Jekyll and Hyde Bridge
There are some lessons that need to be learned over and over again. Here is one of them. In 4th seat, nonvulnerable against vulnerable, I opened 1NT on ♠ AJ75 ♥ AT2 ♦ K84 ♣ QJ2, right in the middle of my range of 14-16 HCP. The auction proceeded without opposition as follows: 1NT – 2♣; 2♠ – 2NT, alerted as invitational not promising 4 hearts. Should I accept the invitation at matchpoints where going plus takes precedence? A hand with 5 controls, 2 jacks and a ten looks promising despite the 4=3=3=3 shape, but I decided to pass against a pair that could be expected to play excellent defence. Our opponents were Matt Smith, the international director, and his brother, Duncan Smith, a leading Canadian player who has amassed over 12000 masterpoints. After the hand was over Matt asked why I hadn’t accepted the invitation as I was above the minimum for my range. I didn’t answer because I hate discussing the hands at the table – there are too many factors involved, some of them personal. Besides which, once the hand is over we should file it away for later. Here at last is my answer.
One aspect to keep in mind is what the field will be doing on a deal. One can expect the very same start. What will the majority decide? In the present case I am sharing with the field an auction that I hate. The closer the decision the better it is not to give away information that will benefit the defenders. Rather than invite with 9 HCP and no 4-card major, I would just as soon that partner would bid 3NT from the start. The diamonds are developable, and the 3 outside controls make this dummy better than invitational opposite a strong NT. Without this pointless rigmarole one is more likely to get a favourable lead. Here is the deal in its entirety:
When the dummy comes down some may ask themselves what The Field is doing, as if The Field were an individual. This is akin to saying, ‘I wonder what Dr Jekyll is doing this evening, as a scientist having a quiet dinner with his virginal fiancée (played unconvincingly in the 1941 movie by Lana Turner) or out on the town as a wildly popular figure among the dissolute London ladies of the night (represented unconvincingly by the wholesome, intelligent Ingrid Bergman. What was Hollywood thinking?) Myself, I have always wondered about the hidden resources of the former and her innermost thoughts behind the frozen smile concerning the dull doctor who only talks about his work. If it were at all possible, Jekyll and Hyde would have formed a formidable bridge partnership. Any attempt to emulate The Field is to put oneself in danger of acquiring a dissociative identity disorder.
The tendency of many is to play to justify the contract – if they are in 3NT they go all out to make 9 tricks, but if they are in 2NT they pull in their horns and are content with 8, the contract taking on the aspect of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The double dummy result is 1NT making 2, so it appears to make sense to play carefully to make the contract, but to achieve it South must first avoid leading his 4th highest from his longest and strongest after which 9 tricks are easy to come by. Duncan Smith, who gives due regard to an opponents’ bidding, sensibly chose to lead the ♥9 giving nothing away. This was the position with me on lead having won 2 tricks with good prospects of 3 tricks in clubs and 2 more in the majors:
If finessing the ♦9 results in 9 tricks being made there is no gain when the field is in 3NT making. In 2NT one subconsciously hopes the diamond play fails. A diamond to the queen safely fulfills the contract, whereas a diamond finesse losing to North’s minor honour puts 3NT in danger if North holds the ♦A as well – he will set up his 5th spade with an entry intact. Consequently I led to the ♦Q and claimed 8 safe tricks. Wrong at matchpoints! North’s holding ♦AJ or ♦AT was much against the odds (2 in 15).
So what were the results across the field of 14 tables? My assumption that most pairs would be in 3NT was far off the mark. Two pairs stopped in 1NT, 2 pairs played in 3NT, making, and 10, yes 10, pairs played in 2NT. Half of the multitude in 2NT made 9 tricks obtaining a 62% score, while the other half who, like myself, achieved the double dummy result, scored a lowly 27%. My supposed safety play proved costly.
While it is dangerous to guess the statistics of results on a single board, it is valid to generalize on the basis of a pair’s record of achievement over several sessions. If a pair is consistently below average, one can conclude safely they are not so good. We don’t play for averages against such a pair, because to achieve a good score overall one must score above average against them on the boards presented. On the other hand if one is facing a good pair, like the Smith brothers who score consistently above 60%, an average score will put you ahead of the field by 10% on that board. Logically it pays to take more chances against good players as you are risking less. On the above board if I had boldly bid 3NT and gone down 1, I would have scored a zero, but if I had succeeded, I would have scored 12 MPs. However, making 9 tricks in 2NT was worth 8 MPs, so bidding and making game would gain a mere 4 MPs while risking 8. In a field of non-aggressive players the chickens come home to roost in 2NT.
The very next deal gave me a chance at recovery. Having learned my lesson I put my faith in the diamond suit.
After the auction, 2NT – 3NT, I was sure I was in a contract shared by the field. The low heart lead appeared to be normal, the ♥J winning in dummy. When against a strong hand a careful player makes a dangerous lead from a broken suit I expect him to have an outside entry, else he might have tried to set up tricks in his partner’s hand. Thus I was inclined to place the ♠A with South. Nine tricks were assured by playing on spades, but what about an overtrick? As I was in a contract shared by most if not all the field it made sense to take a risk for a 10th trick. It would be somewhat dangerous to rely on spades for two tricks if I played to the ♠K and South held up his presumed ace, a defence I would fully expect from this South. Eventually I would have to play on diamonds, so why not now, before the defenders got wind of what was happening?
The a priori percentage play in diamonds is ♦A and ♦Q, and I didn’t mind losing to North, the ♠9 and ♠8 represented some safety with respect to a spade switch. North took the ♦Q with his ♦K and returned his remaining heart, which caused little worry. With diamonds 3-3 I eventually made 10 tricks without scoring a spade trick. This time I got it right – every pair played in 3NT, but 4 were making less than 10 tricks. Over the two deals we scored near average which is what I hope for against superior opponents.
A Director Comes Calling
I am annoyed when a player opens a standard 1♣ and his partner announces, ‘could be short.’ To me it makes sense to open 1♣ on ♣AQ ♦ 543, so what’s the big deal? Most of the time 1♣ is opened on 3 or more cards in the suit, even with ♣ 543 ♦ AQ, which to me is even more deceptive. The auction proceeded: 1♣ (Pass) 1♦ (2♣ by me). So what so you think my 2♣ bid signifies? At the table I was the only one who was sure of the meaning. Is that a matter for legal experts? Here is the full deal.
Everyone cooperated in getting me to the right contract. South asked John what my 2♣ bid meant and he answered he didn’t know. He thought I might have clubs, or I might be asking him to bid his better major. The ♦3 was led, the ♦A taking the ♦J. A club was returned to the king. The club continuation and ruff set up the ♣J as a winner in the dummy. Not the best start for the defenders. At this point the director was called. The complaint was that I had bid clubs when I didn’t have clubs. The Director asked me if John should have known what my bid meant, a question that puzzled me. My assertion was that ‘could be short’ doesn’t mean, ‘is short’. In fact ‘could be short’ most often acts as a smoke screen for hands that have many clubs.
Here 1♣ was called on a perfectly normal shape. It was the takeout double that was rather questionable, albeit effective, yet there was no howls of protest when dummy appeared without at least 3 cards in each unbid suit, not even 4×4 in the majors. Should I announce this double next time as ‘may be long in clubs’? As Charles Dickens might have written, ’if the law supposes that, the law is an ass.’ Most of the time one must rely on judgement when choosing bids and not to be required to give free lessons to the opponents. Of course, it is regrettable when one makes a bid so brilliant that even a partner can’t fathom it. Here I draw the veil. RIP Marshall Miles.