Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Rabbit puts in an Appearance

Here's a little comedy from last evening's club game.  It demonstrates the absurdity of the term "dummy".  In this case, all of the other three people at the table acted like, well... dummies.  The tale is told from dummy's point of view (not this blogger).  Declarer's identity may or may not be revealed at the end.

You pick up this fine hand as dealer with none vulnerable: ♠– T753 K5 ♣AKQ8765.  You open 1♣ and there is a predictable 1♠ overcall on your left.  Partner joins in with 1NT and RHO bids 2♣.  You decide to try 2NT and there the matter rests.

RHO leads ♠4 on which partner dumps your small diamond while LHO wins the trick with the A and partner follows with the 2.  So far, things are proceeding more or less as expected.  LHO persists with the ♠6 which partner wins with the K, LHO following with the 5.  You get ready to pitch a small heart when you think you hear "small club, please?".  "Small club, did you say?" you ask somewhat incredulously.  "Small club, please."  So, from your solid seven-bagger you are now down to six tricks.  Oh well, maybe he isn't quite over his recent malaise, you think.

Partner now plays the ♣4 from his hand, followed by the 3 and you confidently reach for the A.  "Small club," says partner again.  Is the record stuck, perhaps?  "Small club, did you say?" you ask somewhat incredulously for the second time.  "Small club, please."  OMG, you think.  Partner has really lost it.  From a solid seven card suit he's now down to five winners only.  LHO, with a somewhat bemused air wins the trick with the 9.

Another spade (3) is played which partner wins with the Q, RHO following with the 9.  This time partner calls for a heart.  Have you heard that right?  "Small heart, did you say?" "Small heart".  Somewhat relieved, you put the small heart on the table.  Things become a slight blur now as partner rattles off the five remaining clubs.  A flurry of red cards is being pitched all over the place.  Partner pitches two diamonds and two hearts.  LHO lets go a bunch of red cards and, somewhat reluctantly, the SJ.  RHO is pitching red all the way.

Finally, partner calls for the DK which is won by RHO's A.  A diamond is returned and partner claims ten tricks for 180.  LHO somewhat unnecessarily observes that his ♣9 was a singleton.  All have a good laugh.

Yet, it seems declarer has had the last laugh, as no other declarer in our direction made even as much as 150.

So, what was going on?  Partner, like our famous friend the Rabbit, was guarding against an unlikely 4-0 split in clubs?  Absurd at matchpoints, you say?  Well, yes, but partner was under the impression that RHO had bid clubs, having forgotten apparently, despite the presence of a solid seven card suit, that I had opened one club!

BTW, just as in a famous hand which I think is reported in Points, Schmoints, there is something funny about this deal.  Nobody bid a heart.  Nobody played a heart, other than to discard one.  

The identity of our rabbit?  Ah, modesty forbids.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reno Jacoby Swiss

Here's a hand from the last match of the Jacoby Swiss when we and our opponents were already assured of playing in a different event the following day (spots approximate).

North: ♠AK8532 J832 – ♣Q93
South: ♠764 AQ65 862 ♣AK7


North East South West
 1    3    X    4
 4     p   4♠   all pass

With 2-2 trumps, the K onside and doubleton, thirteen tricks were there.  The opposing team got to a small slam (at the other table, East bid only 2 and West 3).  How should we have reached 6 or 6♠ if at all? Comments welcome.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prepared bids (part 1)

Does the bridge community suffer from amnesia?  Or did today's players never learn how to make prepared bids?

Here's the problem: you hold ♠864 KQ65 KJ6 ♣A93 and you need to decide on an opening bid.  In the good old days of Goren and before, this hand would present no problem.  You would open 1 intending to rebid 1NT if partner bids spades.  But then some clever people thought that it was better if an opening bid of a major promised five cards.  This rather common type of hand would now have to be opened with 1NT showing 12-14 (it was necessary to redefine the old 16-18 notrump opener).  There was only one problem.  Now, if you happened to be vulnerable and partner didn't have much, you could easily go minus 200 or 300.  On a really bad day, the opponents might double, partner would have no real fit and you could easily lose 1100 points or worse.  Although as Kaplan-Sheinwold wrote, the only time they could actually remember going for 1100 in 1NTX was after a strong 1NT opener!

Some people thought that they could easily fix this perceived problem by redefining the range for a notrump opening to 15-17.  Now, there's only one relatively minor snag.  You don't have a five-card major or a four-card minor suit.  You can't really pass this hand out. So you make a "prepared" bid of 1♣ (even in the early days there were some hands that needed to be opened with a prepared bid, especially if the four-card suit was four not very good spades).

Why is it called a "prepared bid".  Well, because you're preparing the way to show your shape and strength with a 1NT rebid (12-14).  You just hope that partner won't get too carried away if he has a good hand with four clubs.  In practice, many people over-compensate for the possibility of a one club opening having only three clubs.  They refuse ever to raise partner's clubs and they bid 1-something with two or three clubs of their own even if they have fewer than 6 points (wouldn't it be awful to leave partner in 1♣ in case he has only three?).  The fact that partner usually has five or more clubs doesn't alleviate their fears: this might be the time he has only three.

What if you open 1♣ and partner now bids 1?  Now you can simply rebid 1, right?  Wrong!  Or your shape might have been 4333 and partner bids 1.  How about a 1♠ rebid?  Bad idea.  Why is this?

Suppose your hand was actually ♠84 KQ65 KJ6 ♣A963 and the bidding went 1♣ - 1.  There would be nothing wrong with rebidding 1 because this would describe your hand perfectly.  You would have four (or more) of every suit that you named as a possible trump suit.  If partner has a weak hand with four clubs and four (or more) diamonds, he can go back to 2♣ safe in the knowledge that you have located a four-four fit.  Or partner might have a good hand like ♠5 A83 AQT82 ♣KQJ5 where 6♣ is practically a lay-down:  But what if you had rebid 1 with the first hand?  Partner will be struggling with only seven trumps.  Against 6♣, two initial rounds of spades are likely to set you when someone shows up with four clubs, as is likely.

Remember that your original club bid with the first hand was "prepared".  You really wanted to open 1NT to show the balanced shape, but your 1NT range didn't fit.  Therefore you fudged your club length a bit.  After fudging, you must follow through and bid that 1NT rather than showing your hearts.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reno mixed pairs

What a great time Kim and I had.  We peaked early (a "section" top in the first session), comfortably qualified with a healthy carry-over but had a disappointing final evening session -- opponents stingy with their gifts and a few too many errors on our part, including one absolute zero (unusual on a 90 top).

But there were some memorable hands.  I had two successful end-plays in the first session, a strip-squeeze in the second session and I made a great lead in the final session.  I'll give you the last as a quiz.  Your hand is: ♠A73 J7 AQ9874 ♣K8.   The bidding went thus:

RHO  Me  LHO Kim

Which card do you lead? I'll post the answer as a comment.

Meanwhile, several of our friends scratched (top 50) in this event which started with around 400 pairs.  Gloria and Steve were fourth!  Awesome.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More fourth suits

Continuing my series on forcing bids (see Fourth Suit Forcing) I thought I'd reproduce a couple of situations where Barry Rigal recommends bidding the fourth suit.

In the second story, Hardly Worth Mentioning, we are dealt this collection: ♠AJ3 9753 K72 ♣J62.   Opponents remain silent.  Partner deals and the auction goes as follows:  1♣ – 1NT – 2 – 2♠ – 3♣.  At this point (since you bid 2♠) you're in a game force (partner has reversed and you've bid a new suit).  You now bid 3 (fourth suit).  It happens (as it often does) that you have four of them.  But you're not suggesting hearts as trumps – you're asking partner for a stopper.  To quote Barry, "I think it would be quixotic to bid 3NT without checking up on whether partner has a heart stop."

There are some interesting things about this auction.  You bypassed four hearts originally.  This implies that your partner is a sentient being and can figure out your problems later.  You'll also have some explaining to do if partner has ♠T97 AKQ8 64 ♣KQ84 and you miss 4!  But this is not very likely.  Note also your 2♠ call at your second turn.  This is what Karen Walker might call a boon (bid out of nowhere).  You've already denied spades by bidding 1NT so you can't be showing four of them now!

Here's another example where frankly I would not have thought of using the fourth suit but where it makes good sense.  From Repaying his Trust, you deal yourself ♠J52 AKT763 T4 ♣A5 and obviously open 1.  Partner responds 1♠ and you rebid 2. Partner bids an almost game-forcing 3♣ (he could pass your 3 rebid) and you show delayed spade support with 3♠.  He now tries 3NT but, on the principle that the later you bid 3NT, the less certain you are that it's the right contract, he obviously isn't 100%  sure.  You decide that you want to be in a major but you aren't certain which is the best one.  So, now you bid 4 (fourth suit again) to force partner to pick a major.  Brilliant!  Why isn't 4 a control-showing bid looking for slam?  Because of the Horizon principle.  You already told partner that you have a minimum with your rebid of 2.  Nothing partner has done has suggested that he has a moose.  Slam is therefore not on the horizon.

These typical auctions from Barry's book are are not the type of auction you're likely to hear much at the local bridge club.  They require a level of expertise and partnership understanding that are in the expert realm.  The contracts he gets to also require a fair bit of expertise to pull off.  But wouldn't it be nice to be playing this kind of bridge with your favorite partner?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Howell some more

You've been asking for it.  Having explained the logic behind the 4-table Howell movement in a previous post, what about the other Howell movements?  Well, here's the three table movement.  Actually, this is much more complex than the four table movement.  Edwin would have had to be taking opium or something for this dream to materialize.

As always, there's an odd number of (total) tables (because after counting the stationary pair, we have 2n – 1 "teams" of a real pair and a phantom pair – where n is the number of tables).  In this case, n is 3 so we need five total tables.  E/W pairs still move down 2 tables and N/S pairs 3 tables.  The difference from the four-board movement is in the boards.  The board sets still move down a table each round.  But in the three-table Howell, there are only four board sets to begin with (if you recall, in the last round all three tables relay the remaining board set).

So the new rules applying to the boards are as follows:  the two (logical) tables on either side of "Table 1" (the table at which the stationary pair resides) viz. tables 2 and 5, are twinned; and the remaining two tables, viz. tables 3 and 4, are also twinned.  When a pair arrives at one of these twinned tables, they look to see which boards are in place.  If there are none (table 5 starts with no boards – the 5th set doesn't appear until the final round) or if they have already played the boards, they "borrow" the boards from the twin table.

Otherwise, it works pretty much exactly the same was as does the four-table Howell movement.  Let's see how things work out for the three table movement that corresponds to this movement on the Bridge Guys site:

logical #actual #Rnd 1: board setRnd 1: NS pairRnd 1: EW pairRnd 2: board setRnd 2: NS pairRnd 2: EW pair
1116 (1)126 (2)2
2twinned with 5234345
3twinned with 4352413
43425none (4)31
52none (2)43154

Other movements (more than four tables) are actually simpler even than the four-table Howell.  In these other movements, the bye-stand tables (the tables that the phantom pairs "play" at) are at consecutive tables.  It is logical therefore that the tables on either side of the bye-stand should be numbered 1 and n.  Note that the position of "table 1" in the three and four-table Howell movements is completely arbitrary.

In practice, as the number of rounds for a full Howell must be 2n – 1 (everyone plays everyone else), some Howells could become rather lengthy affairs.  n=7 for instance, gives us the practical limit: 13 rounds of 2 boards.  Beyond that come the "three-quarter" Howells where the number of rounds is curtailed.

A seven-table Howell fits very nicely as the final session of a "complete" movement wherein 26 pairs meet in a regular 13-round Mitchell followed by two-interlaced 7-table Howells.  In this latter session, each "team" is made up of one pair from the N-S pairs from the first session and one pair from the E-W pairs from the first session.  The teams are of course not real (their scores are not summed) and are only teams in the sense of Howell's dream.  But in this movement, both pairs actually play bridge (unlike in non-interlaced Howells) so there are no bye-stands – all tables are in actual use.

You can also run this elegant two-session movement with 20 pairs, 14 pairs and 8 pairs, although in practice the latter is not done.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good/bad overcalls

So, you've probably been wondering why there haven't been any hands in this blog lately.  Good question.  Sometimes, I'm constrained by not being able to show you what terrible things my partners did because of common decency.  Sometimes, I do something so awful myself that I can't bring myself to show you.  But the opponents, I figure, are fair game, provided of course that I don't actually name names.

Yesterday evening at the club, Len and I were having a good game but we got two bottoms after opponents made what I would call really bad overcalls.  But do you see the irony of this?  Maybe the kind of overcalls they make are actually good overcalls.  After all, they're not getting punished and they're getting tops, thus giving them positive reinforcement.

I admit to being keen on making "pressure bids".  These are jump overcalls when my partner has already passed (but not when he's passed over an opening bid because he might have a good defensive hand then).  Especially, white on red, these can work well.  A pressure bid is a wide-ranging jump overcall (or preempt) that can be significantly flawed by any (or all) of the following: 1) a card "short"; 2) missing honors in the suit; 3) stray quacks (even Kings sometimes) in outside suits.  The purpose of this unilateral attack on the enemy is to take away bidding room while you can rest safely in the knowledge that partner won't raise without a very suitable hand.  Here's a perfect situation:  partner deals and passes (we are not-vul vs. vul) and RHO bids 1♣.  You hold: ♠84 KT8654 932 ♣Q4.  It looks quite likely that LHO's natural bid is going to be 1♠ (although 1D, 1NT or 2♣ are possible too).  So you bid 2, taking away the entire one-level and lower two-level including all of the likely responses.  This is a sound tactic at matchpoints.  You might even make the same bid with ♠84 KT865 J932 ♣Q4.  Every so often you will go -1100 but most of the time you will pressure the opponents into over, or sometimes under, bidding.  If your partner does end up on lead and happens to have Qxx or even Jxx, a heart lead will probably not go amiss.  At matchpoints, these minor improvements (or averages) will outweigh the occasional zero.  That's the theory, anyway.

But what is the point of the following overcall?  You deal yourself ♠8 J75432 KQT6 ♣AT all red.  You pass and then when RHO opens 1, you now jump to 2.  Not only is your LHO already a passed hand, and you have a really bad suit, but you have tons of defense!  Two tricks at least in opener's suit and the ♣A!  LHO doubles, RHO (that would be me), after some thought, passes it out and you go down 2 for -500 when partner puts down a worthless dummy.  LHO has to lead his singleton Q in order to get the full 800 penalty (my hand ended up getting strip-squeezed because I ran out of safe exit cards).  So the bad overcall has gained a top.  But is it bridge?

What about the following specimen?  Again you are the dealer and give yourself ♠543 KJ3 KJT65 ♣J6 at favorable vulnerability.  Again it goes all pass and this time your RHO (that would be me again) opens 1♣.  Now, I can see bidding 2 here.  You have a fine suit and your bid would take away the one level.  I probably wouldn't do it though because the shape is awful and your major suits give you no real reason to want to push the opponents around.  But I would never in a million years bid 1!  First of all, that bid should show a much better hand.  And if you had such a hand wouldn't you have opened 1?  The shape is still awful and although you would like a diamond lead, it's not a good enough suit to force partner to lead a diamond when he has some other natural lead.  So, what happened?  The opponents (Len and I) had a mixup (more my fault than Len's) and stopped in 4♣, making an "overtrick" for 170 while all the time 6♠ is cold.  On this occasion, the diamond overcaller could actually have taken a successful sacrifice over 6♠ in 7 and gained an all-important 30 points.  But does that make this horrible overcall right?

I'm reluctant to change my overcalling style based on these (and other) lucky results.  But it really depresses me that people can play so badly and end up smelling like roses!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Howell Movement

Born on Nantucket 150 years ago this year, Edwin Cull Howell (died Richmond, VA 1907) was one smart dude.  Even though he died 18 years before our great game of Contract Bridge was invented, he devised one of the most commonly used movements for playing, er, Whist.  And in this his sesquicentennial year, I've finally figured out how his movement works. I've searched in vain for an explanation of the movement.  All I've ever seen are charts which detail what actually happens.  I've never seen it actually explained.  I'd been on the right track for quite a while, but there were a couple of crucial details that eluded me.

Let's approach it in a somewhat round-about way.  The owner of a small club has a rather strange dream.  He has exactly seven tables and decides to invite seven teams to come and play a match-pointed team game.  It'll be a little bit like a board-a-match, but where each team's final score is the sum of all the match-points earned by the N/S pair added to those earned by the E/W pair.  Another rule is that for every new round, each team's captain can decide which way to field its two pairs.  There's just one snag.  In each round, the two pairs of any one team will actually meet each other so the team can play the boards out if they like, but of course those scores won't make any difference to the result (they will balance out).

The plan is that at the end of each round, the boards will go down one table, the E/W pairs will go down two tables and the N/S pairs will go down three tables.

At the last minute, a pair of gate-crashers hobbles in – one on crutches, the other in a wheelchair. After a little thought, the director realizes that this is going to work out just fine.  This pair will "bump" the N/S pair whenever an entire team is due to meet.  As it happens, these meetings are always at the same table so this stationary pair will never have to move.  This pair is assigned the number 8.

But the weird nature of the dream is only just beginning.  As the game is finally about to start, the director notices that three of the tables seem to have had their chairs stolen and can't be used (so pairs arriving at these tables will be sitting – or standing – out the round).  The team captains are quick to ensure that their best pairs (naturally, these are the pairs including themselves) are sitting at real tables.  As the game gets started and all goes quiet, music from next door drifts in: Empty chairs at empty tables.  Hearing this, one of the smarter players of the idle pairs realizes that as the movement progresses, whenever the pair makes it to a real table, the better half will be arriving at a chair-less table.  The captain will no doubt switch them around so that the idle pair remains idle.  In fact, this pair realizes that they are going to spend the entire evening standing around never getting to play a single card!  They decide to go home.  The other idlers follow them.

The remaining players finish the evening after seven rounds and the scores are totaled.  Each of the original teams (1-7), gets the score achieved by their "good" pair, while the late (stationary) pair that so fortuitously arrived gets the score for pair 8.  An enjoyable game of bridge between eight pairs with a single winner, and every pair playing every other pair, has just been completed.  As it happens, the "weaker" pairs of each of the seven original teams never got to play a hand: they didn't really need to know how to play bridge (or whist).  In fact, they don't need to exist at all – they're phantoms!

Perhaps Edwin Howell had a dream like this.  Or maybe he came at the movement another way.  But it was definitely a brilliant idea.

So let's now see how the tables are arranged and how it all works in real life. Logical table number corresponds to the table numbers in the dream.  Physical table number is the number of the (real) table in a Howell movement. This example corresponds to the chart shown on the Bridge Guys web site.  The table shows how everything is arranged for rounds one and two.  Bumped pairs are shown in parentheses.  Phantom pairs are marked in red italics.

logical #physical (play) #Rnd 1: board setRnd 1: NS pairRnd 1: EW pairRnd 2: board setRnd 2: NS pairRnd 2: EW pair
1118 (1)128 (2)2
4bye stand426537
6bye stand657761
7bye stand734145

(see also Howell some more)