February 7th, 2013 ~ Ray Lee ~ 3 Comments
It is with sadness that I report the passing of Marshall Miles, at the age of 87. Always an original thinker, he was still making contributions to bidding ideas and theory up to the end of his life. His most recent book, More Accurate Bidding, was published only last year. Marshall won 5 North American Championships, most of them partnering Eddie Kantar, but his proudest achievement was winning the World Senior Teams in 2004, at the age of 78. His books include two that are classics of bridge literature: How to Win at Duplicate Bridge, and All 52 Cards.
Working with Marshall was always interesting — his ideas were often idiosyncratic and non-mainstream. While editing It’s Your Call a couple of years ago I mentioned to Marshall that I had given several of the problems in the book to Linda, and each time she had chosen the same bid he recommended — in each case one that most of the bidding panel had not. There was a pause. ‘Well’, he said, ‘She must be a very good player then.’ After that they played together a few times on BBO, but Linda told me that their styles were too dissimilar for them to mesh will as a partnership — and also that she felt somewhat intimidated playing with such an icon of the game.
The message I received this morning was from Marshall’s email address, and the first thing I noticed was that it had an attachment. My immediate assumption was that Marshall was sending me a new manuscript (roughly an annual event), but sadly that was not the case on this occasion.
For more information on Marshall Miles please visit the Wikipedia page, a bio on the ACBL Hall of Fame, and his author page on eBooksBridge.com.
November 6th, 2012 ~ Ray Lee ~ 4 Comments
Friday November 9th is a significant birthday for one of the good guys of the bridge world, Eddie Kantar. I’m not going to tell you how old he will be — if you want to know, you can look him up in the Bridge Encyclopedia. Besides, he doesn’t look or act his age — not too many years ago, I watched him take on the much younger Eddie Wold (a former Texas state champion) at table tennis, and lose a hard-fought match 3-1. Round about the same time, he played tennis against Britain’s Andy Robson, a match that ended politely after two sets with the score 1-1. Both confessed afterwards it was the first time they had lost a set to a bridge player!
I well remember trying to talk Eddie into doing his first book for us, more than 15 years ago. His ‘Big Red’ book on defense was renowned as a classic, but from my point of view, it could be improved a lot. Some of the material was outdated, the organization was poor, the design and layout was prehistoric, and the whole thing had been typeset on a typewriter — the publisher’s fault, not Eddie’s. It would be big task, however, and Eddie was reluctant to undertake it.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I can do most of the work, and all you’ll have to do is give it a quick read and approve the final version.”
“But it won’t sound like me,” said Eddie.
“Don’t worry, ” I said. “I can make it sound like you.”
I was wrong.
I did do the first pass on what eventually became two books: Modern Bridge Defense and Advanced Bridge Defense. But when Eddie saw the manuscripts he must have been appalled at what I was proposing should be published under his name, and he proceeded to rewrite every word of them both. Thank goodness.
We’ve gone on to do many books together, but never again did I have the hubris to claim that I could mimic Eddie’s style, which in every sense of the word is inimitable. Eddie is a world-class bridge player who is able to write for those of us below that pinnacle — indeed, even for beginners. And his sense of humor is legendary. Indeed, if you haven’t read his book of humorous bridge anecdotes, Classic Kantar, you have seriously missed something.
These days, Linda and I attend NABC’s for reasons other than playing, and so do Eddie and his charming wife Yvonne. So we’ve naturally ended up spending time together. We’ve climbed mountains, dug up geocaches on beaches, gone on tours, visited art galleries, and eaten numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners ensemble. And of course, we’ve played bridge. Eddie is never without a deck of cards (well, that’s not actually true — one time we had to nip across the road to buy a deck) so after we’ve ordered our meals, out they come, and suddenly we’re in the middle of Eddie’s infamous Home Game.
There have only been two ‘serious’ bridge games. One time Eddie had been asked by a friend to play in a 1-session Swiss, so he rounded up Linda and me as team-mates. We had a great time, losing only in the last round when our opponents bid a very low percentage game that rolled home. The next day Eddie was still worried that he had let through an overtrick on defense on another (and completely irrelevant board). Eddie worries a lot, actually, especially about his books — he reads and rereads them, sending me little improvements and corrections long after the book is finally printed.
The other serious game was two or three years ago. New York Times correspondent Phillip Alder was visiting and wanted to play casually one evening, so Eddie organized a set game against Linda and me. Any time anything interesting came up, one or the other of them would dive for a notebook and write down the deal. I didn’t dare read either of their columns for months after that (although I did manage to maneuver it so Linda played all the tough hands). I hadn’t been so nervous since the time I was playing in an Open Pairs and Edgar Kaplan and Frank Stewart arrived at the table, with Freddie Sheinwold as their kibitzer!
Eddie doesn’t play much any more, but he’s still writing, as readers of many bridge magazines around the world know. He’s still working on books, too: some of them new projects, some of them updates of old ones (like the just released ‘Defensive Tips for Bad Cardholders’ – a classic Kantar title if ever I heard one). And he’s still one of the nicest guys you’ll ever come across, at the bridge table or away from it.
So happy birthday Eddie on Friday — and many, many more!
September 5th, 2012 ~ Ray Lee ~ No Comments
It is with sadness that I record the passing last month of Dr. Andrew Diosy, 88, the author of the second book ever published by Master Point Press back in 1994.
Andrew was born in Hungary, and came to Canada in 1957, like many of his countrymen, in the aftermath of the insurrection there against Soviet rule. He completed his medical training in his new country, and enjoyed a long and successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. His hobbies were chess and, of course, bridge.
I remember very well receiving Andrew’s manuscript in the mail. MPP didn’t really exist except on paper. Linda and I both had full-time careers that had nothing to do with bridge, but on the side we were publishing a (roughly) quarterly national magazine, Canadian Master Point. Our first book title was a collection of partnership questionnaires by Mary Paul which had appeared in CMP over a 2-3 year span. We had at that time no particular thoughts of doing more books. Then this package arrived, from someone who clearly didn’t know we weren’t for real.
It was hand written, perhaps a couple of hundred sheets of letter-size paper in a large manilla envelope, and comprised perhaps fifty or sixty short stories, each built around a bridge deal. As we began to read, we were both struck by the quality of the deals — and we quickly began asking ourselves who the author could be. It seemed inconceivable that someone in the Toronto area could construct problems of this quality and be unknown to us — indeed, I suspected for some time that ‘Andrew Diosy’ must be a pseudonym.
Not in the least. When we finally met Andrew, I realized that he was one of those people more common in the chess world than that of bridge, someone who can construct brilliant problems without necessarily being a top-level performer themselves in competition. We decided to publish the book, and the next challenge was presenting the problems in a way that would do them justice, allowing the reader to appreciate all the nuances. That was when Linda came up with the fundamental concept: the deals would be presented with no hidden hands — all 52 cards would be on view. The challenge to the reader would be to analyze the position and determine whether with best play the declarer or the defense should prevail. The second key was the idea of presenting a partial solution, and at the same time showing its flaws, keeping the final solution until later. This allowed the reader to explore each problem in increasing depth, without being told the actual solution the first time around.
This was not a format that was (or indeed is) to everyone’s taste. The book was titled There Must be a Way, and Jeff Rubens in The Bridge World rather snarkily commented ‘There must have been a better way to organize this book…’ But most readers liked the concept, and the deals themselves were brilliant. Eddie Kantar loved them, and wrote a wonderful foreword for the book, and TMBAW went through three printings — not bad for a completely unknown author and a start-up hobby publisher! A second book, You Have to See This, followed, and this time Linda got a deserved co-author credit. One of the world’s top problem constructors, Julian Pottage, became a fan of the approach, and has used it in two books — indeed, his Play or Defend? won the IBPA Book of the Year award in 2004.
Entries were a favorite Diosy theme. Here’s a typical deal from TMBAW, titled ‘Marked Finesse’. See how you fare:
The contract is 5♦. Take your best shot before scrolling down to Part 1 of the solution.
SOLUTION PART 1
You have 4 potential losers – a heart, a diamond and two clubs. However, with the ♦K onside you do not have to lose a trump trick, and although the ♣K is offside, you can hold your club losers to one since the ♣J is onside. The problem is getting to dummy for all those finesses. Say you win the spade lead in dummy and take the diamond finesse. After that wins you can draw trumps, but now what? There doesn’t appear to be an endplay…
Is there another line, or will the defense prevail even with this lucky layout? What do you think?
SOLUTION PART 2
The solution is to win the opening lead in the closed hand and play the ♣Q! West wins with the king and plays another spade. Dummy’s king wins the trick and you lead the ♣10. It doesn’t matter whether or not East covers: you will either remain in dummy or return to it with a third club for a successful finesse against the ♦K.
We still have a few copies left of both of Andrew Diosy’s books. If you’ve never read either of them, you’re missing something!
August 17th, 2012 ~ Ray Lee ~ 2 Comments
We’ve left Lille now that Canadian interest is no more, and have checked into a new hotel in Normandy for a few days sightseeing before heading home next Tuesday. While killing time before going to dinner tonight, we logged into BBO and were lucky enough to catch this deal — the final one of today’s action.
I had watched this board at a couple of other tables, and most pairs arrived safely in 6♠ . One or two flirted with 7♠ , which gave rise to some discussion among the commentators as to the best line of play in that contract. In the end, it comes down to guessing who has the ♦K — you can either finesse in diamonds or pitch a diamond on a club and take the ruffing finesse — or taking a heart finesse followed by ruffing a heart in the short hand. There are some slight extra chances, but that’s basically it.
In the Italy-Poland match, however, Italy’s Duboin and Sementa were even more ambitious. After a 2NT-4♦ (transfer) start, I don’t know precisely what their auction meant, since nothing was alerted or explained on BBO. However, it seems to me that Sementa’s 7♥ was probably intended as a final transfer to 7♠. Duboin may have thought he was being asked to pick a final contract, or maybe he just thought they had plenty of tricks and notrump would be safer; but, whatever the reasoning, they came to rest not in 7♠ but in 7NT.
North must have been looking for a safe lead, and was reluctant to lead a singleton spade, although I believe that Duboin had superaccepted spades, so leading one wasn’t likely to do much harm. On a spade lead, declarer really has no option but to finesse diamonds and hope for the best — which will not help him on this layout. Even a diamond lead will probably do no harm — that’s only the twelfth trick, and declarer would surely never think North had led away from the king: he would just finesse in diamonds rather than in hearts. However, this North chose an innocuous-looking, but ultimately fatal, heart.
Giorgio Duboin won this trick with the heart queen (South did not cover of course), and took stock: he now had twelve tricks, and options. Time for some card-reading. It was easy to figure out that North probably had at least one club honor to protect, and after cashing the queen and king of spades, the singleton spade was revealed too. Surely he had not underled the ♥K, which gave rise to a ‘Restricted Choice’ inference that he could well have the ♦K, else he might have led a diamond instead of a heart. Other things being equal, North was roughly twice as likely to have the ♦K as South.
Perhaps North was unfortunate to be defending 7NT against one of the world’s best declarers. In any event, Duboin read the position correctly, and proceeded to cash both red-suit aces — a double Vienna Coup — then run all the spades, executing a double squeeze with clubs as the central suit. As one commentator remarked, God obviously gave East the ♦9 for a reason!
A pretty deal to end the session with. We strolled across the road to a meal of Galettes Seguin followed by Crepes Normandie, washed down with local cider, and raised a glass to Signor Duboin for providing such a sparkling aperitif!
May 30th, 2011 ~ Ray Lee ~ 7 Comments
Linda has already written a blog about the soon-to-be-published ‘Rodwell Files’, and talked a little about its ancestry. Back about 25 years ago, when Eric was living in Toronto, he put together a set of notes which summarized some of his ideas on card play. Occasionally he included an example, but often there was nothing more than a sentence or two, simply an aide memoire to recall an concept to mind. In digital form, this circulated amongst a very small group of people in the local bridge community under the name ‘The Rodwellian Files’.
I’m not sure where I got my copy – possibly from Fred Gitelman, or more probably Ron Bishop, but I realized quickly it was something unique. When my son Colin started playing bridge seriously I shared it with him, and he tells me he used to read it over again as his final preparation before playing any major event.
After we had published Jeff Meckstroth’s book Win the Bermuda Bowl with Me, I tried to talk Eric into turning the Files into a book, but he wasn’t keen. I remember a reader asking Jeff at a signing why a certain topic hadn’t been included in his book, and he growled, ‘I’m not ready to give away all my secrets yet.’ I think back then, Eric was of the same mind.
Over the years, I shared a copy of the Files with my old friend (and high school friend) Mark Horton, and we would talk wistfully about what a great book it could be. We even had a notion as to how it could be done, with Mark’s incredible memory helping us supply examples from top-level play to illustrate Eric’s concepts. Eventually, we decided to approach Eric again, and a couple of years ago at the Washington NABC the three of us got together and the project got under way.
We weren’t sure how much Eric’s playing schedule would allow him to get involved, so Mark and I got going: he started researching and I started my job, which was to organize 100-odd disjointed topics into some kind of coherent narrative. Eric and I met at the next Nationals to discuss progress, and I pointed out to him that we needed some introductory chapters, otherwise what we’d have would be mostly a book of cardplay tactics. ‘After all,’ I said to him, ‘No one’s interested in what Mark and I think about when the dummy comes down – they want to know what you think about.’ He liked the way the outline of the book was developing, and readily understood the need for the new material.
This was to be my first glimpse of Rodwell in action. Within a couple of weeks of arriving home from the tournament, I had four new chapters in my email, chapters that became Part 1 of the final book. They are a brilliant discussion of ‘what to think about when dummy comes down’, including a superb section on ‘defogging’ – what to do when your analysis is going nowhere. I would venture to say that every bridge player, from intermediate to expert, can learn something from reading these chapters.
Eventually, I had the book organized as I wanted, Mark had supplied a couple of hundred or so deals, those had been folded in, and we were ready to send it to Eric for a first pass. Now came my second look at how Eric works – he is intense, focussed, and his attention to detail is tremendous (seriously, he can have a job as proofreader any time). He tore apart what we sent him, replacing examples he didn’t like, creating new examples where necessary, adding new concepts, and adding his own comments to deals from elsewhere that others had analyzed. It helped that at least 50% of the deals Mark had found actually involved Eric and Jeff.
Now we had something that could at last be put into a normal production process, and we could start line editing, copyediting, and trying to wring the last few errors out. We thought. I had reckoned, though, without Eric’s enthusiasm for the project, and for the incredible amount of bridge he plays. I started watching the tournament schedule with dread – every week, it seemed, more deals would arrive in my email (“Gotta get this in somewhere… this great hand came up in Louisville… look at this one Balicki played in Gatlinburg…’) Eventually I had to say, ‘Eric, that’s it, no more… every time you play you’re going to find stuff that could be in here, but you have to let us publish the book!’
Now we got into page layout, and saw Eric’s amazing attention to detail in spades. He was checking spot cards, auctions, names of players, everything. He was finding things our professional proofreaders weren’t. He was reanalyzing deals, and finding mistakes – his own, sometimes, as well as other people’s. And did I mention that when I sent him a chapter, it invariably returned by the next day, and sometimes sooner? As late as a week ago, he read through the entire 400 pages one last time, making small final changes.
In the end, I think we’ve produced a book we can all be proud of, and one that will make a serious contribution to bridge literature. Even expert players will learn from it, but at the same time, club players will find it helps their game too – although there will be some material that is beyond them at first reading.
The book goes to press today, and will available for sale in about 4 weeks. (The e-book will be on sale earlier than that.) It’s already been shortlisted for the IBPA Book of the Year award, and an extract from it will be available shortly for free download from www.ebooksbridge.com and www.masterpointpress.com.
Eric will be participating in at least one book-signing session at the Toronto NABC in July – what the Daily Bulletin for details as we have to work around his playing schedule, and may not know until fairly late when he is going to be available. If you’re in town, don’t miss the chance to meet one of the world’s great players.
May 25th, 2011 ~ Ray Lee ~ No Comments
Our bloggers from Regina seem to be ignoring the ladies, so here’s a progress report. At the end of the RR, the qualifiers were:
1. Francine Cimon, Linda Lee, Rhoda Habert, Sylvia Caley
2. Joan Eaton, Karen Cumpstone, Katrin Litwin, Sandra Fraser
3. Kathie McNab, Anne Mahoney, Diane Knowles, Maureen Barnes
4. Julie Smith, Susan Peters, Angela Fenton, Samantha Nystrom
As winners, Cimon got to pick their SF opponent, and will face McNab over 64 boards today, leaving Eaton to play Smith in the other SF. Tomorrow’s final (72 boards) will be on BBO, starting at noon.
March 4th, 2011 ~ Ray Lee ~ 10 Comments
I’ve never been a big fan of master points, or indeed any kind of cumulative ranking system. I grew up as a chess player, a game in which ratings are jealously guarded, but where each time you play you put your rating on the line: lose and it goes down, win and it goes up. Lose to a bad player, and it goes down a lot. Even in that arena, there’s been inflation — but only maybe 10-15% in the 40 years or so since I stopped playing seriously.
Master Points, by contrast, were a brilliant, simple concept that without a doubt contributed to the growth of the game in the USA, Canada and other countries. But that was in the old days, when they were hard to get. When you had to beat every top player in the city to win your 1 Master point in the once a week game in which they were awarded. And when it was tough to accumulate those 300 points to become a Life Master. When being a Life Master really meant something.
What do we have now? Well, enter any Regional KO, win a couple of matches in a low bracket, and walk away with 25 points. (Forget the matchpoint events, they don’t pay nearly as well as the ubiquitous KO’s and Swiss games.) They tried to curb galloping MP inflation by introducing a rainbow of pigmented points, but now you can win gold points playing in a club game, so that’s pretty much gone by the board too. They’re finally raising the bar for LM to 500 (I think), and judging from the tone of the Letters to the ACBL Bulletin Editor, taking candy from a baby would be less offensive.
None of this is new, so readers might wonder what has occasioned this rant. Well, I just read in the March Bulletin about some guy who this year won over 3000 points playing with himself — I mean, against robots. Yes, against robots — I kid you not. You can go online, and play in an ‘Individual’ tournament where the only players at your table are robots. You then compare your score against other human players doing the same thing. And Watson these things are not. They’re not bad to practice against, but like any software they have their little quirks and it’s quite easy to manipulate them once you understand how the logic works. And there’s another constraint, apparently — none of the robots is allowed to hold more HCP than you, so not only do you get to play a disproportionate number of the hands, but on every deal you have unauthorized information! And ‘winning’ all these points this way is presented in the Bulletin as some kind of great achievement.
I lost interest in collecting MP’s for myself many years ago, recognizing that they measured very little beyond the amount of time and money you were prepared to give the ACBL. But now it seems they really are officially toilet paper — or at least, computer printout.
January 26th, 2011 ~ Ray Lee ~ No Comments
A couple of weeks ago I posted the real story of the The Column that Never Was — my final column for the Toronto Star, which featured a wild deal from the 1978 World Championships involving Bill Milgram and Irving Litvack. When I mentioned to Bill that I had tracked down the deal, he told me that I should really write up a much more interesting one from the same event, which had appeared in the Daily Bulletin. Fortunately, Bill still had all his Bulletins, and was able to dig out the one he wanted.
This was the deal:
The match was against the Italian team, which made what happened somewhat ironic. The Canadians were playing a modified version of Blue Team Club: 1♣ was strong and artificial, and 1NT showed 4 controls. The next three bids were natural, and 4♦ (in the Italian style) showed first or second round control of the suit. Two more cuebids were followed by 5NT GSF, with the response showing two of the top three honors. Irving knew his partner might have only four clubs, in which case the diamond ruff in his hand would be a thirteenth trick not available in notrump — so he passed. His partner’s 3♣ call had promised a ‘good’ suit, so in this context if he only had four of them, Irving was pretty confident the jack would be among them.
And so it proved — in practical terms, they had reached the only makeable grand. At the other table, the Italians reached 7NT. Owing to the incredibly fortuitous lie of the spot cards in diamonds, this can be made on a squeeze – East’s 5-4-3 tripleton means that West is the only player who can guard North’s ♦6. Thus, double-dummy, declarer can cash the ♥ A and run all his black winners, squeezing West in the red suits. In the real world, declarer took the diamond finesse and quietly went one down.
Bill’s still proud of that auction — and I don’t blame him!
January 6th, 2011 ~ Ray Lee ~ 3 Comments
Back in the 1970s, I wrote a weekly bridge column for the Toronto Star. Since they were already paying for a daily syndicated column from the Goren organization, they wanted me to concentrate on local stuff, and preferably to write articles that had little or no bridge in them. They wanted names, dates and places, basically.
Nevertheless, I managed to slip in the occasional deal of interest. That, of course, was when the gremlins would strike. I wasn’t allowed to write the headlines, which were made up by a non-bridge-player, who often misunderstood the article and put something completely inappropriate at the top of it. They constantly screwed up the hand diagrams, on one famous occasion omitting the deal completely to save space, while retaining the narrative.
I’ve recently been retrieving all those articles from the Star archives, and some of them are actually still worth reading. The last one I ever submitted was royally screwed up though, since they didn’t bother changing the hand diagram from the one that appeared the previous week (you can imagine the typesetters chortling about that one!). As it was the last one, I never got the chance to correct it — until now.
The deal occurred at the 1978 World Championships in New Orleans, and involved four Canadians all of whom I know very well. It came up in the ‘never-ending Swiss’ to which teams that lost early in the Rosenblum Cup were banished — after days and days of play, a small number made it back into the main event via a ‘repechage’. While the player I asked couldn’t recall the details (although he did remember the incident), the deal was spectacular enough to have made it into the World Championship book, and I was able to find it last night. I had been given the story by another of the participants, but when I saw the actual deal and read the write-up I came to the conclusion that he had given me the wrong layout, the wrong auction and the wrong opening lead. The rest was fine
Anyway, 32 years later, here is the real story behind the Column that Never Was.
North was Bill Milgram, and South, Irving Litvack, a partnership that had a great deal of success in the mid-1970s. Bill tried everything he could to get some kind of preference out of his partner, without success. While you might argue that Irving could and should have bid hearts earlier, faced with a partner who was asking him to pick a major at the six-level, it is hard to blame him for bidding the grand. Now West had a lead problem. His clues included a partner who had doubled diamonds for the lead and raised clubs freely, suggesting at least four of them. Unsuspecting, he decided on a diamond, and that was 1510.
At the other table, Roy Dalton and Roy Hughes sat East-West, and decided to sell out to Six Hearts rather than take the cheap save. Perhaps they were nervous about being able to defeat the grand — correctly so. The net was 11 IMPs to the Litvack team, which finished 11th in the event.
October 22nd, 2010 ~ Ray Lee ~ No Comments
Click on this link and you’ll get to the article Toronto’s Globe & Mail ran earlier this week about Fred Gitelman and Geoff Hampson’s success in the Rosenblum this month. Don’t forget to read the comments too.
I spent about half an hour on the phone with the reporter, who knew literally nothing about bridge other than that it’s a card game, and the whole conversation came out as a one-liner in the article! But perhaps I gave him useful background and perspective He didn’t mention Geoff’s famous mother in the end, although I did tell him who she was…
I’m still not sure what put them on to the story — perhaps the WBF sent out some press releases, but if that was it, how did the Globe figure out that Fred and Geoff came from Toronto? However, who cares? Bridge gets very little media coverage, and we should welcome and encourage it when it does happen. Not only that, it’s a good piece, well-written and interesting, and only shows the game in a good light.
Well done, the Globe!