Monday, October 15, 2012

Maine bridge

Occasionally, Kim and I are able to attend one of the Maine sectionals. For those of you who never play bridge far from a metropolitan area, you should give this kind of thing a try. The players are invariably friendly and over the years we have come to know many of them. The food is good and people are just, well, nice. And there's always a big welcome from Horace and Sonya who put on the tournaments. This weekend's tournament was in Bangor, about an hour's drive from Kim's mother's house.

This occasion was saddened by last week's death at 88 of Kim's aunt Helen, formerly a regular bridge player who sometimes played in the sectionals but mostly played in the non-sanctioned club game in Fairfield. Helen was more of a poker player than bridge player, though. She loved to go to Las Vegas whenever she got the chance, which was quite often. Invariably at these Maine tournaments, several people would ask after Aunt Helen when she wasn't there. She was a lot of fun to be around and we'll miss her a lot.

On Saturday, the cards were very much with us. It helps to be in control of the auction on a lot of hands. And, in particular, there were many opportunities for slam bidding in our direction and, because we are fairly regular partners and play quite a lot of gadgets, we usually do well in such circumstances. Of the 53 boards we played, we bid six slams and one was bid against us. We also missed a lay-down 6♠ on 23 hcp, but so did everyone else. It's true that one of our slams (6) didn't fare so well (down 2 for -100) but, as it turned out, 5 was always making the other way so we ended up with almost a top board. I will return to this board later.

Kim was also a demon, nay ruthless, defender, with the result that in the afternoon we went plus on 19 of 27 boards ending up with a personal best score of 74%.

Here's a slam from the evening session where our agreements were severely put to the test and, fortunately, were up to snuff.

Kim opened 1 as dealer (board one – none vulnerable) and RHO bid 1♠. My hand: ♠94 J5 AJT52 ♣KJ85. Although I dislike making a cue bid with two losers in the enemy suit, I chose to bid 2♠. LHO now bid 3♠. Kim bid 4♣ which, since she was going past 3 (our guaranteed contract in this auction) showed extras and, since it also bypassed 3NT (which I might have been able to call from my side if she had doubled), suggested at least a healthy interest in a slam. With nothing obvious to cue-bid, I had to mark time with a 4 call. Admittedly, I was minimum for my bidding so far, but my hand had improved significantly with the double fit and I had little wastage (the J). 4 was forcing of course, because Kim would not suggest playing in slam and then pass in a part-score bid. I considered 5♣ but I try to make it a rule never to cue-bid a king if I'm not going to be the declarer – it's much too easy for LHO to double for a club lead, holding AQ or something else good in clubs.

Kim now made the key call of the auction: 4NT. I admit that it took me quite a little while to interpret this, although we've discussed it many times in the past. Since 4 would have been asking for key-cards (we play "Kickback"), 4NT now does duty as showing a heart control. Knowing Kim as well as I do, she couldn't possibly be still thinking about slam if she didn't have both clubs and spades controlled. But she still didn't have quite enough to be sure twelve tricks would be there (indeed, slam can't make in our other nine-card fit, clubs). So, with my surfeit of working cards, I was able to confidently bid 6. Twelve tricks were easy on any lead, but we were the only pair of 13 to bid the slam. Kim's hand: ♠7 A92 KQ43 ♣AQ732. Note that our opponents could have bid a quasi-profitable sacrifice in 6♠ for a loss of 500 instead of 920. But in that field, they'd have scored the same zero.

Here's an amusing auction from the evening session: 4♣1 p 4p 4♠3 p 4NT4 p 55 p 6NT all pass. (1) "Namyats" showing a good hand with eight or more hearts (could be seven if solid) with typically an ace or a couple of kings on the side; (2) I think we probably have a slam; (3) I have the ace of spades; (4) how many key cards (for hearts) do you have altogether? (5) three. 6NT made exactly (on any lead) for a top shared with one other pair. Why do I think it amusing? Despite us having 11 hearts between us, neither of us ever put a heart bid on the table.

I think our only mix-up of the day was the slam that went down but which turned out to be an excellent sacrifice (mentioned above). With nobody vulnerable, I dealt myself ♠AT7 KJ873 ♣QJ63, and opened 1. LHO overcalled 2. Partner bid 3 and RHO bid 4. Since 3 took us past 3, this was clearly game forcing. Whether or not it was forcing all the way to five of a minor is not entirely clear. First, let's think about the calls that partner did not make: double which, if followed by a new suit, would be game-forcing; 2♠ which would be non-forcing (as would 3♣); 3 (simply competitive); 3♠ or 4♣ which would be fit-showing jumps showing a good fit with a good suit; 4 which would be a splinter raise of diamonds.

As with most cue-bids, there are several possible meanings for 3:
  • Partner, please bid 3NT if you have the hearts well stopped;
  • I have a diamond fit and am willing to play 4 opposite a flat minimum;
  • I have a very strong hand and right now, I'm not quite sure where we should end up so please tell me more about your hand.
After the 4 bid on my right, I reasoned that we were now forced to play at least at the five-level. Therefore, I felt that an immediate bid of 5♣ would show the weakest possible hand, offering clubs as a second place to play and fulfilling the third interpretation of the 3 call. That is therefore what I bid. 

Kim assumed that this meant I had extras (I could have passed) and so bid 6. No double was forthcoming (we had confidently bid this with no suggestion of sacrificing). The K was led and dummy turned out to be ♠QJ3 A6542 ♣KT74. After winning the first trick, LHO switched to a spade. But diamonds were 3-0 offside and I still had to lose a club for -100. As mentioned above, the opponents could make 5 (six if a club isn't led) and our blunder actually earned us 7 matchpoints out of 8. 

So, what's the proper treatment? I'm not sure. But I'm coming around to Kim's way of thinking for the following reasons:
  • she might have wanted to play 4♠ all along but didn't want to jump straight to 4♠ because that would tend to shut out the possibility of a spade slam – still, I'm not sure about this because double followed by a spade bid would have had a similar meaning albeit perhaps with fewer spades;
  • she might have wanted to bid 4NT which, I think, would be a slam try with a heart stopper all along (5NT would be pick-a-slam).
I therefore invite your comments on this subject of bids by the partner of a cue-bidder. 

However, on a day when the bridge gods are with you and you can do no wrong, even a mixup like this one can turn out to be rosy!


  1. Hi, Robin,

    Lots to digest in your post, but allow me to begin by congratulating you and Kim on your session win!

    On the slam hand, kudos for two successes: (1) having apparently good enough agreements on kickback to avoid a partnership misunderstanding; and (2) choosing diamonds as trumps, not clubs, so that you have a pitch of the losing heart on the long club.

    That having been said, I do think you were a bit lucky. Had Kim been dealt five diamonds and four clubs, presumably the auction would have gone the same but you would have landed in a no-play slam. I wonder if Kim should have doubled 3S (see my comment on the next hand) rather than have bid 4C on her 1=3=4=5 hand? I am not sure.

    On the 6D sacrifice hand, I would offer two suggestions. One, I would not worry about stopping on a dime in 4m on game forcing auctions … except for the few slow auctions where it is clear that noone can offer notrump because of absence of stopper in one suit. Much better, methinks, to use 4m as a stepping stone for slam exploration than to worry about the few times you want to stop in 4m. Kit Woolsey offered this advice in a BridgeWinners blog entry, btw. Two, I think the best call with your hand, over the 4H call by your enterprising opponents, is double. On the auction, the double must be for takeout and that pretty much describes your 3=1=5=4 hand, leaving all sorts of options available to your partner. To me, the chosen call of 5C suggests a much more offensive-oriented hand, perhaps 6-5 in the minors.

    -- Jeff

  2. I should say that the other reasonable choice over the 4H raise by your opponents is Pass ... for the reasons Kim suggested, that any bid suggests a nonminimum. Here, system plays a big role: one of the advantages of weak notrumps -- IMHO, the biggest advantage --, which I know you often play, is that one partner can eliminate from the hands of partner a weak notrump hand when partner failed to choose a 1NT opening. If the inference is not available to you because you do not play weak notrumps, then partner might play you for a weak notrump when you pass rather than the hand you hold where you have a stiff small heart. Tough choice, I think, between double and Pass.

  3. Jeff,

    Thanks for your kind words. And, incidentally, we only needed a 49% game in the second session to win the event - and we got a 61%.

    Yes we were a little lucky with the 6D. However, I do think that that hand demonstrates the power of 24 WORKING points with controls. If she had been 5-4 in the minors, I very much doubt she would have bid 4C. She would have doubled 3S instead. Now, I would simply bid 4D and we would most probably end up in 5D because there would be no known double fit. (Hard to be sure what would have happened of course).

    On the other hand, yes, you are absolutely right - double is the right call. I've even written a blog about that method of introducing four-card suits. How is it I didn't think of it myself either at the table or when writing it up?? I certainly overbid.

  4. I knew that you had won, but thought that the win was in a one-session event. My apologies, Robin (and Kim). That's a super score for a two-session event!