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.