Monday, April 1, 2013

Is it quick?

On the Grand Canal, in Venice, Italy, on this beautiful May morning, the vaporetto that you took in Piazza San Marco, around 7AM, will take roughly 45 minutes to reach the train station. It is your last tour on the Grand Canal and you want to take in all that beauty. You have already been to Venice 5 times and you can never leave without a pang of pain: what if I never come back ! Living in Venice for 5 days (the more you go, the longest you stay), exploring the little boroughs, buying your fish at the market just behind the Rialto, and then, most of all, walking in Venice at night, when the tourists are gone (you need to sleep in Venice to have that pleasure), arriving in Piazza San Marco around 11 at night, through Piazzale dei Leoni, at the sound of the Quatuor of Cafe Florian, all this makes a unique experience.

The vaporetto passes by Santa Maria della Salute, the most beautiful church in Venice for you, then by the Guggenheim Museum, with his bronze horseman in the garden overlooking the Grand Canal. The cavalier, naked, is sitting on a horse, his two arms extended, and his penis is in erection, all the time obviously, it is in bronze (do I really have to explain everything?). The excessively rich Peggy Guggenheim, naughty, had nevertheless thought ahead: the penis is removable! So, when she would receive archbishops and dignitaries from the Vatican, she would unscrew the "object" so as not to shock those austere clergymen.

A little further, the vaporetto arrives at the San Silvestro Station and, approaching, you notice a young American with a young woman, probably his wife. The young American seems in a hurry. When the vaporetto stops, the employee opens the gate to let the people out and in, and announces the last station: "Ferrovia"!

The young American doesn't seem too eager to get in, where it's already quite crowded. "Let's wait for the next one," he says. "I don't want to wait, let's take this one," replies the wife. So the young American asks: Is it quick?

If you are in a hurry, don't go to Venice and don't play bridge. At bridge, the Is it quick approach is always bad. If you need 15 minutes to play a hand, take 15 minutes. The club players will be irritated by your slow tempo (they don't know Venice), but let them stew (vaporetto… stew, get it?)

You have :

2 showed a game forcing hand with a club fit and no majors. 4♣ insists for slam, 4 is kickback RKC and 4♠ says 0 or 3. 4NT asks for the Queen, if 4♠ said 3. 5 says: I have the trump Queen and the diamond King. You can now count to 11 tricks, 12 if partner has 6 clubs or a queen somewhere. As this is matchpoints, you choose 6NT.

The lead is a spade.

Only 11 tricks, and you see that 6 clubs is cold.
In NT, only 11 tricks and no finesse possible. Maybe West has underled QJ of spades. You call for the 10, no luck, East covers with the Queen.

Now what? Do you win this trick?

99% of the players, in a hurry, tourists of bridge, would win without thinking. But you are not like them and you decide to listen to me and think.

There are not 100 solutions for a 12th trick, there is only one, a squeeze, this mythological animal that not many players have seen.

"How did he make 3nt against you?"
"He squeezed me."
"Excuse me! You know the squeeze now?"
"I don't know, that's what he said to his partner: I squeezed her."
"And you let him do that to you? In front of his partner?"

I'll tell you how this works: some get squeezed and can do nothing about that. Some others make squeezes and they don't know it. Even you, you squeezed me once or twice, but I didn't tell you. What we don't know doesn't hurt, used to say my mother.

So here it is. The first condition for a squeeze is the number of winners compared to the number of remaining tricks: you need to have all winners except one. Here you have 11 tricks, so you need to lose one trick to reduce the number of remaining tricks to 12: that is called rectifying the count. So why not duck that 1st trick? You will have 11 winners and 12 tricks remaining. Too tough, you say? Not very tough.

East comes back with the Queen of hearts and you should suspect he has no more spades. West probably has 6 spades to the Jack, and East, 4 or 5 hearts QJTx(x). At trick 2, you already know a lot of things. And that's not all: the moment you will play 2 clubs, you will know for sure everything on opponents' hands. After 4 tricks, you will know the distributions all around the table. Bridge is easy, I think, when you apply yourself. If you play quickly though (Is it quick?), without looking, you are dead. Take your time.

Should you win this heart Queen in hand or in dummy? Try to look ahead, like Peggy Guggenheim. When you will cash dummy's clubs, with K9 of hearts in your hand, you will just have to watch for East's J10 of hearts. So the 2 most important cards in your hand are the 9 of hearts and the… 5 of spades. These 2 cards will be of no use, except to threaten East/West.

So win with the heart Ace in dummy, West follows with the 8, then play clubs. At the 2nd round of clubs, West discards and… you know everything. Here's how the cards were probably dealt at the start:

and we are now here:

Now ask yourself this question: if West has to keep the spades and East the hearts, who will guard the diamonds? Nobody! But do you have to count the diamonds as well? NO! The diamonds are of no interest, even if it is those diamonds that will give you this contract. Follow closely.

Are you done yet? Is it quick? No. You have to take your time, first to watch the important cards, and then to enjoy the progression of the squeeze. At the beginning, the defenders don't feel nothing and they wonder why you look so closely at their cards (like on the Grand Canal, on this last morning, you admired Palace Barbarigo and its magnificent mosaics, then Ca'Rezzonico; you went under the Rialto, soon on your right you rediscovered the Ca' D'oro where you could see Tiziano's Venus; then finally you watched the Palace Vendramin-Calergi where Wagner died).

The defenders seem puzzled by your manners. They look at their cards a second time, trying to be funny. They don't know that you don't really look at their cards on the table; you are focusing on the image of their hands in your mind. After a few cards, the defenders become less ironic, they move on their seat, change positions, they don't smile anymore, they notice that discarding, which was so easy at the beginning, is getting more and more complicated.

Now play AK of spades, pitching a small heart from dummy. East can't follow, so he pitches his last club, then a heart. No problem yet for East-West.

Now cash your 3 clubs. On the 2nd and 3rd club, East has to keep J10 of hearts, so he has to discard 2 diamonds. As you didn't see the J nor the 10 of hearts fall, you discard your now useless 9 of hearts. Let's see West now: he can let go of a heart, then a spade, but he cannot discard his last master spade, so he discards a diamond.

And now the coup de grĂ¢ce for West: small heart to your King. He can't let go of his master spade, so he discards a diamond. We have now:

Magic, isn't it? East and West each have a winner which is useless and you have now 3 diamond winners without ever having played a diamond. 12 tricks. The most fascinating thing here is that you never look at the diamonds.

The squeeze is the most exhilarating play in bridge. A squeeze is actually quite easy, either it works or it doesn't work. If it doesn't work, it is not your fault; if it works, it is not because you are brilliant. A squeeze works by itself, as long as you are careful to take the steps we have explained. And you don't have to be in slam for a squeeze to happen; you can make a squeeze in 3NT, 2, even 1♣.

When you notice that you are executing a squeeze, especially the first time, slow down and savour this flawless machinery, this infailible logic, and you will know the supreme pleasure in bridge.

To visit Venice, is it quick? NO. Same at bridge.

When you apply yourself, you access another world, you don't hear anything, you are a 100% focused on what is happening, you are elsewhere and in the present moment, you admire Palace Foscari-Contarini, the San Simeon Piccolo Church and you don't want to get off the vaporetto… "Ferrovia !!!"

The guide announces the last stop. The hand is over and you have to leave Venice. The young American leaves the boat in a hurry. But you know you have enjoyed the ride to the maximum, you have counted the hearts and the spades, the clubs and the diamonds, you have walked a long time and everywhere, in the morning and in the evening, in the small streets and on the Grand Canal, at all times of day and night.

When you will succeed in performing your first squeeze, consciously, you will be so excited that you will start to look for that play in every contract you play. You will want to experience again this unforgettable extra sensorial state, you will want to go back to Venice and relive this ecstasy, like the horseman in Peggy Guggenheim's garden.

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