Think Like a Bridge Player
I am doing an on-line lesson with a client (no, I do not do many of
these...too time-consuming). In advance, I asked him, "what would
you like to work on?" He said, "what I would really like is to learn
to think like a bridge player." Gulp. "Let me think about that." That
sounds to be about as hard a thing to prepare to teach as anything
there is. I try. I prepare a couple of hands from Killing Defense.
I think that book is the best introduction to counting and information
assimilation there is, and that's some of the core of "thinking as a
bridge player." He spends a good deal of time on the two hands and
gets them right, which is encouraging. But setting up lots of those
will take forever, so we do some random hands with focus on defense.
Some have useful lessons, but to my surprise, one contains massive
counting and reconstruction opportunities. How fortunate.
All vulnerable, we see
Since we are playing against robots, we can take as much time as we want.
I was the 1 overcaller, but he gets to play the hands by just telling
me what cards to play, so he gets to play this one.
|LHR|| Dummy|| RHR|| Declarer|
-|| -|| 1|| 1|
2|| 3|| All Pass|
We get the 7 opening lead, and he immediately plays the ace from dummy.
I stop him and ask, "what's your plan?" He says, "draw trump." "That'll probably
get you three spades and a heart. Maybe a diamond. That's down four or five.
Not a very optimistic target. What do you know about East's [RHR's] hand?" "He
probably has a heart honor." "Good, LHR would have led a high heart if he had
both honors, so right, RHR has a high heart. Anything else." "I don't know."
"How many clubs does he have?" "Let's see...we have six clubs, so they have
seven. He has at least three of them." "How many does LHR have?" "Oh! He
has to have at least four for his raise, so opener must have three!" "Right!
How about the heart suit?" "We have five, four have been played, so they have
five left." "Think about how they started, not how they are now. You can get
to now fairly easily from the initial distribution, but it's harder to go the
other way. How did hearts originally split?" "Could be anything...oh, I see!
If LHR had four, he would have made a negative double." "Right, and opener
would not have opened 1 with five hearts, so they are?" "Responder had
three and opener had four." "Right. It's convenient to think of this information
as two numbers, the first's being the number held on your left, and the second
the number held on your right, so they started out 3-4. Had responder had the
fourth heart, they would have been 4-3. In this notation, what were clubs?"
"4-3." "Right. Now we know East's distribution in two suits. He was
something-four-something-three. What possibilities could he have for the other
two suits?" "He couldn't have four diamonds, so he had four hearts and three
of everything else." "Again, just tracking them as suits in order helps memory;
that's 3-4-3-3 shape. But do we really know that? He could have had four spades
and been 4-4-2-3. But if he was, and if LHR had a small singleton spade, he
would be looking at KQ10x and know they have at least 22 HCP, so he would
have doubled us, so either responder has a singleton spade honor or opener was,
more likely, 3-4-3-3. Even if responder's singleton spade is the ten, opener
probably would have doubled us, so it's a good bet opener is 3-4-3-3, but we
should leave open the possibility that he's 4-4-2-3." "Cool! Anything else?"
"Yes. How many HCP does opener have?" "I don't know. At least 11. Could be
anything." "How many does responder have for his limit raise, assuming he's
balanced. If opener is 3-4-3-3, responder is 2-3-4-4, so he is probably balanced"
"Probably 10." "Right. And robots don't usually open 4333 11-counts other than
ace-king-ace, so what's the high card distribution?" "Aha! Opener has 12, and
responder has 10." "Right. But only probably. Robots, just as real people,
sometimes do something weird, but that's a good start. Can we tell anything
about the location of the high cards?" "Well, responder didn't have both heart
honors." "Right, so the heart honors are either split or opener has both. How
about clubs?" "I don't know." "Why didn't responder lead clubs, the suit they
both bid?" "Why?" "Probably because he has the ace. He might have AQ, but from
Q10xx, he'd probably lead them, so we can place the A on the left." "And
responder probably doesn't have both spade honors." "Maybe. He might not have
led from KQ doubleton in trumps hoping to score them both, but if he has the
A, odds are he doesn't have both spades, but let's not assume
that for now. So a possible hand for opener is K10x Kxxx Axx Qxx. That's
12 HCP, but there are lots of other constructions possible. Does any of this give
you an idea for a plan?" "Probably I want to finesse clubs, playing responder for
the ace." "Right. And if you ruff a club in the short hand, that'll create another
trick. What will happen if you ruff a fourth club?" "It'll get overruffed." "By
the long hand; if spades are 2-3, then that ruff will also gain a trick. Suddenly,
we are up to four spades, the A, a club, and a club ruff. That's down two,
not so great, but it's way better than down five. Maybe we can get them to give us
a diamond trick or one of the honors might be well-placed. That'll get us to down
one, which seems about as well as we can hope to do, though maybe something good
will happen and we'll find another trick and make." "OK, I'll play a club from dummy!"
I win the heart (finally!) as everyone follows. He calls for the 9. No big
deal; I don't see its having any value later in the play, so I play it. RHR follows;
partner calls for the jack, and it loses to the A. Good! LHR continues with
a club to the queen and king, and he ruffs a club in dummy as both follow, of course.
He ruffs a heart in hand and plays the last club. LHR covers and he ruffs with the
J. RHR overruffs with queen and (cool!) shifts to the 8. LHR wins the
ace and continues with a low diamond. Partner wins the king and sees:
He ruffs a heart and goes into the tank. I chime in, "it almost certainly doesn't
matter what you do now, but if you exit with a diamond, no matter how the cards lie,
you'll get out for down one." He does that, and RHR wins a plays a heart. He ruffs
low, gets overruffed, and can claim the last two tricks.
Down one isn't a great result, but it's not too bad since we start with two trumps
and two aces to lose and nowhere to put a diamond loser.
It's pretty surprising how close the original reconstruction came. The whole hand was
It turns out that trumps lie so well that an intrafinesse will bring in the suit for
one loser. With the A onside and the clubs as expected, eight tricks are not
really all that hard to obtain, but the experience of working out the hand was fun
Copyright © 2020 Jeff Goldsmith