Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slings, Arrows and Flying Cows

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are definitely one of the factors that make our game of Bridge so interesting. While the game isn't completely random of course, there is a large element of randomness. It's basically all about avoiding errors – of which there are many varieties. Did you know for example that if your partnership is absolutely average amongst your opponents, you can expect to score over 60% (or below 40%) about once in every thirty sessions?

One of the most difficult to overcome of the panoply of Bridge errors is the personal unforced goof (PUG). You know it also by another somewhat more scatological expression. When an expert makes this sort of error and is asked about it later, he or she can only come up with something like "a cow flew by."

I've thought about consulting a Zen master to try to help me eliminate these sorts of errors but I haven't found one yet. A regimen of water (plenty of it) and relatively light meals does seem to help. Brown rice seems to help a little. When Kim is my partner and I do something goofy she reminds me to drink some more water (or Gatorade if we have it). But if she's at another table, I'm liable to forget, with possibly serious consequences for my health, both bridge-related and otherwise.

Over the weekend, we went up to Newington, NH for the pairs on Saturday and the teams on Sunday. I've played with my pairs partner twice before. I had two partners for the Swiss, neither of whom I'd played with before. That made it all the more challenging and enjoyable. One of my teams partners was 13-year-old Zach, who might easily go unnoticed by comparison with his World Youth Champion brother Adam. But Zach is a terrific player whom I think could easily turn out better even than his brother.

On the first hand we played together, Zach opened a rather light hand. We found a fit and I was heading to a slam when I had to put the brakes on. We were missing two key cards. The trumps split 4-1 and I had to think about the hand for a while before coming up with a plan. My plan relied on a squeeze that I thought was probably about 75% or better based on the way the play went. I made the contract. Zach pointed out, very politely I might add, that I could have saved myself a lot of trouble ruffing an extra trick in dummy (a plan which I had thought was in danger of losing control). I was skeptical but eventually figured out that he was right.

We had a good time, though we seemed to be a little unlucky at times and, as a team, never really got into the groove until we'd already dug a deep hole. We just managed to scratch in B.

Here's an example of the kind of goof I referred to above (if I was a bit older perhaps I might call it a "senior moment"). I picked up a 4441 17-count and opened 1D. Partner jumped to 3NT. In my mind I was evaluating our chances based on his having 15-17 hcp (I wasn't too worried about clubs because he had to have at least four of them). I bid 6NT and it went down one. Where did I get that idea from? Nobody I know plays 3NT that way (including me), although I've certainly heard of such an agreement (it's part of the old Standard American, I believe). I just think the wires got crossed on the way out of my memory banks.

It's annoying as anything in Bridge can be. And it's hard for anyone else to even comprehend it. But if ever I find that Zen master, maybe I can do something to eliminate this sort of flying cow play.

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