Friday, April 26, 2013

If you haven't gone down yet, there's still a chance

One of my favorite themes, as my regular readers know, is that you should never give up. I believe I have observed that this is a good mantra for the play of a particular hand, a session, or a bridge career. See for example my most recent effort in this genre: Never - ever - say die. Today, I'd like to talk about soldiering on when a particular hand looks hopeless.

But first, in the style of George Jacobs, let me tell you a story. I won't give the details away in order to protect the guilty, but Kim and I were having a good second session in a recent two-session event. There was nothing to play for, other than pride, since our first session score had not even reached the 40% mark! As is our custom on such occasions, we enjoyed a drink with dinner. Well, maybe it was two drinks. This was the last board of the event and all were vulnerable. Kim opened 2♣ (strong, artificial and forcing) and my RHO bid 2. I had a flat hand with four diamonds to the ten and the ♣Q. Our agreement is to double with any weak hand, regardless of shape. I was surprised to find Kim passing my double. How many diamonds could she reasonably have? At this point, my RHO, picked up the 2 card and asked the table "did I bid that?" Er, yes, we said. She then picked up the 3♣ card and placed it right on top of the 2 card, as if to obscure that bid. LHO and I both passed and Kim finished proceedings with a double.

After my lead, dummy came down with a balanced six-count, but with three diamonds and three clubs. At this point, we called the director over and explained what had happened; he offering to return if necessary. By the time the smoke cleared we were +1400 (Kim had a 28-hcp moose). We quickly determined that slam was impossible so it seemed that we had a top and didn't need a return by the director. My RHO's hand was something like ♠853 T75 Q5 ♣QT762, so what was that 2 all about? I admit I don't know. Most probably it was tiredness at the end of two long sessions. It's hard to imagine making any bid with that hand, even if the clubs were a major and could be bid at the two-level. I do have a sneaking suspicion that it might have been some sort of psych bid. In any case, we had received enough of those sorts of gifts to finish the second session with 68%.

So, back to my theme which is exemplified by a hand from a robot tournament. I think, judging from his sheer exuberance, that this must have been one of the younger robots playing as my partner. The auction followed the same lines at most tables. Only a handful were able to play in a more modest small slam. I was tempted to bid 7NT but thought better of it – if I could make 13 tricks in any strain, it would surely be a good score (though I admit that this argument doesn't hold as well as it might at, say, a club game).

When I saw the dummy, I was reminded of a similar exercise in grand slam futility mentioned in Mark Horton's excellent book Misplay these hands with me. Well, I had twelve tricks all day assuming the opening lead didn't get ruffed. But what chances were there for a thirteenth? Somewhere between no chance and a dog's chance, I calculated. But, and here is the key, I wasn't down yet.

There appeared to be no legitimate miracle. The only possibility was a squeeze-induced mis-defense. So, I simply ran all my tricks. The one thing that the robots are not good at is signaling. Note how East misplays at trick three by discarding 2. Doesn't his partner have a right to know that he holds the king? Surely all can see that spades and diamonds are the key suits on this hand. It's not like he's worried that partner will get in and lead diamonds pickling his K. If partner gets in, the grand slam is already down! In my opinion, the proper card to pitch is T, implicitly denying the jack and showing something good, hopefully the K. Actually, from West's point of view, he knows partner has the king because if I had it, I would be claiming. At trick four, East compounds his error by discarding the ♠6. Given that he's going to have to pitch several spades, he might as well tell a good story. I think that the jack would be much more informative – the start of an echo to show an even number of spades and implicitly denying the queen. At trick five, he pitches the ♣9 prematurely. It's obvious that pretty soon, I'll be cashing clubs and he'll show out sooner than necessary and will have to pitch something else. Jumping from suit to suit makes it that much harder to pass a consistent message to partner. At trick six – well, by this time, I think he's thoroughly confused his partner so it really doesn't matter what he pitches.

At trick ten, he bizarrely pitches the K while holding on to two spades (surely one is enough) and the 9 (which at this point is not equal to the king). After the next trick, I knew that there were still two spades out so clearly there was no point in trying to cash the deuce. Furthermore, I could be fairly sure that they held one spade each (why would anyone hang on to two?) I therefore tried my only hope, to promote the J. When the 9 appeared on my right, it was a sort of show-up squeeze. I was able to go up with the ace, felling the Q.

I was the only declarer to make all the tricks. One other tried the same line but was thwarted by a Robot East who seemed to know what he was doing. The other twelve declarers playing the same contract from the same side all gave themselves no chance at all.

Anyway, the moral of this story is that when there is no legitimate play, try the squeeze. Defenders are notoriously bad defending against squeezes and you never know – they might help you out as my East did for me.


  1. Reminds me of a similar hand. I was playing against the Precision team in the Spingold in Chicago back in the 70s. I drew trump and advanced the spade Queen which held, making seven. When we compared, it was a push board. Same contract, same play.

    1. Yes, I had originally thought about that. It is indeed a "legitimate play" so I should have acknowledged that when I wrote about it (I said there was no legitimate play).

      Still, with only two spades in dummy and me never having bid spades at all, I think the robots might smell a rat and cover on this hand.

  2. If East has the SK and both diamond honors, isn't there a legitimate squeeze against him? Admittedly only a ~1/8 chance, but better than nothing?

    1. Yes, you are right, better than no chance. It seems that I didn't give myself the best chance because I pitched the SQ. Seems like I was playing for a very strange automatic squeeze with my S2 as the threat in the hand with the squeeze card.