Monday, July 30, 2007

Bidding and balancing over 1 Notrump *** good advice

There are many conventions for getting in the bidding when your opponent opens 1 notrump. The problem is that they are under-utilized because people are intimidated by the announced strength of the 1nt opener. Too many hands are played in 1nt when the opponents should have gotten into the bidding.

When you think about it, after 1nt, pass, pass—your side will have about half of the deck. The points will be divided roughly equally. If the opener has a maximum of 17 and his passing partner has a maximum of 7, one side has 24 and the other side 16.

At the other extreme, the notrump opener could have 15 and his partner 0. Now the defending side has 25 points and can probably make a game.

Now look at the average. The notrump opener has 16 and the passer has 5. Now both sides are relatively equal. The opponents of the opener need to get into the bidding! The hand does not “belong” to either side and the part-score battle should begin.

There are various ways to get into the auction. Today I’ll discuss the balancing seat because I think that is the easiest. Once the hand is passed around to 4th seat, quite a bit of information is known. The balancer knows that their side may have as many or more points than the opener’s side. (Pay attention to the action of the responder of the opening bidder…was he thinking about bidding?)

  • If you have a decent suit, bid it.
  • If you have a convention, use it.
  • If you have a good hand, double. (Don’t just sit there!)
  • Bear in mind that the hand will play well because you know where most of the points are.

Having written the above, I was waiting for a hand so I could "practice what I preach". The cards obliged and I picked up this hand at matchpoints the other day playing with Bob K. With both vulnerable, LHO opened 1NT and it went pass, pass to me. I held:


Not too impressive, but about what might be expected. I didn’t like my heart suit too well, but felt I needed to get into the auction, so I showed a “one suited hand” and landed in 2H. No one doubled. I liked my chances when I saw the dummy:



As you can see, our side has exactly half the high card points. The spade K lead was overtaken by the Ace and a club returned. (Now I have only 1 spade loser.) The opponents probably could have managed a club ruff to hold me to two, but I ended up making 3 for plus 140 and all of the matchpoints. (Making two would have been the same score.)

I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have made the bid, vulnerable at teams, for fear of going for a big number, but it certainly worked well at matchpoints! Larry Cohen writes about this subject and when I e-mailed him to ask whether it was in one of his online articles he said no, look in his book: To Bid or Not to Bid.

Let me know if you start bidding more against strong notrumps and get good results!

See you at the table!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Notrump Games ****good cuebid example

A couple of the notrump games we played last night at handicapped teams had some interesting bidding aspects.

1. I opened 1D with this attractive collection:

LHO bid 1H and Frank bid 2C. Now I need to be careful about my rebid--to be certain that we get to game, and the correct one, at that! Three diamonds is an underbid with this 4 loser hand, so I settled on 2H. It is game forcing and generally asks partner to describe his hand. Frank bid 2N--the bid I hoped to hear and I bid 3N--hoping that we weren't underbid. My hand was a pleasant sight for him and he had to lose two hearts--making 5.
2. As dealer vulnerable, I found myself looking at:
I hate these hands. If I open, then I worry that we'll get too high so I keep the brakes on. If I pass, then I worry that we'll miss game so I get overly aggressive! I decided to pass and Frank opened 1H. Now I can't bid 2C because that is Drury, so I temporize with a forcing NT. He bids 2D and I start wondering whether he has a full opener because he is in 3rd seat. Nevertheless, since we can't afford to miss a vulnerable game I jump to 3NT.
Dummy isn't bad:
xxx A10xxx AKx Qx
I duck the H lead and RHO thinks for a while before returning the SK.
AJ9 9x Qxx KJ10xx
This is encouraging. I win the Ace, knock out the club ace, the SQ is indeed on my right, the clubs break well and I score up 630. Win 10 imps. I know I must sound like a broken record, but this is what imps are all about--bidding games!
In retrospect I think I should have opened the hand because as 11 point hands go, this is a good one. I have a good 5 card suit, my honors are in my suits and I have good spots.

See you at the table!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Discourse on Defense ***good advice--add Smith Signals

I have been looking for some good defensive hands which can be explained relatively simply. Bob Klein and I had a couple yesterday at matchpoints.

What things do we think about as we are defending a hand? I have been asked this question and will present my thoughts in a stream of consciousness fashion as I describe these hands.

1. After LHO opened 1H and RHO responded 1NT I couldn't get into the auction with the hand below. Partner hesitated for a while before passing. Had he doubled I probably would have left it in as I had a great lead, had tricks, they were vul., etc.


I lead the SK and see:


My hand: KQJ10

Declarer wins the second spade and leads a D to the King. Partner thinks a while before winning and returning a spade.

As I cash my spades the defense is becoming clear. Declarer has diamonds and possibly no way to her hand now that the spade ace is gone. Maybe we can keep her on the board. I need to lead a club and it is important that I choose the right one. I can't waste the 10 and the low one looks too encouraging, so I settle on the 8. Declarer plays the K and partner plays the J. Maybe partner also has the club Q so that declarer can't get to her hand in clubs.

She leads the HQ from the board and it holds. I can't win it because she might have started with Kx of hearts and be able to get to her hand with the HK. She plays another H and partner now wins his King, declarer discarding a diamond. Now our preparation pays off as partner returns the CQ. Declarer wins the ace and then exits with a club to my 10.

We have now won 3 spades, 1D, 1H and 1C. When I cash my HA she is down 1. As the dummy is now good I play the DJ to finally let her into her hand in case partner has another diamond trick. He doesn't and down 1 is above average.

This is a fun and effective defense--locking declarer either in his hand or on the board--whatever it takes to prevent declarer from taking all his tricks! The situation comes up frequently.

It is important to keep counting our defensive tricks.

2. Here is a variation on the same theme. RHO opens 1NT, his partner bids Stayman, he shows hearts and they end up in 3NT. I am on lead with:


As I finger my 4th best club I consider the fact that my partner didn't double the 2C (Stayman) bid. My second choice would be the D9, but I decide to go with the club. Dummy hits with:


I note that there wasn't a transfer bid and that they might have missed a spade fit. They may be in an unusual (anti-field) contract. This can be good or bad, but it is important to stay focused and alert. Declarer plays low and wins partner's club 7 with his 8.

The first thing I do is count the points so that I know how many my partner has. Let's see--declarer and dummy have 26-28 combined and I have 7. That leaves partner with 5-7. I always get this count right away. Getting the count is easiest at the beginning of the hand and necessary for best defense. It also helps you prepare for any key plays.

Declarer plays 4 rounds of hearts before starting on spades. I note that this is probably not best for him...he should be trying to set up the spades first and then using hearts as entries to the spades. He could also try for an extra club trick. He finally starts spades by leading the J from his hand. I cover with the Q and partner wins the Ace.

Here are the remaining cards--dummy is nearly decimated.

My hand: x

Partner returns a diamond. Declarer wins the ace as I discourage. I don't really need to discourage as partner should know my remaining cards-as I know his. I think he has 2-3 points left in diamonds and he should know that I have the AJ of clubs because declarer is not playing clubs.

Declarer leads a spade to the 10 and partner wins the next spade trick with the 9. Now partner finally returns his remaining club and I win my ace. Note the timing. We were careful not to give declarer a second trick in clubs. I don't take my ace until dummy has no more entries.

I return the diamond 9 and declarer eventually has to give partner two tricks in diamonds. Down 1 for a tie for top.

Declarer's hand:

The opponents should have been in 4S and the declarer didn't give the hand best play...but it is still important to be attentive and defend correctly to take advantage of the situation.

To summarize, count your partner's points, try to figure out what declarer is trying to do and then work to thwart his plan, don't waste your honors and pay attention to signals and timing.

Good defense can be challenging, but also very satisfying.

See you at the table!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bidding over Preempts--good advice **

 couple of weeks ago: bidding over preempts. I have a couple of hands from the Palo Alto sectional.

1. LHO opens 3S, pass, pass to you and you hold:


You don't really want to start with a double because that will take you past 3NT. So there is no plausible alternative but to bid 3NT yourself. That's what I did and it was a push board. Partner had enough cards to bring home the contract.

2. RHO opens 2S and you hold:


I overcalled 3D, LHO jumped to 4S and partner bid 5D. Careful play brought home the contract. I hoped that we would win some imps but it, too, was a push board.

OK, these weren't too tough. Send me some tough ones.

The were certainly some difficult ones recently in the Senior Trials. I've never seen so many hands played at the 5 and 6 level. One of the commentators pointed out that it is not good form to drive to an unmakeable slam after the opponents preempt and take up all your bidding room. Just settle for your game. He added that it was psychologically damaging to your match to get too high after being preempted. Sounded like good advice to me.

I've learned that you have to give up looking for the perfect contract when the opponents preempt. Just make a practical bid, try to get to a decent contract, and move on to the next hand.

And of course there is the old adage: "The 5 level belongs to the opponents". You have often done your job when you have pushed them to the 5 level. Just sit back, defend as as well as possible, and hope they go down.

After a preempt it may seem dangerous to bid...but it is usually equally dangerous to pass! When you find yourself in that impossible situation the preempt has been effective. I have found that it is usually right to bid. Just do it and hope you don't hear a loud double!

Finally, if you find that bidding over preempts is especially troublesome, fight back...step up your own preempting!

See you at the table!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Perfect 4th

A perfect 4th of July includes meditation, a swim, kibitzing some good bridge online, writing in my blog, firing up the grill for some good food and an extravagant fireworks show complete with music.

Now down to business... I think that Flannery is a fun convention to play although many experts don't like it because it gives away too much information. Flannery is an opening bid of 2 diamonds which contains 11-15 points, 5 hearts and 4 spades. It has several follow-up bids to enable you to get to the best contract.

We play a standard Flannery defense which rarely comes up (because not too many folks play Flannery!) Last week at the club, however, my RHO dealt and opened 2D, Flannery, and I was looking at:


With both vul. at imps I thought I would look for a fit and started trying to remember the Flannery defense. Ah...yes...Double = strong NT, 2H = takeout and 2N is for minors...So I bid 2N!

LHO jumped to 4H and Frank bid 5D. This seemed promising but RHO then bid 5H.

It turns out that 5D is a make and 5H went down 1 for plus 100. It was hard to evaluate this result, but I thought it was probably good as I didn't expect my opponents to find the 5D game. Wrong! Our counterparts bid 5D and made it so we lost 11 imps when our relatively inexperienced teammates failed to find the 5H call.

With this result under our belt I felt confident in our use (and effectiveness) of the defense, so when the same hand came up in the first round of the KOs in Palo Alto I trotted it out. RHO opened 2D in third seat and with favorable vul. I bid 2N:


The auction was the same--4H by LHO and 5D by partner! But wait...RHO stopped to double this time instead of bidding 5H.

This time the result wasn't so hot either. Frank went down 2 for minus 300 and a loss of 9 imps when 4H went down at the other table. (At least 5D made the week before!) This time Frank held:



When I asked him how this hand compared to the one last week he said that he had more diamonds (4-5) last week and thought the game would make. This time he thought it would be a profitable save against 4H but, as it turns out, all the cards were wrong. As sometimes happens, the cards were wrong for both sides so that neither game made!

Hmmm...maybe I'll tuck the Flannery defense back into the dark recesses of my memory...:-)

Senior Trials update: The online kibitzing of the senior trials has been fun today with a strong match between Assemi and Kasle. I was rooting for our friends Farid Assemi and Ed Wojewoda but they lost a close one. Unfortunately, our friends Gene Simpson, Hamish Bennett and Fran Dickman also lost.

Well...better go fire up the grill...

See you at the table!