Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

A guest blogger

Bob Mackinnon, a mathematician and story teller and an MPP author has frequently sent me emails about my Blogs.  I am trying to encourage Bob to start his own Blog since he has lots of ideas and things to say.  Here is his most recent email.  It discusses one of the hands from my last blog about the Spingold final.  I have included a few comments of my own at the end.


Bob Mackinnon

Dubious Signals

What is madness? To have erroneous perceptions and to reason correctly from them

– Voltaire (1694-1778)

The charm of a mystery novel is that in the end all confusion is resolved and all motives explained. Reality is not so neat as there are usually issues that remain unresolved. It is that way with bridge fiction as well. In the ideal world of the analyst every card played is a clue that, if carefully considered, leads to a correct conclusion. That is fiction; in reality discards and signals often prove erratic and so one mustn’t assume unreservedly they are what they seem. Players who are keen to reveal all during the auction often turn coy during the play. Here is a recent example from the final of the 2008 Spingold where the eventual champions sitting EW disadvantaged themselves greatly by a thoughtless signal.

Board 28 Howard Weinstein  
NS Vul S KQ9  
  H 86  
  D KJ108  
Alexsander Dubinin C KQ64 Andrew Gromov
S A7653   S T84
H A97   H QJT
D Q765   D 3
C 5 § Steve Garner C AJ9872
  S J2  
  © K5432  
  ¨ A942  
  § T4  


West        North         East          South

Pass         1NT (14-16) Dbl*          2D*

Pass          2H             Pass          Pass

2S?            Pass          3C            3D

Dbl            All Pass * 1-suited *transfer

With 5 boards to play the Russian-Polish team had an 18 IMP lead. The final session had been quiet and there was no apparent need to swing boards. On the other hand there was no need to alter their aggressive stance, so Gromov took a light action over a 14-16 1NT opening bid to show a 1-suited hand. It is hard to figure what this was expected to accomplish. In the pass-out position Dubinin balanced with modest values and a 5-card spade suit. Gromov was not sure what the 2H bid meant; he may have thought Dubinin’s bid was encouraging in a pass or correct mode. Nonetheless, in the fog of uncertainty Garner was not to give up easily when his side held the majority of the HCP so he allowed the EW pair to escape from their misfit contract.

Charitably one might classify the efforts as ‘rub of the green’ when both sides stretch to find advantage in uncovering a fit. Dubinin felt he could apply the axe with four trumps in hand and an obvious lead. It would not be going too far to say this exceedingly dangerous action was the type of madness referred to by Voltaire. Nevertheless the defenders had enough tricks in hand to set the contract and avoid disaster, CA, SA, a club ruff, and 2 hearts, but there was more madness to come.

The lead of the C5 was taken by the CA. Apparently Gromov felt it imperative that a ruff be given immediately. With all hands on view it is obvious to play the HQ at trick two, but Gromov must have thought that declarer held the HA. He returned a club for Dubinin to ruff, and this is where one must conclude that signalling was not at the forefront of his thought processes, for he returned the §2 which should clearly indicate suit preference for hearts. This would be a safe return if Garner held the HA and Dubinin the HK.

Dubinin scored his ruff and thought a long time over whether to believe his partner’s signal or his opponent’s bidding. If he believed Garner’s bidding he could play safely by cashing his SA and await developments in the heart suit. If he believed his partner’s signal, he could get another club ruff. In the end he gave away the contract, and with it 11 precious IMPs, by returning the H7 allowing the HK to score a trick. As a result of this poor communications, the match wasn’t decided until the last hand was played, a 1H contract by Garner that was brilliantly defeated by Gromov and Dubinin. who regained their form just in time. (Does it really make sense to double a vulnerable 3D on the one hand, and defend a modest 1H on the other? Didn’t someone once observe that truth is stranger than fiction?)

The main point to be made is that even experts have difficulties in providing clear signals to their partners. This was true in the obvious situation described, so how much how much more unreliable will they be when the situation is obscure. The second point has to do with the nature of the information conveyed by suit preference signals. The information they contain should relate to the signaller’s holding (hard information), not to what he thinks others may hold (soft information). Gromov would have done better to play an intermediate club to confess to a lack of entry for a second ruff.


Linda’s comments

I think that Gromov purposefully led the C2 as a signal for hearts.  I don’t think these fellows just make a careless return.  I expect this was his thinking.  I don’t have anything in spades.  I should let partner know I have some heart values.  After all Dubinin might have had the HK and not the HA and then a heart return would have been necessary ( before the SA is knocked out).  Perhaps Dubinin should have worked out the Gromov would have signalled hearts with the QJ or perhaps he thought the Gromov would have returned a heart with that holding.

1 Comment

LindaJuly 31st, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I introduced a number of problems when I cut and pasted Bob’s email into the Blog. Thanks to Roy Hughes for spotting them and letting me know. I have made a lot of corrections this morning.

I was also thinking about the hand a bit more and I think it is clear with no fast entries and knowing that partner has trump length to return the HQ. This works if partner has the HA or HK. As long as declarer can’t immediately draw all of partner’s trump, partner can get his ruff by returning a heart to your HJ. If declarer ducks the HQ then you need to decide whether to continue with the H10 or give partner their club ruff, although again the H10 is likely to be right most of the time.

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