Monday, July 14, 2014

Goulash madness or the dog days of summer

I haven't been playing a lot of bridge lately but I'm still getting ideas for blogs. Here's one that has been ready to send to the presses for some time. I'm not sure why I haven't already published it.

I'm as fond of the occasional goulash tournament as the next man. Possibly more so. But one thing I've learned is that the way to do well in a goulash is to forget that the hands are all crazy—just bid the same way you would if you had just dealt the cards yourself. But when it comes to the play of the hand, remember that you cannot count on anything splitting as you normally might.

The denizens of internet goulashes (individual tournaments with pre-selected boards) are a special breed. All of the usual novice errors can be observed here, but they tend to be magnified by large factors when distributions are so wild. Furthermore, a kind of death-wish seems to settle on most of the other players, including—and especially—my partners. I'd like to present a few of the more outré happenings from a recent goulash on BBO which, contrary to my expectations, I won with an average gain of almost four imps per board.

What would you bid with this hand (favorable vulnerability after RHO deals and opens 1): ♠QJT8652 — AK64 ♣T9? How about 4♠? It seems reasonable to me. LHO now bids 5♣ and partner doubles. RHO bids 6♣ and it's back to you. Well, 6 stands out. No, I'm kidding of course, but that's what my partner bid. This was doubled by your LHO and passed back. You rescue yourself into 6♠ (doubled of course) and here's the whole hand:

You go down three for -500 (-7 imps) instead of collecting 800 in 6♣X for +14.5 imps. If you follow the play you can see that at one point we should have been down four. See what I mean about madness? Of course, North could have saved two imps simply by passing my double. But that's just a peccadillo compared with my partner's transgression.

How about ♠J6 A64 — ♣KQJT9632 all vulnerable, second seat? Would it occur to you to preempt with this hand? What if you knew it was a goulash hand? And, if you do preempt, how high do you go? My partner opened this hand 3♣ and, although I had a decent hand with a singleton club, I did not bid. We missed an easy game when the next player passed too (this may be the first time I've seen a contract in a goulash tournament lower than the four-level). And the only reason 6♣ didn't score was that the opponents could get a first-round heart ruff. Damage? Only one imp!

Now, this one requires a true expert touch by my partner. See how you would measure up. ♠AK98 53 ♣KJT764. Nobody is vulnerable and your RHO deals and opens 4. Your call? My partner made the "master bid" of 4♠. He must have been sweating bullets when I raised him to slam! My hand? ♠QJT762 AKT9 ♣Q2. Slam was cold for a 10.5 imp gain. What can I say? Sometimes you just get lucky.

And now for something completely different; a lead problem. Your hand is ♠— KQ62 54 ♣AKT7543, white on red. Partner (that would be me) opens 1 and RHO leaps to 4♠ despite being at unfavorable vulnerability. Naturally (!), you bid 5♣ and this is passed back to RHO who bids the fifth spade. This comes back around to partner who doubles, ending a relatively short auction. I'll bet that you cannot duplicate the lead which was found at my table. Honor sequences are for wimps, right? And, of course, leading partner's suit is simply passé.

That's right, you select your fourth highest from... er your second-longest and strongest suit, to wit, the 2. Unfortunately dummy's knave wins the first trick and we end up getting only 200 out of this mess instead of the 500 we were due. Given that we can actually make 6, this proves to be a loss of 9.5 instead of just 4.5 imps. Of course, nobody is voluntarily bidding slam our way (I had only 10hcp but seven solid diamonds) but our "teammates" pushed their opponents into it.

But I think my favorite of all is the bid chosen by the holder of this hand: ♠AK8 — AQJT9862 ♣A2, dealer at all vulnerable. Do you feel good about opening this 2♣ (strong/artificial)? Or do believe that it will take up too much room given that you will have to show your fine suit at the 3-level? My LHO (yes, I was very happy to have this person as my opponent for this board) found what I think is probably a unique solution: 5. My brilliant partner who obviously doesn't enjoy being pushed around bid the obvious (!) 5. RHO, presumably assuming that everyone had something approaching  their bids, passed and, after some consideration as to whether we could possibly make slam, I passed too. LHO felt that his hand was worth another bid and rebid 6. This came around to me and I figured that surely it was better to be in our slam, maybe going down, then to let them play theirs. So I bid 6. This was passed out (!) and we quietly drifted off three tricks. See the whole hand for just how bizarre this result was:

Yes, they are cold for 7, although nobody managed to bid the grand. But one pair did bid the small slam so our result netted us 11 imps.

And, lest you think that the other players in this tournament had all taken up bridge yesterday, I assure you that every one of the weird actions was taken by somebody with approximately the same level of BBO experience and success as myself. How did I win after so many bad results? It's hard to imagine, I know. But just remember that there are twice as many crazy people at the table playing against you as there are supposedly playing with you.

If you haven't tried the delights of a goulash tournament, you should. But check your ego and your pride at the door, together with your acerbic comments. It's definitely just for fun!


1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize they had these goulash tournaments -- they sound like fun.

    ♠AK8 ♥— ♦AQJT9862 ♣A2
    I would not open 2C, especially because my suit is diamonds (if it were a major, ok, although I still would not). It turns out that after 1D 1H 1S we are off to the races. Notice how much more information the diamond hand gains n this case.