Jeff Tang: It seems you travel a lot. How much time do you spend on the road?
Mike Lawrence: Not that much, actually. I play in four or five regionals a year and give three or four teaching seminars somewhere in the States and around the world. Japan was the most recent. When you throw in a cruise or two, it may come to 60 days. As you know, some of the full-time professionals play in 40 or more regionals a year. Adds up!
JT: Grant Baze literally plays hundreds of boards a week on OKbridge. Would you ever consider doing something like that? It seems quite convenient to play from home.
ML: Yes, you can play a lot on OKbridge and now there are two or three other sites you can play such as e-Bridge. For me to play as many hands as Grant does would wear me out. He is a glutton. The time I spend on software takes up most of my waking hours. Between Karen, my wife, and myself, we spend four or five hours a day working with Fred Gitelman to produce these things.
JT: I know your "Conventions" software will be released by Christmas. Does it mostly cover conventions that can be grafted onto a Standard American card?
ML: "Conventions" is devoted to conventions that can be found on most ACBL convention cards. Most standard conventions will be covered. I give a short discussion of a convention first. Next are a large number of hands you can bid with the computer. Each hand offers some pertinent point on the convention. In most cases you get three or four choices of bids and my views on each of them. What makes a bid good and what makes it bad? Finally, for a few conventions, there are hands to show you how to defend when your opponents use them. These include things like Michaels and the Unusual Notrump.
For scientists, I have included a number of conventions, mainly of my own creation, that you have not seen before. A new Drury for one. How to bid when the opponents compete over your Jacoby 2NT response. Each convention gets an overall grade too. Some are better than others and I try to indicate which ones I really like.
Before anyone asks, I do not cover conventions like Bergen Raises, Lebensohl, or Inverted Minor Suit Raises. I had to keep a few in reserve for the sequel.
JT: Are there any conventions you see people playing in tournaments that you particularly dislike?
ML: For the most part, if they are allowed in the ACBL, I am indifferent. The trend in European bridge is to play a lot of conventions that mess with your bidding as opposed to being constructive. Put me in the group that does not like them.
Most conventions that you see in the States will be a reasonable one because they have stood the test of time. Flannery was once a big deal but it is dropping out of style, properly so in my opinion.
JT: Is there anything you think the ACBL can do to improve their events or attendance?
ML: This is the million dollar question that many would like to have an answer to. I think that professionals have done bridge a major disservice, for instance, for many reasons. Small players know that they can't win when there are pros around. Also, some pros play with a complete disdain for their opponents, a quality I have been told I manifest now and then. Pros should be something players like to see and I don't think that end is being achieved.
When I was in Japan, this exact question was asked of me. They have a similar setup to ours. In Tokyo, bridge is popular now but their average age is about ten years younger than ours. My hostess, Haruko Koshi, asked me in one of the classes what I thought. Seems that Japanese bridge is aging as is ours and they have learned from watching us that there are troubles ahead. They are trying to solve the problem now before it becomes as serious as it is here.
One item that crossed my mind then and which remains now is to ask the younger players what it is about bridge that attracts them. They know. It is better for them to tell us than for us to guess. In the class in Tokyo, we had a twenty-eight year old student and a couple in their early forties. Yes, I would say that my classes there were to a modestly younger group than the ones I teach here.
I can see what is happening but knowing what to do is hard. I can remember when I started to play, I absolutely positively loved the game. Lived for every minute of it. On one occasion I won 90 points at a regional and actually got a small mention in the local newspaper. Talk about cloud nine.
What do you think, Jeff? Do you have enough experience to compare years ago with now?
JT: I am only 25 now, but I think that some of the extreme bidding gadgets allowed today prevent the average social player from getting interested in duplicate. All my young friends love the mini no-trump and crazy two-bids, but I think those types of methods discourage novice to intermediate opponents from wanting to show up for another club game.
ML: That will happen. I am not sure how to define this problem. New players, especially creative ones, seem to have to go through a period where they try unsound methods before learning that you can't win with them against good competition, at least not on a regular basis.
On a different note, attendance is down in most places which is an important measure of how well bridge is doing. By this measuring rod, we are in trouble. I have tried to get the ACBL to contract with me to create a bridge software program that introduces bridge and its human elements to new players but that has not happened yet. For some reason, when the idea is presented, it gets good reviews but when it comes time to finalize an arrangement, the heads start swiveling in different directions. Fred Gitelman created a program which the ACBL gives away for free. It shows the mechanics of bridge from bidding to play to defense, but it falls short of showing the many faces of bridge which include all of the following.
Oh yes. I did not mention that in Japan they have 50-table club games. I visited one of their clubs and found the room completely filled.
I hate to harp on what I found in Japan, but there was one thing that absolutely struck me. I played one night with Haruko. It was in one of the smaller clubs. Game time was 7:45. At 7:40, players were in their seats. We began at 7:45 and finished 24 hands somewhere around 10:25. Three minutes after the game, the director came to the tables and handed out hand records. He did this without any fanfare. Just like it was expected. Then in another four minutes, I was given a computer printout (5 x 6 inches) with a detailed resume of the boards we played. It included the contract that was played, the tricks taken, the matchpoints for each board, our total score, our percentage, and our ranking. These touches were appreciated. Care to play in Japan? P.S. We had 67%.
JT: I bet the married couples didn't get into any fights there either?
ML: In part, this is probably because there is a code of respect in the country. I have heard from some who visited there that pairs do argue, but it seems to be less mandatory than here.
JT: My biggest pet peeve is when one bad player berates another on flawed analysis. "You should have led this or that" when they are totally wrong.
ML: That, Jeff, is human nature. If both players could analyze a hand correctly, there would be no arguments. One of the things about bridge players is that they bring spirit to the table. Wanting to win is normal and being excited about the game is good. I believe that some of this "misanalysis" is going to happen and to some degree, it is part of the game. It is when "asshole and moron" start entering the conversation that I think things have gone too far. Would you like to play in a game where the conversations were all placid? "Oh partner. How utterly foolish of me. Your defense was perfect and I failed to follow your lead." I doubt you could live with much of that.
JT: You have played with a lot of partners, I am sure, in your 40+ years of experience. Did you ever have a favorite partner?
"In Japan they have 50-table club games. I visited one of their clubs and found the room completely filled."
ML: I have had many of the best partners. Regrettably, I am not always the nicest of partners and that has cost me some partnerships. Among my many partnerships are included Stansby, Hamman, Blumenthal, Goldman, Kantar, Weichsel and Granovetter. I have played with others, but these are the partnerships of two or more years. No lack of talent there.
JT: Do you still play Scrabble? Most people probably don't know you wrote a good Scrabble book many years ago.
ML: Yes. I still play, but only with my wife and versus "Maven", the standard for Scrabble players. Maven is a terrific program that allows you to play against it at any level you choose. You can be totally crushed or not according to how difficult you set Maven to perform.
JT: Is there anything in bridge you haven't done but would like to accomplish?
ML: There is nothing particularly that I wish to do, but I would like to do everything again. Bridge is a continuing game. Win today and tomorrow it is forgotten. Constant winning is the best part of the game. It means you are playing consistently.
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