Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A poker player's guide to bridge

The other day, I had the pleasure of partnering Kathy, my sister-in-law at the bridge club.  Kathy has had quite a bit of success at the club and at tournaments, but isn't as expert at bridge as she is at poker (she's been a dealer and player).

A hand came up which I think typifies the importance of raising partner with support as soon as possible, in much the same way that you raise in poker when you're in the right position and have a good hand but one that might easily become less good after the flop, or the next "street".

Here is the hand in question: ♠QT842 AT8 54 ♣Q65.  All vulnerable, RHO deals and passes.  You pass and LHO bids 1.  Partner bids 2♣.  RHO now doubles and the time has come.  What do you call?

Before deciding on that, let's consider what's going on here.  LHO has made a 3rd-hand opening which at this point may or may not be based on a solid opening hand.  RHO didn't have enough to open but has enough to double, presumably she has both majors and enough points to force the partnership to the two level.  Whose hand is it?  Who's got "the nuts"?  Well, right now, we have the best two hands at the table (we have at least half the deck and what's more, we've got a fit).  We're ahead, but we might not be for long.  It's our duty with the assets we have to make it as difficult as possible for the opponents to draw that magic card on "the river".  In other words, we must raise!  With all our defensive values and being vulnerable too, it makes no sense to go jumping around preemptively.  But it seems to me that an immediate raise to 3♣ would be normal, even automatic.  It's reasonably likely that we would buy the hand for 3♣, making.  Or RHO might feel that it was necessary to show the good spades (5431 distribution) and bid 3♠ which we can double for 200 or 500.

What actually happened was that the hand shown passed, LHO rebid 2, confirming a decent suit, and RHO now showed her shape and strength (11 hcp in fact) with 2♠.  Kathy, who held this hand, now bid 3♣, but the damage was done.  RHO finally supported opener with a 3 bid and there it rested.  It's unusual to be punished so harshly for such a relatively minor lapse but -110 turned out to be worth exactly 0 matchpoints.  The other 10 tables were all going down in three or four spades (I suspect most of the dealers opened 1♠) or, in one case letting us go down quietly in 4♣ (the second worst score for our direction).

The old bridge adage of support with support really is a good one!

Somehow we landed in 6NT

The title refers to the excellent and entertaining book of that name by David Bird.  It's full of interesting 6NT hands from top level play and contains many instructive quizzes on how to play such hands, generally based on constructed deals.

The general rule that I've worked out for deciding when to bid 6NT at matchpoints, as opposed to 6 of a suit, is this (leaving aside for now any indications such as a Lightner double):
  • if you're in 6 or 6♠, and it looks like you'll take the same 12 tricks in NT (and you have good stoppers in any enemy suit, if any), then bid 6NT;
  • if you're in 6♣ or 6, stay where you are, unless you're fairly sure that you'll make the same number of tricks (or more) in notrump.
The reasoning behind this is that most players, at the club rather than the Blue Ribbon pairs, will not find the minor suit slam in the first place so you might as well maximize your chances of making it by playing in a suit (you usually have decent trumps when you're at the six level in a minor).  On the other hand, even the weakest pair in the field will be in 6 of a major when they have a fit with 30+ hcp.  That's when you have to get an edge with the extra 10 points.

A couple of interesting hands came up last night at the club.  On the first hand, all are vulnerable and you LHO deals and passes.  Your hand is ♠9432 AQ942 AQ2 ♣K.  Partner bids 1♠ and RHO passes.  Without going into detail, you discover that partner has both black aces and at least Kxx, a void in diamonds and is enthusiastic about slam.  You will be declarer if the contract is in notrump.  Let's say you know that he doesn't have the ♠K.  Which slam do you want to play in?

I think this is a clear case for 6NT.  If they lead a diamond, your otherwise wasted Q will become a trick.  If they don't you should have time to develop at least four spades, five hearts, a diamond and two clubs.  As it happens, the ♠K was onside and we made 1460.

Of the 16 results on this board, 2 pairs failed to reach slam at all (one of these was a good pair who perhaps had a misunderstanding).  13 pairs played either 6 or 6♠.  Only one pair bid 6NT.  Unfortunately, not us.  So, bidding 6NT was worth 6 matchpoints out of 15.  Why only 6?  Two declarers in 6♠ apparently eschewed the trump finesse because a heart ruff was looming.  That's the only explanation I can come up with for not taking all the tricks.

The second interesting board had a somewhat shorter auction.  Red versus white, you pick up ♠T76 AJ52 QJ76 ♣AK and again you are fourth-in-hand.  This time, dealer does not pass.  In fact, he opens with 5♣!  Partner contributes 5 and RHO passes.  What's your call?  Obviously nobody will be bidding again unless you choose 6♣.

Assuming that partner isn't a lunatic, you're surely going to bid a slam of some sort.  Which is it to be.  My favorite partner (the one I'm married to) suggested 7 which would have scored a nice 14.  My actual partner chose a more conservative 6 which was worth 10.5.

I'd like to think that if I had held this hand at the table, I'd have bid at least 6NT, if not 7NT, which would have scored either 14 or 14.5, respectively.  After all, I have two stoppers in the enemy suit and nothing that partner could ruff in my hand, and not much that could be profitably ruffed in partner's hand.

I would have been interested to follow this board around the room to see exactly what transpired at each table.  The deal itself looks like something from one of those goulash tournaments that are popular online:















Just look at that club suit in the West hand!  Nine of them to the T - two straight flushes back to back!  Had I held this hand, there's no way I'd have opened only 5 clubs!  Without the Q, I'd be bidding 7♣, but with the actual hand, I think 6♣ is about right.  That would make it quite awkward for North, although I think 6 would still be the choice of the brave.  But getting to play 6X would have been worth 10 matchpoints for the preempter.

If you're still with me, there's just one other interesting hand that might also make 6NT on really really bad defense.  I held this hand: ♠T732 T543 4 ♣JT86 as dealer with nobody vulnerable.  Not much to write home about!  I passed, although a psychic 1♠ or 1NT couldn't possibly have yielded a worse score.  LHO opened 1NT (11-13 if I recall correctly), partner showed a single-suited hand and they ended up in 3NT after opener admitted to at least four hearts.  Partner led a diamond (what else?) and dummy came down with ♠AQJ6 J6 QJ8 ♣K932.  The Q was played from dummy and I followed suit.  Declarer played the 9.  The J was led to partner's Q.  He was looking at an original diamond holding of KT7652 with another certain entry (the A).  If my holding was 43 as appeared possible, another low diamond would force the A and all the diamonds would now be good.  Unfortunately, declarer was hiding the 3 and so was able to make three diamond tricks when partner continued the suit.

But now take another look at my hand.  Do you see that I'm triple-squeezed at trick 3?  Fortunately, I know my squeeze defenses and I was careful to give declarer a trick in his hand (by pitching a heart) so that the squeeze didn't become progressive.  As it turns out, with partner holding the HA, the hand can never make 12 tricks but that fatal weakening of our hearts did allow declarer to duck a heart and claim the rest.  Kudos to the declarer for a well-played hand and a deserving top.

Never a dull moment at the bridge club!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Suit Combinations and the Principle of Least Commitment

Are you one of those people who has learned all 656 of the bridge encyclopedia's suit combinations?  And you know how to extend the methods to all those that it doesn't cover?

Neither am I.

That's why I have been tinkering over the last few years with something I call the Principle of Least Commitment.  Basically, it works like this.  Instead of trying to remember the proper play at the table, just make sure that you take advantage of any useful sequences that you have.  Choosing a card from a sequence means you aren't committing yourself as much as if you play an isolated card.  Failing any useful sequences, finesse the lower of two significant cards first.  Again, you don't make such a big commitment at your first try.  For the full discussion, follow this link.

For example, you have a suit laid out thus: AQT2 opposite 753 and you are in a normal contract wanting to take the most tricks at matchpoints.  It may not seem to matter much whether you finesse the Q or T first, but it does.  If both honors are wrong you're going to lose two tricks in the suit.  If the honors are divided and you guess wrong then you'll lose one trick.  But if the honors are both on your left, then everything's roses, you say?  Well not quite.  Suppose you finesse the Q.  It wins.  Now you come back to finesse the T.  LHO has the K and J and can happily split his honors.  But if you finesse the T first, it too win and now when you come back to finesse the Q, it also will win and you've now got three tricks (four if the enemy cards split evenly) from the suit.

A suit combination came up the other evening at the club like this: 9 opposite AQT7643.  The contract was a part-score at our table and this was the trump suit.  It was a very normal contract so it was important to take the most tricks.  There is a sequence here: the T9.  But is it significant?  Well, the 8 is a significant card in the defenders' hands so it seems reasonable that the sequence is significant.  But is it sufficiently significant to outweigh the fact that we have only one chance to finesse and therefore should take the "obvious" finesse of the Q?

A careful analysis shows that it is better to run the 9 than to finesse the Q, but only slightly.  Here are the layouts that matter with the number of tricks from this suit (layouts assume that the length is in hand, the 9 is in dummy):

LHO/RHO layout
Q tricks
9 tricks
Jx – K8x
J8 – Kxx
K – J8xx
Kx – J8x
K8 – Jxx
KJ8x – x

As you can see, what you do only matters in 37.5% of the situations.  The top two cases both favor the finesse of the Q, while the lower four cases all favor running the nine.  Running the nine will win overall 8.5% of the time and is the right strategy for making the maximum number of tricks (your expectation overall is 5.47 tricks).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to apply my principle of least commitment at the table because these hands were held by my opponents.  And even more unfortunately, the declarer was someone who knew his business.  But, fortunately, it was one of those times when the optimum play failed (it was in fact the first case mentioned in the table above).  Every other declarer must have finessed the Q because we were the only pair sitting our way to take four tricks.  And the defense on the hand is relatively obvious (the long hand was always going to be declarer and the opening leader is always going to start with his AKxx in a side suit).

Watch this space for more exciting developments in the principle of least commitment!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Discipline, discipline

You pick up the following hand in second position, not vulnerable vs. vulnerable: ♠QJ86542 6 K6 ♣QJ5.  What's your call?

You do have a seven-card suit so naturally you think about opening 3♠.  But let's look a little more carefully.  The suit quality is pretty ragged and you have quite a bit of defensive strength outside your suit.  Also, in second position, you should be the most disciplined when preempting.  After all, one of your opponents has already denied an opening hand and partner could be sitting there with a moose.  In fact you almost have an opening bid of your own, but again you recall that you are in the most disciplined seat.  Maybe 2♠ would be the right opening?  But again, in this seat you should have a perfect weak two, not some maybe 1, maybe 3 bid.

So, you decide to pass and await developments.  LHO passes too and it is indeed your partner who has an opening hand: 1♣.  RHO now comes in belatedly with 1 and you clearly have enough for a (somewhat) forcing 1♠.  This is met with double on your left and everyone passes.  Apparently, this is a penalty double (our opponents are the GIBs) and when LHO leads 3, you're not terribly surprised to find partner devoid of spades.  He has AQ952 A82 ♣87432, not the most robust fourth seat opening (it doesn't even come close to the famous Cansino (Pearson) 15 count.  You could be in a spot of bother here, but there's one huge consolation: you didn't open 3♠ and get doubled there!

You don't play it perfectly (i.e. guessing that RHO holds T9 doubleton of spades) and you only make your contract, but it's still good for 6.3 imps.  Discipline really does pay!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A good showing at the club (championship)

Len and I were mostly on the same page last evening, resulting in a 1st E/W, 2nd overall at the NWDBC club championship game.  We didn't play or defend one doubled contract all evening.  We got to two good 6 contracts that earned a 14 and a 15 (15 top).  Our opponents bid 6NT twice, once making for about 32%, once going down 2 for a top.  We also missed a good heart slam on 25 hcp.

Still we had a few too many avoidable errors, and some which were perhaps just a little too hard to work out at the time.  For example,you hold ♠J64 762 AKJ ♣K952 after RHO has opened 1NT (14+:17) and has shown a five-card spade suit to reach 4♠.  You lead the A and dummy comes down with ♠QT53 JT4 Q83 ♣AT75.  This fetches 3-2-6.  Now what?  If you don't switch to a low club now, you're going to be -620 for a very poor score.  I woodenly continued with a diamond, setting up the queen for a club discard.

One instructive issue came up.  You hold ♠85 AK73 987 ♣5432.  LHO passes and partner opens 1♣ and you respond 1.  LHO now comes in with 1♠ and partner jumps to 2NT.  You decide to bid 3♣ (not clear whether this is forcing or not, given the competition) and partner bids 3.  What's your call?

The first issue is this: how many hearts does partner have?  We play support doubles so 2NT denied as many as three hearts.  Or did it?  I think it should, and I believe that's the way most experts play.  So 3 should show a good two-card holding, such as Qx.  In fact that is what it dummy had.  Thanks to some helpful defense, we bid and made 4 on the super-Moyesian fit for an 11.  As it turns out, 4NT and 5 were also making because both of the spade honors were in the overcaller's hand.

Here is the whole hand:

















Deep Finesse says that we (E/W) can't make a heart contract at all.  But it turns out that's an error (not the first that I've found with Deep Finesse).  E/W can make 3.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Showing a fit - splinter bids

The conventional wisdom states that if you show a splinter and then ask for key cards yourself, that keycard ask is exclusion keycard and of course your short suit is a void.  The reason behind this is that a splinter should be a limited bid and that if partner signs off in game, you now show extra good news (it might not actually be all that good for partner) with the void.

I've never really liked this conventional wisdom but now I think I see the reason.  A problem arises if partner takes charge and bids a small slam.  If you have a really good hand, you know that a grand will probably make but without a void in your short suit, you can't override partner's decision in case there is a loser there.

Here's an example of a hand that is getting close to this maximum strength for a splinter.  Sitting South with the GIBs on BBO, I held ♠AQJ9 K643 3 ♣K542.  My GIB dealt and opened 1.  With no particular understanding with Mr. GIB, I simply bid 4, which seemed the obvious bid.  My GIB took charge and, after finding that I had two key cards and the ♣K, put us in a grand slam, taking 13 tricks and as many imps.  It actually wasn't the greatest grand slam and indeed only one other GIB even took 13 tricks.  Given that my GIB had ♠2 AQ9852 AQ64 ♣A6, where the Q is worthless, he might have been slightly more conservative.  OTOH, he has a magnificent hand outside the diamond suit and he can almost count 13 tricks.  Ruffing that fourth diamond might be tricky.

No other pair reached 7 and only half of the rest even bid a small slam.  I thought I'd look to see which other players (all human) with my hand had bid 2NT and which had splintered to see if the splinter was the key to bidding the grand.  The answer absolutely astounded me!

No other South splintered!  Only two bid 2NT!  What other bid is even possible?  Well, here goes: four votes for 2♣ (including one where RHO had overcalled 1♠);  four votes for 1♠; two for 4; one for 3; and, unbelievably, two for 2!

I realize that many of the people who play with the GIBs probably can't get good partners of their own, and it's quite likely that several of the humans don't know that GIB plays 2/1.  But this demonstrates to me that the ignorance of people regarding how to show a fit for partner is unbounded.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A knotty problem

The scoring table demands that when looking for a minor-suit slam, we should be able to stop in 4NT, thus scoring 430 (hopefully) instead of 400 (or 630/600).  For example, 1♣ (p) 2♣ (p) 4♣ (p) 4♠ (p) 4NT is to play where 4♣ asked for keycards and 4♠ shows not enough

What about when the fit is first established at the four-level and that bid itself is not a keycard ask (or when playing kickback)?  Partner and I had the following auction this evening (opponents silent throughout): 11 – 1♠ – 2♣ – 22 – 3 – 4 – 4NT.  (1) 11-16 hcp, at least two diamonds, may have longer clubs up to 5; (2) fourth suit forcing to game.  After my club rebid, I showed at least 8 cards in the minors (usually 9) and therefore at least three diamonds.  After my heart "raise", I showed either 0445, 1435 or perhaps 1444 shape.

My 4NT bid was intended as non-forcing suggesting that we play in 4NT because my hand is going to be a disappointment for a diamond slam.  In fact my hand was ♠3 AQT7  A97 ♣KT632.  My partner thought that 4NT was a cuebid showing a heart control (since 4 would have been the keycard ask).

While it makes sense for 4NT to be a cuebid when our agreed suit is a major, I don't think it makes sense when our agreed suit is a minor, for the reason stated in the first sentence above.

If I was enthusiastic about slam, I could bid 4 (keycard ask), cuebid 4♠, cuebid 5♣.  Admittedly, there is now no way to show a heart control, but it seems to me that we gave that possibility up when we agreed to play Kickback.  How often would I have the hand with two quick losers in the unbid suit (hearts) such that I wouldn't feel comfortable going straight to the keycard ask?  Especially when I actually "raised" hearts earlier myself.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Daytime bridge

Gotta love those day-time bridge players!  Warning: the following is likely going to sound mean and snobbish.

Here's a hand from a recent day-time game.  Imagine yourself holding this hand: ♠A986543 –  72 ♣J432.  Nobody is vulnerable and RHO deals and passes.  Do you bid 3♠?  If you do (I wouldn't) you might just escape for -200.  Incidentally, why do I think this is not a good preempt?  Because you don't have the ♠Q!  Your Ace is likely to win a trick whatever contract you're in.  Besides that, partner might have ♠K72 65432  A3 ♣AQ5 and you're odds-on to make 4♠ (you might conceivably take all the tricks on a club lead!) but partner is probably going to pass you out.

So, in any case, you decide to pass.  LHO now starts proceedings with a bid of 1♣ (playing standard American more or less).  Your partner overcalls 1, and RHO now bids 2 (natural).  Now, do you bid 3♠?  Of course not!!  There are several reasons why your hand is even less suitable for a preempt now:
  • RHO has significantly limited her hand (she passed initially but now shows 10+ with a good diamond suit) – this means that LHO has a very good idea what the total assets of their partnership are and whether to bid on or nail you.
  • Your partner has shown good values in hearts, the one suit you don't have.  On a bad day (this hand, in fact) you can never even get to dummy to cash partner's two heart tricks)!
Nevertheless, despite your hand going seriously down the toilet since you picked it up, you now venture a 3♠ call.  LHO decides to double and you know that you're in trouble now.  Partner, apparently is catching the spirit of let's make as many mistakes on one hand as possible, and now bids 4.  What this means is hard to fathom but naturally, RHO now doubles this.  What now?  Could it be that diamonds is actually our best spot?  We do have two of them!  No, you didn't come here to while away the hours as dummy!  So you bid 4♠ and, predictably, this is doubled on your left.  You take half of the ten tricks you've contracted for and lose 1100 points.  And for what?  LHO wasn't even going to bid 3NT (with 13 hcp, badly placed heart honors and a 4414 pattern, he was thinking that 2NT might be high enough, although it turns out that 9 tricks can be made with careful play in notrump for a score of 400).  Incidentally, 4X might have saved a trick (-800 instead of -1100) but double-dummy defense will probably still get 1100.

The dramatis personae?  All I will reveal is that I was "LHO" and my hand was: ♠KQT7 QT97  6 ♣AQ96.  I don't think I've ever felt quite so confident about a penalty double of a 3-level bid.  The fact that they went on to the four level was a case of Christmas come early!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slam tries

The Granovetters' column in the Dec 2009 issue of the Bridge bulletin affords a perfect illustration of the way I like to play control-showing slam try sequences – i.e. not the way Pam's partner did it.

Here's the hand:




The auction went as follows:

p1NTp2 1
p 3 p 4 2
p ?

1) game-forcing checkback
2) control-showing slam try

What would you bid with the North hand?  Pam, who was playing South, was bemoaning the fact that her partner did not bid 4 in response to her own 4 call – and she is totally right to complain!

There are two rational methods of searching for a good slam.  One method, generally favored by experts, is the so-called "serious 3NT".  After a three-level bid, and when a major suit has been agreed, a bid of 3NT says "I'm seriously interested in slam, please show a control".  Making a different control-showing slam try says "I'm somewhat interested in slam, please show a control, but only if you are now seriously interested".

The other method, which doesn't require so much memory work and uses less of a distinction between major and minor suits, is as follows:

When the first control-showing slam try (cuebid) is made, the response depends on whether responder has already narrowly limited his hand.  If he has so limited it, then he is required to show a control (the cuebidder already knows responder's hand strength and still wants to know about controls).  If he has not narrowly limited his hand, then showing a control implies enthusiasm for slam while signing off in the trump suit denies a suitable slam for hand, but doesn't deny a showable control.  A second cuebid by asker now demands responder to show a control.

Unfortunately for Pam, they were apparently playing neither of these schemes.  North thought that he had a "bad" hand and therefore should not show any enthusiasm for slam.  But he'd already said he had a balanced 12-14 and South knew that.  Within the context of a 12-14 point hand and the auction so far, North has a terrific hand.  The AK are golden (South hasn't shown shortness in hearts) as is the J. Only the J is of dubious value. We assume that the K is useful because partner has cuebid the A and since it's in the suit we opened and partner has shown interested in slam, it's extremely unlikely that he is showing shortness.

So, somewhat unusually, I'm totally in agreement with Pam this time.  I don't buy the argument that the strong hand (South) should make another effort beyond the safe haven of the spade game.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some thoughts on prepared bids

Bridge seems to be full of strange names for concepts, like restricted choice.  The prepared bid is another.  It seems to me that it is the rebid that is prepared by the first bid. But in any case this topic is about non-forcing opening bids that don't truly reflect the kind of hand that is held.

First, why would anyone want to make a prepared bid?  The Hideous Hog likes to make them because  a) they prepare the way for he himself to be declarer in his favorite 3NT and b) they tend to dissuade an opening lead in the bid suit.

But what is it about our systems that require the use of a prepared bid?  Well, generally speaking if we only promise four cards in a suit when we bid it, it obviates the need for most prepared bids (not all).  Playing a system that expects 5-card majors and a narrow range of notrump openers, however, definitely requires prepared bids, 1♣ in the case of standard american or 2/1 system or 1 in the case of precision.  We could relax the range of notrump openers (12-17) for instance and open just about all balanced hands with 1NT, but it's an unwieldy big range and, at least in the ACBL, disallows the use of system responses like transfers.  So we remain with the problem that the 1NT range cannot cover all balanced hands.  Those that don't fall within the range for 1NT must be opened with the prepared bid if no other bid is appropriate.

The risk of opening a prepared bid is not small. As described in a previous blog, opening 1♣ with ♠KQJ7 K75 A42 ♣T96 resulted in a penalty of 1700.  See A small slam on defense.  Obviously, there are other ways to go for 1700, but opening a suit you don't really have has its definite dangers.  Some of the risk may be ameliorated by opening weak balanced hands with 1NT and therefore only opening a prepared minor when holding at least, say, 15 high card points.   Such a hand is certainly no guarantee against going for 1700, but the probability is lessened. 

In the form of precision that I play with one of my partners, when we are not-vulnerable in 1st or 2nd seat where our 1NT range is 10-12, we can open a prepared 1 with relative equanimity because if don't we really have diamonds (we promise only 2) we should have at least 13 hcp.  The bigger problem arises when we are vulnerable or in 3rd/4th seat.  In such cases (75% of all balanced hand openers) we have a range of 11-13 for our 1NT rebid after opening 1.  The combination of bidding a suit we don't have, and being vulnerable with only 11 points is a very dangerous one indeed!  So much so that I am recommending that minimum opening hands, such as 11hcp, if opened at all, should have at least four diamonds.  That means that if partner makes a limit raise (we use criss-cross) and we end up at the 3-level with only 21 hcp, we will at least have nine trumps and thus some hope of making.  Nevertheless, we rarely run into trouble with our 1 openers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Incremental Raises of Preempts

In my previous blog, I alluded, without proof or justification, to the generally held principle that if you take more than one call to reach a contract that you could have reached in just one call, you must have a more defensive hand.  Let's examine why this should be so in the case of raising of partner's preempt (although similar arguments would apply to all situations).

For the sake of an example, let's assume that partner has opened with a disciplined weak two (spades) in second seat at all white.  You have a relatively balanced hand with some values and some spades.  If he makes his contract, you will be +110 or +140.  You don't really expect him to make game based on your hand (but you can never be sure).  On the basis of just your hand and partner's, there is no point in raising or bidding anything else.  A pass will do just fine.

But now let's suppose that you have exactly three spades and some moderate shape, say a doubleton.  Opponents, being what they are, are quite likely to get into the auction.  They have only four spades between them so that leaves them 22 other cards.  There's no guarantee they have a nine-card fit of their own, but if not they must have at least one eight-card fit (and two seven-card fits).  So, let's take a look at the total trick possibilities (No, I am not going to assert that total tricks equals total trumps!). We assume for now that each side knows when to double, although in practice this is usually not the case.  In the following table of absolute par scores for our side, the left-hand column shows the total number of tricks available (may or may not equal the total number of trumps) and the other columns show the par score when we can take the indicated number of tricks with spades as trumps.  For simplicity, we assume that their best suit is .

Total Tricks
Par (7)
Par (8)
Par (9)
Par (10)
-100 (2♠X-1)
+110 (2♠=)
+140 (2♠+1)
+420 (4♠=)
-140 (3=)
+100 (3X-1)
+140 (2♠+1)
+420 (4♠=)
-420 (4=)
-100 (3♠X-1)
+140 (3♠=)
+420 (4♠=)
-450 (4+1)
-300 (4♠X-2)
+100 (4X-1)
+420 (4♠=)
-980 (6=)
-450 (5=)
-100 (4♠X-1)
+300 (5X-2)

Essentially, the upper-right of the matrix half shows where it is our hand (we can make a plus score) while the lower-left half shows the situations where it is their hand.  The right-most column is there for completeness – as mentioned above, we don't think we have game.  It's also possible that we can take even fewer than 7 tricks, but that would be unusual and even then, such hands are "their hands" and despite having the lower-ranking suit, they will generally be able to control how the auction goes.

As I recall, the most common number of total tricks in practice is 17, with 18 being a bit more likely than 16.  It's also possible of course to have fewer or more total tricks.  Fewer total tricks than 15 would be fairly rare, especially given that partner has a six-card suit.  Having more total tricks would not be so very rare, but such case would require great shape and purity of suits.

Let's see which conditions are favorable for a direct raise to 4♠ over either a pass, double or 3-level bid by RHO:
  • whenever we can take 10 tricks (in all such situations we will double if they bid on);
  • whenever there are 19 total tricks;
  • when there are exactly 18 total tricks and we can take exactly 8 of them.
This is a total of 8 cases out of 20.  The specific case of 18/8 is not easy to diagnose of course.  Now, let's look at the remaining situations where we should want to raise to 3♠:
  • whenever we can take exactly 9 tricks (but see below);
  • when there are exactly 17 total tricks (the most likely number) and we can take 8 of them.
Note that there are only half as many cases (four) where it is right to raise to 3♠ as opposed to 4♠.  Taking the cases where we can take 9 tricks, there are some dangers.  In two situations (15 and 16 total tricks) we are unnecessarily risking a minus score.  The other 9 trick situation is discussed below.  There remain seven situations in which it is appropriate to pass throughout.

There is exactly one case where we may do well to bid 3♠ and later take the push to 4♠:
  • when there are 18 total tricks and we can take exactly 9 tricks (giving us a chance of 300 at the risk of -100).
Can it ever be correct to bid 3♠ and then take the push to 4♠?  Yes, if by doing so we increase our chance of beating the absolute par.  It is reasonable in just this one situation.  We can make 3♠ and they can make 3.  As shown in the table, par on this board is 100 for pushing them to 4 and then doubling.  Assuming we're in a good field, this will give us more or less an average score.  Can we do better?  We might do a bit better if they don't take the push and we get to make 140.  But we hit the jackpot if we push them to 5 and double them for down 2 (300)!  Of course, if they don't take the push, we will be minus 50 (best) or 100 (worst).  So, how does the "slow play" strategy compare with the "fast play"?  Let's say that the opponents have a 50% chance of getting it right (more or less) at each level.

Let's assign the following match-points (on a 51 top like you might find on the second day of an NABC event):
  • 500  (1) 51
  • 420  (2) 49-
  • 300  (3) 47
  • 170  (3) 44
  • 150  (1) 42
  • 140  (3) 40
  • 110  (1) 38
  • 100  (12) 31
  • 50 (5) 23
  • 0 (1) 20
  • -50 (6) 16-
  • -100 (8) 9-
  • -140 (3) 4
  • -300 (1) 2
  • -420 (1) 1
  • -500 (1) 0
Our expectations with the slow play strategy are:
  • they pass us in 3♠ and we beat par with 140 (40 mps) 50%: 20
  • they bid on to 4 and we bid on to 4♠ (50%)
    • they let us go down quietly (16- mps) (25%): 2.06
    • they double us (9- mps) (25%): 1.19
    • they bid on to 5 and we double for 300 (47 mps) (50%): 11.75
The total expectation this way is 35.

With the fast-play strategy, we give up being able to bid and make 3♠.  Our net expectation this time is 30, slightly lower than with the slow-play but still a little above average.

So, what kind of hand do we need for the slow-play strategy to work?  It's a hand we're reasonably confident of making 140 if allowed to play it.  But, at the same time, it has defensive strength too because, combined with partner, we expect to take four tricks on defense.

Granted, I have only examined the white/white situation above.  Naturally, things get even more exciting when one of both sides is vulnerable!

A hand such as ♠J84 Q6 743 ♣KQT92 (the one I discussed in the previous post) is a defense-oriented hand but, combined with partner's hand, is likely to be significantly outgunned.  I would expect us to be able to take 5 spades, perhaps a heart ruff, and maybe two other tricks, in other words we can just about make 2♠.  We probably have around 16-17 hcp between us, which means that our opponents have 23-24.  I would expect them to be able to take 9 or perhaps 10 tricks if they have a decent fit in hearts.  Note that the presence of the Q in our hand tends to reduce our estimate of the total tricks.  As it happened, we were already three tricks too high at the two-level! Opener's hand was a not-very-powerful ♠KQT762 9543 85 ♣7.  And the opponents can actually make 7 (although nobody bid it).  So the number of total tricks was about as expected (18) but the tricks were distributed 13-5!
A hand such as ♠J874 7643 ♣AKT92, however, needs to bid to 4♠ immediately!  It might even make (you have no idea if it will), but it might keep the opponents our of a making slam even.  Given the void in RHO's suit (he did bid 3) and the purity of the layout, the total tricks on this deal could easily be 20 or 21.

I'd like to add some more scenarios and calculate their expectations, too.  I haven't lost sight of the fact that when at the table, you don't know the total tricks, and you don't know how many tricks your side can actually take.  But experience gives you some good indications.  Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fixed – by partner

If there's one thing a dislike in bridge it's when I get fixed by the opponents.  But there's something even worse – being fixed by partner!

I've mentioned the principle of "one bid" here before (see Fall Foliage Sectional).  If you take two bids to get to the same place you could have bid in one turn, you are showing a better hand, particularly with more defensive strength.  Here's a prime example of not heeding the rule that came up online.

You hold: ♠J84 Q6 743 ♣KQT92.  Nobody is vulnerable and partner deals and opens 2♠.  Your RHO bids 3 and it's up to you.  What do you fancy?  Pass?  3♠ or a rather cheeky 4♠?  Personally, I think pass is about right but let's say that your bidding box has no pass cards and you have to come up with something.  Let's say you bid 3♠.  It now goes 4 on your left and there are two passes back to you.  Is there any amount of money I could pay you to get you to bid 4♠ now?  No, of course not.  Because when they compete to 5, partner will be within his rights to double for penalties, assuming a suitable hand.  Having four small trumps, partner did double and the opponents made the unusual non-vulnerable score of 850, i.e. they made all 13 tricks!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Aceless wonders

Here's a tip that I have found to be worthy. When you open an aceless hand, don't take any strong action later in the auction – your hand is going to be a disappointment to partner. Here's an example of the kind of thing I mean from BBO. I was playing with my favorite Canadian, E/W at favorable vulnerability. My hand (E) was ♠T8653 A82 AKK65. Partner opened 1 (limited to 15 hcp) and the auction continued as follows:

1 1p1p
4 2
5 3
p5all pass

1) 11-15 hcp
2) splinter
3) 1 or 4 keycards

Probably, I was over-optimistic and didn't devalue my AK of diamonds sufficiently, but I've learned that it's easy to devalue such holdings too much, especially opposite the more typical singleton (admittedly, opposite a void, AK should be devalued somewhat).

There was nothing I could do to avoid the loss of two black aces and a heart ruff. This was expensive, in that most pairs were in only 4. This was the complete layout:




The point is that however good the West hand appears to be in support of spades, it is aceless and should probably not jump rebid, splinter or make any other strong rebid. Trade South's A for partner's K, on the other hand, and even slam rolls home. Equally clearly, if North has the guarded K, only 5 can be made (but that still would be a game score).

As another example, I recall from several years ago a hand where my partner opened 1 and after my 1♠ response, rebid 3. Later, a key-card enquiry showed that we had two or five key cards (I had two myself). Not being able to imagine how partner could make a jump rebid with an aceless hand, I bid 7 with a fair degree of confidence (I had a good hand myself). Unfortunately, we were off three tricks, doubled. We had every honor card in the deck, save for two aces and the trump K!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The vaguest of all of the ACBL rules

Full disclosure. What exactly is it supposed to mean? The ACBL defines it thus, or, briefly, [Full disclosure] means that all information available to your partnership must be made available to your opponents.

So here's my question. In a Swiss match, I am on lead after 1♣ - 1 - 2NT - 3* - 3♠ - 3NT. I ask declarer, a player with significantly more than 10,000 points, about 3 . I am told that it is "New minor forcing". Well, I pretty much knew that already (although it could also have been the Wolff adjunct).

After I lead a heart, it turns out that declarer has three hearts. My lead makes little difference at IMP scoring, but it has potentially blown a trick which might matter were we playing matchpoints.

Now, here's the question: is declarer (or dummy even) obliged, under the full disclosure principle, to tell me that 3♠ can be bid with three hearts on this auction? Different partnerships have different rules about responses to NMF but I think that standard, if there is such a thing, is that opener always bids responder's suit with three card support, regardless of the other major. Am I required to ask explicitly about hearts? Or should that information be forthcoming as a description of the whole sequence, following the principle of full disclosure?

You can probably guess my opinion, but I'd still like to hear your comments.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall foliage sectional

It was nice to go up North again for the New Hampshire sectional in Hudson, NH. As always, we drove up route 111, but this time I knew that we were driving along on top of the old Worcester, Nashua and Portland railroad.

Board 6 in the evening proved to be a rather remarkable hand. See if you can guess what I'm on about:


While you're pondering that, let me ask you about another hand that came up. You hold: ♠K653 Q54 A3 ♣T853. Nobody is vulnerable and the dealer on your right passes, as do you and your LHO. Partner opens 1. In case it matters, you are playing 2/1 and Bergen raises (on, even by a passed hand). What's your call?

While you think about that, let's look back at that full layout above. According to Deep Finesse, E/W can make nothing at all, not too surprisingly. But N/S can make a small slam in any of the five strains! Whatever contract they are in, they lose one and only one trick! Fortunately, our opponents played it in 4NT so we got 75% of the matchpoints. In fact, of 16 pairs playing the board, 9 bid and made 6NT, one pair made 11 tricks in a major and one pair went down 1 in something. The others were making 12 tricks in a NT game.

OK, back to the hand above and your response to partner's 1. Did you follow the principle of one bid? That is to say, did you (honestly) bid 2? The principle of one bid says that if your hand is only worth one bid, and there is such a bid that perfectly describes your hand, you should make it. In this case, there is such a bid: 2. It shows 6-9 points and, if you happen to be playing Bergen, tells partner you have exactly three hearts. You get your entire hand off your chest in one call!

My partner made the call that, judging from the results, I suspect many if not most made: 1♠. My hand was ♠– AK9863 KJ42 ♣AQJ. I rebid 2 and then when partner gave preference to hearts (now he's really only showing a doubleton, if that), I stretched a bit and bid game. I'm sure that if I had bid 3, we'd have still ended up in game. But we missed our easy slam (in fact the CK was onside so I made all the tricks for 510, as did almost everyone). One enterprising GLM treated his hand as a limit raise and got to the slam.

There are actually two principles in play here: the "one-bid" principle and the principle of support with support (I suppose in fact that really these two principles are very closely related).

I'd like to think that I would have bid 2 myself, but it's possible that I too would have bid 1♠. So I'm not casting any aspersions. It's a good principle to abide by, however, and was first taught to me by Mel Marcus.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rebidding after an overcall

Here's an area of bridge theory that seems to me hasn't garnered a lot of attention: rebids when your RHO has overcalled. As far as I know, there are just two conventions cater specifically to this situation: Larry Cohen's so-called Good-Bad 2NT and Eric Rodwell's support double. Both calls are conventional only when made by opener.

The second is the better known convention and we can summarize it as follows (this may not correspond to Rodwell's original, but it's how I think it should be played):

you open 1 grape, LHO passes, doubles, or bids 1 diamond, partner bids 1 plum (such that he only promises four plums), and RHO makes a simple overcall (or 1NT showing two suits). A raise to two plums promises four (or more) plums and double promises exactly three plums. Note that you must have the option of bidding two plums to show four (that's to say RHO has overcalled 1♠, 2♣, 2, or 2). By extension, if RHO doubles, a redouble also shows exactly three plums.

A support double doesn't say anything about strength but most of the time it shows a balanced hand, which must therefore be in the range of a 1NT rebid (whatever that might be) or possibly a 2NT rebid.

Now let's look at the Good-Bad 2NT, a kind of Lebensohl extension. In the same auction as described above (although I believe it only applies if RHO bids one of 2♣, 2, 2, or 2♠). A bid of 2NT is not natural, but shows a two-suited hand that is not strong enough to bid again with equanimity. Responder now bids 3♣, assuming pass follows 2NT, and opener either passes or bids his second suit.

While I like the idea of the convention, it does seem to have at least one flaw. Suppose your hand is ♠KQ53 T97 J543 ♣K2. Partner opens 1 and you bid 1♠, and now your LHO bids 2. Partner rebids 2NT (Good-Bad). It's looking like partner has the minors. Clearly, we can't bid 3♣ because when partner passes it would be disastrous. So we should bid 3 instead (as long as partner doesn't assume this shows extras). Presumably this is how it's played though I've never seen that written up before. I'd certainly like to hear comments on this aspect.

So, let's assume that we are playing the GB2NT and the support double as described. Let's assume we have the same hand as before and the auction is the same up to the point of LHO's 2. We can now summarize the calls that partner might make:
  • 2♠: a minimum four-card raise of spades, perhaps ♠J964 8 AQ96 ♣KQ93;
  • 2NT: a minimum two-suited hand, in this case the minors, possibly ♠J4 8 AQ986 ♣AQT93;
  • 3♣: a good two-suited hand, in this case the minors, perhaps something like ♠A4 8 AQ986 ♣AQT923;
  • 3: a good rebiddable diamond suit, possibly ♠A4 82 AKJ953 ♣Q93
  • 3: a good hand that might make 3NT if we have hearts well stopped, perhaps ♠A4 82 AKJT953 ♣K3
  • pass: relatively balanced hand with fewer than three spades and indeterminate strength. We might make a BOP double with our hand, although 3 would also be a reasonable call (we know partner has at least four diamonds amongst his 11 or more non-spades).
  • double: relatively balanced hand with exactly three spades and indeterminate strength -- all calls by our hand, except a cue-bid, are non-forcing.
Now let's look at a slightly different auction: 1♣ p 1 2. Now, the fourth suit, spades, if bid by partner, would be a reverse. It is possible to swap the strengths of 2♠ and 2NT. Why not let 2S be a minimum reverse (not a bad hand, but not up to full strength) and therefore passable and let 2NT (forcing) show the fourth (higher-ranking) suit with a good hand? In the case of 2♠, opener might have only four clubs and something like a good 14-16. In the case of 2NT, opener promises 17+ hcp and 5 or more clubs. After 2NT, responder bids 3♣ or 3♠ "to play" while a red suit would be game-forcing.

Suitable hands for partner in this sequence might be:
  • 2♠: ♠KQ53 Q5 83 ♣AK652
  • 2NT: ♠KQ53 Q5 A3 ♣AK652
Comments welcome.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A small slam on defense

An interesting hand came up playing with the GIBs on BBO. There were witnesses!

I picked up ♠9 AJ KQ53 ♣AK5432 in 2nd seat at favorable vulnerability in. A nice hand. The only question here is do we have enough to reverse if partner bids 1♠ (I would say not). But I wasn't faced with that decision because my RHO (the robot) opened 1♣. Now what? After some thought I decided to pass and hope that Kim wouldn't pass it out. She didn't. In fact she reopened with a double and it seemed to me that pass was best. And how?

We took 12 tricks -- the opening bidder scored only their A as we had a riot on defense. Kim was good enough to provide both the Q and J of ♣. Even though the robots were only at the 1-level, it was still 1700 and 14.5 imps to us (at matchpoints it would have been a top on the 16 tables that played the hand). Even if we had bid and made 6♣ it would have scored only 920 for about 7 imps. The robot made a reasonable 1♣ bid with ♠KQJ7 K75 A42 ♣T96 although this hand points out the dangers of not playing weak no trumps!

There was no variation in opening bids but quite a lot of different actions with my hand. A few passes, a number of doubles, a couple of 3♣ bids and one 2♣ call which did not work out well.

Incidentally, I was once taught a very useful sounding convention whereby you bid 2♣ to show a club overcall and 2 to show the majors. But I've never come across anyone playing it, at least not in North America.

If you're interested, here is the complete hand record.

BTW, Kim once witnessed, in real-live bridge between experts, a hand in which declarer, in 1NT took no tricks at all! Declarer was none other than Michael Rosenberg. Knowing that his opponents were using double conventionally, he dealt himself a Yarborough and opened 1NT. Each of his opponents had around 16 or 17 hcp yet were powerless to do anything! Rosenberg lost 350 points but, if I recall correctly, his teammates bid the vulnerable grand slam at the other table!

Monday, October 12, 2009

You bid 3S on that!

Kim and I played in the NAP district qualifiers this weekend. We didn't play as well as we should have and only squeaked into the Sunday finals. We had a reasonable morning game which was spoiled only by my passing a key-card ask and later defending a 2HX like a complete idiot and ending up with only 300 instead of the 1100 we were due (which would have been a top) and necessary since we can make 6D.

But Kim got a chance to shine at declarer play however on another board. I held ♠– 743 Q8753 ♣QJT65. After one pass, Kim opened 2NT. We play 3S as Minor-suit Stayman which is primarily for hands where we can make 6 of a minor. I wasn't sure we could make a slam – so much would depend on Kim's wastage in spades – but there didn't seem any way to find out. I was planning to bid 5C over the expected 4NT rebid and hope that Kim would pass or correct. Worst case, we'd be in 6 of a minor, right? Wrong. We were in 6NT which has no play on proper defense. Here's the complete hand:
I probably would have chosen 2♣ to open the magnificent West hand as I would evaluate it to be rather too good for 2NT. Still, we do play methods that allows us to find the right spot with any distribution except 5422 or 4522 so this qualifies shape-wise. Over my 3♠ call, the South player doubled. Now, I could just about understand a double of 3, but why would he particularly want a spade lead? Or perhaps he was hoping to find a good save (they were at favorable vulnerability).

Kim passed (redouble would have been logical but would have caused me a bit of a headache!) showing no four-card minor (the equivalent of 4NT without the competition). This was nice as it allowed me to show clubs at the four-level. On reflection, since that bid would be forcing, I should have bid 4, intending to bid clubs at my next turn, but I was thinking my sequence would show both minors (I don't think it did).

Kim's next bid was 4♠ (I'm still not sure what that was but, knowing the identify of the South she was probably trying to expose a psyche). Anyway, I attempted to retreat to 5♣. Since this was matchpoints and she had spades well stopped (!), she chose 6NT rather than 6♣, not imagining that my hand could be as bad as it was in terms of high cards. 6♣ makes, by the way, but takes rather careful trump play.

Only four things had to happen to allow 6NT to make: a spade lead, the doubler to play low on the lead (if he plays the K the squeeze no longer works because North would be guarding the spades), the K to be in the North hand, and the ♣K to be singleton (there's no way to get to dummy more than once to take the more normal finesse). Additionally, Kim would have to keep her cool and recognize that the only play was a major-suit squeeze against South. As you can see, this transpired so we got a good board to say the least!

In fact, Kim played the dummy extremely well all day and she played a lot of dummies, too. My role was confined pretty much to bidding and defending, not always with such great results.

The afternoon was somewhat dismal. We got into a fight with one pair who essentially refused to explain their agreements about new minor forcing (essentially, they didn't really know the convention even though they played it). The director apparently didn't know it either and accused me of being hostile for subjecting the opponents to too many questions. According to our esteemed director, on the sequence 1 – 1 – 1NT – 2♣ –, a 2 call could cover any point range from 12 to 19 (!) and there is nobody in the world who would jump to 3 with a 14 count and three hearts!

All told, we were obliged to call the director far too many times for a serious event. Here's an example of clear-cut unauthorized information being acted upon. Fortunately, in this case, our opponents got to the wrong contract and we felt we had a decent score so we didn't have to risk calling the director back. Let's say that you hold this hand: ♠A9764 KJ96 Q7 ♣53, and your RHO deals and opens 1. I dare say quite a few people holding this hand would do something, but you pass, LHO passes and partner reopens with 1NT. You now bid 2, asking partner to choose a major. Partner bids 2. You would probably raise to 3 or 4, right? But what if partner announces "transfer" after your 2 call? Incidentally, this is why you must say "alert!" in these non-standard situations. Well, the hand shown now bids 2♠ because she now thinks that partner might not have hearts after all (in fact he had three). They ended up in 3NT down 1 after careful defense. On this occasion, I called the director after I had made my face-down lead (I was the opening bidder) dummy, the hand shown, now told us that they don't play transfers in that situation, as far as she remembered). The director didn't bother to remain long enough to discover that dummy had four hearts!

I have lots more to complain about this event which, as far as I'm concerned, has steadily gone downhill over the last ten years or so. But those rants will have to wait!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The "no undo" principle

How often do you find yourself making a marginal opener and hearing partner soaring up to slam. It can be a sickening feeling. But the one thing you cannot do is starting fibbing about your hand. Well, you can't squirm in your seat and look uncomfortable either, but that goes without saying. In other words, there is no "undo" button. For all you know partner has most of the other points in the deck and all he needs to know is precisely which cards you have. Giving the wrong number of key cards might be particularly dangerous. Let's say partner has a good distributional hand but only one key card while you have two. If you lie and say you have one, he might very well assume you have four. In that case, instead of stopping safely at the five level, you'll be playing a hopeless grand!

Indeed, if you are going to open a substandard hand, or let's say you are going to make a jump rebid or give a limit raise or whatever, all actions which would have reasonable alternatives, make sure you have an ace (or if you know the trump suit already, the king of trumps).

I remember playing a hand in seven when partner opened the bidding and made a jump rebid with an aceless hand. I couldn't believe that an aceless hand could have bid that way so I assumed the key-card response showed three when in fact it showed none!

Going back to the no undo principle, here's a recent match-point example for which we actually scored a little over average. Partner held this hand: ♠AT75 A95 J82 ♣QJ8. Everyone was vulnerable and we were actually headed for a good score when partner decided to open this hand. The bad shape (deduct 1 point) is somewhat made up for by the two aces (add one point). It's still a balanced 12 point hand therefore which probably shouldn't be opened, but at least playing 12-14 notrumps, we can open it without in any way mis-describing the hand. I had a good balanced 12 myself so had no qualms about bidding 2 (game-forcing Stayman). The next player intervened with 3♣! Now we had a choice of actions - bid game or penalize (remember all were vulnerable). At this point, partner got a little nervous and passed, wishing that that would show a hand that shouldn't have opened! But, since we were already in a game force, what it showed in fact was a hand without a four-card major and without a club stopper. In fact, it suggested a desire to defend (given that we play negative doubles after a 1NT opening). I doubled in the passout seat hoping that partner actually held a club stack. My alternative was to bid 3showing my good diamond suit but it seemed unlikely that we could make a game in diamonds with two balanced hands and at the most 26 hcp. We got 500 but it didn't make up for the 630 that we should have had in 3NT. On the other hand, we beat the people who didn't bid game (presumably the ones where partner's hand didn't open).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zia in top form

Did you catch this hand (segment 3, board 12) from the Bermuda Bowl finals - N/S vulnerable, West deals?


The U.S. gained 17 imps over Italy on a double doubled game swing. I saw it played first in the closed room where Meckwell bid to 5♠X, making six for 1050 . It's one of those hands where the underdogs, in terms of high-card points, actually own the hand. In this case, the points are distributed 17 to N/S, 23 to E/W. But N/S can make 6♠ while E/W can make only 4. Thus the par result is 7X by W down three. Meckwell didn't redouble the Striped-tailed Ape double (although I don't really think it was meant as such) but they made 12 tricks easily.

I was anxious to see how events would unfold at the other table. At the start of this segment, the USA (team 2) was 21 imps down, having lost the previous segment 57 to 1! Well, Zia (W) and Hamman bid to 5 and this was doubled by the Italians. The lead was the ♣Q, ruffed by South. This is now the critical moment for N/S. If South takes the obvious action of cashing a high spade, it rectifies the count for a minor-suit squeeze against his partner. The winning defense is to immediately play a diamond, thus setting up a diamond trick (the spade trick isn't going away). Duboin cashed the spade, then switched to the diamond – but it was merely a three-imp error at this point. Zia rose with the Ace, ruffed his last spade and then there was a pause of maybe half a minute or so. During this time it seemed obvious that he'd go down one, and I'm pretty sure the commentators were saying the same thing. Then the result 5X making came up on the screen and the vugraph operator commented "Zia made it on a squeeze against North".

Usually, I'm extremely happy just to find and make a squeeze, but of course at the club it saves time just to play it out. At this level of play, declarer can claim the squeeze after only four tricks and it works just fine. Kudos to Zia!

In this case, declarer runs another four heart tricks and cashes a high club in hand such that his hand is now ♠– 2 5 ♣9 while dummy is down to ♠– J ♣A8. On the play of the last heart, North will have ♠– K ♣JT. Whatever he pitches, will promote a winner in that suit in dummy. It seems to me that he made a slight error at trick one by not unblocking the 9. But I admit I can't see any layout where it would actually cost in this case.

This board helped USA win the set 47-17 which put them back in the lead by 9. The final margin of victory (not vittoria) was 36, including 8 carried over from the round-robin. So the 17 they picked up here was not insignificant!

So, which of the Italians were "to blame" for this result? At the closed table, the double of 5♠ risked a redouble which might have been quite painful but in practice, "only" cost 1 imp. At the open table, I think Sementa (N) overbid his hand when he overcalled 1 with 2♣. I think this suggested (given Duboin's void in clubs) more of a misfit and perhaps an opportunity to punish the opponents, even at red-on-white. Sementa followed this up by passing over 4 in the second round, despite having three-card spade support and a void in hearts (and clearly a more offensively-oriented hand then his first call suggested). After seeing Sementa takeout his double to 4♠, Duboin was ready to pull the trigger on 5, presumably not imagining his partner could have three cards in support.

One final note. Kim and I played a round against Zia and Hamman last fall in Boston. On one board I overbid slightly, ran into a vile distribution and didn't do so well. On the other we defended a partial which Bob Hamman played brilliantly thus earning us a little below average. But I'll never forget the thrill of sitting down against two of the world's best players.


Lately, I've been rereading the two Chthonic books, The Principle of Restricted Talent, and Human Bridge Errors, Vol 1 of infinity. They're great! If you haven't read them, you should. Somewhat in the tradition of Victor Mollo and David Bird, but better perhaps. Possibly because Chthonic is a more likable protagonist than either H.H. or the Abbott.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Strut Your Stuff

For the Newton Swiss last evening, Len and I found two very capable and pleasant Russian gentlemen as teammates, Izrail and Boris. We hadn't met them before. There were 8 flight A teams in a strong field. We ended up 3rd after winning three of our matches in generally close competition.

There were two hands of particular interest, that's to say we lost a bundle of imps on them, and came away with some lessons learned.

In the first hand only we are vulnerable and you pick up: ♠A5 AKJ5432 ♣KQ62.


What should you bid? I believe that with a strong hand, you should mention every biddable suit as soon as possible. In this case, clubs are eminently biddable and so I think that 3♣ is right, followed (assuming it isn't passed out) by 4. Over the opponents ultimate 4, partner (that would be me) might just take with push with ♠JT98 7542 QT ♣J84, knowing that while the values are meager, they are at least working values. We went plus, at least, to the tune of 50. I don't know what the auction was at the other table but our opponents bid the 5, were doubled and made it for 750 after the ♣A lead. It's not cold but according to Deep Finesse, it can always be made.

So, I have a new principle, to go along with my principle of "stuff", which, briefly, states that if pass is a possible action, a bid (or rebid) of a suit shows real values in the suit. The new principle might be called the principle of strutting: if you have a good hand with good suits, strut your stuff!

The other lesson was really a reminder that when partner passes over a bid, he can still have a good hand. This was the auction (they are vulnerable this time) that unfolded:


Your hand is ♠2 2 J965 ♣AQJ9752. Who has the best hand at the table? And how many clubs should you bid? I chose to bid 4♣ which seemed about right given that both of my opponents were in the auction with the majors, in which I was unreasonably short. Partner raised to game which ended the auction. Yes, he had the best hand at the table: ♠T AKJ65 AQT8 ♣K86. After the ♠A lead and the K onside (as it almost surely was), twelve tricks were there. At the other table, the RHO hand passed with his three hcp and it was more apparent to my counterpart that it was likely our hand. She simply bid 2♣ and they got to the reasonable slam.

The lesson here is that while pressure-bidding is all very well opposite a hand which has voluntarily passed, it isn't necessarily right when partner has passed over a bid.