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Partner Imperfect

Lest one gathers the wrong idea from the title, I am not bemoaning my partners’ imperfections. We all know bridge is a game of mistakes, but that is not my theme here. What I have had great difficulty learning over the years is that my partners rarely have the perfect hand when I play them for it. Beware of the trap of basing bidding decisions on the need for specific cards. A pair of similar dealsrecently reminded of this concept. Both involved slam decisions and both involved quite a bit of overbidding on my part.

The first example occurred in a matchpoint event with an unsophisticated partner, when I held

T987xx
A
xxx
AKx.

With only the opponents vulnerable, my LHO opened 2 weak and partner doubled. After right hand opponent passed, my first thought was that I was too strong for a direct leap to 4. When partner can hold a wide range of hands, as after a takeout double of a preempt, I try to visualize some normal examples. Immediately, I grasped that either AKxx xx KQx QJxx or AKxx xx AQJT xxx made for a great slam. I was also certain that partner would quickly pass 4 with either of those. How about KQJ xxx AKx QJxx? Even better, as slam would be virtually laydown. Armed with my theoretical set of excellent slam-fitting hands, I cuebid 3. Partner confirmed our 10 card fit by bidding 3. Still stuck in my fantasy world, I cuebid again. Over that, partner continued with 5. Now assured of the exact nature of partner’s hand, I leapt to slam.

Suffice it to say, I was the victim of my own optimism. I had given my partner all sorts of perfect cards, but failed to realize that there were plenty of strong hands that didn’t fit so well with mine. Many of those would make slam somewhere between low percentage and awful. Naturally, partner had such a hand… AKQx Qx AKx xxxx, a tremendous holding opposite a partner who had cuebid twice and then jumped to slam. One might even consider bidding 7 with all of those trump honors. While the slam isn’t hopeless, it’s pretty poor, basically requiring clubs 3-3 or a fairly obscure squeeze.

Not having learned my lesson, the next day I was practicing online with my regular partner, Marty Fleisher, against a world class pair from Brazil, Joao Paulo Campos and Miguel Villas Boas. I came upon a bidding situation which I’ve seen cause trouble many times in the past. I opened 1 with:

AJ8xxx
x
KQTx
KJ

LHO overcalled 2 and Marty advanced with a 3 cuebid. Our range for this is typically between a limit raise and a non-slammish game raise. Additionally, he’s not required to have 4 trumps. With a slammish game force we would jump to 4 (artificial). The problem with not specifically defining the cuebid (as exactly a limit raise, for example) is that opener can’t be sure what hands constitute slam tries. Once again, my thoughts turned to the magic hand. Kxxx xxx Axx Axx is quite close to a claim for slam. What about Kxxx Axx xx Axxx? Note how narrow my view actually was. All I could envision was three key cards and a maximum limit raise. I felt that signing off could easily miss a great 6.

Now I had to decide how to try for slam. Normally, I like to bid where my length is on these close 4 level cuebid decisions, but here I also wanted to leave partner room to show the ace of diamonds, so I chose 4. Partner bid 4 and I felt I’d done enough, thus signing off at 4. When partner continued with 5, I was still blinded by my haze of optimism. I quickly determined that Marty must have 3 key cards in a weak game forcing hand. I gave no thought to the fact that by cuebidding hearts first then diamonds, he likely had first round heart control and only second round diamond control. Obviously he held a singleton diamond and we were surely missing 2 key cards. That was in fact the case. His hand: Q9x AJx x QTxxxx. Now, you may or may not admire Marty’s bidding, but as I could easily have had AKxxxx xx xx AKx or similar, it’s hard to assign him much blame. Also, he didn’t leap to slam, I did. Incidentally, I was punished even further by a good penalty double on my left by Joao Paulo who held two aces. I failed to guess the KTx of trumps on my right and was deservedly minus 500.

What about the first 6 contract? The setup was as follows:

North
10987xx
A
xxx
AKx
South
AKQx
Qx
AKx
xxxx

The opening lead was a surprising club queen. Partner won, took two rounds of trumps (RHO had a singleton), and hopefully led a second club. Alas, RHO showed out on this one too. Well, perhaps “alas” is the wrong term. While the clubs didn’t break, lo and behold, the 2 bidder had the expected 6 hearts headed by the king as well asfivediamonds. He was subject to the obscure squeeze I mentioned earlier. Partner, perhaps still put off by my poor dummy, played imperfectly and went down.

I suppose the moral of my story is: “When your own judgment is lousy, seek perfection in neither partner nor his hand."

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