Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Diamond Is Forever

I used to be a chess player and once qualified for the Canadian Chess Championship by correspondence. I worked my brains out for more than a year, 2 or 3 hours a day, in order to win the qualification. When I finally won, I discovered bridge and I just quit chess, never to play chess again.

What is the difference between chess and bridge?

I don’t want to offend chess players and fans, but I would say chess is a children's game, and I don't mean that in a negative way. It is easy to understand: at chess, you play alone, you have one opponent and you see all the pieces all the time.

At bridge, you have one partner and 2 opponents (some would say that makes 3 opponents, but let's not digress). In the bidding, you see only 13 cards out of 52 and, during the play, you see only 26 cards out of 52.

At chess, there are 32 pieces and you see them all the time. At chess, if neither player makes a mistake, the game will end with a draw. If player A makes a mistake and player B sees it, player A will lose. Sometimes, player A doesn't know he made mistake. He will realise it on the next move, or 5 or 6 moves later.

Bobby Fischer, still in his teens, once playing the American champion, started a combination (a series of forced moves including maybe a sacrifice of one or even 2 pieces in order to mate or to gain a decisive advantage) so deep that the commentators in the other room, not understanding the complexity of the combination, explained to the audience that he was losing the game. At the same time, the American champion, suddenly "seeing" what was happening, resigned.

At bridge, sometimes, a defender doesn't make a mistake, but he still loses, when the declarer submits him to a squeeze for example. Other times, the defender makes a mistake, and the declarer can succeed if he can "see" all the pieces and execute the combination in perfect order.

In the 1st match of the Zonal Teams, opponents were silent and you play 6♣, LHO leading a middle heart.

You play low, RHO wins the Jack and plays back a club. Oops!!

Maybe he should have played back a diamond but you have bid diamonds at some point, and maybe that deterred him from playing that suit. Now if spades break 4-3, you will make 12 tricks, but you have to see deeper in the hand.

You win the club and play 3 more clubs, LHO pitching a heart on the 4th club. You play a spade to the Ace, then the King (on which you pitch a diamond), RHO following with the 9 and the Jack. You then play a small spade (the mistake is to play a third top spade, effectively squeezing yourself), RHO pitches a heart, and you ruff.

Now the position is:

Now you play the 9 of clubs. LHO cannot let a spade go, so he pitches a diamond. You pitch the heart Queen from dummy (!!), not a spade, in order to keep the pressure on West; RHO has to keep the hearts, so he pitches a diamond also.

Now we have reached:

Now a heart to the Ace (the real Vienna coup, creating a winner in East's hand and a menace with the heart 10 in declarer's hand), LHO has to keep both spades, so he pitches another diamond. Now we have:

Next you play the spade Queen from dummy, RHO has to keep the heart King, so he pitches a diamond. You pitch the now useless heart, LHO (immaterial now) follows. Finally, at trick 12, the Jack of diamonds to the Ace collects the Queen from East and the King from West, and the 13th trick (your 12th) is the diamond 2.

I don't know what name or names we can give to this sequence of plays, successive or double or compound or criss-cross or any other exotic squeeze name, but I do know one thing: to be able to foresee that kind of play while seeing only 26 cards out of 52, and then to be able to conduct it till the end is the most exhilarating experience, and it is the reason why I quit chess for bridge.

Winning the 13th trick with the diamond 2, with the opponents unable to do anything about it, this is why I will play bridge... forever.

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