Saturday, January 26, 2013

Psychopaths and bridge

I've recently read and enjoyed one of last years crop of new bridge books: Shades of Grey by Ken Allan. This is a book about cheating – but in a light-hearted vein – and therefore a lighter, perhaps more easily accessible read than Truscott's The Great Bridge Scandal or Chua's Fair Play or Foul?

I found the whodunnit style rather engaging. As the book progresses, the style turns into a how'd-they-get-caught which is equally interesting. The characters are believable, even if there is perhaps a little too much intrigue for the "Soo" region of Ontario. I would definitely recommend it.

The only odd thing was that people who saw me reading the book would ask "have you got to the naughty bits yet?" These people were apparently free-associating the book with the 2011 erotic best seller Fifty Shades of Grey. I can't say if the latter book has any bridge in it but, strangely enough, the 2012 bridge book does have a few, albeit very mild, naughty bits.

My only complaint is that an important character in the book, Rocky, goes missing and we never find out his fate. It's possible I just missed it, but I don't think so.

I learned a lot about psychopaths in the book, as one of the characters is professionally acquainted with psychopaths and one of the cheaters may be one. Not all sufferers turn to a life of crime but psychopaths tend to have no guilty conscience and do not get embarrassed easily by doing bad or even stupid things.

One of the things that keeps most of from making really idiotic bids at the bridge table is our fear of embarrassment, and possibly our conscience prevents us from treating our partners thus badly.

Our robot partners on Bridge Base Online suffer from no conscience or embarrassment – and therefore can be considered psychopaths. Take for example a hand that arose last week in an ACBL robot tournament. My hand, as dealer at matchpoints with none vulnerable was ♠AKQT7654 Q6 – ♣QT4. Perhaps I began the train-wreck with my 1♠ call. The hand just seemed too good to open 4♠. LHO showed hearts and a minor with 2♠ and partner passed (take note). RHO bid 3 and I decided that the time had come to put things to bed with 4♠. But I had reckoned without my partner who so far had underbid his hand somewhat. His call? 6NT.

I watched in some amusement as the opponents wrapped up 9 tricks and then let partner in (their defense was less than optimal – they should have taken the first 11 tricks!). Here is the whole hand:

If you hover over my 4♠ call, you will see that it is supposed to show (according to the Robots' system) a hand with good spades and about 20 hcp. Clearly, my hand was not so well appointed as that! But even so, is it sane for partner to bid 6NT with two suits unstopped?

So, did this result (-400) score the world's coldest bottom? Not at all. We got a 25% board! Although N/S can make 6♠, only one pair (of 24) got there. Many were in 5♠ often doubled. One optimistic pair got to 7♠ which was allowed to make on a diamond lead. Par on this board is actually 7X by E/W down 4. Several E/W pairs (our "teammates") were allowed to play (and make!) 5, thus saving us from ignominy.

And I should point out that we had company. Five other pairs had the exact same auction and result as ours.

Going down eight (even undoubled) is generally such an embarrassment at bridge (although I have it on good authority that Michael Rosenberg once went down seven –350– in 1NT when his opponents were cold for a grand but were unable to bid) that those of us with a conscience won't do it without being fairly sure of our stoppers. The Robots suffer from no such inhibitions. In short, they are psychopathic bridge players!


  1. I play with the robots for fun, but know that the bidding will often have hiccups like this one. I'm at home, I yell out loud, then move on.