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Making Bridge Masters
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, June, 1993

When Sheri Winestock and I originally conceived our Bridge Master computer program we had two objectives. First, we wanted a product that would improve the user's declarer play. Second, we wanted the product to be fun to use.

The finished product presents the user with "textbook" declarer play problems at varying levels of difficulty. The user gets to play every deal while their computer defends. The program defends flawlessly, such that any misplay by declarer results in their contract failing. You can only make your contract by proper play. After each deal the user has the option of seeing the correct solution presented on his computer screen.

It did not take us long to realize that our second objective had been met. Bridge Master was certainly fun. Virtually everyone who tried the product became quickly addicted. It is starting to appear that we also succeeded in our first objective. We have received hundreds of letters and phone calls from around the world from bridge players telling us how good our product has been for their card play. I also have some more direct evidence that Bridge Master is good for one's declarer play. Both Sheri and I have been having more than our fair share of well-played hands. Here are a couple of my recent favourites:

This is a real hand from the National Mixed Pairs at the Spring Nationals in Kansas City. The auction is too embarrassing to print, but I ended up in 6 after RHO had shown 6-5 in the minors (either way) and LHO had doubled a heart bid, presumably showing long hearts including the K. The opening lead is a club. How do you play?

If you are a Bridge Master user, that 7 is no doubt bothering you. Every other spot card in the hand is in perfect order except the 7. Well, it turns out the 7 is indeed the key to the solution. You can make the hand if RHO has a singleton 6 or 8 provided that you play properly and read the position. Win the A, discarding a heart, and finesse the Q. Cross to dummy in spades and ruff a club in hand. Cross again in spades (RHO discards) and ruff another club (LHO discards). Finish your trumps making sure not to discard any hearts from dummy.

On the play of the A, LHO must come down to a singleton diamond. Now the A strips LHO's last diamond (it would have been fatal to cash the A earlier). LHO is now down to 3 hearts. At the table, LHO had discarded the 6 and 9. I had to hope that RHO began with a singleton 8 and that LHO was down to the KJ10. I exited the 3 to endplay LHO. Notice that if LHO had retained the 6 to avoid this fate (say coming down to KJ6), I can succeed by exiting with the Q. LHO wins the Q as RHO's 8 is pinned. At trick twelve LHO is endplayed into giving me my twelfth trick with the 7!

One of the most important characteristics of a good declarer is the ability to recognize situations that they have seen before. The situation described above is a variation of a position known in the literature as a "one suit squeeze". I had never executed a one suit squeeze before, but I was familiar with the position because Bridge Master contains a very similar problem. I might have been able to figure out how to make 6 even if I had never used Bridge Master. My use of the program, however, made it easy. As soon as the dummy came down I recognized the situation and knew what to do. The whole hand took 30 seconds to play.

Bridge Master is almost completely concerned with correct technical play. As we all know, inducing good opponents to misdefend (a swindle) can be every bit as satisfying as a great technical play. Sheri read the cards very well on this deal and executed a brilliant swindle from this hand in the CNTC District Final:

  • Double was responsive.
  • 3 was competitive.

North was Brad Boyle. The opening lead was the J (standard leads). You can try planning the play yourself on this hand, but I doubt you will work it out. This deal is not as technically complex as the last one, but the swindle is very hard to see.

Sheri won the opening lead with the K in hand and continued with a heart to the J and K. This was a good play for two reasons. First, the bidding made it a distinct possibility that LHO had both the K and Q. LHO would likely play low from KQx expecting Sheri to have a doubleton heart and make the normal misguess of playing the 9 from dummy. The second reason it was a good idea to play a heart to the J has to do with the swindle. Watch what happened.

RHO return the Q to dummy's A. As RHO had shown up with the Q and K, there were only 12 points left that LHO could hold. LHO must have the Q for their opening bid. Sheri stranded the A in dummy and cashed the A and K felling LHO's doubleton Q. Sheri ran her diamonds. LHO (who had begun with 6322 distribution and the Qxx) was under the illusion that they were squeezed on the last diamond:

On the play of the 9, LHO, convinced that Sheri had a second heart, discarded a spade winner. Sheri carefully pitched a heart from the dummy and played a club to LHO's now singleton A. LHO had only 2 spades to cash and had to give Sheri the last 2 tricks with the A and K. Making 3NT on a pseudo-squeeze without the count!

If Sheri had a second heart and one less club, the squeeze without the count would be legitimate. I believe Bridge Master was responsible for giving Sheri a good understanding of squeeze play. What really impressed me on this hand is that Sheri went beyond Bridge Master. Her play transcended mere technique. Playing Bridge Master hands well is a science. Playing the above hand was closer to art. Sheri knew she had no legitimate play for her contract. However, her opponents did not know the contract had no play, and Sheri took advantage of that. Oh sure, RHO might have played his 4 little diamonds in such an order that LHO would know to throw hearts. LHO might have also worked out that discarding the A on the last diamond could never be worse than discarding a spade (except perhaps with respect to overtricks). The fact is that few pairs make defensive carding agreements designed to avert pseudo-squeezes. I know Sheri could not have played a hand this well 6 months ago. Sheri believes Bridge Master is largely responsible.

Although Bridge Master is only a few months old, the early results are very positive. Not only is the program enjoyable and challenging to play against, but people seem to be learning a great deal from it. Sheri and I certainly have.

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