A Skein of Suits

How often when you play in BBO matchpoint tournaments do you score over 70%?  When you do, how  many of the boards contributed to that score primarily through your good bidding?  Your good play?  Good luck you had nothing to do with?

Have you been taught, or read, that you want to avoid playing notrump contracts with singletons in your partner’s suit(s)?  You’ll get some reinforcement of that lesson here.

Recently, I played a 12-board Instant ACBL Matchpoint tournament and earned a 71% score, the best I can ever remember doing.  Second place earned 58%.   I wondered how much of that resulted from luck [fortunate lie of the cards or botched bidding or play by robot opponents], how much from our partnership’s bidding or play or defense.  Of the 12 boards, we scored above average, actually above 60% on 11 of the 12.  You guess how many of the eleven boards fell into those buckets:  luck, good bidding, good play, and good defense.  At a minimum, how many do think stemmed from good luck?  I’ll tell you later.

For now, I focus on one of the deals where luck provided the good score.  Consider this deal, with only E-W Vul.

Let’s consider the results, single dummy, with each possible lead.  Assume diamonds break 4-3 and clubs are 3-3 or 4-2.  Assume good defense. 

  • Spade:  take two spades, five diamonds, and one club; eight tricks.
  • Heart:  take two spades, one heart, five diamonds, and one club; nine tricks.
  • Diamond: take two spades five diamonds, and one club; eight tricks.
  • Club: take two spades, five diamonds, and four clubs; eleven tricks.

If there were no clues in the auction, then you can see that Luck plays a mighty role in your score on this deal.

At my table, West’s opening lead was ♠J; East played the ♠Q.   I won and played the ♣J, which held, another club, which West won with the ♣A. On winning the ♣A, West played another spade,  East playing the  ♠9.  I played four rounds of diamonds and, preparing to concede to top hearts and good spades, led the J.  

But, No.  East held both the top heart honors and no more spades, so after cashing the top honors, East had to concede the last two tricks to dummy’s winning hearts and clubs; made four.  A total of ten tricks for us, when our estimate of tricks to take with a spade lead was only eight.   We didn’t think about blocked suits in defenders’ hands.   (I’ll revisit this blockage in a future column.) How lucky for me.     

I trust you can see how difficult that singleton A makes the play, which illustrates the lesson we heard early on in our training:  avoid bidding and playing notrump with a singleton in partner’s suit.  A parallel thought: a doubleton opposite partner’s suit is no picnic either; look at how the club suit is about worthless on this deal.  You can see how entangled the suits are: tricks are there, but we can’t get them set up and cashed.

Just this week, I played a practice session with a mentee, a BBO #3 badge, who had never been urged to avoid bidding notrump with a singleton in partner’s suit.  She bid it and got to a notrump contract that was the devil to play.  I asked her to remember that experience and try not repeat it by avoiding it. 

Maybe I avoid it too much.  Consider the auction for the deal we’ve just analyzed for luck.  I was North. Look at my third bid, 3♣.  More than wanting to show another 5-card suit, I wanted to avoid bidding notrump with that singleton diamond.  I think it worked out alright and that most of you will agree with that bid.

But how about this one?  Earlier I told you that in this session, we had only one board below 60%.  [Of the eleven above 60%, two stemmed from good luck, three from good bidding, and six from good declarer play. If your experience differs, let us know in the Replies.]  Here are our two hands and the bidding.  

Eleven of the fifteen pairs playing these hands got to 3NT and scored more than 4. Not Roman99, sitting South—who is afraid to bid 3NT with a singleton in partner’s suit.  I had not one, but two, opportunities to bid 3NT, at my second and third turns to bid.  Some of the eleven bid 3NT directly over 2 and some waited until their third turn to bid, but none of those eleven were deterred by that singleton A.  I’ll hope this deal can teach me a lesson, but I wonder what it is?  When is a hand strong enough to bid NT in spite of holding a singleton in partner’s suit?  I have seen discussions of this question on other web sites, but no crisp answers. 

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