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Battling the Best by Sartaj Hans

The newest title from Bridge Winners Press is now available,Battling the Best: My Journey Through the 2014 Reisinger by Bridge Winners' friend and frequent contributorSartaj Hans. More than just a book of great hands (there are, of course, lots of great hands),Battling the Best features Sartaj's distinctive take on high-level bridge: the ups and downs of playing in the ACBL's toughest event, the psychology of great performance at bridge. Many hands are the type not featured in books – the in-the-trenches battles for overtricksin mundanepartscore contracts that are the heart and soul of BAM bridge.

The book is available from Bridge Winners in both eBookand paperback formats. For those of you in Australia, Sartaj will have paperback copies soon; contact him or your local book seller.

Here is a short excerpt from early in the book.


Our opponents for the first two boards are the familiar faces of Sjoert Brink and Bas Drijver. They sit down at the table and shake our hands. In an environment where almost everyone is business-like, these friendly and good-natured guys are a rarity. Soon, I end up declaring 4 on these combined hands:

Gill
J542
Q6
AJ98
J95
Hans
K10987
AKJ
K107
K10
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

The lead is the 3 (3rd/5th) and I win the Q in dummy as East follows with the 5. It seems natural to draw trumps. Still somewhat groggy, I have some vague visions of retaining the J as an entry, so I play a spade to the 10, which holds. Regretting the choice in the spade suit, I cash the A next and ruff the K. I notice that the 2 has not yet been played by either defender. As I lead another spade. East wins while West discards an encouraging club. East switches to a club, West cashes the Q and A and plays a third one as East ruffs with the Q. I overruff and now face this position:

Gill
J
AJ98
Hans
109
K107
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

With 3tricks already lost, we need to guess the diamonds for our contract. What information do we have?

Counting the shape, West has shown up with 6clubs, 1spade, and 3 or 4hearts (depending on whether or not he has the 2), giving him 2 or 3diamonds. Twelve of hiscards are accounted for; the last one is either the 2 or a diamond. His shape must be either 1=3=3=6 or 1=4=2=6.

The former shape would mean diamonds are 3-3 and finding the Q is a total guess. The latter shape would mark East with 4diamonds. In that case, the Q is a favorite to be held by him because the person with length is odds-on to hold any specific card in a suit. The combined percentages thus clearly favor finessing through East: breaking even when the suit splits 3-3 and gaining mathematically when the suit is split 4-2.

Before committing to the diamond play, I play an extra round of spades. West discards a club and East the 2. Great! Now the defenders’ shapes are known as 1=3=3=6 West and 3=5=3=2 East. This is a 50-50 guess after all. Which way would you go?

Just my luck, I recall thinking. The whole board could swing on a blind guess that is totally random. The first board can set the momentum for the whole session so I scrupulously check the shape and high cards again. And then suddenly I have a breakthrough.

I was not entitled to the information that East held the 2! He could easily have concealed that spot when I cashed the last trump. Had the 2 not appeared, I would have gone with my original assessment of playing with the odds and finessing through East. It was only after he volunteered this information that the situation became a 50-50 guess.

I eye East to size him up. This is Sjoert Brink, a world champion. A player who concealed the 2 on the second and third rounds of hearts. Should I trust him to be making a lazy play now?

No way! He is "helping me out" in my information gathering. I decide that the important information to take away from the 2 discard is not that diamonds are 3-3, but that East wants me to know they are 3-3. My despondence at the blind guess swinging a full board has switched to optimism. I confidently finesse through East and unsurprisingly, I'm right.

It was cunning play by Sjoert Brink. He may well have anticipated my likely problem, as the shape of hands round the table was known. He tried to help me along with the count of the hand. It was a devious deflective way to tempt me into a losing line of play. I'm glad I woke up in time! The full hand was:

Drijver
6
873
654
AQ7632
Gill
J542
Q6
AJ98
J95
Brink
AQ3
109542
Q32
84
Hans
K10987
AKJ
K107
K10
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

At the other table, South opened a very heavy 1NT and was raised to 3NT. Declarer won the 6 lead with the J in dummy to lead the J. Lew Stansby was alert and rose with the A to return a club to ensure beating the contract. If Lew ducks the J, declarer could possibly switch tracks, guessing diamonds to make his game.

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