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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Raising partner's forced response to a takeout double

I stirred up quite a controversy last week playing with Lance. Just what sort of hand do you need to raise partner's forced response to your takeout double, assuming that RHO rebids something? The rule that I've been following for many years now is that you can raise to the two-level with a non-minimum takeout double, especially if our side is non-vulnerable. Apparently, where I thought this was "expert standard", it's actually an item for partnership discussion.

Just what is a good enough hand to raise? Does it show a really good hand, as it would surely if RHO didn't bid again? Let's say that the auction has gone as follows:


Is this hand good enough to raise to 2♠: ♠A985 3 AK96 ♣AJT8? I suspect everyone would raise: either to the two or three level depending on partnership agreements. This hand evaluates to about 21 points assuming partner really has four or more spades. If he has something like Kxxx xxx Jxx 9xx, game is about a 50% proposition. However, if partner has xxxx xxx xxx xxx, then it will be very hard to make even 2♠ but surely in that case, the opponents can make 3 so unless they double (or we are vulnerable) and we go down two, we should still be OK.

What about this? ♠Q985 T32 AQ6 ♣AT8? I can't imagine anyone raising with this hand - it's a marginal takeout double of 1 in the first place.

My hand was somewhere in between: ♠Q985 T3 AK96 ♣AJ8 and I raised to 2♠, thinking that I was doing the "normal" thing. Lance then surprised me by doing what I thought he couldn't possibly do (given his non-jump initially) – he bid game with ♠KT642 Q86 74 ♣Q42 (five working points but also a fifth spade). The defense wasn't perfect and with a slightly more favorable guess in the trump suit, he could actually have made it, but in the end went down one.

Afterwards he said he expected me to have a "huge hand." What surprised me was that the GLM at our table agreed with him. Hence my interest in finding out what my bridge friends would do.

Here's what I'd like to suggest: 2♠ (in competition) shows a hand with four spades, at most two small of the enemy suit (maybe Kx) and 14-16 working points. With more hcp and/or especially good distribution, a jump to 3 would be about right. A very good hand with only three-card support and something in the enemy suit can double. A huge hand can cue bid (we wouldn't be having this discussion if their suit outranked ours), forcing us to the three-level and begging partner to bid game with any useful card. On that basis, my hand was a minimum for my action.

I'd like to suggest one final rule of a more general nature which is perhaps an extension of the Horizon principle. Let's say that you make a call which shows no interest in game (a non-jump opposite a takeout double for instance or a simple raise of partner's major suit opening). Partner later makes a non-forcing call. Even though your hand may have improved since your initial action, you cannot now bid game all on your own if there is an intermediate call available (assuming we are not sacrificing).

Comments welcome.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Third and Fourth seat openers

I'm a strong believer that if you decide to open a sub-standard hand in third or fourth seat, you should open it in your best suit, or at least not in a "prepared" suit. Here's a case in point from last night's game at the Bridge Spot: fourth seat, no one is vulnerable: ♠AK42 543 973 ♣A42.

The first question is whether or not you should open. On the plus side, you have three quick tricks which always suggests an opening bid. On the minus side you are 4333, the worst possible shape, although given that shape your texture is actually quite good. You have 11 hcp and four spades so according to Cansino (or Pearson) you should open it. I think I probably would open it.

Now, what do you open it with? If you were playing a 12-14 notrump, there'd be no problem: you open 1NT. Playing 15-17 NT, or even the 14-16 variety I play with Lance, you really can't do that. I think the "normal" bid is 1♠. What I would not do is bid 1♣ – on the grounds that if you are opening a sub-standard hand (you are, aren't you?), you should always bid a real suit. Partner will probably respond 1NT and that will most likely end the bidding, giving you -50 on a hand you could have passed out. If partner saw fit to bid 2♣, it would right-side the contract and partner could actually make it for +90. If you instead open it 1♣, the best that can happen is -50 after partner competes to 2♣ (all assuming correct play/defense of course) because the opponents can make 80 in one of a major.

What actually happened is this: my LHO was the one with the given hand and she opened 1♣. Lance now doubled (obviously around 11 points just short of an opening bid) and RHO raised to 2♣. My hand was ♠J73 QJ72 QT ♣K963. I was beginning to smell a penalty here but I made the reasonable bid of 2♥. This was followed by two passes and 3♣. I had no difficulty making a penalty double here and we collected 500 on a part-score hand (obviously, we managed to get a trick we didn't deserve but 300 would have been just as clear a top).

Of course, the worst bid was the last one (♠T9 A98 KJ5 ♣JT875) – but no doubt, she expected her partner to have either a full-blooded opener or real clubs.


This is where I will post various thoughts and comments on bridge hands and other stuff. This blog is by invitation only, basically bridge buddies.