Friday, January 14, 2011

The Evil of Matchpoints

Dear Matchpoints,

What have I ever done to make you hate me? -- I know that this is a common feeling for most players at some point or another, but it struck me particularly hard in one session in Charleston. I was playing with Andre and we were having a not great round when I was presented with this play problem:

♠QTx Kxx x ♣KT9xxx

♠AJx QJ9x Jxx ♣AQJ

Andre And I were playing a strange system so at our table he opened 2♣ with the North hand as natural 8-12 HCP and I responded 3NT. The lead was the 4. I ducked to the T and winning with my Q ((it might be a better play to play the K, but in any case I ducked)). So what now? Naturally I laid down the ♣A and ♣Q and went to the board and continued to run the clubs. I pitch two diamonds and a heart while my opponents pitch mostly hearts a diamond and each one spade - LHO the 2 and RHO the 3. So now I play the ♠Q and RHO plays low in tempo and I start thinking.

My first question was "is 3NT a standard contract?" I have a clear 1NT opener and at most tables that should be followed by a direct 3NT. The only time this could be different is if RHO could have 6 diamonds and might preempt the auction landing us in some level of clubs. I decided that this was not a likely occurrence for a couple of reasons: 1) diamonds easily could be 5-4, and 2) so many people play Flannery or Mini-Roman or something else as their 2 opener that even if he does have a preempt half the field won't be able to systematically open 2. So now that I think most everyone in the field will be in this contract what should I consider? Had they lead a diamond then I would be down at least 2 from the start of the hand. If the spade finesse loses then I too am down two; if the finesse wins, however, I have an easy overtrick in this contract. So what to do?

They play standard discards, but it should be so obvious that signalling in spades is useless on this hand that I decided I couldn't trust LHO's deuce of Spades. I decided to play for down 1. I cashed my ♠A and gave up. For me I believe the deciding factor is how RHO played low in tempo. Yes, he has had plenty of time pitching on clubs to think about his play, but if he believes is partner might have the ♠J then covering the queen is necessary. I thought that the fact he didn't cover the queen tilted the odds enough that LHO had the queen that playing for down 1 was correct. Down 1 would win anytime the field leads a diamond and any hand where LHO has the ♠K.

Of course from the start of this post it is clear that this play did not work in my favor. RHO had the SK, and I collected all of 1 of a total 15 matchpoints on the board. LHO had something like ♠xxxx Axxx KQx ♣xx and I assume all tables got a heart lead. Although this brings up another question - should playing the ♠A give me field protection in an expert field? I think it should. If this were a hand from the Open Pairs in Philadelphia I would expect all the tables to be getting similar leads ((certainly no better leads)) and most of the players to think along these same lines. I when asking a few people about this hand I did get the advice from some "I NEVER play to go down." I don't think this is a always a good strategy in matchpoints, but the field clearly played that way in Charleston and I managed to turn a good board into a near bottom.

Just one more board to keep me awake at night. I'm still honestly not sure I did the right thing but I think I did. I'd love to hear if anyone has other things I should have taken into consideration.

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