Monday, 10 August 2015

Hand Evaluation Through the Ages

I'll start this with a quiz of sorts. What would you open either of the following two hands, playing standard modern Acol? And roughly what point-count equivalent would you say they are (taking into account shape, honour location, etc)? 

Hand A:

Hand B: 

My answer on both hands in 1NT, I would be extremely surprised to find anyone who answered differently. Hand A might possible be worth upgrading if it were 4432 rather than 4333, but I suspect you'd also have to shuffle that Jack into a more useful position (something like Kxx xx AJxx AQxx might be too strong to open a weak NT, but that's quite a long way from the actual hand).

My answer to the second question is that I would rate hand A as a slightly weak 14 count (maybe 13.5, or something), and hand B as a weak 13 count (maybe 12.5, possibly even less). 

I ran both hands through Jeff Goldsmith's automated version of the Kaplan and Rubens/Danny Kleinman hand evaluation schemes, and it approximately agrees with me, although it's even more extreme in it's downgrading (I suspect both methods deduct a full point for the 4333 shape). The calculator rates Hand A as 12.80/13+ and Hand B as 10.95(!)/12+. 

Now, you ask, why am I interested in the evaluation of two such boring weak no trump hands? It's because I found both in a book by SJ Simon (A Design for Bidding) from the 1940s. He used the Hand B as an example of a hand that's too strong to open 1NT when playing a weak no trump:
"You cannot afford to have partner pass with 11 points, particularly 11 points made up without Aces"
What changed? Have we really gotten so much better at evaluating hands that we can completely flip the evaluation of two such seemingly banal opening bids? Did people just get so much better at defending since Simon's day that thin games don't make as often?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Matchpoint Monday

I'm back in Glasgow, and have managed to get a couple of games in with Norman since I returned. Last Monday we played in "Matchpoint Monday", which is a Monday on which the club night is matchpionts, rather than aggregate. The whole club participates in the same tournamnent (rather than scoring the individual rooms separately), and so there's actually a non-trivial amount of prize money at stake. We finished in first place, with a nice haul of £12.50. 

Here was a hand where I spent a long time over the play. As it turns out, unnecessarily...

I opened the South hand a Lucas 2S, and ended up in a very good game. After the lead of the jack of clubs, there's a fair bit to think about. If clubs don't break, and East has at least one diamond honour (which, although it happens not to be the case, seems odds on on the lead). Ideally you'd like to unblock the HK and pitch a diamond on the HA, but if you win the lead in hand, there's no route back to dummy for a pitch, and you've given up on making 5 club tricks if the lead does turn out to be a singleton, but the opponents are unable to take their ruffs. 

I eventually won the lead in hand, crossed to the HK and played a trump towards the KJ. This shouldn't really work if the opponents do have a ruff coming (they knew I have at least 4 clubs, and probably 5 from the auction), and I was pretty certain the lead was a singleton (leading from Jx in declarer's second suit isn't very attractive), but in the end I decided I didn't have anything better to do. 

I was also thinking about the fact that even if clubs were 2-2, my only realistic chance of 11 tricks was to sneak a diamond pitch in before I lost to the trump ace. As it turns out, that 11th trick was worth exactly 2 matchpoints - I hadn't taken into account the fact that most people would have no way to bid this game.

After a month in India in June, and moving house in July, I'm about to start settling back into a "normal" life. Adam and I will have to do a lot more practice together if we're going to make a serious go at the National League Second Division, and I'm back to playing most weeks with Norman, so hopefully I'll gather enough material for more than 1 post in August.