Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Hitchhiker’s Guide - part 4: the Tiger wraps it up

I have just finished reading a really excellent book on defense called Tiger and Fly by Krzysztof Martens. There are two parts, each with examples of the style of defensive play of one of the eponymous characters. The bulk of the book is devoted to the Tiger. He (or she) is a bold defender with a predator’s eye for deception and camouflage. He will cunningly ambush declarer by drawing a false picture of the deal then pounce at the last moment just as declarer is, he thinks, about to wrap up a successful contract.

Naturally, I was keen to show my feline mettle at my next club game. Here is the setting. I was sitting East, dealer, at favorable vulnerability and holding the following nice collection against one of the best pairs in the room:

♠ AK97  QJT62  K9 ♣ 85.
I opened 1 and partner raised to 2. We play Bergen raises so this bid showed only three hearts or a very flat hand. Unfortunately, this being the first round, I had momentarily forgotten that and was thinking we were playing constructive raises. Anyway, this was passed around to my LHO who doubled. Partner passed and RHO bid 3♣ which was alerted as showing five clubs. I only have thirteen points, but I am certainly better than a minimum opener so I doubled. By agreement, this is cooperative asking partner’s opinion about defending or bidding on. I usually have one or two clubs and will have something in each of the unbid suits. Partner passed and it was my lead. I do think I was a little over-aggressive in this action (especially given that we play Bergen) but this story isn’t about the bidding. It’s about the defense.

It seemed natural to lead a high spade and get a look at the dummy. Dummy came down with:

♠ QT2  A95  J85 ♣ AJ72
and the first trick was made up of A-2-8-4. We play UDCA so the 8 is probably a suggestion to switch. Now is the time to heed the usual warning for defending doubled contracts: DON’T PANIC!

I panicked. I led a heart and that was that: -670 and obviously a bottom.

Tigers don’t panic however. They own their territory and they know it. People don’t wander in with their reopening doubles and expect to get out alive. The tiger laid down the K, continued to partner’s ace and received a diamond ruff. Five tricks in for the magic 200 and a clear top.

Why did the Tiger succeed when I failed? Mainly because he didn’t panic, of course. But he carefully analyzed the hand, too. It looks like we have three sure tricks in spades and diamonds. We need two more. Based on the auction, we can count on partner for two of the missing honors. What could these be, practically speaking? The K, the AQ and the ♣K are the relevant missing cards, although the Q is a slow trick and will likely come too late to do us much good. Assuming that declarer really does have five clubs, the ♣Q cannot be a factor. If partner has the A, we should be able to get a diamond ruff, providing our trumps don't get drawn first. Let’s consider what pairs of cards will get us the five tricks we need:
Down one if we cash second spade (2S, 2D, ruff); down two if we switch to K immediately (K scores).
Cannot defeat the contract (2S, 1H, 1D).
K ♣K
Down one provided we switch to hearts before the ♠Q is established (2S, 1H, 1D, 1C).
Down one provided we switch to K before losing the lead (2S, 2D, ruff); most probably down two.
A ♣K
Always down one (2S, 2D, 1C); down two if we switch to K before losing the lead (2S, 2D, 1C, ruff).
Q ♣K
Cannot defeat the contract (2S, 1D, 1C)
Ignoring the sequences which result in down two (or making), we are left with a decision. If partner has the A (three cases out of four), the contract is always going down provided that we switch to diamonds before losing the lead. The only time this would be fatal would be when partner has the two round-suit kings (the remaining case) without the diamond queen too. That's to say that any time partner has three of the four honors, the contract is going down anyway when we lay down the K.

What if partner has only one of the honors? Well, obviously, if it's the A and we switch to the king, it will be going down. As Martens points out, this is an application of Occam's Razor. If we can defeat the contract by assuming only one honor, then that's the way to go.

Wouldn't it have been better to cash the ♠K to see what would come next? Partner would play the trey, suit preference for diamonds, the lower-ranking suit. Was there any risk that declarer would show out on the second round of spades and draw trumps? If declarer only had a singleton spade, partner would have had five. Given that my double guaranteed at least three spades, we would then have had a double major suit fit of 16 cards. Far too much offense to risk passing for penalties.

But while it would be safe to cash the king and get the happy news that a diamond shift was right, in the one case where diamonds was wrong, we would now have given up the possibility of getting a heart trick. So, since the Tiger was planning to play on diamonds anyway, there was no need to continue spades.

In fact, partner didn't have two "cards." She had only the A! This, together with the spade jack, made up her entire hand. Was it right, then to pass the double? In the long run, probably not. In 3, most pairs were making 140 although they should be down one. But minus 50 would be preferable to minus 110 of course (and much better than minus 670.

But partner actually got us to the theoretical top spot: all set for 200. Now, if only she'd been playing with the Tiger!

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