Sunday, September 16, 2012


One of the best things about playing in an invitational individual in New England is that you're likely to find yourself sitting across from some pretty good players.  I was fortunate to be paired with a few good ones in last weeks' celebration of the Grossack boys' Silver Medal at the World Youth Championships in China.  Things started out well in harness with Lew Gammerman where we managed a 75% round.

Saving the best till last, I faced arguably the region's top player, Pat McDevitt.  Not only is he a Grand Life Master and a member of the Irish Seniors team, but he is one of the nicest players around.  I've never heard a cross word from him.  A quick example of his demeanor: earlier in the evening, he was my left-hand opponent.  He opened 2, my partner bid 3NT and RHO doubled.  I was rather surprised to be looking at as many as six high card points together with four spades to the ten.  I fancied the latter holding might come in useful.  It did.  After losing the first three spades, my partner wrapped up the rest of the tricks for 950.  Pat made some encouraging comment to his non-expert partner such as "Well, you had to double with that."

Fast-forward to the last round and my score, as it turned out, was hovering only slightly above average.  On the first board, the table reached the par contract of 4X by our opponents for +100.  This was worth 78% as our cards either overbid to 4 or didn't double 4 at most other tables.

On the next hand, Pat demonstrated a tactic, a distant relative of the stripe-tailed ape double, that maybe has some affinity for the poker table.  Clearly there was an element of gambit in his bidding but Pat knew when to apply this particular strategy and it worked out very well for us.  Let's look at it from Pat's point of view (my role on this hand was pretty much limited to avoiding a revoke).

We were vulnerable versus not and he picked up this hand: QT84 T65 A42 ♣T52.  Dealer on his left passed and partner (your scribe) bid 1. RHO doubled.  Pat raised to 2  and, after a pass, partner rebid 3.  This hadn't been discussed of course, but in this context it should show six hearts and perhaps shortness in spades.  Maybe, given the vulnerability, a bit extra (i.e. not a "dog") in terms of high-card points.

RHO now bid 3 and Pat doubled, with confidence I might add (although of course being the partner, I was not allowed to notice such things at the time).  This ran back to RHO whose hand was AK9652  K8 ♣AQ863. It's just possible that my memory is faulty here.  They might possibly have bid spades instead of the initial double.  But they definitely did not make a Michaels cuebid.

Back to our story.  Put yourself in RHO's shoes.  A player of some substance is doubling your spades and you haven't mentioned your other good suit yet.  Should you brazen it out (the winning move as it happens) or should you believe the GLM on your left and try clubs?  Yes, you guessed it.  The final contract was 4 (undoubled).  Dummy came down with a 1453 shape and one card of every rank except for ace and 9.  Double-dummy, it makes 5 but we ended up minus only 130.  In fact, the hand makes 4 and most of the other tables were in a spade game.  We shared the top on this board.

So, with Pat's help, I pulled myself back up to 55%, ending up with the same score as Lew.

But I left my favorite story about Pat until the end.  This one is from the Mixed Pairs in Memphis last spring when Pat was playing with Sheila Gabay.  Sheila had three (maybe four) second place finishes in National events and many more than 10,000 points.  They were leading the field going into the final session but somewhere during the session they had a couple of disasters.  One, as I recall, involved the opponents making a redoubled contract.  Sheila was downhearted and thought it was slipping away.  "No, don't worry," Pat said.  "We have a lot of really good boards."  Those encouraging words were all that was necessary.  Sheila and Pat went on to win and Sheila became a Grand Life Master.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Responding 1 diamond to 1 club

I played the following hand against the robots in a Robot duplicate recently:

My result after the robot wrapped up all 13 tricks was a modest 69%.  Had the robot been sufficiently thoughtful to convert to 6NT, given his double stopper in the suit that I was missing, we would have achieved an 89% board.  Admittedly, my sequence suggested perhaps a 0454 hand – if we had been playing XYZ, this would have been a simple case of rebidding 2 as a game-forcing checkback.  But I wasn't sure what the robot played in this situation so I decided not to risk being passed out in a part-score (yes, there were two part-scores among the 32 tables).

But that's not the point of today's blog.  When I looked back at the results, I was surprised (shocked, even) by the majority of human Souths whose first bid was 1, thus bypassing a perfectly good suit.  Of 32 players faced with this situation, 20 chose 1, one chose 2♣ (forcing, denying a four-card major), another went straight to 6♣, and 10, including myself, chose 1.  It didn't seem to matter much to the final contract which of the initial bids was chosen.

This is not a Walsh issue, in my opinion.  Walsh basically says that with a weak (non-invitational) hand that is worth only one bid, you will simply show your major if you have one over partner's opening 1♣.  Otherwise, with game aspirations, you start with a decent diamond suit and then use some form of check-back to uncover if your side has bypassed a four-card major fit and/or has the strength for game.

But here, you aren't looking for the best game, you're envisaging a slam right from the beginning.  What is that slam to be in?  Clubs, most probably, or hearts or no-trump.  Yet, there is still a possibility that 6 (or even 7) might be the top spot.

Apart from that, bidding diamonds first should have made it clear to my robot that 6NT would likely play as well as 6♣ and I would expect him to convert.

While I'm on the subject of this particular Robot Duplicate, the gift basket was definitely open and one board yielded a clear top which helped me get third place with 63%.  This deal illustrates the dangers of balancing when vulnerable after the opponents have found a fit, especially when you balance with the wrong action.  Had the East robot bid 2NT as a balancing call, his side would have found their (making) diamond fit and we would have been compelled to bid on to our (making) 3♠ contract for the par result.  And there would have been no story.

But, as you see, the robot chose to double despite holding only three hearts.  Had his unlucky partner kept his head (or his CPU, I suppose), they could have escaped for only 800 and an 11% board.  But somewhere (trick 4 to be precise) he lost his way and ended up going for 1100.  Surprisingly, every robot, when faced with the same auction to 2♠, doubled.  I guess this is a flaw in the GIB programming.  Incidentally, I was the only human to redouble.  Doesn't that seem like an obvious call with my chunky 14-count?