Susanna Gross

Bridge | 17 October 2020

Bridge | 17 October 2020
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‘I have a wonderful hand to show you,’ Gunnar Hallberg exclaimed when I saw him last week. Gunnar is a world-class professional, now in his early seventies, whose passion for bridge remains undimmed. Since lockdown, there’s scarcely a high-level online tournament he hasn’t competed in, so naturally I assumed the hand came from one of those. But no: it turned out to be from the site FunBridge, where he spends his free time playing for sheer pleasure with three robots! He’s clearly fascinated by them. ‘The thing is, their bidding is really bad — they rely too much on points and not shape — but their play and defence is so pure. I’ve been studying the way they think…’ He spoke with such boyish enthusiasm that I had visions of bridge-playing aliens invading our galaxy, and Gunnar, with his understanding of their dark powers, brandishing his Lightsaber…

Here is the hand. Gunnar, the only human, was North (see diagram).

West led the ♠5 to dummy’s ♠A. Perhaps hearts would yield a ninth trick. Perhaps he should cash a top diamond to see if an honour fell. No, Gunnar made the crucial play of cashing the ♣AK to find out more about the distribution. When East discarded the ♠8, a picture emerged. Why a spade? Robots don’t make mistakes: the reason was it couldn’t afford a heart or diamond. So East must have ♥Jxxx and the ♦QJ. Why had West only supported spades belatedly? Because even holding four, those silly robots don’t raise first time with fewer than 4 points. Besides, East would have made a weak jump with 6 spades. So East was 5431. Gunnar had his plan. He cashed three top hearts and played a fourth. East won, cashed three spades (the suit was blocked so he couldn’t play one to West) — and that was it. Back from whence you came, Robots!