Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Murder on Sanchez Avenue

Did you ever wonder about the maximum number of mistakes declarer can make playing a bridge contract and still make the contract? No need to consult the Guinness Book of Records, I have the answer for you. Here is a hand from a recent Swiss Team game that vividly demonstrates the answer. Stay tuned! Your Blogmaster is sitting South and declaring. Sitting North is a very patient partner, Jeanne Kitzmann.

My hand (south) is Axx, Q9xxx, AKx, xx. Partner (north) holds xx, AJx, QJxx, Kxxx. The auction was simple, 1h/1nt(F)/2nt/3h/4h. I didn’t like my 2NT bid without a club stopper, but playing strong no trumps you have these problems. We were scoring IMPs, so it is no time to be wimps. Passing never entered my mind. The opening lead is a low club from West, I decide to duck and lose the first trick to the queen of clubs. Now East switches to the Queen of spades and I grab it with my Ace. We are at trick three and I still haven’t made a mistake, or have I? Well, that was Mistake Number 1. I should have ducked the spade to set up a ruff of my third spade in dummy. But wait; there is still time to make more mistakes if I concentrate.

I can still recover and lose that spade in a timely fashion, but instead I get fixated on the trump suit, that is Mistake Number 2. I place East with the AQ of clubs and the QJ of spades, so it seems the King of hearts is with West or we would have heard from East in the bidding. Without thinking, I flop down the Queen of hearts to squeeze the King out of West’s knickers and then clear the suit. West covers with the King. Now I realize that this is not good news -- I just violated the Rule of 12 and may have to face the consequences. What, you say you never got beyond the Rule of 11? Well, here’s the last bridge rule that you will ever have to know, there is no Rule of 13.

Rule of 12: “With 8, 9 or 10 suit cards in the two hands, if the number of suit cards in the 2 hands plus the cards in your honor sequence equals 12, you can afford to lead the high card opposite the tenace and let it run. If it is less than 12, lead small to your tenace.”

There goes Mistake Number 3, I only had 8 cards in the heart suit and 2 cards in my heart honor sequence (Q, J), and so with a total of 10, I should have started with a small card intending to finesse the Jack. The King is not single, but even if it were, I could still pick up the whole suit out of East’s hand.

Actually, this hand can still be saved after three mistakes, just lead dummy’s last losing spade and at the next opportunity ruff a small spade in the dummy. Note that even if opponents lead a trump after winning the spade, I still have a small trump on the board to ruff with. It is about 80% that spades will break 5-3 or 4-4, so an over ruff is unlikely.

Here it comes, Mistake Number 4. I decide (for some reason known only to the bridge Gods) that the right play is to lead the Jack of trump hoping to drop the 10 doubleton in either hand. Well, even a simple bridge hand will not tolerate 4 cumulative errors by declarer. Both opponents produce a small trump and somebody now has the 10 which is the master trump. The opponents can still cash the club Ace, and I still have to lose that damn second spade before I can ruff my third spade with dummy’s last trump. In desperation, I lead diamonds, hoping they are 4-2 (actually a good probability) and that the person with the 10 of trump also has 4 diamonds (not a good probability). If that happens, I could sluff my last spade on the 4th diamond.

Even the bridge God’s are not that forgiving. The diamonds break 4-2, but following probabilities, the opponent with the long hearts has the short diamonds. I now lose the trump, a second club and a spade. This nifty maneuvering has turned a hand that can make an overtrick into down one. Of course at the other table they found the routine plays to make the overtrick. Oh, well, I never seem to remember anything unless it costs me at least 12 IMPs.

I quickly remark to partner that the only reason we went down was that our inept opponents stumbled onto the perfect defense. The only thing that would have actually saved us would have been a lead out of turn so partner could have played the hand.

What is the answer to the first question that I posed? In Bridge, it is 4 strikes and you’re out. This is the limit of abuse that any single hand can tolerate.

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