Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Not My Very Best Watching

Commentary on matches on BBO takes some skill to do right.  At least I think it does.  There are different approaches.  One approach is what I would call the macho man .  This person is invariably male and he is there so everyone can appreciate how very well he can see the hand.  Before a bid is made he is calling the result.  His focus is on dummy play and he expects to dominate the chat.  He speaks with disdain at almost anything anyone else has and never admits an error.

Macho man can be a good analyst or a poor one.  He is often talking double dummy.  Poor declarer doesn’t always know how the cards lie.  Macho man always has a reason why declarer should drop the stiff king offside or take an unusual finesse.

Then there is chatty Cathy.  Chatty may be male of female and just is in there to say something anything.  She will repeat exactly how you can find the scores for the match or what the weather is like or just about anything else, occasionally even talking about the game.

Then there is the lawyer.  He will argue with anybody about anything.  Some times he has favorite “opponents”, sorry I mean fellow commentators.  David Bird has one who apparently never ever agrees with anything he says.

In general I am much happier commenting when there are no more than 2 others.  Its hard to have any sort of intelligent discussion otherwise. 

All this being said, I commented on two matches today.  One just for a few deals was very pleasant and interesting.  The second was more of a struggle with just too many people.  I probably wasn’t at my best.  I do have an unfortunate habit of sometimes saying the opposite of what I mean.  He should lead a spade, no I mean heart.  I usually have a chance to correct my error, no harm done.  But not always. I made a pretty serious analytical error on one hand but was helpfully pounced on by one of the other commentators.  Fortunately the bridge was pretty interesting at times in the ten short boards. 

I thought the East-West pair in my room (the OR) clearly had the best of it and the score certainly reflected this.  Even when they made contracts I didn’t always like their approach.  Here is an example.

North had limited his hand to 7 points after his partner opened a strong club.  South showed a strong notrump 15-17.  What would you bid on this hand:

s KJ76
h 10872
Copy of d Q93
c J6

Pass comes to my mind.  Even if I was playing Garbage Stayman where partner is forced to bid his better major I would pass.  Our North bid Stayman and they played in 2NT (as opposed to 1NT at the other table).  Declarer made it by guessing how to play diamonds with A10432 opposite dummy’s J6.  As it was all was very friendly.  So this one got by.

This is an opening lead problem

s AKJ109
h 10742
Copy of d 10752

You overcall 1c with 1s.  Your LHO shows a game force with clubs and checks for a spade stopper.  Your RHO bids 3NT.  RHO has Qxx of spades almost certainly.  Maybe Qxxx.  Do you lay down an honor or do you lead a small one or how about a clever red suit lead?

Actually anything but a small spade works.  The spade gives declarer nine tricks without a club finesse.  On any other lead declarer must take a club finesse to partner and the spade return picks up declarer’s Qxx. 

I would have lead the sA myself and I would not have lead the sJ as did our South.  sJ is really only right if declarer has QXXX and partner has XX and partner doesn’t have two side winners.  Partner could easily have a stiff spade so I see an argument for a red card. 

This is quite a sad hand.  South was the perpetrator of a bridge crime.  I think if you wanted to pick one of the seven deadly sins it would be SLOTH.  Here is the hand.

s QJ43
h K
Copy of d AK1085
c AK8
s A1087
h 8632
Copy of d 94
c Q42

North opens 1c and East overcalls 1h.  You double and West bids 2h.  Partner doubles, you bid 2s and partner raises to 4.  The opening lead is the cJ.

How do you play this hand? 

You can see that you have three clubs, two diamonds, three spades in hand (at least).  If you can make a heart ruff or two in dummy there is no problem at all.  An alternative approach is to set up diamonds.  Hearts seems a bit safer.  You win the opening club lead and play a heart.  If you do this you have very little risk.  Our declarer started with trump   Winning the club in dummy to play clubs, he ran the sQ and J.  This won but West showed out on the second round.  He played one round of diamonds both following love and now he changed course and belatedly played the heart.  East won and returned a trump won in hand. 

At this point South has some guessing to do.  One approach is to ruff a heart, cross back on a club, draw the last trump and take five minor suit tricks, four spades, and a heart ruff.  But East is known to be 4-5-?-? with at least one club.  This line will fail if West has only one club.  Is there any line that works on more minor suit distributions?

Let’s say you play the cQ now.  If East shows out he cannot ruff.  Diamonds are 3-3 and you can’t be stopped from setting up diamonds with your clubs as an entry (or a heart ruff).  So let’s say he discards a heart.  Now you play ruff out the diamonds.  Cross to dummy on a club and let East make his trump whenever he wants.  If East shows in I would probably finesse the diamond.  If East wins and returns a trump I win and repeat the finesse.  If East plays hearts now you have to ruff in dummy and decide the distribution.

Anyway, the real mistake on the hand was at trick two.

I am tired and sleepy, time for a nap.


JUDY KAY-WOLFFJanuary 31st, 2010 at 6:13 am


I found your critique on the various types of commentators on BBO very amusing I don’t play on the site and the only time I ever watch is when there is a ‘major match’ that is viewable. However, I have noted sometimes there is a lot of gibberish (maybe just to kill time if a hand is taking an inordinate number of minutes before completion). Not taking anything away from BBO (which I truly believe is one of the most incredible bridge accomplishments to reach players and viewers all over the globe), I do wonder who it is that places the stamp of approval on the quality of those who analyze and comment or is it open to anyone who wishes to stick their two cents in. It all goes back to the subject of many previous blogs, the age-old question — what constitutes an expert? Just curious to know the standards.

Fred GitelmanJanuary 31st, 2010 at 6:38 pm

All of our vugraph commentators, including Roland Wald who works more or less full time (probably “more”) organizing our vugraph program, are unpaid volunteers. While there is no shortage of great players who are willing to volunteer to offer commentary for events like the Spingold, the same is not true for events like the Antarctican Seniors Pairs Championships Quarter-Finals. It is understandably difficult for Roland to hurt the feelings of our most dedicated volunteers by telling them “sorry you are only good enough to be involved in events that few people care about”.

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Roland will let just about anyone who volunteers to be a commentator have an opportunity to do so. If he did not do this then there would be no commentators at all for many events. It is not realistic for Roland to even attempt to screen hundreds of thousands of potential candidates from every corner of the world for bridge expertise. Besides that, bridge expertise is not the only important characteristic for a vugraph commentator on BBO for several reasons:

1) The vast majority of the people in the audience are not experts. They want people to explain things like how Keycard Blackwood works, how to take a finesse into the safe hand, or why bidding aggressive games vulnerable at IMPs is a winning strategy. You do not need to be a bridge expert to explain such things – you just need to be a reasonable player with good teaching skills.

2) Many experts are either incapable or unwilling to “lower themselves” to the level of the audience. I have sympathy for those who are incapable of doing this – it is hard. I have no sympathy for those who are unwilling to do this – for many of them being a vugraph commentator is mostly an exercise in trying to show the world how smart they are.

3) Some experts, including plenty of A1 players, see everything in black and white. It is not rare to hear comments from highly-successful players like “anyone who doesn’t open 3C with Jxxxxx and out does not know how to play bridge”. You never hear these people say “in my opinion” – they state their opinions as if they were facts. The more famous these people are, the more destructive it is to have them involved. I personally find it remarkable that anyone with this sort of attitude could ever be successful at bridge (because it is impossible to improve if you think you know everything already).

4) Having commentators that are familiar with the styles and personalities of players, the history of the event, the venue, etc. adds a lot to the show for the average audience member. You don’t have to be an expert to make contributions in these areas.

5) Same goes for those who have a good sense of humor. The audience likes to be entertained and you don’t have to be a great player to be entertaining.

Fred Gitelman

HanniJanuary 31st, 2010 at 6:39 pm

You should watch Jimmy Cayne play; not for the playing but for the kibitzers remarks. It really is a free-for-all. At first I was annoyed, then angry, then enraged. They spend their whole time insulting each other, each one trying to one-up the other. You can’t shame them and the moderator says he can’t do anything, but the table has been shut down, I think. Now I just enjoy it, some of these people can be quite witty (not as much as they think) and, I have discovered, the group usually disciplines itself. JCayne is easygoing and lets everyone watch and I appreciate that.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFJanuary 31st, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Thanks, Fred.

You came through loud and clear and left no stone unturned. Appreciate your candor. That makes the whole scenario easier to understand.

Let me add, if you ever want Bobby to ‘comment’ on an important match and he has a couple days’ advance notice and no conflict of interest time-wise, I am volunteering his services and he will be happy to accommodate you. Just email him.



Fred GitelmanJanuary 31st, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Thanks Judy (and Bobby). Nice to know that Bobby is willing to be a commentator. If Bobby types anywhere near as well as he has spoken during the “real” vugraph shows that he was doing commentary and I was in the audience, I am sure he would be an excellent addition to our vugraph team.

I am not really involved in this aspect of our operation, but the way it normally works is that Roland Wald sends out an e-mail a week or so before a given vugraph broadcast asking for those who have volunteered in the past if they want to sign up to help with the broadcast in question.

Unless I get permission from Bobby, I don’t want to take the liberty of giving Roland (or anyone else) his e-mail address. If it is OK, just give the word and I will arrange it (or Bobby could also e-mail Roland himself if he prefers:

Fred Gitelman

LindaFebruary 1st, 2010 at 4:47 am

Every so often there are some terrific commentators on BBO. It would be wonderful to have Bobby do some commentary.

As one of those unpaid and average “expert” commentators I try to raise questions and issues and inject some humor into things. I do think it should be entertainment.

I don’t do it perfectly and some times I make annoying mistakes. But overall I hope that I add something.

It’s most fun for me to work with other interesting and respectful people. It is least fun to work in a crowded room with “show-offs”. But that is more from my point of view than the audience.

I think Roland does an incredible job and I think that most of the volunteers do good work. BBO Vugraph has changed bridge. There is no other venue like it. We can’t just tune in the TV and watch the Spingold.

Thanks Roland and thanks Fred and everyone else associated with BBO

Fred GitelmanFebruary 1st, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Thanks Linda, both for your post and for being so generous with your time as a commentator.

I don’t get to watch as much vugraph as I would like these days, but I am sure that speedy brain of yours, your depth of bridge knowledge, and your experience as a writer all contribute to making you a fine commentator 🙂

Fred Gitelman

Bobby WolffFebruary 1st, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Hi Fred,

Let me answer your kind note and invitation to join the commentators on BBO.

First, let me immediately say that I virtually loved being a live bridge Vugraph commentator, usually during World Championships, especially involving ranked teams and strong line-ups.

When my hearing continued to get worse, I had to give it up, since I couldn’t hear my colleagues comments and feared either repeating what they had just said, or worse yet, rudely directly contradicting them.

That fear is eliminated doing BBO since I can still read and will be able to keep up with other comments. However, in order to help more than I hurt the process, I will need to find out just how it will work both as to scheduling and to the specific time requirements.

I still have many other responsibilities which require my investment of time and consequently I would love to have several days notice before I am able to accept an assignment. I, of course, will strongly prefer to deal with important events, such as the Major ACBL National events, particularly team games as well as the important events at the World Championships. As of now I have no certain plans to attend either the ACBL Nationals or sadly, the WBF World Championships. Of course the European Championships would be one of my favorites since I do know most of the really good players in Europe and, in some cases, are familiar with their bridge games, some of their systems and their individual tendencies.

As you can see, my spirit is well willing to help and, if so, I would certainly want to work cooperatively with my fellow assigned colleagues in being able to present a worthwhile show to all who are tuned in. I would like to think that accurate analysis, timely predictions, knowledge of systems, recogniton of options, together with creating intrigue and suspense in the result would be all-important to almost always getting it right. In any event if some of the logistics can be worked out, I would enjoy this strongly missed part of my past life. Certainly I would expect either Roland or you and Roland, to ask certain questions that you, no doubt, need to know.

Let me hear from you. Meanwhile I might suggest that you notify Roland Wald of my getting in touch with him in the next week or so and for him to be able to explain what he would expect from me in order to be a definite asset in the overall production.

Again thanks for your kind words.


Fred GitelmanFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Thanks Bobby! Assuming the e-mail address I have for you is current (I think it is), you should be hearing from Roland soon. If you don’t please let me know and we can make other arrangements.

I have enjoyed watching you play several times on BBO vugraph over the years. Despite my Canadian roots, I am a deep admirer of your style of bidding. Hopefully your willingness to share your considerable wisdom with our vugraph audiences will result in more players understanding that common sense and good judgment are a lot more important that learning the convention of the week 🙂

Fred Gitelman

Ross TaylorFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Well, that all worked out rather nicely. Bet Linda is pleasantly surprised her blog produced this result!

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