Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Fifteen Thousand Dollar Question

A lively discussion about the merits of selecting the Australian team has been underway here and here. One item that has not been mentioned yet is the only time in recent history where Australia had a selected team. “Australia-Selected” (Nunn- Hans, Fruewirth-Delmonte) featured at the Yeh Cup 2009.

We had a good run in the Swiss to earn our place in the double-knockout. We lost our first life to the eventual winners, Netherlands. In our second avatar, we found ourselves in a three-way match with Meckwell Inc. and the Indian national team. 16 boards against each with only one team out of three to go through.

We won the match versus India convincingly but lost to USA-Hampson by 5 imps. There were three key moments ; if any of these three sway our way, the team qualifies for the semi-final and rates to make atleast 15,000 AUD(teams tending to split prize-money in the last stages of this tournament).

Hand 1 features who else but the imp chimp …..


All vulnerable, East Deals

Rod --- Nunn --Meck--Chimp
West --North --East -- South

--------------------P ------1C
1H ----- 1S ------ 4H ------ P
P ------- X ------- P ------ ?

The ancillary context can be set by stating that we play 1NT as weak in this position. 1S shows 5+ spades and partner would have bid 2S (fit-jump) if he had 4 clubs in his bag.

Let’s start with some snippets from the smoking area.
“4S. Isnt it automatic ?”
“4S. In all these close decisions, I find it best to just bid.”
“4S. Surely you can’t pass. The chimp passed ? What a tosser” J

Moving on to the chimp, at the table. My thoughts (actual bids in bold)

(Picking up the hand) “ What to open ? Nah, 1NT (12-14) is too weird. We don’t do this shit. Its not even close. Easy 1C

(1C – 1H – 1S – Meck hesitates for 4-5 seconds) “Meck hesitating. That doesn’t happen often. If he bids 2H, I bid 2S. If he bids 3H, hmm, am I going to get bullied into 3S. Probably. Don’t like it with KQ doubleton heart. Don’t know.”

(1C – 1H – 1S – 4H) “ 4 Hearts? Pass. Ha. You are not getting away with this one. 4S is a suckers’ call. I am not falling for it.”

(…. P – P – X) “Hmm.. The situation is practically the same as over 4H. T cant have 4 clubs so can rule out the double fit. The bit about 4S over 4H might apply with Kx of hearts but with KQ, no way. We are certainly not making 4S. (*) Pass

(*) = flashback to a comment by Tony. “I like to bid when we have some chance of making our contract. Don’t like pure sacrifice bidding”

(Having pushed the tray through) “ This is a key moment. I can feel it. But I’ve already made my bid. Still standing with pass. Hope this goes down. No way are we making 4S”

The first key moment for our survival ends here. The whole auction took 30 seconds.
4H doubled made. 4S would be down 1 in practice.


An hour or two after the hand was over, I had filed this one under “My concept around these 4S-over-4H situations potentially needs to be reassessed. It was a conscious decision to pass 4H and that’s my concept. So this certainly wasn’t a delivery issue”

A more truthful assessment at a later date highlights the issues within the delivery
-- The realization that it was a key moment sunk in only after the bid had been made and the tray had been pushed back.
-- The emotional ego-agenda around “Wont let them bully me”.
-- The flashback to a comment by Tony which was in a different context.
-- Lack of awareness, at the table, of a historical personal issue with 4S-over-4H themes. Has bitten me before, ANOT 2008 hand versus Ed among others.
-- Considered the angle of partner denying 4 Clubs but did not consider the angle of extra offense in partner’s hand (6 spades or heart void)

If I had managed to break tempo for this decision (realize key moment, realize complex assesment required), wonder what decision would I have taken ?

However, in my attempted reassesment of concept, I polled some of the top players around who did not know about the hand. I have learnt that asking the opinion of someone who’s seen a hand-record is a meaningless exercise. We have an innate retrospective bias and when there exists a fine line between two actions, the influence of the succesful result is strong enough to hamper objectivity.

Helgemo : “4S”. It made an impression on me how quickly he bid 4S. “No doubts”, I enquired. “None”.

Brogeland : “4S”. A bit slower, if I recall correctly. But maybe it was someone else who answered that.

Versace : “ This is a difficult hand, you know…….(walks along with me)….In general, my style is to bid. But here it feels wrong….(walks some more)…It depends on partner’s clubs. We could have a double fit ..( I interject the inference about partner denying 4 or more clubs)….Oh well, I guess I pass, but I am not happy about this”

Me, I am the happiest chimp in the planet. Who cares about fifteen thousand dollars if Versace thought it was right to pass ? Who cares about the smoking area wankers ? Oh well, that’s a relief.

Anyways, a few hours pass. We are now playing the IMP pairs. There is a lot of prize money, but my heart somehow is not into it (delivery issue), we finish a round and I feel a tap on my shoulder.

Its Versace, fiddling with his hair as he speaks.
“You know, I have been thinking about that hand. I think its right to bid. Sometimes partner’s diamonds are Q third or something like that. (walks along to the smoking area). At pairs, I would pass. But at teams bridge, I think I should bid. If we go one off, they go one off, it will not be a disaster. Yes, at teams, I keep my teammates’ score into the equation. I think 4S is right. But passing is not an error. You passed? Yes, what happened ? What were partner’s diamonds? Oh, they made….Well….”

I am caught between the amazement of the way his mind works, that he thought it was worthwhile coming back to me to share this opinion, and the disappointment of not being to able to console myself that I had some august company.
By now, however, Lauria has walked over and I request Versace to ask him. He fires off in Italian. Lauria take half a second “I Pass” and walks off in a huff.

I decide to disappear from Surfers before Lauria changes his mind.


  1. I have no doubt that someone with a lot of money could select players and make a team out of them. In the mean time, I think any dream of team selection is just avoiding the problem. We need more people we are willing to form partnerships and work at it on the long term to improve their performance. I don't mean to belittle the achivement in the Yeh cup but the selected did not win :) (mmm this commend may make me unpopular.
    A team selection with all the politics and backstabbing it would involve. A selection committee ? Yuck

  2. Great story!

    jlall would probably bid 4♠ too - his hatred of the double game swing is the stuff of legend.

  3. Great story!

    Looking forward to more of them.

    grtz from the Netherlands

    some of us are 70.000 US$ richer :)

    Frank van Wezel

  4. Brutal to lose on a hand like this, I would bid 4S but I think it's one of those hands where down 1 in both contracts is likely.

    Nice run and nice blog!


  5. Ron Klinger wrote the hand up in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald bridge column.
    Ron wrote, referring to Meckwell's cards:
    "The power of the 6-4 trump fit with a 6-4 shape again came to the fore, with 4H unbeatable with just 16 HCP. With KQ bare, you can see why East passed the double. To win the match, EW needed to reach 4S."

  6. Nice blog.

    Passing 4Hx is aiming at a small target. 4S wins more when its right and loses less when its wrong. I'd just play the odds and bid.

    Do you have any suit requirements for a FSJ?


  7. Re: suit requirements for FSJ. Not really.
    But we might avoid making a FSJ if we have minor honours in the opponent's suit(s).
    I guess that ends up translating to suit quality in our suits !