Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Bridge’ Category

The peril of pursuing perfection

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I have written about the difficulty faced by adult beginners in playing piano: they are hyperconscious of the mistakes they make, and they don’t want to play until they can play without making such mistakes. But studying our mistakes is how we learn.

I just came across this story from Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Update: Cf. Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2020 at 3:42 pm

Learning to play contract bridge again

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I have mentioned before: although you can play against other individuals on-line, you can also simply play against the computer (playing the other three hands). You bid, then you play—defense or as declarer, depending on the hand and the bid. You then get “points” by being compared to others who played the identical hand: the better your performance relative to theirs, the more points you get; the worse, the fewer.

My own points in the current series (you can always discard the record to date and start anew) range from +11 to -16 (don’t ask—and best not to play after a drink or two). My total right now is +15 and in this current series it’s been as high as +25. Previous series I would discard after reaching -75 or -100 points.

The interesting thing is, I’m doing much better now. It’s not from having studied, though my intentions in that regard were really excellent—of the very first rank, in fact. It’s simply from playing a LOT of hands, and allowing my adaptive unconscious to use its pattern recognition engine to figure it out.

Obviously, I can still improve a lot. It’s sobering to see your ranking against others who played the same hand be, say, 86 out of 97, but it’s exhilarating to see it as 3 out of 90 or 13 of 96—the two most recent hands. And sometimes I’m NUMBER ONE!!! At least for a while.

The thing that interests me, though, is how one can improve simply by playing a lot of games and seeing the (relative) result. It’s much the way in which one’s shaving technique improves over time simply by watching what you’re doing and seeing what results: the adaptive unconscious is quite powerful.

If you’ve not read Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, you really should. VERY interesting book.

And if you like card games, you should try

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2015 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Bridge, Games, Software

Learning SAYC

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SAYC = Standard American Yellow Card system of conventions for bidding contract bridge. Time was when you knew your partner and developed variations of standard systems (I mainly used Goren: that’s how old I am), but now with on-line play and (I imagine) at tournaments, you may never have met your partner previously, so it’s important to have a standard set of conventions so you can communicate effectively during the bidding system. Acol is another system widely used in Britain, named after the Acol Bridge Club, where it originated.

I’m trying to learn SAYC after some disastrous miscommunications between my (computer) partner and me. In Goren, for example, an opening bid of 2♠ would be forcing to game. In SAYC, 2♠ is a weak opening bid, showing just a handful of points.

It will take some study, but I’m enjoying FunBridge and I am determined to improve.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2014 at 10:08 am

Posted in Bridge

Free on-line contract-bridge program lets you see how well you play

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Or, in my case, how poorly I play. But for the solitary bridge player, it is superb. And free.

You can download the app from, but it’s also available for Macs in the App Store, and if you get it there (it’s still free), updates are automatically installed.

You can choose which bidding system you use, and the conventions are explained on their Website.

The display when playing was too large for my screen until I clicked the green button at the upper left corner. Then it fits.

In displaying bids, some bids are shown in a red square. Their meanings:

X = double
XX = redouble
STOP = they just made a jump bid—to call your attention to it.

The great thing is that after you finish your hand, you see how you rank compared to others who played the same hand. You are South, and the program plays West, North, and East.

If you’re interested in Contract Bridge, this is a great program. It won’t teach you the game, but it will let you practice.

Also available for Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2014 at 11:29 am

A resurgence of contract bridge?

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In the Great Depression, card games were a godsend: an evening of entertainment for family and friends at the cost of a pot of coffee and some cookies. Lots of games were played, but contract bridge, Vanderbilt’s improvement on auction bridge, was among the most popular: intriguing, with a lot of depth, but also easily played as an accompaniment to conversation.

Movies from the thirties sometimes showed bridge being played, and the dialogue and exchanges showed that the writers and actors played and understood the game, and expected the same from their audiences.

One measure of the quality of the game is the difficulty of finding a good bridge-playing program to play against.

This story in the NY Times promises a possible resurgence is bridge popularity a decade or so from now. That will be a good thing: a wonderful game. I still have fond memories of working toward a better understanding of the game by playing through the deal packs for Autobridge, a terrific device. I’m surprised the current owners of Autobridge have not released it as a program… surely one can now find excellent instructional software for contract bridge—no?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2011 at 7:44 am

Posted in Bridge, Games

Learning to play bridge

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Maybe with the recession families will again find that playing games at home is fun and inexpensive. Will Smith recently began to learn bridge, and he provides some tips from the experience:

I Am, Apparently, a Natural Player I was told this by Andrew Robson, bridge correspondent and former world champion. It is a milestone in my life to be declared a natural at a sport. Any sport. Which bridge is, having been recognised as such in 1997 by the International Olympic Committee.

It’s More Complicated Than It Seems Like cricket, the basic rules are easy to grasp. Bridge: win tricks with suit’s highest card. Cricket: stop ball hitting sticks. Also like cricket, bridge has myriad rules and obfuscating terms. Such as “undertricking”, which sounds like a magician cutting short his act at a children’s party.

Don’t Try to Explain the Rules to Your Wife When You’ve Had Only One Lesson There is nothing more humiliating for an apparently natural player than having your statements questioned, and being forced to check the facts on Wikipedia. Actually, there is. Discovering she was right.

Telepaths Only Need Apply The element of mind-reading involved in silently agreeing a trump during the bidding stage makes picking your partner a delicate process. In one beginners’ game I played, it might have helped if mine had known the difference between clubs and spades. They also suggested it would be easier if more colours were introduced to the pack. This is the sort of person you should follow to see how they manage to open doors.

At Some Point Someone Will Make a Very Bad British Film About Bridge I predict it will tell the tale of a working-class British player who shakes up the bridge establishment with his uncouth, rock’n’roll ways. The story will climax at the World Championships, where some crusty old traditionalist will try to sabotage our hero’s chance of winning because he doesn’t want to see the game popularised and full of riff-raff. But our hero wins the game, the audience and the heart of a random girl. There’ll be an excruciating cameo from David Beckham and an unfunny scene with the Queen and Prince Philip watching the TV in bed.

Bill Gates Plays Bridge Online, of course. He may play it in person as well, but he definitely part-owns and regularly uses it. I tried to join in, but, typically, Bill required me to run Windows on my Mac, something I am not prepared to do. If I wanted my Mac to run like a PC I would leave it out in the rain and whack it with a hammer before turning it on. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:53 am

Posted in Bridge, Daily life, Games

News from No Fear Bridge

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As we slide into a depression/recession/bad time, it behooves one to find free pleasures, and an evening of bridge is one of the best: two packs of cards, three friends with you making the fourth, a slip of paper and a pencil, and you’re good to go. Of course, these days you may not know how to play, but have no fear, No Fear Bridge is here. From an email:

Hello to all No Fear Bridge visitors!   If you’re a doing a bridge course you have probably finished lessons for the summer by now.

Don’t forget to keep practicing what you’ve learned.  The best way is to get together with other people to play either at home or at a club which welcomes learners.  There is a list of some novice clubs on the website   If there’s one near you why not give it a try?

There are also instructions for playing a bridge ‘teams’ match at home with 8 people.  This is a fun way to play some competitive bridge where the same hands are played at both tables.

Below are some ideas for practicing online.

Practice Bridge Online FREE THIS SUMMER

If you want to play some real bridge online and haven’t yet tried the Online Bridge,  you can get an extended free trial until the end of August by using a special Password (see below).

Mostly it’s just you against the computer, so you can take as much time as you need and no fear of being embarrassed by your mistakes!

Go to

Click the ‘Play Now’ button. Give yourself a ‘User Name’ and use the password nfp002

Note: It’s important that you put in your own username and only put the password in the password box. The username needs to be lowercase, no gaps, between 3 and 11 characters long.

Learning Activities on the Website

The bidding practices appear to be a favourite activity.  The latest one is a little bit harder with some Transfer bidding.  Following your feedback I’ve added comments on partner’s bids and comments on South’s correct bids at the end of the auction.

Bidding Practice

The results of a short survey have shown that most of you are now connected with broadband so this means I can add audio to more of the activities.  This will include some tutorials and set hands, coming soon.

Thank you to those who have recently provided feedback.  If you have any comment or suggestions for improvements these are always welcome.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2008 at 8:46 am

Posted in Bridge, Daily life, Games

The bridge protest

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The bridge players who wrote a little “We did not vote for Bush” sign on the back of a menu and held it up at an awards banquet caused quite a storm. I think this comment best expresses the sense (of those who still have sense) of the brouhaha.

The link is from a comment by The Son, but I wanted to give it more play because the comment is so good.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2007 at 8:58 am

Jack ver 4.0 has arrived

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Just installed the current bridge computer program world champion, Jack 4.0. And I have printed from the Internet the ACBL Standard American Yellow Card bidding conventions—an important development with bridge play on the Web, since you and your partner probably have never played together and you need to be using the same bidding conventions.

And man, have those conventions changed. In my day an opening bid of, say 2 Spades was forcing to game. Now it’s a weak bid. <sigh> Change is difficult.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 October 2007 at 11:52 am

Posted in Bridge, Games

Bridge memories at IBM

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I was graduated from college in June 1961 and worked that summer at the IBM General Product Development Laboratory in Endicott NY. I was working on the IBM 1410, the newest model of the 1400 line of computers, succeeded by the 360 line with a totally different architecture. (In fact, the president of IBM had to go personally to the 1400 development group and assign its members to various different projects and locales because they wouldn’t stop working on it after the 36o was announced: they were determined that the 1400 would live.)

I recall intensive bridge games among the programmers. This was, in general, before computer science degrees, and the programmers had degrees in a variety of subjects: biology, music, philosophy, English, and the like. But they were all inclined to enjoy puzzles and algorithms, and bridge was a natural.

The games were played at lunchtime, and programmers were on the clock, so the dummy shuffled and dealt for the dealer: as soon as one hand ended, we could pick up the next hand’s cards and immediately start bidding. Occasionally, if the struggle was close, one would volunteer to take everyone’s time cards and clock them in while we finished the rubber. (I believe the statute of limitations has expired on this misdemeanor.)

Those were good games. And I continued to play the following year in graduate school in math, until I discovered Go.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2007 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Bridge, Games

The Acol Bidding System

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As I dip my toe in the world of bridge today, I keep running across references to “Acol Bidding.” No explanation of the name, which drives me nuts. Finally, I discover (in reading The Backwash Squeeze) that the Acol Bidding System, in common use in England, is named for the street on which it was developed.

The Acol System was the brain-child of bridge players, among whom were Mr. Maurice Harrison-Gray, Mr. Iain Macleod, Mr. J.C.H. Marx, Mr. Terence Reese and Mr. S.J. Simon. The history of the Acol System is rather unique in that it was first employed in 1934 in a relatively small North London Bridge Club located on Acol Street, from whence the name.

That little note greatly relieved my anxiety about the name (I kept trying to figure it out as an acroynm) and, IMHO, should be included whenever the system is described.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2007 at 9:25 am

Posted in Bridge, Games

Tagged with

Contract Bridge

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I’m about half through The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats and finding it quite enjoyable. Bill Gates is avid bridge player and plays on-line fairly frequently (not at MSN games, but at one of the bridge servers where the play is better), as does Warren Buffett.

I found a list of bridge blogs, for those who are interested. The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) has a site Bridge Is Cool to try to interest young people in learning bridge. ACBL’s main site is also of interest.

Great Bridge Links is a good and current compilation of links of all sorts—to software, clubs, tournaments, on-line play, and so on. Currently the best bridge-playing program is Jack ver. 4.0, written by a guy in the Netherlands. That’s a general purpose program, but there are also many specialized programs to work on a single aspect of the game, such as presenting exercises of one sort or another, or to assist you in documenting the conventions you use.

The site Bridge Doctor offers instruction, play and competition—it’s $7/month. offers free lessons, using the Acol bidding system which apparently is the new popular set of conventions for bidding. (It’s name after the road on which it was developed.) Another site with free lessons for beginners is No Fear Bridge.

I’m going to the library today to pick up some bridge books, and I dug out Jack ver. 3.0 and ordered the upgrade to 4.0.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2007 at 8:44 am

Posted in Bridge, Games, Software

Tagged with , , ,

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