Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bidding in competition

Everyone at the table is bidding and you have a decision to make after the opponents' 2S:

Partner's 2H shows 6-10 points and only three hearts.  What is your call?  How do you evaluate your hand? Do you have extras? Is it worth bidding at the 3-level red-against-white?

Here's the full hand:
It turns out that partner was also max (with a bit more shape or 1 more point, he'd have bid 2D, a limit raise in hearts). I passed and we got them down 2, but 100 was worth only 7% of match-points. Do you have any gadgets that help in these kinds of situations?

If you bid 3H, good defense should give you only 9 tricks or 140, for 55% of matchpoints. If you doubled 2S, partner would leave it in.  300 is a near top.  88% of matchpoints. If you can get to 3NT (I don't see how), you get 100% of match-points.

But really, my question here is:  how do you handle these competitive situations?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Double disaster

At the club yesterday, partner and I were headed for first place when we ran into a bottom on the very last hand of the day (we ended up with a 61% game and a tie for second) .

I was sitting south and that was the auction at our table. Partner opens 1D, East overcalls 1S, I bid 2H, West jacks up the auction with 3S, partner passes and it is decision time for me.

Since partner didn't raise my hearts, he has at most two of them. And it appears that he has at most 2 spades. So, he must have 9 cards in clubs and diamonds. Since he has only two hearts, I should be able to get two heart tricks (most likely split is 4-2) and if he has the Ace of diamonds, there is a diamond cross-ruff also possible. We have the majority of high-card points. And so I doubled.  The double was cooperative; partner could have pulled it. But he had two good defense, so he didn't.

This was a disaster on two levels:

  1. As you can see, 3S makes. I played the Ace of hearts and seeing the establishable club suit in dummy, I played the king of diamonds, small diamond and partner later got his ace of spades. 3Sx and made was a bottom board for us.
  2. Our opponents on this table didn't play Michaels. At other tables, the auction went 1D-2D showing 5-5 in the majors. Now, the distributional nature of the hand would be crystal clear and since NT doesn't promise a stopper in *both* their suits, I can now bid 2NT. If West passes, 2NT or 3D makes (in fact 3NT makes). But West usually bids 3S and gets to play it. A heart lead is natural and South doesn't know who has the missing heart.  If he plays another heart, the contract makes with an overtrick.  So, my double converted what would have been an average+ board for us (3S making) into a bottom.
Other than getting opponents who play Michaels, I don't see what I could have done differently.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Opponents may give you a chance to improve your bid

This hand, I played in 3S doubled down 1 for a bottom board.  The problem was the bidding. See it?

When I bid 1S, I'd prepared my second bid and decided that it was borderline between 2H and 3H.  So when west preempted diamonds, I decided to upgrade and bid 3H.  I was answering the wrong question. The 3D had opened up the opportunity to show 3 suits with a takeout double.  The opponents had given me a chance to improve my second bid, but I didn't take it.

Partner would have left the double in and decent defense would have 3D down at least 2. The full hand:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sometimes the inferior line gets an overtrick

At a club game, we got a bottom on this board (I'm sitting south). Neither partner nor I could figure out what I'd done wrong.  It was only when recreating the hand that I realized what had happened.

Opening lead is the 9 of hearts. How do you play?  (Click on South to hide every one else's cards. click "Next" to see how I played it).

Everyone else, when in dummy, must have immediately taken a spade finesse and made 4S+1 when the Queen of spades turned out to be with East.  On the other hand, I came to hand with the Ace of spades and finessed East for the spade queen. I believe that this is a better line because it leaves the diamond king protected. If clubs break 3-3, I can discard a diamond on the fourth club.

Everyone who played the inferior line made an over trick. Or am I missing something?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Too much science or too little?

This is either a question of too much science or too little, in the bidding.

Here's the hand and the actual auction:
I open 1C even though I have a bear of a rebid problem if partner responds 1S or 1H. I am not strong enough to jump or reverse, so I will have to bid 2C. And 2C seems awfully weak for a hand with such playing strength.

Nevertheless, I open 1C.  Lefty overcalls 1S and partner bids 2D.  This is, of course, music to my ears.

Probably best at this point is 4NT, RKC for diamonds.  But I decided that I'd wait to see where partner's 10+ points were.  So, I made the only other forcing bid available to me. I bid 2S.  First mistake: too much science. Just check for aces already.  Partner would have bid 5S (2 aces + queen of trumps). And we'll be in 6D. If partner has zero or one ace, he bids 5C or 5D and we are not too high.

Anyway, I bid 2S and partner trots out 2NT. From his point of view, my 2S is a search for 3NT.  He is telling me that he has spade stoppers.  From my point of view, this is the worst possible news. If partner has KQ of spades and a smattering of heart and diamond honors, 5D is the best we can do.  I duly bid the diamond game.  Second mistake: too little science.  I still had Gerber (4C) available to me.  I could have cheaply checked for aces by bidding 4C.

Anyway, 5D making 7 was a near-bottom.  All the new partnerships bid the slam.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whose is the most egregious bid?

Look at all four hands and the auction.  Who made the most egregiously bad bid?

I think it's a tough choice.  Everyone at the table (except my partner) is overbidding like crazy.  What was West's 3S? And why is East raising to 4H? And look at me -- bidding 5D with an aceless wonder and no two pictures in the same suit!  On the other hand, is partner underbidding? Should he have raised to 4S?

A diamond lead now should lead to one down.  But the opponents defended the only way I could make my inane bid. West led the Ace of hearts, then switched to his diamond.  This is an obvious singleton since East can see the deuce in his hand. Yet, when he was in with the ace of trumps (I'd run my jack), he led back a heart and I quickly pulled trumps, and dropped my losers on the long diamonds. 5S making was naturally a top board.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do you sacrifice at the 5-level holding two aces?

Holding this hand, what do you do at this point?
Holding two aces, do you sacrifice at the 5-level?

If it helps (and this is a blog about mishaps after all), at the table I reasoned that I had reasonable defense against 5H (if partner has 4 spades and 6 points) passed. The full hand was:

5H was lay-down although a couple of declarers managed to go down by tackling clubs before pulling trumps.

Score for reasonable actions:
  1. Pass and 5H makes = lose 5 imps
  2. Double and 5H makes = lose 8 imps
  3. Bid 5S and make it = gain 10 imps
  4. Bid 5S and get diamonds wrong = gain 3 imps
It is still a bidder's game.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Grand slam when a misplay doesn't cost

Sometimes, misplays don't cost you.  Here's one (click on "lakshmanok" in the hand diagram to hide the other hands and click "next" to follow the action")

After a straight-forward 2/1 auction and checking for aces and kings, partner puts me in the grand  slam.

It seems to be a straight-forward guess for the queen of diamonds.

I play out the hearts and clubs and learn that East started with four hearts and two clubs. His lead of the 9 without the 8 seems to indicate that he has two spades, so he must have all five remaining diamonds.

I have misplayed the hand.  I should have ruffed my club loser before pulling hearts to cater to the 5-0 diamond distribution.  Resigned, I play my King of diamonds and to my shock, west plays the queen underneath!  The grand slam contract was cold all along.  Of course, if East had four spades, I would played him for the diamond queen (3-2 odds) and gone one down.

p.s. my first grand slam (as declarer) as far as I can remember ... most of my regular partners don't bid grand unless they can count 13 tricks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Invitational or competitive?

Yet another hand that shows why you need good partnership agreements ...

You hold a poor 4-count with both majors when partner doubles for takeout:
You bid 1H, but west competes to 3D over which partner bids 3H.

Is this invitational or merely competitive?

You pass and dummy hits with 19 points. Even if you had known that partner meant it as invitational, would you have accepted?
West leads the Ace of diamonds on which his partner discourages. He nevertheless continues the King. You ruff, and lead to the King of clubs.

What next? Can you make 4H if you had bid it? Try to plan out the play without getting all tangled up!

I think that if any two of the three suits break favorably (3-2 in spades, 3-2 in hearts, 3-3 in clubs), you can make the contract.  So, 4H is odds-on. My line is to take the heart finesse now (with the jack) and discard the third diamond on the queen of clubs. If the jack falls, I have a spade discard as well, so only one spade loser. If the jack doesn't fall, I play on spades and hope they split 3-2. The full hand:
Would your line have worked?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Know the scoring table

Another wild hand at the same club game (we are vulnerable against not):
West opens a weak 2H.  Partner doubles and I get ready to bid 3S when East bids 2S!  Discomfited, I double. That's the wrong call, of course. I should bid 3C now, getting my other suit in.  Anyway, partner now bids 5D.

East doubles.  Your call.  What do you do?

At the table, I passed.  Partner should be able to make 5D and I do have a good card for him. Partner did make his contract ... with two overtricks!  But 5DX with 2 overtricks is still less points than the minor suit slam.  So, it was only an average-plus board.

Partner doubled because he has at least two places to play (with a strong single-suiter, he would have just bid 4D or 5D).  As long as East was not psyching, his two places to play are the minors. 4NT might have been more descriptive than the initial double, but partner was probably concerned about losing all that bidding space. I should bid 6C now. A doubled game with overtricks is still not worth as much as a slam.  Just because they double you in a game contract doesn't mean you stop trying for slam.

The full hand (no I don't know what east was thinking with his bids either), but he did keep us out of slam:

Never put down a 7 card suit ...

... in dummy unless it's trump. On this deal, sitting South, I managed to pass three times with 7510 shape, with the predictable bad consequences. The first pass seems alright, with 5 spades: if partner bids spades at any point, I'm going to raise him to 4 in an instant. Also, RHO has already passed, so a 3 club preempt may just hit partner. The second pass is already very questionable (I was enjoying watching the opponents bidding out their misfit, but that shouldn't prevent me from making the obvious looking 2 club call). The final pass is the real culprit. It's clear partner is not going to enjoy this dummy, so time to correct to 3 clubs, the only reasonable contract. I had foggy thoughts about "not getting higher if the hand is a misfit", but here I have the club fit in my own hand already. Plus, passing violates the rule quoted above.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anything is better than conceding

You are in 3NT. Scoring is matchpoints.  East leads the King of diamonds and when you duck that, he continues with the queen of diamonds, west discarding a heart.

How do you continue?

I didn't see any squeeze, since East can save his diamond winner and West his heart winner. So, I claimed 11 tricks.  Next hand!

Not so fast. It turned out to be quite a bad board because declarers who played it out often got West to misdefend. East tried to keep his heart honor guarded and let go his diamond winner, setting up declarer's diamond 8.  Playing against a disparate field, anything is better than conceding.  Play it out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

You need agreements on how to evaluate hands

Playing online with a trustworthy partner, but one with whom I have few agreements other than that we are playing 2/1 udca, I pick up:
What do you open?

I opened 1NT and heard back 2NT.  In the absence of any agreements, this should be invitational (9-10 high-card points).  Would you accept?

On the plus side, I have four prime cards and a 5-card suit.  The five card suit has no texture though. But since partner likely doesn't have the missing ace, he's bidding on quacks and that might be the reason for his reluctance. I'd love quacks! He may even have a bad 11 points.  I think I have talked myself into raising.

I raise to 3NT.  Lefty leads the 6 of hearts (presumably 4th highest) and I see:
Looks like partner has stretched his holdings as well. He doesn't have quacks. Only jacks. What are my chances? I decide to duck a spade into west's hand and hope for a defensive error.  It doesn't work.  East gets in, leads a heart through my king and we are down 1.

Where was the problem? Firstly, opening 1S would have worked out better. Partner would have bid 2S and you need to now pass. However, 3NT is itself not such a bad bid. Give partner the Queen of spades or the Queen of diamonds instead of the jack of hearts and 3nt has a lot of play. The problem is in the lack of agreements and I'm not talking about bidding systems. You and partner also need to agree on how you evaluate your hands. If one side is counting length points and emphasizing Aces and Kings, the other side should discount unsupported jacks. Contrarily, if one side is counting jack-doubletons in NT games, the other side should also stick to Milton Work's high-card points.

The Too Late Now moment occurred even before we sat down to play.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't signal with the setting trick

Partner and I are playing upside-down count, attitude and discards (low=like).

Click on the south hand (this covers up the other hands) and play along with me by clicking "Next".  Can you spot the card I should not have played at the time that I play it?

It was the discard of the 3 diamond -- I wanted to tell partner that it was safe to lead a diamond, but that discard gave declarer his second diamond trick. I need to throw away a club. Declarer can still make if he finesses the spade 10 and carries out a second spade finesse. But as he played it, 3H should go one down.

My discard of the 3 diamond cost 5 imps. I had enough information to have gotten a count of the hand at that point. partner must have 6 clubs and 3 hearts. If he has three diamonds, it doesn't matter what I do, but if he has only two diamonds, then declarer has four and I should keep my 4-card suit intact.

Not only was my signaling card ill-advised, the signal information was also wrong.  Partner should not lead diamonds. If we fail to capture an honor with our two diamond honors, declarer gets two diamond tricks.

Don't signal with the setting trick especially if your signal is also wrong advice!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting a child started with bridge

This may be a mishap, but I have started to teach my 9-year old bidding (we play a variation of whist at home already, so he's familiar with card-play) and this is a simplified bridge bidding system for beginners that I came up with.  It is based on 5-card majors and weak 2s (unlike classic Goren)  but has no artificial bids other than 2C.  The idea is to get to a decent contract in a total of 3 bids.

Comments on the bidding system are welcome.

p.s. In case you are curious, the variation of whist that we play with 3 players is as follows:

  1. Deal out the cards in 4 stacks.
  2. Everyone calls out their point count.
  3. Whoever has the highest point count is declarer.
  4. The 4th stack (remember that we play with 3 players) is dummy.
  5. Declarer chooses a trump or no-trump.
  6. I specify the level of the contract.  If they have 20 points, they have to make 8 tricks in a trump contract or 7 tricks in a no-trump contract. And one more trick for every 3 points above it (so 26 points would be 10 tricks if there is a trump or 9 tricks if there is no trump).
  7. We lead and we play out the hand.  Declarer wins the hand if they make the level they "ought" to make. Defenders win if declarer doesn't.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Make general rules for unforeseen situations

Just when we thought we were nailing things down pretty nicely in the context of a 2/1 bidding system, we ran into a couple of disasters this evening.  On the one hand, it felt great to use a Lebensohl auction to reach a 4H contract that no one else in the room reached (we made it, and it contributed to our 57% game). And on the other, we felt rather stupid to have these kinds of snafus (we were half-a-board shy of coming in first, and these boards would have made the difference).

I'll omit who did what and simply present the bidding on two of our disasters.  Post what you think in the comments.  Our new agreement to deal with these situations is also posted in the comments.

First hand:
Is 2NT forcing? Game forcing? Can it be passed?  What would you do with the South hand?  Is that what your partner would also do?

Second hand:
Is the 4D forcing?  Game forcing? Can it be passed?  What would you do with the North hand? Is it what your partner would also do?

If you and your partner disagree, then it's time to have some general agreements in place to deal with unforeseen situations.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should you give partner what he wants?

After a 1S-4S auction, partner leads the 6 of hearts:
Now, what do you play next?

Obviously partner wanted a ruff.  I cashed the Ace of hearts and played a heart. It was too late now. Declarer ruffed with the jack of spades and partner over-ruffed. with the queen. Partner's king of spades got finessed and declarer dumped a club loser on the good king of hearts.

I should have thought harder. Partner has a singleton heart (with a doubleton, he'd have led the 10).  He also has 4-5 spades, so I had to be careful to not have him ruff with a natural trump trick. The winning play is for me to lead a club now. Alternately, I could have lead the 9 heart for partner to ruff low. Partner gets one more spade and declarer has no place to park his losing club.

This is the complete hand.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Count your tricks

You are in 3NT (scoring is match-points).  North over-called 2D in the second round but leads the 2 of spades.  South can not beat the 9 of spades that you play from dummy. How do you play?

I got mesmerized by dummy's heart suit, and ducked a heart when north went up with the 10 of hearts on the first round.  Hearts didn't break 3-3 and then I lost track of the hand. I can still make if I guess the clubs right. But there was a simpler line, obvious in retrospect if I'd inferred north's hand.  He has 4 spades (lead) and 5 diamonds (bid).  He has 10 points (Ace spades, A-Q diamonds). He probably has 2-2 in hearts and clubs and should not have any other honors.

Now, it is easy to count my tricks and keep south off lead.  I have three spade tricks, two hearts and three clubs.  The club suit (not the hearts) is the best place to get the  ninth trick.  I should lead a club to dummy and finesse on the way back.  Even if it happens to lose, the contract is now cold. The complete hand.  North had only 4 diamonds, but the line would have still worked.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Visualization and thinking ahead

We're playing in a Pairs game (matchpoints), I'm sitting South. Both sides are vulnerable. How do you like the NS bidding?

(1) First of all, 2NT is just awful. True, I don't have a bid that describes this well and obviously can't pass with 12 HCP facing a first seat opening bid. So I just thought this lie (about the spade stopper) is as good as any. I should have thought about the likely consequences. If we have a game on, partner is probably just going to raise me to 3NT, and then I have the spade lead to look forward to. Especially funny if partner puts down Kx in spades and 3NT from his side would have been cold.

The right bid is 2S. Partner would normally expect 4+ card diamond support, but we do play that a cuebid could also be a strong hand that doesn't know what else to bid. Are there any likely disasters coming after this bid? Not at all: On a bad day, partner might blast to 5D, expecting 4 diamonds in my hand, but even then I'm putting down solid values.

(2) After partner's 5D bid, what is the situation? EW clearly have their bidding shoes on, but even so you must give them credit for 9 spades, giving partner a void in spades. In other words, partner's shape is 0-5-6-2 at least. How can slam not be on opposite this and with three prime cards (A, AK) and decent diamond support. Pull the 6D card out of the box!

(3) One round previously, what was the situation after partner's surprising 4H bid? This bid would clearly be absurd on just 4 hearts. You have all the information at this point already - make it 6D!

(4) Now what does this say about partner's 5D bid? It's not giving me additional information, I already knew after his 4H that he's 5-6 in H/D (OK, I wasn't listening carefully, but partner should trust me anyway). More to the point, it takes away the option to double 4S, which, from N's point of view, may very well be our only plus score at this point (remember, N should place some of my points in spades, where they are wasted). North should pass here and can safely do so since this pass is clearly forcing.

Just some basic principles (think ahead, visualize, don't say it twice), but you do need to keep a clear head to get it right at the table.

By the way, the scores on this board for NS were 1460, 720, 710, 710, 640 (us), 640 (someone else played in 5D). This is easy to explain:

(1) It's not mandatory for E to overcall. An uncontested auction would start with 1D-1S. This is disappointing for N. Do you bid 2H anyway? I think this would be a really bad idea. We play a reverse shows 16+ HCP, so you're telling a big lie. Also, S seems to have wasted values in spades and the whole deal seems a misfit. Time to get real with 2D. I then have an easy 3NT call.

My 1S bid hopefully talks the opponents out of a spade lead, so 3NT makes 7 if you find the Q of hearts, and that's good for +720.

(2) In the above auction, it sure doesn't feel good in N's seat to pull the second card out of the bidding box and his 5 card major is still a well kept secret. I guess some experts will tell you that for such reasons, you should open 1H instead (I don't like it, there is potential for a slam, and you want to describe your hand accurately). I think I'd call my hand a 3 card limit raise then, which we bid by starting with a forcing 1NT and jumping to 3H then: 1H-1NT-2D-3H. I think it's not terrible to call it quits with the N hand after trying 3S-4C-4D-4H (club losers a major concern if partner has only 3 trumps). 4H makes 7 or +710.

Finally, let's say you do bid your way to 6H and make 7: that's +1460.

One more thing: note how EW's interference actually makes it easier for us to reach the slam.

(Sorry for the long post.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Use the auction to find the killer lead

Playing online and sitting south, I needed find a lead against 3NT.  The 2S is alerted as a long, strong suit. What would you lead?

I chose to lead the 4th highest club and it was too late now. 3NT could no longer be beaten.  The full hand is:

If you found the King of clubs, congratulations. It removes dummy's entry to the spades. King diamond would also work, although if declarer ducks, you have to now switch to the king of clubs. In the comments, can you explain the reasoning by which you arrived at the killer lead?

Friday, November 4, 2011

To bid or not to bid ...

Sitting west, you deal and pass.  Leftie bids 1S, partner doubles (takeout) and rightie raises to 2S.

What do you do?

On the plus side, you have no wasted spades, you have a double fit and a singleton.

On the minus side, you have 5 high-card points and are vulnerable.

What would you do?

I passed.  We held them to 2S+1, for 51%.  4H makes, for 96%. 3H+1 would be 88%. 3D= would be 79%. Even if you go down 1, you would get 68%. Here's the complete hand.  It's a bidder's game, especially when you are playing with a deck that has only 3 suits. I should have ventured a bid.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Consider opponent's problems

Second hand, I open 1H and left-hand opponent overcalls 2S.  That should be a weak 6-card suit and I find myself in 3NT.  I get the lead of a small spade. Dummy comes down and I see that partner has the Queen of Spades as well, but no entries.  How would you play?

Me, I played it badly: I reasoned that I probably had only one entry to dummy. So, I cashed my King of spades, took my five hearts and then broached diamonds. Of course, I had only 7 tricks and after giving me the queen of spades, they took the rest. There are two lines that win here:
  1. After cashing the king of spades, lead towards the king of clubs.  This wins if North has the Ace of clubs, as is likely. He must have some points somewhere.
  2. Don't cash the king of spades. Instead, start working on diamonds.  The opponents will lead spades for me. What else are they going to lead?
Obviously, the second line is best but it was hard to see at the table. I needed to stop thinking about getting to dummy to cash the Queen spade and realize that any other suit that the opponents lead will lead to my ninth trick in that suit.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Avoid a trump coup

Hi, this is Lak's partner. After an eventful auction, we are defending against 5Hx in the same team event. Lak leads the K of diamonds, declarer ruffs, plays the ace of clubs and concedes a spade, partner plays the 8. What now?

At the table, I thoughtlessly play small, sort of expecting N to return a trump, but I'm also quite happy for now with the diamond continuation. Too late now! Declarer ruffs, then ruffs two spades in dummy and pitches one on the K of clubs. I have to ruff the Q of clubs, declarer overruffs, plays the ace of trumps and throws N in with her last spade. To add insult to injury, that completes a trump coup as declarer has KJ of hearts left behind my QT - 5 hearts made. (Click "next" to follow the play.)

I need to overtake the spade at trick 3 and return a trump, the standard defense against a cross ruff. Declarer cannot avoid losing a total of three spade tricks - down 1.

When opponent plays second hand high ...

Playing a team-game, we bid to 4S on this hand (I am South):

and get the lead of a low heart. Follow my play by clicking "Next". See if you can spot my misplay before it is obvious.

The answer is in the comments.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Infer the distribution

You are South here. At a club game, partner judges well to bid to 3H over their 3D:

You get the lead of a King diamond and then opponent switches to a low heart. You play low from dummy and East inserts the Jack of hearts. Opponents are not experts -- they do not play Rusinow or anything. How do you play?  (The bidding shown is slightly wrong. It is East who bid 3D over 2H)

I read the diamond situation as Ace of diamonds to my right. I took the heart with the Ace and gave up on getting two diamond ruffs (so would have only one loser anyway). Instead, I finessed the 10 of hearts and played the King to pull the last trump.

I then played a club to my Ace and a low club. What should you play from dummy?
West has already shown up with 5 points (heart queen, diamond king) and probably has one spade honor to get to 8 points. She also must have no more than 3 spades since with 4, she'd probably have doubled (negative). That means West's distribution ought to be 2-3-4-4 or 3-3-4-3. If East has a guarded queen, I have no hope of making the contract,  and so I need to play the King for the drop.

It was still a top board for us because everyone else was in 3D making. Still, I should learn to infer a count of all four suits and high-card points. This sort of half-assed play will not do.

p.s. You can click on "Next" above to see how the play should have gone after the helpful lead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Capitalize on the lead

After a competitive auction, where you bid only when absolutely forced to, you nevertheless find yourself playing 3S.  The opponents bid diamonds and you get a Q-diamond lead.

What's your plan?

I was still steaming over being put in an untenable contract that I saw the lead, but it never registered. I pulled two rounds of trump and attacked clubs. Down 1.

The lead of the queen was a defensive error; I should have capitalized on it.  North is now marked with the king of diamonds. I should play a low diamond towards the Jack and discard a club on the Jack of diamonds.  Then, we lose only one spade, one heart, one diamond and one club (at the table, I guessed the club ace right, since north overcalled). 3S should be made after the lead.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't get forced

With both my regular partners out of town, I was partnered in a club game by the club director.  We had a good game (65%, for top position), but the reason it was great was that I was playing opposite a better player. He'd tell me when I misplayed a hand.  This was one of the two hands I misplayed:

I find myself in 3H and get the lead of a club queen. East cashed his Ace, led back a club. I led a diamond toward the king.  West took her Ace and led a club forcing me to ruff. Now, I led a spade toward the King.

What now?

I cashed the king of diamonds, discarding a spade thinking hazily about cashing side-suit winners before a cross-ruff. That was the wrong line for two reasons: (a) my trump spots are too low, so defenders will overruff and (b) the King of diamonds is needed to stop a forcing defense in diamonds.  I went down when East overruffed dummy and kept leading diamonds.  West finally got her 9 of hearts for down one.

What should I have done? I needed to take a spade finesse, giving up the spade queen.  Then, pull two rounds of trumps and either discard a spade on the good King of diamonds or ruff a spade high depending on when the defenders take their Ace.  In fact, it is better if I don't lead diamonds at all and immediately get to work on my spades.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retain your entry

Playing online with a pickup partner, I was subjected to the same defensive error ... twice! See if you can spot what that is. Obviously, I didn't say anything at the table and it appears that partner did not notice his misplay on his own.

You are East and you overcall 1S over 1C and the opponents bid 4H.  Your partner leads a low diamond:
Declarer leads a low club to his queen and then leads the Jack of Hearts to your Ace.  What now?

At the table, my partner (East) cashed a spade. I discouraged and he led back a diamond. It was too late now, of course.  I think it should be obvious that declarer has a singleton Queen of clubs that he's just unblocked. The clubs are threatening: it appears that declarer's spade losers may vanish on the clubs.  But ... your partner led a low diamond after you overcalled a spade. What kind of partner does not lead partner's suit? A partner with a singleton, that's who.  Keep your Ace of spades as a entry. Lead back a high diamond. Partner ruffs, leads a spade and you lead one more diamond for down 1.

A few hands later, this comes up.  You are North.  Your partner (me) opens 1 heart.  West makes a take out double. You bid 1S over that.  East bids 2C, you bid 2H, West raises to 3C and I double. This should be penalty and you pass.
I lead a low spade. In with the Ace of spades, what do you do now?

At the table, partner cashed his Ace of hearts. I discouraged and he switched to a spade, but it was too late now. They got out for down 1. Again, I think this should be obvious. Partner can not have three or more spades; he would have supported your spades (since your overcall over the negative double showed 5).  Partner can not have a doubleton because declarer helpfully played the two. So, partner must have a singleton spade.  Keep your Ace of hearts as an entry for a second ruff. Lead a high spade.

When partner's lead indicates that he wants a ruff, retain an entry to your hand.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Partner could make a mistake

Playing with a regular partner, I am defending against 2H.

Partner leads the 6 of spades to my Ace. I return a low spade. Declarer takes it with the Queen under which partner plays the 5 of spades.  Declarer then plays a low heart to my Ace.

In a unbid suit, the 6 of spades should normally be from an honor.  But the 6-5 is what partner would play if he had a doubleton spade.  So ... what do you play when you are in with the Ace of hearts?

Well, partner has no spade honor. That's obvious, thanks to declarer playing the Queen of spades (King of spades would have been a better play).  He must have a doubleton!  I played a third spade.  It was too late now.  Declarer took the trick, pulled trumps and finessed clubs twice, discarding two diamonds, and losing only one spade, one heart, one diamond and one club.  2H+1 was a near-bottom board for us.

I could have devoted the problem a little more thought.  Even if partner has doubleton spades, declarer has a 5-card spade suit, and his minor suit losers will go away on them.  I need to switch.  But it is more likely that partner lead top of nothing from 6-5-2 or plumb made a mistake (that's what happened on this hand).  A minor suit switch is called for.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Setting up partner's slow winner

En route to a 88% game in an online individual tournament, I pick up this hand and partner does well to not compete to 2S:
I start off with a lead of 8S.  Partner cashes her two top spades and leads back a small diamond to my Ace of diamonds. I cash the Queen of Spades.  Partner discards the 8 of diamonds.

What should you lead next?

Without thinking about it, I lead back a diamond and now, it was too late. Declarer was able to get out for down 1.

There is no diamond ruff to be had. If partner had had a doubleton, she would (should) have led the 8 of diamonds and discarded the 6 of diamonds under the Queen.  So, partner and declarer both have only diamond each. If declarer has 6 hearts and 2 clubs, there is nothing to be done. But if partner has a slow club winner, it is now or never.  Dummy's diamond winners are not cashing unless declarer can pull trumps.  So, I should lead a club now to set up partner's Queen of clubs.  When declarer takes the losing finesse, I should lead a second club.

On the actual layout, this also has the nice side-effect of taking out declarer's entries to the good diamonds while partner retains a trump.  Partner then gets one more trick with her queen of clubs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

To cover or not?

Playing in a team match online (as a sub), I land up in 3NT.  West leads the Jack of hearts.
Should I cover with the Queen or not?

Thinking hazily, I figured that West would lead Jack of Heart from one of two holdings:  Jack-high and KJ10. If he's leading from KJ10, I should cover and if he is leading from Jack-high, I should wait.  I thought it was 50-50.  I covered and it was too late, since East took his King heart and drove out my Ace.

My analysis at the table was wrong, of course. There are more ways for West to have Jack-high hearts than specifically KJ10. Moreover, the opponents have 7 hearts and they're likely to be split 5-2 or 4-3.  Holding up the queen could either freeze the suit (if east has the king and 5 hearts) or drop the king (if either player has king-doubleton).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Getting too greedy

If you find yourself in London on a hot summer Sunday, what do you do?

I've done all the touristy things in London already, so I went to the Acol Bridge Club.  First, I went to the website to make sure I wouldn't have to play Acol there, but it turns out that you can play anything. The system is named for the club, not the club for the system. Apparently the club used to be on Acol Road and the bidding system was created by fellows who played at that club.

Anyway, I showed up for their lunch duplicate and I got matched with a nice musician/paramedic. We had a decent game (51%), not bad for a walk-on partnership.

The hand above is the one that stands out for learning potential.  Sitting East, I bid 1NT and it got passed around to North to who bid and got to play 2S. I lead a sneaky 10S; declarer failed to cover and now I had 4 spade tricks, 1 diamond trick and 1 club if I lead the King of clubs now.  It should be down 1.

But ... if I can make declarer play clubs, he could go down 2. I pulled four rounds of trumps planning to lead a heart, so as to not be end-played, but my partner threw away diamonds on my trumps. Declarer happily took three diamond tricks, discarding his two club losers.

Instead of getting 18/25 matchpoints for getting them down 1, we got a dead bottom for letting them make the contract.  This doesn't quite meet the theme of this blog, because it was not one moment of careless play, but I should have taken the sure line to get them down 1. I needed to be less greedy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Promising too much

Playing online with a regular partner, I pick up the following hand:

Partner opens 1C and RHO overcalls a heart.  What do you do?

I bid 1NT and it's too late now, because 1NT has promised a stronger hand than what I have. LHO bids 2H and partner competes to 2NT, going down 1.  Although 2NT can make double dummy, it requires placing both king spade and king diamond with north.

I should pass 1H.  2H should be down 1 (club lead, heart back. Then we get two two spades, a heart, a diamond and two clubs). If 1H gets passed to partner, he can bid 1S and I can venture 1NT or 2C at that point.

Friday, September 23, 2011

When a partner makes an unusual bid ...

One of Karen Walker's bridge themes is to advise "Think about partner's potential problems". In other words, what do partner's bids mean? Especially when faced with an unusual bid, pause a moment to think about what could have prompted partner to bid that way. Playing online, we made bad decisions on two deals that illustrate her point.

Partner bids spades, and when you raise to 2S, he bids 3NT. What do you do?
Don't just bid 4S because you have four spades. Your earlier 2S bid already showed that you had four spades. The normal thing for partner to do would be to bid 4S. He didn't, so what is he saying? He's saying that he has a balanced hand and his points are all outside of spades i.e. he feels that 3NT is the place to play unless you have a distributional hand.  Do you have a distributional hand? A 5-4-2-2 hand would be distributional, but a 4-4-3-2 hand is practically balanced. And even in your doubleton suit, you have a Jack. Pass the 3NT.  4S goes down 1.  3NT makes.

A few hands later, you bid 1S, partner bids 2C (you play 2/1, so this is forcing to game). You bid 2NT and partner raises to 5C. What do you bid?
Again, what is partner saying? He is saying that he wants to play clubs. What clubs have you promised him? Probably two, maybe even 1. So, he probably has a self-sufficient 7-card or longer suit. He must have outside entries (since he bid 2C). So why did he make this 5C bid? In this auction, if he bids 3C, you would just bid 3NT with a diamond king (and maybe pass without a diamond stopper). Either he doesn't want to play 3NT or he doesn't want to stop short of game. The bidding problem for partner is that he has clubs and no diamond controls. 4C would be Gerber and he can't do that with doubleton diamonds. If you stop to think about it, your action should be obvious.

Your two aces are golden. One is in partner's suit and the other will win the first trick. Bid 6C.  On this hand, 7C and 6NT easily make.  In clubs, you can establish the spades and throw your diamond loser on the good spade. Dummy's clubs give you two entries even if they lead a diamond on the get go.  7NT also makes because East gets squeezed between hearts and diamonds, but I don't know if I will be alert enough to follow East's diamond discards. to know that my 8 is good.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The wrong discard

Playing online with a regular partner in a matchpoints tourney, we defend 4H (click on "Next" to follow along):

Partner led a heart and declarer took two rounds of hearts, a diamond and two more hearts. I discard a club (easy) on the third heart. On the fourth heart, what do you discard?

Diamond or spade?  Dummy has four cards in both.  I threw away a diamond and it was Too Late Now.  Dummy's fourth diamond was good and he could discard a loser on it.   4H+1 was a top board for them. Most of the field was in 4H making.

From the bidding (he didn't sit for 3NT),  partner has the Ace of spades. Declarer probably has 3 cards in each minor since with four, he would have bid 6-4-6.  I need to discard spades and protect the diamond Jack.

The end play that wasn't

Playing in an individual tournament online, I accepted my robot partner's game invitation and found myself in 4H.  Follow along with the deal by clicking on the "Next" button.

They take the first two tricks, the second one with a ruff. Then, East leads a diamond to my Ace under which West drops the King. I play the Ace of hearts and East's king drops. They have misdefended -- East ruffed the club with a natural trump trick. Can I capitalize on their mistake and make the hand now?

I pulled the remaining trump, ending up in my hand and took the spade finesse but it was Too Late Now. I still had a diamond loser.

I can maximize my chances better. If East started with KQ doubleton diamonds, I can play the 8 diamond and duck in dummy.  My losing spade goes away on the Jack diamond. And if this doesn't work, I still have the spade finesse available.  The point was that with the spade finesse, I still had a diamond loser. So, it doesn't cost to try for this extra chance (made likely by the drop of King diamond under Ace).

What's this blog about?

Two of my favorite columns in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin are Larry Cohen's "The Real Deal" and Mark Horton's "Misplay this hand with me". I like them because they are not fake constructions, but instead show the thought process of an expert player as they play real hands.

I'm an intermediate bridge player (about 90 MPs), so my mistakes are a lot more basic than theirs. As soon as my card hits the table or I click a button, I know that I made a mistake. I call these "It's too Late Now" moments -- I should have thought before I played or bid.

This blog is an effort to learn from my mistakes, to get into the habit of analyzing before playing. I hope that it will be useful to beginners and intermediate bridge players.