Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Monsterpoints: Going for the record

What I call the torture tables on BBO ("casual") tabes can be very frustrating. You never know when your partner is going to pass a forcing bid, you have no idea what type of Blackwood they understand, and generally they can't be trusted. At least not until you've played a few hands with them. Unlike at the Griffins (Bridge in the Menagerie, etc.) there are so many different players on BBO that you rarely see the same person twice unless you follow them.

The only way I can reasonably keep track of these blunders is to borrow a phrase from Victor Mollo: Monsterpoints. Here's how I'm going to (arbitrarily) score them (giving more weight to the earlier actions):

  • (auction) first turn: 5 points available
  • second turn : 3 points
  • third and subsequent turns: 2 points each
  • (play) opening lead: 4 points
  • other first-trick play: 3 points
  • first critical play: 5 points 
  • remaining tricks (second through 12th absent the critical trick): up to 2 points each

A typical hand of bridge, then, will have available from five up to about 16 monsterpoints in the auction and 19 monsterpoints (estimate) in the play, for a maximum possible of about 35.

So, with that preamble, here is a hand on which my partner did his or her best to set a new record for the number of monsterpoints in one hand.

Here is the hand:

Dealer: S
Vul: NS
♠ 3
♥ AKQ2
♦ AJ8743
♣ A9
♠ JT954
♥ J8764
♦ Q
♣ Q2
♠ KQ87
♥ T
♦ 9652
♣ T765
♠ A62
♥ 953
♦ KT
♣ KJ843

1 p 1 p
2 p 2 p
2 p 6 p
p p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

As you can see, 6 is not the easiest of hands to make, although it is makable on any lead. Let me describe what happened.

Partner (South) opened 1. While this certainly isn't the worst crime in the history of bridge, I personally wouldn't consider this hand to be a vulnerable opener, although I know many who would automatically open it. Basically, what you have is a balanced 11. If the clubs were a little bit better (perhaps the T instead of the 8), or one card longer, then I would be willing to open it because I could happily rebid 2 over partner's response. But to open 1 and rebid 1NT would suggest 12-14 hcp which this hand simply doesn't have.

I made what I hope is the obvious response of 1 and partner rebid 2. Naturally, I expected his clubs to be a bit better (as described above), but this does seem the most sensible approach. Now, I reversed into 2 and waited anxiously to see if this bid would be passed.

After an eternity, partner came up with 2. Maybe he meant it as fourth-suit-forcing. Otherwise, I have no idea what it was supposed to be. Again, not the worst possible call because it kept the bidding open. At this point, I decided to dispense with science and jump straight to 6. It was a somewhat wild bid but it did put us in a makable contract. The only problem of course was that my partner would be playing it. I had no idea what to expect.

Naturally, I was a bit apprehensive when I saw his hand. Personally, I would have rebid 2NT over my 2 call to try to suggest a minimum balanced hand. The opening lead was the Q (a singleton).  Declarer let this ride around to the king and started on drawing trumps.

How would you tackle the trumps? If they are 3-3 then we just have to lose one trick. The diamonds should be good for six tricks, so with four clubs, three hearts and a spade, that would be more than sufficient. Basically, to make the contract, partner has to hold the trump losers to one. There is a line if you need to make all five tricks (Ace then cover RHO's card) but its success rate is only 1 in 5. But almost any reasonable play will garner four tricks (with a probability of 73%). All these lines, BTW, start with cashing the ace.

He starts by running the jack! This is the kind of play (running an unsupported honor towards a higher honor) I often see at these tables. But wait! The jack is not covered by the queen so all is well. Declarer then plays a small club to the ace, picking up the queen. All is rosy again. Now what? He's got to get back to hand and at least draw the small trump, leaving the ten as master (we assume that LHO wasn't silly enough to fail to cover the J while looking at QT). Guess what? with no more trumps in dummy, he uses the A to reach hand, exposing the two small spades as immediate losers. But all is still well as he plays the K, pitching the small heart from dummy. Now, there is only one card that can be played: the T from hand. Incredibly, he neglects to play that and starts in on the hearts. Surely he hasn't forgotten that the opening lead was the Q and that the ace, jack and ten are all now high? Obviously, the hand can no longer be made. In the end, he goes down two tricks.

So, what is the monsterpoint score?

  • opening bid: 1 mp (as mentioned, not a really terrible bid)
  • second turn: 0
  • third bid: 1 mp
  • play to opening trick: 0
  • first critical play (trump lead): 3
  • subsequent plays (2 each): T4 (serious error), T6 (disaster).
That's a total of 9 monsterpoints. Is this a serious record contender? Only time will tell.

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