Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Rabbit's rules

One of my Christmas gifts last year was The Rabbi's Rules by Mark Horton and Eric Kokish,
and based on the late Leonard Helman and his bridge philosophy. It's a very instructive book, with many examples of bidding and play from top-level competition recounted by Horton and interjected with good system suggestions from Kokish. There are 20 of the Rabbi's rules in the set and all are worthy reminders of things to do or not to do.

With the book in mind, I thought I might have a little fun with my own set of rules. But given that my bridge resume is not nearly so impressive as that of Helman, Horton or Kokish, I have dubbed them "The Rabbit's Rules." Most of these have already been talked about in this blog and in those cases, there will be links to the full blog.
  1. There are no undos in bridge – once you've told partner you have a particular type of hand, you must stick to your story. See The "no undo" principle or What's done is done.
  2. Every bid tells a story – there are many ways to bid a hand, especially in competition where you also have pass and double at your disposal so try to choose the sequence that best reflects your hand. See Every bid tells a story and also rule 11.
  3. Overcalls, and other bids in competition, are made with a specific purpose (or purposes) in mind – not just because you paid your entry fee. See Tram Tickets or To overcall or not to overcall...
  4. If you make a prepared bid of, say, 1 (i.e. with three clubs) you must rebid 1NT (or 2NT) unless partner bids your four-card suit. Rebidding a new suit promises 4+ clubs and a somewhat unbalanced hand. See Prepared Bids (part 1).
  5. Get on the same page with your partner regarding the meaning of Double! See many articles, e.g. the Cooperative double and Reviewing the situation.
  6. The best penalty doubles arise when you have no fit for partner. See Wielding the axe or What makes a good penalty double?
  7. Close competitive decisions should be resolved in terms of the following parameters: trump quality, shape, defensive values. See also rules 8 and 9.
  8. Close decisions by a passed hand should be resolved in favor of the more conservative action (usually pass). This is especially true when partner has made a "pressure bid." See Passed hands may make only one free bid.
  9. Only make disciplined sacrifices: don't do it with quacks in the opponents suit or without shortness – and force the opponents to make the last guess. See To sacrifice or not to sacrifice.
  10. Remember the Golden rules: Game before slam and Declare before game. See Two golden rules of bidding.
  11. Don't tell the same story twice. If you've already bid a suit and you don't have any extra strength or distribution, don't rebid your suit again just because you don't want to defend.
  12. If you're making a sub-standard third or fourth seat opener, bid a real suit, not a prepared bid. See Third and Fourth seat openers.
  13. When the opponents have settled in a place that suits you  and you have no equity to protect, let them play there peacefully. See Staying with happiness.
  14. If you plan to finesse twice in a suit, finesse against the lower honor first, unless you have a sequence above that honor. See The principle of least commitment.
  15. If partner has freely bid two suits and you find yourself on lead, then lead the second suit. See the Principle of substantive discretionary bids.
  16. If you've got it, flaunt it – but don't be a tease. You signal the location of a high card, say the king of spades in a notrump contract and later, partner gets in and leads a low spade. But you also have the ten while the jack is in dummy. Play the king, fulfilling your earlier promise, not the ten. Partner may have chosen to under-lead their ace on the basis of your earlier signal. [I feel sure there's an article on this in my blog but I couldn't find it]
  17. On defense, don't infer secondary motives on the part of your partner. For example, if you have overcalled a suit or signaled an interest in a suit, and your partner subsequently leads that suit, don't assume he's looking for a ruff – he's just doing what you asked. On the other hand, if trying for a ruff can't possibly cost, you might as well go for it.
  18. Try to be a lucky player. Have the opponents ever said after the hand was over "You were so lucky to make that contract – no other pair is going to bid that?" What those players don't appreciate is that you listened to the auction, visualized the hands, realized that all your cards were working and made your own luck. See How to be a lucky player.
  19. Don't underestimate your opponents. As much as we all know that we ourselves are better than almost everyone, those "clueless" opponents will not simply keel over and die when they come to our table – we have to work at beating them. Even in the hands of a total palooka, the ace of trumps is still going to take a trick.
  20. And the most important of all: Be nice to your partner. Have you ever been playing against a really good pair when they have a disaster? Do they argue and accuse each other of being an idiot? Not at all. They smile and put their cards back in the pocket. It can never be right to criticize partner at the table. Never, ever (although I have been guilty too many times). See RIP Norbert.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Goulash madness or the dog days of summer

I haven't been playing a lot of bridge lately but I'm still getting ideas for blogs. Here's one that has been ready to send to the presses for some time. I'm not sure why I haven't already published it.

I'm as fond of the occasional goulash tournament as the next man. Possibly more so. But one thing I've learned is that the way to do well in a goulash is to forget that the hands are all crazy—just bid the same way you would if you had just dealt the cards yourself. But when it comes to the play of the hand, remember that you cannot count on anything splitting as you normally might.

The denizens of internet goulashes (individual tournaments with pre-selected boards) are a special breed. All of the usual novice errors can be observed here, but they tend to be magnified by large factors when distributions are so wild. Furthermore, a kind of death-wish seems to settle on most of the other players, including—and especially—my partners. I'd like to present a few of the more outré happenings from a recent goulash on BBO which, contrary to my expectations, I won with an average gain of almost four imps per board.

What would you bid with this hand (favorable vulnerability after RHO deals and opens 1): ♠QJT8652 — AK64 ♣T9? How about 4♠? It seems reasonable to me. LHO now bids 5♣ and partner doubles. RHO bids 6♣ and it's back to you. Well, 6 stands out. No, I'm kidding of course, but that's what my partner bid. This was doubled by your LHO and passed back. You rescue yourself into 6♠ (doubled of course) and here's the whole hand:

You go down three for -500 (-7 imps) instead of collecting 800 in 6♣X for +14.5 imps. If you follow the play you can see that at one point we should have been down four. See what I mean about madness? Of course, North could have saved two imps simply by passing my double. But that's just a peccadillo compared with my partner's transgression.

How about ♠J6 A64 — ♣KQJT9632 all vulnerable, second seat? Would it occur to you to preempt with this hand? What if you knew it was a goulash hand? And, if you do preempt, how high do you go? My partner opened this hand 3♣ and, although I had a decent hand with a singleton club, I did not bid. We missed an easy game when the next player passed too (this may be the first time I've seen a contract in a goulash tournament lower than the four-level). And the only reason 6♣ didn't score was that the opponents could get a first-round heart ruff. Damage? Only one imp!

Now, this one requires a true expert touch by my partner. See how you would measure up. ♠AK98 53 ♣KJT764. Nobody is vulnerable and your RHO deals and opens 4. Your call? My partner made the "master bid" of 4♠. He must have been sweating bullets when I raised him to slam! My hand? ♠QJT762 AKT9 ♣Q2. Slam was cold for a 10.5 imp gain. What can I say? Sometimes you just get lucky.

And now for something completely different; a lead problem. Your hand is ♠— KQ62 54 ♣AKT7543, white on red. Partner (that would be me) opens 1 and RHO leaps to 4♠ despite being at unfavorable vulnerability. Naturally (!), you bid 5♣ and this is passed back to RHO who bids the fifth spade. This comes back around to partner who doubles, ending a relatively short auction. I'll bet that you cannot duplicate the lead which was found at my table. Honor sequences are for wimps, right? And, of course, leading partner's suit is simply passé.

That's right, you select your fourth highest from... er your second-longest and strongest suit, to wit, the 2. Unfortunately dummy's knave wins the first trick and we end up getting only 200 out of this mess instead of the 500 we were due. Given that we can actually make 6, this proves to be a loss of 9.5 instead of just 4.5 imps. Of course, nobody is voluntarily bidding slam our way (I had only 10hcp but seven solid diamonds) but our "teammates" pushed their opponents into it.

But I think my favorite of all is the bid chosen by the holder of this hand: ♠AK8 — AQJT9862 ♣A2, dealer at all vulnerable. Do you feel good about opening this 2♣ (strong/artificial)? Or do believe that it will take up too much room given that you will have to show your fine suit at the 3-level? My LHO (yes, I was very happy to have this person as my opponent for this board) found what I think is probably a unique solution: 5. My brilliant partner who obviously doesn't enjoy being pushed around bid the obvious (!) 5. RHO, presumably assuming that everyone had something approaching  their bids, passed and, after some consideration as to whether we could possibly make slam, I passed too. LHO felt that his hand was worth another bid and rebid 6. This came around to me and I figured that surely it was better to be in our slam, maybe going down, then to let them play theirs. So I bid 6. This was passed out (!) and we quietly drifted off three tricks. See the whole hand for just how bizarre this result was:

Yes, they are cold for 7, although nobody managed to bid the grand. But one pair did bid the small slam so our result netted us 11 imps.

And, lest you think that the other players in this tournament had all taken up bridge yesterday, I assure you that every one of the weird actions was taken by somebody with approximately the same level of BBO experience and success as myself. How did I win after so many bad results? It's hard to imagine, I know. But just remember that there are twice as many crazy people at the table playing against you as there are supposedly playing with you.

If you haven't tried the delights of a goulash tournament, you should. But check your ego and your pride at the door, together with your acerbic comments. It's definitely just for fun!