So what are the cool people doing nowadays?

BBOers Festival Stars and Platinum

Guest Columnist, Sarah Bell

Mike and I had planned to continue our competition (after our dishwashing challenge) in December, but I was unwell. I bowed out, leaving him to come 4th in my absence. We tried again in January, this time with a couple of friends, Ben and Jon joining in with us. We're hopeful that we'll be able to widen our group in future months, as we know a few more people who are eligible for stars and plan to invite them – clearly they'll realise that all the cool people are playing in the BBOers Festival nowadays!

Day 1

This didn’t go incredibly well for any of us. Most of the hands we played were fairly routine, although I didn’t particularly cover myself in glory on these straightforward deals.

At the end of day one the standings were thus:

PlayerScore (%)
Ben Norton53.80
Sarah Bell52.53
Mike Bell47.38
Jon Cooke39.08

Mike read the cards better than the field on this hand. It illustrates one of the best pieces of bridge advice I’ve ever been given: if you don’t know what to do, count something. It might be points, shape, winners, or losers, but find something useful and count it!

Click "NEXT" to see the play

West led Q, which he put the ace on. He then cashed two diamonds, throwing his second heart away, before playing ace of spades, spade to the king. At this stage he knew that West, having opened the bidding, had only shown up with the Q, so it is very likely that he has both club honours. Mike hence ruffed a spade with the 9, expecting that East probably wouldn’t be able to overruff him if that hand had started with a doubleton spade. He then ruffed a diamond to hand and played the ♣10, which West put the ace on, leaving this position:

click "NEXT" to see the play

When West exited with a heart, Mike ruffed it in hand. He had now seen 3 spades, 2 hearts, and at most 5 diamonds from West (East had followed to three diamonds), so West’s shape must have been 3253 – West can’t have more than a doubleton heart on the auction. If the trumps were 2-2 it would be right to play a club now, drawing the trumps, before returning to dummy with a ruff to enjoy the spades. As it is, declarer needs to play a spade immediately. If West discards on this, declarer can throw a red suit loser and play another spade. If West ruffs in, declarer overruffs in the dummy, draws the last trump, and has a trump to get back to hand with. A victory for counting!

Day 2

I embarked upon a series of creative mistakes on day 2, failing to ruff a heart loser on one hand because I didn’t realise it wasn’t part of my diamond suit, and thinking I had a 6-card club suit when I had 7 of them on another. You might expect that errors such as these would make it impossible for me to score well, but one of the joys of matchpoints is that your mistakes can be as spectacular as you like as long as they aren’t too frequent. I played reasonably on most of the other deals and finished with an entirely respectable 54.20% for the day. I don’t know if other people also find that they are more prone to ridiculous mistakes when they play online – I suspect that it’s something to do with two vs four coloured decks, or the act of sorting my hand. I suppose I should just be thankful that I don’t have these problems when playing live!

Nothing that I did, however, was as daft as Mike’s effort, which was to completely forget to finish his 16 boards, in spite of playing a few hands in the morning! I elected to view this as resignation to a massive loss and awarded him 0% for the day. This conveniently guaranteed that I would defeat him.

This hand amused me:

Click "NEXT" to see the play

West led his singleton spade, which ran round to the J and A. Relieved that the defence hadn’t started with ace and a club, I intended to cash four trumps and then moreorless just have 12 tricks. The trumps breaking didn’t change this plan, although the even split did mean that I wouldn’t have gone down if the defence had forced me. As a matter of good technique, I planned to cash all of my hearts and diamonds, coming down to this:

Given West’s vulnerable 3♣ overcall, I assumed he held the ace of clubs and there was no chance of a squeeze, as he’d have to have the ♠Q for it to function, which clearly lay on my right. On the actual layout, however, it is East who is squeezed, and must either bare his spade or throw the ace of clubs away.

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed the “select cards to play for all 4 players” icon on my screenshot, showing that it is manufactured, and not, in fact, how the play went. This is because, at my table, the robot somewhat spoiled the fun. East threw the ace of clubs before I finished cashing my red suit winners, foreseeing the end position and playing his partner for the ♣K.

Click "NEXT" to see the play

At the end of day 2, the rankings looked like this:

NameScore (%)
Sarah Bell53.37
Ben Norton52.69
Jon Cooke47.61
Mike Bell23.69

Day 3

I thought that day 3 went rather well, which showed something of a lack of judgement, as I scored 50.83% - no disaster, but not a particularly good result. It turned out that playing a different spot on a few of the deals would have resulted in a different, inferior, defence from the bots (they do a different simulation if you play a different spot card, even if the two possible cards are equivalent). There were also a couple of hands that I thought might develop into something pretty and then did not. The following hand was about to be one of them.

I previously showed you a hand where GiB, seeing that it was about to be squeezed, decided to bite the bullet and unguard a suit before it was strictly necessary. On that hand the only effect of this was to get me to hit the “claim” button, but here, that same approach looked rather more odd:

Click "NEXT" to see the play

Left hand robot led the 10, which held the trick, and then another diamond. I didn’t see much alternative but to draw trumps and duck a heart. When West won the 10 he played a spade,  which I aced. I played
the ♠10 from hand rather than the ♠5, for no particular reason – left hand robot had switched to the ♠6 and right hand robot had contributed the ♠7, so the two cards were equal. I now saw nothing better to do than cash my trumps and try for a major suit squeeze if East started with KQJx spade and four hearts. However, when I reached this point, East threw a heart away, having presumably decided that I held the ♠J:

I must confess to being a bit surprised at this, a mistake that no human would make. You can see the heart menace on the dummy, but you can’t see the ♠J. Why must declarer hold it? Even if you think you can place the ♠J with South, you can’t actually see it the way that you can see the heart situation. If my remaining spade had been smaller, and not equivalent to the 10, then I can understand the robot deciding that I had given up a legitimate chance by playing an unnecessarily high card, but GiB loves playing the highest of equal pips to check whether you are paying attention. In any case, I was not inclined to complain.

Click "NEXT" to see the play

At the end of day 3, the scores looked like this:

NameScore (%)
Ben Norton54.03
Sarah Bell52.52
Jon Cooke50.63
Mike BellOut

Overall, no standout performances but none of us embarrassed ourselves (unless you count my inability to know what my own hand is), and we are looking forward to expanding our group in future months. In spite of being repeatedly done by the robot, or so he claims, Ben emerged the victor, so he’s the one to beat next time. Given that he is a cracking technical declarer I won’t be holding my breath for victory, but we’ll see!

About the Author

Sarah Bell is a professional bridge player, writes a regular column in English Bridge and is a full time teacher. She represented England in their Mixed team and won a silver medal in the World Women's Pairs. She's served on the EBU's Laws and Ethics Committee and was founding chair of their Online Ethics Investigation Group.

About the BBOers Monthly Festival

The BBOers Festival is a monthly three-day bridge festival with games for everyone. There are games for all levels; a multi-day survivor, a country vs country championship, daylong reward games as well as an ACBL sanctioned event. Click here to find out more about all the festival games.

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