‘IF YOU EVER TO AMOUNT TO ANYTHING AT THIS GAME, YOU MUST BUILD UP A PICTURE OF THE UNSEEN HANDS. THE IDEA IS TO KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM IS BEFORE YOU TRY TO SOLVE IT.’

Robert Hamman (U.S.A.)

Robert Hamman is a name will see repeatedly when you read reports of the really big events. Only 25 when he was a runner-up in the 1964 Olympiad, he was a world team champion in 1970, 1971 and 1977, runner-up again in the 1972 Olympiad, and has represented North America on many occasions, with many different partners. In 1974 he won the world Pairs Olympiad, playing with Bobby Wolff. In 1979 these two were on the team that regained the world championship for the USA. He and Wolff now play for the professional team known as the Aces. He is solidly built, a round faced Rod Steiger.

In the first Bols Bridge Tip Hamman went straight to the heart of things: ‘Would try to play golf or tennis blindfolded? That does not seem a very intelligent thing to do, but most players do exactly that when they play the hand at Contract Bridge.

‘If you ever to amount to anything at this game, you must build up a picture of the unseen hands. The idea is to know what the problem is before you try to solve it.’

Early writers in the bridge tips competition were allowed less space than normal later on, and Hamman gave only one deal. Expanding his account, let us look first at the North-South hands only:

South Dealer

Neither side vulnerable

    Q5    
    A10932    
    84    
    10632    
     

N

   
     

S

   
    AK7432    
    6    
    Q5    
    AQ84    
South West North East
1 2 Pass Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
4 Pass Pass Pass

North’s raise to three spades is fairly close, I would say.

West led the 4 against Hamman’s contract of four spades.

It is instructive now to consider what you know – or need to assume – about each suit. Make a list of all the inferences that are available. Have you done that? It should read something like this:

First, spades. You haven’t been doubled, so there is a good chance that they will be 3 – 2. In any case you must assume this, because, because you are surely going to lose two diamonds and at least one club. This is typical ‘assumption’. Since the spades must be 3:2 if you are going to make the contract, you assume they are 3:2 and you build up your picture of the opposing hands on that basis.

Second, hearts. What do you make of that lead of 4 ? Could it be a singleton? Hardly, because that would give East KQJ875 and he would have made a bid over two diamonds (especially since, as we shall see in a moment, he surely has a diamond honour). So West is leading low from an honour, or possible two non-touching honours. He might have Kxx or Qxx, something like that. Since he has bid two diamonds and we are placing him with at least two spades, he is more likely to hold three hearts than four.

Third, diamonds. There is a simple, and very common, inference to be drawn here, but it is an inference often missed. With AK of diamonds West would surely have led this suit rather than a heart from some very not attractive holding. So A-K of diamonds are split, with East probably clutching the king.

Fourth, clubs. Until we had studied the other suits, there wasn’t much to say about the clubs situation. In fact, we have quite a lot of information. Since we are placing West with at least six diamonds, possibly seven, at least three hearts and at least two spades, he can hardly hold more than two clubs and may have only one. What about the king of clubs, a critical card? One pointer is that East is already marked with a high honour in hearts, quite possibly two honours, and with one of the top diamonds. Exaggerating a trifle, Hamman remarks: ‘East’s silence would be incomprehensible with a diamond honour, at least one heart honour, and the king of clubs as well.’ There is another indication, at least as strong. West has chosen an unattractive lead in hearts, and there must be some reason why he preferred a heart to a club. Perhaps his club holding is a singleton king or Kx ?

Now we are getting warm. Putting all the inferences together we have arrived at the conclusion that the best way to limit the loss in clubs to one trick is to play West for short clubs, including the king. This is what Hamman did, with good effect, as can be seen from the full deal:

 

    Q5      
    A1093      
    84      
    10632      
     

N

     
J6   1098
K54  W

 E

  QJ87
AJ109632       K7
K       J975
     

S

     
    AK7432      
    6      
    Q5      
    AQ84      

 

Having won the first trick with the ace of hearts, the declarer played a club to the ace, dropping the singleton king. There was still a little work to do, because the next club lead had to come from dummy. South had to hope that West had only two spades. He played ace of spades and a spade to the queen, then a low club from the table. East split his J97, South played the queen, and West was unable to ruff. The last trump was drawn, and declarer’s 8 and 10 of clubs ended his account:

‘Quickly I draw the last trump and concede a club and two diamonds to make four spades. I notice only my partner is congratulating me. East is eyeing me suspiciously, and West has aleady slid his chair a foot back from the table.’

Before we leave this fine hand, let’s just run over the inferences again, because if you think in this way every time you will soon be a champion:

Trumps had to be 3:2, because otherwise there would be no play for the contract.

The lead of the 4 was probably from KXX or QXX, conceivably from KJX.

The ace and king of diamonds were surely divided.

East was unlikely to hold the king of clubs for two reasons: with this card he might have had enough to bid over his partner’s two diamonds: the West’s awkward lead in hearts pointed to an awkward holding in clubs as well, probably KX or king alone.

This type of card--reading is the beginning, and almost the end, of all good play. The theme is present in almost all the contributions to this book. Instead of looking at other examples, therefore, it might be interesting to listen to Robert Hamman’s opinions about a different feature of tournament play – the human side. One of the staff of the ABTA Quarterly, the magazine of American teachers, quizzed him about the perennial problem of the sort of welcome that novice’s get – when they dip their toes in the tournament whirlpool:

Question: ‘Several of my pupils have gone out and gotten into games and been scared to death by the attitude of the players. They hear criticism, partner against partner, even a player against the opponent, telling the opponent what he did wrong, and get terribly upset about it. They won’t go again.’

Hamman: ‘Granted that there is a substantial room for improvement in the demeanour of tournament players. Tournament bridge is a competitive event. It is a competition, and in competition you do get a lot of tension and you get emotional reactions. It’s not a sociable event in the sense of everybody get out and be friendly and kill some time. So as a bridge teacher you should condition them to the idea that this is a competitive event and this is competition, and it’s great to solve problems and win and that you’re going to get a bit static here and there: but you know, educate them to the fact that they will probably run unto a situation like that sometime, but in reality nothing too bad has happened to them. If somebody turned to them and said "Man, were you stupid!", well, chances are that someone got a bad result. Now, would you rather get a good result and have your opponents say you’re stupid, or get a bad result and have your opponents sit back with inner smugness? So you can put it to them in that way: that usually the opponents are just blowing off steam and reacting to the fact that you did good and beat them.

‘That will overcome some of it: now, it won’t overcome all of it for all people. I think that a lot could be done toward conditioning people. The fact that it is a competitive event and if something goes bad – if your partner does something incredibly stupid (naturally you yourself would never do anything incredibly stupid) and you get a terrible result – you’re ready to lash out at anybody, heads must roll!’

To put it another way, if you take up boxing you must expect a few bloody noses.