Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tommy Passes 5th Grade Math but Flunks Match Point Duplicate

I got comments from all over the world on my 7NT adventure. Some suggested a competency hearing and some that I find a new hobby where I won’t disturb others. One person suggested that my math solutions are an insult to 5th graders; they are well beyond that stuff. Seems like just yesterday I was there learning long division!!

Another group of commentators suggested that the contract of 7NT was poor math in itself, since it was far from the best contract in a match point game. I don’t disagree with that but I have my justifications. First, I did say that it was the last board of the day. Second, we were a little desperate and things had not been going our way. Third, when I was learning bridge I played all the Swiss Teams and Knockouts I could find in a rush to life master. I love match points, but sometimes my IMP mentality gets the best of me. Finally, if I had not bid 7NT with that hand, my partner Howard Christ would have pouted for a week. You don’t want to go there.

Still, any way you cut it, 7NT may not be the best match point contract. One of the premier players in the Ocala Duplicate Bridge Club, Cliff Garing, told me a long ago that in club games it is not practical to bid Grand Slams, since some in the field will fail to get to slam, some will go down trying to make 7 and 6 of anything bid and made will, over time, reward you with an average plus.

My sometimes partner, Mike Spitulnik, is a heavy weight bridge thinker from Rochester, New York. Mike is a multiple Ace of Clubs winner and had the distinction of becoming a life master, as well as bronze and silver on the same day. Mike felt that the contract was aggressive, but deserving. He believes that in a high quality field several aggressive bidding pairs will be in 7NT and the important thing is not to separate yourself from those teams if that’s where you want to be. He points out that taking the clubs and hearts early hoping to lure opponents into a mistake is sheer folly since it won’t fool anybody and at the same time exposes the contract to being down 2 instead of down 1 if the spade suit does not work out. His point is well taken, and substantiated by the fact that I never saw a spade sluff.

Jon Shuster, a bridge expert and author from Gainesville, also took issue with the bidding of the contract. He believes that if you want to play an aggressive 7 contract, 7 diamonds is much safer than 7NT and that standard bidding with responder showing both spades and diamonds will enable you to find the 8 card diamond fit. It is a risk reward situation. If you accept Mike’s argument that strong aggressive bidders will be in 7 NT, then 7 diamonds is going to cost some match points. The trade off is that when diamonds are 3-2 (about two thirds of the time) you will be able to ruff the third spade. Even if diamonds are 4-1 (which they were) you get a spade ruff if opponent’s spades are 4-2 and the person with short spades does not have the long diamond. Jon has a PhD in medical statistics, so I am sure all these alternate chances support his view. But where is the romance in 7 diamonds and how can you write a blog about that?

My high math consultant is Janice Barnes. I thought for sure that this nice technical analysis of play probabilities would appeal to her. Janice seemed pleased that I finally used the terms “probability” and “odds” in the correct context, but expressed some doubt about whether, with all the variable factors, any math can be practically applied at the table. Janice says that she would far prefer to be a bridge savant who just looks at a dummy and knows all the correct plays instinctively. Dream on Janice, wouldn’t we all? The downside is that those players often forget their partner’s first name.

I am not giving up on the Law of Vacant Places although it seems to be a hard sell to my readers. I am going to rename it Tommy’s Law of Empty Spaces and give it one more try in my next post. Good ideas rarely take without repeating. Jean Rene Vernes wrote about the Law of Total Tricks in the June, 1969 Bridge World, Marty Bergen wrote about it again in 1979, but it was not until Larry Cohen wrote “To Bid or Not to Bid” in 1992” that duplicate players actually started to widely apply it. That’s because Larry discussed "the Law" in a language that common folks could understand. Let’s see if I am up to that standard.

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