Sunday, July 19, 2015

Substance abuse?

It's always nice when somebody reads your blog, agrees with it and acts upon it for a good result. Is it as good when you follow your own advice? What about when both you and partner are on the same page. Life is good! The principle under discussion is what I called, as if I get paid by the letter, The principle of substantive discretionary bids (PSDB).

Another late-night BBO session playing at an IMP table with a friend against random opponents (about nine months ago now, as this sat in my drafts folder for a while). I held at favorable vulnerability: J5 Q75 QJ8765 Q6. After my LHO opened 1C and partner overcalled 1H, my RHO passed. I had a problem, or at least I thought I did. Probably a bid of 2H would be fine. But it seemed odd that nobody had found the spade suit yet and I decided to make life a little harder for them with a jump to 3H. After all, I did have kind of a preempt hand, in a red suit. Different red suit admittedly, but still. At this point, we'd be down 2 against 110 if the opponents played 2S. A push.

Opener passed, presumably hoping we'd get to 4H which he could happily double. Now, partner made an interesting bid showing her real substance, just in case the opponents should end up in spades with me on lead. Only four cards, and the suit opened at her right, but still, a great call, based on the assumption that I had four decent hearts and nothing else.

Perhaps now was the time to bid diamonds. It's actually our best spot (we can make 9 tricks). But we had one good fit, a second fit of some sort (clubs). No need to go muddying the waters with 4D. After my 4H, East sprang the trap. We were headed for a loss of 6 IMPs. But good old West came to our rescue with 4S.  Maybe he's a follower of George Rosenkranz who advises that the only time it's allowable to pull a penalty double is when you have an unbid six-card suit. I don't think George advocates always doing it but maybe with a singleton trump and three cards in partner's first suit, it's acceptable.

Unfortunately for West, the one bidding like a crazy person was me, not his partner. I should really have doubled myself but I couldn't bring myself to do it! Coward. Partner doubled and this is where it gets interesting. The point about the PSDB is that when partner bids two suits, they most likely want you to lead the second suit. I obliged with a club lead. Note that a heart suit lead would result in the contract making with two overtricks and total vindication of West! 24 or 25 IMPs were awaiting my lead! Fortunately, we ended in the plus column.

There's really nothing to the rest of the play. We cashed three clubs, one diamond and then I got my trump promotion (is this technically a promotion?)

The moral of the story, apart from noting that I can be a crazy bidder at times, is that when your partner sticks their neck on the block, just asking for it to be cut off, they really want you to lead that suit, not the suit they mentioned earlier. It would be insane to bid 4C without some seriously good cards in that suit after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Staying with happiness--part two

I last wrote about this subject last year in Staying with happiness where I committed the capital sin of not providing a hand diagram. A recent hand came up online that illustrates the principle very well. I swear I am not making this up. And neither was this in a "Goulash" tournament. You hold the following hand, playing with an unknown partner, and hear the auction proceed as below:

Do you double? On the plus side, they are definitely going down, perhaps by two tricks, and surely 500 is more profitable than 200? On the other hand, they might run to spades. Who has all the spades? Partner might have a trick there, but there's no guarantee. What about the clubs? Are we cashing any diamonds? Doesn't look like it.

You decide to pass and the contract does indeed go down two. You gain 6 IMPs for staying with happiness. Here's the situation you would find yourself in at trick one if you had doubled (click Next):

You are defending 6S, quite possibly doubled and maybe redoubled. Which card do you play at trick one after giving the defense due thought (declarer will not be thinking long about the play from dummy)?

Can it really matter? Surely, my partner didn't bid 3D vulnerable on a five-card suit! Yes, it does matter. The only way declarer can make this hand is if he pitches a heart on the first trick, wins the continuation, draws (five) trumps and claims five clubs and two hearts. But if you are on lead after overtaking with the ace, you will obviously play a heart now for partner to ruff. If instead, declarer ruffs your ace, he will have one fewer trumps than partner and can never make the hand. Indeed, two declarers in spades took only seven tricks. In practice, 6S was set three tricks (once), two tricks (doubled--once), and one trick (redoubled once, doubled thrice, and six times otherwise). But! it also made twice (once doubled). Let's say that we do double and defend 6S perfectly. Against a competent declarer (i.e. one who can count to thirteen), we are still only +200--the same score we could have had without requiring any thought beyond following suit.

I think both North and South (your author) were very disciplined on this deal. 5S by E/W (-650) is the par result and we beat that. In practice, the datum was -60. True, we might have had another five imps (eight if they redouble 6H as one declarer did). Against that, there are several ways to lose imps in addition to the scenarios already described. Bidding 7D for example, as several pairs did, would quickly concede 500 for -10 imps.

Staying with happiness won't always get you the very best score. But it will usually get you a decent score and avoid the risk of a much worse score.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Somehow we landed in 6NT (part two)

My title quotes that of one of my favorite David Bird books, one which certainly contributed in its way to helping me make the hand in the story below. See also Somehow we landed in 6NT.

I've always been a fan of squeezes. To me, they seem relatively easy. And, because many players think they are something esoteric and don't bother to learn about them, I'm pretty much guaranteed a good board whenever I can find one. The other thing I like about them, and this is really important for me,  is that most of them don't require good card-reading skills. And, generally speaking, once the play is in motion, you don't have to make any decisions at the end. Either it's there for the overtrick, or it's not and you end up with the same number of tricks you always had.

But, while there are many exotic squeezes out there, including the famous backwash squeeze, the bread-and-butter squeezes are relatively easy to recognize and execute. But of these, the ultimate in my opinion is the progressive triple squeeze. I thought it unlikely I would ever get to play one. But all that changed at a recent tournament session. Even then, it required some fairly dreadful over-bidding by my side (mainly my own) and some helpful defensive errors by the opponents before the squeeze trick. That being so, I'm going to deliberately obfuscate the hand to protect the identities of the players. Watch the play unfold from my point of view:

Almost any lead but the one chosen, the jack of clubs, would have scuttled any chance of making the hand. Even so, I could only count eight top tricks after knocking out the DA. At trick two, I can legitimately make the hand by finessing the S9, but I didn't. That line gives rise to a double-squeeze at the end, with hearts the pivot suit. At trick four, East erred by pitching a diamond. He could have recovered by holding up the DA at trick five, but these things are not so obvious in the heat of the battle. The return of a heart was interesting. Surely, East wouldn't lead away from the queen so I rose with the ace. After the first six tricks have been played, and having found the diamond jack, my prospects were looking a bit brighter--I had ten tricks. At this point, I see a chance. If West does indeed have the HQ in addition to the KT of clubs and the SJ, he will be triple-squeezed when I play off the diamonds.  Not only that but the conditions would be perfect for a (two-trick-gaining) progressive squeeze. But for that to work, I must have both round suit threats in the dummy along with the squeeze card (D5), along with the spade threat in hand. Thus the other high heart had to be cashed before crossing to dummy. That of course caters to a possible doubleton queen also.

At trick nine, the squeeze card, D5, is played and you can see that West has no good option. In a progressive triple squeeze, it's usually best to concede the suit that promotes an honor in the opposite hand. That prevents the progression. But in this five-card ending, the hand opposite the squeeze card has an extended menace in spades and thus there is no defense. Here is the whole hand:

Note that in the more normal contract of 4S, there can be no squeeze since there is no possible way of denying West his rightful trump trick, at least not unless you peek and finesse the nine.