Paul Cronin

Mapping the “bridge genome”.

BBO “Public Bidding Systems” lists 106 bidding systems – one of which is SAYC. The first page of SAYC lists 21 opening bids, with modifications of same based on 9 possible choices of vulnerability, 7 choices of seat, and one choice of “constructive” or not. When you open the responses to 1C, there are hundreds of bidding sequences listed, each with its meaning. Multiply this by 21, and you have begun to master SAYC. Only problem with that is – very few (if any) club players play SAYC, so now you’ll have to move on to “Standard American”. But wait – “Standard American” isn’t listed there, so let’s try “San Francisco Standard American”. Once again, 21 opening bids, 9 choices of vulnerability,  7 choices of seat, and one choice of “constructive” or not. Open the 1C page, and again there are hundreds of bidding sequences. I’m not suggesting that this is the way to learn “bridge”, but rather to give some idea of the complexity of the “bridge genome”, and to ask “In what sense is what’s going on here a game?”. Maybe the experts (who have devoted more time to this than those mapping the human genome) can slide along the strands of its DNA with some dexterity, but what must it look like to  those beginning the game, or even to those who have been at it most of their lives without achieving expert status? If you think the latter would do just fine, then sit them down at a tournament where in the space of a few tables they may have to contend with SA, 2/1, and Precision. With all the above, we haven’t even touched on defense or declarer play. Is bridge a “game” or a “science”? When most people think of a “game”, they think of something that has a few rules that are easy to understand. Baseball is popular because it has few rules and is easy to understand. Texas Hold’Em poker is popular because there aren’t many rules, and the average person, whether dreaming or not, can say “Hey, that could be me sitting there”. What would an onlooker say about bridge? Why would a younger person want to take up bridge? Going to college and studying nuclear physics would be easier! What’s going to happen to “bridge” when the huge number of players who learned to play while it was still a game go to the big tournament in the sky? Ask not for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee! 



Bob HerremanJune 22nd, 2013 at 9:23 am

Aren’t you a little harsh !

This is a serious attempt to document systems. Indeed. The problem is that players on BBO very often state the play one or other system, without really knowing what that implies.
This site gathers the systems in an easy readable format (“full disclosure”) so that candidate partnerships for BBO-play have a basis for discussing their system.

I think it is very valuable and a very good effort by Downagain and all the people who contributed.

Although the site is stamped BBO, I think it would be very useful to have a clarification about the connection between Downagain and BBO.

Bridge is a game, but nobody can be blamed to take it very seriously and scientifically !

Please, Downagain, keep this work open ! Very nice effort.

Robert E. HarrisJune 22nd, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Well, baseball has the infield fly rule and the balk. The basic plan of baseball is pretty simple, but the rules and hoe the game is played are not. The same is pretty much true of bridge.

ed judyJune 23rd, 2013 at 2:55 am

Bridge, at the tournament level, in my opinion, is NOT a game. I’m not sure if it should be called a sciience. At the highest levels, assuming systems are not forgotten and focus/concentration is in intact, its all about judging probabilities.

Amir FarsoudJune 24th, 2013 at 1:44 am

I find myself in full agreement with Bob Herreman. Also, I’m reasonably sure that SAYC stands for Standard American Yellow Card, aka: Standard American.

paul croninJune 24th, 2013 at 7:24 am

Just to set the record straight, I am in no way denigrating or calling for the demise of Downagain/BBO – just using it as an example to show the complexity of the bridge genome. The average age of ACBL members is now about 70, and by 2033 will be 80 – if we don’t get new players into the game, and keep them there, duplicate bridge, as we know it, will die. And the way I’m suggesting to get new players is twofold – (i) guarantee them a rudeness-free game, and (ii) show them that playing bridge can be fun – the way it used to be for the tens of millions who played socially in the 50s and 60s.

Marty DeneroffJune 24th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I completely agree with your sentiment, but I question your points regarding bringing in new players. I would point out that the rudeness you cite is probably diminished from what it was in the 50s and 60s, not increased. i can’t be sure, but it is definitely down from the late 70s (as is the smoke!) when I first played duplicate. I agree a rudenss-free game will enhance everyone’s enjoyment, but I doubt that it will have a major effect on the influx of new players.

How do we “Show them that playing bridge can be fun”? Bridge is not much of a spectator sport, and the big issue as I see it is getting beginners to a proficiency level where they can play the game at a basic level. You can learn to play chess (not well, but correctly going through the mechanics) in under an hour. Bridge requires many hours to get to this point, and I think the problem is primarily that people say it isn’t worth the effort and give up before they get that far. In the years when bridge was very popular, young people had far less choices of ways to find entertainment than they have today – TV was not so great, and the internet, computer games, etc. did not exist. Nowadays, the majority of the new players I see taking lessons are people who have retired and are looking for something to fill their time. The young people already have full days and are simply not showing up.

I wish this were not the case, but I don’t know how to solve it. Simplistic things like removing rudeness are good, but won’t really have an impact.

ps – bridge is NOT a science, since it is not about studying natural phenomena with the goal of understanding nature better. It is a technical skill. This does not mean it is not a game – it is just a very complex, difficult game.

JRGJune 30th, 2013 at 1:33 am

I played card games with my family when I was young. My Grandmother like to play Canasta and Whist. I grew up playing Hearts, Kings and various card games that involved 4-players and taking tricks (or not taking tricks!).

It was not such a huge leap to learn the mechanics of Bridge. Now learning to play well, that’s another story.

There are young players learning the game, but I have no idea of the demographics. I suspect, from all I’ve read, that there are more young players learning the game in other countries than in the North American countries.

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