Bob Mackinnon

The Vanderbilt Final as a Team Sport

In recent blogs I pondered on the place of sports psychology with regard to bridge, sbaoao often considered in books solely as a puzzle solving exercise. Maybe it is that, if one is sitting quietly at home giving the old gray cells a workout after a leisurely Sunday brunch, but the perception is different if one is glued to the computer watching the drama of the Vanderbilt Final unfold like a Masters’ golf tournament. Yes, there is play technique enough to satisfy the purists. Here is some magic with a logical explanation behind it akin to the clarification of how the rabbit got into the hat. It was on Board 27, approaching the half-way point with the Grue team leading Fleisher by 17 IMPs.

AT62 Q4

Curtis Cheek, South, had opened the bidding with a 3 preempt on KQJ853. Presumably he wanted to keep the ball rolling. It appeared this would be a cost-nothing pressure bid and there would be no damage done to his side, as the normal 2 preempt by Chip Martel had scored 140 at the other table. Early in the play Levin, East, found himself on lead looking for some tricks from the diamond suit. He found a way; he underled the Q. Weinstein won the A and returned the 2 to Levin’s Q. A club to Weinstein’s ace, led to a ruff on the third round of diamonds. Down 2! A gain of 6 IMPs pulled out of thin air may not be that significant in the general scheme of things where 10 IMPs and more are often flying about up for grabs, and Cheek may have taken it in stride, but this gain must have been a great boost of morale for Levin who was suffering, having come out of his sick bed to play in all 64 boards of the final.

With regard to bridge psychology, there are turning points that one can recognize only as they occur. Some situations which greatly influence the outcome even don’t get written up as the result may represent no more than a missed opportunity. In this aspect the BBO viewers are well served by a great player of a modest disposition who tries to tell it like it is, rather than push a particular dogma. I am thinking here of Larry Cohen, Mike Passell, Kit Woolsey, Alan Graves, in particular, and of that inimitable royal jester, David Burn, who, like King Lear’s fool, laces common sense with acerbic humor without contributing to the overall modesty requirement. (Modesty doesn’t become a maker of barbed comments.)

So we watched as the drama unfolded in the slow pace of a Kurosawa adaptation of a Shakespearean play. The elements of success that had brought the players to this final stage contained the seeds of their future failure. Would the veterans Stansby and Martel find their solid approach caused them to miss sacrifices found at the other table (yes) or would the erratic style of London-based Delmonte and Bakhshi lead them into deep waters beyond their depths (yes, again). Would Bobby Levin’s illness affect his play (yes, indeed.) Would Kamil make a habit of losing in the final? (maybe). Last but not least, what of the dangerous pair, Cheek and Grue? Might they prove a greater danger to themselves than to the opponents? (wait and see.)

As noted above, the vigorous style of the Grue team gave them the early lead. The last 4 boards of Segment 1 provided a swing of 43 IMPs, 32 of those going to Grue who had the lead after 16 boards of 17 IMPs. When Board 10 of Segment 3 began, that lead had reached 24 IMPs. The momentum was still in favor of Grue who seemed to control the action with Levin – Weinstein somewhat on the ropes. One more bad decision by the struggling Levin and it might be all over, but Board 10 changed all that. A gain of 12 IMPs on good teamwork at both tables halved the lead and entirely changed the complexion of the match. It had become a hard fought struggle with errors on both sides.

Board 10


Both Vulnerable




♣ A865




♣ Q4




♣ KJT7




♣ 932

Weinstein Grue Levin Cheek
Pass Pass
1NT Pass Pass Dbl*
Pass Pass Pass!! 1NT* for +580

* Dbl was multi-meaning: a long minor or both majors

Grue and Cheek utilize uncertainty as a weapon within the context of a Precision system. They play upon the minds of their opponents, as this auction shows. There is no reason for Cheek to balance as there appears little to gain from the action other than the hope of pushing the opponents to a contract of two of a major, which they were likely to make. Giving partner a diamond ruff may not gain much as there is no second entry to the South hand. Being doubled in 2, vulnerable, does not represent a gain over 1NT making 120.

However, stirring the pot is a strategy driven more by hope than reason.

Grue had no problem guessing the nature of Cheek’s double. He could have taken the easy action and bid 2 correctable to 2, however, why do that when he could pass and put the pressure on Levin? He could not be certain that Cheek didn’t hold entries outside his minor. So the pressure was on Levin, and it took him several minutes to come to a decision. Looking at his hand alone, one might conclude that pass was the most obvious call in the world. Think of it this way: if partner had been left to play in 1NT undoubled wouldn’t you expect him to make 8 tricks? So what in the opponents’ action would lead you to believe the same wouldn’t happen now? As the clock ticked by, one could almost see the beads of sweat forming on Levin’s fevered brow.

The tactics of players who cultivate uncertainty is aimed at convincing their opponents that something unusual is in the works that will deflect them from a normal, winning action. This could be as common as a bid in a topless suit in a competitive auction, or an off-shape double. Ambiguity plays a role, but even better is a false show of strength using transfers that presumed to show a ‘good’ raise as opposed to a weak direct raise. We are seeing that frequently, as false transfers can hardly cost. Anyway, here Levin had been made to sweat while spectators at home danced around their computers yelling, ‘Pass, you fool!’ We are so glad he did pass, because we believe that in the face of uncertainty one should take the normal action, that is, the action that caters to the most probable lie of the cards. To determine what is most probable we give more credence to partner’s actions than to those of the opponents.

It is somewhat surprising that Joe Grue didn’t lead his normal 4th highest heart, after all, he has 2 sure entries. Perhaps the loss on this board can be attributed to putting too much credence in his partner’s action, which depends to a great extent on how reliable you expect a partner to be. The action at the other table reflects that side of the active style, as well. Do you believe the opponents more than your partner? If they are not entirely accurate in their explanations, should you hold them to a higher standard and seek redress? This is a moral question, not a legal one – we know the legal answer.

Delmonte Kamil Bakhshi Fleisher
Pass Pass
1NT 2 Dbl 2NT (takeout)
Pass 3 Dbl Pass
3 ! All Pass Down 100

It appears that Kamil was playing at matchpoints when he entered the auction, vulnerable, without a safety net. Bakhshi showed values, although one could hardly say it was a penalty double. Perhaps he expected partner to takeout to spades if appropriate. Fleisher had no great love for hearts, so he took out to a minor at the 3-level. Kamil bid 3, a sensible expectation being a 5-card suit, which wasn’t met. Bakhshi was on rather firmer ground with his second double, with the normal action being a pass from Delmonte.

One good point made by a BBO commentator was that a general rule for us ordinary players should be that you can’t make separate takeout doubles of two different suits, so Bakhshi’s second double should be definitely for penalty. The other rule I like to apply is that if I have described by hand accurately (and I always feel that I have done so), I allow my partner to make the final decision. In this case I would feel I have exceeded my partner’s expectations for defence against 3, so would pass without hesitation. But, of course, I am not an expert, and some experts feel they are paid to make the decisions, however wrong they may turn out to be.

Delmonte’s decision was very wrong, indeed, losing 12 IMPs in the process. He had been jerked around by foolish bidding, and after the fact he felt hard put by it, claiming he would have left in the double if he had any inkling that Kamil may have held only 4 cards in the club suit. Some rumors about an appeal were circulated, but, thankfully, did not materialize. The issue should be not whether you believed the opponents but whether you believed your partner and acted accordingly. We often see the contrary attitude from loose bidders who feel the opponents must be held to account for any digressions from the text. After all, they must depend on the opponents as their only reliable source of information.

The pair recovered nicely in Segment 4 when, with the help of a lead directing double from Stansby, Bakhshi made the right decision to venture beyond 6NT to 7NT with several overtricks available on the side if needed, but the following board proved fatal late in the segment with Grue still holding onto a 10 IMP lead.

Board 23


Both Vulnerable

















Stansby Delmonte Martel Bakhshi
Pass 3 3
4 4NT Pass 5
Pass 5 All Pass +680
Cheek Levin Grue Weinstein
Pass 3 Dbl
4 All Pass +1370, gain 12 IMPs

Delmonte hid his excellent club suit, Bakhshi bid his bad spade suit, and they reached the inferior contract of 5 making 680. This looks very much like a matchpoint strategy where it pays to bid spades come what may. Contrast this approach with that of Weinstein who treated his poor 5-card spade suit with equanimity by doubling the interference rather than making a unilateral suit bid that didn’t in any way imply shortage in hearts. Levin was then able to upgrade his suit for slam purposes. This again illustrates that it is better to bid the suit you have rather than the suit you hope partner can support. It’s true that a slam in spades would have outscored a slam in clubs, but the primary requirement was to get to slam in the first place. Levin took the short-cut.

This reversal put the Kamil team ahead with two steady partnerships at the tables, albeit not playing up to their usual high standard, so the viewer might expect Kamil to prevail over the 9 boards remaining. Then Levin overdid it, jumping impatiently to a grand slam missing the ace of trumps. As reported widely (see Linda Lee’s blog for details) the Grue team could win if Delmonte and Bakhshi could avoid the same error in an uncontested auction, but, wonder of wonders, they also ended up in the same foolish contract, and the match slipped from their grasp. The reason? Succumbing to self-generated pressure that has to be overcome in tight situations, especially after a few costly mistakes that could have been avoided. Perfectionists, Beware the Ides of March. When you see you are making mistakes, don’t attempt to be perfect, because you should be realizing by now that you aren’t. Here is their bidding on that fateful hand.

Delmonte Bakhshi
AKQ75 1 2
K5 AQ94 4 (RKC) 5NT ? ( a void)
J654 KQ873 7 (Dbl)
AT KQ63 Pass

Delmonte rushed to judgement by jumping to 4, taken to be a Roman Key Card asking bid. One wonders if he had a plane to catch. Bakhshi found himself in a spot as he wanted to provide full information on his promising hand. Can judgement arise when partner asks you a straightforward question to which there is a straightforward answer? I have had partners give me the wrong number of aces after Blackwood because they didn’t like their intermediates, and I have always felt that to be a breach of trust. Here Bakhshi felt he should truthfully answer the question he thought had been put him. Whether 5NT is the correct response or not, Delmonte now paid the price for his hasty and greedy action. He made a time-marking bid in the hope of further clarification, belatedly sharing the responsibility of decision making in an auction that had become uncomfortably short of bidding space. Bakhshi, striving to be perfect, guessed wrong. Let’s see how this hand might be bid using Precision 1 opening bid where personality should play a lesser role.

AKQ75 1§ (strong) 2 (5+ diamonds)
K5 AQ94 2
J654 KQ873 3 3
AT KQ63 3
4 4
5 6
6NT Pass

There are reasons why accurate slam bidding may require 8 exchanges of information and still end in uncertainty. After the opening 1 bid, the subsequent bids are ‘natural’. The important bid is the sacrosanct 3, agreeing on diamonds as trumps. Cuebids follow. Cuebidding shortage in partner’s spade suit is a no-no for standard bidders – they are as likely as not to get passed out there (but may still win the board.) 6NT is descriptive, and responder may still bid 7 with a solid suit, but he has been warned of the wastage. Easy.


Jeff LehmanMarch 23rd, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Very interesting submission. Thanks for writing/sharing your thoughts.

Would you please correct the South hand on Board 23?

Does anyone know the EW partnership agreements on Board 10? East’s double looks to me as though it might be a cooperative double (exactly two cards in suit bid by opponents [here, hearts], and enough HCP to penalize the opponents if pard has four cards in that suit, and otherwise enough in other three suits [3+ cards] to compete above opponent’s bid). If that were the case, then the second double would seem to be pure penalty (4 cards in the opponent’s new suit) and a pass then would show doubt (exactly three cards in opponent’s new suit). But although that looks like possible meanings to East’s bids, it certainly does not explain West’s 3S call. Maybe East’s first double were purely for takeout and a singleton heart were possible? But still, the takeout to 3S seems to have assumed a four card spade holding.

Perhaps unwisely, I am sympathetic toward Grue-Cheek on Board 10. I suspect that Cheek wanted to avoid having Grue lead a major against 1NT and so looked for a plus score by conducting an auction that he hoped would result in his side declaring a 2D contract. Grue could discern what was about to happen and so chose to pass hoping for something better to happen. From your review of the time it took Levin to pass, the hope was almost realized.

I am not a Precision player, but in the auction you have proposed, could 3H just be a move toward possible 3NT as opposed to affirmation of diamonds and slam interest? And had opener bid 3D at his second turn, would that be an asking bid agreeing diamonds … and if so, how strong must his hand be to use such call? Importantly for this particular auction, does the failure to have bid 3D at his second turn mean that the third round 3D call sets diamonds as trumps and that subsequent bidding is control showing as opposed to stopper showing?

Larry LowellMarch 23rd, 2011 at 7:09 pm


I love your postings!

Delmonte took a long time to bid 5S thereby (BIT), according to some, barring his partner from bidding the 6C or 6S slam without a clear reason to do so. That is why I do not play Blackwood with my serious tournament partner.

Bob MMarch 25th, 2011 at 5:30 am

Thanks, guys, for the comments.

There is drama in these long matches, and I think competition is what can attract young men to bridge. Let’s be grateful to BBO and its sponsors. Of course, my views are from a long way away, so are largely fictional in nature. I sympathize with all the players as they try to cope under trying circumstances.

Let’s not get hung up on the idea that bridge is played faultlessly.

The long cuebidding sequence I gave as a ‘solution’ to the problem of missing a failing grand slam is not a popular one these days – it is better to have one player ask and the other to answer. The main reason is that if a pair exchanges 8 bids in a sequence each bid has a chance of being wrongly interpreted by the other’s partner. You have to get all messages across with accuracy. Of course the more sequences possible, the more cases one can cover.

As we saw with Bakhshi and Delmonte, even the direct approach requires preparation. Eddie Kantar has written a book on RKCB, with several revised editions, so it is not as easy as one may think.

I prefer the question and answer (relay) method if for no other reason than to avoid misinterpretation. More on this next blog.

Don DavisMarch 31st, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I have a question about information on page 119 of “Bridge, Probability and Information”. I can’t seem to reproduce the numbers in the table. Further, I’m confused as to why P(split| 3D) on page 119 is different than P(split|no clubs) on page 118. Also, I have different numbers for the line “Occurence 27% 33%…”, can you help me?


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