Sunday, September 4, 2011

On-the-job training

On-the-job training is an inherent feature of playing bridge.  You can't learn it from books or classes alone (far from it) and, unless you're one of those naturally gifted types, you have to keep on making errors in order to improve.  But those mistakes can be heart-breaking.  The important thing is to learn a lesson.

The setting: last of eight matches in a regional open Swiss with 40 teams.  My team is in 2nd place, 13 VPs behind the leaders (to whom we just lost), with decent but vulnerable leads over the next few teams.  We are drawn against a good team, but perhaps not one of the pre-race favorites.  As we reach board six, we are doing fine -- it turns out that we are up by 3.  Having played brilliantly all day, my young partner now decides to break discipline (bidding 4NT instead of accepting the transfer after 2NT - 4H) and we lose 10 imps [responder is most definitely "captain" here because opener is narrowly limited and responder has at least four ways to bid get to the right spade contract: 3H and pass; 3H then raise 3S to 4S - a mild slam try; 4H and pass 4S; 4H then bid 4NT over 4S].  I can't criticize this too much, however, when I realize that if we could have picked up just 21 imps on the last two boards, we would have tied for the win at least.  But I was reminded at the time of the many true stories of team matches where one team has a commanding lead going into the last few boards and...

The final board is brought up.  After what I will politely call "a somewhat unlikely auction" (which, incidentally, I could have allowed to subside at 1C), my LHO ends up in a vulnerable 4S.  We are destined to win 6 on this board (maintaining our 2nd and 5 more masterpoints than we ultimately achieved), providing that, after 55 boards, I can simply stay awake! 

Without going into detail, which would at best be irrelevant to the case in general, and at worst cause excruciating embarrassment to your poor scribe, I will offer this one piece of advice (assuming you are playing in a good event): as long as declarer hasn't yet claimed, there's a way to beat the contract.  This isn't so at our usual practice location, the club, where the scoring is almost always matchpoints, because many players simply do not bother to claim when they should.  But when a good declarer has played the hand out carefully, and you find yourself on lead towards the end of the hand, having achieved your "book," STOP! Then think very carefully before leading to the next trick.

1 comment:

  1. Robin,

    I was actually thinking of a piece of your advice today, while defending a club game contract declared by a Grand Life Master. The advice was to the effect of assuming that a good declarer who has not claimed is not a lock to have all the rest of the tricks.

    I was on lead with about five tricks left, and as best I could tell declarer had all the rest of the tricks. But he was not claiming. And so I thought: had I misseen a card? I thought that partner had shown out of trumps, but maybe I was wrong. Finally I led a card in a suit that I knew that partner was void in, and declarer won that trick and claimed.

    Why did you not claim, I asked declarer. And he responded, why did you not just lead so that I could claim instead of spending all that time thinking.

    Well, I identify declarer's actions as just trying to get an edge: to wear out the defense for no reason; in short, an act of intimidation.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your advice ... but I guess one has to make allowances for players whose scruples are not at the level they should be.

    -- Jeff