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Dr No
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There is a regular player in our unit who has been playing since forever. I shall call him Dr. No. “Doctor” because he operates. “No” because he is always bidding 3 notrump. And, like the James Bond nemesis, he commits a lot of crimes - at least at the table. At one point he started wearing leather gloves indoors in the middle of the summer. I wanted to ask if it was a radiation accident.

Other than that, he would not qualify as a mad, evil scientist. No science at all. Not one vicious bone in his body. But still plenty of mad. Though it all starts there, doesn’t it?

Sunday before last, he and his partner were slated for our table. Dr. No wandered into the kitchen for munchies. We were chatting with his partner. I remarked that we could probably get the bidding over without him. His partner replied: “I told him before we started there were three things he could not do. Masterminding notrump was one of them.”

Dr No. returned with his goodies. I passed, Dr No was next to call and still munching and sorting his hand. My partner said: “My lead?”

On Monday, Dr No was playing with a frequent partner who similarly hates his bidding style. The difference is the dynamic is amusing because this guy tries to give Dr No a taste of his own medicine. When he gets mad at his partner, he retaliates by being just like him.

On the first board, all red, my partner passed and GFP (Glutton For Punishment) opened 1. Your first problem is what to do with:

A 7 5 4 10 9 6 K J 8 6 5 4

The reason this hand is a problem is because your partner will likely be on lead and you would really like a club led. So 3 has some appeal here. I passed. Dr No now responded 3NT. My partner passed and GFP looked at me with a pained expression.

I shrugged. GFP shook his head, looked at his hand then back at me and shrugged as well. I asked if that was a pass. “I guess so”. Here we go. Partner led the J declarer played low from dummy. Plan the defense. (Hand rotated b/c after a million column & book hands, I hate it when dummy is not).

North
K432
KJ863
AQ
Q2
East
A7
54
1096
KJ8654

I pretty much know he has three hearts for his 3NT bid. I have some idea by the time consumed before his call just how much of a distortion he is making. He has the K, A Q as his only outside cards, so he has A as well. This looks like a bottom because pairs usually just get to the M fit. Perhaps this is a good hand for 3NT = 4x3. Otherwise, it would not be easy for a mad scientist to cook up a system that would get E-W to 3NT opposite Qxx / Axx / Kxx(x) / Axx(x). 1-2; 2 now E shows H support b/c the minor cards have nothing. Over 3 W is just raising to game. Perhaps 1-2 if that is East’s 4-bagger is easier. But after that start, partner is on lead and the club is obvious.

Science is of no help, but mad just gets them there to insta 3 No. (Always, it seems).

It appears that you will need Dr No to misguess the spades to avoid your cold bottom. So you just look bored (this isn’t coffeehousing. I am nearly always bored at the club) and play low, right? 

Wrong

It turns out that Dr. No had two four card suits and one of them is hearts(!) Dr No has Qx- and AQ10x-. Why didn’t you consider this as the full deal?

West
J10965
97
J854
107
North
K432
KJ863
AQ
Q2
East
A7
54
1096
KJ8654
South
Q8
AQ102
K732
A93
W
N
E
S
1
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Dr No. won the Q, played a diamond to Q and A. Heart back to his hand, cashed the K- and he led a spade up. If he played one more heart and then ducked a spade, he had his dozen. With the misguess, he had just ten and a MP score of 0.0 (the second 0 is for losing to all the pairs in the NLM section).

My partner was happy. GFP was mad. Dr No was saying: “gee, more tricks in hearts? That is strange, I didn’t have any ruffing values.” (Yes, he really said that.)

It was certain that I was the only player at the table who saw that 12 tricks were possible after I ducked. So I was trying to figure out how I was supposed to know to take the A at trick one. I decided it is sometimes just difficult to defend against Dr No. But there is always a fallback position of bad declarer play. (It cost nothing to play another heart first). I started to wonder why I did not just bid 3. Against 3NT, partner will now track a club. The 9 is a big card, but even so, 12 tricks is now impossible.

Then the next board helped remind me of why I should pass.

Second Board

R v W, I open 1 with AQJ852 982 A K82

After two passes, GFP balanced with 2. I bid 2 and then P-P back to GFP. He squirmed and shrugged and then bid 3, followed by P-P. In the real world this is the final contract. But I am going to be sucked into that black vortex of the alternative universe.

My partner now decided to bid 3 and after P-P, Dr No doubled. This was the deal: (I'll keep them N/S as - trust me - this was not a play problem. Well, it was a problem, but not the kind that has a solution.)

West
109
K10
J10863
10643
North
6
AJ6543
KQ4
J75
East
AQJ852
982
A
K82
South
K743
Q7
9752
AQ9
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X East
NS: 0 EW: 0

The irony is Dr No might have actually tried 2NT over by 2 without it being ridiculous. Yeah, I’d like a better spade spot. But apparently he read: “Passing Your Way to Victory at Matchpoints”. Or maybe I was just asleep and missed that Dr. No thought he showed his hand by sufficient consideration before passing.

The defense slipped a trick and so I managed a 43% result instead of 6%. As far as the 3 bid is concerned, I will attempt to explain my partner’s insanity later.

Third board.

The opponents bid to 4 on this auction:

1-1; 1-2NT; 4

If you think it matters, 2NT was a little slow and GFP winced at 4. You are to lead with: Q 5 3 K J 7 K 10 3 2 9 8 7

I selected the 3 (3rd/5th). If GFP has a 4-bagger for trumps, I am hoping we can get a tap going. The club might just set up tricks for declarer. Dummy will not have a good diamond suit. Why? Because this is Dr No. If he had good diamonds he would rebid them hoping partner might bid 3 and then he can bid 3NT.

Dummy hit with even more evidence proving that there really is an alternate universe. It is all around us and occupied by these other people. (Also rotated, because if generations of bridge writers put forth the effort, you should do the work and rotate them too).

West
Q53
KJ7
K1032
987
North
J1098
AQ65
J85
A10
East
42
82
AQ964
KJ64
South
AK76
10943
7
Q532
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I shall now explain the bids:

1 = I wish I had another point for a 15-17 1NT as 12 is a little too light.

1 = I don’t know why I bid, partner never raises me

1 = First time today that I am giving you credit for being right.

2NT = F&^!% you, I wont raise you either.

4 = This is so sad, he stole everything. I knew I should have opened 1NT

Partner won ace. Playing against pairs like Dr No & GFP is sometimes a bit more challenging than normal. After winning the diamond, someone like Michael Rosenberg would carefully calculate a million permutations and then track a spade. This would be the winning switch despite that fact that none of his million permutations would exactly visualize the actual W hand at trick two. There is a big clue looking at dummy that this pair bids a little unusually, but you still might not consider declarer has four spades. Unfortunately, my partner ran maybe two iterations and blindly returned my lead. It takes a minor lead and spade switch to set Deep, although the route to 10 tricks after our start is not easy.  (You may want to give it a go.)

After the diamond continuation, W played the 9 of hearts to jack and queen. But then he played a spade off dummy, thought for a while and played K. Perhaps he should have thought before playing the spade, because regardless of which spade he played he could no longer make the contract.

There is an interesting point to the hearts. After diamond, ruff the continuation 9-, do you cover or not?

Presumably, declarer has either five hearts or five (+) clubs. If declarer has 1098xx- the best MP line for five tricks is to the queen. However, it never hurts for declarer to start with a card to induce a cover from KJ7. If the defense covers when declarer knows Q is 2.5% better, then they slipped a trick. The 9 is maybe the sneaky card because it says: “I don’t want a cover”. So you cover right?

Bridge could be a very interesting game under the right circumstances. (This is not one of them.) I covered because I knew declarer held four hearts. (But I did get the “five clubs” wrong). Covering insures a trick for the 7 even if declarer started 10983 sine you will get a trump promotion when he ruffs a third diamond. When Dr No leapt to 4 after the “thoughtful” 2NT bid, GFP winced. He thought Dr No raised on 3-card support since he wasn’t supported initially. Slow 2NT bids usually show five hearts in these sequences. Since players are taught 4th suit is GF and not F1, absent XYZ - which is so useful we do not teach it - the only way for ACBL approved students to show an invitation with five hearts is via a slow 2NT.

Anyway, if one pays attention to stuff like that at the table, it saves a lot of time thinking about, well, bridge. That and this declarer doesn’t know the optimal play with this combo and was always going to run the 9 anyway. Which is why I am bored at the club, but it does make for something interesting to think about later.

The funny part of the hand was after spade to K, trump up, diamond ruff, club up and spade hook, I was a bit bewildered. Partner echoed in spades. Did declarer really have four spades or was partner careless? Often one has to make a decision of whether the bidding or the play is daft. But if declarer did start AKx- he was doing a good job of killing entries. I cashed my master trump and played a diamond forcing dummy to ruff since that catered to all versions of silliness and left open the possibility that if he started with AKx he would not see the unblock.  

At the end of play, partner asked why I did not play a club.  The real reason was that against randomness you need to keep an open mind and find the play that caters to everything.  Then you discover it did not matter and it is OK to go back to sleep.

 

 

Great & Small

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” - Sun Tzu

We all play against a wide range of competition. It is very useful to know the competition as we will need to draw the winning inferences at the table.

A mistake many players make is in how they adjust to the competition. When I was a younger player, I was bidding 3 on the first board against Dr. No. My partner’s would chastize me for the call and I would point to the score slip as my reply. The oft heard phrase in bridge is “knowing your customers”. And I was “always right”, BTW.

However, I have come to learn that trying too hard against the opposition because of your assessment of who they are is a mistake. It is perfectly correct to know your customers, the mistake is when you let this knowledge result in forgetting who you are. This is especially in bridge where you are a “we” and your partner still needs to recognize you as well.

If you do not know yourself, Sun Tze is betting on the ops.

 Against Strong Opposition

The most common error players make is to be intimidated by stronger opposition. When that happens, when you lose the stare down at the start of the fight, you fight like Michael Spinks did (or rather did not) against Tyson. What MP were available to your side or the VPs to your team in a Swiss match have dwindled because you will make scared decisions.

The other common error is to try to scam or operate against them. Joe Hyams, in Zen and the Martial Arts, tells a story of sparring a much better fighter with Ed Parker watching. Later, Parker pulled Hyams aside and drew a chalk line on floor and asked how Hyams how he would make the line shorter.

Hyams gave him a couple answers, mostly relating to erasing part of the line. Parker said: “that is your problem, you think only of cutting the line.” He then drew a second, longer line on the floor. Parker said: “if the first line is your opponent, you have to think about making your line longer. Not cutting his - which is what you were doing and why you performed so badly. You were out there trying to fool him and not fight him. But it did not work, he has seen that stuff before and it is easy for him to counter. Make your line longer.”

Hyams related that it later occurred to him that the same thinking applied to his tennis game. He was an avid player. But in the tournament, when he hit the club pro, he got crushed. Hyams realized that because he knew the pro was better, he was doing exactly what Parker warned against in sparring. Hymas tried too hard to hit winners and as a result many of his shots were forced and low percentage efforts. The pro ate him up. Hyams shifted strategy and started playing real tennis. He tried to make good returns and actually play each point. He gave up taking overly risky actions trying to force a winner. As a result, he started matching up much better against the pro.

When your B or C team gets on a run in the open Swiss (this is hypothetical, because apparently the ACBL no longer holds these events) and now you draw the big shots, just play YOUR game. Just try to do the best you can. Your team can win the event without winning every match. But not if you lose your mind and get blitzed by a good team.

What this means that if righty big shot opens 1, all vul, and you hold:A 7 / 5 4 / 10 9 6 / K J 8 6 5 4

Then don’t bid 3 if that is not what partner would normally expect your preempt to look like. Conversely, if the established partnership style is to bid 3 with this ratty collection, then do not be afraid to fire because of who they are. Play your game.

It really is not possible that the times when we played Nickel that Rodwell said before the match: “Bob, you have loose-canon Dave at your table. Make sure you do some counter-zany stuff so we don’t lose the match.”

Ed Note:

(One of my finest moments was a set against the eye-tal-yuns with Versace-Lauria in our seats at the other table. We produced an identical card to V-L. Same contracts, same declarer play, same results - with virtually no game making. So a couple ladies from the local club would have crushed them. “Agatha, I heard those guys are world champions. Don’t they know it is risky to bid like that when you are vulnerable?”)

Against Weaker Opposition

The same rule applies. Play your game. The quality of the competition is simply data for your normal decisions required by this game.

The point to the second board is not that my partner was crazy. It is why she was crazy. My partner is a very experienced player with thousands of masterpoints. She has a rep for being aggressive and a bit wild sometimes. But when that hyper-aggression comes out, it is often because she is trying too hard to push around other players whose game she does not respect.

Here, she bid 3 thinking they would make a mistake and we could steal. She also might have put me on a better hand given the tepid actions by the opponents. My partner’s bid is now like Tyson fought Douglas. Iron Mike forgot who he was. He was the heavyweight who could throw combinations. But once he really started to believe he was the baddest guy on the planet, Tyson lost respect for his opposition and started walking in looking to load up on one punch. Except this time Tyson was not in the ring with a guy who was scared of him.

Many years ago, I was getting tattooed by a much better fighter in our sparring match. My rival started dancing around and getting cocky. I swept his leg and dumped him on the floor.

My teacher looked down at my opponent and said: “even the turtle bites”.

Even if we assume the opponents will be error prone, how do you know what the error will be? My partner bid assuming Dr No was going to go wrong, when in fact, he already made the error by passing 3 (and/or 2). Her bid now gave the opponents a chance to recover. They did not get all the MP when they slipped in defense. But they walked away with more MP than they would have for +170.

In short, bidding 3 here is also a bet that the opponent’s prior actions were correct. Why would you make that bet on this pair?

Respect and Knowledge

I took a hiatus from bridge. When I returned, I was more focused on my game than worrying about the opponents. I was older and hopefully a bit wiser. If the opposition is better, I don’t starting making marginal decisions because I thought I needed to “get lucky”. It does not work in tennis, boxing or martial arts. And the fact is that weaker players are closer in skill to the professional bridge players than the amateur will ever be to a professional tennis player or fighter.

I also stopped trying to out-operate the Dr No type players. But why would I do this if I had a “100% track record”?

Because I realized that there is no such thing as a 100% track record. Whereas flawed data sets are easy to construct. Just because my partners could never point to a miscue by me when I plied my own version of “unusual vs unusual” does not mean it was not there. Only that we did not see it because the losses were invisible.

The best way to explain it is bidding 3 vul against Dr No With Ax / xx / xxx / KJ8xxx. If you always try this sort of action, you will construct a flawed view of your success. Dr No may be pretty random. And when he holds: Qxx / Axx / Kxxx / Axx he just bids 3NT. Partner tracks a club through dummy and you anoint yourself a hero for “pinpointing” the club lead. What this thinking fails to consider is while it was “possible” he could gather 12 on the spade he, he would not. But you do not know that because you are always bidding 3.

When Dr No holds the actual hand with Qx /AQ10x the 3 call will actually cause Dr No to bid 4. (He did construct a secret lair in the Caribbean, so do not underestimate him.)

On a bad day he charges towards slam thinking partner’s cards a working. Ego prevents you from thinking that is your fault. You write it off as Dr No's randomness, not yours. But even when he bids 4 ending the auction, you write that hand off as well. With just one stop and four card support, there are limits to his zaniness when he knows the club is coming. You look at the hand and simply assume he was “always bidding 4 without a spade stop and four-card support”.

And you would be wrong. But you would not know that because you are always bidding 3 with this hand against him. In effect, the random anti-randomness actions will often produce average results instead of excellent ones had you been silent because it will warn Dr No.

It isn't very sensitive, but the turtle can still hear.

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