The Creatures of the Forest
Bridge provides a constant flow of rich entertainment, especially at the inexpert level at our local club. How much more exciting can it be when at any point a player can make an expensive blunder? What the game lacks in technique, it gains in tactics. Many players can classified as Rabbits while a cunning few play the role of Foxes out to catch their timid opponents in trappy plays that induce errors. To score an average against a Rabbit is to lose ground, so misplays must be encouraged. Sometimes the Fox loses his natural advantage by being too clever, and the Rabbit escapes, as on the following deal.
Rabbit reached a normal game and Fox got off to the good lead of the ♠5, taken by Rabbit in hand in order to lead the ♣8 towards dummy. Fox went up with the ♣A and played the ♠9 to dummy’s ♠K. Rabbit took a spade pitch on the ♣K and appeared to think briefly before running the ♦T. Squirrel (‘Lofty’ to her friends, ‘Nutsy’ to her detractors) had risen with the ♦9, so Fox could see a possible advantage to holding up his ♦K: if Rabbit repeated the finesse, he would live to regret it. Rabbit’s nose twitched as he sniffed the air suspiciously. Instinct saved him, as he switched his attention to trumps and ran the ♥T, ending up with 11 tricks and an 80% score when Squirrel failed to cover.
‘Why did you take the diamond finesse?’ demanded Fox venting his frustration, ‘it was a senseless play. Finesse in hearts and give up a diamond in the end. You could have gone down in a cold contract.’ Of course, he had realized instantly that if he had taken his ♦K Rabbit with no entry to dummy would have been held to a normal, below average, 10 tricks, and Squirrel would have been spared a wrong choice.
‘I wanted to see where the ♦K was,’ replied Rabbit, and that was the only enlightenment he provided. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to ask. On the next board it was Mouse who did something good by bidding, well, like the mouse he is.
Rabbit opened the bidding with 1♣ on a hand some might upgrade to 1NT, and Fox passed when some might make a takeout double. Timid Rabbit seldom intentionally upgrades because his is quite aware that things don’t always go well when he does, and crafty Fox prefers to wait in the bushes and see how things proceed before he makes his move. Mouse arranges to have his partners play the hands when he holds no intermediates. Without tenaces he passes the buck, so rather than make the popular response of 1NT, he decided to bid 1♦ and see if Rabbit would bid 1♥, as expected. When Rabbit bypassed hearts to bid 1♠, Mouse could see trouble looming in 1NT, so he supported clubs. In this way, by bidding against the field, he has reached the best strain.
Fox now made his presence felt with a balancing 2♥. It had all worked out nicely for him. Rabbit expected a bit more shape from partner, so raised himself on the strength of his fine suit. He had reached the par contract. However, Lofty was still to be heard from: she raised to 3♥, and was delighted when this was passed out without a double. There was much merriment forthcoming when the excellent trumps appeared in dummy after the passive ♥9 lead from Mouse. Routine defence led to down 2 for an apparently inadequate reward of +100. However, EW scored 70% on the board for many were being held to +90 in a contract of 1NT played by East.
‘I should have bid 2NT instead of 3♣’, said Rabbit, missing the point entirely.
‘You should have doubled 3♥’, snorted Mouse, ever fierce in the post mortems.
In the final deal Mouse showed his accidental expertise in dummy play.
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‘Am I a mouse or a moose?’ Mouse asked himself in the pass-out position. Receiving the wrong response yet again, he reacted with a self-destructive 4♥ which Fox did not double so as not to reveal the supposed 3-0 trump split. Down 2 undoubled scores the same top as down 1 doubled; no need to provoke Lofty into pulling to 5♣ with a void. Squirrel led the ♣A and a club to Fox’s ♣K. He switched to a testing trump correctly ducked to the ♥J. Mouse has watched Fox enough times to know if you have to lose a trick it is best to lose it early, so with that thought in mind he led a low diamond from the table. Fox won the ♦J and returned the ♦5, Squirrel contributing an economical ♦T. Knowing the value of speed, Mouse quickly drew trumps and led the ♠3 with 6 cards remaining.
Having given count in the spade suit, Squirrel had kept 3 clubs. To the unobservant Mouse there appeared to be just one hope: South might have remaining the ♠QJ tight. He led the ♠3 and when the ♠Q appeared, his heart beat faster, but hope was extinguished when the ♠J didn’t drop under the ♠K on the second round.
‘Sorry, Partner, it looks like down 2,’ observed Mouse resignedly. ‘I was hoping for a bit more from the dummy. ♦8, please.’ When Squirrel perforce won the ♦K, she found she had to give a ruff and a sluff, restoring the score to down 1 for an average result.
‘Wait a minute,’ squeaked Squirrel, ‘you conceded down 2. I’m going to call Director Bear.’
‘I didn’t concede,’ claimed Mouse, ‘I made an observation to my partner and called for the diamond. You can’t concede tricks you can’t possibly lose.’
‘Don’t call Bear,’ ordered Fox wearily, ’it’s your own fault for not unblocking the ♦K.’
‘Don’t fret,’ soothed Rabbit, ‘things don’t always turn out well, no matter what you do.’
‘Haw!” commented Kibitzer Crow, ‘just another average board. I think I’ll fly over to the visitor’s car park and watch the seagulls practice their synchronized dive bombing routine.’
Conclusion What can we learn from this (largely) truthful account? Although the location of the cards is of paramount importance, the best strategy to pursue depends on the condition under which the game is played. No matter the degree of uncertainty, in theory to act optimally is to act according to the probabilities given the information available, however, expert versus expert is vastly different from novice versus novice, or novice versus expert, because the degrees of uncertainty are different. Foxes, aristocrats of the forest, needn’t take risks against Rabbits: it’s good enough to gather easy pickings against their inferior opponents at minimum cost. Rabbits, uncertain of what is transpiring, assiduously apply general rules regardless of circumstances at hand. The information their bidding and play provides often lacks specificity, so it is an error to read too much into what they do. Caution is advised in competitive auctions especially.