Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Find a familiar counterpart

Playing in a strong club game, everyone vulnerable, I'm West on this deal:


North opens 2C which is alerted and explained as showing 8-12 points and long clubs.  This is passed by East and South. What do you do with the West hand?

At the table, I got flustered and thought I needed to balance in.  To compound the error, I balanced back in spades.  Although the 2C bid was unfamiliar, a 2D preempt in first seat vulnerable probably shows exactly the same range.  With my diamonds and clubs swapped, I would have happily passed 2D. I should have done the same thing against the 2C opener.

As you can see, 2C goes down a trick or two.  My inability to find a comparable familiar bid caused us to exchange a top for a bottom.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Forgotten agreements

Playing against an irregular partnership, I was East on this hand:

After 3 passes, South opened a 15-17 1NT. Since partner hadn't opened in 3rd seat, I felt that the opponets had a game, and so, I threw in a 2C overcall.  Against a strong NT, we play DONT, so that shows clubs and a higher suit. Partner, though, alerted and said that it promised the majors.

North now bid 2D, meant (and announced) as a transfer. South bid 2H, but when North went to 3NT, he hemmed and hawed. He'd forgotten what they played over interference and wasn't sure whether 2D was indeed a transfer. So, he decided to pass!

Now, to me. What do I lead? With all the unauthorized information (partner's misexplanation) and forgotten agreements, I decided to do the "normal" thing and lead fourth from my longest suit. Disaster, of course.  Leading a spade would have beat 3NT, but against the club lead, declarer had the first 11 tricks. The whole room was in 4H making 5 (the losing club goes away on a diamond). So that was a bottom.

To put it mildly, my "Disturb Opponents' No Trump" overcall didn't work out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When you've got them

Playing in a strong club game, we're facing a pair of opponents who finish high in national events.  I always seem to get bad results against this pair. I was West on this deal:


North deals and passes.  Partner opens 1C and South overcalls 1S.  What's my call sitting West?

I'm not strong enough to bid 2H over the 1S overcall, but I have hearts, so I double (this is negative).  North bids 2S.  Two passes and it's back to me.

Well, I do have six hearts, so I venture a 3H bid confident that my failure to bid 2H will keep us from going overboard.   South, after a lot of thought, decides to compete to 3S. This, then, is the bidding:

P - 1C - 1S - X
2S - P - P -   3H
P - P - 3S - allpass

Had this happened at the table, what would you think of the situation?  I didn't think 3H was making and it looked as if they were one too high.  Would I finally get a good board against this pair?

I led the 9 of clubs and declarer won and led back a club.   Partner cashed two clubs and led the Jack of hearts.  Declarer ducked.  What's my play?

Partner's plays have given me the count of his hand.  He has 3 spades (from the bidding), 2 hearts (from the switch) and 5 clubs (from his cash-out).  So, declarer is 5-3-2-3.

I can duck the heart after which declarer has to lose a heart, a spade, two clubs and a diamond for a one-trick set.  Unfortunately, I failed to count out his hand.  I went up with the Ace of hearts and compounded the mistake by leading a small diamond.  Declarer guessed right, ducking to his hand.  Letting 3S make was a bottom of course.

Going up with the Ace of hearts was not a critical mistake -- we could have still survived had I simply returned a heart, and the heart return is obvious if I had counted out declarer's hand.

When you've got them on the bidding, play tight on the defense.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book knowledge

Something that always astonishes non-bridge players is the number of bridge books out there. Seeing me reading bridge books has put off quite a few of my friends and family from learning bridge. I try to tell them that reading books is optional, and that it is just a game.

No serious player of the game really believes this, of course.  Reading books can really accelerate your game, and give you the benefit of decades of insights.

I had been waiting for a regional tournament in the Seattle area because I needed 3 gold points to make life master, and it's only at regionals that you can get those. As it turns out, the Lynwood regional comes pretty much at the turn of the fiscal year. It's a busy time at work with lots of travel, so there was just one two-session event that I could play in.

Three gold points needed, and two sessions to get them in. What's the best way to get those? My first choice was the A-X Swiss, but all our preferred teammates were paired up.  So, we decided to play the Open Pairs.  (Gold-rush pairs? Perish the thought!)

I was South on this deal:

East passed, and I opened 1NT (15-17).   What would you do with the North hand?  If you have read Kit Woolsey's Matchpoints, then you are going through a rapid checklist.  The North hand is balanced, there are lots of soft points in short suits, and you have more than a minimum -- all these factors argue for a simple raise to 3NT without going through a transfer. On the other hand, the heart spots are piss-poor.  In case of doubt, go with what the field would do ... so, partner bid 2D (transfer), and in response to my 2H, bid 3NT.

Now, back to the South hand.  The bidding has gone:  1NT-2D-2H-3NT.  What is your bid? My hand is quite balanced, and I have a stronger than usual hand (two aces, and the jack of hearts is in partner's suit, not to mention the ten of clubs).  Partner's sequence indicates a hand with 10+ points, and I can see cases where we make the same number of tricks in hearts and no-trump.  It's matchpoints, and so I passed.

This turned out to be winning decision as 3NT rolls home with 11 tricks, and was worth 94%.  This is a choice-of-games that Mr. Woolsey taught us to assess.

Here's another hand from the same session:

As South, I opened 1H.  What would you bid with the North hand?

Partner had read Better Slam Bidding with Bergen, and knew that an intermediate hand (12-14 points) with four trumps and a singleton called for a splinter bid just in case I had the perfect counterpart.  He bid 4D.

What do you do as South?  My hand is easy to dismiss because I have lousy hearts, but remember that partner has four of them.  He rates to have two of the missing three honors.  Put him with KQ of hearts.  He has nothing in diamonds (well, he could have the singleton king, but he won't have the queen).  Where are his remaining six points? He could have Ace of spades and Queen of clubs, and that 11-point hand makes the slam cold.

Jeff Rubens (quoting Culbertson) says in The Secrets of Winning Bridge that if you can visualize a minimum hand with partner making the slam cold, you have got to investigate. I bid 4NT to check to make sure we were not out two key cards (easy enough when you are bidding slam on 25 or so high-card points).  Partner bid 5S showing 2 key cards with the queen and I bid 6H.

West got off to a Jack-spade lead.  I went up and cross-ruffed my way to 12 tricks, setting up my 10 of diamonds along the way.  The slam was worth 86%. This is a slam that Mr. Bergen taught us to visualize.

Thanks to these boards and a few more like these, we ended up in the overalls and walked off with 3.68 gold points.  Not bad for two sessions' work! Four more points (any color), and I'll finally make life master.  Book knowledge got me here faster than I would have otherwise.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

2C Blues

Our 13-year old was one of the kids in the Bridge 4 Youth program put together by a bunch of Seattle bridge players. This was a week-long camp, and was followed on Saturday by a club game. Bridge-playing parents and grandparents were encouraged to play, and so we played as a partnership.

Playing with my 13-year old, I was South on this deal:
With only 4 losers, I opened the hand 2C.  West passed and my son bid 2D, waiting. I bid 2S and he replied 3C.  At camp, they had taught them a series of responses where the cheaper minor was a second negative, but I didn't know that. At this point, I should have simply bid 3S or 4S.  Instead, I tried to bid out my hand with 3H and got a 3-card raise.  The contract was hopeless since West happily started tapping me in diamonds.  All the other Souths counted their points, opened 1S and either played there or beat E-W in a diamond contract.

Fast forward two weeks, and I'm playing in the Open Pairs in the local sectional with an occasional partner.  The field is quite strong, and we are playing 2 boards per round. The opponents had just bid, and made, 6NT off us when I picked up this hand:

I opened my hand with 2C and got 2H from partner. I wasn't completely sure what I was playing with this partner, but I thought 2H was a bust hand, so I alerted it as that, and bid 2NT.  Now, partner bid 3H.  This is, of course, a transfer, but I wasn't completely sure what system of responses we were playing,  What if partner really had hearts and had forgotten?  I decided to give him a chance by bidding 4H.  Wrong move -- partner, it turns out, wasn't sure what 2NT was -- he mistakenly thought my 2NT showed hearts (actually, 2NT by him would have shown hearts, and my 2NT was natural).  So, he passed my 4H bid and essentially conceded 5 down when he couldn't arrange a diamond ruff  in his hand or cash the queen of spades.

2C hands are too rare to have different agreements with different partners.  2D negative or waiting, it is, from now on.

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.