Bob Mackinnon

Bridge: Game or Sport?

The 2011 world championships were remarkable in three aspects: the emergence of a youth movement at the highest levels, the firm establishment of a highly competitive biding style that puts little store in high card evaluation, and the evidence of a movement towards state-sponsored teams. These trends coming to fruition are tied in with how bridge is viewed: it is a game or a sport? If it is a game, the aim is to amuse; if it is a sport, the aim is to win.

For many of those participating in the championships the event was an opportunity to meet old friends and play a bit of bridge at a highest level, winning some and losing some. Of the 22 teams entered in each of the main events, few had serious ambitions of reaching the 8-team cut-off. Some teams at the top were out to win and prepared themselves accordingly. For these few it was to be a grueling exercise requiring extraordinary physical and mental endurance. The quality of bridge at the end was inevitably adversely affected as mental resources were drained to the limit. Is this really necessary, and, if so, what do the conditions of contest set out to prove?

The main championships are modeled on the Olympic games where teams represent countries. National pride is used to pump up interest, so the aim is to win; that is, bridge is treated as a sport. During the Bermuda Bowl finals, some 500 Dutch fans gathered in the Vu-Graph room to support the home team and some were heard to cheer when an American player made a costly play. This is natural in a highly competitive setting. In baseball games or hockey games American fans will often boo a leading player who poses a threat to the home team. In a way it is a tribute to that player’s ability. Fans do not boo an opponent who is struggling – they treat him as an individual deserving of sympathy and consideration. In a bridge championship players are not representing themselves as individuals, they are represent an opposing team tied to a country possibly with an unpopular foreign policy.

Officials of the government of Indonesia have acted upon the belief that there is something to be gained from introducing bridge into their school curriculum. This is good news for the world-wide bridge playing community. Of course, we can agree with this concept, as bridge can be used as a learning tool for many worthwhile activities, not the least of which is the development of harmonious cooperation. (Really!) The ACBL has attempted unsuccessfully to introduce bridge into schools, but it has not caught on, as it is not properly tied into academic subjects such as science and mathematics, which need a boost, to say the least. Going a step further, the Indonesians have established a government organization for developing world-class teams to compete in prestigious international events. (See Micke Melander’s report in the WBF Bulletin #12.) Players are paid to undergo rigorous year-long training, both mental and physical, in a strictly controlled setting, similar to what one has seen developed in China, be it for violinists or gymnasts or computer hackers. The governments set goals and organize to achieve them. One might say this is the same Asian strategy that so far has been applied successfully to state-run capitalism. What follows remains to be seen. Meanwhile let’s try not be resentful if they appear to be organized when we are not.

Let’s have a look at the unknowns from Indonesia in the process of eliminating the very capable team of famous ladies from England. Two pivotal hands occurred at the end of the 5th session of the Semi-Finals when England led by 12 IMPs. They illustrate general principles that are often neglected in the heat of battle.

Dealer: South

Vul: NS





















Brock Bojoh Smith

Pass 2* Double 3♣
Pass 3 Pass 3NT
Pass 6NT All Pass

Some commentators, possibly with an eye to the most likely outcome, felt the South hand was a 2NT opening bid – the old slam killer. In the Bermuda Bowl Weinstein-Levin had reached 6NT unopposed and gone down 1 on a heart lead from Grue, ducked by Lall. The English South did open 2NT, reached a safe 3NT, which made 10 tricks. So it looked as if an IMP could be gained safely with an overtrick. It didn’t happen that way.

Julita Tueje opened a strong 2♣. I, too, see the South hand with its 8 controls and top heavy club suit as an automatic 2♣ opening bid, being too good for 2NT. Lusje Bojoh showed 3 controls with her artificial 2♠ response, so here they were with 11 total controls, only a king missing. I saw that in the same position I might well regret my propensity to bid strongly on such a combination without due regard to where 12 tricks might be coming from. But then a strange thing happened: Nicola Smith doubled for no apparent good reason. I think it was a deflection bid, an attempt to hide the location of the K, doubleton, and the Q, both vulnerable to a finesse. Tueje back-peddled to 3NT, but Bojoh, a known aggressive bidder, took the initiative and corrected to 6NT. I guess she knew her partner well after playing with her for 7 hours a day for a whole year.

Well, I don’t agree with the double, as I don’t want to give the opponents any additional information when they are in a slam auction that starts with an inefficient 2♣. Besides which, the odds are that the K and the Q are not held in the same hand, which they aren’t. One trusts one’s partner, especially a partner who edits a frequent feature in Bridge Magazine on the subject of opening leads. As their coach, David Burn, predicted, it proved costly when Tueje was led to the only chance to make her ambitious contract.

The play was governed by the need to find the cards perfectly placed. Declarer won the spade lead and gave up a club to Horton, who switched to a diamond. Tueje finessed in hearts, dropped the K, and cashed the ♣5, returned to dummy with the K to play the Q and squeeze Smith in spades and diamonds, knowing the diamonds had been dealt 3 – 4. Perfect! That was a gain of 12 IMPs and the next board gave Indonesia 13 more.

Dealer: West

Vul: EW





















At the other table Kristina Murniati opened a Precision 1♣ in third seat and ended up after 6 rounds of bidding in 4♠ which made. Here Sally Brock impatiently opened the bidding with a Multi-2. This goes against my criterion for preempts in first seat: don’t open when you hold more points outside the suit than within. The heart suit is badly described, as it lacks even a good interior sequence. Also, there is good ruffing potential with spades as trumps. In summary, a perfectly lousy preempt, vulnerable to boot.

It does my heart good to record that Brock ended up playing in 4 hearts which went down. The bridge gods had decreed that the spade finesse must fail, but it was largely the lack of trump intermediates that led to the loss. One might note that the current trend in bidding is to make bids intended to confuse the opposition, leaving partner to fend for his- or herself. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. One doesn’t expect a player chosen by a committee to indulge in that behavior, so in future there will be a basic difference in approach, East and West. It is good to see science and discipline prevail, as in the end it is the location of the cards that determine what makes and what doesn’t. We’ll pursue ideas on the modern trend towards cultivating uncertainty in the next blog concerning competitive auctions in the 2011 Bermuda Bowl.


hellyFebruary 28th, 2012 at 9:35 am

It’s very nice and very useful for Bridge Players…

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