Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Announcements: More! More! More!

If my blog posts so far have been pretty esoteric, I suppose this is the one where I completely lose touch with reality. Yep, this is about how we should have more announcements. Never mind the fact that the ones we have already are so controversial that it would be suicidal for the L&E to try and impose any more - this one is straight out of the "If I Ruled the World" folder.

But I don't want you to think that I believe every situation can be dealt with using announcements. Far from it. The consequences of having too many announcements are much worse than those from having too few. We got along well enough without any announcements before last August. Announcements are only of use in a very limited set of circumstances. Let's start by listing three conditions that are absolutely necessary for announcements to work:

  • The rule must be easy to understand and remember.
  • Announcements must only apply in situations where players can be expected to know exactly what their agreements are.
  • The announcements must actually have a purpose - they must be justified by one or both of the reasons I gave in the previous post. (That is, avoiding alerts for common artificial bids, or avoiding unauthorised information from asking questions.)

These are absolutely non-negotiable. To give an example, it was once suggested that all take-out doubles should be announced as "take-out" and all penalty doubles should be announced as "penalties". This scores well in terms of being easy to understand, and does solve disclosure problems, but it still would be an awful regulation because of the second condition: in complicated auctions, no-one has firm agreements about the meanings of doubles (though they might have general agreements which are relevant), so they can't be expected to make an announcement.

In addition to the above points, there are two other things that would be helpful:

  • Ideally, new announcements should only affect pairs playing unusual methods.
  • Announcements work best when the agreement can be described easily and effectively in a short phrase rather than with a long explanation.

However, these are not as essential as the three main conditions above, and indeed these two things tend to work in opposite directions: unusual methods will generally be more difficult to describe.

Given these conditions, there are only a very restricted number of situations where announcements might usefully apply. Two in particular stand out, and I would like to talk about those.

1. "Negative" Doubles

This forms part of my wider ideas on the alerting of doubles. In contrast to the proposal mentioned above where all penalty and take-out doubles would be announced, which I think is a terrible idea, there is one particular situation where announcing doubles might well be useful. This is when there has been an opening bid, followed by a natural suit overcall from opener's LHO (below 3NT) and a double from opener's partner. Ignore for the moment the importance of making the rules in this situation consistent with the rules for doubles in general. What would be the best rule in an auction such as 1S : (3D) : Dbl ? My suggestion is this:

  • If the double is for penalties, then do not alert or announce;
  • If the double is for take-out, then announce as "negative";
  • If the double has some other meaning, then alert.

This would solve two problems that we currently have in this situation: firstly that some players who play double as penalties don't realise they have to alert, and secondly that when a double is not alerted, some opponents feel the need to check that it really is a take-out double as it is supposed to be.

But perhaps the best thing about this rule is that it also works when the opening bid was at the 2-level, or was in NT. In the auction 1NT : (2H) : Dbl , for example, the traditional and most popular meaning is penalties: so again the current rule means we have problems with people not alerting penalty doubles, but here it's worse because opponents might get the wrong idea even if it is disclosed correctly. And in the auction 2S : (3C) : Dbl , I've seen people very angry to find out that they were supposed to have alerted a penalty double. The EBU's current rule (an unalerted double is take-out) does well in minimizing alerts when the opening bid was a natural 1-of-a-suit, but people find it terribly confusing in the other situations.

Of course, my suggested rule wouldn't fit in with the rules we have at the moment about alerting for doubles in other situations. It is designed to be part of a system where, with the one exception for negative doubles, only very unusual doubles are alertable. In fact my specific suggestion was that apart from the negative double situation, no doubles would be alertable except:

  • Doubles of natural opening bids. (Below 3NT, a double of a natural suit opening is expected to be for take-out; a double of a natural no-trump opening is expected to be for penalties);
  • Certain very specific unusual doubles. (Perhaps just anti-lead-directing doubles.)

So really while the rules for the specific negative double auction may appear slightly more complicated than the current ones, the scheme as a whole is much simpler.

[Incidentally, I could do with some help in lobbying about this, so if you think this is a good idea, or even if you just agree with the basic principle that neither take-out nor penalty doubles should be alertable in auctions more complicated than the "negative double" auction, please grab your nearest L&E member or other influential person and tell them.]

2. Opening bids which are currently alertable

This is an obvious candidate for announcements because opponents will very often want to know the meaning of such a bid. As with a natural 1NT opening, the problem is opponents asking questions. For example, after a 1C opening it is easy for an opponent to ask a question in such a way that he reveals that he has clubs himself. While we could say that opponents should be able to find out the meaning by looking at the convention card, experience suggests that even when a convention card is available, opponents still like to ask directly.

In theory, all opening bids which are currently alerted could be announced instead. That would certainly be a simple enough rule to understand. But it might be wise to look at narrower categories of opening bids.

  • Two-level suit opening bids. Currently all two-level opening bids are either alerted or announced. If the alertable bids were announced instead, then that would make the rule for such bids very simple: they would all be annouced. This makes a lot of sense, particularly when the opening bid is 2 of a major, since the introduction of announcements means that an alerted 2H or 2S bid is now quite surprising, so opponents will very often ask anyway.
  • "Short" 1C and 1D opening bids. An announcement for these would be useful in order to distinguish them from the "genuinely" artificial minor-suit openings which are currently alerted. The same goes for a natural opening bid which is alertable because of some unexpected agreement (e.g. 1D "natural but could have longer clubs"). This would also have useful consequences for the alerting of doubles under the current rules - a double of a natural or short minor is expected to be take-out whereas a double of an artificial bid is expected to show the suit bid.

So there are particularly good arguments for those opening bids to be announced. Note that this wouldn't make the rules much more complicated, since "announce natural 2-of-a-suit bids" becomes "announce all 2-of-a-suit bids" and the "short" 1C/1D is an unusual method which most players would not need to worry about. Having said that, I think there is still a good case for all alertable opening bids to become announcements instead.

But there is one difficulty which I've avoided talking about so far. That is, there is such a wide variety of possible meanings for these bids, it would be impossible to define "official" wordings for announcements for them all. I used to think that this made the idea of announcements for these bids a non-starter, but now I don't believe it would be a serious problem at all. The solution is to allow players to word their annoucements in whatever way they think best, but to have a list of recommended announcements for the more common methods. (These recommended announcements would include the short ones we already have for natural two-level suit bids.) Add to this a little bit of common sense - for example if a relatively long explanation is given the first time a bid comes up, a shorter form would be acceptable if it comes up again against the same opponents - and I think it would be fine.


Martin Carpenter said...

I think people will get used to the current situation with lerting doubles given time.

Also very few pairs DO have proper agreements about what their negative doubles show.
ie would you only announce 1C - (1H) - dble if it show =4S as with original version?

However announcements for 'short' 1C/D opening bids *do* make sense. Same goes for potentially canaped openings.
(especially with transfer openings and the like now legal.).

You would need to carefully differeniate between 'better minor' (normal 5CMaj), 1C = Natural or balanced and various even more ambigious precision types.

Do all these still need alerting?

If so certainly the better minor 1C/D could be sensibly announced along with perhaps the Nat/Bal type.
(less clear this one.).

Could almost usefully announce the minimum length :)

Anyhow these make more sense than announcing 1NT range to me....

DavidC said...

"ie would you only announce 1C - (1H) - dble if it show =4S as with original version?"

Yes, part of the attraction of this scheme is that you would have an opportunity to define what was expected of a "negative" double. I would expect a negative double at the 1-level to promise four cards in any unbid major (but may or may not promise length in other unbid suits). If a pair had agreed something different then that would be very unexpected and ought to be alertable.

If they have just agreed to play "negative doubles up to 3S" or whatever, without really discussing what it showed, then they would announce them. Seems fine to me. If they don't have an unusual agreement, there's no need to alert.

As you might have gathered, alerting of doubles is a pet topic of mine and there is a danger of me going on and on about it at length when provoked ...

Basically I think you're right that people will get used to our new rules, but only in the sense that they had got used to the old ones as well - they were used to not understanding them. I've written a previous post on this so I'd better not go into it again. But what I consider to be the worst problem with the current rules is that people don't have firm agreements about doubles in complicated auctions: the rule saying an unalerted double is for take-out only works in auctions where people have clear agreements about which of their doubles are take-out. This is why I want to restrict alerting to very simple auctions (or possibly some other very unusual agreements as well).