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Subject: What's the point of a bidding system? rss

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Craig Duncan
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OK, obviously one point of a bidding system is to efficiently convey information about your hand to your partner.

Really, though, my question is more precisely about the rule in Bridge that opponents have a right to know the details of any bidding system that you and your partner are using. My question is regarding the point of THAT rule.

As I understand it, the rules of Bridge permit an opponent to ask your partner what he or she has interpreted your bid to mean, and the rules require your partner to answer honestly. Also, I'm told that in most tournaments you must supply your opponents with a written account of your bidding system (if it is not a standard one).

I suppose the idea is that if you and your partner develop some special bidding system known only to the two of you, you thereby gain some unfair advantage. But that does not seem right. Your opponents have the same opportunity you and your partner do to develop their own system, should they wish. So it is not as though you have some privileged opportunity they lack. Indeed, if you and your partner labor to develop, perfect, and memorize some brilliant and complicated bidding system, it seems unfair that your opponents should be able to neutralize this effort by insisting that you and your partner provide a clarifying interpretation of each bid.

Am I missing something?

(OK, this is my third posting on Bridge in less than three weeks -- see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/391796 and http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/388888 for my other ones. I think this is my last one for now. I just find the Bridge phenomenon somewhat fascinating as an outsider.)
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Sean Shaw
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Actually, I think that's just a set rule in duplicate bridge. In rubber Bridge I think it's still variable whether that's standard or not.

In some ways it means that Bridge is a more perfect information game. In duplicate bridge, it's because the game is supposed to be a manner of skill over luck. Every person plays the same hands and whoever gets the highest score with the hands show that they played with more skill and ability and can play better overall.
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Craig Duncan
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I guess I can see that. But it still feels a bit like a case in which someone, say, labors to develop a brand new opening in Chess (a perfect information game), but the rules of Chess permit your opponent to ask you to explain your opening strategy and then require you to provide an honest answer.

I realize that that is not quite the same case, but it seems in the ballpark.
 
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It's just the way that the people who run tournament Bridge want the game to play--I don't suppose there's anything in the game that would break if you allowed secret conventions. But I think the game would suffer considerably and I suspect most other Bridge players would agree.

The concern isn't that your imaginary brilliant partnership will come up with an incredibly precise bidding system. The real worry is that they'll come up with an incredibly artificial one, whose main purpose is to confuse the opposition. This isn't that hard to do and might even have a temporal element ("On the first hand, when I bid Diamonds, I'm showing Spades, on the second hand, it'll mean Hearts, etc."). This might be loads of fun for our inventive pair, but it would make life very frustrating for the other partnerships. The only alternative then would be for everyone to use a secret and artificial bidding system. Skillwise, this would take you right back to where you started, except that now everyone would be putting in pointless hours coming up with new tricks that have nothing to do with mastering the game.

The thing is, one of the big skills of Bridge is drawing conclusions about the hand from the bidding. Each of your partner's bids has a meaning, of course, but good players also make inferences from what their opponents bid and what they don't bid. If you bid Spades, I'm going to tend to put those cards in your hand. If you opened with a pass, I'm going to draw conclusions from that, particularly if you play some high valued cards during the hand; at some point, I'll be able to assume your partner has the rest of the good cards, or else why didn't you open the bidding? This is a very enjoyable part of the game and it would be a shame to see it disappear because of an opponent's secret set of conventions.

Besides, it's not like players aren't allowed to lie. You can make any bid you like and bluff your head off. However, your partner mustn't have any more information about the veracity of your bid than your opponents do. Some partnerships even play with structured fake bids--if I'm going to lie, I will only do so with a very specific kind of hand. This might help my partner figure out how to respond if he begins to suspect my bid is a bluff. However, you guessed it, this information must be shared with your opponents prior to play.
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David desJardins
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cdunc123 wrote:
Really, though, my question is more precisely about the rule in Bridge that opponents have a right to know the details of any bidding system that you and your partner are using. My question is regarding the point of THAT rule.


There are several reasons (you could simply view it as a historical accident, it wasn't part of the original design of the game), but here are some of the main reasons, I think:

1. It's almost impossible to detect and prevent cheating if you don't know what system the players are using. No matter how suspicious their actions and results, they can claim they were somehow based on their secret agreements.

2. Bridge gained popularity partly because of bridge columns and analysis, the value of the game as a spectator sport would be mostly wiped out if you couldn't understand the meaning of what the players are doing.

3. Competing at a high level would be that much more difficult if you had to constantly change your agreements in order to keep your opponents from studying your past play and deciphering them. It would make the game less accessible.
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Craig Duncan
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OK, I'm starting to see the light... This really helps!

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Andy Latto
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You seem to be asking for a philosophical reason, while I think the reasons is at some level the reason for any rule of any game---because the game designer thought it would make a better game that way.

As to why the game of bridge is better with full disclosure than with no disclosure, I can think of three reasons.

1. If you could keep your bidding system a secret, it would of course be to your advantage to do so. But if you played a lot with the same people, they would figure out your system by observation. So you would have to learn several different systems, and switch between them. This produces both a greater memory load, and an inelegance; the fun of bidding system design is to try to construct the very best system you can, and with hidden systems you would have to play a system you thought was inferior much of the time.

2. The challenges in bidding system design, deciding what to bid, and (especially) the play of the hand is made more difficult and interesting by the fact that the information you are communicating to your partner is also available to the opponents. While there are occasional opportunites for deception and bluff, most of the time you have some additional information about your opponents' hands from their bidding, and this additional information makes the play of the hand more interesting.

3. It is crucial to the way the game of bridge works that the only information transmitted between you and your partner is by the bids made and the cards played, not by intonation, hesitations, facial expressions, or other signaling channels. Much of the fun of the game revolves around communicating as much as you can in this extremely restricted language. Since bridge at the time of its invention was commonly played for money, it was important to have a game where cheating could be detected. It would be nearly impossible to detect cheating in a world where bidding systems were secret. In a world where they are public, you can catch cheaters by finding discrepencies between the bids people make, and the information they have through the legal channel of the bidding system.

If you're playing with friends you trust, reason 3 (which I think was the historical reason) doesn't apply, and you could play the bridge variant where you play secret systems if you like. But for reasons 1 and 2, it would not be as much fun. And if you're learning with friends, it will be most fun, and you will learn most quickly, if you all agree to play the same system, so you can freely rotate partners without having to learn multiple systems.
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David desJardins
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andylatto wrote:
You seem to be asking for a philosophical reason, while I think the reasons is at some level the reason for any rule of any game---because the game designer thought it would make a better game that way.


Harold Vanderbilt, the inventor of contract bridge, didn't have rules about conventions and disclosure as part of the game. Those came later, and evolved over time. They weren't arbitrary decisions by a single individual, they were the result of a collaborative group process. If you read accounts of early bridge tournaments/championships, the question of what kinds of agreements were legal and what kinds of disclosures should be expected were quite unsettled in the 1920s and 1930s.
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Sean Shaw
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DaviddesJ wrote:
cdunc123 wrote:
Really, though, my question is more precisely about the rule in Bridge that opponents have a right to know the details of any bidding system that you and your partner are using. My question is regarding the point of THAT rule.


There are several reasons (you could simply view it as a historical accident, it wasn't part of the original design of the game), but here are some of the main reasons, I think:

1. It's almost impossible to detect and prevent cheating if you don't know what system the players are using. No matter how suspicious their actions and results, they can claim they were somehow based on their secret agreements.

2. Bridge gained popularity partly because of bridge columns and analysis, the value of the game as a spectator sport would be mostly wiped out if you couldn't understand the meaning of what the players are doing.

3. Competing at a high level would be that much more difficult if you had to constantly change your agreements in order to keep your opponents from studying your past play and deciphering them. It would make the game less accessible.


I think #2 is the BIGGEST of the reasons, as my personal opinion. It would cease to be as easily discussed afterwards by spectators and players if bidding was secret. They all love to discuss what the proper bid should have been, or what order it should have gone...etc.

#1 is not as big a factor, especially in today's era of playing. Cheaters can normally be easily identified and tossed out. However, it does help to prevent it or identify it occasionally.

#3...Bah...Humbug. It would make it less accessible to spectating and after game talk, but I think it may actually make high level play MORE interesting overall. Plus, most of them will use a standard bidding system anyways as most of the bidding systems are chosen because they have strengths that other ones do not have. It just means they would have to be better able to identify what bidding system their opponent was using (to use the parallel already stated above...as like chess openings).
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David desJardins
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GreyLord wrote:
#3...Bah...Humbug. It would make it less accessible to spectating and after game talk, but I think it may actually make high level play MORE interesting overall.


Well, one appeal of bridge is that it's an intellectual game that you can play at the highest levels without a full time commitment. Very different from chess, for example. I think you would wreck that if players were constantly modifying their systems and deciphering those of opponents, between matches. It's already much harder for non-full-time players to compete in some international championships, for example, because they have to prepare to play against lots of different (known) systems. The work to prepare against constantly varying systems would be an order of magnitude greater.

Quote:
Plus, most of them will use a standard bidding system anyways as most of the bidding systems are chosen because they have strengths that other ones do not have.


Have you played much high-level bridge? I think you're drastically underestimating the value of having complex bidding systems the opponents know nothing about.
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Craig Duncan
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Well, one appeal of bridge is that it's an intellectual game that you can play at the highest levels without a full time commitment.


Interesting to hear that. From my perspective of someone considering taking up Bridge, it is true that while learning Bridge may not be "full time" work, to me as an outsider it seems almost on a par with learning a foreign language (with the bidding system being the obvious analogue of the foreign language). While learning, say, Swedish would not be full time work, it wouldn't be something one could easily learn in a two-hour session every other Saturday (which is about what my regular card circle of 4 people averages). Same with a bidding system, it seems to me.

So, since my card circle has grown a bit weary of our staples Oh Hell!, Sieben Siegel, and (to a much less extent) Spades, and we wish to learn something new, I've been tempted by Bridge. But I'm now thinking maybe something like Tichu, with a less steep learning curve, is a better fit. (We tried Sticheln but it fell flat with the others... I'm not sure why.. But not being dictator/overlord of our card group, I can't force them to play it again....)

 
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David desJardins
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cdunc123 wrote:
From my perspective of someone considering taking up Bridge, it is true that while learning Bridge may not be "full time" work, to me as an outsider it seems almost on a par with learning a foreign language (with the bidding system being the obvious analogue of the foreign language).


That seems a good analogy. My point is that many people learn and use two or more languages even though they don't have full-time careers as translators or linguists. Similarly, people can compete in bridge at the world championship level and still have other full-time careers. Of course it is still a lot of work. But it is very different from being a chess grandmaster, for example, which pretty much excludes doing anything but chess.
 
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Larry Levy wrote:
The concern isn't that your imaginary brilliant partnership will come up with an incredibly precise bidding system. The real worry is that they'll come up with an incredibly artificial one, whose main purpose is to confuse the opposition. ... This might be loads of fun for our inventive pair, but it would make life very frustrating for the other partnerships. .



Yep, the most fun I ever had with bridge was when a high school buddy and I invented an alternate bidding system to confuse the opposition, though after a couple of hands they refused to play anymore. Spoilsports...
 
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David's points are all excellent ones. I'll just add that the requirement to make your bidding system known to your opponents is vital for the health of tournament bridge. Bridge isn't nearly as popular as it was 50 years ago, but there's still an awful lot of people who regularly participate in organized tournaments, either for money or Master Points (or both). The bulk of these folks don't bother to keep up with all the latest gizmos the pros come up with each year (and there's a bunch of them). What would be the fun for people like that to play in a tournament if you continually run up against opponents where you haven't the slightest idea of what their bids mean? I'm not talking about systems designed to confuse, but established advanced bidding systems, many of which are highly artificial. Then there's the myriad of conventions (artificial bids)--even the professionals have trouble keeping up with all of them. It would be like playing a deduction game where half the players are bilingual and give all their answers in Esperanto, but the others only understand English. Not only would the English speaking players be severely disadvantaged, they'd be mighty frustrated too.

The current system lets players of all backgrounds enjoy tournament Bridge without having to memorize all these crazy bids. When you meet your opponents at a table, you look at their bidding card to see what their basic system is and which conventions they use. Now you can follow what their bids mean, which really is a prerequisite to playing skilled Bridge. Rather than require you to remember all this (or to follow all the subtleties of some of these involved conventions), you are allowed to ask at any time the meaning of a bid. This puts the onus on the players making the bid, not on you. It's an excellent system that lets players of all skill ranges play together. It also means that tournament Bridge can remain financially viable, since it's the entry fees of these less advanced players that make the whole thing possible.
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D-Rider wrote:
Larry Levy wrote:
The concern isn't that your imaginary brilliant partnership will come up with an incredibly precise bidding system. The real worry is that they'll come up with an incredibly artificial one, whose main purpose is to confuse the opposition. ... This might be loads of fun for our inventive pair, but it would make life very frustrating for the other partnerships. .

Yep, the most fun I ever had with bridge was when a high school buddy and I invented an alternate bidding system to confuse the opposition, though after a couple of hands they refused to play anymore. Spoilsports...

Did you have a Double Fizzbinn bid?
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Lucas Hedgren
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Ok, followup question.
Now that we have established that bids where the meaning is apparent is important to Bridge, why have conventions at all? Why not allow the explicit exchange of info?
(I know virtually nothing of Bridge, so please bear with me.)

For example, if a particular bid means "I have a lot of Diamonds," then why not allow the player to actually say "I have a lot of Diamonds."? I mean, if the meaning of the bid is required to be knowable by all players, why have a separate bidding "language" other than English (or any other easily accessible language known by all the players) ?
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Brian Bankler
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Apart from the answers given by others...

1) Tournament bridge is often played with 2-4 hands versus a set of opponents, then moving. You don't have time to observe their systems unless they disclose.

2) Tournament bidding also specifically outlaws some systems because it produces highly random outcomes (which, due to the vagaries of scoring, may affect people not at the table! But primarily those at it).

But the main reason, I suspect, is the same reason that Golf regulates new technologies ... to keep the game interesting for everyone. If my right hand opponents opens 2 Hearts, and that could be a) A strong bid, b) a weak bid, c) an intermediate bid (all reasonable treatments, although weak twos are most popular right now) what do I do with a medium strength hand and heart shortness? Against B, I should strive to compete, against C I should compete somewhat and against A I should probably shut up. Now, my holding changes the odds of an opponent holding A/B/C, but if I have to just guess?

Not very interesting. A hand takes ~7 minutes, and if it all comes down to guessing what my opponents mean, that one decision renders the other 6:45 fairly meaningless. Now imagine some bizarre meaning to two hearts (no hearts, lots of spades) just to trip me up. It's a big crapshoot, and if I wanted to play The Amazing Karnac, I wouldn't be at the bridge table.

So, no hidden agreements.
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boomtron wrote:
Ok, followup question.
Now that we have established that bids where the meaning is apparent is important to Bridge, why have conventions at all? Why not allow the explicit exchange of info?
(I know virtually nothing of Bridge, so please bear with me.)

For example, if a particular bid means "I have a lot of Diamonds," then why not allow the player to actually say "I have a lot of Diamonds."? I mean, if the meaning of the bid is required to be knowable by all players, why have a separate bidding "language" other than English (or any other easily accessible language known by all the players) ?


Because the bidding is quite constraining. Bids not only convey information, but they set the requirement for the contract (how many tricks must be made, and what will be trump). Since the bids have to increase (an "auction") you have to balance exchanging information without bidding too high (which turns your positive score into a negative one).

From a communication theory standpoint, you only have so many bits of information you can transmit. How to encode them is an interesting little problem, and building a better bidding system is something that lots of bridge players spend lots of time thinking about.

One may as well ask why Tichu only allows exchanging three cards, instead of letting partnerships pool everything and then create two hands.

You certainly could play that way, but would it be interesting? I think the constraints make for an interesting game.
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David desJardins
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boomtron wrote:
For example, if a particular bid means "I have a lot of Diamonds," then why not allow the player to actually say "I have a lot of Diamonds."? I mean, if the meaning of the bid is required to be knowable by all players, why have a separate bidding "language" other than English (or any other easily accessible language known by all the players) ?


The game would be really boring if you could say whatever you want. The optimal strategy would be if you have a very strong hand to just tell everyone exactly what cards you have. Then your partner could choose the appropriate contract and make your hand dummy.
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Andy Latto
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Quote:
Now that we have established that bids where the meaning is apparent is important to Bridge, why have conventions at all? Why not allow the explicit exchange of info?


To me, this question is a lot like asking "Since the point of game X is to get as many victory points as possible, why not just let anyone playing take as many VP as they want, any time they want?"

Yes, it's harder to communicate when you can only speak in the 15-word language of bidding, with further strict constraints on when you can say which word, and the need to communicate enough to determine the correct contract without going beyond this contract. And it's harder to gain VP in Puerto Rico if you're only allowed to take them when you ship goods, rather than any time you want to. But that challenge, which makes things more difficult, is exactly the fun of the game.
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Lucas Hedgren
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I guess I wasn't clear. My premise isnt that you may say whatever you like, my premise is that you say out loud what your bid means. You are still confined to the allowable bids, and whatever convention you have chosen. But if a bid of a certain amount and a certain suit at a certain point in the bidding process means x, and everyone knows that it means x, why not just say x along with your bid? (Again, I could be way off base here, and missing something important.) Thanks for the replies.
 
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Eugene van der Pijll
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boomtron wrote:
But if a bid of a certain amount and a certain suit at a certain point in the bidding process means x, and everyone knows that it means x, why not just say x along with your bid?

Basically, two reasons:

1) It's time consuming, and often unnecessary. Most people at a certain location play the same system, or one of a small set of systems. Constantly telling your opponents what your bid means would quickly get very annoying (apart from telling the other tables exactly what you're doing; in duplicate bridge, these tables will play the same hand later in the evening). The only exception is when you have a few uncommon, very artificial bids; these bids are alerted: you just say "alert" to signal that your bid may have an unexpected meaning. The opponents then can ask for more information, if they want.

2) With longer explanations, it's easier to tell more about your hand than allowed. For example, a bid of 2C can be explained as "at least 20 points, or maybe 9 quick tricks" (or something like that), but also as "9 quick tricks, or at least 20 points". I hope you can see how that can be used to transfer information about your hand, even inadvertently. So that's why the alerting of bids, and the explanation of your system, is done by the partner of the player who made that bid.

One subtlety is that you have to explain your agreements, but you don't have to explain your interpretation of partner's bid. E.g. there is a convention where one player bids 4NT, asking for the number of aces in partner's hand. Partner may respond with 5D, which means (IIRC) 2 aces. If asked, the first partner has to explain "this means 2 aces", even if he has 3 aces himself, in which case his interpretation of 5D would be "he's gone mad and has forgotten our system". But the opponents are not entitled to know that.
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Sean Shaw
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pijll wrote:
boomtron wrote:
But if a bid of a certain amount and a certain suit at a certain point in the bidding process means x, and everyone knows that it means x, why not just say x along with your bid?

Basically, two reasons:

1) It's time consuming, and often unnecessary. Most people at a certain location play the same system, or one of a small set of systems. Constantly telling your opponents what your bid means would quickly get very annoying (apart from telling the other tables exactly what you're doing; in duplicate bridge, these tables will play the same hand later in the evening). The only exception is when you have a few uncommon, very artificial bids; these bids are alerted: you just say "alert" to signal that your bid may have an unexpected meaning. The opponents then can ask for more information, if they want.

2) With longer explanations, it's easier to tell more about your hand than allowed. For example, a bid of 2C can be explained as "at least 20 points, or maybe 9 quick tricks" (or something like that), but also as "9 quick tricks, or at least 20 points". I hope you can see how that can be used to transfer information about your hand, even inadvertently. So that's why the alerting of bids, and the explanation of your system, is done by the partner of the player who made that bid.

One subtlety is that you have to explain your agreements, but you don't have to explain your interpretation of partner's bid. E.g. there is a convention where one player bids 4NT, asking for the number of aces in partner's hand. Partner may respond with 5D, which means (IIRC) 2 aces. If asked, the first partner has to explain "this means 2 aces", even if he has 3 aces himself, in which case his interpretation of 5D would be "he's gone mad and has forgotten our system". But the opponents are not entitled to know that.


That sounds like a variation of the Blackwood convention. Standard Blackwood is very similar but different. It uses the 5 bids to determine the number of Aces however.
 
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Craig Duncan
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Thanks for all the interesting posts to this thread. I've learned a lot from it.

At the risk of changing topics, let me go back to my mention of Tichu in my previous posting to this thread. As I mentioned, we are group of 4 fairly proficient card players and we are looking for a new game.

Is there any reason we should put in the sizable effort to learn Bridge rather than Tichu (as of yet we don't know either)? Bridge may be the deeper game (how much deeper?), but when you look at the ratio of "unit of depth per unit of effort to learn the game" I wonder if Tichu comes out better.

It's not that that particular ratio is ALL we care about (if it was, we'd just stick with Oh Hell!, which has a pretty high ratio of that sort). But still, if Tichu offers 50% the scope for tactics and strategy as Bridge, but has a learning curve only 10% as steep as Bridge, that seems like a pretty good deal.

So, any thoughts on the pros and cons of taking up Tichu vs. taking up Bridge?
 
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Philip Thomas
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boomtron wrote:
I guess I wasn't clear. My premise isnt that you may say whatever you like, my premise is that you say out loud what your bid means. You are still confined to the allowable bids, and whatever convention you have chosen. But if a bid of a certain amount and a certain suit at a certain point in the bidding process means x, and everyone knows that it means x, why not just say x along with your bid? (Again, I could be way off base here, and missing something important.) Thanks for the replies.


Bridge is often played in silence using cards for each bid (club play is often like this, not just tournament play) so that no messages are conveyed by the way the bid is said. A fortiori, saying what the bid means would create extra risk of this sort.
 
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