Sunday, June 24, 2018

Breaking BADD

What's "BADD," I hear you ask. It stands for Bridge-related Attention Deficit Disorder. However hard I try, I just can't break it. I try to concentrate, I stay hydrated, I skip lunch. I get the occasional coffee. It all helps, but somehow I just can't stay 100% focussed.

This last week I played four days of bridge (and evening side games) at the Granite State Getaway tournament in Nashua, NH. During that time, I revoked, exposed three penalty cards forgot my notrump range, and various other lapses of concentration too numerous to mention.

But today's was such a classic, and involved such an unlikely parlay that I just have to tell you about it. It's like one of those terrible plays that a goalkeeper makes when he doesn't properly clear the ball. A perfect example of that occurred just this week in the World Cup matchup of Argentina vs. Croatia. Caballero, the Argentine goalie, failed to properly clear the ball and Rebić scored a brilliant goal to help Croatia to a 3-0 win.

So back to my play. Here was the board:

As you can see, our bidding was reasonably sophisticated. 2S was the "impossible spade," showing a good club fit and a game invitation. 3H suggested that spades may not be a problem, but was checking on the heart situation. 3NT is a good contract, making 9 tricks on a spade lead and 10 on any other lead. I got a heart lead and soon set about making overtricks.

The H3 was led, I played low from dummy and took the queen with the ace. I ducked a diamond to the ten and East's jack. A heart came back to West's king and after cashing the spade ace, he returned a heart to my jack. On this trick, I had to find a discard. At this point, I had nice rock-solid tricks and was interested in making the rest. In fact, I have the rest of the tricks just by cashing one spade, two diamonds and five clubs in addition to the two hearts already in the bag. At this point, they had three tricks so that's all there is.

But somehow, my counting was off and I thought I should at least try to generate an extra trick. In order that I wouldn't have to decide now whether to pitch the small diamond or the small spade, I pitched the totally unnecessary ace of clubs. Now, I set about cashing the top spade and then the clubs. I cashed the king and queen, then overtook the ten with the jack. At this point I realized (duh!) that there were no more losers so I faced the C8 and claimed the rest. "Not so fast," says West and produced the nine. Since I had no longer a stopper in spades, the defense took the next two tricks for down 2.

Pretty embarrassing! This "coup" should really have a name. Here's what was necessary to pull it off:

  1. miscount the tricks so that I was in effect looking for a tenth trick with a squeeze that was extremely unlikely to succeed and, so, "unblock" one of the high honors in my club suit;
  2. unblock the high spade (for the phantom squeeze, I could equally have chosen to keep the SK and unblock the DA);
  3. not notice that East showed out of clubs at the first trick and then overtake the ten with the jack (when I could just as easily have used the DK as the reentry to my hand);
  4. not notice even then that I had a total of seven tricks facing my way and didn't need a club for my contract: all I had to do was to cash the top two diamonds.
Four separate errors in one hand. Of course, errors 2 thru 4 all arose as a consequence of error #1. But, at any point, I could have quite easily recovered.

The his perhaps the most egregious, hilarious, and simply bizarre display of incompetence I've ever encountered, let alone, perpetrated!

So, how does an otherwise reasonably intelligent brain come up with this sort of thing? I don't know. I just call it BADD and do what I can to avoid it.

My teammates were remarkably understanding. This 10-IMP error (the contract at the other table was 5C down 1) cost us 3.45 victory points which normally would have meant a drop of several places in the standings. But, remarkably, it made no difference at all! We were sixth overall and second in X for a little over 11 masterpoints.

And, to add icing to the cake, England beat Panama 6-1 this morning in the World Cup!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sometimes a bad split can be your friend

We all know, when we are declaring a contract, that bad splits are the enemy. It's nearly always harder to make our contract when suits don't split well. Nearly always!

Let's take the following contract as an example:

Clearly, this is going to be no problem if diamonds split 2-2. So, we draw two rounds of trumps and duck a diamond. Another heart comes back and you ruff. What do you pitch from dummy, by the way?

Now you play to the DA but unfortunately, RHO pitches a heart. Down one.

Not so fast! You aren't down yet. Cross back to your hand with the SK (RHO plays the Q) and, using vacant places and restricted choice you confidently run the nine. It wins and you are able to pitch your losing diamond on the fourth round of spades. You didn't pitch that little spade earlier, did you?

I wish I could tell you that I played like this. I could have. I should have! But I didn't. I just lamely conceded a diamond for down one and got on with the next board. As Eddie Kantar writes in his wonderful book Take All Your Chances, you should never just give up when there's even a glimmer of a hope. Notice that if spades had split a more normal 3-3 or 4-2, there would have been no hope at all. Well, it would make sense to run all your trumps and hope for a bad discard. But against good defenders there'd be no hope.

But the moral of the story is: sometimes a "bad" split is better than an even split. And, when there's a massive preempt at the table, this becomes even more likely.

The full layout:

If you're interested in the odds of the S9 winning the trick at T8 (as described above), then we know that East started with at least 8 hearts (based on the bidding and the opening lead), a diamond, two clubs and the spade Q. He has one vacant place for either the SJ or a ninth heart. West has shown 3H, 2C, 3D and so has five vacant places for the SJ. Taking restricted choice into account, the odds are 10 to 1 that running the nine will be successful.