One From a Barbú Tournament

Playing SF-style Barbú, you have only Fantan left. CHO owes you a double. Family doubles are prohibited. Aces are low. You do not have to call a card you have.

You hold:
S: Q976
H: 109
D: 94A
C: 1042A

What is your base card?

If all three double you, whom do you redouble, if anyone?

Today's panelists: Barry Rigal, David Caprera, Walter Hamilton, Joel Wooldridge, Adam Wildavsky, Steve Altus.

I hate these problems (I always get them wrong and worse, I can usually be convinced of my error too...)

Oh well; my thinking is that I want to play early on to get oppo to open up the suits for me (I do not mind passing in mid ground). I'd play from the ace.

Not RHO; he heard LHO. CHO... and LHO though I could be persuaded that this was silly. Easier on paper.

[who has never played Barbu!] Should 8 be my base? My guess is that this is a good hand. I rewhack LHO and CHO. Unless RHO is bluffing, their double should be legit.
I'd lead the C:A. As for redoubling, I'd only redouble someone with a lesser score. [Since it's the last round, Walter is playing to the score, but given that this was a tournament, that doesn't really work. --Jeff]
5 is base. I redouble all who challenge my almightiness.
[5] sounds right to me. Holding no Kings a low start card is called for. Calling one I don't hold lets me hide my intentions. 3 would be too low — I'm not worried about getting my Aces played. Those who double me are going with the odds that I'm a priori unlikely to have been dealt a good Fantan hand, but this is a good one.

This isn't a lock — hearts might not come out soon enough. But if the K and Q of hearts are split it would take quite a parlay to finish worse than second.

TC said she would start with five, and points out that there's not nearly enough info to decide whether to redouble, since at this stage we must know the scores and what games are left. She said in general she wouldn't redouble anyone if there are multiple doubles, though, because if there's a very good hand out there, this hand could easily finish third or fourth. I agree with her that while it's not a bad hand, it can become terrible if it loses control.
Ace lead, redoubled the forced double.
Here's the whole hand:
S: KJ42
H: KQ63
D: K8
C: KQ9
S: 10A
H: 87542
D: 1063
C: 765
S: 853
D: QJ752
C: J83
S: Q976
H: 109
D: 94A
C: 1042A
On this hand, a 5 lead will almost certainly let LHO win. An A or 2 lead will probably make it a 50/50 guess between you and him. A 3 lead will let CHO randomly choose who wins. RHO is always coming in 3rd.

In real life, one called a 9 (!) and won. Two called 2s, each reaching a 50/50 guess. One got it right, one wrong. I called an Ace, reached the guess, and guessed wrong. CHO, of course, comes in last and RHO comes in 3rd. The only real issue is whether you beat LHO.



Lew Stansby, Kit Woolsey, and I discussed this hand after the tournament. They plumped for a 5 lead, but after significant simulation and lots of thought, I think an ace is likely still to be best. You'd like to get spades on the track early, but it's even more important to get to your aces. You have a lot of control cards in your 9s and 10s; it's much more important to make those be stoppers later in the play than to be able to pass early. (And the play of this hand demonstrates that.) Perhaps a 3 might produce the best of both worlds, but the C:A guarantees a major will get played and probably will see to it that a bunch of major suit cards get played quickly. That's good. Upon reflection, I think I still like the C:A lead.

On the actual hand, I think a 3 will be likely to be the winner, but oddly, it concedes control to CHO (!) who doesn't really care. If he tries to have fewer cards in the end, you'll likely win. If he plays randomly, you'll come in 2nd. An Ace or 2, however, gives you control. ...without any information with which to use the control, but control nonetheless.

I know the right answer about redoubling, but then again I've seen the hand. The logic is pretty clear, though. CHO has to be redoubled; his double was forced and his hand is awful. (He had all four Kings.) LHO might have been taking a chance, but was under the gun, so probably has the 2nd-best hand at the table. RHO may have doubled because she heard LHO double. LHO's having a double increases the odds considerably that her so-so hand (she actually had a very good one, but hypothetically speaking) would be better than mine. Therefore, you should redouble CHO and RHO. Second choice is to redouble everyone, but that's very risky. Perhaps it matters which base card you pick. If you pick a 5, you are likely to come in first, but may manage last. If you pick an Ace, you will never come in last, but there's a small chance you'll come in 3rd. In practice, I'd bet on 1st or 2nd and expect LHO to be the one competing with me for 1st, so the middle-of- the-road choice is to redouble everyone but LHO. All in all, nothing's wrong, but I think the best expectation comes from leading an ace and redoubling RHO and CHO. But not by much.

Jeff Goldsmith,, Nov. 13, 2002