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?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Is a hand with 2 high card points too strong?

The Seattle area had the "sweet-heart" sectional this weekend. My sweet heart agreed to cart the kids to their various activities, so I got to play in the A/X Swiss.

After a roaring start where we quickly dispatched three good teams, we ran into a buzz saw and lost rather badly to the teams that would ultimately place #1 and #2.  That put us in the middle of the pack after the fifth match.  We blitzed #6, and got ourselves back in contention.

To place, we needed to win match #7, and at our table was the best pair in the room.  They needed to blitz us in match #7 to win.  So, they had motivation.

Along comes this hand.  Partner deals and opens 2C (strong).  Righty overcalls 3C (natural). They are white and we are red.  This is my hand:

What do you bid? Options are to pass, which shows 4+ points or double, which is weak and shows 0-3 points.  What's your bid?

Obviously, I have only 2 high card points, but what is the 5th heart worth? How about the singleton spade?  I took a pessimistic view of the hand.  It appeared that partner would be long in spades, and so I decided to warn him off by doubling.

Partner, with 4-4 in the majors and two clubs passed.  They got 6 tricks, but down 3 doubled is worth only 500 points whereas 4H making 4 is 620.  That difference is worth 4 imps.

"Take the sure plus," my opponent advised me, "it's better in the long run."  He is a Grand Life Master and all, but it still didn't feel good (By the way, in what other game do you get to play significantly better players, and have them coach you during the match?).

I would have been better off treating the hand as non-minimum, just in case partner had something other than spade length -- doubling to show weakness would win if partner had long spades, and lose against every other hand that partner could have. In hindsight, passing to show a decent hand stands out.  Had I passed, partner would have doubled for takeout, and I can happily bid 3H or 4H (if I bid 3H, partner with AKJx of hearts and 25 points would have no problems raising me).

The rest of the boards were essentially pushes.  They bid their games. We bid our games. They bid a game, and we got it down 1.  At the other table, they got it down 2.  We passed out a hand. They bid too high and went down 1.  Net effect? One huge push.  We're still down 4 imps.

Then, on board 29 with both vulnerable, I was West and held:

Partner opens 1D and over my 1S, he bid 1NT. Options are to pass, to bid 2C which relays to 2D at which point you can bid whatever you want (non-forcing) or to bid 2S which shows six spades. What would you bid? 

I chose to bid 2S.  It's a bit of a masterminding bid, but my partner never bids 1nt with a singleton, and my lousy spades indicated that I would be better off in a trump suit.

Anyway, you are in 2S.  They lead a heart and dummy comes down with:
Lead: 5

How do you play it?

One option is to play on clubs like a man who needs to ruff a couple of them.  Maybe they will pull trumps for me. Unfortunately, that idea didn't strike me until now.  At the table, I was more boring. I won the heart and led a spade.  They won, and played another spade. At this piont, they cashed two clubs and let me ruff a third.

Now what?  Do you play for 4-2 trumps or 3-3 trumps?  Since neither opponent had balanced, I figured spades were likely to be 3-3, and I heaved a sigh of relief as the spades came crashing down on the third round.  I could ruff the club return and enjoy dummy's diamonds and hearts. 

I felt pretty good about the hand because 1NT is down 3 at least (5 clubs and 3 spades off the top).

The hand was good, but for a different reason -- at the other table,  East opened 1NT with his 2-4-5-2 hand, got transferred to spades and proceeded to play it for down 1 because he didn't have the balancing inference available to me.

Making 2S vs. going down 1 was worth 5 imps.

We won the match by one imp, and that was enough to get us to 3rd in A (first in X).

p.s. When I started to write this blog, my mishaps were gross ones -- failing to count trumps, cardng improperly, misdescribing shape, etc.  Now, the mishaps have to do with deciding whether a hand with a 9-high 5-card suit and two high card points is too good to show weakness.  Nice, eh?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Strong cardplay

At the expert level, pretty much everyone handles their cards well, and so, winning a high-level event comes down to bidding, judgment and luck.  At lower levels, however, better card players can win long matches by winning an imp on every board with better cardplay. Matchpoint games are similar -- the strong games are those where declarers are careful and the defense doesn't give up tricks.

I am far from being a careful declarer, but I was quite proud of myself on this hand from the game yesterday:

Dlr: North
Vul: E-W
I was West, and I was in 3NT after a 1NT-3NT auction that was probably replicated at every table. I got the lead of the 6 of hearts (4th best).  Plan the play.

I ducked the first heart and won the second in hand. I have two hearts, a spade and a club. If the club finesse works, I am up to 7 tricks. A diamond would be the 8th and maybe I'll get one more spade. This is going to be touch and go! Try it the other way. Suppose the club finesse loses.  I'll get a heart back, and I'm good as long as South has the Ace of diamonds. Or am I? If South has the Ace of diamonds, I still don't have 9 tricks -- I have two hearts, a diamond, 3 clubs and a spade = 7 tricks before North gets in with the King of spades and cashes 5 tricks. Ugh.  Well, in any case, I need to get to dummy to take a finesse.

I play a low diamond to the board and the King wins. Now what?

Take a club finesse with the Jack first. If it loses, the 10 of clubs is an entry.  North won her king and played back a heart. Now what?

Count my tricks again. I have 2 hearts, 3 clubs, 1 diamond. If the spade finesse wins, I have 3 more tricks. That is nine tricks in all. But I need to take two spade finesses. This is not the time to play clubs -- I need the club entry to take the second spade finesse.  So, I played a spade to the Jack. It held. I cashed the AQ of clubs, led a club to the 10, finessed a spade once more and cashed the Ace.  Making 9 tricks.  Whew!

This has got to be a good board, right?  I had carefully timed it, used every entry and taken the finesses in the right order.  Nope.  The board was barely above average.  We got 6.5 out of 12 matchpoints for making 3NT.

If North goes up with the Ace of diamonds when I led towards the KQ of diamonds, then, because diamonds break 3-3, I will make 10 tricks in No-Trump.  But North ducked.  If I take the spade finesse instead of the club finesse, I have no more entries to board. I suppose I can lead a diamond again, but it is risky because South is a fine card player too.  Holding AJ10, he will duck the first diamond.  And once North ducked that diamond, 3NT was all that I could make.

So, my good declarer play was canceled out by even better defensive play by the opponents.  And that is how it goes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sense the danger

In a strong club game, I was West and held  ♠AJ86 KQ QJ73 ♣Q93 and opened my hand 1NT (15-17).  North overcalled 2H, which got passed out.

Partner led the 4 of spades, and dummy came down with: ♠KQ95 8 982 ♣AK864
Declarer called for the Queen.  If you play the Ace, declarer plays the 7 of spades. Plan the defense.

Again, these are your hand and dummy's hand:


The contract is 2H.  The 4 of spades was led, the Queen from dummy, Ace from your hand and 7 of spades from declarer.  What do you do next?

At the table, I returned the Queen of diamonds.  It was several plays later that I discovered my error.  Much too late, of course.

If partner has the Ace of diamonds, there is still time to capture declarer's king. You have a sure trump entry after all.  No, the danger is the club suit.  Sure, you have the Queen of clubs, but you need to take out declarer's spade entry immediately. Win the Ace of spades, and immediately lead the Jack!

The full hand was:


p.s. On the actual layout, declarer can unblock his 10 of spades under the Jack, but if he does that, you have the counter play of playing a third spade and getting partner to ruff -- you are unlikely to find this at the table, though.  You're more likely to think that your partner started with the 432 of spades.  Still, returning the Queen of diamonds only makes it easy for declarer, and gives him time to set up his clubs.