Saturday, November 5, 2016

If it's worth bidding, it's worth leading

I've always thought what a silly old adage is "If it's worth bidding, it's worth leading." It's usually said when someone has made a bid, doesn't have any more obvious lead, and resorts to leading their own suit. Not very profound!

But, playing at a casual, that's to say torture, table recently, I suffered the following indignity: 2NTXW= for -690 and a loss of 12 IMPs.

Dealer: W
Vul: Both
♠ KT9763
♥ K5
♦ T93
♣ KT
♠ QJ4
♥ J7
♦ Q842
♣ A987
♠ 5
♥ AQ986
♦ KJ75
♣ J52
♠ A82
♥ T432
♦ A6
♣ Q643

p p 1H p
1N 2S p p
2N p p X
p p p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

My so-called partner apparently doesn't believe in getting in and out early in the auction. A 2S call by North would get the hand off the chest so to speak and make life really difficult for the opponents. And, 2S is unassailable whereas any higher contract by the opponents, except for 3D, is doomed. A contract of 3D requires East to double rather than bid 3H over the 2S, but that never happened at any of the tables where North started with 2S.

As you can see, a spade lead ("if it's worth bidding, it's worth leading") would have set the contract easily. But even with partner's DT lead which resulted in the premature knocking out of my DA (at trick 2), we were still destined to set the contract. If only partner hadn't grabbed the second spade after I played SA and 8.

So, should North have simply followed the old saw and led a spade? No, not at all. He should have listened to the bidding. I had not acted over 1H so either I had the wrong shape for a takeout double, or I simply wasn't strong enough to act. But now, after partner comes in with the enormously dangerous bid of 2S (which I passed), West bids a very inadvisable 2N. I double this and partner is on lead. I have no game ambitions therefore, so I don't have a strong off-shape hand that couldn't double. And, I certainly don't have a suit of my own. On what could I be basing my expectation of defeating 2NT? It must be a good fit for spades (with an honor) plus probably another entry.

There is another possibility. The opponents could be complete idiots and therefore it doesn't matter too much what North leads. 2N has no chance of making. But why assume this. No, although it's clear that West is a novice (you can't bid 1NT and then 2NT) but there's no reason to assume some kind of death wish. No, there's every reason to assume they have at least as many points as we do, and yet South (me) is sure of defeating the contract.

No, all inferences should tell North that 1) it matters what he leads and 2) the only sensible lead is the suit that he's promised. The failure to heed these rather obvious inferences cost him (and me) 17 IMPs.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Web movements for teaching

One of my wife Kim's bridge classes includes a duplicate every other week. With discussion about the hands, there is only time to play 6 boards. The number of tables varies usually between nine and twelve. Any multiple of three tables can easily be accommodated with the appropriate number of sections, each with a straight Mitchell movement. But what about ten and eleven tables? These can be handled with either two sections of three tables and a section of four; or two sections of four, with a section of three. The trouble is those four-table sections! There's no Mitchell variation that I have found to work for this type of situation (having single-board rounds is not very appealing). I therefore turned to the "web" movement.

The so-called web movement is the invention of former National director John "Spider" Harris in the 1970s. For a full description of web movements, the best source is Tim Hill's document. In a web movement with an even number of tables, as we have here, a section is split into two sub-sections each comprising half of the tables. The second of these sub-sections is boarded "backwards" which is the insight that Spider Harris came up with to make the movement work.

This is how the movement unfolds for one four-table section:

Four Table Web
Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Table 1 (N/S 1) E/W 1 playing boards 1,2 E/W 4 playing boards 3,4 E/W 3 playing boards 5,6
Table 2 (N/S2) E/W 2 playing boards 3,4 E/W 1 playing boards 5,6 E/W 4 playing boards 1,2
1-2 Bye-stand boards 5,6 boards 1,2 boards 3,4
Table 3 (N/S 3) E/W 3 playing boards 1,2 E/W 2 playing boards 5,6 E/W 1 playing boards 3,4
Table 4 (N/S 4) E/W 4 playing boards 5,6 E/W 3 playing boards 3,4 E/W 2 playing boards 1,2
3-4 Bye-stand boards 3,4 boards 1,2 boards 5,6

Of course, as you can see, you need two sets or "cases" of boards (i.e. twelve boards in all). That's the drawback to the web movement (and the reason directors have never really liked to use it until recently). Now, however, that we have dealing machines available, it becomes much less of a burden for the director (or teacher in this case) to set up a web movement.

The other advantage is that, once the boards are put into position, the movement pretty much runs itself. Some of the other alternative movements require changing the movement half-way through, having relays, and so on. These can be somewhat problematic when the players are relatively new to duplicate bridge.

So, as you can see, the web movement isn't only for large single sections, as typically used in tournaments in New England. It can be used any time the number of boards in play is insufficient to cover all the tables in a section.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The tentatively penalty double

I have written extensively about cooperative doubles before in this blog. Here's a situation where none of the penalty triggers had occurred but I didn't feel that my double in the West seat was purely cooperative (DISP) but certainly not purely penalty either:

Dealer: E
Vul: NS
♠ 6
♥ QJT76
♦ Q862
♣ 974
♠ J75
♥ A3
♦ T9
♣ AKQJ83
♠ Q94
♥ 95
♦ AK543
♣ T62
♠ AKT832
♥ K842
♦ J7
♣ 5

p 1S 2C p
2D 2S X p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

Clearly, East had some values for his 2D call. So, it seemed like it was our hand. But where to play it? I didn't have a spade stopper, I couldn't raise diamonds. I could take a unilateral view and rebid 3C and maybe that was best. On the other hand, this was matchpoints and +200, if it was available, would be a much better score than +110 or +130. With a decent stop in spades, partner could even take my double out into 3NT.

Had I opened 1C, heard partner bid 1D, and then heard 2S on my right, this would (for me, at any rate) clearly be a cooperative double. Yet, when we have both made bids showing decent to good suits and not been raised, the needle on the takeout to penalty meter swings over a little more towards penalty.

In my humble opinion, having more or less denied the ability to raise clubs on his previous turn, partner should have given preference to clubs (over defending 2SX). That would be a relatively easy 130. Better still would be to take out into 3NT which rolls, as it happens. What actually happened was that partner passed 2S, assuming my double was pure penalty. Deep finesse says that 2S is cold but I think we had some chances.  High club, two high diamonds followed by a diamond ruff starts us out with four tricks. The HA is still to come and, if declarer doesn't try to finesse against the queen, we would defeat the contract. But it was not to be. -670 was of course an absolute zero. The exact same zero as 2S undoubled would have been.

So, on balance, I think that double was correct, showing that it was our hand. But the idea of the tentatively penalty double needs to be better understood.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Well, it seems that I have figured out a way to publish my blog again. It's not that I didn't want to. I have lots of material. It's just that I couldn't show you any actual hands because Google broke the Blogger code.

I tried to join BridgeBlogging (where Jeff Lehman publishes his bridge blog) but apparently they didn't want me.

Recently, I've been re-reading (for about the fourth time) Hugh Kelsey's truly excellent book on matchpoints. When you find yourself in a contract that appears to be a minority choice, you have to carefully consider what might happen at the other tables. This I've resolved to do.

Anyway, here's a hand that came up in the middle of a BBO Robot tournament, which I was winning at the time with 60-something percent.
What would you bid? I reasoned that I only needed one trick (and some sort of diamond fit) from partner to make 3NT. Of course, I only have one heart stopper and if partner's trick is slow then I'll probably go down. But surely that's a better plan than simply bidding 4D?
Now what? I could play a club up to the queen in dummy. If LHO had the ace, he'd might play low and I would have my 9 tricks. Some human defenders might fall for that. Should I consider simply conceding down one? No, I decided. There would be company in my contract and I should make every effort to take nine tricks. I decided on the club play, therefore. Unfortunately, my robot LHO was not brooking any funny business. The result?
I went down 7 tricks for -700 and a big round zero. Was I right in my strategy?

Most of my counterparts would probably take the safe 4D route, in which case they would all be going +130. Could there be any 3H contracts their way? Probably not, but if there were, they would make 140 or 170 depending on whether they had a diamond loser or not. Taking eight tricks, therefore would beat those pairs (if any). If half of the other pairs were in 4D, then conceding defeat would give me at best an average score and more likely average minus, let's say 30% for the sake of argument. If I was to sneak a club through and actually make my contract, I would be improving my score by 70% while risking my "safe" 30%.

However, I should have thought more about that all-important first trick! Having started with QJ9xxx and having decided to lead fourth best and seeing three hearts in dummy and partner, who raised, go in with the king, even the smallest brain would have known that the hearts were now running. He didn't need a lead from partner through the ten. Maybe if LHO had led the Q, seen two hearts in dummy, partner overtake with the K, he might have been worried that I had ATx in which case he would hope his partner had the CK.

In fact, there were nine +130s, a -100 (the one other playing 3NT), a -200 (defending a 3H contract), and, surprisingly, a +120 from 1NT making two. Playing it safe for -100 would have resulted in a 12.5% board. Needless to say, I didn't hold my first place. I dropped to third.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Asleep at the switch

To my faithful readers: for some reason, Blogger/Blogspot has "fixed" something that wasn't broken and needless to say they haven't provided any explanation for it. The upshot is that I can no longer post hand diagrams (I can only link to BBO for rendering in a separate window). I've tried BridgeBlogging but apparently they unimpressed by my material (and were insufficiently polite to mention that fact to me). Anyone got any ideas whither I could transfer my bridge blog?

Meanwhile I still suffer the craziness of sitting at random tables when I have a few minutes to spare but no more. The errors that players make simply astound me. Was I ever that bad, I wonder? No, I don't think so. At least, I hope not!

Here's the latest misdemeanor: random hand at random table. Notice how disciplined I was not doubling 5D, although it certainly looked like it was going down. One ill-advised player did double 5D (see below). When dummy came down, I was surprised how good it was, but this kind of leap to game is not at all uncommon for beginners. Especially after a weak-two opener, they just don't know if, say, 2S would be forcing. Other declarers might be in 6D going down, so it was important to ensure that this contract didn't succeed.

Notice what happens at trick 7. West (declarer) takes a no-win "finesse" of the CQ (is there a name for this type of finesse? Chinese finesse?). I'm flabbergasted at how common such finesses are at these tables. My guess is that there's one every second or third board, especially when my partner is declaring.

But wait, apparently such a finesse can win! All you need is for the one with the K not to cover. Of course, this could never happen if that person was fourth-in-hand. Especially if he/she was looking at the J also. But nevertheless, my partner was asleep at the switch. After that, we have no defense. I get my two trump tricks and that's it. Perhaps I should have ruffed the club continuation which would require declarer to think about the play. But I can only ever come to two trump tricks if declarer plays correctly.

Take two. Things could have been worse. Really, you ask? Look what happened at this table. I have taken the liberty of assigning names from S. J. Simon's Why You Lose at Bridge. It's hard to count the total number of errors ("chucks" in Simon's terminology) committed here. I could post an ATB on BridgeWinners, I suppose but there's really just too much sin all round. First, do we agree with The Unlucky Expert's opening bid 1D? It's a tough call. 2D, the bid at my table, is flawed for various reasons, notably the void, the bad suit and too many stray queens. But is this hand good enough for 1D? Zar says it is (28 before any negative texture adjustment which meets the threshold of 26). KR puts it at 11.8 which is not quite an opening bid for most of us, I think.

In any case, 1D seems reasonable. Mrs. Guggenheim responds 2C which is just plain bizarre when she has more spades than clubs. Maybe she just wanted to announce the strength of her hand immediately, and a two-bid sounds so much stronger than a mere one-bid. Mr. Smug now says 3S, an appalling bid--but quite normal for Mr. Smug. Perhaps not the worst bid in the history of bridge, but certainly a doozy! The Unlucky Expert, who by rights has nothing to say, naturally bids 4D (to show his six-card suit)--Mrs. Guggenheim must have been just itching to double. Futile Willy, under the mistaken impression that his partner has something, decides to double this (cold) contract. Does he really think that he's getting this freely bid contract down more than one? Particularly, when he has such good support for his partner's "suit." Wouldn't you think that Mrs. Guggenheim would be ecstatic for her partner to be in 4DX? No, the scoring table was never her strong point and she decides to "take it out" into the diamond game.

The rest of the auction is inevitable and hardly worth mentioning. Futile Willy, his manhood so dreadfully impugned by Mrs. Guggenheim's 5D, must double again. And, when this comes around to the Unlucky Expert, he just knows that the contract is cold as Mrs. Guggenheim always has her bid if she bids a game. The fact that his own bidding has hitherto shown a decent hand with good diamonds is immaterial. He redoubles.

Now for the play. It would never occur to Futile Willy to lead low from Qxx of his partner's suit so he leads the SQ. No matter, it makes no difference this time. Declarer takes dummy's ace and crosses to his own HA. Based on the auction, he can be pretty confident that a finesse of the nine will succeed and indeed it does. Of course, he still should be down at this point but he knows the caliber of his opponents and is not worried. He decides to sneak a club through Mr. Smug who surely has the CK for his ridiculous spade bid. The latter, confident that his king cannot "go away" (does he imagine that declarer started with five clubs and never raised his partner?) plays low smoothly. At this point, The Unlucky Expert could claim but naturally he drags it out to the bitter end to extract the maximum degree of squirming from his two gentleman opponents.

This hand would have been a pretty good "Goulash" hand. 16 tables played it and the range of scores was +1600 (4SXXE-4) to -800 (the latter being our heroes' result). That's a spread of 29.8 IMPs! The par result is actually 400 E/W for 3NT which cannot be touched. This was reached by the perfectly appropriate auction (N/S silent): P--1S--2D--3D--3NT.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The forcing pass

This is a subject that covers many situations and much has been written on forcing passes after a game bid (or after a game-forcing bid). Fascinating as that subject is, it's been well covered elsewhere (particularly Robson & Segal's excellent book: Partnership Bidding at Bridge: The Contested Auction). And this blog from a couple of years ago: No wonder it takes so long to learn this game--the denouement, covers the situation where one of us has taken an action showing a "sound raise" (aka limit raise or better).

The other situation where the forcing pass comes up at low levels is after an opening 1-bid has been doubled and redoubled. Given a disciplined redouble, which "implies no fit" and thus, in my opinion, denies three (or more) cards in support for partner's major unless it is a very flat hand, our side is in a force. Not to game but, by convention, through the two-level.

In other words, the opponents may not play a contract at the two-level or below unless it is doubled. Of course, we can continue bidding to the three level (or game) if we think that is better. But in the following auction, pass is 100% forcing. But pass does seem in this situation to be not very descriptive.

So, what would West's various bids mean? 2♣ would show a minimum opener with presumably six (or perhaps five) clubs and would tend to deny much defense against a spade contract. 2 or 2 would still be a reverse, although since partner has announced 10+ hcp, we might not be as strong as otherwise. More likely, the 1♠ bid has made life awkward for our expected rebid (1NT?) and so we bid 2/2 instead.

2♠ would tend to show some sort of distributional monster that wants to force to game. The given hand seems like a case in point. 3♣ would be descriptive but non-forcing. I'm not really sure if there are any other bids (other than 3NT) that make much sense here.

What this hand should not do is double. Double here says, I have a minimum hand (although at favorable vulnerability, we might have a maximum hand too) but spades is my second suit. Something like ♠KJ96 Q3 QT5 ♣KQ83. Hopefully, we will be plus 200 when we probably have no game. With significantly more than 10 hcp, partner can of course pull the double to a game contract, knowing that spades are stopped, and that we need 600 rather than 200 or 500.

With any other hand, that's to say nothing particular to say, pass is just fine (it definitely doesn't in any way limit the strength of your hand because it is 100% forcing). Pass would however, tend to limit the distribution of your hand.

For more on my thoughts about redouble, see The blue card.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Substance abuse?

It's always nice when somebody reads your blog, agrees with it and acts upon it for a good result. Is it as good when you follow your own advice? What about when both you and partner are on the same page. Life is good! The principle under discussion is what I called, as if I get paid by the letter, The principle of substantive discretionary bids (PSDB).

Another late-night BBO session playing at an IMP table with a friend against random opponents (about nine months ago now, as this sat in my drafts folder for a while). I held at favorable vulnerability: J5 Q75 QJ8765 Q6. After my LHO opened 1C and partner overcalled 1H, my RHO passed. I had a problem, or at least I thought I did. Probably a bid of 2H would be fine. But it seemed odd that nobody had found the spade suit yet and I decided to make life a little harder for them with a jump to 3H. After all, I did have kind of a preempt hand, in a red suit. Different red suit admittedly, but still. At this point, we'd be down 2 against 110 if the opponents played 2S. A push.

Opener passed, presumably hoping we'd get to 4H which he could happily double. Now, partner made an interesting bid showing her real substance, just in case the opponents should end up in spades with me on lead. Only four cards, and the suit opened at her right, but still, a great call, based on the assumption that I had four decent hearts and nothing else.

Perhaps now was the time to bid diamonds. It's actually our best spot (we can make 9 tricks). But we had one good fit, a second fit of some sort (clubs). No need to go muddying the waters with 4D. After my 4H, East sprang the trap. We were headed for a loss of 6 IMPs. But good old West came to our rescue with 4S.  Maybe he's a follower of George Rosenkranz who advises that the only time it's allowable to pull a penalty double is when you have an unbid six-card suit. I don't think George advocates always doing it but maybe with a singleton trump and three cards in partner's first suit, it's acceptable.

Unfortunately for West, the one bidding like a crazy person was me, not his partner. I should really have doubled myself but I couldn't bring myself to do it! Coward. Partner doubled and this is where it gets interesting. The point about the PSDB is that when partner bids two suits, they most likely want you to lead the second suit. I obliged with a club lead. Note that a heart suit lead would result in the contract making with two overtricks and total vindication of West! 24 or 25 IMPs were awaiting my lead! Fortunately, we ended in the plus column.

There's really nothing to the rest of the play. We cashed three clubs, one diamond and then I got my trump promotion (is this technically a promotion?)

The moral of the story, apart from noting that I can be a crazy bidder at times, is that when your partner sticks their neck on the block, just asking for it to be cut off, they really want you to lead that suit, not the suit they mentioned earlier. It would be insane to bid 4C without some seriously good cards in that suit after all.