Monday, September 9, 2013

The difference between set puzzles and real play

I've written before about the 16-board free online tournament that is run by bridgez. I can not praise the tournament enough -- it has really improved my card play. As a bonus, because it is only 16 boards, I play less computer bridge than before (more time for other things), but get more benefit out of it -- the best of all worlds!

There is one feature of the tournament I do not care for, though. The very first board is usually a fixed contract.  Everyone in the tournament is playing the exact same contract and so, you are being ranked purely on your card play.

Take this board, for example, from a recent tournament (cards are approximate since I can not find a way to get back past boards).  You are in 7D and South leads the 3 of clubs. What's your plan?
Lead: 3

Here is the thing: you know this is a "fixed board" and that 7D can be made. So, how do you play it?  The spade finesse is less than 50% (there is the danger of a ruff).  If you can set up one heart, though, you are home and you can if hearts are 4-4. Try it first and fall back on the spade finesse only if hearts are not 4-4. How do you do this?  You will need three entries to dummy, and you have it in diamonds.  So, lead the 10 of diamonds to the Jack and if they both followed, ruff a heart with the Ace of diamonds. Now, lead to the 9 of diamonds and ruff another heart high. Now, back to dummy by leading the 2 to the 3 and and play Ace and King of hearts on which you throw two spades. If hearts break 4-4, you have a parking spot for your queen. Otherwise, take the spade finesse.

I did this, but I did this only because I knew that this was Hand no. 1.  Had this been an anonymous hand at the local club, I am quite sure I'd have been at the mercy of the spade finesse.  So, in that sense, the "fixed" hand does not do anything to improve my card play.   Loosely speaking, this is the difference between solving end-game puzzles in chess ("3 moves to mate") and actually finding spectacular checkmates in a real game.

Another example, this time from a few days ago.  Again, the cards are approximate.  The opponents are in 4S on an auction that seems to have gone 1S-2H-2S-4S.  Partner leads a diamond.  What's your defense?
Lead: ♦7

Again, the thing to realize that because this is board #1, it is a puzzle and not a real hand. The contract is beatable. The threat, obviously is dummy's hearts. Partner has no diamond tricks, so the only hope is that he has the Ace of hearts, Queen of spades and Queen of clubs (they must be in a 25-point game).  That, along with the Ace of diamonds, will beat the contract.

So, I took my Ace of diamonds and tabled the king of clubs.  This has the additional benefit that it takes out dummy's club entry immediately.  That was the winning play, but is this something I would do in a real matchpoint club game?  I am not so sure.

p.s. this grew out of  a comment I started to leave on Paul Gipson's blog ...

1 comment:

  1. On the seven diamonds hand, surely seeing this is likely to improve your card play. Okay, someone has rung a bell saying that this is a time to concentrate, but next time you might at least think about how to improve your chances over a single finesse and you might take more care with your entries when they look limited.

    And when you see the result you get for making the contract - 85.33% - you are ahead of the field even though they knew it was a fixed hand.

    I agree that defensive problems are more difficult, since they largely ignore the matchpoints nature of the rest of the tournament.