Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why I play standard carding (bridge)

I am probably one of the few players left of my caliber who prefer standard carding. Then again, I'm probably also one of the very few players of my caliber who prefer sound initial action bordering on Roth-Stone.

The most obvious reason for my preference for standard carding is one of familiarity, as I've been playing it for so long it's harder to remember playing UDCA when I do agree to it. I understand the merits of UDCA (or those who play UD attitude with standard count), but I feel that not many people understand the merits of playing standard. Upside-down signals are technically superior, with some advantages mentioned originally by Sheinwold in the Bridge World back in 1954 . However, my preference for standard is not about technical merit but about the feel of the game.

Counting is important. It's not that I only value feel and don't bother to count. While I do play mostly standard carding, I also play 3rd/low leads against suits for a better count of the suit. One of the advantages listed by Sheinwold is that sometimes you just can't spare a card that high for an encouraging signal. Fine, then don't. But if you count the pips correctly and have a good feel for how the play goes, more often than not you will realize when to continue even if your partner doesn't give you an encouraging card. If I were to analyze this further, my guess would be that this advantage of an unspared high card is most important when the signaller has length in that suit, whereas the situation is almost detrimental if the signaller has a shorter holding especially with one or two lesser honors. So perhaps the solution is to combine the two. Perhaps play standard to an opening lead (from presumed length in notrump) and then upside down when we try to find partner's suit in the middle of the hand. Or another way would be to adjust based on how many cards are being held in the suit in dummy. If dummy in front of me has 4 cards in the suit versus 2 cards, I'll play upside-down versus standard, and if dummy behind me has 2 cards versus 4 cards, I'll play upside-down as well since I'll probably need all the high cards for leading through length in the closed hand.

I won't argue about the second advantage listed but the third one can be avoided with even more superior discard agreements than just UDCA. In fact, I've always had a belief that even if you don't play them at any other time, you should always play some version of a lavinthal discard against 1NT or 2NT because too often you'll need to keep the whole 5+ card suit to take enough defensive tricks while at the same time give a clear signal to partner.

As for the feel of the game, it's been a long long time since I've played with anyone who has agreed to really play every card to the max on defense. That means not only the initial signals, but that every subsequent card also has a small meaning to the hand. Since most of us don't do that, we follow suit. Following suit has a flow and a rhythm, dictated by the pips we're dealt. When someone plays an unnecessarily high one, it draws my attention. This is especially useful if I'm playing online, because I'm probably doing 2 other things on the internet and watching TV at the same time.

Another reason I want standard encouraging cards to stand out is the way that I view defense. The opening lead is the number one card played in the hand with the least information available. Second on that list is breaking a new suit in the middle of the hand. Chances are you're going to be wrong more often than you are right just on that lack of information alone. That's why I would prefer a system where partner plays an unnecesarily high card to tell me I'm right rather than to tell me I'm wrong.


thg said...

Watching the Vanderbilt on BBO last night, I noticed that Helgemo led a singleton diamond against a 4H contract. Helness won the Ace of Diamonds and cashed the Ace of Clubs in order to get a signal. Helgemo played the deuce from KJxxx2, and Helness switch back to diamonds, giving his partner the ruff.

It sure looked like the Deuce of Clubs was a standard attitude card.

If Helgemo and Helness plat standard carding, that makes two top pairs (Hamman and Zia being the other).

The Pretender said...

According to what I've found on the internet, Helgemo/Helness play upside down attitude with standard count. No idea what the 2 meant for them there.