Revisiting the Queen of Hearts

I stumbled upon this post I had written some two and a half years ago. I had drawn an analogy from bridge and had argued that if your achieving something is conditional on a certain uncertain event, you should assume that the event is going to go your way and take your best shot. I want to add a caveat. Let me take you back to the bridge analogy.

Suppose you are playing for IMPs (international match points). You have bid Six Spades. And after the lead and dummy come down, you know that you will make your contract if and only if the Queen of Hearts lies west. As per my earlier advice, you must just assume that and go for it. Unconditionally.

You think again. You see that there is a risk-free way of getting to eleven tricks – one short. And by taking this approach, you know there is no chance of your getting the twelfth. However, if you play for the Queen of Hearts to be with west, and if she turned out to be East, you will end up going say four under, and will be prone to lose heavily.

My earlier advice didn’t take care of costs. All it assumed was a binary payoff – you either make the contract or you don’t. And in that kind of a scenario, it clearly made sense to go for it, and play assuming that the Queen of Hearts lies West. However, when there are costs involved, and how many tricks you go under by makes a difference, you will need to play percentages. You go for the contract only if you know there is a reasonable chance that the Queen is West (you can figure out the cutoffs by doing a cost-benefit analysis).

There is one thing you can explore, though. Is there a play which gives you extra information about the position of the Queen of Hearts? While still keeping your options open? Can you find out more information about the system while still having the option to go for it or not? I think, if there exists this kind of a play, you should find it and play it. And the letter I wrote last week, I think, falls under this category.

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