Alex Perlin - the Winner of BBOers May Festival

Alex Perlin recently won the Stars & Platinum Robot Individual in the BBOers May Festival. He finished consistently with an overall score of 63.62%. I caught up with him to find out how Alex became the player he is today.

Alex was originally from Russia, but ever since finishing graduate school, he has made New Jersey his home. He’s working as a quantitative analyst for a New York-based company.

Alex Perlin with his son Ed, wife Lydia, and son Leo 

He has always had a love for games. He spent his childhood inventing elaborate games with his brother, Victor. He's passed his love for games onto his sons, Leo and Ed. They both love going to chess tournaments, and Ed is getting ready for his first cubing tournament. Alongside their gaming pursuits, Alex's family finds joy in playing "Ticket to Ride" together on weekends. Apparently there is always a lively ambiance home, and they have two parakeets that fill the air with cheerful chirping.

His bridge playing journey spans three decades, it began during his undergraduate years in Russia. Bridge gained popularity among Math students, and he was introduced to the game during a gathering of his Math team. He mentioned "The Math students even had a saying, they would rather take a finesse, than quash their brains with a Math problem, rhyming in Russian, I could not disagree more with that saying, but the game looked interesting". Intrigued by its allure, he decided to give it a try. 

However, playing bridge came with its share of challenges. His university administration frowned upon the game and even threatened expulsion for those caught playing cards within university buildings. "It was an empty threat, but I only played on the train to university, just to be safe." he said. 

During those early days, Alex and his peers had limited knowledge about defensive carding and proper bidding systems. Their game was considered amateurish when an actual tournament player stumbled upon their bridge sessions on the train. He vividly recalls being treated as if they were barbarians due to their lack of expertise. As a result, his bidding and defense skills remained weaker compared to his abilities as a declarer. With a touch of humor, he jokingly remarked that "if BBO ever introduced a "just bid" tournament, I might find myself in danger of finishing last."

As he progressed in his bridge journey, he embarked on serious bridge playing during his first year as a graduate student by enrolling in the ACBL Club series. It was during this time that he encountered the concept of Jacoby transfers, which left him bewildered.

He expressed his surprise about his feelings regarding his victory in the Stars & Platinum Robot Individual. Balancing his work commitments and volunteer responsibilities had made the week quite busy for him, and bridge had almost become an afterthought. Despite this, he recognized the importance of seizing opportunities, echoing the famous words of Wayne Gretzky that "you miss 100% of shots you did not take." Participating in the tournament brought him great satisfaction, even if it meant playing numerous boards during his daily commute on a train to and from work. 

When asked about any memorable hands during the tournament that significantly impacted his overall score, he replied that there weren't any. He mentioned that when his mind is preoccupied with other things, he tends to forget the hands five minutes after he played them. He compared this to a national pair game called Silodor Pairs that he played two months ago, where some hands are still fresh in his memory, even though the tournament itself was unsuccessful for him. "One misplay in particular will probably haunt me for a couple of years. However, this is just the flip side of the beauty of robot bridge. You can play it any time you want, for as long or as little as your schedule allows you.”

He honestly admitted, "It is hard to maintain full concentration on a commuter train." He acknowledged that he also made some mistakes during the tournament. "I remember being surprised at the score that day. It was a lot better than I expected or deserved.", he added.

He characterized the atmosphere and competitiveness in the Stars & Platinum tournament as a very cordial environment. "I am a big fan of several past winners, especially Jim Munday, Jim Streisand, and Jonathan Weinstein." He shared, "If in any given month, I see that one of them has a chance to win Stars and Platinum, after one or two days, I start rooting for them.” He mentioned that he's played a few robot challenges against Jim Streisand, saying “It’s really good practice. Hopefully, we will play something as partners soon.”

Alex also talked about his personal evolution and continuous improvement in the game. He explained that his bidding style has developed towards being more aggressive. He mentioned a smarter friend who often pointed out that some of his heavy 1-level openings should actually be 2C bids. Taking this advice to heart, he gradually shifted towards incorporating more 2C openings into his game.

In fact, one of his partnerships has now adopted a particularly exciting strategy. "In our current system, when we are at favorable vulnerability as the dealer, we allow ourselves to preempt at the 3 level with a 5-card suit of any quality, provided we don't hold an ace or two kings," he explained. With this approach, at times they manage to achieve a favorable score, while in other instances their preemptive bid disrupts the opponents' ability to reach a slam. Interestingly, when they introduced this system to two French champions, they surprisingly viewed it as a favor rather than a challenge.

As for advice to those who want to improve their bridge, he suggested seeking input from stronger players on various bidding situations.  He specifically mentioned his co-worker Andy Stark, who is a Platinum Pairs champion, stating, "I feel I learn something interesting every time I ask him about a bridge hand." This highlights the value of seeking guidance and insights from experienced players to further develop one's own skills and understanding of the game.

Alex's preferred game on BBO is the Stars and Platinum tournament. He is drawn to its competitive nature and the wide selection of boards it offers, making it irresistible to him. He jokingly said, "If BBO were to organize a 150-board robot tournament, I might end up being the sole participant who signs up.”

Apart from bridge, Alex has a significant interest in teaching. He dedicates his time to volunteering as a Math instructor for gifted children in New York City. These students have a thirst for knowledge beyond the regular school curriculum, and Alex's role is to provide them with lessons that challenge and expand their mathematical understanding.  He shared, "We have weekly lessons on Saturday morning. It is a truly rewarding activity that has become incredibly important to me. We are fortunate to have such brilliant kids in our program, and it is a real privilege to stand in front of a classroom brimming with so much talent."

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