Monday, January 6, 2014

How to be a lucky player

This is the title of the new book by Matthew Thomson, Australian professional bridge player. As mentioned previously here, Matthew is the best player I've partnered – totally by lucky chance (for me, that is, not for him).

The book is basically an extreme version of the hand evaluation techniques I've always tried to follow (I learned a lot that day). Here it is in a nutshell:
  • aces are good;
  • more aces are better (any hand with two aces is a good hand);
  • intermediates in your long suit are important;
  • honors in partner's suit are golden;
  • the 5431 shape is magic, especially when you have a 4-4 fit with partner;
  • when all your cards are working, bid more, and you will likely get lucky [no, not that kind of lucky].
OK, that was a pretty trashy summary. You'll have to buy the book. On the other hand, I can't recommend the book. Not at all. If all my opponents were armed with the wisdom that he dispenses for lucky players, I'd never win anything.

Here's an example of me trying to bid the lucky way with the robots (dealer, not-vul vs. vul): ♠KQ53 AK9432 982 ♣–. I opened 1 and partner responded 1♠. The moment of truth. On the plus side, although I didn't have 5431 with four spades, I did have 6430 with four spades. Surely that was even better. On the minus side, my intermediates in hearts weren't terrific. Nothing daunted, I splintered into 4♣. Partner cue'd in diamonds as I did in hearts. Partner had heard enough to launch Blackwood. I answered 5NT showing two key cards with a void somewhere (guess!). Partner bid 6♠.

With confidence, I put down the dummy. Partner struggled mightily (this was a Classic robo tourney) but went down one. How could that be? Apparently, the robots have also read Matthew's book, especially the bit about any hand with two aces is a "good hand".  He had exactly that, the aces of spades and diamonds, but no kickers. But surely that's not enough to drive to slam over a game-forcing rebid? He also had the QJxx of clubs, but those were valueless opposite shortness – the robots know that, don't they?

The club ace or the diamond king would have been the twelfth trick. Even the diamond queen would have given us a 50% chance. My lack of intermediates in hearts were not the problem. BTW, I was not the only one to force to game at my second turn and end up in slam. The others gave their robots no chance to evaluate, however, as they did not splinter. One other human even jumped straight to slam after partner's response!

Our "Individual" Regional has just ended and I'm happy to report better results from trying to get lucky. But first, which (if any) of these two hands would you be comfortable opening as dealer (playing strong no-trumps):  ♠KJ73 K876 Q62 ♣K2 or  ♠9653 A632 K ♣AT64? What about in third seat?

I opened the first one 1 as dealer on the grounds that I had two four card majors, and if partner bid 2♣, I would have something decent for him and if he made an inverted raise of diamonds I would be able to rebid 2NT without undue embarrassment. Otherwise, I considered this hand very marginal. Partner, with a 20-count and five hearts, bid all the way up to 7 and made it for a 91% board. Would we get to seven if I'd passed? Partner said no.

I also opened the second hand, although I was in third seat. Would I open it in first or second seat? I think so, based on how much luck it generated this time. The next player passed and partner bid 1. RHO now came in with 1♠ and I raised to 2, promising four trumps. Partner, with ♠T QJ75 AQJ5 ♣9532 now jumped to 4. The lead was the spade ace (a trump would have been better) and, if I recall, another spade. Partner played it very nicely for eleven tricks and a 98% board.

Now that's what I call getting lucky.

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