Thursday, December 17, 2009

Adventures in Cyberspace ***

I sometimes play bridge on Bridge Base Online, a free service developed by Fred Gitelman.  It is a testament to the wonders of modern technology.  You can log in and play with people all over the world at any hour of the day or night.

The players identify themselves by a tag which may or may not resemble their real names.  They also indicate their skill level, which goes from Beginner to Expert and even World Class, and the country they live in.  Many grossly exaggerate their ability.  I have found that most of those who call themselves World Class are actually intermediate-level players at best; among the "Experts", some are really expert and others aren't very good.  So if you get into a game, don't take the skill levels too seriously.
 
I picked up this hand the other day at a table where all four players called themselves Experts:  I was in third seat.  My partner and I agreed to play 2/1.

♠  xxx
♥  void♦  AJT9xx♣ AKQx

Partner dealt and opened 1 Spade.  This looked good, as he bid the suit where I had 3 of my 5 losers.  I bid 2 Diamonds, creating a game force.  He bid 2 Hearts, I showed spade support with 2 Spades, and he jumped to 4 Spades.  Now what? 

I didn't think RKC would be a good idea because of the void.  If I bid 5 Spades here it should ask for trump quality, but since there was one unbid suit it could be misinterpreted as asking for a club control.  So I just gambled that he had decent spades and bid 6 Spades.  LHO doubled.  Oops!  Maybe I bid too much.  If he has the AK of spades, too bad.  If he has the ace of spades and a diamond void, I could remove to 6NT which might make.  However, since all the heart honors were missing, I thought that his double could be based on the ace of hearts and a spade trick, in which case I surely didn't want to play it in no-trump.  So I decided to tough it out and pass. 

A diamond was led.  My partner looked at:

 ♠  xxx
♥  void♦  AJT9xx♣ AKQx

♠  AQTxx
♥  JTxx♦  KQ
♣  xx

How would you play it?  Hopefully you would do better than my "expert" partner. 

Wherever you win the first diamond, RHO follows.  So his double wasn't based on a diamond void.  So surely he has the king of spades and the heart ace, and likely the heart K as well.  He probably has the spade jack also, but this isn't a sure thing.  If he has KJ9x of spades, you can't make it no matter how you play it, so assume spades are 3-2.  So here are some reasonable lines:

(1) Win the ace of diamonds, play a spade to the queen, cash the ace of spades, unblock the diamonds, play a club to dummy and run the diamonds until RHO takes his spade king.  This works if spades are 3-2 no matter who has the jack.

(2) Win the ace of diamonds, play a spade to the ten, play a club to dummy, play another spade to the queen.  If RHO has KJx of spades, you make seven.  If LHO has the spade jack and RHO a stiff diamond, you go down.

(3) Win the diamond in hand, play a club to dummy and a spade to the queen.  This works out the same as (1) but gives you an extra entry in case RHO has a stiff club.

(4) Win the diamond in hand, play a club to dummy and a spade to the ten.  If this holds, play another club to dummy and repeat the finesse. 

Any of these lines would succeed as the cards lay.  What you don't want to do is choose line (5), which my partner did.  He won in hand, ruffed a heart to dummy, and played a spade to the queen.  Now he didn't have the critical third trump in dummy to stop the hearts, so he went down three!  My LHO's hand was:

♠ KJx
AKxx
x♣ xxxxx.

Yes, he made a bad double.  Since he really wanted a heart lead, he shouldn't have doubled, asking for a diamond lead!  (Note that a heart lead is quite troublesome as it taps dummy.) But he was another BBO "expert", so you don't expect miracles. 

 Good luck!





 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Opening Leads: 3 Hands from the NA Swiss Teams

Here are three opening lead decisions I had to make in Day 1 of the North American Swiss Teams.  Two worked out well, one didn't.  On each one, if you get it right, they go down.  If not, they make their game.  Decide what you would lead in each of these before reading on.  All involve a decision on whether to make an aggressive or passive lead. 

1.  You hold, in second seat:
♠  Q9xxx
♥  xxx
♦  xx
♣ Kxx

RHO deals and opens 1NT, strong.  LHO transfers with 2 Diamonds, then over 2 Hearts bids 3NT.  RHO bids 4 Hearts, which ends the auction. 

2.  You hold, in 4th seat:

♠  KQxx
♥  xx
♦  xx
♣  J9xxx

RHO opens 1NT after 2 passes.  LHO bids 3NT. 

3.  You hold, in second seat:

♠  Jxx
♥  ATxx
♦  xx
♣ AKxx

 RHO opens 1 Club. LHO bids 1 Diamond.  RHO rebids 1NT. LHO  bids 2C, alerted as a puppet to 2 Diamonds.  After RHO bids 2 Diamonds, LHO now bids 3 Diamonds, and RHO bids 3NT.  Before leading, you learn that LHO is inviting 3NT with a diamond suit.  You also learn that RHO would bypass a 4-card major after 1C-1D, and that even after LHO's bid of 2 Clubs, RHO would not bid a 4-card major instead of accepting the puppet request. 

Problem 1. 

An aggressive lead would be a spade, a passive lead a heart.  I chose a low spade, which turned out successfully.  Dummy came down with 
 
♠  Ax
♥  KJTxx
♦  Q9xx
♣ xx

Declarer played a low spade, won by Jenn's king.  She played the ten of clubs.  Declarer finessed, losing to my king.  I now shifted to a diamond. Jenn had the KJ over dummy's queen as well as the ace of trumps, so we established a trick in each suit.  We actually set it two tricks, since I was able to get a diamond ruff as well.  Had I led a trump to start with, Jenn would have had to find the difficult defense of a spade shift from her king into the Ax in dummy.  At the other table, a trump was led and they didn't find this defense, so we won 13 IMPs. 

Problem 2

An aggressive lead would be a spade; a passive lead would be a club.  I didn't think that I would be able to set up such a weak suit as J9xxx, so I thought the best shot was to find Jenn with a spade suit such as Jxxxx or Txxxx, with the opponents' spades 2-2, or possibly 4 to the Jack or ten with an opponent holding Tx or Jx, respectively.  So I led the king of spades.  This turned out to be wrong, since the opposition had only 8 tricks if I made a passive club lead, and the spade lead set up the ninth trick.  Dummy held

♠  987x
♥  Axx
♦   Jxx
♣  KQT

 Declarer held:

♠ AJ
KQxx
♦  Kxxx
♣ Axx

Jenn had:

♠  Txx
♥  J9xx
♦  AQT9
♣  xx

Note that declarer cannot set up a ninth trick in a red suit.  The spade lead allowed declarer to set up a second spade trick by winning the ace and playing back the jack.  Now, after Jenn wins her ten, the dummy has an established spade winner for trick 9.  My counterpart led a passive club, and we lost 12 IMPs. 

Problem 3.

It sounded to me like the opponents had a long diamond suit ready to run, so we might have to cash out our tricks right away, either in clubs, hearts or both.  So, in order to retain control, I led the king of clubs.  This catered to Jenn holding either good clubs or good enough hearts for me to get her in for heart plays through declarer.  This worked out very well, as she held QJTxx of clubs and the heart queen!  We cashed out the first 7 tricks for down three.  In this case, a low club would also have succeeded, but anything else would have been a disaster, as the opposition had 6 diamonds and 3 spades ready to cash.  This got us +300 and 10 IMPs, as our teammates played it in 3 Diamonds, making 3 for +110.  If we had gotten this wrong, we would have lost 10 IMPs instead, a huge 20 IMP swing. 

Good luck!


 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Pair of 2 Spade Contracts

In matchpoint pairs, the humble partscore deals are as important as the games and slams.  They are often more difficult to play and defend, since both sides have a lot of high cards and, thus, options.  Here are two that I played back-to-back in last week's club game.
1.  I dealt and picked up this hand:

♠ KJ9
xx
AKx
♣ QJxxx

Jenn and I play a 14-16 HCP range for our 1NT openings, so I opened 1NT.  Jenn bid 2 Clubs, Stayman.  I rebid 2 Diamonds, and now she bid 2 Hearts.  This, by agreement, is "Garbage Stayman", showing a very weak hand with at least 4 cards in each major.  I am obligated to pass with 3 hearts or correct to 2 Spades if, as here, I am 3-2 in the majors.  Everyone passed.  LHO led a spade, and I looked at:

♠ xxxx
KJ9xx
♦  xxx
♣ T

♠ KJ9
♥ xx
♦ AKx
♣ QJ8xx

RHO played the spade ace, and returned a spade.  I put in the jack which held.  Now what?

I thought that I would try to set up the clubs, so I played a club to the ten.  LHO won with the ace, and played a third spade to RHO's queen and my king.  I continued with my plan by playing the queen of clubs, pitching a heart, and losing to the king.  Now RHO returned a diamond.  I won and cashed the jack of clubs, pitching a diamond.  Had both followed, I would have ruffed a club with the 13th spade, then eventually try to win one heart trick for the 8th trick.  However, LHO showed out on this trick, pitching a diamond.  Now what?

I now had to try to win 2 heart tricks.  LHO had 3 spades and 2 clubs.  I had to hope he had either 2 of the missing heart honors or, if he had just one, I would make the right guess and the suit would split 3-3.  I played a heart to the jack which lost to the ace.  Good, now I was up to 7 tricks.  RHO now returned a diamond, which, as it turned out, was his last one.  I won with the king and played another heart to the 9, losing to his ten.  He now played a club for me to ruff with the 13th spade.  I cashed the heart king, perforce, and as the suit split 3-3, I scored a low heart at the end, making 2, for 8 out of 8 matchpoints.

Note that when RHO won the ace of hearts, he was effectively endplayed.  If he had played a fourth round of clubs when in with the heart ace, he would have had to play from his 9x to my 8x. If he played high, I would have ruffed in dummy, played a diamond to my hand and scored the 8.  If he played low, I would have won the 8 right away. RHO's original hand was AQx/ATx/xx/K9xxx.  So he played a diamond, giving me the time to set up a second heart winner.

2.   On the very next board, I dealt and looked at:

♠ xxxx
x
Kx
♣ AKJ9xx.

I opened 1 club.  Jenn bid 1 Heart, I bid 1 Spade, she raised to 2 Spades and I passed.  The opponents, who were not vulnerable, evidently weren't aware of Larry's Iron Law (see earlier article) and allowed us to play it there.  LHO led the heart jack, and I looked at:

♠ KQTx
xxxx
xxxx
♣ T

♠ xxxx
x
Kx
♣ AKJ9xx

The jack held trick 1, and another heart went to RHO's queen.  I ruffed.  What now?

Since they tapped my hand early, I couldn't take advantage of my hand's best feature, the long club suit, since if I tried to set them up, I could be tapped again before trumps were drawn.  So I had to try to scramble by getting as many ruffs as possible.  I played the AK of clubs and a third club.  LHO played the queen on the third club and they split 3-3.  I ruffed a heart and played the 9 of clubs.  I was planning to ruff high and try and get another heart ruff in hand.  LHO ruffed this and I overruffed.  I tried to ruff another heart, but LHO overruffed me.  Fortunately, LHO was now down to nothing but the ace of spades and diamonds.  He was therefore endplayed so I got the king of diamonds.  I ended up with 2 clubs, a diamond and five spade tricks to scramble home with the contract for another 8 out of 8 matchpoints. 

This time the defense could have prevailed.  If LHO doesn't ruff the fourth club, he could have exited with ace and another spade, putting me on the board, and now I would have been forced to lead a red suit.   RHO could have won another heart and played a diamond through, or if I played a diamond I'd lose my king to the ace.

This hand illustrates the importance of using defensive count signals.  LHO didn't have a complete count on the clubs, so he didn't know, when I played a fourth round of clubs, if his partner had to follow suit or not.  He was afraid that if he didn't ruff, I would discard from dummy and win the trick.  If his partner gave him honest count in clubs, he would have known that partner could have ruffed the 9 of clubs so that he wouldn't have to. 

Of course, if the opponents are alert, (and following the law heretofore mentioned) they won't let us play at the two level at all--after all, we only have 16 points between us!

Good luck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Balancing with Balanced Hands

I have observed that many partnerships do not have well-defined agreements covering how to handle balanced hands when LHO opens one of a suit and it goes pass, pass to you.  Have you discussed how to show balanced hands of any strength?  Have you discussed the meaning of the following bids with your favorite partner?

1NT
2NT
Double, then 1NT
Double, then 2NT

Jenn and I had, fortunately, had a detailed discussion about this recently when I was dealt

♠  KQx
♥  A9xx
♦  AKx
♣  Axx

LHO opened 1 Diamond, which was passed around to me.  We had agreed to cover all of the ranges as follows:

1NT = 10-14 HCP
Double then 1NT = 15-17
Double then 2NT = 18-19
2NT = 20-21.

Since I had 20 HCP, I duly bid 2NT.  Jenn bid 3 Clubs, Stayman.  I rebid 3 Hearts, she bid 3NT and I passed. 

LHO led the king of clubs, and I looked at

♠  T987
♥  KTx 
♦  QTxx
♣  xx

♠  KQx
♥  A9xx
♦  AKx
♣  Axx

How would you play it?

I decided that LHO had to have 4 diamonds, since with only 3 of each minor and a club suit headed by the KQ, he surely would have opened 1 Club.  So, with a marked diamond finesse (if the jack didn't fall on my right) I had 8 tricks: one spade, 2 hearts, 4 diamonds and one club.  The ninth could come from a second spade, if the jack was on my right, or a third heart if the suit split 3-3 or the queen or jack was doubleton.  There was also the possiblity of an endplay against LHO since had to have most of the outstanding honors. 

I held up ace of clubs until the third round, and pitched a spade from dummy.  RHO played the jack on the third round, suggesting that the clubs were 5-3 with length on my right.  I took the AK of diamonds, and finessed the ten which held.  RHO pitched a spade on the ten of diamonds.  Now I had a choice of plays.  I could play the AK of hearts hoping for an honor to drop then, if not, another heart hoping for 3-3.  I could finesse hoping RHO had the jack of spades.  I could play the queen of diamonds, pitching a heart, then play a spade to the queen hoping to endplay LHO. 

If the heart suit is considered in isolation, the best percentage play is three rounds of hearts.  However, I couldn't do this because I couldn't afford to lose a heart to RHO, who held 2 good clubs.  So I decided to cash the diamond and pitch a heart, then play spades.  RHO pitched another spade on the diamond queen.  Now I played a spade to my queen, on which RHO discarded a club, and LHO ducked.  Now I knew that LHO's hand was

♠  AJxx
♥  ??
♦  Jxxx
♣  KQx

He opened the bidding, so I decided he had to have the heart queen and/or jack.  So I played a heart to the king and another heart, planning to duck this into him for a forced spade return. As it happened, RHO covered with the jack, I played the king dropping LHO's queen and my nine of hearts was the ninth trick.  I could also have ducked the heart to LHO and scored the spade king as I originally intended on an endplay. Cute hand!

Good luck!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (4)

When it rains, it pours!  I seem to have been dealt a lot of these lately.  Here is yet another 6-5 beauty from a recent pairs game.  Unlike the others, we got this one wrong.  There are some interesting bidding issues involved. 

I picked up, in third seat with neither side vulnerable:

♠  Axxxxx
♥  AKQTx
♦   xx
♣  void

 Jenn,  my partner, dealt and opened 2 Diamonds, a weak-two bid.  RHO doubled.  How would you handle this? 

This problem exposed an area where we did not have a firm agreement.  We do have an agreement that a new suit is forcing after a weak-two, but did not have an agreement whether or not this applied after a takeout double.  Game was possible in any of three suits.  I wanted to get both my suits in.  I could have shown a good hand with a redouble, then bidding later.  However, the opponents had to have a big club fit, so if I redoubled, by the time it came back to me again it could have been at any level.  So I bid 2 Spades even though Jenn might not think it was forcing.  I didn't think this would end the auction, since I expected someone to bid clubs.  LHO duly bid 3 Clubs, which was passed back to me.  Now what?
   
The obvious choices were 3 Hearts and 4 Hearts.  While I had a really good hand, I knew 2 things:  RHO probably was 4-4 in the majors, so those suits were unlikely to split well for us.  Also, Jenn couldn't act over 3 Clubs.  So I took the low road and bid only 3 Hearts.  Jenn corrected to 3 Spades.  I expected her to be 2-2 in the majors, and I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to get to her hand.  For example, she might have held xx/xx/QJTxxx/KJx.  So I passed. 

LHO led a heart, and I looked at 

♠ Jx
xx
♦ AKTxxx
♣ xxx

♠ Axxxxx
♥ AKQTx
♦ 
xx
♣ void

 As soon as I saw her hand, I was sorry I didn't bid 4 Hearts, or raise her 3 Spades to 4 Spades, since not only did her AK of diamonds cover both my losers there, but the heart lead resolved any problems in that suit and I had entries to dummy to lead spades through RHO.  We ended up making 5, since RHO's spades were KQT2, so he scored only 2 spade tricks.  (I went to dummy's ace of diamonds and pushed the Jack through him.  He had to cover, I won the ace, and kept leading spades so he didn't score his deuce.)

Our lack of agreement as to the nature of my 2 Spade bid was partly responsible for this poor result.  Jenn didn't expect me to have a really good hand, so she didn't think she could bid 3 Diamonds freely over 3 Clubs to show a good suit.  If she had, I would have bid 4 Hearts and we would have reached 4 Spades.

I welcome any comments on what agreements any of you have to cover situations like this. 

Good luck!


 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (3)

I was dealt another 6-5 beauty in yesterday's pair game.  In third seat, with neither side vulnerable, I picked up:

♠ void
♥ AKxxx
AQxxxx
♣ xx

Partner and RHO passed.  My plan was to start with 1 Diamond, then reverse into hearts.  While the hand had just 13 HCP, it had only 4 losers so surely was strong enough for a reverse.  LHO passed, and partner surprised me by bidding 1 Heart!  Now the hand became huge, so I immediately thought of a possible slam, even though partner was a passed hand.  RHO overcalled 1 Spade.  What now?

If I had been playing with Jenn, I would have had two tools in my arsenal to use here.  A jump to 4 Diamonds would show a strong heart raise with a 6-card or longer diamond suit with at least two of the top three honors.  Alternatively, I could jump to 3 Spades showing a strong heart raise and short spades.  I wasn't sure that this partner would have understood 4 Diamonds.  Even if he had, I think that 3 Spades is the superior call, since what I really needed to know was whether or not partner had a club control.  3 Spades left room for him to show it, so that is what I bid. 

LHO doubled.  Now partner, bless him, bid 4 Clubs, just what I wanted to hear!  RHO passed.  I could have dithered with a 4 Diamond cue bid, but I was concerned that LHO, who had doubled 3 Spades, would bid again, and since I thought that 6 Hearts would have a good play, I just bid it.  They led a spade, and partner looked at:

♠ void
AKxxx
AQxxxx
♣ xx

♠  xx
♥ QJxxx
♦  xx
♣ AQJT

6 Hearts was an excellent contract.  How would you play it?

It may make a difference whether you are playing matchpoints or IMPs.  Playing matchpoints, you have to consider how likely it is that others will be in this contract.  There is a safety play available that gives you about a 90%  play for the contract, but it gives up the possibility of making an overtrick.  At IMPs it is clear that you take the safety play.  Should you take it here in a pairs game?  Do you see it?

There are two possible lines of play: 

(1) draw trumps, taking 3 rounds if necessary, and take a diamond finesse.  If it wins, cash the ace.  If diamonds split 3-2, ruff out the diamonds, ruff the last spade, and pitch all your clubs, making an overtrick.  If diamonds split 4-1, you will not be able to get enough club pitches after ruffing out diamonds, so take 2 club finesses and if that suit comes in, you make an overtrick.  If not, you make 6.  If the diamond finesse loses and a club comes back, you have to guess whether to play for 3-2 diamonds (play the ace and go for 3 club pitches on good diamonds) or take the club finesse.  If you guess wrong, you go down. 

(2) draw one round of trumps ending in your hand.  If trumps are 2-1, leave the last trump out and lead a diamond.  Play the ace unless LHO shows out and ruffs.  Draw the last trump, again winning in your hand, and play a diamond towards dummy.  If LHO wins, you can set up the diamonds for 3 club pitches, making six.  If LHO follows and RHO wins, and plays a club, you don't have to finesse, as diamonds are breaking 3-2.  Go up with the ace, set up the diamonds and take 3 club pitches, again making six (unless RHO had a stiff king of diamonds, in which case you make seven).  If LHO shows out on the second diamond, and RHO wins and returns a club, take the club finesse.  If it wins, you make six.  If not, then nothing you do could have succeeded.   

We made six and got a top board.  I later found out that other pairs had more interference.  At some tables, my RHO opened 2 Spades.  I have a tool to handle this.  A bid of 4 of a minor after a weak 2 in a major shows a big 2-suiter with that minor and the other major, so I could have bid 4 Diamonds.  (Some people refer to this as Leaping Michaels.)  LHO, holding 5 spades, would almost certainly have competed with 4 Spades.  Partner looks to be good enough to bid 5 Hearts over this, after which I would have had to guess whether or not to go on to six.  In any event, nobody else got there, so it would have been best to play as safely as possible to make it.   

Good luck!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (2)

This is the second in what is likely to be several articles about one of my favorite themes.

At Wednesday's team game, I was dealt, vulnerable vs not, in second seat:

♠ ATxx
QTx
♦  Kxx
♣ KQx

RHO opened 2 Diamonds, weak.  This is a good hand, but not good enough to compete, so I passed.  Now the auction took a strange turn.  LHO bid 2 Spades, forcing.  Jenn, my partner, bid 2NT and RHO doubled! Are we playing with a 60-point deck, or is something unusual going on?

To put this in context, Jenn and I have an agreement known as the Sandwich NT.  When you are in fourth seat, LHO and RHO both bid and partner passes, you are in what is known as the "sandwich" position.  (Imagine both opponents being two slices of bread with you in the middle.)  Our agreement went as far as this:  when both opponents bid at the 1-level and you are in the sandwich position, a bid of 1NT is a takeout for the other 2 suits.  Since a double is also a takeout, the 1NT bid is either weaker or more distributional. 

We had not discussed whether this applies at the 2-level, or after one of the opponents had made a weak 2 bid.  So I wasn't sure what was going on, but suspected that Jenn had a distributional 2-suiter.  Anyway, since 2NT was doubled, I didn't feel the need to bid.  With my good hand, I was happy to suggest a good hand by passing.  Now LHO removed the double by bidding 3 Diamonds.  Jenn doubled, and RHO passed.  Now what?

I was now certain that Jenn's 2NT wasn't natural, given that I had Kxx of diamonds, LHO supported them and Jenn doubled 3 Diamonds.  So it must have been a takeout with hearts and clubs.  But since I had spades and diamonds stopped and a good hand, I tried 3NT.  Jenn removed this to 4 Clubs.  Now I was sure that she was very distributional, probably with at least 5 hearts and 6 clubs, and light in high cards.  Since I had QTx of hearts, I decided that since we were at the 4-level, I might as well try for a vulnerable game, so I bid 4 Hearts and everyone passed.

Now a strange thing happened.  This was such an unusual auction that RHO, thinking it was his lead, led the Queen of Diamonds out of turn!  With Kxx, I didn't like this lead, but I would be happy to have LHO lead diamonds, so, since this was one of my options, I asked for it.  LHO duly led the ace, and I looked at: 

♠  x
AKxxx
♦  x
♣ JTxxxx

♠ ATxx
QTx
♦  Kxx
♣ KQx

Readers of this blog know by now that Jenn is no shrinking violet when it comes to bidding!  She clearly took a risk coming into a forcing auction, but usually good things happen when you are 6-5, so in she came!  However, she never intended to play in 3NT with this distributional hand, so she wisely retreated.

After the ace of diamonds lead, 4 Hearts made with an overtrick (hearts were 3-2).

At the other table, RHO, with QJTxx of diamonds, passed, my hand opened 1 Club, and somehow our opponents wandered into 6 Clubs (Jenn's counterpart really came alive with 6-5 when his partner opened the bidding in his 6-card suit!) so we picked up 13 IMPs.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leads of Kings and Queens in No-Trump ***+

What should you lead from KQTx in no-trump?  What about KQT9?  KQTxx?  KQT9x? KQTxxx?  If partner leads a king, do you show count or attitude?  What if she leads a queen?  These are things to discuss with your partners. 

Most expert partnerships have the agreement that if one partner leads a queen, the other must drop the jack if he has it, since declarer will most always duck holding AJx(x) and the opening leader needs to know whether or not to continue the suit.  So if the leader doesn't see the jack, he will know not to continue.  They also have the agreement that when partner leads a king, you show attitude.  If partner leads the queen and you don't have the jack, you give attitude. 

Therefore, they lead the queen whenever they think it is safe for partner to drop the jack, but the king whenever they are unsure whether it is safe.  The queen is led when holding KQT9 or KQT9x or  KQTxxx.  With KQTxx, it is less clear, but most experts lead the queen from this holding as well.   With KQTx, however, most experts lead the king since it is more likely that declarer will hold A9xx.  In this case, they will continue the suit if partner encourages.

Follow-up plays once you drop a jack are less often discussed.  But agreements are useful here as well.  Suppose that partner leads the queen, dummy has a singleton 4, and you hold J973.  You duly play the jack, and declarer plays the 6.  Now partner continues with the king.  Which card do you play? 

If your partner would lead the queen from KQTxx, you should give present count on the second round.  If you are playing standard count signals, you should play the three, showing an odd number.  If you play upside down count signals, play the 9.  Partner will have to work out whether you started with 2 or 4.   A good declarer will try to disrupt these signals by falsecarding, but you have to do the best you can.  You should be confident that you won't give declarer a trick by signalling with the 9, since he had to have started with Axx.

It gets more dicey when partner leads the queen and you hold J9x.  Now, playing the 9 may give up a trick if declarer started with, say, A865 and his 6 was a falsecard.  Here there is no sure answer; if you don't play the 9, partner, with KQT8x, may fear that declarer has A965 and not continue this suit losing a valuable tempo.   But if you do, partner may hold KQT52 and declarer A86x.

Good luck!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jennbridge: Tres Elegant!

I had an average looking hand take an interesting turn a few weeks ago at matchpoints:

♠  K53
♥  K95
♦  A1098
♣ A109

Against relatively inexperienced players I opened a 14-16 notrump and partner bid 2H, a transfer to spades. RHO doubled the transfer and, as I had 3 spades, I accepted it by bidding 2S. Pard invited with 3S and I passed. LHO led the diamond king and the dummy was:

♠  AJ872
♥  63
♦  742
♣  KJ3

♠  K53
♥  K95
♦  A1098
♣ A109

At least my heart king was placed well. I would need to guess well in spades and clubs, however. I ducked the diamond and when LHO continued with the queen, RHO ruffed! He then cashed the heart ace and continued with the heart queen to my king, LHO following. In an effort to obtain information, I ruffed my last heart, LHO showing out. Now I led a spade to my king and a spade toward the dummy, LHO showing out again. OK--now I should have a count on the hand. RHO started with 4S, 6H, 1D and therefore 2 clubs.

How to play the clubs?  As LHO had casually pitched 2 clubs for her discards, I decided to play RHO for the queen doubleton.  Accordingly, I played the king of clubs and led a club toward my hand.  Hmmm . . . no queen. . . now what? I won the ace and here were the remaining cards:

♠  J8
♥  ---
♦  7
♣ J

♠  5
♥  ---
♦  A10
♣ 10

I studied these cards for a while, unwilling to concede defeat. I had already lost 3 tricks and had a sure trump loser. And then a vision of loveliness came into view . . . yes! I would exit with a spade and RHO's forced heart return would squeeze LHO! RHO duly won his spade queen and when he returned a heart I pitched my club and ruffed on the board. LHO had to discard from the club queen and the Jx of diamonds. Her diamond pitch enabled me to score my ace and 10 of diamonds, making my contract. Plus 140 was a tie for top.

What a fascinating play. The squeeze couldn't be executed with my cards alone. I had to have the extra pressure brought to bear by one of the opponents.  Giving up the trump trick I had to lose anyway actually rectified the count for the squeeze.

"Tres Elegant!" said my partner, Bob K.  "Merci", I smiled.
Update:  A further analysis of this hand reveals that the club finesse is unnecessary in any case.  Once a count of the hand reveals that RHO started with only two clubs, the ace and king can be played without regard for the queen as the squeeze always operates if the queen does not appear.  For a further description of this squeeze check out the upcoming letter in The Bridge World!

See you at the table!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Six or Seven? 5NT bid ***

In last week's team game, I picked this beauty up in third seat:

♠  KQx
♥  AKJxx
♦  AJxx
♣  x

Jenn dealt and opened 1 Spade!  I immediately thought of slam, possibly a grand.  I had a good fit and possible source of tricks.   I decided it would be best to take the wheel and get as much information as I could.  How would you proceed? 

I started with 2 Hearts, to create a game force, planning to bid spades next to set the trump suit.  Jenn responded 2 Spades, which by our agreement showed a 6-card or longer broken suit with unlimited values.  [An alternative approach, favored by Lawrence and used in Bridge World Standard, is to rebid 2 Spades to show minimum values, perhaps with only 5 spades, so that 2NT or 3 of a new suit would show extras.]  Now I bid 3 Spades to show the fit and slam interest.  Jenn replied 4 Spades, showing a minimum.  But even with her minimum, a grand slam wasn't out of the question if she had the right cards.

I checked for aces with 4NT, and she replied 5 Hearts, showing 2 keycards without the queen.  Now I tried 5NT, confirming that we had all the keycards and the trump queen.  This is an invitation to a grand which asks either for specific kings or acceptance with other suitable cards.  [If, for example, Jenn was looking at the heart queen, she might accept on the theory that I most likely had the AK of hearts.  If I only needed the heart king for seven, I would have bid 6 Hearts, not 5NT.]

Jenn replied 6 Spades, which denied any kings or interest in a grand slam.  I gave up and passed.   Jenn got a diamond lead and looked at:

♠  KQx
♥  AKJxx
♦  AJxx
♣  x
 
♠  AJ9xxx
♥  x
♦  xx
♣  A10xx


I can understand why she wasn't anxious to cooperate in a grand slam try!  She had only 9 HCP, but nonetheless a solid 1 Spade opening bid.  She played it as safe as she could to make six:

Diamond ace.
Heart AK pitching a diamond.
Club to the ace and club ruff low.
Diamond ruff.
Club ruff with the queen. 
Spade king.
Diamond ruff (LHO followed up the line on the second diamond).
Spade AJ drawing trumps.
Concede 1 club, making six.

Jenn told me later that if she were in seven, she probably would have made it.  Spades were 2-2, so she could have ruffed another club with dummy's king and drawn trumps with the AJ.  This would have required either 2-2 spades or 3-1 with a stiff ten, plus getting back to her hand once more with a ruff, risking an overruff.  Surely not worth the risk playing IMPs when the contract was 6, not 7.  +980 pushed the board.   

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Larry Cohen's Iron Law of Matchpoints

Larry Cohen has long been one of our best matchpoint players.  His accounts of several sessions of Life Master Pairs available on CD are excellent analyses of how to play matchpoints.

One of his favorite strategems is balancing when the opponents have settled at a low level.  In addition to the "Law of Total Tricks," there is another "Law" which he follows and which may be described as the "Iron Law of Matchpoints":

Never let the opponents buy a contract when they have bid and raised a major suit and stopped at the 2-level when you are not vulnerable.  Get them out of their comfort zone. 

There are several reasons for this:  (1) When they have a fit, you should have one also; (2) If you bid and go down one, even doubled, your score is better than allowing them to play it (-100 vs -110); (3) Much of the time, they will compete to the 3-level and go down.  The last possibility is what you are really hoping for; if they have to raise the level, they are outside of their comfort zone. 

Here is one example, from the Instant Matchpoint Game earlier this month.  We will post others as they come up.

You hold, in second seat with only the opponents vulnerable:

S  K96
H  J54
D  K742
C  T72.

RHO passes, you pass, and LHO opens 1 Diamond in third seat.  Partner passes, RHO bids 1 Spade, you pass, LHO raises to 2 Spades, and this is passed back to you.    This isn't much of a hand, but it is nonetheless time to apply the Iron Law.  Partner has to have a decent hand since the opponents stopped at the 2-level.  So I balanced with a double.  It isn't pretty, but I did have support for any suit partner bids.  Partner bid 3 Clubs, which ended the auction.  This worked out very well, as the entire hand was:

                     S J54
                     H T83
                     D QT52
                     C  AK9

S K96                          S 32
H J54                           H AKQ2
D K743                       D J6
C  T72                         C QJ865

                    S AQT87
                    H 976
                    D A98
                    C 43.

3 Clubs made 3 for +110 and 86 out of 100 matchpoints.  If I had passed, they would have made 2 Spades for -110 and 24 matchpoints.  If they had gone on to 3 Spades, they would have gone down 1, and we would have gotten 71 matchpoints. 

Get the opponents out of their comfort zone.  Your scores will improve.
                                          

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive!

Dave Neuman, my other partner besides Jenn, picked up this one yesterday:

♠ 109876
♥  none
♦  AKJ752
♣  A4

Nice hand, just 5 losers, could be really good if partner has spades, questionable otherwise.  Dave opened 1 Diamond, and heard LHO bid 1 Heart and partner make a negative double.  Just what he wanted to hear!  Partner has 4 spades and LHO's strength is in his void!  Better still, RHO raised to 2 hearts.   Slam is now a good possibility, since partner figures to cover most of your losers.  How should you proceed?  Should you take control of the auction or get partner involved?

Dave and I have an agreement that when one of us makes a negative double of a major suit overcall, we promise at least 4 of the other major.  After a 1 Heart overcall, a double shows 4 spades; after a 1 Spade overcall, a double shows at least 4 hearts.  We therefore also have the agreement that subsequent bidding by opener is as if the suit shown by the negative double was bid naturally.  So after the auction 1D-1H-Double, opener's bids are the same as if the auction was 1D-Pass-1S.  This is something that is worth discussing with your regular partner. 

If you want to take control, you could just bid 4NT, which partner would interpret as RKC for spades, the suit bid by partner (by inference, his negative double was a spade bid).  This commits the hand to the 5-level, which might be too high if partner has, say, QJxxx/Kxx/xxx/Qx.  But it has the advantage of pinpointing the trump honors to see if they are good enough for slam. 

If you want to get partner involved, you have two good options:   4 Diamonds, which shows a spade fit and a really good diamond suit, or 4 Hearts, which shows a big spade fit and heart shortness.

Dave decided to bid 4 Hearts.  Now the auction took an unusual turn.  LHO doubled, and partner redoubled!  What is going on here?  Dave and I have a general agreement that when a cue bid is doubled, a redouble shows first round control.  In this context, it also indicated slam interest.

So now Dave knew that I had the ace of Hearts and interest in slam.  So he knew he had a place to put his club loser if he got a club lead and could reach my hand to discard his club on my ace.  But he didn't know whether my slam interest was based on my trump holding. If I had, say, the queen of diamonds, that alone would be enough to be interested.  Now he had the options of bidding 4NT, RKC, taking control, or 5 Spades, asking me to go on to slam if I had a decent trump holding.   He chose to let me decide by  bidding 5 Spades.

I held:

♠ AJxx
♥  Axx
♦   xx
♣  Jxxx


I looked at my AJxx of spades and decided that this should be good enough trump support, so I bid 6 Spades. 
 
The two hands together are:

♠ AJxx
♥  Axx
♦   xx
♣  Jxxx

♠ 109876
♥  none
♦  AKJ752
♣  A4

We got a heart lead, but would have been in good shape even with a club lead.  The slam needs either 2-2 spades and no worse than 4-1 diamonds, or 3-1 spades with honors split and 3-2 diamonds.  This feels like a pretty good overall shot to me (if any of you are so inclined, you can calculate the exact odds), and indeed it came home when LHO had the stiff king of spades and diamonds split 3-2.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Matchpoint Delicacy + good opening lead problem *** vs. 5 level bid

We had several good boards in the first final session of the All Western Open Pairs due to conservative bidding, or, as I call it, "delicate matchpoint bidding".  This is in contrast, of course, to team play where aggressive bidding pays off.

1.  First seat, unfavorable, I made a rather undisciplined 2S bid with:

♠  KJ8765
♥  85
♦  85
♣  J76

Bob elected to pass with:

♠  A93
♥  xxx
♦  QJ97
♣  AKx

As Bob had 8 losers his pass was correct.  It netted us a plus 140 and 20 out of 25 matchpoints. 

We rely heavily on "losing trick count" theory in our bidding.  A weak-two bid has 7 or 8 losers, so you don't want to bid game unless you have a 6-7 loser hand.  With a 6 loser hand bid game.  With a 7 loser hand (at matchpoints) make a bid to elicit a description of opener's hand.  Discuss cover cards.

2.  Third seat, none vul., Bob opened 1H with:

♠  xx
♥  KJ10xxx
♦  xx
♣  AQ76

Next hand overcalled 1S and I raised to 2H with:

♠  Q1085
♥  Q865
♦  xxx
♣  K10

Next hand doubled, presumably responsive, and Bob made the key call of 3H, effectively preempting the opponents who were reluctant to  bid on.  As they could make 5 diamonds, losing only 2 clubs, our plus 140 gained us 22 out of 25 matchpoints.

3.  RHO opened 2S and Bob balanced with a 3 heart bid to me:

♠  J9xx
♥  J643
♦  K9x
♣  Kx

I made another delicate matchpoint pass.  At imps, it would be a no-brainer to raise to game, but our conservative bidding was paying off . . .

Bob's hand:

♠  Ax
♥  KQ1085
♦  AQ6
♣  Jxx

Plus 140 was worth 18 out of 25 matchpoints.  And so it went.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a big game despite all of these decisions that worked out well.

4. Finally, an opening lead problem from the same session:

♠  93
♥  107653
♦  4
♣  KQ872

RHO opened 1S, LHO bid 2D, RHO rebid 2S and LHO raised to 3S.  RHO bid 4C, LHO bid 4D, RHO bid 4S and after some thought, LHO bid 5S.  The auction guides you to the correct lead:

1S   2D
2S   3S
4C   4D
4S   5S

The 5S bid asks for the opener to bid 6 if he does not hold two quick losers in the unbid suit--in this case hearts. 

♠  93
♥  107653
♦  4
♣  KQ872

If you're not paying attention you might lead the king of clubs or the singleton diamond, but clearly a heart is called for.  We took the first two heart tricks and were rewarded for 22 of 25 matchpoints for holding them to 5.  Any other lead enables declarer to pitch a heart from his hand on a long diamond and make 6.

See you at the table!

A Three-Loser Special ***

How would you like to hold this beauty?

S AK7
H 2
D 5
C AKQJ9532

I picked this up in a Stratified Open Pairs game at the Great Western regional. I was in fourth seat. LHO opened the bidding with 1 Diamond and Jenn, my partner, overcalled 1 Spade and RHO passed.

What is your plan?

Since we're playing matchpoints, it's better to play in spades than clubs. However, clubs would be a safer contract since you don't need any kind of favorable split to draw trumps. You would like to play it in spades if partner has the queen of spades, since the suit will come in for no losers if it splits 3-2, a much better than even chance, or 4-1 if partner has the jack.  Even if she doesn't, she could hold 6 spades so a 2-2 split brings it home. However, if partner doesn't have the queen, you would rather play it in clubs.

Fortunately, we employ RKCB, so I decided not to mess around and went right to 4NT, which is RKCB for spades. I intended to play 5 Spades if partner had no aces (she would almost certainly have the spade queen or long spades to justify an overcall) , 6 Spades if she had one ace and the queen of spades, 6 Clubs if she had one ace without the queen of spades (if she doesn't have the spade queen, she needs something else besides just one ace to justify an overcall, on which I could get rid of the spade loser), or 7NT if she miraculously showed up with 2 aces and the queen of spades, covering all three losers.

Partner replied 5 Clubs, which showed 1 keycard (we play 1430). I now bid 5 Diamonds, asking about the spade queen. If she had it, I would play 6 Spades, if not 6 Clubs. She replied 6 Spades, which showed the queen but no outside kings. I was happy to pass. The defense cashed the ace of hearts, the spades came in as expected, and we scored +1430 for 31 out of 38 matchpoints.  We were surprised to receive such a good score, then realized that maybe not a lot of folks were overcalling with her hand.  She held:

S QT942
H A854
D Q96
C  8

Note the value of overcalling this hand even though we were vulnerable.  It made the auction easy.  When you partner has not yet bid, it often pays to get into the auction after the opponents have opened.  You can have a game, or even, sometimes, a slam! 


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

summer, Devil's Tickets, close game **+

Summer Greetings

I've been enjoying the summer--walking and swimming--and not writing about bridge. Bob and I are tuning up our game and revising our notes--getting ready for the NABC in Washington D.C. next week. We played team games in San Francisco, Oakland and Sonoma during the last few weeks.

On Sunday in Sonoma our team was languishing in the middle of the pack after 4 matches---our games hadn't been making! Finally, our close notrump games started to come home and we started moving up in the rankings. As we began our last match we were disappointed (and protested!) that we couldn't play the leaders, but knew we would have a good chance for second place with a solid win. Our opponents were good players and sometime teammates. The match seemed very close and I found myself in 3NT on the last board. I had to make it to win the match, but I didn't like my chances:

Kx
K8x
Kxxx
QJxx

10xx
A10xx
Jx
AKxx

I had opened 1C and pard bid 2C, inverted. I invited with 2NT, balanced minimum, and he bid 3NT. I got a low heart (attitude) lead and won the J with the ace. I could only count 6 tricks! I decided to play on hearts to see if I could develop anything there. Accordingly, I led a heart toward the 8 which I intended to finesse. LHO inserted the 9, however, and I won the K. I returned the 8 to his Q and now my 10 was good. Now I am up to 7 tricks (4 clubs and 3 hearts).

On the heart RHO pitched an encouraging spade and LHO shifted to a low spade. Now the contract is going down, I thought, so I was happy when the SK won. Now I was up to 8 tricks. It was now time to run the clubs and cash my last heart. On these cards RHO pitched several spades and discouraged in diamonds. All of a sudden I could see a faint chance for a 9th trick. I led a diamond toward the K and held my breath--(very possibly RHO will win and they will cash the rest of the tricks, or LHO will win and they will cash their spades). But--the K won! I had my 9th trick and threw in the rest of the cards. It turns out that there was a very fortunate spade holding--LHO had Ax, which prevented a wholesale cash out of spades.

We compared scores and the 10 imps won on this board propelled us to a 12 imp win and second place finish. Of course, the real reason you play bridge in Sonoma is to go to a nice restaurant afterward, which we did!

************
Check out this new bridge novel and enjoyable summer read:

The Devil’s Tickets - A Night of Bridge, A Fatal Hand, and a New American Age

Author and journalist, Gary M. Pomerantz has just released his latest novel, The Devil's Tickets - a fascinating look at the true story of glamorous Kansas City housewife, Myrtle Bennett, who killed her husband over a bridge game. Set during the Roaring Twenties', on the eve of the Depression, Pomerantz's novel weaves the story of the Bennett trial with the rising popularity of the bridge craze sweeping the country at the time. Click here to watch Part I of a peformance of an excerpt from the book. Click here to watch Part II of the performance. For more information about the author and the book, visit www.garympomerantz.com .

I was particularly interested in getting my hands on the book as my partner of many years, Frank Bessing, is quoted in the book. I remember when the author interviewed Frank, a family therapist, about the dynamics of couples playing bridge together. Dear Frank was an expert on that topic. :-) While the book doesn't contain any bridge hands, it is a fascinating story about the Culbertsons and the immense popularity of bridge during this interesting time in history.

Hope you all are having a great summer. If you have any questions or hands you want us to publish, send them along.

See you at the table!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Few Dicey 3NT Contracts **

At this weekend's Swiss Teams, I had to work my way through a minefield of 3NT contracts that were a bit hard on my nervous system.

1. I dealt and held:

xx
AKJx
Kxx
AKQx

With this nice balanced 21-count, I naturally opened 2NT, which Jenn raised to 3NT. I got a low diamond lead, and looked at:

Qx
xxx
QJT9x
xxx

xx
AKJx
Kxx
AKQx

I would have been down right off the bat with a spade lead, but prospects were still pretty bleak. RHO showed out and played a low spade (encouraging). There was only one chance. I had to hope that LHO would hold up her ace of diamonds to keep me from setting up and running them, instead of grabbing the ace and playing spades. So I took the king of diamonds and shot back a diamond. When LHO played low to trick 2 and I won in dummy, there was a glimmer of hope. All I needed was for the heart finesse to work and clubs to split 3-3, so I could run home with 2 diamonds, 3 hearts and 4 clubs. Amazingly, everything worked and we were +600.

2. I picked this up in 4th seat:

KJ
xxx
xx
AKQ98x

LHO opened 1 spade, and it went pass, pass to me. I tried 2 clubs. Jenn now cue bid 2 spades. This sounded like she had a decent hand but couldn't act over 1 spade. Since I had a spade stopper and a source of tricks, I applied Hamman's rule and took a shot at 3NT. LHO led the queen of diamonds, and I looked at:

8xxx
AJxx
AJx
Tx

KJ
xxx
xx
AKQ98x

If LHO had led a spade, this would have been easy: 6 clubs, two red aces and a spade. But this lead gave me a problem. I asked about the queen lead, and was told that they play standard leads. So what was going on? Clearly LHO had something like AQTxx of spades, and red suit cards to justify an opening bid. The only chances for a ninth trick seemed to be either the jack of diamonds (if LHO made a deceptive lead from KQx) or possibly the 8 of spades might set up (if RHO had either the doubleton 9 or ten). In any event, there was nothing to lose by ducking this trick. If RHO had the king, I'd have to rely on stopping the spades, as he would surely overtake the queen and shoot a spade through me. Fortunately, the queen held, and now I had 9 tricks, as I ran the clubs (they split) and played a diamond to the jack. Another nervous +600. (The defense's best shot would have been a heart lead (RHO had the king), but LHO had Qx and didn't find it.

3. I picked up, in third seat:

x
KQJxx
Kxxx
A98

Jenn dealt and opened 1 club. RHO passed, I bid 1 heart, and LHO doubled. Jenn rebid 1 spade, which showed spades and denied 3-card heart support. So I followed Hamman's rule again and bid 3NT (what else makes sense?)

LHO led the queen of diamonds, and I looked at:

J9xx
Ax
Ax
QT7xx

x
KQJxx
Kxxx
A98

I had 8 tricks: 5 hearts, 2 diamonds and the ace of clubs. My 9th trick had to come from clubs. How should I play the club suit?

Clearly, LHO had most of the 16 points outstanding, and based on the lead, probably didn't have AKQ of spades. So he probably had the king of clubs. However, since he doubled to show spades and diamonds, he was probably short in clubs, with his most likely holding Kx. I could push a club through him toward the queen to set up the ninth trick, but I thought that this play was very dangerous, since he would see the club suit ready to run and would probably shift to a spade, which I didn't want to happen. So I decided to play the queen of clubs from dummy and pass it to him. Now, looking at a club suit in dummy headed by only the ten, he wasn't so sure it was necessary to shift to spades, and he continued diamonds. I won the king in my hand, played a heart to dummy, and played another club to the 9. Bingo! This held and was home with 9 tricks. If LHO had shifted to spades after winning the club king, I would have gone down since his partner had KTxx.

4. Here's one where the cards were friendly but I was very nervous after trick 1. I was in fourth seat and picked up:

AQJxx
T
Kx
AJTxx

LHO dealt and opened 1 club. Jenn overcalled 1 diamond. With this nice 15-count, it looked like we should be in game somewhere, so I had to create a force with a cue bid of 2 clubs (1 spade wouldn't have been forcing). Jenn now bid 2 hearts. I tried 2 spades, Jenn rebid 3 diamonds, so it was once again time for Hamman's Rule: 3NT. LHO led the king of hearts, and I looked at:

Kx
Jxxx
AQT9x
Qx.

AQJxx
T
Kx
AJTxx.

It looked like I had 9 tricks as soon as I got the lead, but the defense attacked my weak spot. It sure looked to me as if they were about to run 5 heart tricks, with LHO holding AKx and RHO Qxxxx. But luck was in for me, as LHO shifted to a spade! After I got over my surprise, I managed to cash out 11 tricks - 5 spades, 5 diamonds and the club ace. It turned out that LHO started with AKQx of hearts so I was always safe.

5. I picked this up in 3rd seat:

Qxxx
T98x
AJ
xxx

Jenn dealt and opened 1 club. I bid 1 heart, and Jenn bid 2D, a reverse. I didn't like this hand much, but I decided to apply Hamman's Rule again and steer it into 3NT. I couldn't bid that directly (it would have shown at least 10 points), so I did it by first bidding 2NT, which is known as a Wolff Relay (she has to bid 3 clubs, and then I can either show a weak hand by rebidding my major or bidding 3 diamonds), then 3NT, which shows a hand about this strength, maybe a little better. I got a low heart lead, and looked at:

AJx
J
Qxxx
AKQTx

Qxxx
T98x
AJ
xxx.

The jack won the first trick. So if clubs split, I have 8 tricks, and have to guess which finesse to take for a ninth. I ran the clubs, watching the opponents' discards to see if I could get a clue what to do next. LHO discarded a low diamond, encouraging if they were telling the truth, then two spades including the ten. I was sure that he didn't have the king of spades given these discards, so I planned to finesse diamonds, assuming he was lying to me rather than signalling partner. But since I was in dummy, I decided there was nothing to lose by first cashing the ace of spades. Eureka - LHO dropped the king! So I never had to take a finesse at all. I ended up winning 4 spade tricks, and, amazingly, when I then played a diamond to the ace, his king fell so I ended up making six!

On the run of the clubs, LHO really had a hard time discarding. He didn't know that his partner had ducked a high heart honor (not a good choice), so he thought he was being squeezed in 3 suits!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Double-Edged Sword

Many expert pairs play weak 1NT openings. They are a useful preemptive device that frequently earn large swings in team competitions. The problem is that the swings sometimes go against you, and for unexpected reasons. Here's an example of one that resulted in a disaster for our opponents.

With both sides vulnerable, RHO opened 1NT, described as 12-14. I held this nice collection:

Axx
Qxx
AKxx
AQx.

I doubled, LHO took out to 2 spades, natural, and it went pass, pass, back to me. With this big balanced hand, I decided to come back in with 2NT. We hadn't discussed the meaning of this action, but surely it showed something like this. Jenn rebid 3 clubs, which I interpreted as Stayman. I rebid 3 diamonds, and she put me into 3NT.

LHO led the king of spades, and when she tabled the dummy I was looking at:

x
Jxxx
JTxxx
xxx

Axx
Qxx
AKxx
AQx.

I didn't like my chances. Perhaps Jenn might have passed 2NT, but, being no shrinking violet, aggressively tried for a vulnerable game by looking for a heart fit, and retreating having not found it.

I only could see 4 sure tricks, and even if the diamonds split or the queen dropped singleton, I only would have 7 fast tricks. Even with a successful club finesse, I still would be a trick short. So a lot had to go right. First of all, LHO had to hold 6 spades, so I could isolate his suit by holding up the ace. Second, he had to have no outside entry. Finally, I was short a tempo to establish a possible ninth trick in hearts, so I needed some help from the defense.

LHO took the king and queen of spades, and slipped by continuing with the jack. Now, I took the ace and stopped to count the hand. Partner has 2 points, I have 19, so we have 21. LHO showed up with the KQJ of spades, another 6. So only 13 points are not accounted for, of which RHO has at least 12. So I knew that RHO had the AK of hearts, the club king and diamond queen. But if he had only 3 spades and the doubleton queen, I now knew that I could get home. I cashed the diamond AK, held my breath, and got the 2-2 split. Now I had 2 dummy entries with my low diamonds, so I could go over to the diamond ten and punch a heart through RHO, forcing him to win. I held my breath again, and was rewarded when RHO shifted to a club. Now I could win the queen, play another heart and set up my ninth trick in hearts. 3NT bid and made and 10 IMPs for the good guys!

This victory was made possible only because of the weak NT. Without it, we would never have gotten to 3NT on our own, and I wouldn't have likely been able to place all the cards even if we had.

Another point of interest: LHO could have defeated the contract had he not played a third round of spades and instead shifted to clubs. It is often not a good strategy to set up a suit for which you have no entries, particularly when the declarer can figure this out from the bidding. Here, LHO had a difficult decision to make. If he shifted to a heart or club, he might finesse his partner when dummy had no entries. If, for example, his partner held Kx instead of Qx of diamonds, I would not have been able to get to dummy to take a finesse in any suit. So shifting was risky. Here, tempo was more critical than entries, but he didn't know that. So his decision to continue spades, while wrong this time, is not a clear error. Perhaps his partner could have helped him by carding in spades to give him a suit preference signal. Given that his partner held AK of hearts and KJ of clubs, it wasn't clear to him that clubs was actually the suit that had to be played. So this was a very difficult defense, maybe worthy of Kantar for the Defense!

A Minor Problem

Last week at the club's Wednesday night team game, Jenn held, in third seat:

KJTx
JTxx
Qxx
Kx.

I dealt and opened one diamond. She responded 1 heart, then I bid 3 clubs, a strong jump shift. Jenn naturally followed Hamman's Rule and bid 3 no-trump. Now I surprised her with another jump to 5 clubs! This got her annoyed (she doesn't like to be taken out of 3NT) and started her thinking. What is going on here? There were contradictory indicators. Normally a jump to game in a forcing auction is fast arrival, signifiying lack of interest in slam. On the other hand, I had jump shifted so I must have a really strong hand. Why had I not rebid 4 clubs, when it would have been forcing, or bid 4NT. One problem was that 4NT here was undiscussed. It could have been interpreted as either straight Blackwood (no suit had been agreed), or a general slam invite asking partner to go to either six of a minor or 6NT with extra values. So, reader, why do you think I bid 5 clubs, and what call do you make? Decide before reading on.

Jenn decided that I had to have a hand with very few losers. Since she was looking at the club king and diamond queen, she knew that these were huge cards and covered two losers. She decided that I likely had a void and only one major suit loser, say 6-5 in the minors and Ax in one major and a void in the other, or 6-6 in the minors with a singleton in one of the majors. So she bid 6 diamonds.

This turned out to be the winner, since I held:

x
void
AKJxxx
AQJxxx.

I had some tough decisions to make here. The hand has only 2.5 losers, so it is very powerful. You can't really describe it by opening 2 clubs, so I decided to start with 1 diamond and rebid a large number of clubs, depending on who did what. With this much shape, usually there is a lot of bidding around the table. I was pleased and surprised to hear it go pass, 1 heart, pass. This made it easy for me to make a game-forcing jump shift to 3 clubs. Now, when Jenn bid 3NT, I had to decide what to do next. My choices seemed to be 4 clubs, 5 clubs or 6 clubs. Because of my void, it would have been pointless to make any bid that Jenn could interpret as ace-asking such as 4NT. I thought that she might be put in an awkward position if I rebid 4 clubs and she preferred clubs to diamonds. I suspect that if so, she would cue bid a major suit ace or go to 5 clubs if she didn't have one, information that wasn't that useful to me. I decided to go for 5 clubs because I thought that Jenn would look at this in the way I described above - a big hand with few losers and a void someplace. I didn't think I could commit to 6 clubs, since she surely would bid 3NT on many hands that held no aces nor the missing minor suit honors, e.g., QJxx/KQxx/xx/xxx, where even 5 of a minor isn't safe.

Fortunately, we were on similar wavelengths and landed in the right place.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fun Friday

I had some fun hands playing matchpoints with Bob at our weekly Friday afternoon game.

1. Vul. against not, I opened 1D and heard LHO overcall 1S:

AKQx
xxx
Kxxx
9x

Pard made a negative double and RHO jumped to 3S, preemptive. I passed and hoped that pard would reopen with a double. Instead he bid 4C. Hmmm...now what?


4C rated to be a lackluster place to play so I bit the bullet and bid 4H. At least I wouldn't get tapped in spades! A spade was led and the sight of dummy didn't exactly fill me with confidence:

x
KQ10x
Jxx
KJ10xx

AKQx
xxx
Kxxx
9x


I won RHO's jack and paused to consider the play. It looked like I needed to set up clubs in addition to drawing trumps. To accomplish this I needed to lead toward the dummy 3-4 times but I was sorely lacking in entries to my hand. Well--let's see what we can do.


I pitched two diamonds on the remaining spade honors and ran the 9 of clubs. RHO won the ace, paused and played the ace of diamonds. LHO and I both encouraged and she continued diamonds which I won with the king, while LHO played the Q. Good--back in my hand.


I led a heart to the K which held. The only way back to my hand was to play the CK and ruff a club. All followed. So far, so good. I led another heart and the Q held. Now was the moment of truth.


S: ---
H: 10x
D: ---
C: J


S: x
H: ---
D: xx
C: ---

Let's see. LHO started with 5S, 2D, 3C and therefore 3H. If this analysis is correct, I can merely play a trump, with the J and the ace falling on the same trick and the dummy would be good--making 4. I check my analysis. Would RHO really have made a preemptive jump raise with Jxx of spades and two aces? Highly unorthodox, but it was the last board of the last round against friendly rivals. Was it possible that LHO overcalled 1S with 10xxx? Even more unlikely. After double checking the count, I exited with a heart and claimed the contract. Plus 620 was a top and a satisfying finish to a good game.

2. One other hand from midway through the game. None vul., the bidding goes pass, pass to you:

x
Qxx
J10xxx
Jxxx

Certain the opponents could make a game, I surprised myself by opening 1D--now the adventures begin!

LHO makes a takeout double and pard bids 1S. RHO bids 2C, I pass and LHO raises to 3C. Pard, who I wish would be quiet, bids 3D. RHO now bids 4C and LHO pauses for a while before passing. Good--they can make a game but are going to play in 4C!

But wait--pard, not in on the joke, starts thinking. (PASS, I think--let them play 4C!) But no--pard bids 4D and RHO doubles quickly. Uh oh--what have I done--how bad will it be?

LHO leads the ace of diamonds and dummy isn't so bad:

K9xx
AJ10
Qxxxx
x

x
Qxx
J10xxx
Jxxx

Actually I rather like my chances--particularly after the DA lead crashes the king! The club ace is cashed and diamonds are continued. Another defensive slip occurs, the heart king is onside and I end up making 5, for the unlikely score of 610. Most of the other pairs holding the opponents' cards were plus 420 in spades, but pard picked off the spade suit in our auction. Whew--that was nerve wracking--I'll think twice before I do that again...:-)

A note on the bidding: After 1D, X, 1S,--double by 4th hand should show spades. Beware playing this bid as responsive. Double, showing spades, prevents the theft of the spade suit and also exposes a psych. Discuss this with your partner.

See you at the table!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Opening Lead Problem

Last Saturday, I held:

A984
KQ76
T732
4

RHO opened 1 Spade. LHO bid 2 Clubs (game force). RHO raised to 3 Clubs. LHO bid 3 Hearts, and RHO closed out the bidding with 3 No Trump. What do you lead?

LHO's 3 Heart bid sounded like a Heart stopper, although it might be a 4-card suit. RHO's 3NT bid indicated a Diamond stopper. So should I have led a heart or a diamond, and if so, what card?

I reasoned that the club suit was probably running, so we need to make an aggressive lead. Since RHO bid spades, supported clubs and bid no-trump, he probably would be short in hearts. So I led the king of hearts, hoping he had no more than two hearts, and that either partner had the heart jack, or that if the opponents held it, declarer would have it singleton or doubleton, and partner would have the ten and possibly a long suit. This worked out perfecly, since the opponents' hands were:

T2
A42
64
AQJ765

KQJ63
J
AJ8
KT93

The king smothered the jack, and the defense had 4 heart tricks set up. Since the declarer only had 8 quick tricks, he just gave up the ace of spades and went down.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Winning Imps *

It seems I always return to my favorite topic: winning imps! The second annual Frank Bessing memorial team game was a success. I gave a lesson on responding to overcalls which I shall post in due course. There were numerous opportunities to pick up imps--see how you would bid these hands.

1. Vul., first board, first match against the team that is most likely to be competitive with you.

9xxxx
x
AKxxx
Ax


I opened 1S, LHO doubled and Bob, my partner, bid 2C--a constructive spade raise. RHO, a conservative player passed. What is your call?


I decided to jump to game. Partner's values should be working and maybe I have just taken an advance save over 4H. A heart is led and dummy is:


AQ10
xxxx
xx
Qxxx

9xxxx
x
AKxxx
Ax

The spade honors are onside, the diamonds break 3-3 and I score up my (19 point) vulnerable game, winning 10 imps.

2. I was admiring this hand when I heard the bidding go pass, pass, 3S. Now what?

Kxxx
AJx
AKQJx
x


I couldn't think of anything other than 3NT, although I admit I was a little worried when LHO tabled a club.

xx
K109xx
xxx
QJx

Kxxx
AJx
AKQJx
x

No problem. Pard had a club stopper. LHO had the HQ and I ended up plus 660 winning 13 imps. Apparently the person with my hand doubled at the other table and they ended up in 4H going down.

3. Vul. vs. not, LHO opens 1D and it goes pass, pass to you.

xx
KQJx
AQJx
Axx

Too strong to balance with 1NT, I started with a double and heard LHO bid 1S. Pard doubled this, showing spades. What do you bid now?


I now jumped to 2NT-maybe a little pushy, but always pushing for these vulnerable games. Partner cooperated by bidding 3NT and a low spade was led.

AJ9xx
10xx
xx
Q10x

xx
KQJx
AQJx
Axx

Prospects didn't look too bad. I got off to a bad start by ducking a spade to the 10, but with soft defense we ended up plus 630 for another 12 imps.

All in all, a good day.

See you at the table!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Great Opening Lead that Won a Big Match

Dave Neuman and I were in the second round of a two-day Bracket 1 Regional KO this week. This is known as the "money round". If you win, you are guaranteed to win a bushel of master points, usually about 15. If you lose, you don't get much. The match was close, so there was a lot at stake.

Dave picked up, with both sides vulnerable, this unpromising collection:

xx
ATxxx
xxxx
xx

The auction proceeds as follows (your side passes throughout:

RHO............LHO

1 Spade........2 Diamonds
2 Spades.......3 Spades
4 Clubs........4 Diamonds
4 Spades.......4 NT
5 Hearts.......6 Spades

What do you lead? Decide before reading on.

Chances for defeating the contract don’t look good. LHO showed a diamond suit, then made a slam try with 3 Spades, with which his partner cooperated. All the suits are controlled. Not only are the diamonds going to come in (your 4 small is a death holding), but if a club finesse is needed, it is going to work (RHO has the ace, so if partner has the king, it's in front of it). However, there is still some hope. The cue-bidding at the four level made it clear that declarer has two heart losers, since he bypassed 4 Hearts to bid 4 Spades. Still, his partner Blackwooded and bid the slam. So the heart king (or a singleton) must be in dummy. Nothing can be done if dummy has a singleton heart, but if dummy’s heart control is the king, a low heart lead might put declarer to a nasty guess at trick one. So Dave tossed out a low heart, underleading his ace! He was very pleased to see the following dummy:

Kxxx
KJ
AKJxx
QJ

Declarer thought for a moment, then called for dummy’s jack. I covered with the queen and, after I got over the shock of winning the trick, I returned a heart (smart play!) to defeat the slam. Declarer held:

AQJxxx
xx
Qxx
Ax

Our teammates also reached the slam, but on a less revealing auction (they simply used Jacoby 2NT rather than showing the diamonds), received a club lead and made the contract. We won 17 IMPs and the match, which was decided by much less. Well done, Dave!

There are two key points to this hand.

1. Pay attention to the bidding. Sometimes you can end up a hero.

2. Don't give unneccesary information to your opponents. Look at LHO’s hand again. Once his partner made a control bid of 4 Clubs, there was no reason for him to bid 4 Diamonds. The 4 Club bid gave him all the information he needed to proceed directly to 4NT, since he knew that his side didn't have 2 fast losers in any suit. If his partner shows 2 keycards and the spade queen, he bids 6 Spades. If not, he stops in 5 Spades. So, all his 4 Damond bid accomplished was to reveal the heart situation to the defenders and guide the opening lead. If LHO had bid Blackwood directly over 4 clubs, Dave might still have found this lead, but the choice would not have been as clear (for example, a club lead might be the winner if partner has the KQ of clubs and declarer needs to knock out your heart ace).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Trio of Slams

The hands were exciting at Friday's game at the club. Jennifer and I were dealt three hands where we got good results by making the right slam decisions.

Hand 1

I was dealt this hand:

AK
ATxx
xxxx
AKx

Jenn dealt and opened 1 Diamond. I immediately thought that this beautiful hand had a lot of slam potential with its 18 prime points. I bided my time with a 1 Heart response. She now bid 1 Spade. I wasn't sure where we were headed, so I continued to bide my time with a fourth suit forcing bid of 2 Clubs. Now she surprised me by jumping to 3 Diamonds. What do you think of your prospects now?

At this point, I was 90% sure that we were cold for 7 Diamonds. What values could she possibly have to justify a jump rebid after we were already in a game forcing auction? Surely she had a very good Diamond suit, since she could have at most one king and no aces outside. If she had as little as AKQxxx of Diamonds, and no other points at all, I could see 13 easy tricks if trumps split 2-1 (6 Diamond tricks, 5 top tricks in my hand plus two spade ruffs). I could easily have just bid 7 Diamonds at this point. But just to make sure, I chose to bid 4 Diamonds. In our methods, this was Roman KeyCard Blackwood for Diamonds, since her jump rebid promised a very good suit. She rebid 5 Clubs, which promised two keycards and the trump queen. Now I was certain that we could make 7 Diamonds, so I bid it. 13 tricks were easy, as she actually held:

Jxxx
x
AKQJTxx
x

AK
ATxx
xxxx
AKx

Note Jenn's decision to make a jump rebid despite holding only 11 HCP. Since she held a terrific source of tricks, she decided, correctly, that this hand had extra values so that a rebid of 2 Diamonds was just not enough. We tied for top on this board.

Hand 2

Jennifer took the reins on this one (by Jenn).

I was quite pleased to hear Bob open 1 spade when I held:

QJxx
void
AQx
AKJ10xx

Before I could plan my bidding, RHO stuck his nose in with a preemptive jump overcall of 3 hearts. What do you bid now? (Think for a moment before reading on...)



I have several options. 4H and 4C are both forcing. But Bob and I play a useful convention called Exclusion Blackwood which enables you to ask for key cards in all suits but one (generally the suit in which you're void). Your jump to the 5 level in your void suit agrees the last suit bid by partner as trumps and asks for the number of key cards outside of that suit.

Accordingly, I jumped to 5H. Before I made this bid I assured myself that the response wouldn't get us too high. I decided that he needed to have at least 1 of the top spade honors for his opening bid, so that we would be safe bidding a small slam. If he had both the ace and king of spades I wanted to be in a grand slam since 13 tricks were likely (if partner has the club queen, you have 5 spades, 6 clubs, the diamond ace and one heart ruff; if not, clubs can be set up by ruffs and you can probably get additional heart ruffs as needed).

As this was an unexpected development, Bob took his time before responding. He then showed two key cards outside of hearts and I jumped to 7 spades. He held:

AKxxx
K10
xxx
Qxx

QJxx
void
AQx
AKJ10xx

As expected, my club suit provided any pitches that needed to be made in the red suits. We scored up 1510 for a very good score.

*Note on exclusion: This is a valuable, but advanced convention. As it can lead to spectacular disasters (we observed a world class partnership declaring a contract at the 5-level in a 2-0 fit), be sure you study and discuss it thoroughly with your partner before attempting to use it. The generally accepted approach, which Bob and I use, is that any jump to the 5-level in a suit other than partner's last bid suit is exclusion with the last bid suit agreed as trumps unless a trump suit has previously been clearly established by a raise. For example, 1 Spade - 2 NT (Jacoby raise) - 4 Clubs (long club suit with 2 of top 3 honors) - 5 Diamonds is exclusion with Spades, not Clubs, agreed as trumps.

Hand 3

Jennifer dealt and opened 1 Club, and I looked at

Axx
KTxx
AKQxx
x

Once again, slam looked likely. I held 16 prime HCP with controls in every suit. I bid 1 Diamond (with a good hand, there is no need to bypass a long diamond suit to bid a 4-card major). She now rebid 1 Heart. Now my hand is gilt-edged. The best thing to do now is simply go right to 4NT, which would be RKC for Hearts, so as not to help the defense. I bid 4C, a splinter raise, which was, in retrospect, a mistake since I knew that she didn't have a Diamond control to cue bid so would bid 4 Hearts no matter what she had. Anyway, I bid 4NT over her 4 Hearts and she showed 2 Keycards without the trump queen, so I bid 6 Hearts since the queen was missing. Now a spade lead, which was indicated by the bidding, would have made the slam dicey since Jenn held:

xxx
AJxx
10xx
AKx

In order to make this slam, it is necessary to discard two spades from her hand on the long diamonds. However, with a spade lead, she would have to guess the location of the trump queen and draw all the trump before running diamonds. However, she was fortunate to get the 9 of diamonds lead. So she was looking at:

Axx
KTxx
AKQxx
x

xxx
AJxx
xxx
AKx

She decided that the best thing to do was to find out, first, if the diamond lead was a singleton. So she went to the ace of clubs and led a second diamond out of her hand. The idea is that if this is ruffed in front of dummy, the hand ruffing in is likely to be long in hearts, so she was planning to eventually play it for the heart queen. Additionally, if the diamond is ruffed, LHO will be ruffing a loser which will enable the diamonds to still be useful for pitching spades. As it happened, her LHO followed to a second diamond. Now she didn't have to find the heart queen. She just cashed the ace and king, leaving the queen outstanding, and played the diamond queen, which was ruffed with the heart queen. Now it was easy to pitch her losing spades on the diamonds and claim. We got 75% of the matchpoints.

Bid your slams!