Article 7A51 Main

Believe It or Not

 by Richard Pavlicek

Reflections on the Ripley museum

On my April trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I was surprised to see at least four Ripley museums. I say “at least” because venues like Ripley’s Haunted Adventure might be a stretch to call museums. In the old days I remember there being one, and its marquee attraction was a huge spigot with water gushing fiercely from no apparent source (of course there had to be a supply tube hidden in the water flow). This year the town had less appeal; too honky-tonk, and prices about tripled. But I digress.

This article is about bridge, or to keep with my theme, four published pieces that brought the Ripley museum to mind. Typically, the reader was expected to believe it, but my observations did not — except for the final piece, which yours truly believed and others might not.

Do not open until Christmas

Or better yet, wait until Hanukkah in the year 2050. Besides recognizing another religious faith, this would ensure that I won’t be around to see it. The following hand appeared in a recent bridge publication in an article for newer players:

S K-9-7 H Q-J-8-4 D K-9-5 C Q-J-6

So what? It’s just a bridge hand, right? Well, yes, but the recommendation was to open 1 C in first seat.

Yikes! Some of our older players have become this demented, but to teach an entire breed of newbies that this is the norm is frightening. Four-triple-three, aceless, tenless, and two lonesome kings? Sure, why not? Open 1 C, and you can also add brainless to the list. Rather than spew out a bunch of four-letter words, I will direct your attention to just one: Pass! Any takers?

Chevy Chase would be proud

North dealsS A 9 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH A 7 41 DPass1 H
D 9 7 4 3Pass1 NTPass2 H
C A Q 2PassPassPass
S Q 8 4 2TableS 10 6 5
H K Q 10H 9
D K Q JD A 10 8 6 5
C J 5 4C K 9 7 6
S K J 7
H J 8 6 5 3 2
D 2
2 H SouthC 10 8 3

From a recent bridge publication comes this advice for West defending 2 H: “You lead the D K. Dummy has no menacing feature… accordingly you continue diamonds. Declarer ruffs and plays the H A and another. You win, cash the third heart, and correctly exit with a diamond… If declarer plays a spade to dummy’s ace and finesses his jack on the way back, win and exit with a spade… When declarer next finesses dummy’s C Q, partner wins and returns a diamond. Stonewall defense beats the contract one trick.”

A “Stonewall” defense? I’d say more like the toppling of Stonehenge in the movie European Vacation. Dummy actually has two “menacing features” with the danger in leading either black suit, so West’s thoughts should be to preserve his exit cards. At trick two a trump shift stands out, preferably the queen, so declarer will use the H A entry to lead toward his jack; West than clears trumps and exits with a second diamond. This should defeat the contract in practice, though declarer can always succeed at double-dummy.

Declarer’s play was also a travesty. After the gift of two rounds of diamonds, he should ruff a third diamond before exiting in trumps. This alone ices the contract, as West is obliged to lead a black suit.

Oh well… Time to buy a new family truckster.

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A horse of a different color

South dealsS K Q J 10WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A 6 5 4 31 D
D 2Pass1 HPass1 S
C A 3 2Pass2 CPass3 C
S 3 2TableS 6 5 4Pass6 SPassPass
H K J 10 9 8H Q 7Pass
D Q 7D K J 10 9 8
C 7 6 5 4C 10 9 8
S A 9 8 7
H 2
D A 6 5 4 3
6 S SouthC K Q J

This exhibit comes from a software utility that is highly regarded, and rightly so for its otherwise meticulous work. Retired professor Charles Blair (University of Illinois) brought it to my attention. He did not believe the recommended play described below was correct:

“West’s opening trump lead has cut down one of the tricks South can take on a potential crossruff. However, South should still plan to crossruff. His 12 tricks will consist of the H A, the D A, three club tricks, the trump trick won at trick one, and the six remaining high trumps scored separately. South should cash three club tricks before beginning the crossruff.”

The alternate line suggested by Charles: Win the D A; ruff a diamond; club to king; ruff a diamond; overtake the S K; draw trumps, and concede a diamond to establish the suit.

After looking it over, I certainly agree. The recommended line works if clubs break 4-3; Charles’s line works if diamonds break 4-3. Superficially it appears to be a tossup, but the latter has a huge advantage: In the diagrammed layout West will show out on the third diamond, scuttling hopes to establish the suit — but now you switch horses! You still succeed with clubs 4-3, provided the hand shorter in diamonds has the fourth club, which is far more likely than vice versa.

Note that cashing clubs first (intending to crossruff) offers no second chance. If clubs don’t break, the enemy ruff makes you history. In other words, you are riding one horse into the ground. If it ends up dead, well, so is Mr. Ed, which makes it awfully quiet around here.

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Radioactive ethics

West dealsS 10 5 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH 9 8 7 41 CPass1 NTPass
D 9 7PassDblPass2 S
C J 8 4PassPassPass
S J 8 7TableS K 9
H A Q 10 5H J 6 3
D Q 10D 6 5 4 3 2
C A 10 7 6C Q 5 3
S A Q 6 2
H K 2
D A K J 8
2 S SouthC K 9 2

My final exhibit occurred August 21, 2019 (Common Game Board 16) at our local bridge club, where I was East. After partner opened 1 C, my diamond suit was better for poker than bridge, so I responded 1 NT to protect my S K. South hemmed and hawed, leaned and swayed, and not knowing what to do finally passed. When this came back to North, what else? Double — yes, Ripley, we’re still here — and South eked out 2 S.

We were quite surprised when dummy hit, but I learned a long time ago that any semblance of bridge ethics at the local club is purely accidental. Some might argue that “pass” by North was a logical alternative, but so was “redouble” or “I’ll have another cookie” for that matter. This North felt no shame, proudly proclaiming, “What? You think I’m going to let you guys buy it for one notrump?”

South was about as oblivious, never considering game or defending 1 NT doubled — only 20 points, after all — and underplayed 2 S by a trick to score 110. We got the worst of it of course; just another below-average board.

Sigh. Time for a glass of wine. Thanks for touring the museum!

Please turn the water off on your way out.

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© 2019 Richard Pavlicek