Hoping to Find Nancy

By BBOer roman99 (Roman L. Weil)

You’ll see soon enough why I ask you to tell me your call in this auction now, before I tell you my story.

Both Vul, you South hold  ♠K10 J3 AKQ53 ♣K1076.  That’s a GiB negative double, promising at least eight high card points.

Nancy, you replied to an earlier column of mine wondering if I recalled meeting you when we were in high school, you in Atlanta and I five hours away in Alabama.  1956.  You have no idea, but I’m about to remind you — in this public way, because I don’t know how to do it privately.   I’m coming to Atlanta for Bulldogs vs. Bama on December 4 and if you’re still there, let’s meet up.  Roll Tide.   [Memo to BBOers: If you don’t understand, no real loss for you.]

Coming to Atlanta in 1956 to meet you changed my life.  You and I hit it off.  Distance was daunting.  [I vaguely recall that the excuse for my buddy Jack and me to come to Atlanta to meet you and your friend was for us all to see the new movie, Around the World in 80 Days, later to win five Oscars.] My hosts in Buckhead put me on the couch in their nice library whose shelves contained S.J. Simon’s Why You Lose at Bridge. I started it and didn’t stop until I finished the first part, the instructions, through 123 pages, before he described the mythical rubber.  I need say no more. You either know what I mean; or you don’t. 

I’ve re-read that book a dozen or more times since and I think of its teachings almost every time I play.  I buy used copies of the book for about $5 each and give them to partners who’ve not yet had the joy of reading this book.  If you’ve not read it, stop reading here and get one. Now.  I dare say nothing you consume in the next months will give you more pleasure. 

Lest you think I exaggerate about using Simon’s lessons often, here are my most recent uses of Simon’s lessons at the table, these two in person.

First, sit West, as I did, holding ♠94 J3 AJ1098652 ♣5 and participate in the auction below. 

I thought to myself, was I too cautious in bidding only 3; should I have bid 4?  This is in person and you get to draw inferences from opponents’ huddles and shudders.  North gave table signals of wanting to bid more.   Then South hesitated and cringed before passing.   I did not want to bid 4 over 4♣, because I felt South would then bid 5♣; she was struggling when she passed and what else could she be struggling about.  I passed.  The full deal was:

North made 5♣; East led his singleton diamond and got a ruff with a trump trick he’d have made anyhow.  North took a more-or-less marked spade finesse against East to dump his losing heart.   As we all returned our cards to the board, South remarked, “What could I do; I had only a doubleton ♣Q and one Ace?”  I thought to say, “That ♣Q was beyond price given your partner’s bidding; the  ♠Q is likely a trick and the singleton diamond easily could help.  S.J. Simon says you should raise in your sleep.  See page 65.”    I refrained from saying that.  I didn’t know the page number.  Moreover, I didn’t know the players and I don’t teach at the table.  But if I had a copy with me, I’d have given it to her with page 65 dog-eared.   Simon teaches for several pages about ignoring what appears to be aspects of bad hands and think how much worse they could be.  Partner is prepared to play 4♣ not knowing you have the ♣Q.  Surely if he knew you had it, he’d be happy to play 5♣.  That’s the way Simon teaches you to think.  Forget that vast wasteland of hearts.  Focus on the prime ♣Q. 

Thanks to Nancy I learned that at the impressionable age of 16 and haven’t forgotten.  Do you know Max Hardy’s books on 2/1?  His 2002 Advanced book starts with a chapter on hand evaluation.  On page 8 Hardy quotes the material from Simon’s page 65.  I’m not the only person who swears by Simon. I’ll wager I read it before Hardy did—not only earlier on the calendar clock but at an earlier age in our respective lives.    

On pages 80 and following, Simon has a section wherein he describes the merits of low-level penalty doubles.  You infer a mis-fit and make a double proposing to partner that we punish opponents who appear to have a mis-fit.  Partner should use judgment to decide whether to leave the double in.  I play with two excellent partners who are taken aback by my proclivity to double low-level contracts.  I’m trying to persuade them to be less nervous and consider them—try making one yourself.  

What call did you make on the hand I started this column with? 

To repeat: 

Both Vul, you South hold  ♠K10 J3 AKQ53 ♣K1076.

I didn’t present that here for the first time because to do so would have telegraphed that I hoped you Pass.  I think the auction shrieks — perhaps too strong a word; how about “begs” — for a penalty pass.  Partner has at least eight cards in the majors where I have only five.  Mis-fit.  He’s not raising diamonds, so surely no more than three.  Likely at least two defensive tricks there and a safe opening lead for him.  How will West get to dummy to lead through my clubs?  Maybe once? 

I still can’t persuade my partners that it’s a good bet to leave that negative double in for penalties.  And maybe I can’t persuade you.  But if you’ve not encountered this thought before, read Simon. In 1994, a panel of experts convened by the ACBL voted this Simon book the best of all time.  By 2007, it had fallen to second place in a similar survey. What about missing our vulnerable game?  They might make 1♣ or go down only two.  I didn’t give those considerations thought at the table but post mortem, I can’t come up with many deals where we make game and they get off lightly.  Those all have six or seven clubs in the West hand with AQJ98x and AKQ, better if one of those heart honors is with East.  But with E-W having that much strength, there’s not enough for us to make game.    I concede there are layouts where a penalty for us doesn’t compensate for a game we can make, but these are rare cases.  Mostly we set them and can’t make game. 

Here’s the actual deal where we set them three and can’t make 1NT.  Other pairs went down in 2 and 2NT.   Don’t be results oriented.  Do you like the pass of the negative double before you saw the result.  I do; my partners still are wary.  I will continue to make bids like that.  They will tolerate me, but aren’t yet ready to do it themselves. 

I owe all this to meeting Nancy.  If you are in Atlanta, write me.

10 comments on “Hoping to Find Nancy”

  1. Hi Roman,
    it's been a long time since I have seen anything by or about you
    I was frst exposed to Simon in 1961 and when I lived in Houston was in a small group which played our version of ACOL
    John Segal

  2. Hi Roman. I did misread the bidding. But 4C is still an idiotic bid. It shows a lot more offense than North has. Indeed, North has 4 defensive tricks, so if South has a meh hand and passes, N-S are going plus as against maybe nothing and maybe +130. Why risk having East show up with a nice hand with a club stack and lose a bundle when you were setting 3D?

    If South has a good hand, he will either (A) double or (B) bid something. With the hand he has, he will probably bid 3H, after which N bids 3NT. If he had one fewer heart and one more club, he could X, in which case N can pass, bid 3NT, or try 5C (all are fine).

  3. Michael, your comments always improve the content of the published package. Thanks. I think you mis-read the bidding diagram. North, not South, opened the bidding, so let's not excoriate North for failing to bid 3NT. I'm now curious why you think South is in an "awkward" position, as I can't think of a bid to make other than 5C. I suppose we could try 4H or 4S, but should we? I defer to you on that.

  4. Hey Roman. Always like your stuff. Simon's book is fabulous, but his bidding is just - well - antiquated. On the hand you show, North's 4C is a positively awful bid. With KQx of diamonds and 13 high opposite an opener, any North that doesn't bid 3NT in his sleep should have his head examined. South has an awkward call over 4C, but the one thing he absolutly cannot do is pass. That's a good way to lose a partner. I don't know what 4C meant in Simon's day, but nowadays, it is 100% forcing to game.

  5. Mod here: For the inquiring minds, Roman has received Nancy's contact info.

    Now back to the bridge, I'd have opened 1NT today. Not sure what I would have bid in 1956 🙂

  6. I’m going to search for the book tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’d love to meet up when you’re in Atlanta. It might be easier to reach me on email:[ED: removed for privacy] or my cell phone: [ED: removed for privacy].
    I’m not a very good bridge player but I might have bid 4 diamonds.

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