Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Asleep at the switch

To my faithful readers: for some reason, Blogger/Blogspot has "fixed" something that wasn't broken and needless to say they haven't provided any explanation for it. The upshot is that I can no longer post hand diagrams (I can only link to BBO for rendering in a separate window). I've tried BridgeBlogging but apparently they unimpressed by my material (and were insufficiently polite to mention that fact to me). Anyone got any ideas whither I could transfer my bridge blog?

Meanwhile I still suffer the craziness of sitting at random tables when I have a few minutes to spare but no more. The errors that players make simply astound me. Was I ever that bad, I wonder? No, I don't think so. At least, I hope not!

Here's the latest misdemeanor: random hand at random table. Notice how disciplined I was not doubling 5D, although it certainly looked like it was going down. One ill-advised player did double 5D (see below). When dummy came down, I was surprised how good it was, but this kind of leap to game is not at all uncommon for beginners. Especially after a weak-two opener, they just don't know if, say, 2S would be forcing. Other declarers might be in 6D going down, so it was important to ensure that this contract didn't succeed.

Notice what happens at trick 7. West (declarer) takes a no-win "finesse" of the CQ (is there a name for this type of finesse? Chinese finesse?). I'm flabbergasted at how common such finesses are at these tables. My guess is that there's one every second or third board, especially when my partner is declaring.

But wait, apparently such a finesse can win! All you need is for the one with the K not to cover. Of course, this could never happen if that person was fourth-in-hand. Especially if he/she was looking at the J also. But nevertheless, my partner was asleep at the switch. After that, we have no defense. I get my two trump tricks and that's it. Perhaps I should have ruffed the club continuation which would require declarer to think about the play. But I can only ever come to two trump tricks if declarer plays correctly.

Take two. Things could have been worse. Really, you ask? Look what happened at this table. I have taken the liberty of assigning names from S. J. Simon's Why You Lose at Bridge. It's hard to count the total number of errors ("chucks" in Simon's terminology) committed here. I could post an ATB on BridgeWinners, I suppose but there's really just too much sin all round. First, do we agree with The Unlucky Expert's opening bid 1D? It's a tough call. 2D, the bid at my table, is flawed for various reasons, notably the void, the bad suit and too many stray queens. But is this hand good enough for 1D? Zar says it is (28 before any negative texture adjustment which meets the threshold of 26). KR puts it at 11.8 which is not quite an opening bid for most of us, I think.

In any case, 1D seems reasonable. Mrs. Guggenheim responds 2C which is just plain bizarre when she has more spades than clubs. Maybe she just wanted to announce the strength of her hand immediately, and a two-bid sounds so much stronger than a mere one-bid. Mr. Smug now says 3S, an appalling bid--but quite normal for Mr. Smug. Perhaps not the worst bid in the history of bridge, but certainly a doozy! The Unlucky Expert, who by rights has nothing to say, naturally bids 4D (to show his six-card suit)--Mrs. Guggenheim must have been just itching to double. Futile Willy, under the mistaken impression that his partner has something, decides to double this (cold) contract. Does he really think that he's getting this freely bid contract down more than one? Particularly, when he has such good support for his partner's "suit." Wouldn't you think that Mrs. Guggenheim would be ecstatic for her partner to be in 4DX? No, the scoring table was never her strong point and she decides to "take it out" into the diamond game.

The rest of the auction is inevitable and hardly worth mentioning. Futile Willy, his manhood so dreadfully impugned by Mrs. Guggenheim's 5D, must double again. And, when this comes around to the Unlucky Expert, he just knows that the contract is cold as Mrs. Guggenheim always has her bid if she bids a game. The fact that his own bidding has hitherto shown a decent hand with good diamonds is immaterial. He redoubles.

Now for the play. It would never occur to Futile Willy to lead low from Qxx of his partner's suit so he leads the SQ. No matter, it makes no difference this time. Declarer takes dummy's ace and crosses to his own HA. Based on the auction, he can be pretty confident that a finesse of the nine will succeed and indeed it does. Of course, he still should be down at this point but he knows the caliber of his opponents and is not worried. He decides to sneak a club through Mr. Smug who surely has the CK for his ridiculous spade bid. The latter, confident that his king cannot "go away" (does he imagine that declarer started with five clubs and never raised his partner?) plays low smoothly. At this point, The Unlucky Expert could claim but naturally he drags it out to the bitter end to extract the maximum degree of squirming from his two gentleman opponents.

This hand would have been a pretty good "Goulash" hand. 16 tables played it and the range of scores was +1600 (4SXXE-4) to -800 (the latter being our heroes' result). That's a spread of 29.8 IMPs! The par result is actually 400 E/W for 3NT which cannot be touched. This was reached by the perfectly appropriate auction (N/S silent): P--1S--2D--3D--3NT.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The forcing pass

This is a subject that covers many situations and much has been written on forcing passes after a game bid (or after a game-forcing bid). Fascinating as that subject is, it's been well covered elsewhere (particularly Robson & Segal's excellent book: Partnership Bidding at Bridge: The Contested Auction). And this blog from a couple of years ago: No wonder it takes so long to learn this game--the denouement, covers the situation where one of us has taken an action showing a "sound raise" (aka limit raise or better).

The other situation where the forcing pass comes up at low levels is after an opening 1-bid has been doubled and redoubled. Given a disciplined redouble, which "implies no fit" and thus, in my opinion, denies three (or more) cards in support for partner's major unless it is a very flat hand, our side is in a force. Not to game but, by convention, through the two-level.

In other words, the opponents may not play a contract at the two-level or below unless it is doubled. Of course, we can continue bidding to the three level (or game) if we think that is better. But in the following auction, pass is 100% forcing. But pass does seem in this situation to be not very descriptive.

So, what would West's various bids mean? 2♣ would show a minimum opener with presumably six (or perhaps five) clubs and would tend to deny much defense against a spade contract. 2 or 2 would still be a reverse, although since partner has announced 10+ hcp, we might not be as strong as otherwise. More likely, the 1♠ bid has made life awkward for our expected rebid (1NT?) and so we bid 2/2 instead.

2♠ would tend to show some sort of distributional monster that wants to force to game. The given hand seems like a case in point. 3♣ would be descriptive but non-forcing. I'm not really sure if there are any other bids (other than 3NT) that make much sense here.

What this hand should not do is double. Double here says, I have a minimum hand (although at favorable vulnerability, we might have a maximum hand too) but spades is my second suit. Something like ♠KJ96 Q3 QT5 ♣KQ83. Hopefully, we will be plus 200 when we probably have no game. With significantly more than 10 hcp, partner can of course pull the double to a game contract, knowing that spades are stopped, and that we need 600 rather than 200 or 500.

With any other hand, that's to say nothing particular to say, pass is just fine (it definitely doesn't in any way limit the strength of your hand because it is 100% forcing). Pass would however, tend to limit the distribution of your hand.

For more on my thoughts about redouble, see The blue card.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Substance abuse?

It's always nice when somebody reads your blog, agrees with it and acts upon it for a good result. Is it as good when you follow your own advice? What about when both you and partner are on the same page. Life is good! The principle under discussion is what I called, as if I get paid by the letter, The principle of substantive discretionary bids (PSDB).

Another late-night BBO session playing at an IMP table with a friend against random opponents (about nine months ago now, as this sat in my drafts folder for a while). I held at favorable vulnerability: J5 Q75 QJ8765 Q6. After my LHO opened 1C and partner overcalled 1H, my RHO passed. I had a problem, or at least I thought I did. Probably a bid of 2H would be fine. But it seemed odd that nobody had found the spade suit yet and I decided to make life a little harder for them with a jump to 3H. After all, I did have kind of a preempt hand, in a red suit. Different red suit admittedly, but still. At this point, we'd be down 2 against 110 if the opponents played 2S. A push.

Opener passed, presumably hoping we'd get to 4H which he could happily double. Now, partner made an interesting bid showing her real substance, just in case the opponents should end up in spades with me on lead. Only four cards, and the suit opened at her right, but still, a great call, based on the assumption that I had four decent hearts and nothing else.

Perhaps now was the time to bid diamonds. It's actually our best spot (we can make 9 tricks). But we had one good fit, a second fit of some sort (clubs). No need to go muddying the waters with 4D. After my 4H, East sprang the trap. We were headed for a loss of 6 IMPs. But good old West came to our rescue with 4S.  Maybe he's a follower of George Rosenkranz who advises that the only time it's allowable to pull a penalty double is when you have an unbid six-card suit. I don't think George advocates always doing it but maybe with a singleton trump and three cards in partner's first suit, it's acceptable.

Unfortunately for West, the one bidding like a crazy person was me, not his partner. I should really have doubled myself but I couldn't bring myself to do it! Coward. Partner doubled and this is where it gets interesting. The point about the PSDB is that when partner bids two suits, they most likely want you to lead the second suit. I obliged with a club lead. Note that a heart suit lead would result in the contract making with two overtricks and total vindication of West! 24 or 25 IMPs were awaiting my lead! Fortunately, we ended in the plus column.

There's really nothing to the rest of the play. We cashed three clubs, one diamond and then I got my trump promotion (is this technically a promotion?)

The moral of the story, apart from noting that I can be a crazy bidder at times, is that when your partner sticks their neck on the block, just asking for it to be cut off, they really want you to lead that suit, not the suit they mentioned earlier. It would be insane to bid 4C without some seriously good cards in that suit after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Staying with happiness--part two

I last wrote about this subject last year in Staying with happiness where I committed the capital sin of not providing a hand diagram. A recent hand came up online that illustrates the principle very well. I swear I am not making this up. And neither was this in a "Goulash" tournament. You hold the following hand, playing with an unknown partner, and hear the auction proceed as below:

Do you double? On the plus side, they are definitely going down, perhaps by two tricks, and surely 500 is more profitable than 200? On the other hand, they might run to spades. Who has all the spades? Partner might have a trick there, but there's no guarantee. What about the clubs? Are we cashing any diamonds? Doesn't look like it.

You decide to pass and the contract does indeed go down two. You gain 6 IMPs for staying with happiness. Here's the situation you would find yourself in at trick one if you had doubled (click Next):

You are defending 6S, quite possibly doubled and maybe redoubled. Which card do you play at trick one after giving the defense due thought (declarer will not be thinking long about the play from dummy)?

Can it really matter? Surely, my partner didn't bid 3D vulnerable on a five-card suit! Yes, it does matter. The only way declarer can make this hand is if he pitches a heart on the first trick, wins the continuation, draws (five) trumps and claims five clubs and two hearts. But if you are on lead after overtaking with the ace, you will obviously play a heart now for partner to ruff. If instead, declarer ruffs your ace, he will have one fewer trumps than partner and can never make the hand. Indeed, two declarers in spades took only seven tricks. In practice, 6S was set three tricks (once), two tricks (doubled--once), and one trick (redoubled once, doubled thrice, and six times otherwise). But! it also made twice (once doubled). Let's say that we do double and defend 6S perfectly. Against a competent declarer (i.e. one who can count to thirteen), we are still only +200--the same score we could have had without requiring any thought beyond following suit.

I think both North and South (your author) were very disciplined on this deal. 5S by E/W (-650) is the par result and we beat that. In practice, the datum was -60. True, we might have had another five imps (eight if they redouble 6H as one declarer did). Against that, there are several ways to lose imps in addition to the scenarios already described. Bidding 7D for example, as several pairs did, would quickly concede 500 for -10 imps.

Staying with happiness won't always get you the very best score. But it will usually get you a decent score and avoid the risk of a much worse score.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Somehow we landed in 6NT (part two)

My title quotes that of one of my favorite David Bird books, one which certainly contributed in its way to helping me make the hand in the story below. See also Somehow we landed in 6NT.

I've always been a fan of squeezes. To me, they seem relatively easy. And, because many players think they are something esoteric and don't bother to learn about them, I'm pretty much guaranteed a good board whenever I can find one. The other thing I like about them, and this is really important for me,  is that most of them don't require good card-reading skills. And, generally speaking, once the play is in motion, you don't have to make any decisions at the end. Either it's there for the overtrick, or it's not and you end up with the same number of tricks you always had.

But, while there are many exotic squeezes out there, including the famous backwash squeeze, the bread-and-butter squeezes are relatively easy to recognize and execute. But of these, the ultimate in my opinion is the progressive triple squeeze. I thought it unlikely I would ever get to play one. But all that changed at a recent tournament session. Even then, it required some fairly dreadful over-bidding by my side (mainly my own) and some helpful defensive errors by the opponents before the squeeze trick. That being so, I'm going to deliberately obfuscate the hand to protect the identities of the players. Watch the play unfold from my point of view:

Almost any lead but the one chosen, the jack of clubs, would have scuttled any chance of making the hand. Even so, I could only count eight top tricks after knocking out the DA. At trick two, I can legitimately make the hand by finessing the S9, but I didn't. That line gives rise to a double-squeeze at the end, with hearts the pivot suit. At trick four, East erred by pitching a diamond. He could have recovered by holding up the DA at trick five, but these things are not so obvious in the heat of the battle. The return of a heart was interesting. Surely, East wouldn't lead away from the queen so I rose with the ace. After the first six tricks have been played, and having found the diamond jack, my prospects were looking a bit brighter--I had ten tricks. At this point, I see a chance. If West does indeed have the HQ in addition to the KT of clubs and the SJ, he will be triple-squeezed when I play off the diamonds.  Not only that but the conditions would be perfect for a (two-trick-gaining) progressive squeeze. But for that to work, I must have both round suit threats in the dummy along with the squeeze card (D5), along with the spade threat in hand. Thus the other high heart had to be cashed before crossing to dummy. That of course caters to a possible doubleton queen also.

At trick nine, the squeeze card, D5, is played and you can see that West has no good option. In a progressive triple squeeze, it's usually best to concede the suit that promotes an honor in the opposite hand. That prevents the progression. But in this five-card ending, the hand opposite the squeeze card has an extended menace in spades and thus there is no defense. Here is the whole hand:

Note that in the more normal contract of 4S, there can be no squeeze since there is no possible way of denying West his rightful trump trick, at least not unless you peek and finesse the nine.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Beer Card

For those who know me and my love of beer, especially English bitter or IPA over here in the USA, it was inevitable that I would eventually write a blog on the beer card. Just a matter of time.

The scene was an ordinary extra-points club game with a new partner. Sadly, we didn't qualify for any points, extra or otherwise, but we had a good time nonetheless. There were several high points for me, and none better than board 23 which we played in round two. After a very simple auction, I became declarer (as West) in 3NT and, to cut a long story short, here is the layout (I'm using a new tool here from www.contractbridge.net):

Dlr: S
Vul: All





North obligingly led a heart (the 6) which of course was rather advantageous to me as it immediately bumped my trick count up by one. At that point, assuming that opening leader had the length in hearts, it seemed prudent to cross to dummy with a high spade and run the club knave into the North hand. When that proved successful, I was now up to 10 tricks with an easy addition of a spade. Not knowing the spade position, I now erred by finessing against the queen. But losing this trick also rectified the count for a squeeze. What squeeze, you may ask? Well, admittedly, it's more of a pseudo-squeeze: one opponent has to guard one red suit and leave the other for his partner.

However, I won the HA on the return, effectively making this a pseudo-Vienna coup and ran the last two spades and thirteenth club. South had to find three discards and pitched two diamonds and a heart. Meanwhile, North had only one discard to make but he chose a diamond. Both were essentially guarding against the threat of the H9 in dummy. Finally, after cashing the DK (and not finding the H9 high), I was able to cross to the DA and cash the D7, the "beer" card for the final trick.

This was worth all the matchpoints, even though, in theory, West can always take 12 tricks at notrump (either East or West can make 6C but that would be hard to reach). Making 12 tricks on a passive lead would require some very skillful card reading indeed.

But the point of this story, apart from the beer connection, is that when you have a squeeze situation (or even, as here, a pseudo-squeeze), it costs nothing to set the wheels in motion. Worst case you come out even. All that stuff about BLUE laws, threats, etc. is great of course but don't give up just because you don't have BLUE perfectly satisfied. As long as you've got L (the loser count) right, you've always got a shot at petty larceny.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

All doubles can be passed - with the right hand

One of the best times for making the opponents pay for their indiscretions is when we know that we have at best a seven-card fit. For example after a support double where you don't have a fit for partner's first-bid suit. I've tried this gambit (passing a support double) myself (see for example Passing a support double) but until this evening, it has never worked. The scene was a (pickup) team match on BBO and this was the layout:

The result was only a 2-imp gain, because our opponents got to a making 24-hcp 3NT contract. Actually, we had a chance on the opening lead for 8 imps but of course it's hard to underlead an ace!  In any case, I do believe that this was the perfect time to pass the support double based on the following considerations:
  1. The vulnerability was favorable;
  2. At decision time, it was not yet clear that we would have a game;
  3. My suit was weak;
  4. My holding in their suit was good, or at least decent;
  5. I didn't have much of a fit for partner's suit.
The remainder of this article was actually written two-and-a-half years ago. However, I never apparently published the article, perhaps because I was waiting for my own story. So here it is.

On BBO, my robot partner apparently knows the rules too and when he tried it recently (Sept 2012), it was a huge success.

At every other table but one, the N/S contract was 3NT making an overtrick for 630. At my table, the East robot made an incredibly injudicious bid of 2C over partner's 1S response. My robot knew when he was on to a good thing. This was matchpoints so even down 3 would have got the same result. But we produced a double-dummy defense (and East erred in going up with the  king at trick 2) to produce a very nice 100% score of 1400 (13 imps at teams).

As a corollary to this, I also feel that, after a support double has been taken out, all doubles should be for penalties and all new suit bids should be "to play."

Monday, January 5, 2015

More insanity

I apologize to my readers for the two-month hiatus in bridge articles. Just pressure or work, and the fact that we are in the midst of the second snowiest winter ever here in the Boston area. I usually keep a few drafts ready to turn into something for times like this. This hand actually arose a few months ago.

If you're looking for stories of bridge insanity, just go to a random BBO table late at night (Eastern time) and start to play. This kind of stuff will curl your hair.

Here's a typical example (borrowing S. J. Simon's character names):

I was essentially an innocent bystander in this debacle ("Mrs. Guggenheim", i.e. dummy). Had we agreed Lebensohl, then I probably would have bid 2NT over 2H and passed partner's 3C bid. But as it was, my bid wasn't all that bad.

Stoppers are for the birds, apparently. So, despite a magnificent fit in clubs, and three small hearts, "Mr. Smug" bid 3NT. The "Unlucky Expert" would have done better on this occasion to lead his fourth best heart! But having shown a good suit in the auction, he decided on the expert strategy of starting ace and asking for count or unblock. Well, maybe not -- we can only guess. Perhaps he thought declarer would have only Qx for his "stopper". In any case, "Futile Willy" was oblivious. He simply followed with his three hearts from the bottom up, blocking the suit. Thus my side made 630 when we should have been down 200. Total chucks by E/W: 830.

And, while I'm pointing out errors, did you notice that declarer didn't bother to claim as soon as he saw East's spade lead? The hand was over but, as so often happens, he dragged it out for a few more tricks.

We gained only 7 IMPs on this deal because, as you can see, we can make game in clubs legitimately. And lest you think that I'm making this up, I assure you that it actually happened exactly like this twice (!) on this board (of 16 total plays).