Another LAW Failure

The third exception bit me.

I was sitting West for this hand, which was the last one played on a Saturday afternoon.


My partner opened 2 with what is a typical collection for him in the first seat at favorable vulnerability. I doubt that many of the other South’s bid 3, but the player at our table did. I anticipated that she would have much better hearts, which made me think that my king would be working. On the other hand, my diamond suit looked like three losers. I tempered my ambitions and bid a humble 3 to extend the preempt. North surprised me by bidding 4. The auction then came around to me. We definitely had nine spades. South probably had at least six hearts. I figured the opponents for ten in all. That would give my partner a singleton, and even if he had two, my king would probably cover one. I decided on 4, which was the final contract.

In the first round I would have doubled with South’s hand. If she had done so, North probably would have played 4, and I would have let her. If my partner could find the magical club lead, we would earn 200 points on the hand. As it was, we lost 50. There were nineteen trumps (ten for them and nine for us) but only seventeen tricks (eight for them and nine for us). The LAW says that this is unlikely in the extreme.

I was not disappointed with my partner’s inability to find ten tricks. I was disappointed to see that we had four certain tricks on defense. So, I should have passed or doubled.

There are three negative adjustments to the LAW: Negative purity, negative fit, and negative shape. These factors result in some holdings being better for defense than for offense.

The most common problem is reportedly negative purity, which is usually identified with broken honor holdings, especially in the trump suit. It is certainly true that both sides have such holdings in their respective trump suits. However, they do not result in defensive advantages. North-South can win only one spade trick on defense, and East-West has no heart tricks if that suit is trump.

In fact, after the first lead the hand plays itself. If North is declaring in hearts, and East finds the killer lead of the 10, East-West gets one spade, one diamond, and three clubs. If East is declaring in spades, North-south gets one spade, one heart, two diamonds, and no clubs. Aside from the trump suit, these are exactly the same results on both offense and defense.

The actual problem for North-South is clearly the third factor, negative shape. The two hands have identical distributions, which means that their ten trumps are not worth as much as they appear. Notice what happens if North trades a low diamond to South for a low club. They gain a trick in both suits if they are declaring in hearts, but they do not gain anything on defense. Furthermore, if North trades a low club for a low diamond, the same effect occurs!

Larry Cohen addresses this problem in To Bid or Not to Bid:

Patterns to be especially wary of are 4-3-3-3 and 5-3-3-2. If your distribution is flat, it becomes statistically more likely that the other players also are flat. If everyone’s distribution is balanced, it often depresses the number of tricks. However, flat distribution does not negatively affect the trick count as often as minor-honor problems do.

East-West has a similar problem. West’s trumps would be more valuable if they could be used for ruffing, but West has fewer cards in no side suit. My only ruffing value was in partner’s shortest suit.

What can be learned from this hand? The main thing is to be very careful about using the LAW on a hand with flat distribution. In this case, however, It was the opponents’ distributions that upset my calculation more than my own. In retrospect I asked myself “How weird (in percentage terms) was the perfect mirror imaging of the opponents’ hands?”

Start with the heart suit. South overcalled at the three level. She cannot have a solid suit; the king is in my hand. When I saw North’s raise to four, it seemed quite likely that South must have six pieces. The most likely reason for choosing a suit over a double in this position is because of an inability to support one of the suits. To be conservative, let us say that the chance of each of them having five hearts is no more than 40%. This is extremely conservative. If nothing was known about either hand other than the fact that the opponents had ten hearts between them, the probability would be 31.18%.

What about the other suits? There is really no good indication available of how any might split, so let’s consider random distributions. The probability of one of the three-card suits splitting 3-3 (assuming hearts are 5-5) is 39.16%. The probability of the other three-card suit splitting 3-3 (assuming hearts are 5-5 and the other suit is 3-3) is 47.62%. Of course, if all three of these suits split evenly, the fourth must also. The probability of all four splitting evenly is therefore no more than 7.46% under very conservative assumptions.

I made the right bid after all.

Bone Spurs and Flat Feet

My draft status and DJT’s.

This recent post on the CNN website brought back memories of the strange beginning to my illustrious military career.

I took my pre-induction physical in October of 1970, the first year of the lottery. My exam took place in Kansas City. Since procedures varied greatly from region to region, I can only speculate about what the physicals were like in other regions.

When I arrived for the physical, I was surprised by the appearance of about half of the guys sitting in the waiting area with me. Each bore an easily recognizable item, and everyone who bore that item seemed to flunk the exam. Furthermore, everyone who did not have one seemed to pass. Can you guess what it was?


* * *


What did you guess? A crutch, a cane, a seeing-eye dog? No, the item was a briefcase. The people who failed the physical uniformly came prepared to prove that they suffered from some disqualifying condition. Those who depended upon the army doctors to discover their maladies were disappointed.

The exam itself was perfunctory. I suppose that the doctor would have noticed if one of us was paraplegic or missing some limbs, but less obvious conditions did not interest him much. I was anticipating the check for flat feet that is mentioned in the above article. My footprints looked like those of a duck with toes. Here is how the doc checked us for flat feet (and maybe bone spurs). The whole group of us (dressed only in underwear) were told to face away from the doctor and toward the wall. He then issued the following commands: “Right foot up, left, OK.” Unless you practice for a week, you will not be able to say that as fast as he did. At least half of the guys never raised either foot.

It would have been a joke for them to exclude me for my feet. I have walked long distances over rough terrain many times, and my feet never bothered me much.

One thing that the people at the physical were very interested in was detecting color blindness. This was done one-on-one and lasted at least fifteen minutes. Some people were, in fact, determined to have that defect. I don’t remember that that exempted them, but it probably limited their duty assignments.

Donald Trump did not go through this process. He has said that he made himself eligible for the draft in 1970 because of his extremely high number. His was 356; mine was 154. You only had to survive one lottery. Guys with his number were not drafted in 1970. He was safe forever.

Donald Trump graduated from college in 1968, two years before I did. Somehow he had convinced his draft board to grant him a 1-Y status for the year and a half after his student deferment ran out based on alleged bone spurs on his heels. Whenever he has been asked about how exactly he managed to obtain this deferment, his answers have been evasive.

I clearly remember that plenty of doctors in those days were willing to help my generation avoid the draft, and plenty of guys did extraordinary things to create or mimic conditions that would get them excluded. I knew several perfectly healthy young men in both groups.

The definition of 1-Y status is “Registrant qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency.” If you are thinking that the War in Vietnam was definitely a war, you have not read your constitution lately. Only Congress can declare war, and it has not done so since 1941.

John Wesley Harding

Friend to the poor, my aunt Fanny.

Bob Dylan released the album John Wesley Harding around Christmas of 1967, in the middle of my sophomore year of college. I bought it shortly thereafter, and I probably listened to it a thousand times over the ensuing decade.

I never thought too much about the title track. I knew that Bob Dylan was familiar with Woody Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.” I also knew that the last name of the famous outlaw was Hardin, not Harding. Dylan, or at least someone associated with the album, surely knew this last fact. So, the mistake must have been deliberate.

I did not really think any more about this until I recently watched a televised biography of the real John Wesley Hardin. The portrayal made it quite clear that JWH was one of the most ruthless, cold-blooded, and prolific killers in all of the west. Moreover, he did much of his killing while still a teenager. He was arrested at the age of 24, and he was sentenced to spend 25 years in prison. While there he wrote his autobiography, in which he claimed to have killed roughly forty people. Nobody doubts that he killed at least two dozen.

Here are the lyrics to the three verses of Dylan’s puzzling song:

John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor
He trav’led with a gun in ev’ry hand
All along this countryside
He opened a many a door
But he was never known
To hurt a honest man.

The documented examples of JWH helping poor people, are few and far between, especially if you don’t count his many cousins. He spent most of the eight years after he left home on the run from the law. He definitely was seldom unarmed. When he opened a door, it was often to escape the law. He also used windows. He would just as soon kill a man as look at him, honest or crooked. No one ever accused the young JWH of having a strong sense of honesty.

It was down in Chaynee County
A time they talk about
With his lady by his side
He took a stand
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand.

There is no such place as “Chaynee County.” The only Cheney County is in Washington, and JWH never visited there. He was married twice, but he spent very little time with either wife, and he certainly never took a stand with either of them. He often did lend a helping hand to his relatives, but usually the hand contained a knife or a gun. The closest that he came to having a job was his participation in a cattle drive.

All across the telegraph
His name it did resound
But no charge held against him
Could they prove
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down
He was never known
To make a foolish move.

The telegraphs definitely announced the $4,000 reward offered by the state of Texas for his capture. He was convicted of murder and, in a separate case, manslaughter. The evidence that he was involved in dozens of crimes is overwhelming, even if one discounts all of the bragging in his autobiography. He was tracked down by Texas Rangers in Pensacola, FL. After his conviction he tried to escape from prison many times, but he was never successful. He was released after seventeen years for good behavior. He did, however, escape several times prior to his capture in Florida. He made many foolish moves. In fact his whole early life was arguably a foolish move.

So, what in the world was Bob Dylan trying to say in this song? It is tempting to conclude that he was satirizing Guthrie’s homage to the two-bit thug of the twentieth century by praising one of the most notorious thugs of the nineteenth century. However, nine years later Dylan himself wrote “Hurricane,” which is squarely in the “trial by folk song” genre. In general it is “a foolish move” to read too much into Bob Dylan’s poetry, at least everything after the first two albums. He was a musician and a poet, not a crusader or a storyteller.

Here is what the Nobel Prizewinner had to say about this song.

I was gonna write a ballad on… like maybe one of those old cowboy… you know, a real long ballad. But in the middle of the second verse, I got tired. I had a tune, and I didn’t want to waste the tune, it was a nice little melody, so I just wrote a quick third verse, and I recorded that… I knew people were gonna listen to that song and say that they didn’t understand what was going on, but they would’ve singled that song out later, if we hadn’t called the album John Wesley Harding and placed so much importance on that, for people to start wondering about it… if that hadn’t been done, that song would’ve come up and people would have said it was a throw-away song.

So, Dylan evidently got tired of the song halfway through writing it. However, he still liked the melody, which is certainly superior to Guthrie’s. So, to forestall people from thinking that the whole thing was junk, he made it the title track. Maybe someone should appropriate the melody for a story worth telling. Here’s a start: “F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote no books ’bout the poor.”

I could find no recordings of “John Wesley Harding” by Bob Dylan anywhere on the Internet. The cover versions are decidedly not to my taste.

Modified Manfield Convention

Opponents double our 1M opening.

Circumstance: Partner bids one of a major, and the opponent in the direct seat doubles. Responses:

1. Redouble: 10+ points, fewer than three pieces in the major. This is the standard treatment of “Redouble implies no fit.”

2.1 after a 1 opening: 4+ spades. Unlikely but possible.

3. 2: three-piece constructive raise.

4. 2: four-piece constructive raise.

5. Simple raise: three-piece support with fewer than eight support points.

6. Jump raise: four-piece support with fewer than eight support points.

7. 2 of other major: four-piece limit raise with a singleton. Opener bids 2NT to ask for singleton. If interference, opener doubles to ask for singleton. Responder doubles (stolen bid) or bids the singleton.

8. 2NT: standard Jordan with no shortness.

9. 3 of an unbid suit: Fit-showing jump with three-card support and no shortness.

10. 4 of an unbid suit: Fit-showing jump with four-card support and no shortness.

11. Jump to 4: Standard weak freak: five or more trumps, less than ten points, and shortness.

12. 1NT: artificial, forcing relay to 2. Responder’s second calls are listed below.

  1. Pass: weak hand with long clubs and no support.
  2. 2: weak hand with long diamonds and no support.
  3. Simple raise: three-card limit raise.
  4. 2 of other major: four-piece limit raise with a void. Opener bids 2NT to ask for void. If interference, opener doubles to ask for void. Responder doubles (stolen bid) or bids the void.
  5. 3 of a minor: invitational values, long minor with no support.
  6. 2NT: 5-5 in the minors, singleton or void in opener’s major.

Note that the jump raise after the relay is not defined.

Three Popes Resigned

What became of them?

Most popes died while still in office. However, quite a few popes were deposed by one means or another, and at least a handful were assassinated or, in at least one case, lynched by a mob. Only four pontiffs certainly resigned, and one of them, Gregory XII, would have been deposed by the Council of Constance if he had not agreed to its demand for his resignation.

The most recent resignation was by Benedict XVI in 2013. He spent his first few weeks in retirement at the summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Since then he has only occasionally appeared publicly. I was unable to determine where he is living now, but all of his public appearances have been in Italy. He probably has an apartment in Rome. Hardly anyone seems to care about him, but if you do, you can buy some memorabilia here.

There is no mystery about what happened to Pope Celestine V after he resigned. His successor, Pope Boniface VIII, had him captured and imprisoned. He died shortly thereafter. You can read the fascinating details of his selection and his short pontificate here.

The first pope to resign was Benedict IX, back in 1045. My favorite pope was deposed the previous year, but he gathered his supporters together and regained the Throne of Peter. His second pontificate, however, lasted only a few months. He decided to resign in order to get married. As unlikely as this sounds, I have never read anyone who has posited an alternative explanation. In any case, he evidently negotiated a large sum of cash in exchange for turning the papacy over to his godfather, John Gratian, who became Pope Gregory VI.

At the insistence of the emperor, Gregory was deposed by the Council of Sutri and replaced with the emperor’s choice, who took the name of Clement II. Clement died after only a few months, and Benedict, who apparently never did get married, retook the Throne. Eventually the emperor managed to gather enough force in Italy to force Benedict to flee in July of 1048.

What happened to Benedict after that? It is hard to explain why no one seems to know. Luke, the hegumen (abbot), of the Basilian monastery at Grottaferrata, wrote a biography of one of his predecessors, St. Bartholomew the Younger. In it he asserted that Benedict came to the saint, repented, became a Basilian monk, and died at the monastery. A plaque commemorating these events was reportedly on display at the monastery (which still is in operation 1,000 years later), but the marker was destroyed in the allied bombings of World War II, or so the story goes. The Catholic Encyclopedia endorses this tale.

I have searched diligently for Hegumen Luke’s work, but I have been unable to locate it. It was translated into Italian a few years ago, but my efforts to obtain a copy were unsuccessful. The most complete write-up that I have discovered is in the book Deaths of the Popes by Wendy J. Reardon. Benedict IX’s period as Pope Emeritus is discussed on p. 81.

There were no fact-checkers in the Middle Ages. Is Luke’s story credible? I posed this very question to Santo Lucá, a scholar who has devoted a great deal of study to the documents at Grottaferrata. I discussed his unequivocal negative response in a previous entry.

If Benedict IX did not join the monastery, what happened to him? I wish that I had Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. I would definitely set it to the middle of the eleventh century.