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.

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.