Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exclusion Roman Keycard Blackwood and other animals

"Exclusion" is normally defined as a jump to a non-trump suit above the keycard-ask. So, for example, if the auction goes 1--2--2--2--3--5, that would be the keycard ask with spades as trumps, excluding the ace of hearts (because responder is void in hearts). Whether or not you play 1430 or 3014, the responses to exclusion are typically 3014 (although obviously that would be a question of partnership agreement). In this case, if opener has zero keycards, the response would be 5 so responder had better have at least one keycard himself

What about the situation where a void has been shown and then that hand asks for keycards? Let's look at an example: 1--2NT*--3**--3--4***--4--4NT. In this sequence, 2NT* is Jacoby; 3** shows shortness in diamonds; 4*** shows a diamond void. Obviously, the 4NT bidder can't want to know about the A, so you should answer with the appropriate "exclusion" response, even though, in this case, 4NT isn't a jump.

This case was clear. But there is also the situation of an inferred void. Howard Piltch taught me this many years ago and it's stuck with me. Here's a real life situation:

You pick up: AQJ2 9432 KJ K94 and open 1. Partner responds 1 and you raise to 2. Partner now bids 3, showing a splinter in spades. Whoops! Most of the value of your hand just went out the window. In my opinion, you should now put the brakes on and bid 3NT (unless that would be treated as serious or non-serious 3NT). In any case, you decide to sign off in 4. But partner's not done, much to your dismay. 4NT quoth he. Now, look at it from his point of view. He didn't see the need to bid controls, rather he bid 3. That sounds like he's asking your opinion: do you have wastage in spades. You surely do so you signed off! But partner doesn't care. He's hell-bent on bidding a slam provided we have three of the four significant keycards. Get that: he doesn't care about spades--he has a void there. If he only had a singleton, would he first ask your opinion and then ignore it? No. He'd bid 4NT directly over 2--or maybe he'd make a control bid or something. So, you can safely infer that he has a spade void. No other bidding sequence makes sense.

So, now you tell him you have zero key cards (using the exclusion responses if you've agreed to play exclusion).

At the table, my partner didn't pick up on the inference (I know it's subtle) and told me about the A. I needed one keycard (the K) for the contract of 6. I still had chances though: I needed the king to be doubleton. It wasn't :( But my slam was still a 70% slam: 50% that he'd have the "right" key-card and, 20% in the zone. So I don't feel too bad about it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Elementary deception

Continuing my series on common beginner mistakes, I want to talk about perhaps the most elementary case of deception, or hiding your assets, in bridge.

But, first, let's look at a hand. Matchpoints, all vulnerable, you are in fourth seat holding: K962 KQ KT7654. Partner opens 1, playing more or less standard methods, you bid 1 and partner raises to 2. What now? You have a decent 11-count with a side singleton and a double fit. I presume you aren't planning to pass. Make your plan:

  • invite game?
  • bid game?
  • invite slam?
Have you made up your mind? Is there anyone out there who's going to invite slam? It seems a stretch to me given that partner raised only to 2. But, I suppose it's possible: AQxx xx Axx Axxx. Of course, many would have already upgraded this perfect hand to 1NT, especially if non-vulnerable. If the black suits split favorably, you have twelve easy tricks. Or, if there's a stiff quack in the clubs, you might still be able to pick up the suit. But, presumably, if you were making a slam try, you would bid 4 to simultaneously establish a game-force (with slam aspirations) and to let partner know that any lower honors in diamonds would be wasted. With the perfecto sample hand given, you would bid 5 and partner should take it from there.

I'm sure you would simply raise to 4. But, suppose for a moment, that you decided to invite game. How would you go about it? I assume you would bid 3 and then pass whatever partner decided on. But, couldn't you have your cake and eat it too? Why not use the good old three-way invitation? Bid 3 and if partner bids 3 immediately (or passes) you'll play it there. If he bids 4, all well and good. But if he thinks for a bit and then bids 3 he's obviously got some sort of intermediate hand and now you can raise to 4. Sound like a plan?

No! The laws of bridge expressly forbid you to take any inference from the manner in which partner makes his bid. You must act as if you were absent from the table during the period between LHO's pass and partner's bid. To use the jargon of the rule book, that information is unauthorized. When partner's bid is 3, you must respect his decision, however much soul-searching he/she might have gone through. Remember: you didn't see (or hear) any of it.

I only bring this up because it happened in a recent club game. A pair who certainly should know better had this exact auction and, guess what, the spade bidder raised to 4, making. Yes, I called the director but, despite the fact that the opponents didn't dispute the hesitation (that's the usual defense), the director ruled that the 4 was OK because "maybe he was looking for slam". Most tables played in 4, as you'd expect, although there were a few 3 and club contracts too. We got slightly below average for holding it to ten tricks (some declarers actually managed to go down in 4♠ although I don't see how that was possible).

OK, back to the real point of this blog.

The opening lead is a small diamond (fourth best) and dummy has K9. You play the 9 and RHO wins the J. The 9 comes back. Which card do you play?

Some of you, the ones this article is aimed at, will say it doesn't matter. The one nearest my thumb. Or, worse, you will automatically play the lower honor, the queen in this case. I see this mistake all the time. You are probably expecting LHO to have the ace and, therefore, it won't make any difference. When we played this hand, declarer played the queen and it won the trick. The RHO (moi) holding A98x, now knew that his partner did not hold the king and so I was able to work out exactly which cards declarer did hold. It really didn't matter in this case. There was no defense to set the contract. But why give the opponents that information? They don't deserve it!