Making Bridge Masters
By: Fred Gitelman
Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, June,
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.