Friday, March 28, 2014

Tram tickets

I probably spend far too much time reading and re-reading British bridge books. There are certain phrases or words that I do enjoy hearing from (this) newer side of the Atlantic about the older side. "The knave" is one I've mentioned before. "Drifting off one" is another. And while we're about it, why can't we use the same table numbering in Swiss events as they do over there? Instead of having to go and look at the current standings on the wall, they always know how they're doing simply by looking at the table number that they're assigned to.

But I digress. One of the other British phrases that comes up quite often in these books, especially the older ones, is "bidding on tram tickets." There haven't been trams in England during my lifetime (well, actually there were a some for a few years in certain cities) so this is either a very old expression from the early days of bridge, or perhaps more of a European thing.

You may recall me railing about "entry fee bids" in this blog (for example To overcall or not to overcall...) as it is certainly one of my pet peeves when my partners do it. The particular situation that gets my goat is when partner makes an overcall in third (or fourth seat) after I have denied the values for an opening bid. I don't mean a jump overcall (a.k.a. "pressure bid") as that is a very effective tactic I like to use myself. I mean making a normal non-jump overcall without a good suit when our chances of buying a good contract are slim.

But fortunately, other people's partners do it more than mine. We don't always manage to catch them speeding but a hand came up in a recent club game which was very satisfying. Here's your hand: ♠KJ864 T75 QT2 ♣T6. It's "Love all" as the Brits like to say. Partner deals and passes, RHO opens with 1. Your call?

Did I hear you say 1♠? Have you been paying attention? Apart from partner having passed and your suit being moth-eaten, you have a bad holding in their suit (three losers when the third round gets ruffed) and nothing else. Tram tickets, in other words.

Did I hear you say 2♠? That's a bit more to my liking though it's a bit rich for my blood. Maybe if we were at favorable vulnerability and I really needed to create some action.

So, let's say you do overcall a spade. LHO bids 2NT (not alerted but in response to your partner's query, explained as invitational with a spade stopper). Your partner now compounds the error with a truly dreadful raise to 3♠ on a flat hand with three card support (see Interference over invitations considered harmful). RHO (that would be me) with a twelve count, a singleton spade and no interest in accepting the invitation, doubles. Down three for 500 on a nothing hand that the opponents weren't going to bid game anyway. It turns out that we (said opponents) can, with careful play, make 4 on a Moysian fit but we will never get there.

When chances of buying the contract are small because partner is a passed hand, and when we don't have a good suit we really want led, and we're not taking up much bidding room, what's the point of overcalling? It's quite likely to get partner involved when they almost had an opening bid themselves and thus the chances of doubling the opponents into game or suffering a big penalty ourselves are just too great. Sometimes our "noise" simply helps them make the hand.

Silence can be golden.


  1. Trams have been making a comeback over the last few years and a number of cities now have them, including Leeds and Manchester.

    And they start in May at my nearest city -

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Paul. I am very happy to hear that as I actually love trams. I had looked at the appropriate page on Wikipedia but simply hadn't noticed that some of the entries were in green signifying current tram systems. So many major changes in transportation systems since I left jolly old England. I'm so jealous particularly of the high-speed rail links in Europe and Asia. We don't have any high-speed trains in the US [we do have a fast train called the Acela which can get up to 125 mph on about 3% of the total length of the route]

  3. Memphis has a downtown tram system that is very popular (also called trolleys or streetcars). The are very cool, and you can read about them here:

    They cost $1,00 to ride, so tram tickets aren't completely worthless, unlike a 1S overcall in your example!

    1. Dave, what the US lacks in high speed rail, it does make up for somewhat in streetcars/trams. Denver, Phoenix, Memphis, and probably many others. I've been on the Memphis streetcar I'm happy to say (at the recent NABC).