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.