Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Road to Match Point Success

In the process of creating joy and happiness in my life, I find lots of ways to be unproductive. One of my hobbies is reading bridge books. Now that may not seem so unique, since thousands of new bridge books are sold each year, many of which are never opened. I depart from the crowd somewhat since the bridge books that I read are often 40 years old. This is what you do if you can’t play a lick!

There is nothing new about playing the cards. Good declarers and good defenders of yesteryear would be equally good today. The language of bridge is bidding, and the changes that have come in bridge are the development of its language. In no place is that more important than in match point play. The part of bridge linguistics that interests me most is its etymology, the origin and development of the language of bridge. There may be many out there that share that interest, but the only one I know personally is Jim Bailey, one of my partners in Rochester, New York.

The more you read old bridge books, the more you realize that the development of bridge language moves slowly and that change takes place over long periods of time. Players who have learned the game in the 21st century undoubtedly think the style called “two over one game force” (2/1) is cutting edge technology, recently discovered. Not so!

Last summer Jim and I were both reading “Five Card Majors Western Style” written by Max Hardy in 1974. Max was describing a bidding system almost identical to what we today call 2/1, and he attributed it’s development to two Los Angeles players, Richard Walsh and John Swanson, who had been developing it since the 1960’s. A reading of Max Hardy’s many subsequent books on this subject will show that in large measure what Max did for 25 years was tweak an old system and drive it to the fore front of bridge bidding; to the point that competitive bridge in the United States is today synonymous with that system.

The ACBL has about 350,000 members. What you may not know is that the European Bridge Union has more than twice that many members and very few of them know or care about 2/1. Although many systems are used though out the rest of the world, most of them are based on what is generally referred to as a “Big club System” where all strong hands are opened one club to facilitate better bidding with big hands.

In the interest of spreading my wings and learning more about those systems, I am in the early stages of learning to play Precision. I started backwards, first reading “Precision Today” by Brent Manley and David Berkowitz. I quickly realized to understand Precision Today you have to understand Precision yesterday. So, I have gone back to read some of the old books on Precision by C.C. Wie, Terrence Reese, Eric Jannersten and yes, even Charles Goren, all products of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

I am currently reading “Match Point Precision”, largely written by Ron Andersen, who is best known for his book “Lebensohl Complete.” Match Point Precision, last revised in 1978, is a connection between the system as it was developed by Wie, and the high power system that is played today by so many top professionals. Probably of more general interest are Andersen’s comments on the keys to success in match point play.

For starters, he says “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” With that introduction, he goes on to say that those who win consistently in match points are those who:

1. Use a comfortable, sound, workable bidding approach.

2. Exercise a fine working knowledge of duplicate bridge at the table. (Not the Monday Morning Quarterback type who always know what they, or more often their partner, should have bid or played after the hand or game is over.)

3. Have the ability to concentrate throughout a game or match. (Ouch, that hits home!!)

4. Use good judgment.

5. Are both opportunistic and observant.

6. Are able to get the most out of both partner and partnership by first and foremost being a good partner.

In concluding, the author mentions a 7th key that is more important than the rest. Making his point, he quotes Kipling who counseled “to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

So now we see that the one thing in bridge that has never changed is the road to duplicate success.

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