Monday, June 1, 2015

Playing without conventions

I was back in Oklahoma on work, and decided to see old friends by catching a bridge game there.  I emailed one of my regular partners from way-back-when and asked him to come play with me. My partner had gone from a year where he won the ACBL's masterpoints competition for his point level to a year where he let his membership lapse.

He was not playing much bridge anymore, he told me, but he came out any way.  He did have a condition, however. "No conventions," he told me.  I've played three different systems with him -- 2/1, traditional Precision with a 12-14 NT, and a Woolsey-like system with 10-12 NT, and everything these systems imply -- mini-Roman, negative free bids, transfer Lebensohl, etc. -- most of it at his urging. And now, he didn't want to play conventions!

The lack of system didn't hurt us much. This was not the strongest game in town, and we finished with a 65% game without doing anything too spectacular. But as easily as the matchpoints came, they also went rather easily.  Take this hand;

S Deals
E-W Vul

I was South, and naturally, I opened the hand 1C.  Two aces, and a nice club rebid.  West passed and North bid 1S.  Now East doubled!  I bid 2C anyway, and partner bid 3NT ending the auction.

Now to the play. They led two hearts, and so after cashing 6 clubs (on which East threw away hearts and West threw away diamonds), partner was faced with a choice. He could take a diamond finesse or lead towards the spade king.  He decided to believe East's supposed negative double and took the spade play.  Ooops.

East-West too had decided to play with no conventions. Not even negative doubles!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Don't upgrade to a splinter

Playing with an occassional partner in a strong club game, I was West on this hand:

N Deals
None Vul

North passed and partner (East) opened the hand 1S.  As West, I had 4 choices:

  1. Jacoby 2NT showing 4 trumps and forcing to game
  2. 3S showing 4 spades and an invitational hand
  3. 3H (fit-jump) showing good hearts, 3+ spades and an invitational hand
  4. 4C showing 4 trumps, club shortness and 12-14 points.
Your call?

At the table, I forgot about option #3.

I decided to upgrade my hand and splinter with 4C.  Partner, with no wastage in clubs, got excited and we ended up one level too high, in 5S.  When spades turned out to be 3-1, we were down 1.  Everyone else in the room was bidding and making 4S.

Splinters are very well-defined bids and are there to help you find slams holding fewer than 30 high card points.  Because of this, though, they work only when you stay within the parameters.  Just add one point to my hand to make it 12 points (by changing the J of spades to the Q of spades) and note that 5S is totally safe.  Add 3 points to my hand (by changing the Jack of diamonds to the Ace of diamonds) and note that 6S is on whenever spades are 2-2 (a 52% slam).

We would not have had this disaster if I had upgraded my hand and bid Jacoby 2NT.  Partner with a semi-balanced minimum would have bid 4S.

Don't upgrade to a splinter.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ian McEwan explains Restricted Choice

The principle of Restricted Choice is probably the best-known bridge maxim that many players don't quite understand.  Most bridge players can explain the logic behind finesses, split-honors, and "eight ever, nine never".  But restricted choice will throw your average club player for a loop.

Imagine my surprise then at seeing it laid out extremely nicely as a vignette in Ian McEwan's novel "The Sweet Tooth".

The way the principle is usually explained is in terms of an adaptation of the Monty Hall show.  You get onto Monty's show and you are shown three doors. Behind one of the doors is a car.  Behind the other two doors are goats. The way the show works is this. You get to pick one of the doors.  Now, Monty opens one of the other doors and shows you that it has a goat and gives you a choice. You can either go with your original choice or you can switch to the remaining door. Should you switch or not? This question was famously posed to Marilyn Von Savant who got the answer right, but got pilloried for it by many pompous toffs who couldn't get their heads around the logic.

So, what's the logic? I find it easiest to explain this assuming that there is a long corridor full of doors. A thousand doors, say. You go in and pick one of the doors. What's the chance that there's a car behind that door?  That's right. 1 in a 1000. Now, Monty who knows which door the car is behind comes along and opens 998 of the remaining doors and shows you 998 goats. Do you switch to the door he didn't open or do you stick with your original 1 in a 1000 chance? Of course you switch! Monty's essentially telegraphed to you which door the car is behind because he carefully avoided that door.  Monty's choice was restricted -- you now have a 999 in 1000 choice of getting the car! You are paying off to the remote possibility that you happened to pick the right door on the first try.  Reduce the 1000 to 3, and the logic is the same. You had a 1/3 choice of picking the right door, but after Monty opens the door with a goat, your odds go up to 2/3 if you switch.

In bridge terms, you apply this principle when the QJ of a suit are missing and you hold:



in your two hands.  When you plop down the Ace, your left-hand opponent (LHO) drops the Queen.  Should you finesse the 10 on the way back, or should you hope that LHO has the Queen-Jack tight? The principle of restricted choice says that LHO's choice was restricted, and so your percentage play is to finesse.

With that primer, onto Ian McEwan's inspired vignette.  Here's the setup.  A jealous husband follows his wife and her lover to a hotel where he sees them vanish around the corridor.  He wants to catch them in flagrante, so he waits a little bit and then prepares to break down the door.  But there are three rooms: 401, 402 and 403.  Behind one of them is his cheating wife, but the odds of picking the right one are only 1 in 3.  He waits to see if he can hear any sounds, but he can hear nothing from any of the rooms.  As he is debating which door to choose, he sees two housekeepers approaching.  "Let's work on one of the two empty rooms," one maid tells another.  Thinking quickly, the husband positions himself in front of 401.  Now, the maid's choice is restricted -- seeing the guest blocking her way into 401, she will choose to work on either 402 or 403, whichever is empty.  She opens the door to 403, and our hero knowing that his odds have increased to 2 in 3 now, breaks down the door to 402.  His mathematical savvy is rewarded by the dubious prize of catching his wife in bed with another man.

A remarkably savvy mathematical vignette in a book of fiction aimed at the masses!  Atonement, here I come!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are transfers on?

Playing with an occasional partner in a strong club game, I ran into questions of what standard 2/1 is.

Opposite an overcall of 1NT, we play "systems on",  so that:

1C - 1NT - P - 2H

the 2H is a transfer to spades.

But how about this situation:


North deals and opens 3C.  Partner (East) bids 3NT.  Now, as West, I had a problem.  Are transfers on, or off in this situation?  This is the bidding:

3C - 3NT - P - 4H

Is this a sign-off in hearts, or a transfer to spades?

I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and passed.  Partner played 3NT beautifully, squeezing South in diamonds and spades to pick up 10 tricks. But there are 11 tricks in hearts, and so it was not a great board.

Once you are playing "systems on" after NT overcalls, Stayman and transfers should be on over a 2NT or 3NT overcall as well.  On this hand, though, I have an even better bid available -- I could have bid 4C to cater to partner having four spades.  Since clubs is North's preempt suit, this would be unmistakably Stayman.  I simply was not thinking.

Flyer for 2/1 class

My flyers for EasyBridge and for a newcomer's game were apparently quite popular.  So, even though we no longer live in Oklahoma, I got pinged to create a flyer for an upcoming 2/1 class in OKC.

This is what I made:

Here is the Word document incase you want to modify it for your purposes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vulnerable in Hearts

"A book about bridge that is not really about bridge at all," is how Sandy Balfour describes his book "Vulnerable in Hearts".  It's about his dad in South Africa who taught him to play in "the golden age of apartheid", and about his son who was born knowing how to play bridge.

"Everyone loves bridge," his father says at one point, "they just don't know it yet.".

This lovely, lyrical book is about a complex game, a complex man, and a family that makes it through the decades with love and understanding.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A double fit

Playing in a club game, I pick up a good 5-5 hand (hands rotated to make me South):

Dealer: S
Vul: NS
♠ xxx
♥ xxx
♦ AQ9
♣ Qxxx

♠ AK10xx
♥ AK
♦ 10xxxx
♣ 6

 1S           2S
2NT*        3D*

lead of Q♥
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

Partner responds 2S to my opening 1S, showing 6-10 points and 3-4 spades.  My 2NT asks him which suit he'd accept a game try in, and learn that he'd be happy to accept a game try in diamonds.  I bid the spade game, and get the lead of the Queen of hearts.

What are your initial thoughts?

I felt that we were in a good spot, but it does not look like a spot that many people in this club game are going to be in.  I had to make the contract.

I won the heart lead and laid down the Ace of spades. East showed out.  Now what?

Obviously, I need to use the diamond entries to take spade finesses, but also retain trump control.  How though?  What's better? A diamond to the Queen, to the 9 or running the 10?

Running the 10 seems best because the two diamond honors are likely to be split.  Leading to the 9 seems to have the advantage of creating two entries.  But if I lose to a singleton honor with East, he'll find a club switch and get a diamond ruff.  If diamonds are 3-2, I may not have the luxury of 2 entries anyway. What's the right way to play this combination?

I played a diamond to the Queen, which lost to the King.  Two rounds of clubs.  Now, a second diamond to the 9, which lost to the Jack.  With only entry to dummy, I had to also lose a spade.

East turned out to have KJ tight.  Should I have gotten this right?