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A Losing Cause
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It can be argued that bidding is the most important part of the game. After a certain skill level, a large number of swings are accounted for by the bidding. Does this mean that the play is not as important?

Absolutely not. 

The swings in the auction contain significant amounts of luck and volatility. The swings in the play are often more concrete. While unlucky hands do exist, often based on the opening lead, the stronger teams have a clear edge over the weaker ones in the play. They are more likely to keep the hand together on a tougher lead, recover from a poor start to the defense, or to capitalize on any early advantage.

Here is a hand from the recent USA 1-ITALY match that the "Bridge is all about bidding" school would love.

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
AK
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
54
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

The auction is over and what do you make of it?

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
AK
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
54
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

The US East/West, Wolpert-Kranyak, clearly won the hand in the auction. An aggressive preempt coupled with a delicate raise positioned Bocchi-Madala with a limited chance of diagnosing the strength of their assets. The North-South actions feel quite clear and normal. However, the East-West style may not be.

Gutsy preemption at favourable vulnerability is undoubtedly a winning strategy and I am surprised at its relative rarity at the highest level. Kit Woolsey commentating live made an astute observation on the EW effort "...not quite high enough to make it comfortable for N-S to double but high enough to damage the N-S auction"

The bidding is over, the opponents have led the Q, and we've finished mentally shrugging our shoulders at the missed 6.

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
AK
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
54
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

We need to soldier on in this losing cause. Plan the play.

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
A
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
5
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

We win the K and first impressions suggest we have a delicate trump fit. As pointed out in an earlier article, our default approach in such situations is to setup the side suit.

Is that right here?

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
A
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
5
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

It is the beauty of both chess and bridge that while there are standard maneuvers for most situations, each hand (in bridge) and each position (in chess) has an unique identity. The master uses his knowledge of the standard maneuver not as a committal policy but as a tool in diagnosing the here-and-now unique situation.

Despite the delicate trump fit, the key is to appreciate that there are no immediate threats to trump control. The defenders still need to knock out the other club stopper. After that the tap can still be taken by North, the short trump hand. There are transportation tools across both hands and we have deep intermediates in the trump suit to neutralize foul breaks.

All in all, this Moysian trump fit is more robust than many 4-4 fits!

Appreciating this, Bocchi elected to get in a round or two of trumps. How should he tackle the suit?

Madala
KJ8
A93
KJ764
A
Bocchi
A107
KJ104
A953
5
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

The standard pattern here is to finesse through the preemptor's partner.   LHO has fewer clubs than the preemptor, so the odds tilt heavily in favor of him holding the Q.

Crossing to the A, declarer ran the J. The trick lost to the Q and another club came back. 

Madala
KJ8
A9
KJ76
Bocchi
A107
K104
953
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

What now?

Madala
KJ8
A9
KJ76
Bocchi
A107
K104
953
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

We only have nine top tricks: three hearts, two spades, two diamonds, and two clubs.

The trump control situation is starting to get shaky. We cannot, for example, draw trumps. They rate to split 4-2. After pulling trump, the hand will be all about getting the diamonds right. If we misguess, the defence will win the Q and barring blockages, run their club tricks.

We need to use dummy's trumps to exert some trump control.

It must be right to setup the side suit now. Playing the K will work ok if they split 2-2 but there is a risk of East ruffing when they split 3-1.

That ruff would be the defense's second trick and the Q would now be setup for their third. E-W's best defense would be to give declarer a ruff-and-discard attacking trumps. Now if West has a fourth club and all three remaining trumps, he can win the Q and continue the trump attack with defenders' clubs. The whole hand falls apart as declarer loses control.

Admittedly, this is an unlikely layout in the context of the auction. But i'd like to demonstrate an elegant counter to this (hypothetical) threat.

Can you spot it?

Madala
KJ8
A9
KJ76
Bocchi
A107
K104
953
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

We need dummy's trumps for control but we don't need both of them. Bocchi cashed the A and when both players followed, he was a lock for his contract.

Madala
KJ8
9
KJ76
Bocchi
A107
K10
953
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

Now he played the K and in the worst case scenario, this gets ruffed by East (say). However, there is only one more trump outstanding.

Madala
KJ8
9
J76
Bocchi
A107
K10
95
W
N
E
S
3
P
4
X
P
4
P
P
P

Declarer can win the club return in dummy, cross to the A, draw the last trump and give up a diamond. All we lose are two trumps and a diamond.

Easy?

To those who have been there before a few times, this hand is a pattern recognition exercise. The more often a player encounters or analyzes such situations, the more effective he becomes at spotting them at the table and implementing the method.

Study. Analyze. Understand. Retain. Identify. Implement.

That is a lot of work to do on a hand where the end result is 12 IMPS in the out column!

 

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