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.

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