liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
[personal profile] liv
My mother had a theory that the best route to a good social life was to know how to swim, play tennis, dance formally, and play bridge. This turned out to reflect a society that isn't quite the one I grew up in, but still, I did learn some of these skills.

Jewish law also commanded our parents to teach us to swim, which has the very practical benefit of reducing one's risk of drowning; possibly giving access to social groups based around swimming is a side-benefit. When we were kids swimming helped, since people would have birthday parties at the local pool, or invite friends to join them for a swimming session. As we got older this became much less prominent and I don't really know the sort of people who invite me to swim in their private pools and who would find it weird if I didn't know how to swim.

Tennis I did try to learn but I was way too unfit and uncoordinated to be any use even in an entirely informal friendly game. And anyway tennis parties are a thing I read about in books written way before my lifetime; I've never really moved in the kind of circles where people have their own tennis courts!

My attempts to learn ballroom or similar dancing have never gone very well. Not only do I not really know people who host balls, I rarely found myself in situations where learning that sort of dancing was even an option. At school, for example, we mostly did modern dance which I largely hated, there were no formal steps and it was all about making up sequences to express particular ideas or match the chosen music. I wouldn't have minded doing some choreography if I had the basic building blocks of moves to be able to choreograph, but as it was it all just seemed pointless.

I also attended ballet classes like many young girls from a certain social class, and ballet was a complete disaster. Even in classes aimed at tinies, my physical skills were so bad for my age that I was utterly hopeless, and I was held back repeatedly until I was in a class with much younger children. And then I got in a fight with a teacher, I mean literally a fight, not a disagreement, I screamed and yelled at her over a perceived slight to a younger girl I felt protective of, and of course yelling at a teacher was unacceptable so she sent me to the back of the room and told the other kids to ignore me. I was not going to be ignored, so I marched through the class doing their exercises, crying and shouting, and hit the teacher in the face. Which resulted in me getting permanently thrown out of the class. Although I'd never been in such bad trouble in my life, I was sort of proud of this in a way, because I had succeeded in getting a reaction from an adult, and also relieved at not having the humiliation of being nearly 7 and unable to manage exercises expected of 4-year-olds. But I did also end up missing out on what might have been a foundation for being aware of my body and learning sequences of formal steps to music.

Dancing never really clicked for me until I moved to Scotland and discovered the ceilidh scene; in Scotland people don't really tend to "call" dances very much because everybody learns to dance in school, but with a friendly crowd it's possible to pick up the steps. The other thing that's good about ceilidh style dancing is that it doesn't really matter if you're bad at it; some people do it for show, of course, but dancing in a big group and not being quite on the beat or forgetting some of the steps doesn't matter nearly as much as with pair dancing. Some places in England have a ceilidh or similar English folk dancing scene, Cambridge certainly does. So in that sense having some clue how to dance has been good for my social life, though I still can't really waltz properly.

Then there's bridge. There was an old guy at shul, someone from the Yiddish East End culture, who was a competitive bridge player and agreed to teach us kids. I remember really enjoying the lessons; he was a good teacher, and pretty good at adapting his style to young children. He used a lot of aphorisms which helped us to remember trick-taking techniques. I became a better player at things like hearts and whist than you might have imagined, but honestly a lot of the point of bridge went over my head. I think the game is probably too complex for children, even children like me and the sibs who were a bit intellectually precocious and generally liked strategic card games. In particular I really didn't understand the point of bidding; the metaphor of an auction led me to believe that the aim was to "win" with the lowest possible contract, so I tended to underbid strong hands and think I'd got away with something if I made it to be declarer with only a one or two-level contract, and overbid weak hands because I wanted to beat my opponents in a contested auction.

In terms of opening social doors, the bridge lessons were not a resounding success. Kind of the opposite way round from tennis or swimming: as a child I really didn't know anyone under 80 who played bridge at all, and most adults were not as patient as our teacher at adapting their game to young children who didn't fully understand the underlying concepts. I played a lot at home with Mum and the sibs, and that was fun, but it didn't help me to make friends. Even the portable skills of trick-taking games weren't very useful socially; most kids our age regarded things like whist as purely a matter of luck and weren't impressed that we could win more than our fair share of the time.

As an adult, it turns out that geeks, as well as people who are socially well-connected, often like bridge and socialize over bridge games. I did try playing a little bit at college but found the scene too competitive. But when I started going out with [personal profile] jack I got him to re-teach me how to play bridge. This worked really well, partly because it has given me the opportunity to play social games with people like [personal profile] naath, [livejournal.com profile] emperor, [personal profile] ptc24, [personal profile] cjwatson and others.

Also because it happened that [personal profile] jack was really interested in the problem of how to teach bridge. The thing about bridge is that unlike many skills / games, it's hard to break it down into separate steps which can be practised individually until you're good enough at the subskills to be able to put different bits back together and actually play the game. It's hard to work out what is the first concept that a beginner needs to be taught. This means a lot of people do get frustrated learning bridge because they get overwhelmed with so much information, or they try to apply a concept they've learned and it turns out not to work because of a combination of circumstances, etc. So [personal profile] jack had put some thought into how best to break things down so that a beginner can actually learn and not get frustrated.

One thing we've been doing is practising bidding some hands. This is partly from necessity because we can practice bidding just the two of us in half an hour, whereas if we're actually going to play we need to get a four together! But it's also been really useful because my trick-taking skills, though rusty, are basically in place, but I never properly understood bidding, besides which I learned a very old-fashioned (mostly pure Acol) system, and I have forgotten a lot. It's very good to bid, and then post-mortem the auction immediately rather than after an intervening hand of play, by which time you've probably forgotten what you were thinking when you made the bids you did, especially if you're a beginner. [personal profile] jack has also taught me to count losers rather than just high-card points and length, which is what I learned as a child. I think both systems are equivalent in most hands, but when they're not loser count can often be more informative.

What's really helped me is [personal profile] jack explaining the difference between communicating information to your partner, and deciding on a final contract. Obviously the limited "vocabulary" of bridge bidding means this can't always be completely clear, but having the distinction in mind means you can usually work out which interpretation is more likely. Doing this has really helped me to learn some conventional / artificial bids, because it no longer feels like, as it did when I was a kid, that I'm learning by heart essentially a code-book of completely arbitrary bids which have been assigned a meaning other than "I think we can make a contract of this number of tricks in this suit". Like, it makes sense that 4NT means Blackwood "how many aces do you have?" because there are very few circumstances where you would actually want to be playing in 4NT and much more commonly you need to know whether you have enough aces to make slam. It's also been helpful in giving me confidence that I can bid straight to game or straight to slam if I have enough information (and enough good cards!) without worrying that I'm going to be accidentally telling my partner that my hand is really strong. In those circumstances, I have information and my partner potentially doesn't, which means that I get to decide which contract we're playing, and we're aware that deciding is different from communicating.

I know that [livejournal.com profile] fluffymark has been taking a different approach to teaching bridge, because his "students" are people who didn't play a lot of trick-taking games as kids. So he started out by games where he would inspect all four hands, work out how the auction would be likely to go, and tell them which pair would be declarer and in which contract. So the learners get the experience of playing a bunch of hands, with a realistic contract they're aiming for so it's more like baby-bridge than a completely different trick-taking game, but without having to stuff their brains with information about bidding. That in turn helps them to get a feel for what makes a contract likely or difficult, so when they do start bidding they're not completely in the dark about what level they should be at. Another approach I've seen is allowing beginners to ask a question of their partner instead of bidding, which must be a simple binary question regarding one fact about what they hold. That helps to teach how to use the auction to communicate, without having to spend a lot of energy on learning what specific conventional bids mean.

Playing with the Cambridge geeks is good fun, they're competitive in that they take the game seriously, they're not just vaguely waving cards around while they gossip, but they're still more interested in having a fun social time than winning as such. And I'm somewhere in the middle in terms of skill, which is always nice, I am getting to the point where I'm good enough that I can learn from better players rather than just flailing. I'm getting enough games that I'm actually improving, and getting to put into practice the stuff I'm learning.

And coming full circle, [personal profile] jack has made himself very popular by making a fourth at bridge when he's visiting my parents. So far we seem to be an exception to the maxim that couples shouldn't be bridge partners! I think this is partly because we've set out very determined that we are interested in improving our game not "beating" our friends, and also because we are using bridge learning as a sandbox to practise communication. So ways for [personal profile] jack to point out that I did something wrong without turning it into a fight, and ways to come to a compromise quickly when we have incomplete information or limited time for negotiation. And generally being partners, something which we strive for in our life in general, not just at the bridge table!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 01:40 pm (UTC)
highlyeccentric: Tea: it's what winners drink (Tea - for winners)
From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric
I haven't the faintest how to play Bridge, but if you like co-operative games involving sharing limited information, you might also like Hanabi. The whole group play as a team, the aim being to reassemble your fireworks (without being able to see your own hand - only the hands of other players) in numerical order without blowing yourself up. Every time someone plays a 'wrong' component (ie, a number out of order), you lose a chunk of your fuse.

I've found a group of card game geeks here (one of whom looks QUITE like you, and has a general demeanour of Cambridge Geek, such that I have had to check several times that she did not go to Cambridge and as far as I can tell has not slept with anyone in the bizzarely extended chain of people-who-have-dated-cambridge-geeks), and Hanabi is one of the games of choice.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:21 pm (UTC)
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric
I dunno, in theory my chances of encountering cambridge geeks and their erstwhile lovers are greater here than in Sydney! But mostly I collect you folk *by accident* on DW.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 02:13 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Bridge-learning strategies: I attended a beginner bridge lesson at university once (at the behest of a really, really good bridge-player friend of mine who'd cunningly manoeuvred me into it) and it didn't really take.

The lesson was the first in a series (I didn't go back for the rest) and I recall that it was entirely focused on defence – so, not even just 'leave bidding until later and practise the trick-taking bit', but specifically the case in which neither you nor your partner is dummy, so they concentrated a great deal on the ways you can signal to each other during play (e.g. by choice of what to discard in a void suit).

One big problem for me was that it was way above my level because I'd spent half my childhood playing Hearts, and as a result all my instincts for trick-taking games had been honed around the idea that usual goal is to avoid winning tricks (and also trumps were a foreign concept to me). What I really needed to get me started was a remedial How Not To Keep Forgetting This Game Is The Other Way Up class!

But also, I'm inclined to think that unless you go into a course like that already having a great deal of motivation to learn bridge for some other reason, it really did a bad job of getting people interested – surely you want to arrange that as soon as possible people are actually playing a game rather than solving theoretical problems, so that they find it fun and are thereby motivated to keep at it.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:08 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Yes, I see your point. Even so, I feel as if starting with a few rounds of just playing the bridge tricks phase, perhaps with some carefully prepared hands + externally imposed contract to give a sense of challenge, might have got me into a mindset where I'd started to perceive for myself the usefulness of being able to signal back and forth during defence and might then have been eager to learn the best ways to do it.

Perhaps I was expected to have some experience at whist before I even came to the course. That might make sense.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:31 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Perhaps I was expected to have some experience at whist before I even came to the course. That might make sense.

I think they probably assumed that without even realising it. It's like chess lessons may assume you know how the pieces move, and how to take turns, even if you don't know how to play well. But some people don't, and bridge has a lot more of that, even before you get to any tactical choices at all, even simple ones.

Even then, teaching signalling seems a really bad place to start, because it requires a *lot* of prerequisite skill. I'd start with declarer play, because I think it's easier to see the point if you have a specific goal to aim for and can see the whole hand at once.

I think lots of bridge lessons are like, you teach people a set of rules for how to fake it, so they CAN play in a bridge club, and play in turn, and bid to a plausible contract by following a set of rules they don't understand, but they don't understand even basic principles like "you get more points for bidding this many tricks, so bid that many tricks, but only if you can make that many tricks". And that gets people to the point where they can muddle through playing with people. But it's really hard to *enjoy* it because you do don't really have anything to aim towards...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 02:40 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ooh, yay, I'm glad you made the bridge post. Would you like to make another one about what you've actually learnt? I'd be interested to hear how you describe it *hugs*

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:22 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ooh yay, yes, all that! That's a really good summary.

Don't feel odd for playing a strong NT. Most players in this country use a weak NT, so it's really useful to be able to play that, but in the US it's the other way round.

Likewise, we kind of had a complete miscommunication about weak 2's. But the version you were taught isn't *wrong*, just different. *hugs*

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:22 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Loser counting. Count up all the cards in each suit that are not AKQ. Open with 7 losers, respond with 9 losers.

Do you know, I think that's the first time anyone has actually stated in my hearing (er, IYSWIM) what 'loser' actually means! That's been in my category of 'always vaguely wondered but never quite felt it was the next thing on my list to ask about' for, good grief, must be very nearly two decades now. Thank you.

I'm almost disappointed by the answer, actually – I had conjectured to myself that it would be worked out by a more sophisticated kind of analysis, e.g. K can be a loser if you don't have the A too, and conversely if you have A,K,J,10 of a suit then one of the J,10 can lose to the missing queen but they can't both do that so there's only one loser between them. But I suppose what I missed is that (a) it's allowed to be only an approximate metric, and (b) it has to be simple enough that you can count it up very very quickly before you start to bid :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 04:44 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
There are more other metrics which count more like how you were imagining. If you don't expect your partner to hold any high cards worth mentioning, you can basically count tricks you expect to make directly. Eg. A = 1, AK = 2, KQ = 1, Kx = 0.5, AQ = 1.5 etc.

The problem with any of these metrics is that they're trying to approximate how valuable the honour cards will be when combined with partner's cards. Eg. if partner has the A, then your Kx is one trick out of two. But if partner doesn't have any honour cards in that suit, it's 50/50 (depending which opponent has it) whether you get a trick at all. So maybe you value your king at the average of those values. But then, the ace is worth *more* than one trick, because there's a chance partner has the king, and if so, she/he was counting it for less than one trick, but the ace increases it to a full trick. And any hand-evaluation system tries to (a) average out all of these situations and (b) be easy enough to count quickly.

The reason I like teaching loser counting is that it's easier to see how this process works, and have an intuitive understanding of how to adjust it for a particular situation when you can guess what partner has. If you have Qxx, that's probably three losers. But if partner bids the suit, it's almost certainly only two losers, because partner usually has *some* honours in the suit.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 03:27 pm (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
I love bridge!!! I wish I got to play more.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 03:46 pm (UTC)
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
From: [personal profile] damerell
I think you must grant her the swimming. If drowned, cannot have a good social life.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-01 09:48 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I fall in so often whilst punting that I wouldn't recommend trying it to someone who couldn't swim; punting is a rather Oxbridge-specific sort of socializing though

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 05:12 pm (UTC)
dafna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dafna
My mother had a theory that the best route to a good social life was to know how to swim, play tennis, dance formally, and play bridge. This turned out to reflect a society that isn't quite the one I grew up in, but still, I did learn some of these skills.

With the exception of "dance formally*," I had a similar upbringing with similar mixed results. I did well enough at tennis that I played JV in high school, but haven't really played since. Swimming is more useful, as I live in an area with a lot of water and take ferries frequently. Plus, snorkeling is awesome.

Like you, I never really got bridge as a kid. This despite my parents frequent attempts -- I remain convinced they had 2 kids so they'd always have a 4 for bridge. I did have fun playing hearts & cribbage and other card games. I'm often surprised by how few of my friends grew up playing cards (even poker) and since I grew up basically pre-cable TV and pre-Internet, am not really sure what they did with their time. OTOH, I think the rise of tabletop gaming like Dominion and so on is basically the Net generation(s) rediscovering that it's fun to do something with your friends where you can also talk at the same time.

*I did go to the kind of university that had formal dances but none of us knew what we were doing, so we all stumbled along together.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 10:10 pm (UTC)
dafna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dafna
Yeah, I'm fortunate that my friends who are really seriously into tabletop games realize that not everyone is, so while there's always a table of serious geekery going on at their "boardgame nights', there's also always a bunch of us playing something lighter, like Carcassone, or Scrabble. Or just drinking and reading Cards Against Humanity cards to one another.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-25 07:55 pm (UTC)
lovingboth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lovingboth
When I tried learning Bridge with some friends, c18, the main problem was the hands I got were inevitably 'no bid' ones.

Now, I'd just say that there are a lot better games to play.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 11:53 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I like the fact that there's a high chance people who are into that sort of thing will already know how to play, and the only equipment you need is a pack of cards. I like that it's a long-established game with an international scene, so there's lots of writing about it and lots of opportunity to improve your game and competitions and so on

You could say the same about poker, though, and it's a much more interesting game from a people-reading perspective.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 04:26 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
My parents can remember holidays by talking about which body of water I (as a toddler) leapt into, so swimming lessons were a very good idea for me! I ran into lakes and rivers and the Pacific Ocean and once climbed into a fountain. It never helped my social life, but it certainly helped me be alive when I was later swept out in a rip.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 10:54 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I was a big strong kid who could (and still can) swim and float pretty well. Unfortunately, my mother came in after me and so I had to help her too! 10 people ended up being pulled out but we swam across the rip and some windsurfers came and helped us back to shore once we were out of the dangerous current.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 07:09 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
The thing that really helped me when learning was a computer tutorial - it taught declarer play, and got started with NT. Each deal was set up to illustrate a point, for example to take you through various sorts of finesse. Prior to that, there were too many times where I said to myself, "This is what they call a time to bid 3NT, but I'm no good at 3NT hands, we'll crash and burn".

The program was sometimes a bit "cheaty" - in a situation where you might say, "If I do option A and left-hand opponent has the ace, I go down, if I do option B and right-hand opponent has the ace, I go down, if I do option C it works either way", then if you try option A it will turn out that left-hand opponent has the ace and if you try B right-hand opponent has the ace.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 08:56 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
in a situation where you might say, "If I do option A and left-hand opponent has the ace, I go down, if I do option B and right-hand opponent has the ace, I go down, if I do option C it works either way", then if you try option A it will turn out that left-hand opponent has the ace and if you try B right-hand opponent has the ace.

ROFL! That's often a good lesson to learn even if it's wrong :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 01:57 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
The one I'd originally found was: Learn To Play Bridge - apparently there's a second part, I should have a look at that. There's also an ACOL edition - given that SGOish conventions are more like ACOL than American Standard, it might be worth having a look there too.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-26 01:04 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] emperor
I started to learn bridge at school, although we mostly played hearts or whist. I played an awful lot without really any bidding convention beyond "opening points ~12, replying points ~8; make it up from there", so by the time I came to start thinking about conventions I had some sort of feel for the whole business. As a PhD student, I was fortunate to live in a 4-person household for a bit where we liked to sit down and play bridge or Dopplekopf.

I should try and find a fourth person for 7th July - most camuni staff get the day off because of TdF-related traffic fail, so I'm hoping to arrange some gentle bridge.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-27 09:48 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
"opening points ~12, replying points ~8; make it up from there",

Yeah, that mostly seems to work. Although I keep having doubt, would it actually be easier to understand if you started by telling people "the goal of bidding is to find out if you have 25pts between you", and letting them figure out to open with 12+, rather than telling them to open with 12+, but have no idea what they're actually trying to achieve?

I should try and find a fourth person for 7th July

Good luck. We should invite you and atreic for dinner+bridge some time (but not on the 7th).

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

Page Summary

Top topics

September 2017

S M T W T F S
     12
345 6789
10111213141516
17 181920212223
24252627282930

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags

Subscription Filters