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In the board game Go, there are two basic styles, high and low. "High" is all the rage for about ten years, until people have forgotten how to play "low." Then "low" gets "rediscovered," and people win tournaments with itfor about ten years until high becomes popular again.

In bridge, people used to "underbid" in competitive situations. That is, they failed to overcall, make takeout doubles or "balance," even when it was to their advantage to do so (that is when the penalty for going down was less than the opponent's probably game). Then people learned these techniques and did them a lot. Have they ever overdone such competitive techniques (that is, give away more games or gone down more than they should have)?

Have people made "mistakes" in the past that would be considered such by today's standards, even though they may have been acceptable bids at the time they were made?

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3 Answers 3

In the "old days" (before duplicate became popular in the 1960s and 1970s), people used to UNDER bid in competitive situations.

That was partly because the "Law of Total Tricks" hadn't yet been discovered (by Jean-Rene Verne in 1966), which stated that if both sides had (potentially) eight trumps in their best fit, (at least) ONE side could take eight tricks; if both sides had nine trumps, then nine tricks; and if ten trumps, ten tricks; even though they would average only 20 HCPs a hand.

The other reason was the likelihood of a "set;" people shied away from small minus scores, even though they might "save" a larger-scoring game which was reported as a PLUS score (for their opponents).

When duplicate became popular, people started to understand that what mattered was performance on the "curve," down two doubled non-vul (-300) was preferable to letting the opponents score a game. And techniques were developed for competitive bidding, including "pre-empts," takeout doubles, overcalls, "balancing," etc.

Nowadays, I believe that the spread of the above techniques may have caused the pendulum to swing the other way; that people pre-empt, overcall and balance with "junk," e.g. suits headed by QT (or less). That's not a bad idea at "favorable" vulnerability (non-vul vs. vul.) but may be overdoing it at other vulnerabilities. Down three doubled, is no fun, unless it's for -500 against a 620 game. And if you overcall at the two level with QTxxxx, and partner has "nothing," it's too easy for one opponent to double you with AKx. Besides, you don't really want an opening lead to your QTxxxx (one of the main purposes of an overcall).

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Really sorry Tom, but your history of Bridge in general, Duplicate in particular, and bidding systems and styles is American-centric at best, and elsewhere completely incorrect. Bad bidders either under-bid, or over-bid, or when really, really, bad do both with absolutely no pattern that a partner can attempt to meliorate. Intermediate players do less of both, and Expert players do little of either; that is part of why they are Expert. –  Pieter Geerkens Oct 11 at 17:22
    
@PieterGeerkens: But "expert" standards change from era to era, and twenty years from now, at least some of what we do today would be considered mistakes given the knowledge of the (later) time. So a related question might be, what did experts do before the promulgation of the "law of total tricks" that might have been acceptable at the time, but might be considered mistakes today? –  Tom Au Oct 11 at 17:40

There is a famous anecdote of Hans Kreijns (playing with Bob Slavenburg) overcalling Benito Garozzo's 4 Spades pre-empt with a 4 Spades overcall, on 4 to two top Honours, sometime in the 1960's. That's an overbid.

Seriously, when I learned to play bridge in the early 1970's, overbidding was everywhere. Precision had just become famous, and everyone was opening ratty 10 and 11 counts because C.C.Wei's Precision team did it.

Since then overbidding has declined in the bridge company I keep, and so has underbidding. Of course, it is not the same company: the quality has increased substantially, and the bidding has generally become more accurate. Less overbidding, and less underbidding, because the bidding is simply better.

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A lot of "butt-in" interventions are there not so much in a constructive manner to try to find the best contract but to interfere with the opponents' bidding system, which is usually less equipped to deal with it.

Pick up most bidding systems and it can be pages and pages of bids and responses and rebids etc, and very little on what to do if the opponents come in.

The intervener does of course take a risk but hopes to get away with it, especially as the opponents have not necessarily yet ascertained their holdings and may therefore prefer to continue by showing their partners what they have rather than going for penalties.

The real downside of the intervention is that when the other side does eventually win the hand, they will often be able to place the opponents cards better.

Methods like DONT over a strong NT, (and most of the other bids made over a strong NT) are good examples.

In the early 1990s I recall the top international teams were quite aggressive. The Poles in particular. Opening strong pass systems were not uncommon. If you're able to find archives of old tournaments, the 1991 Bermuda Bowl final between Iceland and Poland might be quite interesting to analyse. Of course you have to bear in mind that the Bermuda Bowl is a "teams" tournament and the final is over a lot of boards, and played against a team who has your system notes and has studied it well.

In a match-point pairs event which is a win or lose situation, where a mishap gets you "only" a bottom (but can potentially be recovered quicker) and against opponents who only see your system card in the last moments, one can often be more aggressive.

In the mid-1990s the "Law of Total Tricks" was popularised by Larry Cohen, and Robson & Segal's "Partnership Bidding" was published, primarily about competitive bidding and I think these two publications improved competitive bidding in general among the middle-skilled bridge players. (Decent club-level players who are not international / Bermuda Bowl standard but are not novices either).

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