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The Pen or the Pistol
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I knew I was good, and I thought I was even better. Rather than striving for the best results, I was out to make a fool of the opponents, and if successful, brag about it to anyone willing to listen. I may have had admirers, but I can't have had many friends.

Tony the Slugger fell victim to one of my ploys, and he didn't take it lightly. In his old age he no longer reverted to physical violence, but used his writing for the Delaware Daily to get back at his enemies. I am not sure what bothered me more: the viciousness of his attacks, or the frequent flaws in his analysis.

You'd think that Tony would focus on hands where I went down after a mistake, but Tony, perhaps needing filler for his columns, found reason for critique even on my most successful hands. Here is an example, from the finals of the Omaha Knockdown:

West
North
4
A74
A1072
AQJ63
East
South
AJ2
KQJ65
K953
10
W
N
E
S
 
1
4
4N
P
5
P
5N
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
4
7
A
3
1
0
1

Both South players reached 6 after identical auctions, and received the lead of the K.  

At the other table declarer ran the 10 at trick two. How he would have proceeded should the 10 have won we will never know, as Nate Nugget, my teammate sitting East, won the king and considered the position. 

Nate didn't trust anyone. He had made his fortune digging gold in the Sierra Nevada and must have grown eyes in the back of his head. The auction and play had been quite revealing. On a passive trump return, declarer would play five rounds of trumps, pitching two diamonds from dummy. East, holding 3 diamonds and five clubs, would be squeezed in the minors.

Nate foresaw the danger and put declarer to the test by returning the queen of diamonds.

West
North
4
A74
A1072
AQJ63
East
South
AJ2
KQJ65
K953
10
W
N
E
S
 
1
4
4N
P
5
P
5N
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
4
7
A
3
1
0
10
8
3
K
2
1
1
Q
3

West
North
4
A74
A1072
AQJ63
East
South
AJ2
KQJ65
K953
10
W
N
E
S
 
1
4
4N
P
5
P
5N
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
4
7
A
3
1
0
10
8
3
K
2
1
1
Q
3
4
A
1
2
1
4
2
K
8
3
3
1
Q
3
7
3
3
4
1
5
5
A
9
1
5
1
A
2
2
9
1
6
1
Q
4
J
6
1
7
1
J
5
5
7
1
8
1
10
6
10

Declarer won the diamond ace in dummy, not wanting to make an early decision in the suit, and played three rounds of trumps ending in dummy, West pitching two small spades. West pitched another spade on the third round of clubs, and declarer eventually had to guess the diamond position. Needless to say, he didn't get it right.

The press was ecstatic, and couldn't stop expressing their admiration for the two "masters of the game" with their "spy versus spy" game. I admit that the defense was accurate, but what on earth did South do to receive such praise?

My line at the other table was quite different.

I won the spade ace and immediately ruffed a spade, overruffed by East. East returned the a heart, which I won in hand, West following. I ruffed another spade with the ace, East pitching a club, and returned to hand with the diamond king. I pulled the remaining trumps while pitching two low diamonds from the dummy, West throwing two low spades.

West
North
4
A74
A1072
AQJ63
East
South
AJ2
KQJ65
K953
10
W
N
E
S
 
1
4
4N
P
5
P
5N
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
4
7
A
3
1
0
2
5
7
8
2
1
1
9
K
2
4
3
2
1
J
Q
A
2
1
3
1
2
6
K
4
3
4
1
Q
3
7
3
3
5
1
J
6
10
10
3
6
1
6
8
3
8

I played one extra round of trumps and pitched a club from dummy, squeezing East in the minors. If he kept three clubs to the king I could cross in clubs and take a ruffing finesse. If, instead, he pitched down to one diamond, I could simply cash the diamond ace and cross back to hand with a club ruff to enjoy my good diamonds. Instead of guessing the position of the diamond jack, I had to read the distribution.

Tony did not agree with my line of play. Not only did I have to read the distribution, I also had to find East with the king of clubs. After detailed and wordy analysis he came to the conclusion that the line at the other table was clearly superior.

Perhaps his calculations were all correct, I did not check, but it seemed to me that he missed two important points. The game had changed dramatically from the game Tony learned when he was young. In my days, a non-vulnerable 4 bid was more often based on seven cards than on eight. Running the club ten is the straightforward play, but regardless whether it wins or loses, you are not home yet. Ruffing a spade still gave me good opportunities when it was wrong, and it would have virtually guaranteed the contract had it won.

Secondly, as I saw it then, and still do now, the best players don't always find the best line of play. However, they usually get the end positions right.

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