Squeezing The Dummy

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Master Solvers at The Table

We all know him. Perhaps we have even played with him. He is known for confusing his partner at the table and then explaining his brilliance in the post mortem. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about the master solver.

The master solver reads a lot of books and columns. His name is derived from reading the Master Solvers Club in The Bridge World. In MSC a panel of experts are given extremely difficult bidding problems and are asked to explain what they would bid and why. The winning bid is very often doubling, cuebidding, or bidding a 3 card suit. These bids generally do not describe the hand very well but induce partner to give us some useful information (hopefully) so that we can better solve the problem.

The master solver absorbs all of these textbook bids that the expert players frequently make. He is pleased with his sophistication and scores in bidding challenges. What he fails to remember is that these challenging hands represent a very small portion of all hands. Since he reads more than he plays he sees a completely disproportionate number of impossible bidding problems. To him, when the auction goes 1-1-2 a 3 card club holding is common. The exceptions are the rules.

Why, with all of his talent (as they usually have) and sophistication can he not seem to win? It must be his idiot partners, passing his cooperative X's and raising him with only 4 trumps. Or perhaps it is because on the 99% of the hands where the master solver should be describing his hand or taking a stand in a competitive auction he is making his usual masterminding bids. He will hold: KQT942 AQ3 6 AJ2 and after opening 1 will rebid 2 over partner's 1N bid. He will explain in the post mortem after he plays 2 unsuccessfully why it was such a good bid. If we have a heart fit, we will miss it by bidding 3. If partner has diamond values, we can stop at the 2 level which we can't do if we bid 3. If partner raises clubs, we might find a club slam. Partner will rarely pass 2 so it is the perfect bid. It is a very convincing argument except that the 2 bid has nothing to do with the hand. His spade suit is good enough to jump to 3 spades, and his values are perfect. These bids are what make him a losing player.

In practice, the master solver's brilliance consistently costs him on nothing deals. He may even cater to his partner making some master bid and place the contract incorrectly. Mental hand simulation, indispensable to accurate bidding, becomes useless when partner could hold anything. The master solvers win the post mortem. The old-fashioned players who bid what they have win the tournaments.

Another reason the master solver is a losing player is because bids always mean what he wants them to mean. A double or a cuebid shows exactly what he has and his partner must work it out. He is unwilling to commit one way or another and is always trying to be "flexible." Unfortunately, their partners never know what to do and sometimes go wrong.

I am not implying that you should not read or learn from the Master Solvers Club. Actually, I read a lot about bridge and love MSC. When the situation comes up for a sophisticated bid or play I want to be able to make it. The trick is to realize on a majority of deals you just need to bid what you have. Nothing fancy, just try to describe your hand as well as you can. It is only on a few select deals that you should be using your "expert" bidding. Alter the previous hand to Q87532 AK4 6 AK2 and I completely agree with a 2 rebid. Your suit is terrible, and your hand is too good for a 2 rebid. Be cautious with overusing a bid like this though, or you might be as feared by your partners as the master solver is.

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10 Comments:

  • Good point master. Be practical or partner won't be very forgiving. A few things.
    1) You could also use KQT942 AQ3 6 AJ2 in an article called "reason number 392 to play a strong club system." My lifelong crusade will never die.
    2) What would you rebid with AQ3 KQT942 6 AJ2 after 1H P 1S P?
    3) What would you rebid with KQ9432 AQ3 6 AJT after 1S P 1N P?

    By Anonymous JDelicious, at 6/23/05, 10:56 AM  

  • Is Eric Kokish feared by his partners? If you weaken the spade spots slightly in your first hand (to KQ8432, say, for argument's sake), I would guess that there would be a fair number of "winning players" who bid 2 clubs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/23/05, 10:58 AM  

  • You will note that I weakened them at the end of the article and said 2C is indeed what I would bid. Where you draw the line is up for discussion (I made the example hands with very strong spades and very weak spades to avoid a debate).

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 6/23/05, 12:38 PM  

  • Must admit because of MSC I cuebid or x with many of those trouble hands now.

    By Blogger mike, at 6/23/05, 1:59 PM  

  • The point is simply these hands are infrequent in real life. On a majority of hands you do much better not to get cutesy. The first 2 posts trying to make hands are irrelevant as the hands given could be in master solvers themselves.

    The master solver will get cutesy on a majority of hands, assume his pard is or could very well be getting cutesy as well, and consequently his pard will never know what is going on.

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 6/23/05, 3:05 PM  

  • KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

    Works in life, and works at the bridge table.

    Thanks for the tip.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/23/05, 4:29 PM  

  • I refuse to have my post called irrelevant by a post that uses the word cutesy 3 times. And anyway why do you want to avoid debate, it should be encouraged if for no other reason than some of us are bored at work sometimes.

    PS - anonymous, actually you might say Eric Kokish is feared by his partners. He is well known for being extremely trying to play with.

    By Anonymous donnzilla, at 6/23/05, 4:35 PM  

  • When people start debating extraneous points such as what the correct action is with an MSC type of hand they miss the point of the whole post. You are always welcome to debate whatever you please, but as a writer I try to avoid taking the focus off of the point of the post and on something totally different. That is why I made the example hands KQT9xx and Qxxxxx.

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 6/23/05, 5:54 PM  

  • Tried OKB once, on second hand my expert p reversed into a 3 card h suit. Had no idea why he just kept telling me this is how the Texas pros like Mike passel and Wold bid and win, oh well.

    By Blogger mike, at 6/23/05, 11:28 PM  

  • This was great. I had a partner whom I played club system ala Meckwell/blue team with for several years. Thirty pages of system notes. But regularly who make some bid which I didn't understand because it was the "A" bid. I grew hostile over time and did not enjoy playing in spite of winning. Played yesterday and opened weak 2 minor with a side 4 card major(RONF). Partner the 4 card major and I thought about a splinter but changed my mind after thinking about the column. Got a score since there no confusion. Help your partner at every opportunity.

    By Anonymous davidb, at 6/27/05, 10:25 PM  

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