Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Vote for Best Bridge Book of 2007

Summer has gone and so has my reading list. I didn’t read every new bridge book published in 2007, and perhaps they are saving the best for last, but if Mel Colchamiro’s book, “How to Play Like an Expert (without having to be one)” is not at the top of the list, somebody should conduct an investigation. This is Mel’s first effort at writing a book, but many have enjoyed his monthly column in the Bridge Bulletin, “Claim with Colchamiro.” The book does touch on some of his previous writing, but not to excess and always for the right reasons, adding more clarity and depth (and occasionally correction) to the practical advice he has previously given to us.

As the title indicates, the book does not address bridge experts. If you can declare at the “double dummy” standard, defend like a demon, recite all the percentage plays and intuitively figure out everything “on the fly” without ever being out of tempo, then this book is clearly not for you. But if you were in that category, your name would appear on the back cover along with Eric Kokish, Paul Soloway and Bobby Wolff.

Instructional books should be judged on clarity, good organization and how well they meet the expectations of their target audience. Mel tells you that his targeted audience is “us regular folk”, and at the risk of being intellectually whipped by the words “overly simplistic”, he takes dead aim on that audience. Mel’s teaching experience shows through and enables him to carry his message in a series of clear, concise rules, somewhat in the style of Ron Klinger’s “Better Bridge with a Better Memory.” It takes over where the Rules of 11 and “Eight Ever, Nine Never” leave off and takes us through more than a dozen easy to apply guidelines that for the most part can be calculated on your fingers. No move worries about “do I or don’t I” or “should I or shouldn’t I” or “what would Mel do now.” For many of those common dilemmas, Mel tells you how to make the same decision he would make without paying the tuition.

One thing I like about the book is the application of most of the rules are not dependent on a partnership understanding. Would it be better as a partnership read? Yes, but its value does not generally require mutual partnership understanding. Another plus, the book is replete with graphic examples that greatly aid the understanding.

If you think you are not an appropriate audience target at the conclusion of Chapter 4, then skip ahead to Chapter 14 and start to work your way through 60 pages of “Balance of Power” Doubles. While Mel makes a gallant effort to put “action doubles”, “BOP doubles” and “penalty doubles” into distinct and identifiable cubby holes, it still is a humbling experience. My advice is don’t get lost in the forest. Look for the major summarizing rule at the end of the chapters, and then go back and worry about the subsets. Here is where it would be nice if you and partner got on the same page.

Those who know my bidding style know that I come from the Larry Cohen camp, generally subscribing to the maxim that "you can’t leave opponents undisturbed if 1NT is opened on your right." The only thing worse that defending 1NT is defending 1NT doubled. Those waiting for the perfect hands to utilize Cappelletti, Hamilton and other “beefsteak” 5-5 no trump killers are doing a lot of waiting, no balancing and getting a lot of average minus boards. Mel has developed a system to get you into the auction whether you are in 2nd or 4th seat. The entire system is circumscribed by two rules explained on pages 10-25. Here is a summary of those rules:

(a) If your RHO opens 1NT (15-17), count the number of cards in your two longest suits, subtract your Losing Trick Count (LTC) and bid if the result is greater than 1. For reasons explained in the book, Mel calls this the Rule of 8, but I prefer to think of it as the Rule of 1.

(b) How do I get into the auction? Use the “DONT” defensive bids. I like this, Mel likes this and more importantly so does Larry Cohen, arguably the strongest match point player ever.

(c) If the bidding goes 1NT/P/P, partner obviously did not meet the Rule of 1, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have some stuff. Here you apply the Rule of 2. Bid (DONT of course) regardless of your hcps or vulnerability if you have at least 2 “shortness” points. Example: T643, QT95, T, Q965. Bid 2 clubs! If partner followed the 2nd seat discipline, the probability is that our side has a total of about 19.5 hcps. Remember there is no penalty double in DONT, and partner could hold KQxx, Kxx, Axxx, Kxx and not have a call. In this example his longest 2 suits = 8, less 7 LTC= 1. This is not more than 1, so partner is required to pass. He is very thankful when you take a bid. So now you know that defending against No Trump is in fact simpler than 1-2-3, it is as simple as 1-2! I would recommend reading Chapter 4 before you read Chapter 3, I think it puts it in better perspective.

If you are looking for page after page of tedious “play of the hand” problems, then this book is not for you. If you are completely undisciplined and do not like rules of application and want to be left in your current quandary of applying instinct in an ad hoc fashion, then save your money.

The book is available at www.melbridge.com and at other book resources. The cost is $21.95, it is paper bound and 276 pages. Did I buy the book? Yes, but if I had it to do over again, I would recommend it to you and then read your copy.

1 comment:

Dick Wilson said...

The Rule of 1 (or 8 as Mel suggests) when applied requires sufficient HCPs to reach 8. Length count 9 - LTC 7 = 2 but if HCPs =< 5 don't bid. This makes sense to me; therefore, Rule of 8 is better in my judgement.