Squeezing The Dummy

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nightmare Set Conclusion

After trouncing us 55-0 in 8 boards, Italy was down just 41 imps with 8 to go. If they could complete their comeback, it would likely be the greatest in the history of international bridge.

On board 9 our opponents bid to a 19 point 5. The contract needed a finesse and a 2-1 break and made. I thought it was likely our teammates would find the game as well, and sure enough they did. They also got doubled as their auction made it sound like they were saving. Something strange happened in the play though. Joe Grue with a club suit of AKT975 opposite 8432 led low to the seven! Joe felt from the tempo that clubs were 3-0. He was wrong this time, but what makes him so great is his courage to back his judgment and buck the percentages. Nine times out of ten he is right. This time we lost 11 imps.

Italy 66 USA 0

Thankfully for us at this point there were 5 flat boards where we were outscored 3-1. There was a game that both tables went down in that was makeable, but both declarers took the correct percentage line.

Italy 69 USA 1

On board 15 I picked up 7 AJ3 KQJ86 T875. Ari opened 1 and RHO bid 1. I had numerous options here. I could bid 2 to show a good club raise, or 3 to show a game forcing club raise with spade shortness. My club support seemed very weak for both of those actions though as partner may have a 3 card suit, and diamonds might well be our best spot. I could bid a simple 2 to be followed by a club bid, but I was worried that the opponents with a big spade fit may preempt to a high level and leave us guessing. I decided to make a fit jump with 3 to show diamonds and clubs and invitational or better values. This gave Ari a difficult problem with AK4 42 9732 AK94. With such weak hearts, 3N was out. Would 3 show spade values and heart weakness? Similarly, would 3 show the same thing? We were not on firm ground, and Ari's prime values argued for suit play anyways. He bid 4 and I raised him to 5. That went down with 3N cold. I knew this was a very poor result, and it ended up being a 10 imp loss when our counterparts found 3N. In retrospect, I think my hand was not pure enough for a fit jump and I should have just taken my chances with a 2 bid.

Italy 79 USA 1

On the final board of the set, I held KT2 9 AKQJT92 54. Ari opened 1, I forced to game with 2, and LHO came in with 3. Now Ari bid 3N. This brings up an interesting theoretical question, should 3N show extras or just a double stopper? If it showed extras then with a minimum you can pass and bid 3N if partner Xs. However, if it shows a double stopper then passing and bidding 3N would show a single stopper. Theory didn't matter much to me at the table though, I had to make a bid. I had a great hand, but not good enough to force it to slam (especially if partner just had a minimum). I didn't want to risk any spade ruffs playing diamonds, so I bid a quantitative 4N. Ari, who thought he hadn't shown extras, drove it to slam with AQ AQ752 86 QJ98. The AK of clubs was on lead and doubled us for -200. At the other table the Italians got to 6. Now the AK of clubs was not on lead, and the contract can actually make with a spade lead via a strip squeeze! John found a heart lead, which broke the communications for the squeeze and held our loss on the board to 3 imps. Had he led a spade we would have lost 17 imps on the board, and won the event by a single imp!

Final Score: Italy 82 USA 1

Wow! We had held on to win by just 15 imps. Let's analyze how the Italians had managed to pick up so many imps in the last set.

There were 4 major swings, 4 medium swings, and 3 minor swings their way. There was only 1 minor swing in our favor.

The major swings were caused by a different lead against a slam, a marginal overcall being made at one table and not at the other, a different guess in the trump suit, and a different game being reached. These swings amounted to 53 imps.

The medium swings were caused by better judgment on a partscore hand, better judgment in high level competition, a different partscore being reached due to systemic differences, and a double made at one table but not the other. These swings amounted to 23 imps.

The minor swings were a couple of overtricks and a double made at one table and not the other. These swings amounted to 6 imps. Our minor swing was only 1 imp.

The Italians were NOT swinging, doing anything wildly anti-percentage, or anything else that could be classified as crazy. They simply played good aggressive bridge, and did it much better than us in that set. We made some mistakes and they made very few.

To me the lesson that can be learned from this amazing set is that no matter how many imps you are down, you should just keep playing normal bridge. This is what Bob Hamman has been trying to tell me for years, but I had to learn the hard way. Who could have guessed that he knew what he was talking about this whole time?


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Nightmare Set Part 2

When we last left off Italy had outscored us 36-0 in the first 4 boards of the final 16 board segment of the World Youth Teams. They were still down 60 but they had momentum and nothing to lose at this point.

On board 5 systemic differences contributed to a swing. At our table the Italians opened 1 with 4432 shape. This enabled them to easily get to 3 in their 6-2 fit where there was nothing to the play. In contrast, Grue opened 1 and Kranyak had a normal 1N response so clubs were missed. Kranyak could have made 1N by playing for a finesse but instead he took a line requiring 3-2 clubs and 4-4 diamonds. This may seem strange, but it just shows that fatigue is really a factor in these marathon events. Grue and Kranyak played every single board for our team, and this was the last set. If you are ever going to lose focus a 1N contract in a match that you're supposed to have locked up is the time to do it. Kranyak would never have misplayed this hand had he been fresh, but as it was we lost 5 imps.

Italy 41 USA 0

On board 6 our opponents got to 5 with a trump suit of AJT86432 opposite 7 needing to play it for 1 loser. Playing low to the jack caters to KQx onside but loses to Kxx or Qxx onside. The odds are exactly the same for both plays (2 cases each of 3-1 splits). However, getting to dummy to lead up to the AJT would run the small risk of a ruff should a side suit split poorly so declarer played the ace from hand. It was KQ9 onside so he went down 1. This was a potential plus position for us but in the other room Grue played the same way, no swing.

Italy 41 USA 0

On board 7 Ari picked up KJ7654 T3 K87 AJ. With everyone vulnerable he opened 1 and I raised to 2. He had a preemptive 3 bid available now and had to choose whether or not to use it. Personally, I like passing. The only reason to bid is if you fear the opponents can make something at the four level as you can always bid 3 after passing if they balance. With so much defense and no shortness, that risk seems pretty small. Given that you don't need to shut them out of the four level, passing is best because you might buy it there. Ari did bid 3 and went down 2 after misguessing the play. In the other room Lo Presti passed in the same position and got to play it there. He judged the play well and made, so we lost 7 imps. Sometimes these seem like nothing hands, but these 5 and 7 imp losses were adding up quickly.

Italy 48 USA 0

On board 8 I picked up A96432 --- K765 T87. Partner passed, and RHO bid 1. With nobody vul it felt right to jam them with a 2 preempt. The auction proceeded 3 on my left, 4 from partner, 5 on my right, pass, 6 on my left. Partner now doubled them! He was asking for an unusual lead, so I had to pick which minor he wanted.

I considered laying down the spade ace on the assumption that we needed two tricks, so the ace of spades would need to cash. Then after seeing dummy I could tell which minor my partner wanted. Partner may have a trump trick and a void though, or my diamond king may be scoring so if the spade ace got ruffed that would be a disaster. Obviously diamonds is most likely to be partner's void since I have more of them, but a club lead was attractive for a couple of reasons. For starters, if partner was void in diamonds RHO may still hold the ace allowing me to set the contract anyways if I could score my king later. However, if partner had a club void a diamond lead would almost certainly let the contract make. Also, if LHO is bidding based on a long solid minor and heart support it is far more likely that he has clubs since he could have all the honors in that suit. It didn't sound like they had enough HCPs for slam, so they probably had a compensating trick source. After agonizing for several minutes I chose a club to lead.

Partner was void in diamonds, but had 5 trumps and ended up with 2 natural winners anyways to go with my spade ace. It was all irrelevant and we collected a satisfying 300. At the other table the auction had the same start except that 3 showed exactly 3 hearts. Grue, with KT AKT65 JT842 9 didn't like his chances at the five level with an just 8 card fit and the wasted spade king, so he Xed to tell his partner not to bid. His partner obediently passed, but with both opponents void in a red suit the contract proved to be unbeatable! That was 590 and another 7 imps to Italy.

Italy 55 USA 0

After 8 boards Italy had not only shut us out, they had scored an incredible 55 imps themselves! They were down to a manageable 41 imp deficit with 8 more boards left. Usually that would seem like a lot, but since they had just scored 55 imps in the same amount of boards and had tremendous momentum it seemed feasible to everyone that they could win. By the change in their expressions at the table, the Italian players also seemed to believe it.