Ray Lee

The Mysterious Multi

Paul Marston’s Editorial in the latest issue of his excellent magazine, Australian Bridge, discusses the fact that the Multi 2D can no longer be played in Pairs events in the ACBL. He has some interesting thoughts on what this says about the ACBL’s attitude to the game in general. Let me quote a little:

“There is nothing sacred about the Multi 2D, but there is something sacred about being allowed to play the game without interference from meddling Ray Leeistrators.

“Why do they do it? They do it because they know the game was popular 50 years ago and they are trying to relive those glory days. This, they think, means banning anything new. Of course there is never a shortage of good players to support such a campaign – the first line of defense in bridge has always been to seek to ban the opponents’ methods. In 1934, Culbertson wrote about the diehards who thought signalling by playing high-low in a suit was akin to cheating.”

And, I might add, ‘conventions’ like takeout doubles and even Blackwood met with similar opposition when they first introduced. Back to Marston:

“By trying to take the game back 50 years, they completely miss the reason why Culbertson and Goren were so successful. They were not selling a particular version of the game – they were selling change, the very thing the ACBL has outlawed. ‘Do it my way,’ they said, ‘and you will beat your neighbours.’ ”

I have just finished reading an account of the Culbertson era, which will be published (not by MPP!) this Fall, and it leaves no doubt that the purpose of the great showdown against Lenz was to demonstrate the superiority of Culbertson’s methods – and thereby sell his books. And when Culbertson won that match (and the subsequent matches in the UK), it was his system that was credited with the triumph. The rest is history. As Marston says, the message was simple: ‘Do it my way, and you will beat your neighbours.’ Back to the Editorial again:

“People get excited about change, because it gives them hope. Consider golf. You often see complete duffers hacking their way rond the course… with the latest metal driver. In truth it wouldn’t make any difference if they were using an old wood, but… it gives them hope, and hope makes them keen. If the ACBL ran golf, they would require you to use a bag of clubs that was designed in 1940. Then they would have a complex set of rules about when you could add a club with a fibre shaft, and so on.”

Harsh? Maybe, but I have a lot of sympathy with his point of view. Remember, we’re not even talking about the real Multi 2D here – the one that can be a weak two or a variety of strong hands. We’re just talking about an opening bid that is a weak two either in hearts or spades. The same convention that every LOL in Europe has used and/or played against, without apparently either feeling that some kind of sharp practice was going on or demanding protection from the authorities.

I’ve personally never been a big fan of Multi – if RHO has a spade preempt, and wants to open 2D and let me overcall hearts at the two level, that’s his problem not mine. To me, the real reason to use Multi is that you have something better to use 2H and 2S for than a standard weak two. But that’s not the point. The point is that a pretty harmless convention has been ruled inadmissible in ACBL pairs events. No more Multi even in the Blue Ribbon or the LM Pairs. What conceivably can be the rationale for that? Can’t the clients handle it, poor things?

The official rationale for banning Multi (and related conventions like Multi Landy over a 1NT opening) is that it is too ‘unusua’l. This despite the fact that there are two written ACBL defenses available, defenses that players are allowed to use and refer to at the table! Of course, any convention that isn’t allowed to be played in most events can be classed as ‘unusual’ – it certainly won’t be encountered very much of the time. On a bridge-related forum where the situation was discussed recently, someone suggested the most likely reason was that someone on the ACBL BoD got a bad board against Multi sometime. It’s as likely an explanation as any other.

Commercial: for those who don’t play in ACBL land, or who play in events with 6+ board rounds (i.e. team games), MPP has a book coming this Fall: The Mysterious Multi: how to play it, how to play against it, by bridge journalists Mark Horton and Jan van Cleeff. Includes not just Multi in all its forms, but material on what else you can do with the freed-up 2H and 2S openings.


bobby wolffMay 9th, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Hi Ray.

While I have no real bone to pick with Multi 2 diamonds, I think two areas of concern need to be brought up and remedied. Before I discuss those concerns and although no one has asked me, I’ll volunteer that if played honestly I think playing Multi is a slightly minus convention itself (meaning with everything else being equal and with the opponents up to snuff and not intimidated) but, as has been mentioned before, the freeing of the 2 heart and 2 spade bids to be used constructively for other worthwhile purposes might turn that slight minus into a slight plus.

Now to the areas of concern. In Maastricht and during the 2000 World Team Olympiad there was an Austrian pair who playing a fairly standard version of Multi, opened 2 diamonds NV vs. V and when partner bid 2 spades, he passed, theoretically showing spades, but really having a weak 2 bid in hearts. The opponents being done out of their spade game protested and the chief tournament director, Kojak, cautioned the errant Austrian pair to never do that again, because it was in the nature of a controlled psyche and hence illegal (possibly a penalty was also given for doing so). Very soon afterwards that same Austrian pair did it again and Kojak justifiably became irate. I, being head of the Appeals committee, was for a strong penalty such as that pair being totally barred or even the whole Austrian team having to forfeit, but alas they were only given a penalty which was not enough for them to lose their match.

By way of note it should be mentioned that on the surface that pair was fooling each other in addition to harming the opponents, but as luck would have it (tongue in cheek) on both occasions the partner of the Multi bidder had poor hands. It would be an easy matter, even playing behind screens, to make a noise (or not make a noise) to let the Multi user know that your hand was weak, with the very likely result of doing the opponents out of bidding and profitting by the ruse.

My second point is technical. If a Multi bidder opens with 2 diamonds and after a pass partner bids 2 spades, suggesting partner pass if spades are his weak two bid suit, but to bid at least 3 hearts if his suit is hearts, but then the next opponent overcalls 3 of a minor, then pass by the Multi bidder should theoretically show spades, but (and I think very illegally) when asked to confirm that his pass shows spades, merely replies “we haven’t discussed it”.

Why is this so important you may ask? For the simple reason that the opponent’s are entitled to have a cue bid available (often used in this type of auction) and as long as the Multi bidder has what he is supposed to have, spades becomes the cue bid suit, but if they disclaim having discussed it (for my money a violation of convention disruption) then they are taking an undue advantage which should not accrue to them.

Briefly, like other somewhat unusual conventions, which have proliferated in the last large number of years, I, like you and Paul Marston, are in favor of progress, but only progress based on morality and ethics, not progress in winning based on nefarious methods.

If, others disagree with me and encourage the bad things to come with the good, please count me out with supporting them. If the users agree with me (hopefully us) then ever onward, ever upward, but to ignore these unseemly manuevers cause me great distress with my hope of presenting bridge among the elite, in what it should represent as an immaculate gentleman’s (and ladies) game.

PaulMay 10th, 2009 at 8:39 am

Bobby’s example of passing a multi response is a common tactic – perhaps we have more U26 players in Europe who have taught everyone this!

However, saying you have not having discussed 2D-(P)-2S-(3C)-? sounds unlikely to me and I would definitely share Bobby’s concerns about this (though I’m not a support of all his views on convention disruption).

As I’ve said before, my experience playing in the ACBL has been limited to the Nationals. In the regional events I’ve played in, it is quite clear that the vast majority of players do not want change. They want a homogeneous environment. It is very unlike Europe. And these are the experienced tournament players – I fully expect the average club player to be even more intolerant of something new.

So the ACBL is playing to its (diminishing) elderly population. Is that wrong? The only noticeable downside is the lack of preparation for its top players at the world level, and the strength in depth compensates for this to a large degree.

To be honest it seems that the ACBL is in a tough place. It will take a visionary to change it.

ShazMay 10th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Meanwhile, I find that the ACBL is discouraging its younger members from innovation and limiting their freedom in playing what system they want. Speaking as one of these younger players, I find it highly frustrating to pore over the various ACBL charts to decipher the legality of various methods. The ACBL raves about promoting bridge to younger players but those of us who actually become interested enough by the game to pursue it seriously often like to play new and different bidding systems and the ACBL’s policies are hardly encouraging.

bobby wolffMay 10th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

To Paul and Shaz,

Paul, thanks for the the update and your knowledgable remarks about the state of global bridge. No doubt the ACBL has taken what I will call a death watch over the game. My preference would be a forward going one which might be a trifle riskier, but, if successful, would lead to a rampant Renaissance of our great game with a horn of plenty future for all bridge lovers.

And now for the questions to both of you. Do either or both of you feel that we should loosen the reins of the bridge horse and allow systems, conventions and treatments to run wild (or at least, not be nearly as strict), as opposed to not being allowed at all, wherein so what if certain suspicious bids in multi are designed by those having the primary interest of devastating heretofore intelligent communication by the opponents, even if the following events happen: 1. The bridge scoring system, 99% of the same system which has been in effect since 1927 when Contract Bridge replaced Auction Bridge was brought up to date where IMO down tricks should probably be pretty close to be doubled (100 and 200 per trick instead of 50 and 100) and possibly, but not surely, also increase the cost for players who go down multiple tricks doubled. Also should we continue the NT advantage of the first NT making trick be counted as 40 instead of 30, but in general what else would need to be changed for us to have a level playing field, if, in fact, we all agreed that we wanted a level playing field. Also what about the Vulnerability differences. Is it time for us to update what is best for the future, taking into consideration that we all agree to allow almost anything goes in what each partnership is allowed to play?

What about the logistical and practical considerations which might happen to our players (most of which are now old) if our changes perhaps represented an entirely different game to them, one in which they would have to learn all over? Do we have the nucleus ready to take their places and the enthusiasm and solutions to make it work for the next hundreds of years?

Have we gone too far in encouraging, if not requiring, the active ethics necessary to keep bridge different from most all other games wherein, being a partnership game, it has to have special rules demanding compliance against unauthorized information or is there an undiscovered way to overcome that also. Paul talks about a visionary and I agree, but will he be coming from a manger or, if not, exactly where.

Shaz, there is not doubt that the ACBL frowns on types of innovation which would free up the game to almost a “catch if catch can” status but are they wrong, and if so, why? What is wrong, or I should say, Shaz, why is learning our present game from the ground up (a method which IMO has almost been the only way to get from novice to high-level player in the past)? In addition along the way to the Emerald City that transitional player has to have the balance and fortitude to acquire worthwhile experience and not fall victim to many illusions on the yellow brick road such as quick fixes, trying to do too much too fast, expecting to master the game (as far as I am concerned there is not a player alive, nor will there ever be one, who does not take severe lumps and embarrassment when the game itself eventually always takes charge). It seems to me that the above sentence has forced too many to resort to various types of cheating in order to short-cut themselves to glory. Very sad, but at least to me, so true.

We should all hear from many of our serious bridge friends voicing opinions on what I consider worthwhile questions. Possibly, this type of questionnaire (and so many more pertinent questions not yet asked) will serve the world as a BRIDGE FOR PEACE which is one of the few worthwhile endeavors attempted, where all of us start out dead equal, in voicing our heartfelt opinions.

LindaMay 11th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

There is room for ethical problems with a lot of conventions. I remember a discussion of some of the possibilities with weak notrump and my younger friends have shown me all sorts of innovative to ways to have standard types of psyches in many sequences. Consistent psyches or systemic psyche are a problem but not specific to multi. The ACBL is not restricting MULTI because of that anyway. For example 2 of a major showing a major and an unknown minor is also restricted in the same way. There is a suit to cuebid, I can’t see how it is prone to agreed psyche any more than any preemptive style bid. It is just new. That is the only reason I can see for it being restricted.

I think that there is good reason to limit conventions in events geared at new players (perhaps below life master). If players play in a stratified event where they are going to meet strong players they have to accept that they will meet some conventions they are not familiar with whether they are on the restricted list or not.

It is a big problem for North America if the ACBL does not allow and even encourage the development of new bidding ideas. It is going to be harder to attract new players and make North Americans less competitive.

PaulMay 11th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

It is clearly impractical for the ACBL to make major changes to approved conventions and unrealistic to expect them to change when they were only reviewed last year (more’s the pity).

Most countries have different levels like the ACBL. The big difference is the GCC-equivalent is the basis for beginners and novice players, it is not the chart for normal tournament play. Clubs are free to play whichever they prefer, but most clubs will opt for the less restrictive environment.

If the ACBL wishes to be progressive, it could consider modifying the Mid Chart to:

(i) only place restrictions on the opening bid and first overcall;

(ii) permit methods where there is a known anchor suit (Linda’s available cue bid philosophy)

These are essential the rules we have in Scotland. 99% of the players still play 4-card majors and a weak 1NT, but they are quite happy to see what the top players are playing.

Ray LeeMay 11th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Let me add the final paragraph from Paul Marston’s Editorial: ‘The only problem that would stem from this is ensuring full and proper disclosure, but we would soon work out ways to deal with this important question.’

I tend to Bobby’s view that the bad guys will find ways to cheat whatever rules you make. Indeed, in this regard I may be further to the right even than Bobby, since I would ban proven cheats for life. It’s too easy to cheat at bridge, and I can think of no other deterrent strong enough (and they’re all recidivists anyway — cheaters always get caught cheating again later). Any convention is open to misuse — we’ve all run into ‘hesitation Blackwood’ and I remember an article some years ago by Meckstroth pointing out how risk-free it is to psyche opposite partner’s 10-12 1NT opening, and suggesting that this practice be outlawed. So I don’t think conventions should be banned simply because they are open to abuse.

I wonder what would happen if we abandoned the current incomprehensible Alert system entirely and simply went back to requiring full and honest disclosure of any agreement that the opponents might need to know about? Yes, I know there would still be the card-table litigators like the one I encountered in an event in Chicago who claimed he got his bad result because we had offered a deliberately misleading gratuitous explanation of our agreement — but perhaps overall, everyone would be better off. And then we could all play more or less whatever we wanted to… But perhaps that’s too idealistic, as I think (sadly) is Marston’s conclusion that we would soon work out ways to deal with the disclosure issue.

The big picture is this: the average age of the ACBL membership is increasing all the time, and unless younger people can be attracted to the game, it is indeed a death watch. We’re not going to attract much new blood insisting the game be played as it was 50 years ago, fossilized in amber like some prehistoric mosquito — which is Marston’s point. It must be allowed to grow and change — and you can always have convention-restricted events.

To implement Bobby’s suggested scoring change is trickier, but not impossible. Just as Vanderbilt did in 1927, we introduce Bridge II, a game with a new scoring table and possibly other rule changes. Now the law of the jungle will decide whether Bridge II takes over from Bridge I, just as Contract did from Auction (and that didn’t take very long at all). You just run Bridge II events at the tournaments, and see which ones people want to play in. The ACBL BoD still gets to run everything, so no-one’s nose need be out of the trough (I mean out of joint). Could it work? Yes. Will it happen? Not in ACBL Land, not in my lifetime.

Ulf NilssonMay 12th, 2009 at 8:09 am

Young people today want choices and freedom. They play World-of-Warcraft online and tinker with characters and equipments and stuff. They have multiple characters and see how each fare. Go back, create another one and try that out. That’s fun.

They want to try stuff and be intrigued by variety, see what happens and how it works out. Young bridgeplayers don’t want exotic conventions and systems to get ahead of the learning curve; they want to have fun and see what happens. Variety. Call it short attention span or whatever. But, by limiting choices the game will have a hard time attracting and keeping this generation. What if WoW limited the choices in game-play? It would never have taken off the the point where their turn-over is greater than the BP of mid-sized countries.

As a general remark, most players attracted to bridge is drawn to the card play. The endless possibilities in the play of a hand. But, bridge is a 2-part game: bidding and play. There are a sizeable number who find the endless variations in the bidding part much more fascinating. They are not looking for ways to beat the crowd by weird stuff and unfamiliarity, they just get so much reward from the bidding part. Discussing agreements, bidding choices instead of squeeze and end-plays. In ACBL, this crowd is pretty much locked out of the game. I believe that in the older days the division were maybe 95-5. If you polled every junior today, the number would maybe be 60-40.

Don’t assume that convention/system proponents and fanatics are just out to get an unfair edge over the rest. Realize that this part of the game attracts them more than card play. Can we afford to regulate them out of the scene? Can we keep them without running roughsled over the rest? I think most of the world manages fairly well. ACBL don’t.

Something else to think about. Today many people are killed in automobil accidents every year. Noone isn willing to give up on automobiles. The benefits to the community is so big that society accepts the price tag. If system/conventions were cut looser, there would be a larger number of casualties for sure, “automobile related accidents”, full disclosure or not. There would be problems, but would those problems amount to the level that it would be too costly to the game as a whole? Wouldn’t the multiple attractions points (i.e. bidding/systems and/or play) benefit bridge more? Reaching a wider audience? Variety equals fun. Not to everyone for sure. But to the new generation. For sure.

Ray LeeMay 12th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Two thoughts, Ulf. (1) We’ve been publishing bridge books for 15 years now, and the #1 bestseller, with nothing else even close in terms of numbers, is a book on conventions for near beginners. Bridge players want to learn conventions the way chess players want to study openings — even though bridge players should really be learning about cardplay, and chess players should be focussing on endings!

(2) We can argue about why WOW is so successful (and it too is the leader in its field in terms of numbers, with nothing else even close), but it is without doubt the simplest and least complex of the MMORPG’s. The more complex the game, the fewer players. WOW has something of the order of 8-10 million; EQ2 perhaps 500K these days, and EVE (surely the toughest of all of them to learn and play) about 300K. Which suggests that no-one ever lost money going for the lowest common denominator.

I’m not advocating free-for-all complexity so much as pointing out the arbitrariness with which some conventions are regarded as too tough to play against, whilst others are allowed. Linda’s example of Muiderberg 2’s (weak 2’s showing 5-5 in a known major and an unknown minor) is a good one — it’s a useful convention, and can be defended as though it were a simple weak two. Why not allow it?

Bobby WolffMay 12th, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Not allowing a weak 2 suit opening bid (5-5) with say at least a minimum 6 HCP’s and a known anchor suit is the height of ridiculousness. Having said that, let’s take a look at probably why that is and suggestions for correction.

1. The Ray Leeistrators (even with consultation) who make these decisions, are not qualified to determine what factors to consider (such as a known anchor suit) and sadly do not begin to have the experience necessary and even if they do, should be fair minded and not biased enough, to not consider it from both sides.

2. Again, it should never be a political decision (all too often happens) based on some home brew. The people chosen to make these important decisions should all be named in neon and be accountable for their votes and why. Political protection has no place in this process.

3. Turning to the players seeking to play, using their new toys, must also be accountable to bridge in general, and any use of the new conventions must also be advertised in neon and, if determined by another group of ultra qualified Ray Leeistrators and high-level players, to be nothing more than a poisoned gas trap for opponents or merely a personal agenda for their success, should be swiftly severely disciplined again with publicity, not so much to embarrass the culprits, but rather to educate what will be tolerated and what will not be.

4. Anything worth doing is not without risk, including this project, but the end result may be a startling improvement in the fun of the game (not to mention innovative), but with protection against possible wrongdoing clearly evident all along the way.

Mark HortonFebruary 25th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I hooked into this while looking something up.

I recall many years ago playing in the Grandmaster Pairs with Rita Oldroyd against Sally Brock (she was a Horton then) and Sandra Landy. No screens by the way.

I opened 2dx, Sandra doubled, Rita bid 2hx – pass or correct. All Pass. I had a weak two in spades! I had picked off their heart fit but alas, they could not make a game.

As I was around when the Multi came into fashion I can testify that it did cause problems – as would any unfamiliar convention – but these soon vanished. What is impressive is that the convention has stood the test of time.

Now I come to think of it the ACBL could invite me to give some lectures on Multi with a view to allowing it to be played more often – but perhaps the main initiative has to come from the members and the clubs they belong to.

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