Saturday, June 29, 2013

Natural card players

This week Kim and I were the subjects of a very nice article by Mark "the Shark" Aquino in our unit's bulletin: The Quick Trick (look for Shark's Pointers on page 6). Mark didn't ask us before publication what happened during the auction, or which of us was which, or how the hand was played but those details didn't really affect the "pointers" in the article. In actual fact, we got to use one of our rarely used "toys": pass – 1 – 2♠* – 4* – 5NT* – 6. In Mel Marcus' minor-suit raises, 2♠ (by a passed hand) shows a "distributional limit raise" and we play that 4 (after diamond agreement) asks about keycards. The jump to 5NT has its normal meaning: an even number of keycards with a void.

As usual, I have to give most of the credit for our win to Kim, who made hardly any errors during the session. But this is all just preamble to an article that I have been planning for a while about "natural card players."

One of the disadvantages of coming to cards late in life (as I did) is that there's a lot of catching up to do with those players who are either simply natural card players, or played cards at an early age, or both. The rest of us have to work really hard by reading books, studying hand records, practicing on the computer, etc.

Ask any of the top players in your area what their favorite bridge books are and they'll probably look blank and say "I don't read bridge books."

My partner in both bridge and life, Kim, is one of these natural types. I find it a bit frustrating that she doesn't study books and so doesn't know all of the terminology of squeezes, endplays or any of the more esoteric plays. But it doesn't seem to matter – she just gets it right anyway. I, on the other hand, am intimately familiar with all such techniques, yet I often bungle it when a suitable opportunity does come up.

Take this example of an ordinary hand which we both played in a robot tournament. South is in 1♠ at matchpoints. Kim, who has barely heard of trump elopement or grand coups, landed nine tricks and almost a 90% board. I, on the other hand, having learned all these subjects from, inter alia, Geza Ottlik's Adventures in Card Play, missed the opportunity on this hand and ended up, like most declarers, with only eight tricks.

Our play to the first six tricks was identical – then watch what happens. You may think that the West robot errs by taking his A at trick 8. But in fact he is on the tines of Morton's fork. To allow the queen to win the trick would let yet another club be ruffed with a small trump (and the ace would essentially "go to bed" and remove partner's exit card at the same time).

It doesn't matter how West continues. When East next ruffs in, he can't play spades because the K8 are sitting over his 94. So he has to allow yet another ruff by a small trump. E/W score two aces and two trumps, but that's it.

I like to think that squeezes are my specialty. Certainly I love pulling them off and I've read every book there is on squeezes, I believe. But I'm lazy. I don't stop to think, relying typically on rectifying the count, playing off my winners and hoping that everything works out.

Take the example below which came from a small-field ACBL "speedball" tournament, scoring by IMPs. Don't pay too much attention to the auction. I think Kim mis-moused at her second turn. Fortunately, I made a forcing rebid. Run it up to where NS has two tricks, EW have seven. What will you pitch from dummy on the 9? I (watching this unfold as dummy) was thinking of the ♣J. This essentially plays for a double squeeze where, if North guards the clubs while South guards the hearts, then nobody can guard the spades. As you can see, this would have failed because North has stoppers in both clubs and hearts.

I hadn't particularly noticed that North must have the jack (because South led the ten at trick one). But Kim had. And, as she correctly diagnosed (recall that she has never read a book on squeezes), in that case the double squeeze won't work because North is discarding after dummy. So, the only chance for the squeeze (which gives up nothing if it isn't on) is for North also to have both club honors.

So, away went the small spade and now the ♠A was the squeeze card. North couldn't keep both the heart jack and both club honors, so the eleventh trick scored up. And I can assure you that there was no discernible delay in discarding from dummy as the diamonds were run off.

We won that tournament by 8 IMPs so the extra IMP won on this board was immaterial. But, to me, it was just one more example of a natural card player at work.

No comments:

Post a Comment