Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bid 'em Up, Play 'em Well

Danielle and I had a top board in Monday's STaC game at the club en route to a nice 67.6% game on a hand that raises interesting bidding and play decisions.

I held:


Both sides were vulnerable. I dealt and opened 1 Diamond. LHO overcalled 1 Heart, Danielle bid 1 Spade, and RHO raised to 2 Hearts. What now?

Danielle showed a hand with at least 5 spades and 6 points. With the opponents both bidding hearts, this hand had increased in value significantly. It has controls in all suits and a potential source of tricks in diamonds. So I decided to force to game with a splinter bid of 4 hearts. She signed off in 4 spades.

Now let's move over to her side of the table. LHO leads the queen of clubs. She is looking at:



How would you play it?

From the bidding and the lead, LHO has the QJ of clubs and probably length in that suit. RHO made a vulnerable overcall, so probably has most of the rest of the opponents' high cards. You are in an aggressive game contract that not everyone will reach, so you should play this as if it was a team game: try to find the best line of play to win 10 tricks.

There are two possible plans: (a) draw trumps while establishing diamonds, or (b) cross-ruff. If you play to establish diamonds, you run the risk that dummy will be exhausted of trumps before you are in a position to run the diamonds, so the opponents will be able to cash several heart tricks. On the other hand, if you play for a cross-ruff there is a danger of overruffs and trump promotions by the defense.

Since LHO has probably club length and RHO has most of the remaining strength, the spade king and diamond queen are likely to be offside. This would seem to tip the balance towards playing for a cross-ruff. Your plan is to win 10 tricks with 2 high clubs, 2 high diamonds, 2 heart ruffs in dummy, the ace of spades, 2 club ruffs in your hand and the queen of spades.

Danielle went for this and played it nicely. She won the first club in her hand, and prepared for the cross-ruff by playing a club to the ace and a low heart. RHO had to win this trick, and had no good exit. He played a second round of clubs which Danielle took with the ace. (If the defense tries to stop the cross-ruff by switching to trumps, she can counter by ducking, winning the second trump and setting up diamonds while still keeping a trump in dummy.) She played a third club. RHO discarded a heart and she ruffed. Now she ruffed a heart in dummy and played a fourth round of clubs. RHO discarded another heart and she ruffed again. Now she ruffed her last heart in dummy, cashed the ace of spades and AK of diamonds, exited with another diamond and scored her spade queen at the end. Game bid and made!

Here is the entire hand:




While it would have been superior to cash the AK of diamonds before ruffing clubs (in case RHO has, say, 3=6=2=2 shape and pitches a diamond on the third round of clubs), I still like her cross-ruff approach. If she started by drawing trumps with ace and another spade, she would be defeated if either RHO had Kxx of spades (he would simply play a third spade, leaving her with 3 heart losers before diamonds are established) or RHO might be able to lead a heart over to LHO for a third spade play. Alternatively, if she started diamonds first, the defense could continue diamonds and get a diamond ruff to sink the contract. Her best chance other than the cross-ruff would have been to play a spade to the jack at trick 2. But even here the defense can prevail by winning and tapping dummy with 2 rounds of hearts. When declarer tries to set up diamonds, the defense can play a third round of hearts, forcing dummy to ruff with the ace, which promotes a second defensive trump trick.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Splendid Splinter

By Bob Klein

One of the best advances in modern bidding methods is the splinter bid. In most applications, this is a jump bid which shows a singleton or void along with strong support for the suit just bid by partner. Here is a great example of the power of the Splendid Splinter. (For those of you who are baseball fans, I'm sure you know that Ted Williams, one of the greatest players of all time, was known as the Splendid Splinter. I wonder if he was a bridge player!)

You are playing IMPs with your side vulnerable. As dealer, you pick up:


You open this nice 11-count with 1 heart. LHO throws in a bid of 2 spades. Partner now bids 4 diamonds, a splinter bid showing short diamonds, 4-card heart support with game-going values. RHO bids 4 spades. What now?

Partner's splinter bid has made this 11-count very powerful. Try to picture partner's hand. The opponents have bid a lot of spades, so he can't have many points there. He showed short diamonds, so he can't have much in points or length there either. Yet he showed a strong hand. So he must have good hearts along with a club suit that will be a source of tricks and/or a very long heart suit which will produce a nice cross-ruff. Given this information, your singleton spade and club holding suggest that slam is likely if the partnership has all the key cards or else all but one plus the queen of hearts. So you should bid 4 no-trump, roman key card blackwood (RKC) for hearts.

Now the bidding takes an unusual turn. LHO isn't content to let you alone and gums up the works by bidding 5 spades. Now, do you and your partner have the tools to cope with this nasty interference? If you don't, you should. The standard treatment here is DOPI/DEPO with DOPI at the 5-level and DEPO at the 6-level. DOPI is an acronym for Double = 0, Pass = 1. DEPO is an acronym for Double = even, Pass = odd. This really means that double takes the place of 5 clubs, pass takes the place of 5 diamonds, and bids above the interference take the place of 5 hearts and 5 spades. So if you are playing 0314 RKC, double is 0/3, pass is 1/4, the next step is 2 without the queen, and the second next step is 2 with the queen. If you are playing 1430 RKC, the meaning of double and pass are reversed.

A more modern treatment, which I prefer, is to apply DOPI only if the interference is below the 5-level in your trump suit, and DEPO if it is, as here, above it. The reason for this is you do not want to commit the hand to slam by making a response that turns out to show an insufficient number of keycards. DEPO always allows the partnership to defend by doubling instead of declaring. If responder doubles, asker can pass; if responder passes, asker can double. In the current example, suppose you were playing DOPI at the 5-level and DEPO at the 6-level. Responder, holding 2 keycards, must bid 5NT or 6 clubs (without or with the heart queen). If opener has only one key card, you will end up in slam off 2 key cards, which is almost always a disaster. So here the partnership should employ DEPO since the 5 spade interference is above 5 hearts.

In the current example, partner, using DEPO, doubles. Given his previous bid, he must have 2 key cards. Since he can't have much in the pointed suits, he is a heavy favorite to have either the heart queen or a 5-card or longer heart suit, so you should go on and bid 6 hearts. This is the winning action, as the complete hand is:

KQJTxx......................... xxxx


As expected, partner has a strong club suit that produces the necessary tricks for slam even though the partnership has only 23 high-card points!

Note the aggressive tactics by the opponents. When you have favorable vulnerability, it often pays to obstruct as much as possible. In particular, a 5 spade call by RHO could make life miserable for her opponents if they didn't have well-tuned agreements on how to cope with this interference.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Right-siding the Notrump

Good bridge players are ever mindful of "right-siding" the notrump. It is important to make sure that the proper hand plays the notrump contract.

Here is an example from a recent team game. I held this hand and heard my LHO open 1D, my partner overcall 2C and my RHO bid 2S:


What do I bid? I could cue bid spades asking pard to bid notrump with a spade stopper. I could raise clubs, or I could bid 2 or 3 notrump.

The key is my diamond stopper (Kxx). I have to be the declarer so that my diamond king is protected. If I bid 3S and partner bids 3NT, my diamond king will probably be picked off on the opening lead with unfortunate consequences.

I like my help in clubs and partner's values all rate to be working as they are situated behind the opening bidder. I finally decided to go ahead and bid 3NT and hope that pard had a spade stopper.

A diamond was tabled and the dummy was satisfactory:



With the club king onside I had an easy 9 tricks for a 10 imp pickup against 130. Had the contract been played from the other side it would no doubt have failed.

I picked up this hand a few days ago in a team game:


I opened 1S, intending to bid 2NT at my next opportunity. Instead partner responded 1NT. I was immediately disappointed because it was likely that the notrump was wrong-sided. All my honors were vulnerable to the opening lead. We ended in 3NT and pard was lucky to make it because the diamond ace was situated well. Our 2NT openers are 19-20 and we discussed the merits of opening this 18 count 2NT to protect the red kings. That's getting a little light, but it may be worth it if you right-side the notrump!

See you at the table!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another 7-4 Challenge

You hold, in 3rd seat at IMPs:


Partner deals and opens 1 Heart. You are playing 2/1 Game Force. RHO passes, and you bid 2 Diamonds. Partner now surprises you and bids 3 Clubs. How do you go from there? You immediately think of a possible grand slam. If partner has AKxxx of clubs and the heart ace, it is easy to envision 13 tricks. However, partner could have as little as Jxxx in clubs, say KQx/AKxxx/x/Jxxx, so you can't commit to clubs since diamonds may be a better trump suit. So you go decide to go slowly and rebid 3 Diamonds. Partner rebids 3 No-Trump. You now decide to bid 4 Clubs to complete your description. Partner answers with a discouraging 5 Clubs. Should you bid the slam? It's not a clear decision, but you decide to take the plunge and bid 6 Clubs.

Now move into partner's chair. You get the ace of Spades lead, and you are looking at:



How do you play it? The most straightforward plan is to set up and use dummy's diamonds. The problem is to both set up the suit and be able to get back to dummy to run it. You have to ruff the spade. What distributions do you need to make this, and how do you take advantage if they occur? Decide before reading on.

I thought that the best chance was for clubs 2-2 and diamonds no worse than 4-2. So I ruffed a diamond and played the club jack. If either hand has Kx, they couldn't hurt me with another high spade, since I could ruff, cash the queen to draw the remaining trumps and run the diamonds. No such luck. RHO won the club king and played another spade, forcing dummy to ruff. Now when I played the club queen, LHO showed out. But all was not lost! There was still another remote chance. I started running diamonds, and RHO had to follow to 3 rounds. So I was able to pitch three heart losers. On the fifth round of diamonds, RHO ruffed and I overruffed. Now I played the heart ace, and, miraculously, RHO dropped the king! So the slam came home after all. His hand was:


Note that if you do not ruff a diamond at trick 2, you cannot use the diamonds even if clubs are 2-2. If clubs are 3-1, you cannot use dummy's diamonds no matter how you play it. You will not be able to finish drawing trumps in dummy with an established diamond suit even if the king is onside and diamonds split 3-3.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Final Match

It had been a hard day at the local sectional. We got blitzed in the first round when our friend Kate led a club from 9xxx to defeat our notrump slam. We didn't make it to average until round three, the halfway point. After strong wins in the next two matches we were a distant third going into the final match. We lobbied to play the second place team, but the oddities of the bracketing forced us to play another team, forfeiting our ability to directly control our own fate. Not only did we need a big win, we needed the two teams in front of us to seriously falter.

After going down a couple on an unmakeable game, partner dealt and passed at favorable vulnerability on the next board. RHO bid 1C, LHO bid 1H and pard now came in with 1 notrump, showing the other two suits. RHO jumped to 4H and I considered my hand:


What the heck--4 spades, a bid I thought I could get away with. Pass, pass, 5H on my right. All passed and pard led a spade.

Dummy had:

Declarer won the spade ace and ran the H10 to pard's king who returned his lowest spade. I won the queen and decided pard was void in clubs. I returned a club for him to ruff and he returned a diamond, my king winning the finesse. I gave him another ruff. When the smoke cleared we were plus 300. We could have doubled but this felt like a good score as 4H would probably make.

A few boards later I picked this collection, vulnerable:


I opened 1H and pard bid 2H, constructive. I jumped to game and a club was led.



I won the ace (I hate to go down at trick one!) and paid attention to the discouraging signal played by RHO. After pondering my options I played a heart and then led a diamond to my king. It held! Now I could lose 3 spades and still make my contract. There are various ways to accomplish this, but I made it unnecessarily difficult for myself by having to rely on an endplay at trick 12. As it turns out RHO had A10 of spades and 3 trumps. LHO had KJxx of spades and 1 trump. A straightforward line, which would probably have worked, would be to play on spades immediately, leaving a high trump in dummy to ruff the 4th one if necessary.

Instead I drew trump and threw in LHO with a spade, who then led a club which I ducked to my jack and good 9 of spades. Oh well--620 was the goal.

While we were waiting for our teammates to finish, we learned that the second place team had suffered a big loss. When we compared scores we won 14 imps as our teammates made 4H while we set 5H three tricks. We also won 12 imps as they beat 4H while I made it. We wound up with 18 victory points and hovered at the leader board waiting to see how the first place team fared.

Surprise--they were blitzed! We won the event by 3 victory points. Bob, Gary, John and I were pleased--especially considering our dismal beginning.

(*Note the advantage of opening 2NT on the first hand. The opponents don't get into your auction and the big hand is hidden. Our teammate got a club lead which was ruffed. He rose with the ace when a diamond was returned and played ace and another heart which drew the trumps. He gave up a diamond and the losing spades went away on the good clubs.)

See you at the table!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A 7-5 Beauty

Today I picked up, in second seat, non-vulnerable vs vulnerable playing with Jenn:


RHO passed. How should I plan the bidding? It is hard to describe a hand like this. One option is to open 1 Diamond, then jump shift in Spades, then bid Spades again. The other is to open 2 Clubs, then bid Diamonds then Spades. Since this hand is so strong (2 1/2 losers), I decided to open 2 Clubs. I surely didn't want everyone to pass if I opened 1 Diamond! LHO passed and Jenn surprised me with a response of 3 Clubs. This showed a hand with a good club suit, usually 6 cards with 2 top honors. Now I was sure that my club loser was covered. I bid 3 Diamonds, and she surprised me again with a raise to 4 Diamonds! So I knew that she had at least xxx in Diamonds. So there would be no diamond losers unless she didn't have the Queen and the suit split 3-0. I thought there were excellent chances to avoid a Spade loser: I could ruff one or two in dummy if needed to set up the suit, or else if Jenn had AQxxxx or better in Clubs, the Clubs could provide discards for any losing Spades. So I decided to just bid 7 Diamonds.

LHO led the Ace of Hearts, not really expecting it to cash. Jenn had a suitable dummy:



I was surprised that Jenn had only one Heart. The opponents held 12 between them and never bid. The vulnerability had kept them silent. Jenn's Diamond holding was excellent, but her doubleton Spade meant that I had to work to avoid a Spade loser. So how would you play it after ruffing the opening lead?

There were 2 possible approaches, as I had considered during the bidding: ruff enough Spades to set up the suit, or set up dummy's Clubs using her trumps as entries. There was some risk associated with either approach. If diamonds split 3-0, I couldn't ruff spades with the Jack and Queen since the Ten would be promoted. If Spades were 5-1, I couldn't cash 2 rounds before ruffing. On the other hand, if I went after the clubs, if that suit split 4-1 I might not have enough entries.

I decided to test the trumps by leading a low one from hand. LHO followed with the Ten to dummy's Queen and RHO's 2. Now the Spades can be ruffed safely without fear of an overruff, so the contract will come home as long as spades were 4-2 or better, a very good chance, and either clubs were 3-2 or LHO had a stiff club and falsecarded the Ten from T8 of Diamonds, a very unlikely combination. (If RHO had a stiff club, I could safely overruff the second club to hand.) So I played a club to my King, played AK of spades, ruffed a spade with the 9, ruffed a club back to my hand (everyone following), ruffed another Spade with dummy's last trump, ruffed another Club in hand with the Ace, drew the last trump and claimed.

It turned out that any line would have succeeded, as the entire hand was:




It is interesting to note that if my LHO had interfered with our auction with a preempt of 3 Hearts, it could have been hard for us to bid this. Jenn would have bid 4 Clubs, then RHO could make life difficult with 4 or even 5 Hearts. I would have to introduce my Diamonds at the 5 or 6 level, and we would have been guessing. I think that in the long run, especially in matchpoints, it pays to interfere with the opponents whenever possible when they open 2 Clubs. Here, even with unfavorable vulnerability, they are safe at the 5-level (-800) against a Diamond slam (-920) or even have a good save (-1400) vs our grand slam (1440).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Confessions of a Bungler

By John Kozero

Time to ‘fess up to what my regular partners have long known: I am an inveterate bungler whose only saving grace is that, amazingly, I happen to be just plain lucky almost ALL of the time.

Take this hand for example from a recent pairs game:

S: Void H: AQJ97 D: A1095 C: K1062

No one vul, I open 1H in first seat. Lefty bids 1S, partner Bob K. bids 2S. Righty passes. I like my hand. Even if partner has only an average limit raise, there are fine slam possibilities here (even a 9-counter like K 4th of H, KJ of D and the Q doubleton of clubs would work for slam). So I let pard in on my slam aspirations by bidding 3S (which guarantees at least second round control of spades). Pard cues a club control which increases the chances that he has more than a bare limit raise.

I cooperate with a 4D cue in return to see if I can elicit one more minor suit cue from him. Instead he launches into Old Black, which leaves me in a quandary. Clearly we’re committed to 6, but if we’re missing the ace of spades, pard will not be able to read my void and we might miss a good play for 7.
Counterbalancing that is the fact that I have been somewhat aggressive in my bidding this 14-pointer and pard might take me for more than I have. Worse still, I have totally forgotten how to handle RKC responses that include a void. Arrgghhhhhhh, I’ve bungled another bidding sequence!

So I just cut the Gordian Knot and bid 6H, hoping pard will read my void and carry on to 7 with a mountain outside of spades, and pass with all other hands. He passed, the K of spades is led and I see we are in a decent slam. Pard puts down:

S: AJ84 H: 8642 D: K32 C: A4 looking at my
S: Void H: AQJ97 D: A1095 C: K1062

Lefty is marked with almost everything, so I expect a heart loser. There are possibilities to ruff out the Quack in clubs or to squeeze her in at least two if not three suits. That’s where I made my first mistake: I took the ace of spades and pitched a diamond.

I then played a heart to the A (Righty playing the 3) and hoped the Rabbi’s Rule ("Drop the offsides K whenever it is singleton.") was working. It wasn’t. But Lefty played the heart 10. She’s an honest citizen who would normally not venture the 10 from K105 so my luck was running and I could play another heart to force out the K. That was my second questionable play.

Lefty took her K (and her pard followed) and exited the Q of clubs. I took the two toppers in clubs and ruffed the third. Down came Lefty’s J of clubs making my 10 good to pitch a diamond and ruff the last one. Making 6 for a top on the board.

"Boy, I sure made the right choice in tossing a diamond at trick one," I said. Bob smiled the way an indulgent parent humors a backward child, and diplomatically offered: "Well, yes, you might have ruffed Trick One and postponed the decision on which minor to toss."

How right he was. Keeping that AJ tenace in place would have been a potent threat for two pitches if I had endplayed Lefty with the K of hearts. Since I was convinced the hearts were two-two, I could have ruffed a round of clubs prior to putting Lefty in with K of hearts. (I could discount the possibility of a second round ruff with the other small trump because that would mean Lefty would have started with six clubs as well as at least 5 spades.)

Then after being thrown in with K of hearts, if Lefty was out of clubs, she must lead either a spade allowing me to pitch both losing diamonds or to impale the opposition's QJ of diamonds on the sharpened bamboo stakes of my Kxx looking A109. That would have retained the actual possibility of the club Quack coming down in three rounds setting up my 10 but still keeping all other threats (such as a pointy-suit squeeze) wide open.

Oh, well. If given the choice, I’ll take the kiss of Lady Luck over the impersonal logic of competent declarer play any day…..especially considering how neatly my luck manages to irritate and frustrate my opponents.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Defense at Trick One

Last night in the team game I declared a hand where the defense allowed a contract to be made at both tables that might have been set. You hold:

S A75
H J4
D 974
C Q6542

Both sides are vulnerable. The bidding:


2C 2D P* P
2H P 2NT P
4H P P P

* showing some values

Partner leads the Jack of spades. Dummy has:

.................S 9432
................H 92
................D K532
................C J87

S A75
H J4
D 974
C Q6542

How do you defend?

Consider what declarer has, given this bidding and the opening lead. Partner put in a vulnerable 2D overcall, so is likely to have all of the missing diamonds, so declarer is void. His lead of the Jack of Spades probably means he has the ten also, but the bidding surely indicates that declarer has the KQ.

So how can the defense get 4 tricks? The only chance is 2 Spade tricks and 2 Club tricks. But in order for the defense to have a chance, it is necessary that you duck the spade Ace. Declarer has no entries to dummy, so he cannot play a spade through your Ace later on. But if you put up the Ace, he will score his KQ easily. You have to make declarer play both clubs and spades from his hand.

This is the full hand:




Playing the ace gives declarer 10 easy tricks. Ducking gives the defense a chance. Declarer might still make it if he guesses right and manages an endplay, but it isn't easy and he might go wrong.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

lead beats slam **

Nicer here in the Smoky Mountains than at home in the wine country where it is HOT! I've been walking, swimming, etc...

More from the 2-day Swiss... Match 3 brought us face to face with the only other local hometown team--bragging rights were at stake!

We (mainly yours truly) overbid on a hand and one of our opponents had enough strength and trumps to deliver a devastating double for minus 800. Ouch--the only "disaster" like this we suffered either day. Now, on the last board our opponents had a long tortured auction to arrive in 6H and it was my lead.


RHO had opened 1H and jump shifted in clubs. There was a lot of cuebidding before the final call of 6H. This lead was crucial. I finally tabled a heart. Here are all hands:




Although "deep finesse" indicated that 6H could be made, as you can see, it doesn't appear so. The heart lead, and a heart return by partner when he is in with his king of clubs, left declarer with a second club loser. Even if declarer runs the club 10, he still has a club loser with a second heart play.

Whew! This gain counterbalanced the earlier loss and we ended up winning the match by 1 imp.

See you at the table!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Squeeze with an 8-card suit

Last week, I partnered John Kozero when he made an overtrick on a squeeze with an 8-card suit in a pairs game at the club. Yesterday, another partner, Dave Neuman, executed a squeeze with an 8-card suit when the stakes were much higher. We were playing in a knockout match in the regional in Sacramento. Our teammates were Pat and Jerry Scoville.

First the bidding. Both sides were vulnerable. I held:

S Qx
D xxx
C QTxx

Dave dealt and opened 1 Spade. RHO passed. I bid a forcing 1NT (we play 2/1 game forcing). LHO came in with a preemptive 3 Diamonds. Dave now jumped to 4 Spades. What should I do? Since I had about as much as I could have for a 1NT response, and all of my values were outside of diamonds, I decided that slam was possible, so I invited slam with 5 Spades. This told him that I didn't have a control in diamonds but had a good hand. Dave accepted the invitation and bid 6 Spades. The opponents led diamonds. Dave held:

S AKJTxxxx
H xx
C Ax

Dave ruffed the second diamond. There were 11 top tricks. There were two chances for a 12th trick: Dave's LHO could hold the QJ of hearts, so he could finesse twice, or hold any hand with 5 or more hearts and the King of clubs, in which case he would be squeezed. Dave decided to go for the squeeze. So he ran all but one of his trumps, then cashed the Ace of clubs. With 4 cards left, this was the position:

S -
D -

S x
H xx
D -
C x

When Dave led his last spade, his LHO, who had 3 hearts left and the King of clubs, had to pitch a heart. Dave now pitched the Queen of clubs and took the last 3 tricks with the AKT of hearts. This gave us a 13-IMP swing which helped us win the match. At the other table, our teammates preempted with 4 Diamonds, which proved to be more effective. Opener bid 4 Spades and they didn't get to the slam.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Follow-up to Forcing 1NT: An interesting example

In Friday's club game, I picked up this hand:


Partner, John K, dealt and opened 1 Heart. We play 2/1 game forcing, so I bid a forcing 1NT. John rebid 2 Clubs. Now I could have shown a strong club raise with an artificial call of 2 Spades, since this could not be natural (since I would have bid 1 Spade initially), but (a) we hadn't discussed this treatment, and (b) I had stoppers in the unbid suits, so I bid 2NT, which showed a hand of about this strength and invited John to bid 3NT with something extra. John instead rebid 3 Clubs. What now?

John showed 5-5 or longer in his suits and a fairly weak opener. So he had at most 3 losers in Spades and Diamonds. With my King and Ace, I thought I could cover 2 of the 3 losers. He surely had most of his points in his 2 suits. If he had as little as Axxxx or KQxxx of hearts and Kxxxx of clubs, there is a good play for 5 clubs, since there would be only 1 heart loser and no club losers if the suit split 2-1 which is very likely. Even if clubs split 3-0, he might have the Jack also so we would pick up half of those hands as well. So I thought that 5 Clubs would be a favorite to make, and partner might not be able to raise 4 Clubs when game was on.

Since this is matchpoints, I had to also consider our prospects in 3NT. We should get 5 club tricks, my ace of diamonds, a spade if that suit is led, and whatever else we can score depending on where partner's cards are. I decided that it was likely that we had only one combined stopper in either spades or diamonds, so we would have to take 9 tricks on the run. I didn't like our chances of that happening.

So I chose to bid 5 Clubs. This hit the jackpot, as partner's hand was:


The clubs split 2-1 as expected, so we lost only a heart and a spade. 3NT would have had no play with a likely diamond lead, and with this 10-point minimum, John may well have passed a 4 Club invitation.

When we checked the traveler at the end of play, 3 pairs reached 5 Clubs, one went down in 3NT, one made a club partial and the other 3 passed out the hand! I think that the pairs who passed it out undervalued both hands. Dealer's hand should be opened since it has a good 5-card major and meets the rule of 20 (total points + length in the 2 longest suits = 20 or more). My hand, which shouldn't be opened in first seat, is a good third seat opener (it is usually good tactics to open light in third seat to preempt the opponents).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Length vs. Strength

In Friday afternoon's STaC pairs game, I picked up this hand:

S J8
H T7642
C T8

I dealt and passed. LHO passed. Partner opened 2 clubs. RHO passed. I bid 2 diamonds, which showed some values (2 hearts would have showed a really bad hand). LHO passed, partner bid 3 clubs and RHO passed. What do you bid?

My first thought was to show the 5-card heart suit by bidding 3 hearts. But then I thought some more. What is partner likely to hold, and how can my bidding help him? What do I know about this hand vs. what does partner know? Which one of us can best place the contract? Even if we have a heart fit, do we want to play in hearts?

Partner is showing a big hand with a club suit. He has nothing much in diamonds, so he has to have points in the majors. Even if he has 3 good hearts, say AQx, we may have one or two heart losers in a heart contract. Plus, if we play it in hearts, I will have to declare so the opening lead will come through partner. All things considered, I thought that any contract should be played by partner, and that the most likely contracts for us would be 6 no-trump or 6 hearts. So I decided to bid 3 diamonds. My plan was to bid 6 no-trump if partner bid the expected 3 no-trump, or 6 hearts if partner bid 3 hearts.

Partner duly bid 3 no-trump which I raised to 6 no-trump. This got us a cold top on the board, since the entire hand was as follows:

S J8
H T7642
C T8

S T754........ S K962
H K3........... H QJ965
D JT932..... D 75
C 97............ C 65

D 86

6 no-trump made 7. West led the Jack of diamonds. Partner won the ace and ran the clubs. East had to guess whether declarer had the AQ of spades, in which he had to hold spades and discard hearts, or AKx of hearts and Ax of spades, in which case he had to hold hearts and pitch spades. He eventually threw spades so we had an easy 13 tricks. The most popular contract was 6 clubs.

Note that even if partner's majors were reversed, the best contract is still 6 no-trump. But if he had that hand, if I had bid 3 hearts we would have gotten to an inferior 6 heart contract.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Got By With a Little Help From My Friends (the Defenders)

I was playing with Jenn Friday at the Gallery when I picked up this hand:


Jenn dealt and opened 1 diamond. I scraped up a 1 heart reply. Jenn jumped to 2S, I bid 2NT and she raised to 3NT. I got a low diamond lead, and Jenn tabled


I looked at the dummy and had a hopeless feeling. I only had 6 sure tricks without any clear plan to get 3 more. In an ideal world, spades could be 3-3, which would get me one more, and if clubs came in I could possibly get 2 more there. There were also remote chances for extra tricks in the red suits, but I would need real help from the defense.

I started out by playing low from dummy. RHO went up with the Queen, a good sign since if he had the ten and played it, I'd have had no chance. Now RHO played the King of hearts, attacking dummy's weak suit even though I had bid them. This gave me some hope, since I could never do anything with the hearts if I had to play them myself as I had only one entry to my hand (the King of clubs). RHO contined with hearts. LHO won the Jack, and, bless her, cashed the Ace. This was my only chance, since now I had two heart winners and an entry to them. So I now had 8 tricks. However, I had to make 2 discards from dummy. I didn't want to pitch my low spade, since that might be the ninth trick, so I pitched a diamond and a club, leaving dummy with


and me with


I now had 3 possiblities for the ninth trick: the long spade in dummy, the J of diamonds and a third club. LHO played a fourth round of hearts, which squeezed dummy. I could either abandon my spade or diamond threat, or play a club, giving up on playing a club to my King and a finesse of the Jack for the ninth trick. I decided to play a club, keeping alive the possibility of a squeeze along with the spade and diamond chances. RHO had to make 2 discards, and played a low diamond and club. I now tried 3 rounds of spades, to discover that LHO started with 4 and RHO with 2. RHO pitched a diamond on the third spade. Now I played the Ace of clubs and a club to my King. Everyone followed. So now, with 3 tricks to go, there was one spade out on my left, one club out, probably on my right, and 4 diamonds including the King. My 2 hands now were



Now I played the good heart. LHO had to hold her spade to keep my spade 2 from being good, so threw a diamond. I now knew her last 2 cards were a diamond and a spade. I threw the dummy's spade. Now RHO's body language confirmed that I had him. He had the Queen of clubs left and the Kx of diamonds. He squirmed and finally threw the club, so I scored my 6 of clubs and Ace of diamonds at the end. It really didn't matter who had the King of diamonds, since neither opponent could hold 2 diamonds in the endgame without setting up a trick for me in one of the black suits. So it was a true double squeeze that developed once my friends were kind enough to set up my heart winners while I had an entry to them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Welcome Friends

Welcome to some new contributors to this blog: Bob Klein, Dave Pankratz and Gary Robinson. Should be fun!

The first annual Frank Bessing memorial team game is scheduled for Sunday, April 13 at 1:00 p.m. at the bridge gallery. Only 12 teams can be accommodated, so sign up soon. There is a beautiful plaque donated by Asher designating Frank honorary captain. Many of you have mentioned Frank's inspiring bridge legacy. Michael Nistler has produced a great audio interview with Frank and has generously handed out many copies. Thanks for all your support!

I particularly liked our long-time friend Claudia's comment that Frank is probably playing bridge with Zoe now in the great bridge world beyond. She was his favorite partner until I came to town 15 years ago. After Frank and I formed a partnership we had a lot of success in team games playing with her. Frank thought Zoe was a fine player and a woman of great integrity and spoke of her fondly through the years. Now we miss them both.

See you at the table!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Grant Baze bridge letter,advice

As I haven't played much bridge over the holidays, I thought it would be a good time to post a favorite bridge article. It is by Grant Baze, a very fine player and gentleman. Grant wrote a sweet, encouraging note to Frank about staying positive in the face of health adversity.


Baze on Bridge - Circa 1985
December 2, 1996

My mother told me that George Bernard Shaw once said "I quote myself often. It adds spice to the conversation." With that thought in mind, this message is an article I wrote ten years ago; I have edited it somewhat, mostly elaborating, hoping to make it more clear.

I believe the only inviolate rules of bridge relate to decorum and ethics. In fact, my objection to the word "rules," in a bridge context, is so strong that I prefer to use the word "guides." Guides are of a technical nature and are tools with which you approach the logic of a particular hand. Judgment, in particular, is not the selection of an appropriate guide; judgment is a synthesis of applicable guides modified by logic, common sense, experience, and intuition.

Choose to ignore some guides rarely. One guide relative to specific auctions is "Do not give an immediate raise of partner's second suit without four trumps." In my experience, violation of this guide invariably leads to disaster. Here is a selection of six important general guides, as opposed to specific guides.

1. Your partner is your best friend.
2. Trumps speak.
3. The 5-level belongs to the opponents.
4. With 6-5, come alive.
5. Three notrump ends all auctions.
6. Aces, spaces, and his majesty's faces.

1. Your partner is your best friend. When you sit down to begin a session of bridge, be comfortable with yourself and your environment. Relax. View the entire playing area and meld yourself into it. Regard your partner with respect, affection, and tenderness. Remind yourself that for the duration of the session your partner is your best friend and that part of your responsibility is to make his life and his decisions as easy as possible.

Always root for your partner to do the right thing. If he misplays or misguesses, sympathize and console; he hurts worse than you. This not only makes the game more pleasant, it makes it more rewarding in a personal and practical way. Your partner will play better, you will play better, your results will be better, and you will more closely approach harmony with life and bridge. Although bridge is basically an exercise in straight line logic, the great players have a metaphysical, almost mystical, relationship with the game and, in my opinion, appreciate it more for that reason.

Do not misunderstand this as a "Pollyanna" guide; if anything, it is "Machiavellian." The scorekeeper does not appear at the end of the session and say: "Grant, you played great. You get a 70% game. Your partner played badly; he gets a 40% game." At the end of a session, one score appears, and it reflects how you and your partner performed as a pair.

2. Trumps speak. If you have good trumps, especially unexpectedly good trumps, you should strive to bid in any auction. Should I bid the game or slam? Should I take the push? Should I take the save? Should I open the bidding? Should I overcall? In close decisions, when you own good trumps, the answer is "Yes."

Good trumps often tip close decisions into trivial ones. The reasons are several. First, good trumps are disaster insurance. Normally, the opponents can not destroy you if they can not gain trump control. Second, it is difficult for the opponents to know when they should be doubling if they do not have trump power. Third, the opponents will be much more inclined to take a push if they do not have trump cards. Fourth, the guide of total trumps, the principle of concentration, and (to a lesser extent) the principle of in-and-out evaluation are particularly valid in these situations.

The guide of total trumps applies (in this case) to competitive auctions in which the high card strength is relatively even between the two pairs. "Relatively even" is not defined anywhere, but I guess it as within an 18 - 22 high card point range. The guide tells us we should bid to a level equal to the total number of trumps we have between the two hands (e.g., with nine trumps in the partnership, we bid to the three-level). This guide pertains to trump length in the combined partnership hands.

The principle of concentration applies to hands that have the same distribution. This principle tells us that high cards concentrated in your long suits makes your hand stronger than high cards distributed at random amongst your suits, and much stronger than a hand where your high cards are concentrated in your short suits. As an example, AKxxx, Kxxx, xx, xx is a much better hand than xxxxx, xxxx, Ax, AK. This principle pertains to the importance of trump quality.

The principle of in-and-out evaluation says secondary cards in partner's suit and primary cards in outside suits is a better hand than primary cards in partner's suit and secondary cards in outside suits. Secondary cards (Queens and Jacks) not in partner's suit may be valueless, but if they are in partner's suit they are almost certainly valuable. Primary cards (Aces and Kings) are likely to be useful whether they are in the trump suit or not. In other words, Qxx in partner's suit with an outside Ace is better than Axx in partner's suit with an outside Queen. The second derivative of this principle is that secondary cards in trumps are better than secondary cards in outside suits. This principle pertains to the importance of trump quality, as does the principle of concentration.

3. With 6 - 5, come alive. I once said, "with 6 - 5, keep bidding until somebody doubles. Either they double you, or your partner doubles them." I meant this as an exaggeration, of course, to stress the point that with huge distributional hands you bid a lot.

Balanced hands are defensive in nature. The offensive potential of a 4333 hand is basically just a function of its power. This power is just as useful, often more useful, on defense. If the power is split between the partnerships, and all hands are balanced, the first pair to get to the three level loses (Providing the other pair has the common sense to defend). The law of total tricks clearly explains this concept.

Distributional hands, however, are offensively orientated. If you are 6 - 5, add an ace to the high card point total of your hand. Add another ace if you have twelve cards in two suits, and add a third ace if you have thirteen cards in two suits. Even then, your hand is stronger than the adjustment indicates.

Also, with distributional hands, there is a much greater chance of a double game swing if you defend. Here is another specific guide: "At IMP's or total points, never risk a double game swing." If you go down one when they were going down one, it is no big deal. This does not mean you randomly overrule partner's decision; if he is aware your hand is distributional and doubles the opponents anyway, you need a very good reason to pull his double.

The corollary to this guide is "with 6 - 4, bid more." In short, appreciate the power of distribution in competitive and constructive auctions. Temper with common sense and, in competitive auctions, with vulnerability. Please do not ignore that last sentence. Do not blame me if you go for 1700 because you kept bidding "until somebody doubled," when you have 6 - 5 distribution and no high cards, especially now that the powers that be have (inadviseably) changed the scoring rules.

4. Three notrump ends all auctions. In a decision auction, when one player bids 3NT, he is saying his hand is more suitable for NT than for suit play. He has secondary values, a double stop in some worrisome suit, no fit but much power, or whatever.

Additionally, 3NT is usually a good choice of contract. It requires only nine tricks, it is not susceptible to a bad trump split, and more than other game contracts, it will make in practice more often than it should make in theory. If the contest is matchpoints, there is another advantage to 3NT; 430 versus 420 will often be worth half a board to your score.

I want to reiterate an important point about the bid of 3NT. It is a slam depressant for suit play. In slam going auctions, a 3NT bid is trying to slow the auction down. The message it conveys is that the 3NT bidder has slow cards and no redeeming fit.

I will give what must be a good example, since I saw a very good player miss the solution at the table. Your hand is Jx, Axxxx, Axx, KJx. You deal, the opponents never bid, the vulnerability does not matter. 1H - 1S - 1NT - 2C (New Minor Forcing) - 2D - 3C - your bid. You have no spade fit, no club fit, non-rebiddable hearts, and a diamond stopper. 3NT seems the right choice, doesn't it? Well, it is not. In fact, 3NT is a terrible bid.

You have serious doubt about the final contract. You have only a single diamond stop, good suit cards, what may be an acceptable fit in both partner's suits, and enough bidding space that you do not have to make a commitment.

In this sequence, Jack and one spade is an acceptable spade fit. I would rather bid 3S than 3NT, but the best bid is 3D. I will become hopelessly sidetracked if I pursue the auction of this hand further. I do want to note that if partner had bid 3D instead of 3C, 3NT by you would become a reasonable choice because it would describe your club holding.

5. The 5-level belongs to the opponents. Be very slow to jeopardize the possible plus position you create when you push the opponents to the five level. If the decision is close whether to push on, double them, or pass, then you should pass. If you push on and go for too much, or it is a phantom, or you double them and they make it, you have a terrible result. If you double them and beat them one, you may have gained little or nothing. If you pass, in most cases the worst that will happen to you is that you break even. This is almost analogous to a statement made by Daryl Royal: "If the (foot)ball is in the air, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad."

6. Aces, spaces, and his Majesty's faces. The standard 4-3-2-1 point count is wrong. It underestimates Aces, overemphasizes everything else, and does not factor in spot cards. Let us play rubber bridge. I will deal myself three Aces and a deuce, deal you four Kings, and deal the rest of the cards at random. You will go broke in a hurry. Same with two Aces versus four Queens, or one Ace versus four Jacks. The point is, the ace is the most important card in the deck by an enormous factor, much more than is reflected by the point count system. I will digress for a moment to discuss the value of the picture cards.

An ace represents power; not just trick-taking power, but control power, tempo power, and conjunctive power. Depending upon how many cards you have in the Ace-suit, you can take the Ace whenever you want. An Ace stands alone in its power; it does not need a companion card or care about position.

A King has control power, tempo power, and conjunctive power. Each of these powers, of course, is less than the power of an ace. The trick-taking power of a King, however, may be worth nothing. Without a companion card, the trick-taking power of a King may be strictly positional, and depend upon the location of the Ace.

Queens and Jacks have no tempo power and at best third or fourth round control power. Their primary power is conjunctive and, to a lesser extent, positional.

O.K., back to my theme. Voids and singletons are next in importance. I will limit this discussion to singletons; you can extrapolate the information to voids. The opponents can not lead a Queen through your singleton. If you had the King instead of a singleton, the power of the King would be positional, and there would be no control left once the King was gone. The singleton retains power until that hand runs out of trumps; not only does the singleton retain power, it may be a source of several tricks, which is even beyond the power of an Ace.

Furthermore, partner's knowledge of the location of your singleton will help him in determining how the two hands mesh. I think singleton showing bids are the biggest advance in bidding theory since I have been playing bridge. A singleton opposite my KQ10 -- how many NT can we play? A singleton opposite my three little -- what suit and how high can we fly?

Next in importance are Kings. They lead a suit, you win the Ace and lose a trick somewhere, and they run their suit or at least cash a trick or two. They can not do that if you own the King as well. The King is not only a trick, it has real power as a control card.

Aces, singletons, and Kings are suit cards, indicating you should make a serious effort to play the hand in a suit. It is in suit contracts that the standard point count is most ineffective. I strongly suggest you adjust the way you evaluate your high card points. Add a half point for every Ace. If it is clear the contract is going to be in a suit, add a full point for every Ace, and give negative weight to Queens and Jacks. Give positive weight to good spot cards, particularly for notrump contracts.

Choices of suit or notrump and selection of level are matters of judgment -- evaluation of the trick-taking potential and control power of a hand. In suit contracts and high level notrump contracts, tricks and controls are the true measures of the worth of the combined hands of a partnership.

If we can remember most of this we will, indeed, have a happy year.

See you at the table!