Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Little Gremlin

What constitutes an error at bridge?  Let's say that a 299er is playing 3NT (matchpoints) and takes 9 tricks.  Deep finesse says that 10 tricks are there and you can see that all it needs is a simple squeeze.  Is this an error?  Of course not.  There's no expectation that the player is capable of that particular play.  Now let's suppose that one of the suits is AK opposite Qxx in dummy.  The same player forgets to unblock the ace and king before dummy's last entry is used up.  That would be an error because you expect someone who's played duplicate bridge for a while to be able to handle it.  But if the same play was made by someone who just learned to play bridge this week, that wouldn't really be an error because you wouldn't expect them to have gained sufficient foresight to deal with the blockage.

Kim and I just returned from the Memphis NABC at which I must have made about six or seven errors. Did I play perfectly apart from those?  Of course not.  I made plenty of calls and plays that Meckstroth or Rodwell would consider errors but, for me, those were just poor decisions or lack of technique.  No doubt there were dozens of those.

Some of those errors were caused by the little gremlin, an odious little character that I thought I'd shaken off.  Here's an example of the sort of thing I mean.  The scene is the two-session A/X pairs, a Regional event, Kim and I having failed to qualify for the second day of the National Mixed Pairs (in part due to one of my worst gremlin-induced errors of recent times – and much too painful to even think about).

I was in 6NT with this layout:

In fact, this hand actually makes 7NT but I set my sights on just the twelve tricks.  The lead was the HT and I won in dummy obviously and decided to see how the diamonds were laying.  RHO pitched a club on the second round which meant that I would now have the opportunity perhaps of making the contract where some others might not [pride/conceit are one of the worst traits in bridge, for me at least].  I played two rounds of diamonds and ran the SQ to the king.  A diamond was returned and I cashed the other top diamond and came to my hand with a club (not taking the finesse).  I then settled down to enjoy the spades, knowing that if they didn't split favorably, I would hopefully have a red-suit squeeze against LHO. On the club and top spades, LHO pitched hearts and I therefore pitched dummy's now useless diamond.  I was about to claim when the little gremlin perched on my shoulder.  "That ♠8 is good, you know," he said.  "No, it isn't," I replied.  "Is too," he said.  "But dummy is good too," I reason.  "You don't know that for sure," he claims.  Unless this deck had fourteen hearts, dummy was good.  Nevertheless, having successfully squeezed my LHO, I now placed the ♠8 on the table for down 3!  Why do I listen,  I hear you ask.  I really don't know.  But he can be very persuasive.  That little stunt cost us 0.69 masterpoints, not much but more than zero.

Still, there we were playing bridge in sunny springtime Memphis with some of the world's top players. It's silly to get obsessed by errors.  We really enjoyed the week: the dogwoods came out on about the second day and we were close to Overton park where we could walk the dogs and visit the surprisingly good Brooks Museum.  We found Graceland to be a lot more interesting and enjoyable than we expected.  And then of course there was the new rival to Graceland: the ACBL headquarters and museum in Horn Lake, MS!  Perhaps the best moment was when we headed over to the final of the Mixed Pairs to see how Sheila and Pat were doing.  They were finishing up the last board across the room but the rumor mill had them in the lead.  All was quiet for a bit until the photographer came over – it was official: Sheila finally had her National title, after so many second and third place finishes, and thus was now a Grand Life Master.

The following day, I entered the Silodor Pairs, playing with Barry Margolin.  I've played against both halves of the Meckwell partnership before but it's unusual in my experience to find them playing together outside the really big events.  But we had the privilege of playing them after their team had been ousted early from the Vanderbilt.  One auction was eight rounds long and Barry's lead-directing double put Jeff into the tank for about three or four minutes!  Eric claimed the resulting slam (they adroitly right-sided the contract after the double) at trick 2 so we caught up the time.

Later in that session, Barry had to "play the spots off the cards" to land this rather optimistic contract:

  My somewhat aggressive 3♣ in the reopening seat was inspired solely by my good club holding.  If the auction had continued pass pass 3, then at least Barry would know what to lead. If instead he had something decent over there but not quite enough to take direct action then maybe we could make something our way (some pairs apparently made 3♣).  Expecting me to have a tad more, he did indeed have something to say: 3NT.  The lead was a diamond, and although I don't remember every detail of the play, Barry performed a nice strip-squeeze, including running the clubs and cashing the A at some point before exiting, thus depriving South of winners and/or exit cards and ultimately finishing with 5 clubs, 1 heart, 1 spade and two diamonds. The contract can be made on any lead as it happens.  Despite Barry's valiant effort which earned a 30 out of 31, we narrowly missed qualifying for the second day.

The little gremlin was mercifully absent after the first couple of days, but I still found myself asleep at the switch on a couple of occasions. Anyone know of a pest control place that can help me rid myself of this little guy permanently?


  1. On the first hand (6NT), there must be something wrong. You say that you took 4 rounds of diamonds and then ran a spade to the King. Why wouldn't West just cash a good diamond now for down 1? There are a couple of other things also that make me suspect the diagram may be faulty?

    1. Bruce, you are right of course. I didn't cash all of the diamonds once the split became apparent. I had to keep one stopper there.

    2. And I didn't get a spade return. I have fixed the text. Sorry for the poor proof-reading :)