Wednesday, January 5, 2011

8 Ever, 9 Never?

When you get a bad board, do you often feel a need to try to get it back immediately? This generally isn't a good idea - playing for big swings or "tilting" or otherwise doing irregular things in the long run cost you more matchpoints than it gains, but right after your opponents get a good score is probably the best time to shoot for a top because they are a little relaxed and may think they can take advantage of you. In matchpoints, good scores come mostly from the opponents misdefending or the field not getting to the best or normal contract, but a few times you can sort of steal a good board by taking an anti-field play.
After a bad first board against Dave and Gretchen Smith (I think) in the open pairs Friday afternoon in Charleston, I declared the following hand in 3NT, making 5, after which I got a rather odd look from my partner, and a question of why. I wouldn't say I was so much shooting for a top this time but actually making the proper play.
Our auction was 2♣-2-2-3NT.
2♣ showed 8-12 with 5+ clubs and no 4+ card major.
2 asked for a 3 card major.
2 showed 3 hearts.
After the spade 9 won the opening lead, I decided this was a time to not follow the "8 ever, 9 never" slogan and finesse rho for the ♣Q, knocked out the A, and then rho had to hold on to Txx to keep me from making 6. The percentage difference between playing for the drop and playing one honor and then finessing a priori is only about 2%, and the "knowledge" that lho had 4 spades to the KQ seemed to be enough to play rho for ♣Qxx. There are actually a lot of situations where it is right to finesse with 9 cards missing the Q, mostly when someone preempts, and this one is only very slightly in favor of the finesse.
However, one thing I didn't take into account was the fact that the field would be in 3NT but by my partner and likely get a heart lead. After my hand opens 1♠, the auction would probably continue: 1♠-1N-2♣-3♣-3NT. Indeed, my rho has a clear heart lead, so I was already doing one trick better than the field by getting the spade lead from the other side. Therefore, I should have tried to play the rest of the hand the way the field would. And I'm pretty sure the field would not be finessing. When you've already been given an advantage on a board, play down the middle the rest of the hand so you don't give back your average-plus. Sean has a similar situation from the same session when he had to decide whether to finesse for the contract or play for -1 after arriving at a normal contract but getting a little defensive help early in the hand. Maybe he will write about it.


  1. Interesting -- but not us this time, we played bds 17-18 with you. If pard had led a low spade on the hand, I might have cried looking at the hand record :) Recaps seem to be missing for that day, which may be a good thing as that wasn't a sterling round for us.

  2. I agree that you should have played for the drop (with the field); I wonder if +430 would have cost you many matchpoints (especially given the possibility of +400 and +420 in 5 clubs making 5 or 6 at other tables). Looks like only nine tricks in 3NT on a heart lead with the normal club play.

    The funny thing is that the other declarers might finesse your LHO for the queen if the opening heart lead and continuation mark your RHO long in hearts! 5-3 hearts would be more compelling a reason to finesse than the 4-3 spade information you had. In fact, I don't think a 4-3 spade split tells you much; I'd actually expect LHO to have 2 or 3 clubs, since with only one club he'd have a four-card or longer red suit that he might choose to lead instead--one of the many versions of restricted choice.

    There is a somewhat interesting and fairly comprehensive, if slightly difficult to understand, discussion of this phenomenon in Robert MacKinnon's latest book on probability and information theory in bridge. Not that I would recommend that book, mind you.

  3. I wish they had those recaps online so I could check what 430 would have gotten and who I played that against- i know it was someone familiar.