Only when I know it is a problem...
(Page of 2)

The following is a bridge problem I composed several years ago. (The spots may have been different in the original version, and I have switched two suits. The nature of the problem has not changed, though.) You are sitting East, defending a vulnerable game at IMPs, so don't worry about overtricks.

West
North
843
KQJ4
9532
K6
East
AJ5
653
Q10
AQJ104
South
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
K
3
2
1
1
0
3
2

Why North chose not to employ Stayman is one of the unsolved mysteries in life. If he had, we could have doubled for a club lead, and very likely there would not be any problem from that point on.

West leads the ten of hearts, and an honor is played from dummy. (You can follow the play in the diagram above.) Feel free to signal according to your favorite methods, but it makes no difference because you are the one to make the relevant decisions next. After following to trick one with the 2, declarer orders a small spade from dummy. How do you defend?

I have seen a couple of bidding, lead and play problems recently which only attract your attention if it is violently spelled out that they are indeed problems. The hand on the previous page is such an example. Most players instinctively play low at trick two. It is a reflex, and only when you tell them that there is a "solution", they start to think about alternatives.

Actually, I noticed this first in a chess context. Beginners are typically given a great number of tactical problems, obviously to improve their tactical skills. No doubt this works to a certain extent, but at some point you realize that, in the heat of battle, nobody is standing behind you and tells you "Watch out! Now you can win by force."

The situation is somewhat similar in bridge. Lately I have seen quite a few polls with a solution so obvious that one wonders why they were posted in the first place. The most reasonable explanation is that the obvious action worked out poorly, so we start looking for different approaches. (Another explanation is that the poster implicitly accuses the players who held this hand of cheating, and he conducts the poll to make a point.)

Frankly, I find this highly unsatisfying. In some cases I believe the polls do not accurately reflect what people would do in reality. Instead, they show what actions people come up with if they are imaginative. On more than one occasion I have seen someone vote for a choice I am convinced he/she would not take at the table.

It gets worse. When a director conducts a poll (say, about a bid in a competitive situation), people respond: "I would probably bid <something>. But I guess partner has broken tempo and I am barred, so I will pass instead." What good are these answers, when the poller wants to know specifically what we would do without any UI?

The true skill in solving bridge problems lies in realizing that there is a problem in the first place, without anyone telling us. We should all make a larger effort to answer polls in a natural way, that is, without trying to guess the intention behind them. Polls can only be meaningful if we ignore the question about their meaning when answering them.