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?

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!