Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A straightforward (?) 6nt

I was kibitzing on bbo vugraph when declarer had to play this hand in 6nt:

Dummy: xx KQT9 AKxx AKJ

Declarer: KTx AJx Qxx Q9xx

A heart was led.

Apologies for the length of this analysis; as in my favorite Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a shorter one."

The obvious question is, do you (a) play a spade to K without testing diamonds, or (b) test diamonds first? As a straight percentage problem, the easiest thing to calculate, I think, is swing cases. (a) wins a swing when rho has 4 diamonds and SA, about 11%. (b) wins a swing when diamonds 3-3 and sa off, about 18%. Note that when diamonds are 5-1 you can switch to spades, so no swing in that case.

We didn’t take into account that an expert lho may duck the SA (!) when you lead low to the K (if you do it early), hoping you have KQT and misguess later. The likelihood of this is very hard to evaluate.

Of course, it looks attractive to (c) cash your hearts+clubs before committing yourself. The percentages may change. You would come down to:

Dummy: x --- AKxx ---

Declarer: KT --- Qxx ----

and can still choose either option. The drawback to this is that when LHO shows out on the second round of diamonds, you can no longer switch gears (you’re cut off from spades,) so this line looks bad when diamonds are 5-1. You might therefore leave the 4th club uncashed. But cashing all your winners has an advantage: if RHO started with QJxx spades and 4 diamonds, he’ll be squeezed down to a stiff spade honor and you make it if you read the position, which I think you will: who is diabolical enough to pitch a spade honor and keep 2 small, holding such as Jxxxx xx Jxx xxx?

I love how this extremely simple-looking hand has so many wrinkles. Another diabolical falsecard opportunity that might occur is when RHO has the aforementioned QJxx xx JTxx xxx. When you cash hearts and clubs, what if he nonchalantly pitched a diamond and two spades (preferably diamond first,) unguarding diamonds? Wouldn’t you think he must have started with 5 diamonds, and play for the SA onside? Could any defender do that in real life, though? He doesn’t even know you have the ST.

My verdict is that I would cash all the winners (this is assuming hearts+clubs aren’t 5-1), then try to get the ending right – if RHO has even two fewer round cards than LHO, my calculations say the percentages shift enough to favor (a).

The real-life story? RHO had AJxx xx JTxx xxx. Both declarers tested hearts and clubs without cashing the 4th club, then despite the breaks took line (b), going down for a push. If they had cashed the last club they would have seen the SJ pitch and probably gone right whether or not they did the math. No falsecard opportunities with this hand; any other pitch leaves declarer only winning options.

Friday, June 26, 2009

No inference from the auction?

White on red, you deal and reach 4H on an uncontested auction: 1H – 4C - 4H

Dummy: 984 K952 A87643 ---

Declarer: A2 Q8764 QT92 A6

There is no perfect bid with dummy’s hand, so I think the splinter with a void is fine. The SJ is led. How do you play?

With this trump combination, you need to decide which opponent is more likely to have a stiff trump and lead a low one through him, succeeding when he has stiff A, J or T, as well as on 2-2 breaks other than JT tight (assuming you take the second-round restricted-choice finesse.) No opposing bidding here, so it’s just a guess, right? Not at all! It was much easier for lefty to enter this auction than righty, which means that righty is much more likely to have a stiff heart (and 10 or 11 black cards.) So, ruff a club and lead a small heart. I’ve thought about this kind of auction before, so the inference should have been routine, but somehow when it came up (round of 32 at the USBC) I was “off my game” and played a heart to the K at trick 2. RHO had stiff T, and there was no stiff K in diamonds, so that was down 1. I cannot report the auction at the other table, but the board was a push.

Note that because the auction makes 2-2 trump breaks more likely, one might be tempted to go against restricted choice even when the HT appears, but I do think you should finesse…there are lots of hands where rho can’t bid red/white with a stiff heart.

The hand record is at http://usbf.org/docs/vugraphs/USBC2009/hands/USBC2009_R32_13_20_1-30.PDF (board 12)

A digression on tennis

I'm generally interested in the rules of all games -- in particular, in the "best" set of rules, that will make the game the most fun to watch or play, or most likely to pick a worthy champion, according to the goals of the contest. Those of you who have watched Wimbledon over the years won't be surprised by what I have to say: the game (on the men's side) would be much more fun to watch if the serving weren't so dominant. I (and others) have thought this for years; I was reminded by having just viewed what is probably the most extreme set ever played in this regard. In the 4th set between Ivo Karlovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they reached 6-all with the servers losing only one point combined! That's 24/24 for Karlovic, 24/25 for the comparatively pathetic serve of Tsonga. They must have choked up under the pressure of the tiebreak, because the 6'10" Karlovic actually lost a point on serve (by missing an easy volley) and Tsonga lost two, Karlovic taking the tiebreak and the match 7-5. Too bad, it would have been fascinating to see how long the 5th set (with no tiebreak) would have lasted! (Note: Just before I tuned in, Karlovic had in fact won the 3rd set with the only break of the match.)

Well, it's clear the game would have more suspenseful moments for the fans, as well as putting more of a premium on a variety of skilled shotmaking by the players, if the serve weren't so dominant. Of course if someone wanted to fix this, it's not hard to think of proposals such as shrinking the service box or, even more extreme, allowing only one serve. There are reasons, of course, that this is very unlikely to happen. For one thing, the current top players have mastered their craft under the current rules, and I suspect they would hate the idea of any significant change. For another, the current rules work fine for casual players, and it would be inconvenient to have different rules at all levels other than professional (I admit that even as a *very* casual player, I liked the idea that I was on the same-shaped court with the same rules as the pros.)

Something that can be done without a revolt is to tinker with the surface, and in fact Wimbledon did this a few years ago, so a backcourt game is more viable there than it used to be, and returners have more of a chance. I find the improvement in watchability to be generally quite noticeable. Also possible is some restriction on rackets -- I've heard this is politically very difficult because of the sponsors, but golf restricts the clubs, so maybe it's not impossible.

By the way: a very modest rule change that players might not find too jarring would be to make all serves that hit the netcord faults (as in volleyball.) No one aims for the netcord, and it's basically luck when it drops in for a let anyway, so this leaves the game relatively unchanged while decreasing the server's advantage by a smidgen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Squeeze or be squeezed

A simple-looking 3nt on board 32 from our 3rd quarter against the Diamond team led to very interesting play. The hand record is at: http://usbf.org/docs/vugraphs/USBCUSA2/hands/USBCUSA2_2009_R32_5_T1_31-60.PDF

The play started the same way at both tables: North (Brad Moss and I) led a spade, declarer played 2 more rounds, and we played a 4th round. Now declarer led the DQ and we both erred by ducking. Brian Platnick capitalized by cashing his clubs, and I was squeeze/endplayed – whatever I pitched, he could exit appropriately for 9 tricks. Note the difference if I win the diamond and cash my spade -- *declarer* is squeezed from 9 winners down to 8, I exit safely, and he is down. Notice also, declarer had to “steal” that diamond trick before the squeeze would function against me. Well played, right? Maybe not.

At the other table, after the DQ was ducked, declarer (Mark Lair) led a heart to the K, for an immediate down 1. The commentators found this odd, but unsurprisingly Lair’s play is well-reasoned. Suppose we move the HA to the South hand. Now after Platnick cashed his clubs and exited a diamond, the last spade would squeeze him for down 1. (The defense has cleverly lost 8 tricks to rectify the count J.) So effectively Platnick played North for the HA and Lair played South for it -- Lair’s play looks like the better percentage because of the spade distribution, so declarer “should” go down even after the misdefense. Maybe Platnick thought he had a sure thing by forcing me to lead hearts, and overlooked the possible impending squeeze against him. Or maybe I do him a disservice and he “read” me for the HA, but I don’t see how.

Now, Moss and I should have been able to avoid that fatal diamond duck – once you think about it, it can’t be wrong to win, cash your spade and exit. We were led astray by the rule of thumb “no point in winning the trick if you don’t have 5 to cash.” This is often a good rule, but the rule that truly applied here was “grab your tricks early if endplays are possible.” Note that this would have been really obvious if clubs had been cashed first, and we had pitched a diamond – no one would then duck the diamond and leave themselves with bare ace. Holding Axx in diamonds gave a false sense that it was ok to duck the trick – the third diamond is an illusion because you can be squeezed out of it.

By the way, it looks like an improvement for declarer to play one round of diamonds before the 3rd round of spades. This is necessary to make it double-dummy (following Platnick’s line thereafter. If you plan to play South for HA I suppose it doesn’t matter.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Round of 16

Teammates had great 3rd quarter to lead by 51, we played solid 4th to win by 73.

Now we play against Jacobs.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Playing the round of 32

Down 12 after 1 quarter. I messed up a couple of hands that are bothering me. Sitting out the 2nd quarter now -- 3rd and 4th quarter tomorrow.

Update: Teammates picked some up, we're up 11 after 30/60 boards. 3rd and 4th quarters tomorrow.

Friday, June 5, 2009

First day complete

Having played 7/10 of our matches, we are 18 VPs above average, 2nd in our group. The first day's results are at http://usbf.org/docs/vugraphs/USBC2009/RRsheet.php?stage=RR1&group=Mets

Cohler, the top-seeded team in this stage (higher-ranked teams have byes), is currently below the surface and has only two matches to come up for air. Schwartz, #2 in our group, has their head just above water. Unlikely they both make it; someone would need to fall hard. In the other group the top teams are much more comfortable. (I prefer the drowning metaphor to an NCAAish "on the bubble" -- maybe it seems more appropriate because we know where the "surface" is.)

Live blog from Team Trials

You hold xxx xx Axx QJT8x. You deal, red/white, it goes P-3D-X-P-?

Let’s say you bid 3NT. It goes P, P, double and you…?

I got this one wrong and we lost that match, but so far about 8 VPS above average through 4 matches.

Update: We’ve now played 6 of our 10 matches and are 20 VPs above average. 7 out of 11 qualify, so we would have to really stink to blow it. We might win our group, which would give us a small bonus in seeding points.

A tricky defensive problem: You hold xxx AKJ9 xxx xxx, on lead against 1c-1h-2nt-3nt. Say you lead the A, which asks for attitude. Dummy has JTx 8xxx Jt9x Ax. Partner plays the lowest outstanding spot, upside-down attitude. Your play?