Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Swiss Gambit

The scene is a four-round club Swiss at the Newton Bridge Club with some strong teams in contention (five of the 24 teams had GLMs or Platinum LMs).  After a moderate start – we would naturally claim that we were deliberately holding back in the first match to effect the "Swiss Gambit" – we had a nice come-from-behind win.  Two of the pivotal boards were slams.

The first of these was basically as simple as choosing between two suits.  My hand was ♠ T83  K2  KQJ ♣ AQ654 and partner Len Aberbach opened the bidding: 1♠ – 2♣ – 3♣ – 3♠ – 4 – 4NT – 5 – 5 – 6♣.  2♣ was game-forcing and 5 showed 0 or 3 keycards.  Not countenancing the possibility of zero, I asked about the queen with 5.  6♣ showed both the ♠Q and the ♣K.  I now knew his hand to be AKQxx Ax xx Kxx plus one other card, presumably not a spade.  In clubs, it was probable, given the 3♣ call and our style, of a fourth card or perhaps a second honor.  So, at the risk of losing 2 imps, I chose what I thought was the most likely make and passed 6♣.

This turned out to be a good decision. A diamond was led to the ace and dummy came down with ♠ AKQ76  A75  75 ♣ KJT.  Both black suits broke 4-1 but the solidity of the clubs meant there was no loser in trumps to go with the missing ace.  The spades, however, could only be brought in by twice running an intermediate card for a finesse, an unlikely play at the table.  They made 5♠ at the other table for a 12-imp gain.  Of course, it was lucky that I chose the right strain – it could easily have the been the wrong decision and I can't claim any great brilliance.

Much more credit is due however to our teammates.  My wife Kim Gilman – playing with Tony Wolf – later made a very fine bit of hand evaluation and followed it up with careful and accurate play for a nice 11-imp gain.  Kim's hand was ♠ J8632   K  4 ♣ AKT654.  Tony opened 1 and Kim decided not to make a game-forcing bid at first.  After the helpful diamond intervention and Tony's cooperative heart cuebid, they ended up in 6♠.  This was the layout:

The first two tricks were diamonds, Kim ruffing the second trick.  She then took two rounds of trumps with the A and K, seeing that South showed out.  A club back to hand (dropping the Q) was followed by a second club and a club ruff.  A low heart to the K was followed by another club ruff.  Now all depended on getting back successfully to hand without promoting North's trump ten.  Leaving the A stranded in dummy (there were no losers to throw on it), Kim was able to ruff with the 8, draw the last trump and her hand was good.  Note that the A is a chimera – see what would happen if it was cashed before trying to get back to hand!  At our table, West was in 4♠ and no great care was required to make the hand (as I recall, the A was in fact cashed), and they ended up making just the one overtrick.

Our gambit apparently paid off because we never did meet any of the strongest teams.  We were in fact nicely poised after three rounds in third place ready to overtake the two tough teams ahead of us.  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Raising partner to slam on a void

I've decided that the joys of raising partner to slam on a void are over-rated.  At least week's regional in Cromwell, CT (the A/X pairs), I picked up the following hand: ♠ –  T32 AKQ985 ♣ AQJ7.

Partner opened 1♠ (11-15 hcp and five or more spades) and I responded 2 (game-forcing).  Partner bid 3♠ showing a solid suit.  I was angling for partner to declare either 6NT or 7NT.  So, I started with a cue-bid of 4♣.  Since I had made a 2/1 call in diamonds I hoped that with a heart control, he would be the one to bid 4NT (our key-card ask) and therefore be the notrump bidder in a slam.  Instead, he bid 4.  I didn't know whether that was a the K or the A (or conceivably a singleton?), so I now bid 4NT to find out.  He responded 5♠ showing "two with".  That meant his heart holding was at best Kx.  I was pretty sure he didn't have a heart void because he would have jumped to 5 (exclusion keycard ask). I therefore had to give up on a grand, and since I couldn't guarantee the A was on my left, we would have to play in spades.  I therefore raised to 6♠ on my trump void.

Unfortunately, my good friend Bruce Downing was on lead and, as is his wont, he was listening to the auction.  He unerringly reached for a club (dummy's cuebid suit) and this was the layout:

Without a spade in my hand, there was no way to make the contract. There are a couple of ironies. First, the other eight scores were 980 (1), 490 (1), 480 (4), 450 (2). Those who didn't even try for slam generally scored 480 for 4.5 out of 8 because opening leader had no idea what to lead. One slam was successful and one pair got the next highest score by, presumably, protecting the HK from the lead in a notrump contract. Irony number two is that it wasn't hearts that was the problem. It was clubs! South (my hand) had to be the declarer (and since I couldn't declare spades), it was right as it turns out to bid 6NT myself. 990 would have garnered all of the matchpoints!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The "Dead Auction" rule

A very instructive hand arose at a club game this week which both illustrates and clarifies the "dead auction" rule (one of the triggers in the system of doubles which I have been describing in these blogs).

Let's start with my hand: ♠QT65 8642 KQ9 ♣AQ.  We are vulnerable against not, and there are three passes to me.  In this partnership, we play a 15-17 notrump so this is obviously a 1 opening.  I don't love my hand but it would be Quixotic in the extreme to pass this out!  LHO now decides to come in with 1♠ and partner is there with 2.  RHO passes as do I.  LHO isn't done: he now gives us 3♣.  Partner lets me know he has diamonds with a 3 call, RHO passes, and I take a preference to 3.  This, by the way, establishes a double fit, of sorts, for our side.  LHO still isn't done!  Despite not being able to open the bidding and despite not having heard a peep from his partner, he is determined not to be outbid on this hand.  Partner passes, as does RHO (for the fourth time), and I decide that enough is enough and double.  Partner thinks about this for a bit and pulls it to 4.  RHO now comes out of the woodwork and doubles, ending the auction.  -200 is good for 2.5 matchpoints out of 11 so we have not achieved a huge success here.  4♣ would have gone down 1 for +100 and 7 out of 11.  At teams, we would have lost 7 imps assuming the other table was also in 4♣X down 1.

What went wrong?  It's time to show the entire hand:





What went wrong is basically that partner (W) wasn't quite au fait with the "dead auction rule".  That's largely my fault because it isn't well presented in the DSIP Rule Summary.  Here it states that one of the triggers to penalty doubles is the following:

3. If we pass over a suit bid on our right in a competitive auction and subsequently double that same suit, thus exposing the pass as a trap;
What it should say is this:

3. If we pass over a suit bid on our right in a competitive auction, we are content to defend the stated contract -- if partner doubles or if we double any subsequent bid by the opponents [such doubles will be for penalties];
That would have made it a lot clearer (although it is more complex now).

I will also note that there is another missing trigger rule from the DSIP summary which would have been relevant here.

2.6. bids a new suit (showing length) or raises partner's other suit, having already found a fit [subsequent doubles will be for penalty];
As it turned out, I told a little white lie in the story above. Despite holding Kxxx and AJxx in our suits and hearing her partner bid three times on his own, RHO did not double the final 4 contract.  So we escaped the proper penalty for our transgression, earning an average (6).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Passing a support double

Once every five years, or thereabouts, you might have the opportunity to pass a support double for penalties.  The stars have to align quite well for this to be the right call.  First, you almost certainly want to be at favorable vulnerability.  Second, you obviously will have only four of your major.  Third, you should have no great fit for partner's opening suit.  Fourth, you should have a pretty decent hand with a solid expectation of setting the contract for 200.  Fifth, you will probably want to be defending a two-level contract (2♣, 2 or 2) – the other possibility, 1♠, doesn't give you much in the way of vigorish.  And finally, you should be playing matchpoints or, if IMPs, have extremely understanding teammates in case things don't go quite as well as you'd like.

The last time, about five years ago, that I passed a support double, it was in the last round of a matchpoint event.  I was deliberately swinging.  It didn't work.

This evening, I was playing in a "Robot Duplicate" on BBO and I picked up this hand: ♠AKT8 T532 AJ8 ♣52 in third position.  Partner opened 1♣ and I bid 1.  LHO chimed in with 1♠ and partner doubled (support).  RHO passed and there I was with another possibility of making a penalty pass.  All the conditions were in place, except the fifth.  Still, I had every expectation of a two-trick set, or if only a one-trick set, perhaps partner would be minimal and we would not have game.

Partner's hand was indeed a minimum but we still had a game (10 tricks at NT).  One pair even scored 490 our way.  Fortunately, we had a two-trick set coming for an almost clear top (shared by one other player).  Unfortunately, my robot partner made the wrong lead.  Aren't you encouraged to lead trump when partner makes a penalty pass?  Doesn't the fact that I didn't want to try for game suggest the possibility that my hearts might not be the most robust?  These considerations apparently didn't signify to my partner unfortunately and he led a heart from Q87.  This allowed declarer to pitch a diamond loser and so we managed only 200 for a 22% board.

Oh well. I realize now that there's a seventh criterion that must be satisfied: partner must be sufficiently expert to make a good lead: either a safe sequence or, failing that, a trump.