Free Finesses

The the bridge table yesterday we saw an example of how costly a free finesse could be. We were defending four spades and partner (West) led a diamond.  Dummy tabled the ace and three little ones.  Declarer had the queen and jack.  It was unlikely that partner led away from the king but declarer must have thought, “What is the worst that could happen?”

Sidebar: Because they are the only pair that regularly plays a version of precision they were the only pair to have the opportunity to make that mistake.  End Sidebar.

Declarer found out by playing low.  We produced the king of diamonds followed by the singleton ace of clubs and led a little diamond.  Partner ruffed the diamond and produced a club for us to ruff.  Trying to turn five into an unlikely six became down one as declarer ruefully claimed the rest of the tricks.  Free, finesses and otherwise, can be very expensive.

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Wisdom In Sports Too

Heather Wilhelm (here she is at NRO) is the Happy Warrior in NRODT.  She quotes Thoreau approvingly, “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”  We approve too.  It might be a characteristic of expertise in general and sports in particular.  For the sports we are most active in, golf, handball, bridge, it rings true.

Sidebar: OK, bridge might not be be classified as a sport:  “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”  Of the five bold words or phrases it surely meets four but would have trouble with physical exertion.  On the other hand, playing 26 hands in three hours has some exertion.  End Sidebar.

Expertise lies in deciding that doing the same thing and expecting different results is crazy but finding something else that isn’t crazy or desperate.  It is a fine line between a calculated risk and desperation.  In golf, a low percentage shot over the water is likely to be desperation in stroke play but a calculated risk in match play.  In handball trying a shot as a return (the second shot of the point) might be desperation but on the 14th shot when both players are tired it could be a good risk.  Bridge with its long events almost always rewards avoiding desperation.  Wisdom is knowing that a bottom score is a bottom score.  We are on board with avoiding desperation.

One Hand, Two Lessons

At last night’s duplicate session we had one hand with two lessons.  We were the only pair to bid a makable four heart game with MWG as the declarer.  Left-hand opponent (LHO) led a diamond as RHO had bid them.  The bid makes it likely that RHO has the king of trump.  The dummy came down and things looked good.  We had two diamond losers (dummy has three and the hand has two), the king of hearts to finesse, solid clubs (nine with the top three), and the ace of spades.  It looked like four or five heart winners, five club winners, and a spade leading to making the contract.

First lesson: It is OK to give a ruff and a slough sometimes is the lesson for the defense.  RHO won the first two diamonds and led a third.  It was likely that LHO was out of diamond as was declarer.  Declarer had the queen-ten and three other trump.  Dummy had the ace, jack, and two.  Opponents had king, nine and three little hearts between them.  We ruffed with the eight, LHO produced the nine and when RHO had the king we were down one.  We, however want to consider what happens if we went up with the ten and tried the finesse.  If we lead the queen and it loses to the king then RHO must lead another diamond despite nobody else having diamonds.  It is their best chance for a trump promotion.  It gives declarer a chance to make a mistake.

Second lesson: declarer play.  We should have ruffed with the ten or queen.  Then we play a low heart to the ace.  Then we play the two from the dummy.  If RHO produces the king, then we play low from the hand, ruff the diamond lead high in the hand, draw the last trump with dummy’s jack and claim.  If LHO produces the king then life is great except folks that didn’t play safe will make five.

Failure To Alert

Duplicate bridge partners have a variety of conventions on bidding.  Each one carries a one-page convention card that identifies the agreements.  To ensure information symmetry, partners must alert most artificial bids.  For example, a two diamond opening might be artificial in that it does not show strength in diamonds but that the opener has five hearts and fours spades.  If your partner fails to alert then you must announce it at the end of the bidding.  Often the director is called on a failure to alert and sometimes bad things happen to your pair.  Often it happens because your partner forgot part of the agreement that you have.

In reading Rex Huppke and Dana Milbank this morning, failure to alert seemed like their common theme.  Here are a few quotes and [comments]:

I go into a Trump presidency as a straight white man — the only fear I should have is that I’m a journalist facing a commander in chief who has painted the press as the enemy. Big deal.  The people I fear for — the people my heart aches for — are entire groups of my fellow Americans who were demonized throughout Trump’s vitriolic campaign.
[Herself needed spreadsheets for enemies.  The Donald gets them to declare themselves.  Snide comment: Perhaps he meant white straight man?]

As soon as Barack Obama was elected president, Republicans unleashed angry swipes, and they never relented. They chose to question his legitimacy, to fight him at every turn, to do nothing.
[He did have lots of bad ideas like Obamacare.  Nothing was much better.  We should look at Obama’s conduct as well.]

To cower right now or to lash out in anger is not the answer to an outcome we don’t like. There are people who need us, and we all need each other, no matter how split down the middle we feel.
[He still decided to lash out in anger]

But there was something wrong with the chocolate confection. Alt was aiming to reproduce Trump’s pout, but she wound up making him look startled and sad.
After Tuesday night, that’s the exact expression worn by tens of millions of Americans and countless more across the globe.
[Millions were happy too.  We care about the other countries because?]

The theme from “Air Force One” played. From a balcony above the ballroom, Trump appeared, in the fashion of British royalty or a certain Italian leader.
[Really, folks need to learn about fascism.  Obama would never do anything like that.]

It shocked journalists. It shocked markets, which tumbled.
[Good job journalists!  Perhaps you should talk to other folks?  The market rebounded from its tumble.  The Dow is at a record high currently and the dollar is at an eight month high.  This information doesn’t mean that Trump will be a great president or great for the markets.  It just means that the writer’s inference was questionable.   The market looks to the future imperfectly and mostly reflects large cap companies.  The market was surprised too but has gotten over it.  This not so for Dana and Rex.]

Bridge conventions are rarely acronyms with DONT as an exception.  Generally they are named after people.  So rather than IAAEOTD (I Am An Enemy Of The Donald) we suggest three categories: With The Donald, Gloves, and Reverse Gloves.  The first one is obvious.  The second is evaluating The Donald on what he does.  Reverse Gloves means that you will fight The Donald on every issue every time.

Sidebar: Lots of folks were accused of being Reverse Gloves with respect to Obama.  Rex made the accusation too.  Given all of his terrible ideas and actions, it is hard to differentiate between Gloves and Reverse Gloves on Obama.  You will remember that we reluctantly supported him on trade.

We need information symmetry when reading commentary.  Associating with the Washington Post or CATO (no, not plus-size clothing) isn’t enough data.  Categories like Reverse Gloves would help but more details without information overload would be better. Another example is Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons.  We have very close to zero intersection with these folks but we are all called conservatives.  We really need is for commentators to have a convention card.  The challenge will be creating a political convention card with neutral terminology.  We suggests that you can pick either the Red Card (pro-life) or the Blue Card (pro-choice).  You have your homework.

Cover An Honor With An Honor

Cover an honor with an honor is one of the aphorisms of bridge.  Last night we had two examples of why it generally true but it isn’t always true.

Hand one: trump has been cleared.  Dummy (south) has four hearts to the queen, West has four hearts king little.  A small heart is lead from the dummy and declarer plays the jack which holds while East follows.  Declarer crosses to the dummy and advances the queen.  West should not cover because if declarer has four hearts then he is in a losing position.  If declarer has some other number of hearts (declarer would be unlikely to risk it with two so it is almost certainly three) then West prevents a discard on the promoted heart.

Dealer passes and I’m next holding five hearts (AJ), five diamonds to the ten and nine, and three clubs A,Q, X with a void in spades.  I open a heart, partner responds a spade, I respond two diamonds and partner picks four hearts and everyone passes.  The ace of diamonds is led by West and partner (North) produces three hearts (Q,T,X), three diamonds (K,J,X), three ugly clubs, four spades (A,Q,J,X).  Spades are a poor choice so west continues with a club.  At first I do an internal happy dance.  I have two club winners and the third goes on the ace of spades.  I have two finesses but I don’t care if either of them work.  I gotta make four and I could make six.  Then my happiness recedes.  West’s ace of diamonds was almost surely a singleton.  If I lead a diamond it will be ruffed.  The good news is that west did not lead a heart so the king of hearts might be there because I don’t want east on the lead.  I lead the ace of hearts and a little heart so if west has two hearts he will be out.  Semi bad news: West has the king but he has four of the five missing hearts.  He exits with a heart won in the dummy.  I take the ace of spades discarding a club from my hand and lead a club winning in the hand and take out west’s last trump.  I lead a little diamond and west shows out as expected.  I win in the dummy with the king and lead the jack of diamond.  Here is east’s chance to be a hero.  I have made all the right inferences but if east plays low I’m in big trouble because the four-one trump split has left me short of entries to my hand.  My plan is a ruffing finesse if East plays low.  East produces the queen and I ruff the black card that is led and table the two diamonds.  Four of the six were set.  We think they led a diamond at trick three.

So covering an honor is generally a good idea but it wasn’t at the first table last night.  You still need to think at the table.