Sunday, September 27, 2020

Losing Trick Count & Slam Bidding

 Although, technically speaking, we don't use Losing Trick Count until we find a trump fit with partner, I find myself automatically making note of the number of losers in my hand as a secondary evaluation tool when gauging the strength of my hand.  Here are a couple of examples from a recent game.

I started off this instant IMP game with a bang--bidding good-scoring slams on the first two boards.

I definitely had a powerhouse on the first board.  Only 18 points, but 4 losers.  I deemed it worth a 2C opener.  Robot partner bid 2D, waiting, and I bid 2S.  Partner now bid 3S.  This bid shows some values--more strength than jumping directly to 4S.  

With an expert partner, I might begin a cuebidding sequence, but with the robots, I just jumped to 4NT, RKC.  Partner bid an unexpected 5NT, showing an even number of keycards plus a void.  I signed off in 6S and got a friendly and surprising lead of the SK!

Studying the hands, I wasn't impressed with pard's 5NT bid, but it looked like I was in good shape, nevertheless. I won the SK as East played the S9. I pitched two diamonds on the Ace and King of hearts and started a cross-ruff.  

I ended up taking all of the tricks for the score of plus 1010.  8 out of 15 pairs bid the slam and I won 6.1 IMPs.

Board 2

I barely had time to catch a breath before the next powerhouse came onto my screen!


This time I opened 1H and some serious competitive bidding ensued.  LHO bid 2D and Robot partner bid 2S.  (Wow!)  RHO made a nuisance bid of 4D bid and I paused to analyze my hand.

I expect partner to have at least 5 spades and at least 10 points.  With my 5-loser hand and diamond void, I figured that slam should be a good bet.  Without any clearcut way to obtain more information, I simply jumped to 6S. 

East led a diamond, and again I started a cross-ruff. I ruffed all the diamonds in my hand and was pleased to see trumps break 2-2 and clubs break 3-2.  

I ended up taking all 13 tricks for a score of 1460.  As only 3 pairs out of 15 bid the slam (and also made 1460) I got a great score of 11.43 IMPs.

This set me on the winning path of 48+ IMPs for the 12-board session with no minus scores!

Don't forget to use Losing Trick Count as a most effective hand evaluation tool!

See you at the table!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Fun Counting Endplay

Keep practicing counting out the hands.  The effort will bring great results!

Here is a fun one I had today. I was playing an instant IMP tournament and was lying fourth in the field.  I clearly needed a big finish and this was the last board.


 My hand was the right strength for a balancing 2NT and my robot partner raised me to 3NT.

The diamond lead was friendly, but there was still work to do. On the run of the diamonds I pitched a trick in each suit.  I then put LHO in with a spade.  A second spade was cashed and I ducked it.  A club shift came next.  I inserted the jack and RHO won and shifted back to a spade, LHO showing out. 

NOW I HAVE A COUNT ON THE HAND. LHO started with 6 hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 spades, and therefore, only 2 clubs.  Let's see how I can use this information. These are the cards remaining.


Now that I know what LHO holds, I can make my contract.  What should I do next?

First, I must play a club to eliminate LHO's exit card.  I played a club to the ace and now I know that LHO has all hearts left. With this information I can simply play a heart to the 9.  LHO will win, but will then have to lead into my heart tenace (heart AQ),

This is exactly what transpired and the score of plus 600 was worth 10+ IMPs. This was the big finish I was looking for, and it catapulted me to the top of the field for a win!

See you at the table!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Unusual Response to RKC

I had an interesting situation with the BBO robots recently when I bid RKC, Roman Keycard Blackwood.  Here is the hand.



After partner passed, RHO opened 1 and I made a takeout double. I was pleased and surprised to hear my robot partner jump to 3.  I wasted no time bidding RKC.  Partner responded 5, showing two keycards plus the Q.  

Now, as you can see, I actually held the Q.  What was going on?  I went ahead and bid 6♣, and then understood the bidding when the dummy came down.  With the great extra length in clubs, partner evaluated that it was equal to the possession of the Q.  This is an expert bid and I was pleased to see it utilized by the BBO robots.  

When partner bids RKC, Roman Keycard Blackwood, and you have extra length in the trump suit, so that you are relatively certain that the partnership holds at least 10 trumps, you can go ahead and show the queen of trump in your response. This information can be quite helpful for a partner contemplating bidding a slam, but concerned about losing a trick to the queen of trump.

The play was straightforward. The score of plus 920 was worth 94% of the matchpoints.


Here is another hand I played at matchpoints, where I had some difficult decisions to make. Although my robot partner was a passed hand, I thought I should try to get into the auction when RHO opened 2 and I held: K43, AQJ9, 5, A9865.  No good bid, but I tried a takeout double.  

Partner bid 2NT, Lebensohl, which requested a 3 bid from me. I figured that the robot would correct to 3, in all likelihood its suit, after my bid of 3♣, and that presented a dilemma. I would be happy to hear a heart bid, but a 3 bid would be disastrous.  With no good options I considered a pass. If partner had diamonds, 2NT could actually be the best spot.  Accordingly I passed.



I was quite pleased to see the Q in partner's hand. A spade was led and I took a heart finesse, hoping that if West won, a spade would be returned.  Instead a couple of diamonds were played and then a spade switch.  After all was said and done, the robots didn't manage to cash their diamond tricks and I actually took 9 tricks.

The score of  plus150 was worth 96.5% of the matchpoints.

As they say, "It's better to be lucky than good!"

See you at the table!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

More about BBO Robots

Jordan Chodorow, winner of the recent 3-day 2020 NABC Robot Individual, has created a YouTube video entitled "Win an ACBL Robot Daylong With Me".  He has some really good tips about playing with the robots.  Check it out.

http://youtu.be/HDO9pY1b6bc

While Jordan discusses playing matchpoints, I have been writing recently about playing IMPs, a totally different strategy.

Here is a recent hand where bidding and making a vulnerable game netted 9+ IMPs.  After my partner overcalled, and eyeing the vulnerability, I decided I needed to bid game.  Most players bid 2NT with my hand and played there.  Not a winning strategy, vulnerable at IMPs, where bidding and making game is richly rewarded.

I took four diamond tricks, three hearts and two clubs to make my contract. 

Next is a tricky play problem. As is often the case, paying attention to the bidding is key.

I got a heart lead from RHO, East, and, as I figured that LHO, West, (the non-preemptor) rated to hold the spade honors, played the 7 and let it ride.  It won, and I next played the 9, covered with the ♠Q and won with the ♠A, RHO following. I now know that LHO started with 4 spades and probably 3 diamonds.  Next I played on hearts and noted with interest when RHO showed out.  Now I have a count on the hand.

LHO, West, started with 4-5-3-1.  Let's see how to best use this info.

I decided to play my hearts and make a critical discard of a diamond from the North hand.  My plan was to go ahead and lose the two spades and 1 diamond.  I couldn't play on spades again without getting into trouble.  If LHO won the ♠K, he would play on diamonds and North would be forced to ruff.  This would leave West with the outstanding trump and I would go down.  A lot.

Instead, I pitched a diamond on a heart and started playing on clubs.  LHO could ruff in at any time, but when a diamond was returned, I would still be in control.

Plus 420 was worth 10.4 IMPs.  The contract of 4 (or 4) went down 14 out of 15 times.

See you at the table!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Robot Bridge on BBO


I found the BBO interview with the man who won the recent 2020 NABC Robot Individual quite interesting and have posted part of it below:

Jordan Chodorow is a bridge player, film critic, crossword champion, tax expert, lawyer,  and winner of the 2020 NABC Robot Individual tournament on BBO. Here’s how jcwla won the title – and some questions about where he finds time for all of it.
JC: I’ve entered all of them. To me, robot bridge is the purest, truest form of bridge. Don’t get me wrong; I love live bridge and other forms of bridge on BBO, but they contain a huge element of chance (whom you play which boards against, which system they’re using, how they choose to evaluate a hand, what mood they’re in…). And a club game? You’re a leaf in the wind.
AJC: Did you have a playing, preparation or practice routine for the Bot Individual?
JCAlmost every day, I play the five 12-board ACBL daylongs and the 18-board daylong. I won half a dozen of those in the week leading up to the NABC, so I was in good form. 
To that, I would only add that the top 40 finishers in this event hold a combined 38 NABC+ and 18 NABC titles, with many more among the remaining 3,202 players. That kind of competition is as serious as a heart attack.
After I read it, I contacted him and we had a brief correspondence regarding the topic of robot bridge. I told Jordan that I agreed with him and also enjoy playing with the robots.  I noted that I appreciate playing the relatively simple convention card used by the robots, and having the opportunity to use old-fashioned hand evaluation skills, such as Losing Trick Count, to get to the best contract. I also opined that I find it to be a luxury be able to take all the time I want to play a hand.  During the ordinary time limits and general chaos of a "live" bridge game, it's not unusual to miss the best play due to too-quick calculations and analyses.

I was also interested in his preparation routine for the tournament, and found it impressive.

That being said, here are a few hands from a "near-miss" win in a robot IMP game I played with 482 players.  As you can see, although I racked up 45.34 IMPs in 12 boards, I missed winning by less than 1/2 of an IMP!  As a confession, I had the win locked up, then got distracted by an incoming text, and pulled the wrong card on a hand I was playing.  This costly error lost a lot of IMPs, and I am chagrined to admit that one of the things I most emphasize with serious bridge students is:  STAY FOCUSED!


1. Although some slams were bid, this 3NT contract scored a hefty 9 IMPs.


I had a good auction with the robots and was able to get to the best contract of 3NT. I received a spade lead and got off to a good start by inserting the ♠10, won by the ♠A.  This gave me 2 spade tricks.

3 clubs, 3 diamonds, 1 heart and 2 spades led to a good score of plus 600. (An alternative line of play would be 4 clubs, 2 diamonds, 1 heart and 2 spades.)

About half of the field in my section got to the game, but only two pairs made it.


2. Another 9.8 IMPs beefed up the IMP total with this slam.


After I opened 1♠ and partner bid Drury, I looked at my 4-loser hand and wasted no time asking about keycards.  My hand was suitable for this inquiry and I was comfortable that my kings were protected from attack on the opening lead. The 5 response gave me the information I needed to bid the slam.

A club was led, and in the fullness of time, East made a fatal discard of a club which enabled me to score the slam rather easily.  Barring that, discarding a club on dummy's hearts, plus a winning guess in diamonds would bring it home.

Four pairs out of nine in my section bid the slam, and only two pairs made it for plus 1430.


3. And later, another slam.  Bidding and making slams is how you rack up big scores in these events!


I liked the bidding on this hand.  After North passed and I opened 1, North responded with 3, a "fit-jump", showing good heart support as well as diamonds.  As I had the K and another great 4-loser hand, I bid 4NT, asking for keycards.  The 5 response enabled me to bid the slam.

Again, I had a spade guess on the opening lead.  I finally decided that "no one" would underlead a king in this auction, so inserted the ♠10.  This eliminated my spade loser and the score of plus 980 topped the section and scored 7.6 IMPs.

Although 45 total IMPs and a virtual tie for the win was very good, I'll pay more attention next time to eliminate silly errors and try to get the outright win!

Let me hear from you. How do YOU like playing with the robots?

See you at the table!

Monday, July 20, 2020

New! "Bidding Secrets of the Experts" now available on Bridgebee!

My new advanced/intermediate lesson, "Bidding Secrets of the Experts" is now available on bridgebee.app.

It's a topic I have wanted to write about for a while.  Experts have many bids in their arsenal that are not taught in lessons, and are even difficult to find in books.  They are certainly outside the "four-corners" of the convention card.

It is not easy for intermediate, or even advanced students to learn these "secrets", but I was able to include many of them in this 10-lesson set.  Check it out!

https://bridgebee.app/sets/157/expert-bidding-secrets



See you at the table!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Squeezing out IMPs

I've been writing up a fun set of hands for BridgeBee entitled "Expert Bidding Secrets".  It will be available soon on their site.

Played an instant IMP game the other night and had this fun hand.


I opened 1 and got to declare 4♠  with a diamond lead. I drew trumps in two rounds and cleared diamonds ending on board.  How can I get 10 tricks?

I tried a low heart to the 9, trying to sneak through a trick.  East won the 10 and returned a heart which I won with the A.  I tried a club to the 10.  No luck.  East won the J and returned another heart to the J, K and I ruffed.

Now I think I have a count on the hand.  West started with 2 spades, 6 diamonds, probably no more than 3 hearts, and therefore 2 clubs.

Thinking about the cards that East has left, I think I see can see the light at the end of the tunnel. East should have Kxx and a heart left.  If I cash my two spades East will be squeezed!

Here is the ending:


I cash the A and East pitches a club.  On the 8 he pitches another club.  Now when I lead my 3 the ♣K is played, perforce, and I win the last two tricks with the A and Q.

(If East had discarded one club and a heart, then my last heart on the board would be good.)

Plus 620 was worth 10 IMPs, part of a 41 IMP total and an easy win.  Out of the 15 individuals in the game, only six bid game and only two made it.

It's why we play this game!

See you at the table!