Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When All Seems Hopeless Good Things Can Happen

It is probable that few of my readers have read Clyde Love’s book on Squeeze Plays. This is the all time classic from the middle of the last century and is still on top of the heap. I confess that I have started it more than once, but never finished it. It gives me a big headache. Even if you don’t know anything about Squeeze techniques, if you bring the hand down to the point where you only have one loser and then just play off the rest of your winners, you will often find that mysteriously you have an automatic squeeze on somebody. You look like a magician, and if you get that look of shock and surprise off your face, you may pass for an expert. The thing you should do at that point is say “Sorry, I should have claimed back at trick 2 since the Squeeze was elementary.”

This post is not about squeezes but does demonstrate that good things can happen in other situations if you just let it happen. Before we get to the play, I want to discuss the bidding. The hand is one that I watched on BBO on January 2.




First a bidding commentary. South opens the hand one diamond and West passes. You are playing Standard Inverted Minors so a raise to 2 diamonds is a good 10 hcps with no upper limit and 4+ card support for diamonds. In the auction North responded 1NT in preference to 2 diamonds. She later asked me what I thought of that choice. When you play Standard Inverted Minors there is a tough range where your hand is not quite good enough for a single raise but too strong for a preemptive raise to 3 diamonds (0-7 hcps and diamond support). You have to find a bid for the hands that fall in between these values. Most players with that in-between hand will bid 1NT. Often 1NT will be passed out for a good board. On a good day your diamonds will produce 5 tricks.

What about North hand. It has 10 hcps, but it has a balanced shape that is a negative in a suit contract. It also has only 1 Quick Trick, no Aces, mostly secondary honors and the two black Kings are not supported by other honors in the suit. If North bids 2 diamonds they might end up in a no trump game that is unmakeable. Also notice that if you play 1NT, you want the lead coming up to North’s two black Kings, not coming through them. I think her choice is a good one since Standard Inverted Minors was their agreement.

I think the hand would go easier if they played Criss Cross Inverted Minors. North could then bid 3 clubs (showing a limit raise for diamonds) without worrying about the bidding getting out of control. South with minimum opening values would bid 3 diamonds which is to play. When you play Criss Cross, the single raise in diamonds shows an opening hand thus permitting responder to better describe her hand. The response of 3 diamonds is always preemptive, in or out of competition.

Following the 1NT response, East and South pass, but West decides to balance with a 2 heart bid. What foolishness!! If North doubles, it goes down 2 for minus -500. North, without any trump tricks, decided not to do that, but now took the opportunity to show her good diamonds by bidding 3 diamonds which was passed out.

West led a spade. You will note that if he had laid down his Ace of clubs, my cat Axel could have played the hand. Generally, experts say that it is not good to lead unsupported Aces against suit contracts unless opponents have bid a game or higher. Then it is permissible, but you still need a reason for doing it. Now you have to move into the South seat and make 3 diamonds. It was surprising to me that the traveler showed that most did not make the hand without a club lead. Take hint from the title of this blog. When all else fails, just lay down your winners and good things can happen. Stop reading here and try the hand.
This is an interesting hand because it is an automatic. There is no lead that can beat the hand and nothing the opponents can do on defense to upset the result. It is apparent that you need to avoid 2 losers in the club suit, and since opponents correctly didn’t lead clubs on the opening, don’t expect them to do so after they see the dummy. After winning the spade you go after trump. East wins the second diamond with the ace and returns a heart. Declarer wins the return in the hand. Now is the moment of truth. Declarer must clear his two hands of hearts by ruffing the third heart in the dummy. You must play on hearts before you lead spades. You simply play the Ace, give up the next heart, and when you get back in ruff the third heart in the dummy. If at any point you try to lead toward one of your club honors you are done for. There is no way that you can succeed in the club suit unless you get the opponents to lead a club. They will not willingly do that.

When all else fails just play out your cards. Lay down the Ace, King and a small spade to “throw in” one of the opponents. In this layout it doesn’t make any difference which opponent wins the spade trick, they are both end played. If East wins, he must lead a spade or heart, either of which will give declarer a ruff and sluff, pitching one of his clubs. If the lead is a club declarer will make two club tricks. If West wins the third spade, he must lead a heart or club, both of which are deadly.

My cat, Axel, whose favorite perch is in front of my screen, commented “Don’t sell me short Doc, I can make that hand since all you have to do is lay down your cards in order, high cards first.” Well, he is probably right because the strip and endplay is an automatic, and even if you don’t know what that is, you can hardly avoid executing it. As you lay down the third spade simultaneously "claim", it will sound very impressive in the post mortem.”

So the moral of the post is when all else seems lost don’t give up, just avoid a renege and that may carry the day.


Larry Miles said...

Tommy- Good to see you back on the Blog. Enjoyed your commentary on the squeeze. They often just seem to happen but when you do it intentionally and can watch an opponent squirm, it is priceless. the better players see it coming and concede. How great!
Of course it sounds like I was sitting West. I think it is almost mandatory to balance in this position at matchpoints. Even vulnerable. At imps I agree it would be foolish. In fact at imps this is a throwaway board with few imps at stake. At matchpoints this hand is life and death and the bullets are flying. Three diamonds made is probably only average or so. 1NT easily makes 8 tricks for 120 and could make 3NT as easily as making 3D. You can count your matchpoints on 1 finger(or 2) but no more. West MUST bid and move them out of 1NT. After the balancing bid, north should show his excellent diamond support. A pass allows a 2H bid by East and diamond support comes later. No matter what I win by getting them out of their best contract. What about 2Hx. I dont think it is too bad. With careful play and some good guesses I can make 2H. Losing only a diamond, a heart, two spades and a club. Wouldn't that be fun. Well I,ve wrote enough. See you in the spring. Your friend, Larry.

em64th said...

Finally getting to read this great blog. Tommy, you're an artist at story-telling. I laughed my liver loose, i.e. "if you get that look of surprise off your face, you may look like an expert" and " my cat Axel, could play the hand". You're a breathe of spring in the bridge world.

On a sad note: We lost Kathy Kruggel to cancer last Sunday. She had pancreatic cancer, diagnosed last summer. She was able to stay at home with hospice and had her family right there with her to the end. We attended the funeral Thursday.

I may, just may, get to Florida in Feb, and part of March. Have some things to resolve first. Will be staying near Bradenton, and I hope to play some, relax some, catch up on some reading, and just be.

Keep up the great writing, Tommy. We all need your wit and good will.