Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is the Cat Dead or Alive?

I've never heard of anyone using this method, but an idea occurred to me for a method to better teach some aspects of Declarer play.  Suppose you are teaching someone how to find the missing Queen, with the point of the lesson being to avoid the guess by using a throw-in.  Maybe you have KJx opposite A10x in the trouble suit, and the point is to throw someone in, where the guess is solved by the opponents being forced to break the suit.

The traditional approach seems to be to use question marks.  "Who has the Queen?"  RHO has ?xx and LHO has ?xx.  That seems confusing.

Why not do it the way we really think?  I am convinced, sometimes, that both opponents have the Queen.  I cannot prove my theorem, but quantum physics seems somehow involved.  The point is that whoever I guess to not have the Queen actually has it, no matter what logic tells me.  They both have it.

So, why not present the problem as if the opponents actually both have the Queen?\

The position ends up like this:


Qxx                                                 Qxx
A                                                    K


If you gave the problem this way, as a double-dummy problem, people could work out the problem.  You exit your side pip.  West wins and plays a third best from the Queen, forcing East to rise with the Queen, won with the King.  Now, simply finesses against West's second Queen, winning three tricks in the suit despite the opponents both having the Queen.

This may seem like silliness, but the idea can be expanded, and it starts to approach a concept that better players grasp and use all the time.  In essence, the learning player has a lot of question marks all over the place, and that makes life rather confusing as a Declarer.  The advanced Declarer, however, kind of juggles a set of likely hands for East and likely hands for West simultaneously, and he caters to as many possible actual positions as he can.  In other words, compare layouts:

Learning Declarer

?xx                                        ?xx
?                                           ?

Advanced Declarer


Qxx                                                xxx
A                                                    x

Qxx                                                xxx
x                                                    A

xxx                                               Qxx
A                                                  x

xxx                                               Qxx
x                                                   A


The second layout is how the advanced player "thinks."  He sees all four layouts, in his head, and he caters to each.  The developing player thinks about all the question marks and tries to work out what to do.  The question marks get confusing, both on paper and at the table.  The juggled specific examples, however, reflect the real possibilities and express, in a sense, how the better player starts to think about these things.  So, who not teach using this type of layout?  Why not teach/write bridge using layouts that reflect an expert way of visualizing layouts, and thereby teach people to think that way, instead of using the layout method that best reflects what actually occurs in the mind of the learning player?

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Strange that I never saw this, but a somewhat interesting parallel seemed to arise today.

On BBF, a problem auction was provided where Opener has 5332 and Responder a balanced monster, the partnerships of many ending in 6S down immediately on a club lead (missing Ace and King).  The short form of the story, IMO, was that Jacoby 2NT was flawed and thus ill-advised, whereas simple cues worked better (obviously).

The deeper story was the auction many of us will now use to get to thsat cuebidding spot:

O: One Spade
R: Two Clubs (real clubs OR just spade support)
O: Two Diamonds (real diamonds OR just balanced with a diamond card)
R: Two Spades (fit, start cuebidding...)

A "strong clubber" made a comment about how this type of bidding is why strong clubbers are better.  As a sometimes strong clubber myself, I found this absurdly humorous, as Opener starts 1S either way and as my methods in a Precision-style strong club would mean the exact same start.

Furthermore, and the point of this post, I noticed that there would be a strong parallel using canape, albeit slightly different:

O: 1D (if diamonds and a major, diamonds could be 3-card if 5332)
R: 2C (GF, artificial)
O: 2H (diamonds plus spades; diamonds might be 3-card)
R: 2S (fit, start cuebidding...)

Strangely, then, a parallel arose.  On the same hands where with 2/1 GF (or Precision for that matter) I would rebid 2D after opening a major and hearing 2C, I would open 1D canape and then show the major.  This of course seems right -- canape means essentially getting to the second bid first.  Sending in the reserves and holding back the main army until later.  But, the decision-making is the same.

This is an example illustrating why I think learning multiple systems, and playing them enough to be competent in each, actually helps thinking in all systems.  In other words, Precision helps your 2/1 game, and 2/1 helps canape, and K-S helps Standard American.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gatlinburg for New Year's Eve

My wife and I and a couple who are friends of ours are doing the Gatlinburg New Year's Eve this year.  Apparently, the party on the streets is incredible, with a ball drop and fireworks and live music, all free.  Of course, the drinks in the various venues are not free. 

I am looking forward to this.  It is weird, though.  Growing up with Gatlinburg, TN, as part of my life (I consider it my other home and even thought about not leaving one time), I have a fondness for the various seasons, the hiking, the pancakes, the cabin in the hills, the hot tub, the outlet malls, the kitch, and all that.  But, I canot help but feeling a bizarre attachment to two locations in Gatlinburg, namely the steps on the north side of the convention center (where you get the smoke and talk during the regional) and the bar stools at Calhoun's (the post-mortem).  Just plain weird, to find yourself in such a fun city, with so much to do, and yet long for the next round to be called, eh?

Our friends are not bridge players.  I sent them the ACBL's link to Fred Gitelman's Learn to Play Bridge, hoping maybe somehow this would stick.  I wouldn't mind a few run around the table on a cold night, you know?

This past Thursday, our local club had a LM party for a man who returned to the game and made LM just a couple of months after his wife.  (Yes, ribbing occurred.)  The format was a "pro am" game, with the regulars each paired up with a beginner, meaning someone who does not play duplicate.  This made for a lot of fun.  There is nothing like remembering back when duplicate bridge was a new thing, eh?  I absolutely love playing with rookies.

My partner announced that he knew Blackwood, but Stayman not so much.  He was apparently the "fill in" when the men's club needed another body, the "short straw," if you will.  When we ended up winning the game, he was bursting at the seams, having earned bragging rights for at least a year.  I personally have not felt as good with any good performance in some time as I did that night.  This was not because I dragged a newbie across the line but because he kept up.  Decent defense.  Good leads.  Reasonable judgment.  I mean, sure.  By our usual standards, it was frightening.  But, I could see his mind working, and he used the assets he had very well.  I could not compliment him enough.  There were times when he would overbid a hand a bit, which meant that I needed to find the squeeze or ruse or coup or whatever, but the 21-point game was playable, and THIS night it made.

My favorite was the 6C slam on the second board of the night.  After a 1C opening from partner, I responded 1H with void-KQJxx-Axx-Qxxxx.  After 1S by my LHO, partner jumped to 2NT.  RHO raised to 3S.  Of course, I expected partner to have overbid his hand a lot, but wow was this a possible slam.  So, I leapt to 6C.  Partner thought long and hard about this and finally said, "I thought I was supposed to bid 4NT to ask for Aces, and so I don't know what to do now."  He finally shrugged his shoulders and passed.

Partner's hand was Kxxx-10x-KQx-AKJx, and clubs split 2-2.  Obviously, the slam is easily made (hearts split 3-3 as a kicker).  Partner lost the timing by ruffing the spade lead, pulling three rounds of trumps (lurker check), and then ruffing a second spade before tackling heats, for down one.  The key, though, was how he reacted.  He was fascinated by the hand and asked if he could make it.  I commented, "Render unto Caesar...lose that heart Ace as soon as possible, while you still have control of every suit."  He understood this and found it exciting.  From that point through the evening, he was golden.  And, he was never shy of trying that slam out.

There is something refreshing from that experience, and something to learn.  All too often, we get discouraged and obsessed with a squeeze line that should have worked but we forgot to cater to one more risk than was seen initially.  Anyone reading this post on this blog would run circles around Tom on this hand, easily working out the percentages and lines governing how to handle a 4-0 trump split or a bad heart stack.  The auctions to get to 6C might have included some sort of flag, cues, exclusion RKCB, some forcng pass analysis, or some other such move.  Heck, maybe some of us would have ended up with a lead problem against a spade contract.  If we miss capitalizing on a play that adds another 0.035% chance of an overtrick, and should have known, we should probably have a different reaction than self loathing throughout the rest of the session. 

Instead, how about this?  The next time you drop that trick, reflect upon how much you have developed in this game that you actually know why that 0.035% chance of an overtrick really should have been spotted.  Who else is of your ability to spot your own micro-mistake that quickly?  Boy, have you developed as a Player!

Oh, and I strongly recommend doing anything you can to get a game every so often with a rookie.  It is refreshing to remember, and I bet that rookie will get a story for his or her friends when reminiscing about that 65% game at the local club!  If you make sure that they know (or at least think) that they contributed to that game, with compliments from that scary expert, you just might create a monster, one like you were years ago.