Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea Buttons

Larry Cohen’s Regional at Sea

Day 3 Tuesday December 18, 2012

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I woke up in a lazy mood; I decided not to go walking. I did gather enough energy to visit the Conference Center to check the results and to pick up some coffee and goodies. Russ was already there.

This man embodies LAWful bidding.

Larry Cohen’s talk at 9 a.m. was entitled “Balancing Within the LAW.” The LAW is short for the Law of Total Tricks. For some reason it is usually written in all caps. The idea, which was discovered and formulated by Jean-Rene Vernes, says that if the strength on a hand is distributed roughly equally between the two sides, the total number of tricks produced by the two sides each playing in their best suit is roughly equal to the sum of the total number of trump each has in that suit. So, if North-South had nine spades, and East-West had ten diamonds, the LAW predicts that nineteen total tricks would be available. If North-South could take eight tricks with spades as trump, one would expect that East-West would be able to take eleven tricks if diamonds are trump. If North-South could take ten, only nine would be available to East-West.

The useful corollary to the LAW is that, because of the way that bridge is scored, it is almost always a good idea for each side to bid up to the number of trump that it holds. That is, with eight trump, bid at least two, with nine three, and with ten four.[1]

Although he did not invent the LAW or its corollary, Larry is well known as the most vocal advocate of both. Larry presented a short history of his involvement with the subject. He noted that Marty Bergen had discovered Vernes’s work in the sixties and had introduced it to Larry. Eventually Larry wrote a series of very popular books and articles on the subject. Once he received a very nice letter from Vernes himself thanking him for promulgating his life’s work. Larry framed the letter.

At that point Larry awarded the door prizes, and, mirabilie dictu, my #12 handout was the winner. My prize was a copy of his famous book To Bid or Not to Bid. Before he allowed me to take it, he warned me that it was a little difficult, and he asked me if I was smart. I had to admit that I was. By a very strange coincidence my #12 came up again for the consolation prize, but Larry overruled the computer and awarded the copy of Introduction to the Law, better known as “Larry Light” to someone else.

The lecture, which dealt with both balancing and prebalancing was very informative. My favorite part was when Larry admitted that one of the advantages of having a reputation as an expert was that no one ever doubled your contracts. An exception occurred one time when Larry decided to insert a 3 bid into an opponent’s auction, and one of the inexperienced opponents doubled him. An incredulous Larry asked him, “Do you know how many masterpoints I have?” The opponent answered him with another question, “Do you know how many hearts I have?” Larry went down.

Larry ended with the concept of OBAR BIDS, which was mentioned in a recent Bridge Bulletin exchange with Frank Stewart about prebalancing. Marty Bergen devised this acronym, which is shorthand for “Opponents bid and raise: balance in the direct seat.”

No one questioned his scoring.

The morning session for Tuesday was a three-match Swiss, which would continue with three more matches on Wednesday morning. Each match consisted of only six boards. We teamed up again with Stan and Sandy.

Our first match was against a strong husband-wife team from Arizona. I thought that we might have stolen the match when I made an extremely unlikely 3NT contract on the first hand, but our opponents made an equally aggressive bid on the last hand pay off, and we lost by eight imps. By a strange coincidence Frank and I each used OBAR BIDS on one of the boards in this match. We successfully pushed our opponents to the three level both times, but they made both contracts.

I had to restrain Frank from hitting on Anne Duty, one of the directors.

We won our second and third matches, however. So, at lunch time our prospects were reasonably good. If we did as well on Wednesday, we would probably scratch.

By the time of the lunch break the ship had docked in Labadee, a corner of Haiti that was purchased by Royal Caribbean. Even though a picnic and all kinds of adventurous activities had been scheduled for the passengers, none of the bridge players seemed to evince the slightest interest.

I checked my e-mail to see how Sue was doing. There was one new message from her. In it she related that she had joked with Courtney, the contractor hired by Royal Caribbean to help them in Jamaica, about how we had been pestered to purchase marijuana by so many young men when we came to the island in the nineties. With a big grin he asked her “Are you all right, ma’am,” by which he clearly meant, “Do you have all the weed that you need?”

Sue also complained that she was getting tired of hearing so much about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. She griped some more about Feliz Navidad as well.

Frank suggested that we eat lunch in the Windjammer Café on deck 16. Although the café was located in the aft end of the ship, we deliberately took one of the forward elevators[2] so that we could walk across the Sky Walk. Frank had to drive his scooter into the elevator, which meant that he was facing the rear. When we reached our deck, he needed to back out, but he always asked someone if the way was clear before he exited.

The Sky Walk afforded an incredible view of the play areas of the ship. Since we were at sea, and the weather was ideal, the pools and deck chairs were heavily populated. I greatly regretted not bringing my camera. I resolved to visit the Sky Walk later so that I could take some shots.[3]

It was difficult to believe, but this walk was the only time on the whole cruise that I was out in the sunshine.

Over lunch Frank told me about his medical condition. He had had a heart condition for more than five years. It was so bad for a while that he gave up bridge, which is not exactly a strenuous activity. He decided to rent the motorized cart from the ship because he had found that walking from one end of the ship to the other tired him out too much. On the other hand he seemed to have no trouble with the short walks in the restaurants or the Conference Center. Frank had the rather unsettling habit of prefacing any remark about the future with the proviso: “if I am still on the right side of the grass.”

Lunch at the Windjammer.

Frank had an electronic pillbox that beeped when it was time for him to take his pills. Unfortunately he was unable to hear the high-pitched sound that it emitted. However, Frank was a rather outgoing guy, so someone was generally around to inform him of the beeping.

Lunch in the Windjammer was a very pleasant experience. It featured a very wide array of foods in a cafeteria format with three or four islands that dispensed the entrees and side dishes. If you did not like what you had selected, you could go back and get something else.

Iced tea, coffee, lemonade, and a few other drinks were free, and one could consume as much as one wanted. A soft drink package was also available for $6.50 per day for adults or $4.50 per day for children. This entitled the bearer to a cup that contained a chip that was readable by the coke machines. The machines on our end of the café were not working on Tuesday.

Throughout the cruise I frugally limited myself to the free beverages. I had ti admit, however, that that Coke machine looked inviting. At home I ordinarily drank about two liters of Diet Coke per day.

At lunch I learned that Frank had three sons, the oldest of whom ran a large bridge club in Boca Raton. For $10 the players got a game and a lunch. He was also opening a second club. Frank told me the location, but I did not write it down.

Frank’s son was born one year after I was. Frank advised me to consider a second career running a bridge club after I retired. No thanks. I plan to play bridge, not to watch others play.

I confided in Frank my obsession with the popes and my love of Italy. He informed me that he had only been there once, to his father’s ancestral home of Pignataro Interamna,[4] a village in Lazio. He learned there the motive for his father’s departure from Italy. Evidently his father, a Roman policeman, had stood up to Mussolini’s Blackshirts in the twenties, and they threatened to kill him.

The afternoon session was an open pairs game of six rounds of three hands each. The second session of the game was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Frank and I had a bad game. I was beginning to get a little disappointed. We seemed to be going backwards. In the second to last round we played against Geri Landes and Russ, who was filling in. I introduced myself to her and informed her that Sue would be arriving at noon on Wednesday. Geri seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of meeting her.

The highlight of the day was the penultimate hand, which is shown at left. I was sitting North and opened 2. Eventually Frank cue bid the ♣A. I responded with a cue bid in diamonds, and he blasted to 6. The play was not difficult, and we nearly scored enough to salvage the round. I just hoped that our luck had turned for good.

Supper was weird. Frank and I dined with ten empty chairs. We knew that the Albigs had opted to go to a show, but we never did learn where everyone else was. Frank was nice enough to share the last of his bottle of wine with me. I assured him that I would return the favor when Sue arrived on Wednesday.

After supper I checked my e-mail. I found this missive from Sue:

Well today's weather was pleasant enough. Warm but a nice breeze made it comfortable under my pseudo-palm tree by the sea. I found shade at high noon! My kinda beach. I sat on my lounge chair writing Florida post cards after I cased the joint and bought a token for the laundry. Even though I brought sunscreen, it, too was with you. So I bought this SPF50 stuff that wards off sea lice and jellyfish stings! Kinda makes me not want to go in the ocean water. Yuck.

I had 1/2 my leftover bagel for breakfast and went to the buffet for lunch. I had hoped to find the Caribbean Grill for lunch where they had burgers & jerk chicken all afternoon, but never found it. Did get jerk chicken at the buffet & it was very good. Also had more roast pork, rice & beans, yellow tomatoes (I happen to like my tomatoes RED) and some goodies for dessert. Tonight I have an 8:00pm dinner reservation at the Italian restaurant where the dress is resort dressy so I will wear my floral blouse from Positano. I finally found the 24 hour coffee! I came up to the room to change into swim gear so I could do laundry of all my other clothes and nap a little and got caught up in a made for TV movie about Michael Skakel & the Martha Moxley murder. Luckily, I only had to suffer through less than half of it.

Sue thoughtfully included this in case I forgot what she looked like.

Well, it has cooled off enough for me to go back outside & do the laundry while I claim my same spot on the beach. Then, I’ll wash the sea lice and jellyfish off me and go to dinner alone. My only interaction with anyone has been with the hotel staff. They are all pleasant enough, but I have nothing to talk to them about except to ask questions that could be easily answered if they bothered to publish anything in their directory or even printed a single map of the “complex”. Oh yeah, I haven't found the clothing optional beach yet, either. Lucky for the natives!

Frank and I played in the evening side game at 8:00. We got off to a great start at the first table. The lady sitting west seemed extremely nervous and apologized to her partner for her poor play. After the round she introduced herself to me as Barbara Forrest, the woman who dumped me before we had played even one hand together.

A few rounds later two very talkative women approached our table. One of them proceeded to spill a cup full of hot water on the table. A little got on my pants, but it bothered her a lot more than it did me. Fortunately the boards were not within her range at the time.

The only bad thing about the round was a hand in which one of the opponents insisted that I had taken two tricks fewer than I had actually garnered. His partner agreed with me, and both Frank and I had already mixed up our cards. We had to call the director. The opponent was polite but unreasonably insistent. I ended up recording the score that I knew that we had earned, and the lady who agreed with us confirmed it. I noticed on a subsequent day that she had changed partners.

Frank and I received a very good score for the session – 66.11 percent. I wished that we had done that well in the afternoon session. Actually, I really wished that we had won our knockout match the previous evening so that we would not have had the chance to play in the side game.

I went to sleep hopeful that this would be the last night that Sue and I would be apart for a while.

[1]  I was interested in determining under what circumstances the LAW best applied. I conducted a study of my database and determined that on not vulnerable hands it works nearly flawlessly at any level even when the opponents double. Vulnerability calls for a little more caution.

[2]  There were twelve elevators at each end of the ship.

[3]  Unfortunately, I also forgot my camera on my second visit to the Windjammer Café, and when I did bring it on Saturday and Sunday the Sky Walk was closed.

[4]  It must surely have one of the briefest of all Wikipedia entries.