Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Good defenders can help you place the cards

All non-vulnerable, in a robot tournament, my partner (North) opens 2H and this gets passed out:

Do you agree with my pass?  The 2H at equal vulnerability ostensibly promises to go down 3. I can see that I cover 3 of partner's losers, so I should probably bid 4H.

East leads the 10 of diamonds. I cover and West plays the Ace of diamonds and returns a spade.  East cashes the AQ of spades and returns a diamond to the 9, queen and king.  At that point, I lead the Queen of hearts and East covers.  These are the cards that have gone so far:

Now what?  I lead the 8 of hearts.  West plays low.  Finesse or not?  Think about it before reading further.

East and West are good defenders, so it is worthwhile to consider their play to the hearts. With 3 hearts to the King, East would never cover. (well, perhaps if he had KTx, he would cover because it makes no difference).  Ergo, East started with 1 or 2 hearts. If East had King singleton, West will always get a trick. So, the only case to consider is that East started 2 hearts.

If that is the case, West now has 2 hearts and East now has one.  The odds are 2:1 that West has the 10 of hearts. Take the finesse.

At the table, I didn't bid 4H, and I didn't take 10 tricks. The full hand is here (click Next to see the play).

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Get partner in

Now that BBO runs free daily MP tournaments, I try to catch them when I can.  Time constraints man that I've pretty much stopped playing the bridgez/wbridge5 one.

Here's a hand from yesterday's:

I started off with the Queen of spades lead and declarer (East) immediately led a heart. I ducked and the robot guessed right to go up with the King of hearts.

Next, three low clubs to my singleton King.  Nice playing by the robot ... I continued spades and after the robot ruffed in hand, the four of hearts was led.

What should I play?

I desperately need to get partner in to lead diamonds through. I need to duck this trick.  If declarer has the queen of hearts, I can't lose my Ace-of-hearts trick, but if partner has it, then he can lead a diamond through.

Beating 3C by two tricks (instead of one) was the difference between 68% and 38%.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tactics gotta change

We played just team events in a local sectional.  Before the event, I asked my teammates:

Which event?  The open KO or the 0-2000 one?  i.e. do you want to play a few good teams and leave early or do you want to play a bunch of bad matches and possibly win?

Everyone voted emphatically to play in the open knockout.  The Seattle board has decided to play the open KO with no brackets, so we were playing very strong teams.   You know the old poker saying about looking around you, and if you don't know who the sucker is, it's you?  In this field, we could look at every team, and realize that we were the suckers.

The first round was a three-way with two of the strongest teams even in the extremely strong field; we ended up winning both those matches (one of them on a blitz, the other by a couple of imps) and that's when I thought we might have a chance.  At the end of two-days, this was the scoreboard:

We were team Sieg.  We were lucky of course, winning the semi-final match by just two imps and benefiting from the opponents in all our matches guessing wrong more often than not on high-level contracts.

Each of the pairs in the teams we beat in the knockout would normally own us in club games. But knockouts is different, and bidding our hands to the maximum (but below game) and keeping them guessing worked out well.  We also went about manufacturing swings from board 1 so that we (the weaker team) could prevail.  This won't always work, but it's the only chance.

After winning the two-day knockout event, partner and I returned for an open board-a-match (BAM) event and promptly proceeded to gift away the first dozen boards.

Scoring matters, and it is best to take a deep breath before an event and think about how aggressively to compete and when to double to protect one's plus score.  The tactics that work in a 24-board knockout or 12-table club game do not work well at BAM.  We knew this, of course, but this was our first BAM, and we were playing as if it were matchpoints.

BAM, however, is different from matchpoints in one crucial way. A slightly-below par option will have plenty of company at matchpoints and end up with a 40% board, but it is disaster in a strong BAM field.  Time and again, we found ourselves too high and doubled on distributional part-score hands.  It took us some time to figure out the change in strategy -- of careful precise bidding, risky declarer play, and passive defense.  Our afternoon session showed improvement (55%) but the poor (46%) morning score could not be made up and we didn't scratch.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cunning with a bad Trump split

I flew into London today (Sunday) morning, and since I have whole-day meetings for the next few days, I knew that I needed to get over my jet lag by being out-and-about on Sunday.

The Acol Bridge Club puts out quite a nice lunch spread on Sundays -- the bridge is managed by former restauranteur Noorul Malik and partners are guaranteed.  Insisting on playing 2/1 in the land of Acol usually ensures a decent partner (how many bad bridge players will bother to learn a second bidding convention?)

I walked along the Thames from my hotel to Westminster and took the Jubilee Line to North London:

There were the usual questions one gets ...  Really, you play strong no-trumps? How long are you in London? Will you come back later this week? What is it with Donald Trump anyway?

I tried my best to answer the questions, trying tactfully to point out that the approval rating for Donald Trump is no crazier than the approval rating for "Brexit" -- the numbers are very similar and the type of person supporting Trump in the US is the same type of person who'd be supporting Brexit in the UK.

I don't know if it's a weakness of Acol, but our opponents were dying over themselves to rescue their partners whenever they held a singleton in their partner's suit (maybe it's bad memories of playing 4-1 fits?).  The rescues never ended well.  I'm surprised the practice was so widespread. Even my partner would occasionally forget that we were playing 2/1 and rescue me ... She was, however, good at reading spot cards so our defense was tight. We finished with 59%, good for fourth place.

As with the bridge bidding, there were subtle differences in the language between the USA and the UK. Slightly different connotations for the same words.  For example, after I brought home this 4H contract for 27/30 masterpoints, the opponents said that I had played the hand "cunningly."  Turns out that this was not a slur -- they were being very appreciative of my skill.

The hand itself would probably be an average board in a strong field (click Next to see the play), but few declarers could change course and handle the 4-1 trump split:

In fact, looking at the hand, now, after the King of diamond lead, I can make 5H!  Can you see how? Leave a comment if you figure it out.

The bridge game ended at 4, and with a couple of hours to kill, I wandered around the National Gallery.  A few of the paintings that caught my eye today:

The Grand Canal of Venice is often painted, but this is the first time I'm seeing it with a regatta. The colors add drama to the scene and in person, the boats shimmer with energy.

This is the standard pyramid shape of many portraits (including the Mona Lisa), but the hat adds a second geometric interest to the composition. Your eye is drawn to a diagonal formed by her right elbow and left shoulder. I'm surprised more painters don't do this.

The scene here is supposed to be of an angel coming to Joseph in a dream, pointing to Mary, and saying that she will bear a child while still a virgin.  In person, though, Joseph's slumber is quite comatose and the angel's arm is in the same position it would be if she had slapped him into that coma. Meanwhile, Mary looks on with a wry smile. Is the painter an atheist having fun?

Walking out of the gallery and back to the hotel, I got to capture the framing afforded by the half-open gate and the rainy evening sky of Big Ben:

And that is how I bridged over jet lag.  Tomorrow, I'll know if I've been successful.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Undiscussed bids in the slam zone

Playing with an occasional partner in a strong club game, we have already had a couple of misunderstandings. In spite of that, we are doing well (we'd finish with 54%).

As East, I picked up:

South dealt and passed and the bidding goes:
(1) 20-21
(2) transfer to hearts

What's your rebid holding my cards?

I decided to pattern out, and bid 4C.  Partner, unsure what this was (cue-bid self-agreeing hearts?) kept the bidding open with 4H and that's how we ended up in 6H for this result:

I should have kept it simple.  Knowing that we were going to slam anyway, I should have simply bid 5NT over 3H.  Partner could bid 6H with 3 of them, bid 6NT with his actual holding.  If partner decides to scramble to 6C or 6D, I can pass 6C or correct 6D to 6NT.

4C, undiscussed, was simply too risky.

p.s. Thanks to John Goold for putting his Bridge Blogging Tools on the cloud. The hand diagrams in this post were formatted using his tools.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sticking to a plan

Playing matchpoints, West has opened 1S over which partner (North) overcalled 2D.  They land up in 4S and partner leads the Ace of diamonds and I see:

Dealer: W
Vul: None


♠ AKxx
♥ xxxx
♦ x
♣ xxxx
♠ x
♥ Axxxx
♦ Jxxxx
♣ xx

 1S - 2D - 4S
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

With a singleton on the board and declarer having a singleton, I pretty much have to show suit preference.  So I played the Jack of diamonds to tell partner about my heart honor.

Partner duly switched to the ten of hearts and I won with the Ace.  Now what?

Partner needs a club through, I thought, and led a club.  This was horribly wrong.  Can you see why?

The answer is in the card that partner led -- he led the 10 of hearts.  That denies KQJ of hearts.  Declarer must have those 3 hearts.  So, the ten must be a singleton!  I needed to give partner a ruff.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rectifying the count

At matchpoints in a strong club game, I was West and playing in 3NT after an auction that went 1NT-3NT.  North led the 3 of spades (3rd and 5th leads at NT):

Questions (at the table, I got this wrong):

  1. Do you go up with Jack of spades, or duck?
  2. What's your line?
Who has the 5-card spade suit? Assuming that North had a choice of major leads if he had 3 cards in each, it is more likely that he has the 5-card suit, and that the 3 is his 5th highest card.

Given that North has the 5-card suit, he would have led the King from KQ10 (internal sequence). So, South has one of these three honors.

Who has the 10? The odds are 4-2 that North has any specific card. So, let's put the 10 of spades with North.  Now, do you go up with Jack of spades?

Interestingly, it doesn't matter because you are going to duck this trick and win the spade continuation. Otherwise, you have no safe way of rectifying the count.

Having thus rectified the count, can you win all the remaining tricks on a squeeze? I'll leave it as a puzzle for you -- you can try to play out the hand on BBO.  Post your answer as a comment.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sloppiness at IMPs

One of the nicest events in the Seattle bridge scene is the Yarington Round Robin.  It takes place over several months at peoples' houses.  Essentially, eight people get together in someone's home, and play 28 boards of bridge.  This year, there are 7 teams, so six matches to be played over six months.

It's heaps of fun, because we are essentially hanging out, eating dinner, drinking wine, and playing cards.  There are no masterpoints at stake, and winning any of the matches is unlikely -- we are the weakest team in the A-bracket, a bracket where a couple of teams have made it deep into the Reisinger and other national events.

Yesterday was my team's first match, and we lost 30 imps due to sloppiness on my part.

On this hand, South opened 1H, North bid 1S and partner (East) bid 2D.  N-S ended up in 3NT and I was on lead:

I lead the 4 of diamonds, of course.  Declarer inserted the Jack.  Partner ducked this.  Declarer then finessed the Jack of hearts, dropped the queen and cashed the Ace of hearts. Partner discarded the 7 of clubs (upside-down carding). Then, a heart to me on which partner discarded another club.

This is when I got sloppy.  I cashed a top club to let partner know to lead me back a spade and then lead a diamond. Partner won with the 10, cashed the Ace of diamonds and had no club to lead back to me!  I of course had the complete count of the hand -- partner must have 2 spades since they are playing 3NT and not 4S, and so he must have 3 clubs. He discarded two of those -- he had to be careful to not give away the position of the King of spades in case I had it.  So, cashing that club honor was poor form. Once I'd decided to cash it, not cashing the second club also was beyond the pale.

The second hand was a case of bad judgement.  I was West on this hand:

South opened 1C, I passed and North replied 1D (no, they are not playing Precision; North was simply being frisky). Partner bid 1S.  South doubled, North replied 2D over which partner bid 2S and South bid 3NT.  Sitting West, what do you lead?

I believed South, and believed that he had two stoppers in spades. I also believed that North had his 1D bid. So, with 7 points in my hand, partners spades didn't rate to be that solid (given the vulnerability, he'd have 7 or so points and 6 spades), I thought -- I put declarer with something like KJ9 of spades and partner with perhaps the J8 of clubs to go with his AQ of spades.  So, I led a club, and continued clubs when declarer immediately played the King of hearts.  Declarer then proceeded to drop my Jack of diamonds, and partner's solid spade suit vanished into thin air.

The third sloppy hand was a much simpler mistake.  When partner asked for keycards in hearts, I was West and replied 5D, showing zero.  The King of hearts is a keycard, and I had it.  We missed the slam, for another 10 imp loss:

Sloppiness on game-and-slam hands at IMPs is very costly.  In spite of these disasters, we somehow managed to hold on to win the match 79-76.  We'll take it!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Unblocking on defense

With many of the good players in Reno for the nationals, the field at a monthly Swiss club game was rather weak.  We lost imps on only two boards the entire night and since these were in separate matches, it didn't hurt our cakewalk.

See if you would get the defense right on this hand.  North deals and opens:

N    E    S     W
1D  P   1S     P
2H  P   2NT  P

I was sitting West, and held:

West (me)
♠ Q954
♥ AJ82
♦ AQ
♣ J75

Do you agree with  my bidding?  I debated doubling 1S (negative, showing hearts and clubs), but my flat hand was not very appealing and so I decided to sit out the auction.  After North reversed with 2H, I was glad I hadn't gotten involved.

So, now it's my lead.  What would you lead?  The choices (in my mind) were between a low heart and a club.  The problem with a heart is that it could blow a trick if their heart honors are split -- declarer can run it to the honor in his hand, and then finesse towards the honor in dummy.  So, I lead the five of clubs.

Dummy came down, and this what I saw:
Initially, I thought partner would have nothing, but it appears that they may have overbid this thing. Partner might have a king somewhere.

On the 5 of clubs, declarer played the 9 of clubs from dummy and partner contributed the 8 of clubs. Because neither attitude nor count is useful in clubs, I took that as suit preference.  So, when declarer led a diamond to the board, I hopped up with the Ace of diamonds and led a spade.  Declarer now took four club tricks, with both partner and me discarding an encouraging heart on the fourth club.

King of diamond, felling my queen and then a diamond to partner's Jack on which I discarded a low (encouraging) spade.  I was down to:

West (me)
♠ Q9
♥ AJ8

Partner now led the Jack of spades through declarer.  Declarer played the King.  What do you do?

I played the 9 of spades and was promptly endplayed when declarer exited to my queen after cashing a diamond (on which I threw the 8 of hearts).  He got his heart King to make 3NT.  I needed to unblock the Queen (the Jack should promise the 10 of spades) or discard it on the fourth diamond, and then I get partner to push a heart through.

Partner did well to lead the Jack of spades -- it would be required if I held the King and declarer the Queen in that suit.  Because I had the unblock available if I held the Queen instead (as here), the hearts could wait.

This was the full hand:

Dealer: N
Vul: EW
North (dummy)
♠ A
♥ T964
♦ K942
♣ AKQ9
West (me)
♠ Q954
♥ AJ82
♦ AQ
♣ J75
♠ JT87
♥ Q53
♦ JT5
♣ 864
♠ K632
♥ K7
♦ 8763
♣ T32

 N    E    S     W
1D  P   1S     P
2H  P   2NT  P
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The fewer the trumps ...

I was in Las Vegas on work, and decided to look up an old friend and catch an evening of bridge.  It was nice to see another Oklahoma exile and realize how far I'd come since the last time I'd played with him ...

We got to one poor 4-2 contract but, surprisingly, it turned out to be an average board because most others in our seats got to a poorer 5-1 one!  This was the hand:

Dealer: W
Vul: EW
♠ A53
♥ 9
♦ AK1093
♣ A965
♠ K2
♥ AK54
♦ J875
♣ JT3
♠ QT76
♥ J63
♦ 64
♣ KQ74
♠ J984
♥ QT872
♦ Q2
♣ 82

 1D - P - 1S - P
1NT - P - P - X
P - 2C - allpass
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

After West opened 1D, partner (North) had no good bid and passed. East bid 1S and West bid 1NT.  This runs around to me (South).  What would you do in this situation?

I decided to double for takeout, and partner played the 4-2 fit in clubs.  Surprisingly, this turned out better than other tables' 2H doubled.  Their vulnerability argues for me to pass 1NT.  At least, I now know enough to not bid 2H in this situation -- West is very likely to have 4 hearts in this auction.  Five years ago, I'd have bid 2H.  Progress!

Talking of progress, I was very happy that I was able to make 6H-doubled on this hand.  See if you can find the line:

Dealer: N
Vul: NS
♠ AK432
♥ KJ54
♦ T874
♠ 986
♥ T863
♦ K5
♣ AKJ6
♠ T75

♦ QJ62
♣ Q97542
♠ QJ
♥ AQ972
♦ A93
♣ T83

1S - P - 2H - P
4C - P - 4NT - P
5H - P - 6H - X
HTML Bridge Hand Layout Creator

Partner's 4C was a splinter.  With my poor holding in clubs, I got excited and propelled towards 6H, which West doubled.  She then laid down the Ace of clubs.

What's your line? This is what I did:

  • Ruff the club in dummy
  • Low spade to Queen
  • Ruff another club in dummy
  • Jack of hearts, learning of the 4-0 break
  • Low spade to Jack
  • Ace of diamonds
  • Ruff final club in dummy.  At this point, dummy has AKx of spades and three diamonds.  I have four hearts and two low diamonds.
  • Ace of spades, throw a diamond
  • King of spades, throw another diamond.  West ruffs, but that's it.
This depends on West having at least 3 spades.  Do you see a better line?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Forcing them

Playing in a sectional tournament, we had a horrible first session (47%) and a great second session (60%) to average out at an okay 54%.  Going back and looking at the near-zeroes in the first session, I notice that I got a couple of defenses wrong, and got suitably punished.

See if you would do better in the West seat.

Here is one board:

 Q J 10 4 7 2 K 9 3 Q 10 3 2
 A 8 6 5 A 10 5 3 J 7 2 7 6
 2 K J 9 8 6 4 Q 8 6 5 4 K
 K 9 7 3 Q A 10 A J 9 8 5 4

North is declaring 4S after partner (East) opened 2H and South doubled for takeout.  I furthered the preempt by bidding 3H and North bid 4S.

East leads the 8 of hearts and after taking the Ace of hearts, what do you do?

At the table, I led back a club and N-S wrapped up 11 tricks.  Holding 4 spades, I needed to be thinking about a forcing defense. I should lead back a heart (!) making South ruff once.  Then, when declarer is pulling trumps, I should duck twice, take the third spade and lead another heart, forcing North to ruff. At that point then, South will have give me another spade trick.

Most of the field was not in 4S, so holding them to 4S would still have been below average, but as it was, letting them make 5S was a bottom.

This was the second defensive board I didn't get right:

 Q 4 2 K 8 3 J 8 A Q 10 9 2
 9 8 10 9 4 10 9 2 K J 7 6 3
 K 10 5 3 A Q J 6 Q 6 5 8 4
 A J 7 6 7 5 2 A K 7 4 3 5
North opened 1C, partner doubled for takeout and N-S had a tortured auction to 2S (North bid 1C, East doubled, South bid 1S, North bid 2C, South bid 2D and North bid 2S, all-pass).

Sitting West, what do you lead?

At the table, I thought I needed to cut down on ruffs and led a spade.

This is bad for several reasons: one is that my clubs and partner's diamonds are in finessing positions, so declarer doesn't need ruffs.  Second, the auction implies a 4-3 fit, and so partner has 4 spades. I need to lead the 10 of hearts so we can take our tricks, and let declarer navigate the bad split with no throw-in suit.

Both of these hard to defend, but I had the clues in the auction to make the right lead at the table.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Genetic Diversity

My opponent on one of the hands I played at the club game on Tuesday emailed:

Great to play against you last night, including board 25 where you opened
1 NT on void, Ax, Axxxx, AKJxxx and wound up in 5D. It's so great that you
have children, because otherwise society would have to put you in some
sort of captive breeding program in order to preserve the genetic
diversity that you bring to the world.  There simply aren't that many
humans who would bid the hand that way!

This is the hand that got him so snarky:

Partner (N) passed as did East.  Having sorted the South hand as follows:
♠ AKJ   ♥ A2   ♦ A7632   ♣ 754
I opened the hand 1NT (15-17).   West overcalled 2S and partner passed.  East, with remarkable restraint, passed!   At this point, I looked down at my hand and realized that I actually held:
♠ -   ♥ A2   ♦ A7632   ♣ AKJ754
The rest of the bidding went:
North E South (me) W
P P 1NT 2S
P P 3C P
3H 3S 4D P
P 4S 5C P
5D P P P

Seems quite normal to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Support with support

Partner and I had a nice 57% game last night, good enough for second at the club and almost good enough to break the top-25 nationwide in the Common Game.  This was one of the hands that I wish I could take back.

I was West and passed. After North opened 1D, partner (East) overcalled 1S.  South doubled, showing hearts.  What's your bid?
Here are some options:

  1. 2S -- support with support.  A simple raise showing 3 spades and 4-10 points in competition.
  2. 2D -- cue-bid showing 3 spades and 9-11 points.
  3. 1NT -- showing 8-10 points, diamond and heart stoppers. Tends to be 2 spades
I fell from grace. Reasoning that my diamonds were likely to be worthless in a suit contract (they'd be ruffed by South), I decided to bid 1NT.  This was disastrous because North bid 2H over the 1NT, partner bid 3C reasoning that I must have minors and we ended up in 3S doubled and down 2.

For a nationwide bottom.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Playing in a 25c matchpoints tournament on BBO, I picked up:
What would you open?  17 points, two aces and the spade suit. I decided to upgrade this to a 18-count, and open it 1S planning to rebid 2NT. Partner surprised me by bidding Jacoby 2NT and we landed up in the no-chance slam:

My soft diamonds should have dissuaded me and partner's 3 Jacks should have dissuaded him.

Two hands later, I was third hand and held:

Partner opened 1S.  What would you do? I decided to mastermind a little, knowing that in robot tournaments I would hold the best hand. So, knowing that partner had opened a 11-count, I passed!  Unfortunately, this was the full deal:

I averted total disaster by making 5 when I took a diamond finesse and East decided to cash the Ace of clubs and led a second club.

I should have masterminded a little more. Knowing that 1NT is 100% forcing, I should have bid it and passed partner's response. If the robot opened a 11-point hand, it would have been shapely and even a 2C response would shown real clubs.

Looking at the other tables, though, it appears that North rebids 2S (not 3S as I initially thought) and the Souths find ways to raise to 4S on that motley collection! What did those people know that I didn't?