Squeezing The Dummy

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Defining Moments

There are moments throughout every bridge player's career that will define him as a player and competitor. Some will remain "percentage players," some will become heroes, and some will become goats.

Making a bid or play that is anti-percentage during a critical match with your whole team counting on you can be a very scary thing to do. It takes a lot of guts and a lot of confidence in your own judgment. If you are wrong and it costs the match you will take heat from your captain, your partner, your teammates, the press, and the world.

Such a moment arose for Giorgio Duboin in the 2004 Olympiad in Istanbul. His strong Italian squad met the US squad in the round of 16. Many considered this to be the match that would decide the event. With 16 boards to play, Italy was down by 26 imps. This was not insurmountable, but against such a quality team it was significant.

Halfway through the segment, Giorgio estimated that they had lost another 15 imps. Little did he know that in the other room his teammates were having a very good set. Then this deal arose:



Duboin arrived in a normal 3N with no bidding by the opponents. A heart was led to the ten and jack, and the opponents proceeded to cash 4 rounds of hearts. Duboin pitched 2 diamonds from his hand and a diamond from dummy. He cashed the AK of diamonds and Zia on his right played Jack then low, and Rosenberg played small then queen. It looked strongly like Zia had 3 diamonds to go with his 4 hearts. On the run of the clubs Zia followed twice then discarded 2 spades. So his shape was 4432. Duboin knew that his percentage play was to play Zia for the queen of spades by a margin of 4 to 3. However, after long thought he finessed Rosenberg for it and scored up his game. At this point Italy took the lead in the match and never lost it, winning by 11. They went on to win the event.

Duboin later said that he was essentially swinging, feeling like the American declarer would make the percentage play at the other table. His estimate of the match was actually wrong, but it took a lot of guts to back up his judgment.

I have only had one such moment so far in my career. In the finals of the World Youth Teams Championship in Australia. Our team faced Poland and with 3 sets to go we were down 45 imps. There were a lot of boards to go so we were certainly not swinging yet, but opportunities to gain imps were definitely welcome. The first hand I picked up was:


After 2 passes to me, I opened 1. LHO overcalled 1 and partner made a negative X. RHO now bid 2. At this point 3N is certainly the "normal" bid with my hand. I have 8 tricks and just need partner to contribute one. However, I knew partner had a stiff spade given the auction. He might have 10 round suit cards, but there was also a good likelihood he would have 3 diamonds. His values were probably outside of spades, so they would probably be working. The bid I really wanted to make was 4N, and drive to slam opposite an ace! This could work out ridiculously, but slam could also be cold. At this moment, the words my captain often uses echoed in my ears... "Keep the ball in play." Such a unilateral flight of fancy certainly violated that. If slam went down, I would be digging a deeper hole for my team. In the end I decided I'd take responsibility if it went poorly, but that I was going to back my judgment. Partner showed 1 ace and I bid the slam. I got the expected spade lead and saw a mixed dummy:



There were only 2 trumps, but the clubs offered some potential. Ruffing spades was not an option as that would leave me with a spade and club loser, so I had to try to set up the clubs. I won the spade lead and led a club immediately, LHO ducking smoothly. Not knowing the location of the heart honors, I could not gather any clues from the bidding. I did have one huge factor to base my play on, though. If I played the king and it won, I would be cold. If I played the jack and it lost to the ace, RHO would surely return a trump. Now I would need 3-3 clubs to make my contract. Accordingly, I took a deep breath and went up with the king. When that held I had 12 tricks and 11 imps. We ended up making 40 imps that set, and were right back in the match. It actually went into overtime, and we ended up winning. I still wonder what would have happened if I had gone down in that slam...

Remember when your moment comes up to back your judgment, that's what got you to that point in the first place.

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  • Hi Justin! Happy new year and all best wishes for your blog activity! It is nice to see you back. Great article about discarding on habbit!

    By Anonymous Frano, at 1/3/06, 10:32 AM  

  • Thanks, glad to be back.

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 1/3/06, 11:26 AM  

  • Would like to see some discussion on sound openings versus light. I understand the mass of players play lightish compared to 3QT and 13+

    By Blogger mike, at 1/3/06, 4:20 PM  

  • Well done Justin;)
    This is still an inferior slam, however, do you agree, it should fail on a H lead or a trump

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/9/06, 8:17 AM  

  • Indeed, a red suit lead would beat the contract. A spade lead was expected though, and luckily they don't always find the right lead. It was definitely not a good slam, but given the state of the match I didn't mind being in it that much.

    By Blogger Justin Lall, at 1/9/06, 8:43 AM  

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