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.

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.