea and virtually impossible.
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#12 User is online   nige1 

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Posted 2019-March-18, 11:35

View PostTramticket, on 2019-March-18, 03:51, said:

What is "Convention-free Bridge"? More fundamentally, what is a Convention? There has been a lot of discussion about what a bridge convention is on another site. The poll result there was that a convention is "any agreement, artificial or natural". It seems to me that we tend to regard things that we play as normal bridge, but things that other people play are Conventions.Stayman, red-suit transfers and Blackwood (or some variant) are pretty universally played. Would your Convention-free bridge exclude these? I think that players would object very strongly if you tried to get rid of these conventions. So maybe they are exceptions? But there are lots of Conventions that we play without even being aware that we are playing a convention. Any form of take-out double is surely a Convention (the natural meaning of "Double" must be penalties!), as are Preemptive bids. Fourth-suit forcing and splinter bids are clearly Conventions - but if you sat down to partner a stranger, you probably wouldn't think to mention these Conventions, when discussing your system in the 10 minutes available before the start of play. But these are far from simple Conventions (Is Fourth-Suit-Forcing a game force or a one-round force? Is the three heart bid a splinter in the auction 1, 2; 3?).Now look at an even more fundamental level. When you open 1NT you promise say 15-17 High Card Points. Isn't this a Convention? When you open one diamond, I am happy to respond one spade with a nice 15-count, because I know you will bid again. Agreeing that a change of suit is forcing is surely a Convention? And don't forget that leading 4th highest, or Ace from Ace-King are conventions, as is following suit with a high card to show an even number of cards or discarding a high card to ask partner to switch to the suit.You might think that some of these examples are absurd, but I am reducing to the absurd in order to show that playing bridge without conventions is an unattractive idea and virtually impossible.


Tramticket seems completely right that, at Bridge:
  • A convention is simply an agreement, e.g. change of suit forcing.
  • An artificial call is a convention but not a serious suggestion to play in that strain. e.g. a take-out double.

Many players believe their system is natural and other players' systems are poison-gas. Thus, IMO, Acol is relatively natural, compared with other systems, For instance, in SAYC,
  • 1M is conventional (because it promises 5+cards)
  • 1m is artificial (because it could be Canapé, promising only 3 cards)

At cut-in rubber Bridge and in some individual competitions, players all play the same simple system. Arguably, this creates a level playing-field -- but the agreements are still conventions -- and many of those conventions are artificial.
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#13 User is offline   mikeh 

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Posted 2019-March-18, 12:08

Some 40 years ago a friend and I played in the Midnight Pairs event at the Reno Regional. It was held on New Years Eve, and at each table we had 2 bottles of California bubbly.

Hugh and I tended to drink a bit more in those days...indeed Hugh was, as he would tell you himself now, an alcoholic (who made a remarkable turnaround a few years later and became a very successful and respected Crown Counsel, and all-around good guy)

In any event, he suggested that we play 'Stone Age' and so noted our CC which was then blank, except for 16-18 1N and strong 2's.

We started against two friends, neither of whom drank, so we each got a bottle. It was not too many rounds later that we found the side-area where extra bottles were waiting for our attention.

Late in the event we played against Meckstroth and his then partner (I think this was just before Meckstroth teamed up with Rodwell). They were playing seriously but also having some fun and were more than happy to chat after we got to the table early. Meckstroth explained that they wanted to win because his partner would probably crack the top 5 in the masterpoint race for the year if they won.

Meckstroth opened 1S. Hugh doubled. RHO passed, and I made a cheap bid, over which Meckstroth bind 2S. Hugh doubled.

These days that would show a desire to compete but we weren't very sophisticated back then. Plus it occurred to me, dimly, that we had not discussed actually playing takeout doubles. I mean, we had agreed not to play stayman or any other convention. So I passed with my stiff spade 3.

The play was progressing: and at some early point Meckstroth was able to take a ruff in dummy with his doubleton 54 of trump. I under-ruffed.

Now, I have read hands where the underruff is an advanced play to prevent being squeezed, but I underruffed only because by then I had drunk at least 2 bottles of champagne.

Meckstroth, who had been very intent during the play, smiled and said: 'Things are looking up'.

He then called for dummy's remaining trump and I discarded. Meckstroth folded up his cards, placed them back in the tray, and said '800'.

So I speak from personal experience about playing convention-free bridge. My advice: it is best played when nearly-paralytic.

However, I haven't played that way (convention free or near-paralytic) since, so maybe I'm wrong.
'one of the great markers of the advance of human kindness is the howls you will hear from the Men of God' Johann Hari
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#14 User is offline   P_Marlowe 

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Posted 2019-March-19, 04:02

View Posthrothgar, on 2019-March-16, 17:51, said:

I spent 10 or so days in Morocco last month with three friends from undergrad.
I brought along a deck of cards and we played mini bridge the majority of our evenings.

I think that its a great way to introduce adults to bridge and see if they enjoy declarer play and defense without needing to invest any time in learning how to bid.

Yes, but the problem is the step from the mini bridge bidding phase to the real bidding phase.
With kind regards
Uwe Gebhardt (P_Marlowe)
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#15 User is offline   TheoKole 

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Posted 2019-March-20, 18:59

Hi Possum,

I think that I can understand your point of view regarding many strange conventions not being alerted online. I'm an older player also, 50's+ B-) and truly detest so called "destructive bidding systems" strong pass and other "brown sticker" systems. That being said I love ALOT of different conventions and try to incorporate as many as possible into a 2/1 system. I'm also a true believer in absolutely full disclosure and alerts in bidding and defense. Also I believe in taking full responsibility to alert and fully explain to the opponents, everything in bidding understandings, for instance when we use a convention and partner is answering in response to asking bids. (this means that I'm responsible for using the convention correctly AND explaining it to the opponents correctly, in the startup AND also in the following bids).

However, I remember about 20 years ago when I started using Multi 2 openers as weak in a major, OR 2 NT opener, OR 4441 openers 18+ points. It certainly took alot of time for people to get used to the system and I ended up getting some undeserved tops simply from using this convention. As others got used to the system they found out that they could usually wait a round if they had a normal hand to see what was up, without many problems. I believe that most players that have difficulties bidding against unusual systems feel this way because it takes them out of their "comfort zone" of bidding because they aren't prepared for it.

I find unethical behavior on the part of players to be a much more prevalent problem though, cheating in the cards of course, live finger signals between players, tapping, voice inflection when bidding without bidding boxes and such. One other thing that really got me angry though when I was younger, was the psychological pressure that "more experienced" players tried to use on me to try and belittle my playing and bidding and defense to gain an advantage later on.

For example, in the guise of "helping" me they would try to insinuate that I should have "covered an honor with an honor" like they wanted me to. :) I found that the best way to answer was to explain how they made mistakes in declaring the hand and showing them the line of play which would have guarenteed them making their contract no matter what I did.


Rant over also, ;) Cheers!
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