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Can't Take a Finesse
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The book, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin has introduced me to the difference between a mastery and entity learning framework. I have yet to finish the book, but I know enough about mastery learning to state that I have not completely mastered the concept! What is exciting about taking a mastery approach to learning as opposed to an entity approach, is that mastery suggests that whatever I want to learn is in fact learnable!

Take playing bridge for example. Thanks to my newfound friendships with Reuben and Pam Schooler and Pam’s brother Eric Shelton I have now had the pleasure of playing in two ABA bridge tournaments. Well, I just got back from my second one in Columbus, GA and had yet to dominate a tournament in such a way. My partner Bob Jones and I played well, had some luck and won all three events in which we played. I kind of felt like I knew how to play bridge.

Now today, I played bridge in an imp game in Boca Raton. I had a pretty good hand once my partner showed spades and the opponents bid and raised clubs the suit in which I was short. I found myself in four spades on the lead of the ace of clubs with the following cards:

North
AK98
K9
10xxx
10xx
South
10xxx
AJ108x
AQx
x
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
X
3
3
4
4
P
P
P

The lead was the ace of clubs on which righty played the queen and the opening leader continued clubs with a club to the jack which I ruffed.

So I have two club ruffs in hand plus two top spades, two top hearts and the ace of diamonds. 7 top winners. If spades split 3-2 then I can get a third spade trick in the dummy which brings me up to eight tricks.

I was playing with a gentleman whom I consider to be a pretty good player. As I sat and ruminated about the possible lies of the cards, I felt like I was holding up play.

It looks like I need spades to be 3-2 in order to have a chance, LHO might have led a singleton if he had one. He thought for a long time before continuing clubs at trick two.

So I decided to play for 3-2 spades, and crossed to the king of hearts to take my second club ruff. Now I crossed to dummy and played two rounds of spades and LHO played the queen on the second round. So it looks like lefty is 2-?-?-6 with most likely the king of diamonds considering that he bid twice and thought before passing four spades. Maybe there is an inference here that I missed at the table, since he doesn’t have a ton of high cards he might be 6421. Anyways, I am in the dummy and need to decide what to do in order to make my contract.

So far I have 5 spade tricks two hearts and a diamond in top winners. If I hook the heart what is the worst that can happen? Lefty wins and taps me? Ok, I can contend with that by playing righty for the third spade and exit a spade win the diamond return and enjoy three more heart tricks losing only a heart, spade and a club. Four hearts, five spades and a diamond.

If the finesse wins, I will have of course overtaken and now I have a third heart trick. If hearts are 3-3 I just play hearts and am cold. 4-2 is the case that I did not really consider. The finesse wins and lefty shows out. Even now, knowing all the potential cards, I am a little bit of a loss. I just give up a heart to righty, no that doesn’t work. I ruff the fourth round of hearts after pitching a diamond on the heart ace. So now I make four hearts, five spades and the ace of diamonds. I swear I had the hardest time working through this!

Aagghh!

Sadly, and you might have surmised the reason for my writing this article is that I did neither and won the second round of hearts with the ace. As my partner gently surmised after the hand, I was playing for hearts to be 3-3. He was nice about it, but he was right. How many times do I have to make this mistake? I guess enough to learn the lesson.

Mastery Question: Is it obscure to attempt to figure out ways to make your contract when trumps break 4-1 if you can't really figure out how to make when they are 3-2?

I think yes, might be a fair answer for this question for the time being, written here for all to see.

Another hand

South
Kxxxxx
AQJ10x
xx
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
2
4
5
5
6
X
P
?

So you think for a long time about saving in six spades. Partner knows that I bid five spades freely. Partner doubled in perfect tempo which I know I am not supposed to think about Michael Rosenberg, so maybe I shouldn't, but I am thinking about it. Partner must have a cashing ace. or a trump trick. Could he be silly enough to think that his ace of spades is cashing on this auction because I am pretty sure that it is not.

Ok, so you decide to pass, and maybe you want to win the post-mortem. Remember, partner is a good player. What do you lead?

Instead of leading my ace of diamonds, I stopped thinking after passing it out and unenthusiastically led a spade. Ace third in the dummy on which declarer pitched his singleton diamond. Shoot! Played too fast. Gotta stop and think.

Mastery Question: What does it take for me to stop and think about what to lead after thinking through my pass of six hearts doubled?

I did some online play lessons with my friend and sometime teammate Sartaj Hans. He suggested that I come up with a term in the auction where I start to think about the opponent's and partner's shapes. I came up with the "pass point". It was the time, when I knew that we were going to be defending. So, in that vein, let's call this the "lead point".

Actually, I see where I missed the actual "pass point" on this hand. It was when I passed six spades. 

Mastery Question: I like to lead and play in tempo, at what point am I going to stop playing in tempo in favor of working out the right play. When is my tempo play costing me? 

That sounds like a whole other article...

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