Bob Mackinnon

Opinion: Why Meckwell Bid Well

It is surprising to me how many players at my club are ignorant of the  continuing success of the partnership of Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell, known to aficionados as ‘Meckwell’. It is something of a mystery to many why there are players, like myself, who haven’t joined the crowd and switched to 2/1 Game Forcing methods. Now I can excuse my persistent deviation by pointing to the recent success of Meckwell, who in November spear-headed the Nickell team that won the Reisinger Trophy.

This has been a banner year for Eric Rodwell who won both events in the Cavendish playing Precision with Geoff Hampson and 3 national events in the recent Boston NABC with regular partner, Jeff Meckstroth, as well as placing second in a pairs event with a third partner. He is the ACBL Player of the Year, just ahead of Meckstroth, a frequent winner and the leading candidate for Player of the Decade. I wonder how much weight will be given in the ACBL Bulletin to the fact that Precision must have played a key role in these successes.

I can remember when, before Meckwell became Meckwell, an article in the Precision Newletter in which they stated that their favorite convention was Precision 2 . This bid primarily shows 11-15 HCP with a 4-4-4-1 shape, singleton diamond. It does not come up very often and there is a long list of follow-up bids that must be maintained in the memory banks. Thirty years ago that preference struck me as odd, but today I feel it gives good insight into the approach that has made them so successful. The keys are aggression (opening light, competing vigorously) and discipline (keeping to their agreements). The world now has come to see the advantages of a light opening bid, but they have not yet fully embraced the idea of discipline.

Larry Cohen, who maintains a successful Precision partnership with David Berkowitz, has written that consistency is more important than system in determining success. I can see his point, but consistency is no more than assurance that one’s bids are informative to the highest degree possible within their definition. An informative system will outperform a vague system in the same way that a consistent bidder will outbid one who bids what he feels best fits the current circumstances known only to himself, a ‘master-mind’ in common parlance. As I often advise an erring partner, ‘let the system make the mistakes’ but many continue to try to improve on the results by adjusting their bids as they see fit without informing their partners. The vaguer the system, the more freedom they feel they have to adapt unilaterally to circumstances, a practice which only serves to reduce the information content of their bids. Tight definitions increase information by imprisoning the wayward will, and that is one of the advantages of Precision as it demands partnership cooperation.

Meckwell are not entirely mechanical. Jeff Meckstroth will step out occasionally, if for no other reason than to introduce uncertainty in the minds of the opponents. It doesn’t pay to be entirely predictable in a long match against good opponents, however, partner should always act as if the bid is genuine. This is where discipline comes into play. Here is an example of a disaster that resulted from an undisciplined overcall, during the WMSG in Beijing. One is reminded of the debacle created by the so-called ‘The Best and The Brightest’ when they began a war they couldn’t win.

Dealer: East

Vul: EW

North: Rodwell

West: Pazur

East:  Zawislak

5 A972
KQ764 3
J95 KT74
South: Meckstroth

West North East South
1 1
Pass 2 Pass Pass
Dbl All Pass

Losing 500 against a game that was going down in the other room cost 12 IMPs. What did Meckstroth think he was doing? Perhaps he was creating a diversion, or maybe he thought it was Rodwell who had opened a nebulous 1 . Rodwell made his normal aggressive raise on 3 small hearts without exploring other possibilities. Once having committed to a contract arrived at using normal procedures, Rodwell did not attempt to correct. Partnership trust must be maintained.

As with the sinking of the Titanic, the result was entirely predictable with hindsight, but it is human nature to plow on regardless always prepared to shed copious tears of regret when the inevitable happens, as it inevitably will. The trick lies in minimizing the long-term damage from our reckless pursuit of short-term gain.

I myself would have jammed on the breaks by bidding 1NT with the North hand, because I don’t like raising on a poor tripleton with 4-3-3-3 shape and no ruffing potential. Meckwell think otherwise. Support with support! The immediate raise is intended to keep the pressure on the opening bidder who is prevented from rebidding in a minor at 2-level. The single raise is both informative and in keeping with the Law of Total Tricks. Partner will know better how to react if the opponents do compete further. Next hand.

Dealer: East

Vul: EW

North: Meckstroth

West: Berkowitz

East: Cohen

9 KJ76
AJT43 Q5
432 QJ8
7542 K863
South: Rodwell

West North East South
Pass 1
Pass Pass 2
All pass

Another example of partnership discipline shows Meckwell playing in a poor contract that one of them must have felt was wrong. The scoring was BAM, so playing in 2 of a minor with a combined total of 23 HCP doesn’t looks far from promising. Rodwell may have been tempted to raise immediately to 2♠ as he has good support under the restriction of his limited opening bid. However, system requirements are such that he must not raise on just 3-card support, so he bid descriptively in his second suit. Meckstroth must have wanted to correct to 2♠, but he made a disciplined pass, even though there was little hope that Larry Cohen would come to the rescue in clubs.

The result was a disaster. In the other room, ironically Zia, playing unlimited opening bids, felt free to open 1♣ on his aceless 12-count, whereas Cohen, playing limited opening bids, passed. This resulted in Stansby playing the contract in the correct strain, making 170 after the following auction in which the lengths of the major suits were better defined.

Hammam Stansby Zia Martel
1 1
Pass 1 Pass 2
All Pass

So far the reader might consider this the faintest of faint praise and not a very good advertisement for Meckwell methods, but the examples show the restraint they apply which allows them to bid their hands to the full when the appropriate opportunity comes along. Players who are always making adjustments on their own will often fall short in situations when trust is required. Finally, here is an example from the 2008 Reisinger where restraint paid off. Rodwell is our hero.

Dealer: South

Vul: NS

North: Meckstroth

West: Kujarski?

East: Kujawa?

Q965 J732
AJ98 754
AK976 J
South: Rodwell

West North East South
1 2NT* All Pass

On misfit hands the side that passes first is the winner. Rodwell had a hand that somewhere in the world is deemed an underbid at 2 , but the Precision system wasn’t prepared for the risk. West had a good opening bid and Meckstroth chose to show the 2-suited nature of his hand with a rather heavy unusual 2NT. He must have been surprised and greatly disappointed to end up as declarer in that contract. Minus 200 on good defence was not a hopeful outcome, but all was well as it ended well for the Nickell team. In the other room, NS played in 5♣*, down 800.

The Beautiful Mind    Is there a thin line between insanity and genius? No thinner than between normality and insanity. If one looks at the world objectively, one might observe that even actions that are widely considered to be normal are actually self-destructive and based on false doctrines. A mild example is the current economic crisis based on the proposition that greed is a virtue, not a sin as previously thought. The aspiration at the bridge table as in the stock market is to achieve maximum profit at the expense of gullible victims, the difference being that at the bridge table one needs the cooperation of a capable partner. It is enlightened self-interest to keep partner well-informed so that he or she can make good decisions in the face of the ‘natural’ uncertainty that is part of the game. Huge gambles can pay off in the short term, but in the long term self-indulgent bidding practices set up conditions ripe for disaster.

The beauty of bridge is that it is an exercise in logic and self-discipline. But just look at the results which are spread far beyond the bounds of the ‘natural’ variability that is dealt with the cards. Genius is said to consist of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I’m sure as a boy Mozart practiced night and day. At bridge the perspiration comes when one practices bidding with one’s partner. Those who practice and keep to their agreements will do well enough. The inspirational part comes when one plays the hands at the table. Meckwell are often inspired to take better advantage of the lie of the cards than their opponents, but that would count for little if they hadn’t the discipline needed to maintain an informative bidding style.


Peter GillJanuary 8th, 2009 at 8:38 am

I disagree strongly with your words:

“What did Meckstroth think he was doing? Perhaps he was creating a diversion,

or maybe he thought it was Rodwell who had opened a nebulous 1D?”

To illustrate my point, consider these hands from the same event, Round 13 USA vs Australia.

We are vul against not vul. Richman – Gill playing Strong Club. I open 1D (nebulous) on

Q10, 1063, AKJ10, Q1052. 1H overcall on my left by Meckstroth. Richman holds AJ5, 754, 74, AKJ43 so he bids 2C. 2H on his left by Rodwell. 3C from me, 3H by Richman. Pass by Rodwell (alerted, likes a heart lead). 4C by me. 5C by Richman, hoping for doubleton heart opposite, with no wasted values in hearts. Down one, with 3NT cold. 12 IMPs to USA, SK being onside, compared to 3NT at the other table, hearts being 4-3. I can’t see what we did wrongly.

Later in the same match, we are vul, they are not vul, I open 1D (nebulous),

1H on my right by Meckstroth. Richman holds 952, K54, 1097, AQ109 so he bids 1NT.

2H by Rodwell. I have A7, Q73, KJ54, KJ53. Should I bid? I pass. All pass.

Richman leads D10, and dummy is QJ106, 1062, A82, 742.

Meckstroth wins the ace as I encourage. He plays a small heart to the jack

and queen. Another diamond to my king, and I try to give my partner a diamond

ruff = curtains, -110. Well played by declarer.

Other table: 1D P 1NT All Pass, making one on SQ lead, 90 to EW, 5 IMPs to USA.

OK so my defence wasn’t of a high enough standrd to make the Finals of the event,

but even if I find the defence to defeat 2H we still lose an imp, and if I compete to

3C they lead a spade and switch to hearts to defeat 3C. What did we do wrong?

It seems that both times the 1H overcall gained IMPs for USA.

On the 5C hand, Rodwell had 9762, KQ2, 9852, 97 and Meckstroth (after Rodwell’s

lead-directing Pass of 3H and our failure to reach 3NT) led a small heart from AJ98 to defeat 5C.

Yes, my two hands are fictitious, but the setting is not – we did play Meckwell in Round 13 and the upset win by us minnows made USA’s Finals draw harder. In this post, Meckstroth made exactly the same 1H overcall on the same 13 cards K843, AJ98, Q63, 86 as in Bob Mackinnon’s hand and in both my hands, losing 12, gaining 12 and gaining 5, for a net gain of 5 IMPs on

3 hands. Do these three hands prove that the 1H overcall is a good bid? No, of course not.

but “What did Meckstroth think he was doing? Perhaps he was creating a diversion”


“or maybe he thought it was Rodwell who had opened a nebulous 1D’


Some positive factors for the 1H overcall: very suitable vulnerability, nice texture (J98)

in heart suit, it’s very good to overcall and raise a lot against nebulous 1C and 1D openings, good lead-directing value, one level not vul is usually safe, possession of spades might

be good because 1H might talk opponents out of 3NT into a dud 4-3 or 5-2 spade fit,

and it could be good to compete early for the partscore.

Some negative factors for 1H overcall: lack of 5th heart, fairly balanced shape, not traditional.

Conclusion: there are arguments both ways.

The match was slipping away from USA and 1H was’nt a distraction – it was the sort of marginal bid one occasionally makes when trailing, knowing that your counterpart will not make the bid,

i.e. a bid that has a good chance to gain but is unlikely to be duplicated by your counterpart

at the other table, and 1H will rarely be a disaster (except perhaps when LHO has five hearts AND they have no game).

Peter Gill 27th, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Schaut euch mal in den Sozialen Netzwerken und Foren um wie Listenhundhalter agieren und sich zu Staatsbediensteten machen.Wo alles versucht wird an namen und adressen der hilfesuchenden Menschen zu kommmen um die bei den entsprechenden Ordnungsämtern zu melden.Gerade die Listenhundhalter heute sind garnicht mehr interessiert daran die Listen zu kippen, da sie zu nichtssagenden ganz normalen Hundehaltern würden.Speziell die Kampfschmuseergemeinde die Hochburg der Denunzianten hätte ihren Sinn auch als gewerbliches Forum ihren Sinn verloren. 29th, 2016 at 1:25 am

Yeah, I checked my mail this morning and realized that I grabbed a chunk of code from one of your posts (rather than type it from memory), and forgot to change the name/link. Ha! Color me red!!As for going to the moon, we got all that and more. Some folks forget that we got velcro and better computers and all sorts of stuff out of the moon landings. And this time, we’d gain a real edge in the fight against poverty and crime and maybe corruption. 13th, 2016 at 12:48 am

To Chris H. – I don’t care what side of the plate you swing from politically, your post #10 was the most irrelevant and vapid post of this thread. Specifically, what did you find “disgusting”, and why did you find it “disgusting”? Perhaps the real reason you find it disgusting is that you know the information is an accurate assessment of life in the ‘Kwa (which is my nickname for 21st century America, the land of Soviet-style political correctness).

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