Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Monsterpoints: Going for the record

What I call the torture tables on BBO ("casual") tabes can be very frustrating. You never know when your partner is going to pass a forcing bid, you have no idea what type of Blackwood they understand, and generally they can't be trusted. At least not until you've played a few hands with them. Unlike at the Griffins (Bridge in the Menagerie, etc.) there are so many different players on BBO that you rarely see the same person twice unless you follow them.

The only way I can reasonably keep track of these blunders is to borrow a phrase from Victor Mollo: Monsterpoints. Here's how I'm going to (arbitrarily) score them (giving more weight to the earlier actions):

  • (auction) first turn: 5 points available
  • second turn : 3 points
  • third and subsequent turns: 2 points each
  • (play) opening lead: 4 points
  • other first-trick play: 3 points
  • first critical play: 5 points 
  • remaining tricks (second through 12th absent the critical trick): up to 2 points each

A typical hand of bridge, then, will have available from five up to about 16 monsterpoints in the auction and 19 monsterpoints (estimate) in the play, for a maximum possible of about 35.

So, with that preamble, here is a hand on which my partner did his or her best to set a new record for the number of monsterpoints in one hand.

Here is the hand:

Dealer: S
Vul: NS
♠ 3
♥ AKQ2
♦ AJ8743
♣ A9
♠ JT954
♥ J8764
♦ Q
♣ Q2
♠ KQ87
♥ T
♦ 9652
♣ T765
♠ A62
♥ 953
♦ KT
♣ KJ843

1 p 1 p
2 p 2 p
2 p 6 p
p p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

As you can see, 6 is not the easiest of hands to make, although it is makable on any lead. Let me describe what happened.

Partner (South) opened 1. While this certainly isn't the worst crime in the history of bridge, I personally wouldn't consider this hand to be a vulnerable opener, although I know many who would automatically open it. Basically, what you have is a balanced 11. If the clubs were a little bit better (perhaps the T instead of the 8), or one card longer, then I would be willing to open it because I could happily rebid 2 over partner's response. But to open 1 and rebid 1NT would suggest 12-14 hcp which this hand simply doesn't have.

I made what I hope is the obvious response of 1 and partner rebid 2. Naturally, I expected his clubs to be a bit better (as described above), but this does seem the most sensible approach. Now, I reversed into 2 and waited anxiously to see if this bid would be passed.

After an eternity, partner came up with 2. Maybe he meant it as fourth-suit-forcing. Otherwise, I have no idea what it was supposed to be. Again, not the worst possible call because it kept the bidding open. At this point, I decided to dispense with science and jump straight to 6. It was a somewhat wild bid but it did put us in a makable contract. The only problem of course was that my partner would be playing it. I had no idea what to expect.

Naturally, I was a bit apprehensive when I saw his hand. Personally, I would have rebid 2NT over my 2 call to try to suggest a minimum balanced hand. The opening lead was the Q (a singleton).  Declarer let this ride around to the king and started on drawing trumps.

How would you tackle the trumps? If they are 3-3 then we just have to lose one trick. The diamonds should be good for six tricks, so with four clubs, three hearts and a spade, that would be more than sufficient. Basically, to make the contract, partner has to hold the trump losers to one. There is a line if you need to make all five tricks (Ace then cover RHO's card) but its success rate is only 1 in 5. But almost any reasonable play will garner four tricks (with a probability of 73%). All these lines, BTW, start with cashing the ace.

He starts by running the jack! This is the kind of play (running an unsupported honor towards a higher honor) I often see at these tables. But wait! The jack is not covered by the queen so all is well. Declarer then plays a small club to the ace, picking up the queen. All is rosy again. Now what? He's got to get back to hand and at least draw the small trump, leaving the ten as master (we assume that LHO wasn't silly enough to fail to cover the J while looking at QT). Guess what? with no more trumps in dummy, he uses the A to reach hand, exposing the two small spades as immediate losers. But all is still well as he plays the K, pitching the small heart from dummy. Now, there is only one card that can be played: the T from hand. Incredibly, he neglects to play that and starts in on the hearts. Surely he hasn't forgotten that the opening lead was the Q and that the ace, jack and ten are all now high? Obviously, the hand can no longer be made. In the end, he goes down two tricks.

So, what is the monsterpoint score?

  • opening bid: 1 mp (as mentioned, not a really terrible bid)
  • second turn: 0
  • third bid: 1 mp
  • play to opening trick: 0
  • first critical play (trump lead): 3
  • subsequent plays (2 each): T4 (serious error), T6 (disaster).
That's a total of 9 monsterpoints. Is this a serious record contender? Only time will tell.

Monday, December 19, 2016

When dummy gives you a lemon... make lemonade!

Playing in a recent BBO/ACBL 12-board tournament, things were going moderately badly when I picked up the following hand on the last board:

Dealer: W
Vul: NS



♠ AKJT65
♥ 5
♦ 96
♣ AQ92

3D p p ?
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

With a singleton diamond and two small hearts, I might venture a 4 call here but with two losers in their suit, I decided on a simple 3 which was passed out. Worrying at first that we might have missed game, I switched my concerns to just making my contract when I saw dummy!

Dealer: W
Vul: NS
♠ 74
♥ J98764
♦ Q8
♣ 753


♠ AKJT65
♥ 5
♦ 96
♣ AQ92

3D p  p 3S
 p  p  p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

The LHO led DA, then the 7 to his partner's K. There didn't seem much hope of ever getting to dummy to take a black suit finesse, so when RHO continued with the HQ, I could only hope he'd switch to a black card. He didn't. I pitched two clubs on the K and A, while LHO pitched diamonds. On the following trick, RHO (a robot) erred by leading yet another heart. I pitched my third losing club and LHO was forced to ruff. But his only spade was the queen so at that point, I had the rest of the tricks.

Minus 200 isn't usually a good score, but this time it was a clear top. Not one of the other 18 declarers, several of whom were in game, thought to pitch on that second heart.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

If it's worth bidding, it's worth leading

I've always thought what a silly old adage is "If it's worth bidding, it's worth leading." It's usually said when someone has made a bid, doesn't have any more obvious lead, and resorts to leading their own suit. Not very profound!

But, playing at a casual, that's to say torture, table recently, I suffered the following indignity: 2NTXW= for -690 and a loss of 12 IMPs.

Dealer: W
Vul: Both
♠ KT9763
♥ K5
♦ T93
♣ KT
♠ QJ4
♥ J7
♦ Q842
♣ A987
♠ 5
♥ AQ986
♦ KJ75
♣ J52
♠ A82
♥ T432
♦ A6
♣ Q643

p p 1H p
1N 2S p p
2N p p X
p p p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

My so-called partner apparently doesn't believe in getting in and out early in the auction. A 2S call by North would get the hand off the chest so to speak and make life really difficult for the opponents. And, 2S is unassailable whereas any higher contract by the opponents, except for 3D, is doomed. A contract of 3D requires East to double rather than bid 3H over the 2S, but that never happened at any of the tables where North started with 2S.

As you can see, a spade lead ("if it's worth bidding, it's worth leading") would have set the contract easily. But even with partner's DT lead which resulted in the premature knocking out of my DA (at trick 2), we were still destined to set the contract. If only partner hadn't grabbed the second spade after I played SA and 8.

So, should North have simply followed the old saw and led a spade? No, not at all. He should have listened to the bidding. I had not acted over 1H so either I had the wrong shape for a takeout double, or I simply wasn't strong enough to act. But now, after partner comes in with the enormously dangerous bid of 2S (which I passed), West bids a very inadvisable 2N. I double this and partner is on lead. I have no game ambitions therefore, so I don't have a strong off-shape hand that couldn't double. And, I certainly don't have a suit of my own. On what could I be basing my expectation of defeating 2NT? It must be a good fit for spades (with an honor) plus probably another entry.

There is another possibility. The opponents could be complete idiots and therefore it doesn't matter too much what North leads. 2N has no chance of making. But why assume this. No, although it's clear that West is a novice (you can't bid 1NT and then 2NT) but there's no reason to assume some kind of death wish. No, there's every reason to assume they have at least as many points as we do, and yet South (me) is sure of defeating the contract.

No, all inferences should tell North that 1) it matters what he leads and 2) the only sensible lead is the suit that he's promised. The failure to heed these rather obvious inferences cost him (and me) 17 IMPs.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Web movements for teaching

One of my wife Kim's bridge classes includes a duplicate every other week. With discussion about the hands, there is only time to play 6 boards. The number of tables varies usually between nine and twelve. Any multiple of three tables can easily be accommodated with the appropriate number of sections, each with a straight Mitchell movement. But what about ten and eleven tables? These can be handled with either two sections of three tables and a section of four; or two sections of four, with a section of three. The trouble is those four-table sections! There's no Mitchell variation that I have found to work for this type of situation (having single-board rounds is not very appealing). I therefore turned to the "web" movement.

The so-called web movement is the invention of former National director John "Spider" Harris in the 1970s. For a full description of web movements, the best source is Tim Hill's document. In a web movement with an even number of tables, as we have here, a section is split into two sub-sections each comprising half of the tables. The second of these sub-sections is boarded "backwards" which is the insight that Spider Harris came up with to make the movement work.

This is how the movement unfolds for one four-table section:

Four Table Web
Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Table 1 (N/S 1) E/W 1 playing boards 1,2 E/W 4 playing boards 3,4 E/W 3 playing boards 5,6
Table 2 (N/S2) E/W 2 playing boards 3,4 E/W 1 playing boards 5,6 E/W 4 playing boards 1,2
1-2 Bye-stand boards 5,6 boards 1,2 boards 3,4
Table 3 (N/S 3) E/W 3 playing boards 1,2 E/W 2 playing boards 5,6 E/W 1 playing boards 3,4
Table 4 (N/S 4) E/W 4 playing boards 5,6 E/W 3 playing boards 3,4 E/W 2 playing boards 1,2
3-4 Bye-stand boards 3,4 boards 1,2 boards 5,6

Of course, as you can see, you need two sets or "cases" of boards (i.e. twelve boards in all). That's the drawback to the web movement (and the reason directors have never really liked to use it until recently). Now, however, that we have dealing machines available, it becomes much less of a burden for the director (or teacher in this case) to set up a web movement.

The other advantage is that, once the boards are put into position, the movement pretty much runs itself. Some of the other alternative movements require changing the movement half-way through, having relays, and so on. These can be somewhat problematic when the players are relatively new to duplicate bridge.

So, as you can see, the web movement isn't only for large single sections, as typically used in tournaments in New England. It can be used any time the number of boards in play is insufficient to cover all the tables in a section.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The tentatively penalty double

I have written extensively about cooperative doubles before in this blog. Here's a situation where none of the penalty triggers had occurred but I didn't feel that my double in the West seat was purely cooperative (DISP) but certainly not purely penalty either:

Dealer: E
Vul: NS
♠ 6
♥ QJT76
♦ Q862
♣ 974
♠ J75
♥ A3
♦ T9
♣ AKQJ83
♠ Q94
♥ 95
♦ AK543
♣ T62
♠ AKT832
♥ K842
♦ J7
♣ 5

p 1S 2C p
2D 2S X p
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

Clearly, East had some values for his 2D call. So, it seemed like it was our hand. But where to play it? I didn't have a spade stopper, I couldn't raise diamonds. I could take a unilateral view and rebid 3C and maybe that was best. On the other hand, this was matchpoints and +200, if it was available, would be a much better score than +110 or +130. With a decent stop in spades, partner could even take my double out into 3NT.

Had I opened 1C, heard partner bid 1D, and then heard 2S on my right, this would (for me, at any rate) clearly be a cooperative double. Yet, when we have both made bids showing decent to good suits and not been raised, the needle on the takeout to penalty meter swings over a little more towards penalty.

In my humble opinion, having more or less denied the ability to raise clubs on his previous turn, partner should have given preference to clubs (over defending 2SX). That would be a relatively easy 130. Better still would be to take out into 3NT which rolls, as it happens. What actually happened was that partner passed 2S, assuming my double was pure penalty. Deep finesse says that 2S is cold but I think we had some chances.  High club, two high diamonds followed by a diamond ruff starts us out with four tricks. The HA is still to come and, if declarer doesn't try to finesse against the queen, we would defeat the contract. But it was not to be. -670 was of course an absolute zero. The exact same zero as 2S undoubled would have been.

So, on balance, I think that double was correct, showing that it was our hand. But the idea of the tentatively penalty double needs to be better understood.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Well, it seems that I have figured out a way to publish my blog again. It's not that I didn't want to. I have lots of material. It's just that I couldn't show you any actual hands because Google broke the Blogger code.

I tried to join BridgeBlogging (where Jeff Lehman publishes his bridge blog) but apparently they didn't want me.

Recently, I've been re-reading (for about the fourth time) Hugh Kelsey's truly excellent book on matchpoints. When you find yourself in a contract that appears to be a minority choice, you have to carefully consider what might happen at the other tables. This I've resolved to do.

Anyway, here's a hand that came up in the middle of a BBO Robot tournament, which I was winning at the time with 60-something percent.
What would you bid? I reasoned that I only needed one trick (and some sort of diamond fit) from partner to make 3NT. Of course, I only have one heart stopper and if partner's trick is slow then I'll probably go down. But surely that's a better plan than simply bidding 4D?
Now what? I could play a club up to the queen in dummy. If LHO had the ace, he'd might play low and I would have my 9 tricks. Some human defenders might fall for that. Should I consider simply conceding down one? No, I decided. There would be company in my contract and I should make every effort to take nine tricks. I decided on the club play, therefore. Unfortunately, my robot LHO was not brooking any funny business. The result?
I went down 7 tricks for -700 and a big round zero. Was I right in my strategy?

Most of my counterparts would probably take the safe 4D route, in which case they would all be going +130. Could there be any 3H contracts their way? Probably not, but if there were, they would make 140 or 170 depending on whether they had a diamond loser or not. Taking eight tricks, therefore would beat those pairs (if any). If half of the other pairs were in 4D, then conceding defeat would give me at best an average score and more likely average minus, let's say 30% for the sake of argument. If I was to sneak a club through and actually make my contract, I would be improving my score by 70% while risking my "safe" 30%.

However, I should have thought more about that all-important first trick! Having started with QJ9xxx and having decided to lead fourth best and seeing three hearts in dummy and partner, who raised, go in with the king, even the smallest brain would have known that the hearts were now running. He didn't need a lead from partner through the ten. Maybe if LHO had led the Q, seen two hearts in dummy, partner overtake with the K, he might have been worried that I had ATx in which case he would hope his partner had the CK.

In fact, there were nine +130s, a -100 (the one other playing 3NT), a -200 (defending a 3H contract), and, surprisingly, a +120 from 1NT making two. Playing it safe for -100 would have resulted in a 12.5% board. Needless to say, I didn't hold my first place. I dropped to third.