Ray Lee

An Olympic moment

It’s always interesting to compare bridge to other sports, and I was fascinated by an incident I watched last night during a women’s curling game at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The match involved Canada’s Cheryl Barnard against one of the other top rinks, the Swiss skipped by Mirjam Ott.  The situation was tense — it was the 10th and final end, and the teams were tied.  Canada had last rock, so held a slight advantage, but were busy playing themselves into trouble.  A Swiss rock was closest to the button, buried behind guards.  Then the Canadian third made a potential game-saver — she threw a rock that took out two of the Swiss guards, driving one of them on to the shot rock and starting it on its way out of the rings.  That’s when things got complicated.

For those of you not familiar with curling, each team is allowed one person actually standing in the target rings (I’ll simplify this) whose job is to sweep rocks that are moving in the rings.  Usually that’s the skip, and Barnard was standing there for Canada.  Unfortunately, while her team was playing for the double takeout on the guards, she didn’t expect to get a piece of shot rock too, and when that started moving it tookher by surprise — and by the foot too.  So the Swiss rock stopped dead instead of continuing on towards the edge of the playing surface.

Now the rules in this situation are as follows.  The non-offending side has two options: they can put the rock back where it came from, or they can try to position it where they think it would have stopped without interference.  In this case, it represented a big advantage to the Swiss team to replace it as though it had never moved — and with only a couple of rocks each left, possibly even a winning advantage.

Mirjam Ott did not hesitate — she strode over to the rock and quickly pushed it out towards the edge of the rings, to where she estimated it would have ended up without the accidental Canadian interference.  Five minutes later, the game was over, and Canada had won it.

This is I suppose somewhat akin to the familiar ‘obligation to enforce the rules to protect the field’ debate we hear at bridge.  And yet it’s more than that.  Here’s a player in one of the most important competitions she’ll ever compete in, opting not to take an advantage she’s perfectly entitled to under the rules, instead simply electing to restore equity.   It was a magnificent moment of sportsmanship — yet the cynical part of me was wondering whether she would have done it in the Gold Medal game.

Perhaps not — but I can’t honestly look at myself in the mirror and claim that I would have done it at all.  Would you?

New from MPP Part 2

There’s much controversy in ACBL-land these days about the dreaded Multi.  At least, it must be dreaded by someone, since you don’t get to play it in many events.  Linda wasn’t allowed to use it last month in two National Championship events, since neither involved the requisite 6+ boards per round.  Brian Senior, also playing in San Diego, commented to me in his usual acerbic fashion that he thought it strange that when he was allowed to play Multi, he had to provide a written defense to it, even to opponents who played the convention themselves.  To me it seems odd that a convention that every LOL can deal comfortably with outside North America is so restricted here.  Especially odd when you are allowed to use a Multi defense to 1NT — a 2 overcall that shows an unspecified major suit.  I suspect my friend Bobby Wolff will take me to task for this comment as I know he believes that Multi is fraught with potential ethical issues, but if it is, why allow it as an overcall of 1NT?  In fact, why allow it at all?  I think the worry in the ACBL is ‘time to prepare a defense’ — which if the convention were more prevalent, wouldn’t really be an issue.  I suspect some ACBL Director got a bad board one time against it, and that put paid to that.

Surprisingly, for a convention so widely used (in the rest of the world at least), there’s very little written about it, and nothing at all in terms of modern ideas collected in one place.  Until March, of course.  That’s when The Mysterious Multi — how to play it, how to play against it by Mark Horton and Jan van Cleeff will be available.

Actually, this book is much more than it appears from the title.  Yes, it does cover the Multi (in all its various forms, not just the weak-two version), and suggests a number of modern methods for constructive auctions following on from the opening bid.  Which one you select will depend on how complicated you want your system to be, and how much memory work you are comfortable with.  The same is true of defenses to Multi, which are also covered in detail (there’s even an appendix which runs to 6 closely spaced pages — this is the defense Eric Kokish recommends to pairs he coaches who don’t want to do too much work!).

However, I’ve never personally been convinced that Multi in and of itself is terribly effective (as long as your defense includes natural two-level major-suit overcalls).  What I do like about Multi is that if you use it, it frees up other two-bids, and the book spends a great deal of its time discussing the options that become available for opening bids of 2 , 2 , and 2NT.  So we have a full treatment of Muiderberg twos, which are becoming very popular for good reason, as well as some less common approaches such as a three-suited 2 opening, and a weak two-suited 2NT.

The conventional Multi defense to 1NT (variously known as Multi-Landy and Woolsey) gets a whole chapter.  There’s no doubt that at an expert level, this is the majority pick for a defense to 1NT, so even if you don’t want to play it yourself, it’s important to become familiar with it and learn how to deal with it.  Finally there’s a fascinating chapter on some very modern Dutch bidding theory, which involves using a Multi 2 response to an opening bid in a minor.  The concept is similar — you can use the bid as a weak jump shift in an unspecified major suit, and free up the other two-bids for assignment eslewhere.

A book by two top journalists is bound to contain a host of deals from championship play, and this one is no exception.  It’s rounded out with a chapter entitled ‘Multi in Action’, which is just that.  Mark assured me they would be careful to be objective, and include deals where Multi didn’t work out so well in addition to ones where it paid off. Indeed, there are plenty of both types.

Perhaps I should send copies to the ACBL Board — do you think we could convince them that Multi isn’t so mysterious after all?

New from MPP Part 1

As we approach the holidays, this is one of the busiest times of the year for us at MPP, although probably not for the reasons you think.  We’re a publisher, not a bookseller, and people do insist on interrupting our real work to buy books from us.  Some of them even come to the office to pick them up for gifts!  Meanwhile, we’re trying to get three new books off to press, which is what I really want to write about here.

Anyone following Linda’s blog knows about the new edition of Love’s Bridge Squeezes Complete.  We ‘re all very proud of this one; sometimes you just have the feeling you’re working on something important, and this is one of those occasions.  I know Linda feels that way, and I suspect Julian Pottage (who helped enormously) does too.  Our second book on our Spring list, though, may also turn out to be a major contribution to the literature:  Bob MacKinnon’s Bridge, Probability and Information.

I constantly see people misuse numbers and statistics, which irritates me.  There’s an old saying about there being ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ (something ‘climate change’ fanatics might do well to remember), and it’s a pleasure to see a professional explain what conclusions you can and cannot legitimately reach from a particular collection of data.  There was an article published about 4 months ago in which statistics were relied upon to support some very dubious conclusions about the usefulness of the Multi two diamonds convention.   In a happy coincidence, Bob describes in the book the fallacies in the arguments that were used, using a different example, the Flannery two diamonds.

Bridge is not chess — it’s a game of inference rather than complete information, so whether we like it or not, there are certain basic mathematical concepts and numbers that we have to know in order to play it well.  I’ve been kicking around some of these ideas with Bob for a few years now, ever since he wrote Samurai Bridge for us.  And if you read Bob’s blog, you’ve had a glimpse of some of what he talks about in this book.  Bob is a retired mathematician who happens to be very literate, very well-read, and an excellent writer.  What I told him when we started the project was that it had to be aimed at bridge players, not mathematicians, and I think in the end he’s pulled it off.  When Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time, the story goes that his editor warned him he would lose 25% of his readers with every equation he put in the book.  In the end, he insisted on only one, e=mc2. I think Bob has managed to outdo Hawking, in that there isn’t a single equation in his book — the ideas are the thing.  What we have left, after all the heavy math was eliminated, is a fascinating and readable account of the ideas of probability and information theory, and a host of practical applications of them to bridge.

The book starts by tracing the history of the theory of probability, with the young Blaise Pascal throwing dice and pondering the results.  Quickly, though, we get to the bridge table, where after briefly looking at the kind of numbers that any bridge player knows (the 3-2 break is 68%, for example), we are gently blown out of the water.  Those simple numbers we all know and love, it seems, merely represent an approximation at the start of each deal, when we have little information.  As bids are made and cards are played, the amount of information we have changes — and so do the odds.  We may know this instinctively (for example, when someone preempts we tend to suspect that other suits may not be breaking well), but we don’t know how to apply it in any kind of quantitative sense.  But of course, the known splits in one suit do affect the probabilities of splits in another — and we all make the mistake of looking at these things in isolation, when we should not.

Once we get into the habit of looking at suit splits holistically, many interesting conclusions can be drawn, with obvious practical applications.  Let me give one example.   We’re looking to pick up trumps, missing four of them to the queen; normally we would play for the drop.  But what if RHO has preempted, so diamonds are likely to be 2-7, say.  That leaves LHO with 5 more vacant places in his hand for the queen.  So now, you say, the odds must favour a finesse.  True, but by how much?  At what point, in terms of an imbalance in Vacant Places, do we switch from playing for the drop to finessing?  Do you see what I mean by practical applications?

There’s much more in this book, though.  Having laid the groundwork, Bob goes on to discuss a host of (to me at least) fascinating bridge issues, these among them:

  • The idea of visualizing ‘sides’, the complete combined holdings of both defenders, and not just the splits in individual suits
  • How a known split in one suit affects the odds in another
  • Empirical rules to help make decisions when there is incomplete information or the situation is too complex to analyze accurately
  • How a priori probabilities (the ones with which we are all familiar) change with each card played
  • How an imbalance of vacant places in the defenders’ hands affects the odds – and when to change your line of play as a result
  • The ‘Monty Hall Problem’ and its bridge cousin, Restricted Choice
  • HCP distribution – what partner’s bidding tells you about where his high cards are
  • Information versus frequency: the trade-off in choosing conventions
  • Losing Trick Count – does it work, and if so, why?
  • Probability, statistics and the LAW of Total Tricks – how far can you rely on it?
  • Cost versus gain: information theory as applied to bidding systems
  • Using statistics to help you choose a bidding system that works for your style of play

This is a book I’ve wanted to publish for some time; I hope readers out there are as enthusiastic as I am about it.

Honors for books

Excuse the attempt at a catchy title — we haven’t actually won anything recently.  What I do want to do is explain the concept behind ‘Honors’, a new imprint we’re going to be launching early next year.

Like most publishers, MPP receives a good number of unsolicited manuscripts.  Roughly, these fall into three categories — the obviously publishable, and obviously unpublishable, and those in between.  There are a surprising number in that third group.  MPP is a business, and our titles have to have some prospect at least of paying the bills, even if they’ll never be bestsellers.  But we do get proposals every year for books that, while they have some intrinsic merit, don’t appear to us to have much chance of paying their way.  A good example is the second edition of ‘Bridge: the Ultimate Limits’, by Eric Mansfield, which I confess has been on my desk for the best part of two years now.  Those familiar with this book will know that Mansfield is a problem constructor of a very high order, specializing in extremely complex endings.  The book indeed contains the only known example of a hexagonal squeeze.  When I got the draft of the new edition from the author, I asked The Bridge World editor Jeff Rubens what he thought, and his view was that we might sell 50 copies of it (although I think he would have been a purchaser!).  So here’s a good example of a book that should probably be ‘out’ there’, but isn’t really commercially viable.  Of course, sometimes books surprise you.  When Roy Hughes brought us the first draft of ‘Building a Bidding System’, he agreed with our view that the same 50 people would probably want to buy that one too.  But we thought the book was so important that we published it anyway, and were pleasantly surprised by its success.

Evolving technology has provided us with a new option for these marginal books, though:  ebook publication.  And so ‘Honors’ will be born.  Hoors books will be books that we believe have merit, but that won’t work as standard books.  Basically we’ll offer the author our marketing channels, but will not put the time and effort and money into editing, design and printing that a normal MPP title would get.  So an Honors book will be available only as an ebook, and it will look pretty much as it did when we received it from the author.  The quid pro quo is that the author will receive a much higher proportion of the revenue than would be the case if we had a significant investment in the title.

It will be interesting to see how this works.  The market is still changing, and as usual, a format war is under way in the ebook world.  As of now, I suspect that ePub is going to be the winner.  Certainly, Amazon isn’t going to be able to impose their proprietary AZW format on the market any more than Apple was able to control the music download business.  The Kindle isn’t even a standout among the readers — my Sony is at least as good, and in some ways better, since it has touch-screen controls — and more new readers seem to be arriving every week.  It’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out — and at MPP we’re trying to make sure we’re ready when the market does settle down.

Meanwhile, we have several potential Honors books in hand, and hope to get the imprint going in the next 3 months or so.  Anyone out there with a good manuscript?

Yes it’s broke – so fix it!

I’m not a big fan of the committee system, but since most floor directors don’t seem to have enough bridge expertise to make good decisions, it seems that it is a necessary evil.  But every so often you see a committee do something so mind-numbingly stupid that you realize just how bad the whole thing can be.

Here’s Appeal Case #3 from San Diego, from Tuesday’s Daily Bulletin:

Dealer: N

Vul: NS

North
Q97
AQ10
A7
AK1043
West East
82 AKJ10643
963 K42
KQ10852 63
85 9
South
5
J875
J94
QJ762

In the LM Pairs, N-S were vulnerable, and North upgraded his hand to a 2NT opening.  East bid 3S, and there followed a Break in Tempo (BIT) of 5-7 seconds.  South passed, West passed, and North bid 3NT with the same minimum hand he had already described.

The director was called during the auction and after the play.  The director determined that the BIT demonstrably suggested the 3NT bid, and rolled the result back to 3S down 1 for both sides (incidentally, West pointed out that 3S might well make in practice, and indeed at Linda’s table it did – doubled, no less).  All very sensible, it seemed to me.

But the account in the DB continued, of course.  N-S appealed the ruling.  They claimed that they play automatic reopenings, and  indeed their card was marked ‘auto reopenings after 1X-1Y-pass-pass’.  [Not to mention being ex post facto and a highly self-serving statement, the auctions are in no way comparable.]  They also now claimed there had been no real hesitation.  [Notice that the director, who was there twice, had ruled there was a BIT – indeed, the very fact that the director was called during the auction is strong evidence of it.]

I read on.  This surely was a slam-dunk Appeal without Merit – lose your deposit and maybe even get censured.  In fact, I wondered how this one had got past the screening committee.  But no – the committee ruled in favour of NS, and gave them the table result back!  The rationale apparently was that a 5-7 second pause in a pressure auction {my italics] did not transmit UI.  I could not believe what I was reading.  Did the committee not understand that this is only a pressure auction if South has some reason to take action?  She is under no pressure with a yarborough… This not an auction like 1H-1S-3H-3S; 4H-P-P-4S; ?  Now the opening bidder, whatever his hand, may well have a problem; he’s entitled to think, and his doing so (and even doing so then passing) conveys no real UI.  In the deal under discussion, South’s pause clearly conveys that she wants to bid but doesn’t know what to do – so her partner knows she has no long suit to bid, no spade stopper, and no penalty double.  Pretty descriptive I would think, and North clearly acted on the information received..

Had I been on the committee, I would have voted it an AWM, retained the deposit, and made sure the Recorder knew about North for future reference.

Am I wrong?

Squeeze defense

Perhaps it’s because of our intensive work on the soon-to-be-published new edition of Love, Bridge Squeezes Complete, but I’m more aware of interesting squeeze deals than I used to be.  My eye was caught last week by this one, which appeared in Paul Thurston’s daily column in the National Post.

Dealer: S

Vul: EW

North
3
A 9 7 6 4
J 4 3
A 8 6 4

East

A K 9 7 6 5 4

Q 5

10 8 6 2

West North East South
1
2 3 3 4
pass pass dbl pass
4 5 dbl all pass

This deal is from the recent Bermuda Bowl Final.  You seem to be playing with the proverbial pinochle deck here, but eventually you get fed up and just double them. Partner leads the Q and declarer plays low from dummy.  How do you defend?

Let’s suppose you ruff on general principles (we’ll look at the consequences of not ruffing shortly).   What are you going to do now?  A low spade return will almost certainly get you into the Daily Bulletin, but possibly for entirely the wrong reason!  What does partner have for his vulnerable overcall?  Surely he has diamond cards, so a diamond return looks indicated — but should you cash a spade first?  Make your decision before reading on.

Here’s the full layout:

Dealer:

Vul:

North
3
A 9 7 6 4
J 4 3
A 8 6 4
West East
10 8 2 A K 9 7 6 5 4
Q 5
K Q 9 7 10 8 6 2
Q J 10 7 5 2
South
Q J
K J 10 8 3 2
A 5
K 9 3

So a low spade certainly gets you into the Daily Bulletin 🙂  It doesn’t look wrong to cash a spade before playing a diamond through, but it is — horribly wrong.  Remember Love’s acronym, BLUE?  You just rectified the count, adjusting L to 1.  Declarer wins the diamond, ruffs a spade, draws your trump and reels off the rest of the hearts.  Partner gets squeezed in the minors.  If you play a diamond through at Trick 2, there’s no squeeze — try it for yourself, as Love would say.

A neat variant occurs if you refuse to ruff at Trick 1, in case you are simply ruffing one of declarer’s losers.  He wins in hand, draws trumps, and gives up a spade.   Again now, he wins the diamond return, ruffs a spade and runs hearts.  This time West gets squeezed on the second-last heart, and declarer can duck a trick to him in whichever minor he abandons to set up the eleventh trick.

Of course, East-West could actually make twelve tricks in spades on this layout, but who could tell that from the bidding?

Watch this space — more LOVE to come…

Going with the Odds

Having just finished editing Bob MacKinnon’s forthcoming book, Bridge, Probabilty and Information, I think I may be more sensitive to these issues and ideas.  For whatever reason, my eye was caught by this deal which came up in the BB semifinal this afternoon.  The deal is rotated for convenience:

North
A7
2
AKJ872
9632
South
J98
A743
1095
AJ7

China’s Wang Weimi heard Zia open a Flannery 2 on his right.  He passed, Hamman bid 2, and North chimed in with 3.  South took a punt at 3NT, and the lead was the 5.  Clearly the key is guessing diamonds.  Playing all out you win East’s K with the A, and cash the A.  Everyone follows, so no 4-0 breaks.  You cross back to the A, and play another diamond, to which West contributes the last outstanding small card.  You know East started with 9 cards in the majors: does that mean you should finesse?

There are 3 ways to analyze this decision as far as I can see:

1) It seems that spades are 4-4 and hearts 3-5, leaving 2 more Vacant Spaces in the West hand.  Other things being equal, you should therefore finesse.

2)  The a priori odds are 50% for a 3-1 break, 40% for 2-2.  Of course, we are only interested in the 3-1 breaks, since 1-3 won’t help us. But the odds aren’t 40-25 in favour of the drop, because the order in which the spot cards are played reduces the number of possible combinations and therefore the 2-2 probability.  Actually, we are all familiar with this answer: it’s 52-48 in favour of the drop.

3) However, so far we’ve looked at diamonds in isolation — which is wrong.  You need to look at both minors together.  Is it more likely that clubs are 4-2 and diamonds 2-2, or clubs 3-3 and diamonds 3-1?  The two suits are not independent of each other.  My arithmetic (Bob, please post a comment if I’ve done this incorrectly) gets me to 9.6:9 in favour of 2-2 diamonds — about 7%.

4)  Yes, I know I said 3 ways, but the final piece of information you have is that East opened the bidding and 18 HCP are missing.  Looks like West has the Q, and East certainly had the K.  Give him even a minimum 11 for his opening, and he needs 8 of the missing 13 HCP — 8:5 odds that he has the Q.

So IMHO, (3) and (4) being the most compelling arguments, the odds favour playing for the drop, which is what Eric Rodwell did in the Closed Room, while the Chinese declarer took the finesse in the Open Room.  Granted, Rodwell had a slightly different auction but not much:  East opened 1 and spades were known to be 4-4, so declarer was in fundamentally the same position.  Now bridge is one of those annoying games where making the right play is no guarantee of victory, but on this occasion virtue was rewarded.  Diamonds were 2-2, and USA picked up a game swing as they steamrollered to a 57-IMP pickup in the set, and an overall lead of 83 IMPs after only 32 boards.

Can a 96-board match be over this early?  It sure feels like it.

Reading the cards

Deal 14 of the first session of the quarterfinals in Sao Paulo today was a real challenge.  It was a great example of how defensive bidding and carding can give you an almost exact read on the lie of the cards — but that even then, it may not be that easy for declarer to get home.  I’ll present it first single dummy, as one German declarer saw it in the Bermuda Bowl, (rotated for convenience):

North
KJ43
AK
106
K10754
South
Q9
873
K75
AQ832

You open 1NT (11-13) and LHO doubles for penalties.  Partner redoubles, saying ‘we got them’, a treatment I personally like as lot.  RHO bids 2H, which you double.  Partner removes this to 3H, and for lack of an alternative you trot out your club suit.  Partner raises you to game, and LHO expresses doubt.  He leads the H2, and when you see dummy, you have little doubt he has both missing aces.  You decide to play a round of clubs, leading the C4 to the CA, and RHO pitches the S8 on this.  What are you going to do now?

What the declarer I watched did was cross to the HK, draw the rest of the trumps, ruff a heart in dummy, and play a spade up to hand, inserting the 9.  We’ll return to the outcome shortly. Let’s go back to Trick 3.  What do we know?

1) LHO has most of the missing high cards, certainly the two aces.

2) RHO has heart length — on the lead, hearts seem to be 3-5.

3) Clubs are 3-0.

4) RHO’s first discard was the S8 — surely indicative of length.  Looking at that dummy, you also have to think about what his holding might be to make a spade discard look safe — certainly not 10xxx.

So isn’t it possible, even likely, that South has a doubleton SA?  In that case, there’s a very pretty possibility, which is that we can catch him in a Morton’s Fork, followed by endplaying him.  But the timing has to be exact: we have to draw trumps, eliminate hearts, and play a spade towards dummy at the right time.  If he goes up ace, we have three spade winners; if he ducks it, we shall eventually play a second spade, endplaying him to give us a ruff sluff or lead a diamond away from the ace.

That’s the theory, but the timing has to be perfect, and if you work it through, it turns out that the spade play has to happen at Trick 3.  The declarer I watched didn’t do that.  Instead, as I said, he cashed the HK, drew trumps and then ruffed a heart.  Now there was little alternative but to try the spade finesse, which was odds on.  However, odds on isn’t certainty, since the whole deal was:

Dealer:

Vul:

North
KJ43
AK
106
K10754
West East
A10 87632
Q62 J10954
AQ982 J43
J96
South
Q9
873
K75
AQ832

Khiuppenen of Russia demonstrated how it should be done.  He opened 1C, and LHO overcalled 1D.  Partner bid 1H, and RHO raised to 2D.  Thereafter the Russians bid unnoposed to 5C.  Again the lead was a low heart, won in dummy.  Declarer cashed the second high heart, and crossed to hand with the CA.  He ruffed his last heart, and finished drawing trumps, ending in hand.  Noting RHO’s discards, he correctly read the position and played the S9 from his hand.  West was helpless — take the ace now and concede three spade tricks, or duck it, and be endplayed on the next trick.  Neatly done.

One other declarer made this contract, in the Venice Cup, but unfortunately there is no record of the play.  Several were unsuccessful — usually there was bidding to provide a clue, but to a man they all eventually took that spade finesse.  Just goes to show that even in world competition, a tough hand is a tough hand.

Two rare sightings

Watch bridge long enough, and you’ll see everything.  In the last two days, I’ve seen two things that are very rare at the top levels of bridge.

First, yesterday morning, I saw a deal passed out.  With today’s light opening bids and myriad of 1-, 2- and 3-suited weak two-bids, the passout is an endangered species; I don’t actually remember the last time I saw one.

In the afternoon, an even rarer bird poked up its head.  Watch carefully, and maybe you’ll spot it it too.  After a morning spent watching 16 boards of not very good bridge between India and Russia (to be fair, my old friend and partner Subhash Gupta was playing in an unfamiliar partnership), we were offered a feast of superb cut and thrust in the second match, as we saw Meckwell take on one of the top Dutch pairs, Berkens and Bakkeren.  I was fortunate to be on a commentary team for this set that was also great fun: humourist David Bird and Dutch journalist Jan van Cleeff, both of whom I know well; Linda was also able to join us for the latter part of the match.

Enough scene-setting:  here’s the deal I want to talk about (rotated for convenience).

North
AK10
10872
KQ62
K6
South
6
AKJ542
10875
A2

For the purpose of this exercise, you are Jeff Meckstroth.  Despite RHO’s spade overcall, you have become declarer in 6 , and the opening lead is the 5.  The first part of the play is straightforward and routine:  win the A, draw trumps (RHO had the stiff queen), cash the K throwing a diamond from hand, ruff your last spade, and cash two top clubs ending in hand.  This brings you to here:

North
108
KQ62
South
J54
1087

At this point, having eliminated the black suits, you advance a small diamond towards dummy and await events.  If the K holds, which is likely whoever has the ace, you intend to return to hand with a trump and play up to the Q again, winning if the A is onside or there’s a doubleton jack somewhere.  If RHO has a doubleton ace he can’t duck, since he’s going to be endplayed on the next round, so if he has doubleton AJ or A9 we’re home as well — he’s going to have to win the A and return his other diamond, and all will be clear.  However, events take a surprising turn when LHO plays the 3, and RHO wins the A and returns the 4.

Well, let’s think about this, remembering that RHO is a world-class player.  If he started with doubleton A4 we are going down, and if he had AJ4 or AJ94, all he had to do was duck the trick to avoid the endplay and defeat the slam.  So we can eliminate those.  What remains is RHO having started with A94.  If he ducked the A from that holding we were going to see LHO’s J next round and make the hand, so he’s taken his only chance to beat us by giving us a guess, hoping we’ll go wrong and put in the 10.  Well, that’s not going to fool us:  we confidently insert the 8 — and are horrified to see West produce the 9!  Even more horrifying, it is RHO who takes the setting trick with his J.  This was the full deal (still rotated):

Dealer:

Vul:

North
AK10
10872
KQ62
K8
West East
Q75 J98432
96 Q
93 AJ4
J98543 Q107
South
6
AKJ542
10875
A2

Did you spot the rara avis to which I referred at the start of this blog?  Yes, gentle reader, it’s a Grosvenor.  In the June 1973 The Bridge World, Frederick Turner wrote a humorous (and fictional) article describing a tactic employed by his eponymous protagonist Grosvenor: a defender would deliberately make an error, giving the declarer an opportunity to make a contract which he refuses, expecting rational defense.  The idea was to mess with declarer’s mind for later deals.  The term Grosvenor Gambit entered the bridge vernacular at that point and has been a standard term ever since.  You just don’t see them that often in expert play.

But here is a Grosvenor in its full glory, at a World Championship, no less.  All our Dutch defender had to to was duck the A, and Meckstroth had to go down.  Once he won the ace and played a diamond back, the slam could be made — but how was declarer ever going to work that out?

Another day, another grand

Of the 48 boards I watched today, undoubtedly this was the most interesting.  I’ll give it first as a single dummy problem, because that’s the way it shows in its best light (hands rotated for convenience).  It’s also the way we tried to analyze it, as responsible commentators, pretending we couldn’t see all four hands and trying to put ourselves in declarer’s shoes.

North
4
AQ105
AKJ53
J87
South
AQ2
94
109
AKQ1043

There’s no opposition bidding, and after partner opened 1 you end up in 7 (we won’t discuss whether that’s a good thing or not — you’re there, so live with it) .  LHO tracks the 3.  So how do you play the hand?

Basically, you need a parking place for a heart loser, which can only be a diamond.  But how do you set up diamonds now?  The real problem with the heart lead is that it’s taken out the dummy entry.  Yes, you can set up diamonds, assuming they’re no worse than 4-2, but you can’t then draw trumps and get back to enjoy your diamond winner(s).  You can always finesse in diamonds, which is the same 50-50 or so that the heart finesse gives you.  You can, of course, cash the A first, just in case the Q is stiff offside.  Let’s follow that line through .  A, A, ruff, A, and the queen drops.  That’s not actually good news.  Now with diamonds blocked, you still only have three diamond tricks, and if you cross back to the A and ruff the last spade, you’re stuck in dummy with no way off, unless East obligingly had only one club too.  Hmm.  Of course, in that case, if West has the K, youcan change tack after the Q drops — run all the trumps, and catch West in a pointed suit squeeze.

So you seem to have 3 options:  heart finesse (50%), diamond finesse (50%), or A dropping the stiff Q offside, in which case we have a 50% chance West has the K and you can squeeze him.  This 50% number is getting awfully repetitive.  Can you take any inference from the lead?

It wasn’t the auto trump lead, and on the auction you were known to have at least a 9-card club fit and to have all the top honours.  So probably even a stiff club wouldn’t deter West from leading one.  Dummy bid red suits, declarer bid clubs and cuebid spades.  And West led a heart quite quickly.  Perhaps he knows the K is onside, and is trying to make you guess whether or not to finesse for it at Trick1, rather than fall back on that play when all else fails.  On that basis, the K may well be onside.

Final piece of information:  LHO is Zia.

Okay, you’ve had time to think: what do you do?

Here’s the full deal:

Dealer:

Vul:

North
4
AQ105
AKJ53
J87
West East
K1097 J8653
763 KJ82
87642 Q
2 965
South
AQ2
94
109
AKQ1043

Eric Saelinsminde, of Norway, after close to 10 minutes thought, put in the Q, and went down at Trick 1.  At the other table, Jeff Meckstroth, arguably the world’s best declarer, rose with the A, crossed on a trump, and took a losing diamond finesse.  In the Italy-China match, Alfredo Versace took the same line as Meckstroth, while Jack Zhao for China tried the heart finesse at Trick 1.  The winning line, as you can see, is that obscure cash of the A followed by the squeeze.  Is it the right line? Maybe, by fraction of a percent.  Is it worth spending the mental energy to figure that out at the table?  Who knows.

Across the entire field in 3 events,  13 declarers faced a heart lead, and every one of them went down.  Meanwhile 12 declarers got either a trump (4) or a diamond (8) lead, and made the hand — with the A still in dummy, cashing the A brings the suit home for 5 tricks.  Next time someone tells you always to lead a trump against a grand, remember this deal.