Bridge!

While I have referred to the game of contract bridge multiple times on this blog, today was the first time ever since I started blogging that I actually played the game. I mean, i’ve played a few times with my computer, but today was the first time in nearly fifteen years that I actually “played”, with other humans in a semi-competitive environment.

It happened primarily thanks to the wife, who surprised me yesterday by randomly sending me links of two bridge clubs close to home. I found that one of them was meeting this evening, and welcomed newcomers (even those without partners), and I needed no further information.

One small complication was that it had been very many years since I had even played the game with my computer, or read bridge columns, and I needed to remember the rules. Complicating matters was the fact that most players at this club use four-card major bidding systems, while at IIT and with my computer I was used to playing five card majors.

I installed a bridge app on my phone and played a few games, and figured that I’m not too rusty. And so after an early dinner, and leaving a wailing Berry behind (she hates it when I go out of home without her), I took the 65 bus to the club.

The club has a “host” system, where members can volunteer to play with “visitors” without partners. My host tonight was Jenny, a retired school teacher and librarian. We quickly discussed the bidding system she uses, and it was time to play.

There were some additional complications, though. For example, they use bidding boxes to convey the bids here (so that you don’t give out verbal signals while bidding), and I had never seen one before. And then on the very first hand, I forgot that bidding takes place clockwise, and bid out of turn. That early mishap apart, the game went well.

We were sitting East-West in the pairs event, which meant we moved tables after every couple of hands. Jenny introduced me to our opponents at each table, helpfully adding in most cases that I was “playing after fifteen years. He had never seen a bidding box before today”.

I think I played fairly well, as people kept asking me where I play regularly and I had to clarify that today was the first time ever I was playing in England. Jenny was a great partner, forever encouraging and making me feel comfortable on my “comeback”.

At about three fourth of the session though, I could feel myself tiring. Hard concentration for three hours straight is not something I do on a regular basis, so it was taxing on my nerves. It came to a head when a lapse in my concentration allowed our opponents to make a contract they should have never made.

Thankfully, I noticed then that there was coffee and tea available in a back room. I quickly made myself a cup of tea with milk and sugar and was soon back to form.

Jenny and I finished a narrow second among all the East-West pairs. If my concentration hadn’t flagged three fourths of the way in, I think we might have even won our half of the event. Not a bad comeback, huh? After the event, someone told me that he would introduce me to “a very strong player who is looking for a partner”.

Oh, and did I mention that I was probably by far the youngest player there?

I’ll be back. And once again, thanks to the wife for the encouragement, and finding me this club, and taking care of Berry while I spent the evening playing!

Shoe Shopping

I went with the significant other last weekend while she bought shoes. And realized that the way girls buy shoes is completely different from boys’ decision process. Yeah, I know you’ll be thinking I’m just stating the obvious, and I might be doing that. And again, this post is based on two data points – myself and the significant other. I conveniently extrapolate.

Fundamental theorem of shoes: The number of pairs of shoes a boy owns is small compared to the number of pairs of shoes a girl of the similar age/socio-economic stratum owns.

I don’t think I need to give any explanation for that. The rest of this post is a corollary.

Corollary 1: The amount of time a boy spends in buying one pair of shoes is significantly larger than the corresponding amount of time a girl spends.

Yeah, this might sound counterintuitive, which is why I’m writing this post. So I think there are several reasons for this, but they all follow from the fundamental theorem of shoes
1. If you have one pair of shoes of a certain kind, you can’t afford to make a mistake buying them. You need to go through a careful decision process, evaluating various pros and cons, before deciding on your perfect shoe.
2. Boys’ shoes need to multitask. For example, you will wear the same pair of black leather shoes to office, and to that random wedding reception. The same sneakers you wear to play football might be worn for a casual evening out. So each pair of shoes needs to serve several different purposes, so the search space comes down accordingly
3. The cost of going wrong is too high – if you have a policy to own a limited number of shoes, and you buy an ill-fitting shoe, you have to live with that (or throw with extreme guilt) for a very long time. ¬†This happened with my earlier pair of sneakers, with the unintended consequence that I went to the gym much less often than I’d planned to
4. The amount of time a boy spends in a particular shoe is much more than the amount of time a girl spends in a particular shoe. So it is important for boys that each and every shoe is absolutely comfortable and fits perfectly. Again increases search time.

Recently when I had to buy a pair of formal shoes for my engagement I drove Priyanka mad with the amount of time I took to decide. I visited several shops, tried out lots of shoes, walked around, walked out, visited more shops and so forth. And all this after I had decided I wanted a pair of brown shoes without laces.

Corollary 2: The average cost of a boy’s shoe “wardrobe” is comparable to the average cost of a girl’s shoe “wardrobe”

Yeah, unintuitive again I guess. But backed up by data. My shoes, on average, cost well over a thousand rupees. Priyanka’s shoes, on average, cost well under that. It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t know where it starts. I want my shoes to last longer, so I want to buy shoes of better quality, so I end up spending more on them. Or it could be like I wanted my shoes to last longer precisely because they are expensive. But I’ll stick my neck out and say that all this stems from the fundamental decision of not wanting to wear too many pairs of shoes.

For a girl, the cost of going wrong with a shoe purchase is low, given the frequency with which she wears a particular shoe. Also her shoes don’t multitask, so she can afford to have a few pairs which are not exactly perfect fits, as long as they serve the purpose. She has this urge to shop for shoes, and with her monthly budget in mind she is naturally conditioned to not splurge on them.

So I was kinda horrified (not exactly, since this had happened a couple of times before) last weekend when Priyanka walked into a shop, picked up a pair of chappals from the shelf, dropped them to the floor, stepped into them for a few seconds and decided to buy them. They didn’t cost too much, so I guess the cost of going wrong was small, but I would’ve never done something like that.

Chowka Baarah

Yesterday after a gap of about fifteen years, I played chowka-baarah. For starters, the name intrigues me. It translates into four-twelve (I suppose), but that doesn’t make sense. Essentially, there are two primary variations of this game depending upon the size of the grid used (5 by 5 or 7 by 7), and these two numbers are “big numbers” in different systems. In the 5×5 version, the “big scores” are 4 and 8, while in the “7×7” system, it’s 6 and 12.

A certain variety of seashells (called kavaDe in Kannada) are used as dice, four of them in the 5×5 version and 6 in the larger version. The “score” of the dice is determined by the number of kavaDes falling “face up”, and if all fall face down, the score is twice the number of dice. So if you have 4 shells and all fall face down, you get 8 points. I haven’t done much research on this but I do think the probability of a die falling “face up” is much more than the probability of it falling “face down”. I don’t know the exact probability.

The game itself is like Ludo; your pawns going round and round in circles and inward in order to reach the centre of the square when it “queens”. The first player to queen all their pawns wins. There are concepts such as doubling pawns (they act as a pair hten, move in pairs only on even throws of the die, etc.), cutting (if your pawn reaches a square where an opponent’s pawn is, the opponent’s pawn “goes home”, etc. Simple game, and widely played in a lot of “traditional households”.

Considering that I had stopped playing this game when I was still quite small, i had never realized the strategies involved in playing the game. Back then I’d just generally move whatever pawn i fancied nad somehow my grandparents would move in a way in order to simply enable me to win. It was only yesterday that I realized that the game is not as simple as I thought, and that strategy dominates luck when determining how you do.

It’s not like bridge, where card distributions are exchanged across pairs in order to take the luck out of the game. Nevertheless, I realize that the number of “turns” in the game is large enough for the probabilities in the seashells to balance out across players. Rather, the decision that you need to make at each turn regarding which pawn to move is so important that the importance of this drawfs the number you threw! Again you will need to keep into account stuff like the distribution of your next throw, your opponent’s next throw and so on.

I think I have a thing for games with randomness built into them rahter than those that are completely a function of the players’ moves (like chess). I think this is because even with the same set of players, games with randomness built in lead to a larger variety of positions which makes the game more exciting.

Coming back to Chowka Baarah, the other thing I was thinking of last night was if sunk cost fallacy applied in this, when I was trying to decide betwen a reasonably advanced pawn and a backward pawn to decide as to which one to save. Finally I decided that apart from the loss in terms of the pawn being sent home, other things that I had to take into consideration when I moved was about which pawn capture would be more valuable for the opponent, probabilities of differnet pawns getting captured, potential danger to other pawns, etc.

It’s a fun game, one of the most fun “traditional” games. Maybe one of the most “strategic” traditional games. Miss playing it for the last fifteen years or so.