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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Minor errors

At match-points, you have to be extra careful when the opponents have gone out on a limb.  Small mistakes on those hands can you cost dearly, turning a top into a bottom.

Hand 1:  
I was West and held  ♠62 8732 T4 ♣AJT76  and passed.   North opened 1S, partner doubled, and South bid 3S (preemptive).  I may have 4 hearts, but definitely do not have enough to bid at the 4 level and so I passed.  Partner now leads the Ace of hearts (A from AK) and dummy comes down with ♠T754 Q5 Q7632 ♣98.  What heart do you play on this trick?

It pays to be clear on what your defensive agreements are.   Ours are that we signal upside-down attitude on trick 1 (so the 2 would encourage and 8 would discourage) unless a switch is clearly warranted in which case we signal suit preference.  I didn't want partner blowing a trick in diamonds by switching, so I encouraged a heart continuation with the 2.  Unfortunately, this was the hand:


and on the third heart, declarer pitched a club and made 3S.  Since everyone else was in 2S making 2, 3S down 1 would have been a top.  3S making was a well-deserved bottom.  I should have discouraged hearts and left it to partner to figure out what suit he needed to switch to.

Hand 2:  
I was West and held ♠AK73 A943 J6 ♣943.  North opened 1C and South bid 2H described as 5 spades and 4 or 5 hearts. I passed of course and North bid 2S which was passed out.  Partner led the 9 of spades and dummy came down with  ♠JT862 K752 K3 ♣72.  Plan the defense.

This is an unfamiliar auction, but it pays to apply some bridge logic.  First: how much does partner have? The opponents passed out 2S, so it is highly likely that they have only 18-22 points.  Partner must have 6-10 points.   Second: how are the hearts distributed?  From partner's lead, he probably has a doubleton in spades, leaving declarer with only 2 spades himself. This means that he has 2 or fewer hearts (with 3, he would have left it at 2H for the possible 8-card fit).  So, declarer's points are in the minors.  The defense is now clear.  Play the two top spades, lead a heart.  You will come to 2 spades and 3 hearts in your hand, and partner's minor suit winners will be the setting tricks.

This was the full hand:

I failed to analyze the auction at the table and led a top club back.  At this point, partner could have done the same analysis and led the Q of hearts to pin the Jack, but he didn't sniff out the distribution either (it's much easier from my side, so I should have been leading the defense on this hand). The upshot was that instead of going down 2-3 tricks, they made 2S.  Another top converted to a bottom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teaching Bridge to Tech Savvy People

The technology company that I now work at has occasional "game nights", and at the most recent one, I taught a few of my colleagues how to play bridge. Because it is a tech-savvy audience, I decided that I would teach them to play online, and forgo a detailed explanation of the rules.

Naturally, I put together a slide deck (here), and the size of the slide deck was the subject of some ribbing. What kind of game needs a 60-page slide deck?  (In my defense: the 60-slide deck was for three sessions; we just did session 1 or 20 slides on the first day.) People took photographs of me going through the slide deck to send out on internal chat.

We bridge players feel BBO is the best thing since sliced bread, but that is because we value it for what we can do on the site.  Yesterday, I saw Meckwell play and last week, I played with a college classmate who lives in India.  So it was funny to see my colleagues' reactions to the site.

The first comments came regarding the password. "I can't use the password that my password generator creates. Why on earth won't it accept special characters?" Then, once they were on, "man, this site must have been designed 10 years ago." "Do they really still use Flash?"  "Someone wrote this 10 years ago and they're making hand over fist now."

The lessons themselves went well, and they were up and playing bridge in about 20 minutes.

They played approximately 15 boards, and no one made a single contract.  The winning pair was jubilant nevertheless.

Monday, November 3, 2014

No justice in the Swiss

On Sunday, I played in my first tournament since moving to Seattle.  It was a sectional, but it was as big as the OKC regional -- there were 52 tables in the Sunday Swiss!  We played in the AX session -- better to get schooled by good teams than to bulldoze bad ones.

We started off surprisingly well, pulling off convincing wins against two teams each of whose players had more masterpoints than the four of us combined.  The third match, I had my one major mistake of the evening -- I was South on this hand when West doubled my 3C bid:

 Q: How should I play the spades? How many spades can I safely ruff in dummy?

Answer: I can safely cash both the two top honors and ruff both low ones.  East must have 6 diamonds and 5 spades for his bids, and so West must have 3 spades inspite of her failure to raise, and even if East's division is 7-6, dummy's 10 of clubs allows for 3 ruffs.  At the table, I failed to draw the inference, went down one and proceeded to lose the match by 4 imps.  Had I got it right, we would have won that match too.

We blitzed match 5, but lost match 6 convincingly (i.e., by losing imps on pretty much every board).  In match 7, our opponents were bidding extremely chancy games and slams.  Unfortunately, one of their 25% slams happened to make.  Then, they are in another chancy 4H game. Here's what you (East) see after partner leads a low spade:

You win the Ace, of course.  What do you do next?

You know the club finesse is working, so how are you going to beat this chancy game? Note the inference available from the bidding -- because declarer has four diamonds, partner has 2 diamonds. I led a low diamond from my Q10xx.  Partner put up the King of diamonds.  Declarer proceeded to take a losing heart finesse.  Partner then led his diamond to me and got his ruff.  Down 1.  Here's the full hand (click Next to see the play):

At the other table, they were in 3H making 4.  Getting the defense right kept the overall loss to 4 imps, and that was enough for us to come in fourth overall (first in X).

Second in X?  The team we played last.  We ended up placing ahead of the team that beat us in the last round!  But then, we beat the teams that placed #2 and #3 in head-to-head matches too.  There is no justice in the Swiss.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A curious hand

We are playing at the table of the best pair in the room when partner deals and opens 2NT.  He is West and I am East:


North passes.  I transfer to hearts and then bid 3NT which partner corrects to 4H.  At this point, North comes to life and, taking advantage of the favorable vulnerability, bids 5D.   The bidding so far:
(1) 20-21
(2) transfer

What should would you do with the East hand?

I have more than the minimum, so I made a forcing pass.  Partner now doubles and it is decision time.  Do I have enough to pass and pull?   I decided that partner's double suggested that he had only 3 hearts and with the preempt, hearts were likely to break 4-1.  So, I settled for playing 5Dx.  Now, what should I lead?  This is my hand:


At the table, I decided that the auction called for a diamond lead and led the 6 of diamonds that declarer covered with the 8 of diamonds.  Now, declarer had two entries to dummy and he used that to lead towards his spades twice.  That, and the 2-2 fit in diamonds meant he went down only 3 whereas everyone was making 12 tricks in hearts our way for a bottom board.

But note the curious nature of the hand.  If I had led a heart or a club, we come to four tricks. If declarer has to play diamonds, he has only one entry to board.  5Dx down 4 would have been a top for us.

We'd have finished 4 places higher and they'd have fallen four spots lower had I found the club or heart lead.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Being Hideous

Still trying to find my way around the Seattle bridge scene, I find myself partnered in an intermediate-level club game with a good player.  We're having a good game, sprinkled with the odd misunderstanding when this hand comes up.

Partner opened 1S and I decided that at matchpoints, 3NT was where I wanted to be. A little Hideous Hog of me, I know, but with a 4333 hand with overwhelming strength begs to be played in 3NT and my diamond holding is better if it gets the opening lead ...

I couldn't bid 3NT immediately over 1S because that shows 13-15 points typically and partner with a better hand can't move forward.  So, I temporized with a 2C bid. Partner bid 2H and now I was really in a pickle.  Do I raise his 2H to 3H, or continue with my original plan of playing in 3NT?  It is probably better to now bid 3H, but at the table, I bid 3NT.

Partner now bid 4NT, quantitative.  I misunderstood and showed 2 aces.  Partner thought this was slam confirmation and 3 hearts, so he bid 6NT.

The opponents inquired closely about our bidding and I had to own up to my 5H as showing 2 aces, not 3 hearts and confirming slam.  So, dummy came down and everyone at the table knew that I was in a poor contract.

RHO took his Ace of diamonds and returned a passive diamond.  What's your line?

When you are in a poor contract, you visualize a layout that will let you make.  I have 12 tricks only if both the spade king and the club queen are onside.  What about the ten of spades, though?  It has to be doubleton or West has to have it.  When LHO turned out to have QTxx of spades and the club finesse through RHO also worked, I apologized to the opponents (click 'next' above to see my line of play).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Being evaluated

My first week in Seattle, I went to a bridge club that promised partners and ended up playing with someone who showed up without a partner.  The pickup partner was a very pleasant person, but not a great player. The game itself was also very uneven with lots of poor players. Norman Bridge Club, the club that could, has spoiled me, so I decided to look for another club.

Mercercrest was recommended on BridgeWinners and sure enough, when I asked whether I could play, I got a better response.  One of the rotating directors offered to play with me to see who I would best match with later.

Playing with an obviously better player, the first board of the evening has me opening 1C in 3rd seat with ♠543 J63 85 ♣AKQ85.   LHO bids 1H, partner bids 1S, RHO doubles and they end up in 3D.

Partner leads the Ace of spades. Dummy comes down with ♠QT8 QT KT932 ♣T62.  Seeing the queen in dummy, partner switches to the 3 of clubs.  Under your Queen of clubs, declarer drops the Jack.  What do you play next?

The Jack, I decided, could be a false card since declarer was protected by the 10 of clubs in dummy, so I attempted to cash one more club.  Disaster, as declarer proceeded to discard his spade on his good hearts.  The hand was:


Needless to say, trying to cash the Ace of clubs was a boneheaded move.  I simply needed to lead a spade to allow partner to cash her spade.  My Queen of clubs was clear, and so partner knows to lead back a club. Declarer's hearts are not going away if partner has a winner in that suit, but if declarer's hearts are solid, dummy's spades will vanish.

A few more such boards and I was thinking that things were not going well.  The partner I was going to be matched up with next time was probably going to be as poor a player I was being this evening. Towards the second half of the evening, though, I finally found my footing. This was the last board of the evening.

I was declarer on this deal:

I had the North hand.  What would you open?

Most of the field opened 1C and played in 3C or 4C, making 4.  I opened it 2C (4 losers) and played it in 5C.  I got a trump lead.  Plan the play.

Most of the field took the losing heart finesse or mismanaged entries and made only four on the layout.

I decided that the key was to discard diamonds on dummy's hearts.  And if hearts are 4-2, you need two dummy entries. So carefully save the 3 of clubs.  Take the first trick with the 9 of clubs and play two rounds of hearts ending up in dummy. Ruff a heart with the Ace of clubs, and be happy that the hearts do not break 3-3. Play a club (not the 3) to the Queen and ruff the fourth heart high. Finally, play the 3 of clubs to the 4, and discard a diamond on the fifth heart.  Finally, lead a spade to the king.  It loses, but you have your 11 tricks for a top.  The nice, flashy declarer play won't hurt your case.