Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Pass, Bid or Double?

A hand from some holiday kitchen bridge:

All Vul, E deal
♠ K T x x x
♥ K
♦ x x
♣ Q T x x x
♠ x
♥ Q J x x x x
♦ T x x
♣ A J x
♠ A Q x x x
♥ A x x x
♦ x x
♣ K x
♠ J x
♥ x x
♦ A K Q J x x
♣ x x x

Anna opened the East hand 1♠ and South made a good 2♦ overcall. I was tempted to bid now as West, but partner would expect 10 points and with a singleton in her suit I chose a cautious pass. When Anna rebid 2♥ I jumped straight to game, feeling confident. Then North threw a spanner in the works with belated Diamond support, and it was back to me at 5♦.

My thinking was this: there's no way I'm passing as 5♦ is obviously a sacrifice. Next, we have a 10 card (at least) Heart fit which argues for bidding on. But I also have a singleton in partner's suit which makes double tempting. I went for penalties and doubled 5♦.

As you can see, declarer is in trouble with 5♦x. Both North and South have pushed a bit and there is a danger that declarer might only make his six Diamond tricks.

In reality I lead a Spade to Anna's Queen, and she gave me a small Spade to ruff. At this point we're not likely to get a club ruff, but we should perhaps be able to draw dummy's trumps and prevent him ruffing a Heart. However I wanted another Spade through to try and promote my ♦T so lead to partner's ♥A instead. She played a trump but it was too late and declarer was able to ruff a Heart. He then draw trumps, making six trumps, one Heart and one Club for 5♦x-3. This is still a bit expensive vulnerable (-800), even if 4♥ does make (and in fact so does 5♥).

A good way to end the year.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019


At my now semi-regular Monday night game this week I played with Ted Black, another member of John Di Mambro's Wanderer's team. In the ten minutes before starting we found out that we both prefer weak NT and four card majors. Checkback Stayman was agreed, but we didn't discuss if it was game forcing, and on the first board I found myself in a doomed 3NT. I could have collected eight tricks for a 30% score, but took a ridiculous line and got seven tricks for a 0% score.

At the end of the evening Ted was berating himself for not finessing for a missing Queen (with a nine-card fit), as he thought in retrospect there were clues from the cards played. He won't be too worried about that (possible) minor slip-up when I reveal my horrendous declarer play on the board below. I have to admit I was feeling a bit muddled all night, struggling even to count trumps, and the board below is something of a low point:


I was getting all the hands tonight and had the nice 17 count as East. After three passes I opened 1♣ and partner replied 1♠. I think my only sensible option is 3♣, so I bid it. This puts Ted into a difficult spot, but I think he is right to pass. As it happens if he risks 3♥ we end up in a good 3♠, but 3♣ should be fine too.

I got a lovely lead of the 7♥ from South, gratefully won by the ♥T. I plan to play Spades to discard a Diamond. At this point I was thinking clearly and realised that I couldn't take the Club finesse and safely play three rounds of Spades, so just cashed the ♣A. This also meant that if someone ruffed the third Spade it might be with the ♣K. Anyway I went ahead and cashed the three Spades, discarding a Diamond, and leaving me in dummy. If at this point I simply lead a trump up now I've got eleven tricks, just losing one Diamond and one trump.

Instead I lead another Spade from dummy. This was great news for the defence, and North swiftly discarded his last Heart, and now the defence is getting a Heart ruff. I've just blown one trick and could now limit the damage by throwing my other Diamond, but instead uselessly ruff the Spade low. South overruffs and plays a Heart and I end up with four losers. 3♣= was worth 11%. 3♣+1 would be 40% and 3♣+2 would be 60%.

After this hand I was slightly on the tilt, and on the next board third in hand opened ♠AQJT64 ♥4 ♦T654 ♣K7 with 3♠. I got lucky when this was doubled and made.

My second featured hand is a bidding problem with no solution. Or at least, no solution to us, most other pairs were fine.

- 1♠ -

Now I've got the 21 point East hand. I go for a conservative 1♠ opening, and thank goodness Ted has enough to respond (next time I'll open it 2♣).. Over Ted's 2♣ I bid 3♠, which is surely forcing and shows good Spades. Ted is in a quandary here, and as he's thinking I decide that whatever he bids I'll try 6NT. But he makes a surprise raise to 4♠, so I try Blackwood, even going so far as to check for the Queen of trumps. Ted doesn't have it, or in fact any Spades at all.

As dummy goes down Ted quickly informs me that his raise with no Spades is reasonable, and I think he's probably right. If you're going to play in slam 6♠ isn't too bad. It comes down to hoping for one Spade loser, which means they must be 4-3 and you guess if the hand with only three has the Queen or the Ten. Perhaps there's better psychological plays, maybe the ♠9 early on, hoping an opponent with ♠Txxx or even ♠Qxxx might covers it.

I decided to play someone for ♠Qxx and things begin well when I win ♠AK. On the third round it all goes round as North shows out, though oddly South lets my ♠9 hold so I've only two Spade losers and collect 6♠-1.

A few other pairs are also failing in slam so we get 28%. If South had of doubled 6♠ I would have happily bid 6NT, which can make here with the minors all breaking (there is one defence to beat 6NT but it takes a while to find double dummy so unlikely to be found at the table!).

That board took such a long time that on the next one Ted and I didn't mess around and quickly got ourselves to 3NT on a combined 19 count. Ted (wisely) escaped to 4♦ which went off one for a good result.

Overall, we had some good boards, but also had a few mishaps and some poor declarer play by me, and so finished on 52%.

Friday, 13 December 2019

The claim game

At the Buchanan bridge club last Monday I played with John Faben. We had a 56% game, finishing 9th.

The only outright blunder I made was defending 3NT, when I cashed my ♦A to take the contract two off and didn't even look at partner's signal. As it happened he had the ♦K and we could have taken one more trick, but as you would expect there wasn't much between +200 and +300 so it didn't matter much.

On the board below I was guilty of being rather meek. I didn't really have a bid, but should have bid anyway:

DannyJohn F

I have the 20 point West hand and am agonising over whether to open 1♠ or 2NT when South gets an opening bid ready. I'm expecting a weak pre-empt (perhaps 2♦) but she opens 1♥. I decide to begin with a double. North replies 1♠, and South bids on with 2♣. I'm stuck for a bid and pass, then pass again when North corrects to 2♥. I considered 2♠ and 2NT, which would both have made with comfort.

Although the double-dummy analysis says we can beat 2♥ that's unrealistic as it relies on me starting with a low Spade. In reality I lead the ♠A and we only get one Spade, one Diamond, one Heart and two Clubs; for 2♥= and -110. This is worth just 6%, tying with the three other Wests who suffered the same fate. Most common was East-West playing in Spades, some even getting to game.

Most of our good results came from overbidding. I chanced a speculative slam - dummy was most unhelpful but I got lucky on the lead and made it. Then John did more or less the same thing, playing me for some useful cards I didn't have but scraping home our second 6♠. The slam below was also a very poor contract that made, but this time it was bid against us:

DannyJohn F
- 1♣

South opened 1♣ and I made a weak jump overcall as West. It's not really a suitable hand, vulnerable, but I did it anyway. North bid a natural 3♥ and South the obvious 3NT. North thought for a while and came out with 6NT. I lead the ♥J.

There are 12 easy tricks with the Hearts all coming in, but of course declarer doesn't know that. Since you already have an Ace to lose you can't afford to establish the Hearts, meaning that most likely you have only 2 Spades, 4 Diamonds, 3 Hearts. That means you need 3 Clubs without losing the lead, which is barely possible. There are squeeze chances but it all gets a bit tricky. In the end declarer gratefully took the Hearts and made twelve tricks.

On the very next board we conceded 2♥x for a pair of poor boards. Then I played 3NT+1 and twenty minutes later was convinced I'd actually made the last trick with the ♥7 in dummy so it should have been 3NT+2. I was wrong though, as West pointed out he still had the ♥T98. Oops.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

One more Matchpoint Monday

For the third week in a row I've been at the Buchanan with John Di Mambro. The first week I was too timid; the second week too bold; this week about right. "Not too many regrets", I said to John afterwards. Having said that, the board below was full of rue:


I opened the West hand 1♦, North overcalled 1♥ and John bid a natural 2♣. South bid 2♥ and it was back to me. I was starting to like my hand a lot, with Kx in partner's suit and a Heart void. Rather than rebid my seven card Diamond suit I tried 2♠. John raised this to 4♠ and there I played. "Could be a Moysian fit" he warned as dummy came down, and indeed it was.

I got a trump lead from North. My plan was to play on Diamonds and hope trumps were 3-3, so I should have begun by ducking this Spade. But I didn't. Anyway with trumps 5-1 it was doomed, and while I didn't quite suffer the ignominy of having the defence draw my trumps I lost control and went three down. I think actually on this layout to make as many tricks as possible you need to ruff everything in hand, and eschew the Diamond finesse. But down one, two, or three is always going to be a bad score and so it turned out, as we collected 0% on the board.

If I bid a more normal 3♦ on the second round, or John doesn't raise Spades, it still seems likely we're going to end up in 3NT. This makes if they lead Spades (as happened on some tables) but on our table with the Heart overcall 3NT also fails. Well done to all the pairs who made it to 5♦ (eight tables out of twenty-five), making eleven or twelve tricks.

My other featured hand is the classic scenario when you've got a great hand but before you bid partner pre-empts:

-2♦* 2♥

John opened the East hand with a Weak Two, in what must be a minimum for suit quality standards. I can see nine tricks (six Diamonds and three Clubs) so just need some sort of stopper in the other suits. When South overcalled 2♥ I bid 3♥ asking for a Heart stopper (I hope). John's King is actually enough, and he might have counted it, but perhaps wisely settled for 4♦. I'm now thinking if 5♦ will have play. It will if John has the ♠A, but I decide he's not likely to have that card and pass 4♦.

South went for a slight surprise Spade lead and hit the jackpot as the defence took the first four tricks. In 3NT they would take the first five tricks, also for one off. Our 4♦-1 is worth 48%. We beat those East-West pairs making a Heart contract but lost to those East-West pairs allowed to make extra tricks in Diamonds.

Despite those setbacks we scored well on other boards and finished on 66.4%.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

More Matchpoint Monday

After finishing second by a single matchpoint last week, we returned to the Buchanan Club for the Monday Matchpoint.

John was just back from playing in the National League at the weekend, and was perhaps used to a partner with slightly sharper defence. A few times he was waiting for me to give him a ruff, and is still waiting. I don't think it cost too much though, and as is often the way with matchpoints things don't always turn out like you expect. You can stumble into a bad 4♦-2, apologise to partner, then realise it's a good score as they should be making 4♠.

In the hand below John dealt and opened the North hand 1♠. East passed and I responded 2♦. All normal so far. Then West came in with 2NT. This was not alerted, but was clearly meant to be some sort of Unusual 2NT, showing 5-5 in the other suits. John bid 3♠, which must be showing a pretty good suit, so I raised to game.

-1♠ - 2♦

East had the rare opportunity to defend game with six trumps, and wisely didn't double. If he had of doubled I would have bid 5♦ on my own as South, and made it with an overtrick.

The 6-0 trump split is unfortunate, but careful play limited the losses to minus two, scoring 28% (five of ten North-South pairs found the Diamond game).

Here is the first hand of the evening that I declared, a tricky 3NT. It was a psychological battle, as I was aware that despite a combined 27 count I ought to go down unless I can dupe the defence.


We play five card majors so I opened 1♣, and we quickly got to 3NT (as did all but one table, who suffered in 4♠). West lead a Heart and I had a think.

There are six top tricks, and two more can be developed in Clubs. But if the defence duck Clubs twice then they could take an extra trick there (or two). I also have the potential of a long trick in Spades. Diamonds could give me one or two extra tricks, but could also be the best suit for the defence.

I won the opening Heart lead in hand and lead a Club to the Jack. East won her Ace and played a Diamond to my Jack and West's Queen. West didn't want to continue Diamonds so seemed likely to also have the Ace, and be waiting for another Diamond through from partner. I was hoping he'd cash his Ace anyway (and present me with a ninth trick) but he wisely held off and played another Heart. My only hope for another trick now is Spades, which involves giving up one first. But I can't let East have the lead, as she can put another Diamond through (meaning I lose three Diamonds, one Club and one Spade). So I snuck a Spade through East. Thankfully, she played low and my 8 forced West to win.

I'm happy now. Even if Spade's aren't 3-3 I still have chances with a Spade endplay, if West has four. As it happened they were 3-3 and I got nine tricks. Almost every other declarer also made nine tricks (one made eight, one ten), so it was an average score, but a pleasing hand.

After that burst of concentration my head got rather cloudy, and I didn't know if I needed more coffee or less. Thankfully I was only declarer once more in the evening, and we finished on a better-than-expected 60.2%.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Matchpoint Monday

Last night I played the Buchanan Monday night Matchpoints with John Di Mambro. We did OK, finishing on 58%, just one matchpoint behind the North-South winners, Martin Bateman and Ted Black.

I was dummy a lot, but didn't mind as John was squeezing every possible trick out of NT contracts. He has admirable match-point savvy, and once even managed to steer himself into 3NT while 6-6 in the minors (and make it - Martin and ted got an overtrick). But on the hand below we both knew it was going to be a bad score:

- - 1♠ x

When East opened 1♠ I made a take-out double, West bid a natural 3♠ and East raised to game. I lead the ♣Q with high hopes. But declarer won the lead in hand and played the ♠A, dropping my King! Although the contract always makes, this vital overtrick gave her most of the matchpoints (one other table also somehow made 4♠+1). After the hand I asked declarer why they had played trumps that way - had I given something away with my body language? Declarer told me it was because I was known to have most of the points (true) and there weren't many entries to dummy (false).

Martin and Ted held it to 4♠ for 67%.

Soon after, I got to play my first hand of the evening, as we navigated to a dicy 6♥. At the end of the auction West thought for a while, doubled, then cashed his two aces. I carefully took the rest of the tricks for 0% anyway.

In the next one I may have overbid slightly:

- 1♣ 1♠

East opened 1♣ and I overcalled 1♠, planning to double later. West supported Clubs and John doubled, perhaps afraid 2♣ would be passed out. I have a good hand now. I'd like to bid 3♣, letting John choose the contract, but was too afraid he'd bid 3NT so just jumped to 3♥. Everyone was happy to let me play this and passed.

On the lead of a low Club I tried the ♣J which lost to the ♣Q and I ruffed. Things look bleak. I don't have many losers but am destined to quickly lose trump control. A cross-ruff would only get me to seven tricks, but being vulnerable, two off is no good. I need more tricks, but there's no way I can draw trump and make anything out of the Diamonds.

I did a bit of ruffing, drew trumps keeping one master, and set up the Diamonds. When I played winning Diamonds through East he was reluctant to ruff, and I started accumulating more tricks than expected. I now had a cunning plan to endplay him to lead away from the ♣A and give me my eighth trick. At the end I sighed "one off" but apparently I had nine tricks for 3♥=. A lot of work and some luck for 50%. A Diamond contract is much easier, and of course Martin and Ted made 5♦.


This last one shows how tough Matchpoint can be. I opened a Weak Two and John bid a 2NT enquiry. I bid 3♦ showing a singleton or void and he leapt to 4♠. I'm not sure what he would have bid if I'd have given a different response (perhaps 3NT?).

There are three top losers and the defence duly took them. Because East knew I had a singleton Diamond it was easy for him to cash the ♦A, without waiting to try and get a Diamond through from partner.

Our par score of 4♠= was worth just 8%, as nearly all the other declarers got overticks. Martin and Ted managed a remarkable 4♠+2, on a low Diamond lead from West. I can only assume that East was allowed to win the ♦J, then tried to cash the ♦A and declarer had the rest.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Wanderers vs Lyndoch

After last week's warm up at Buchanan Martin and I took to the table again for a Glasgow League match against Lyndoch. This being our third time playing together we had developed a reasonable system of 15-17 NT, 5 card majors, Puppet Stayman, basically everything I'm unfamiliar with.

On the first few hands I felt very warm but also shaking with the cold and made repeated pre-empts. At one point, when asked, Martin said "he's probably got a reasonable hand as he's vulnerable". But I didn't have a reasonable hand at all.

When I was dealer with the West hand below I was also vulnerable and a little too weak, but weighed in anyway. The auction is best done as a description: they competed to 3♦ and Martin doubled. I trusted that after my pre-empt his double was penalties and passed. They ran to 3♥ and he doubled, they tried 3♠ and he doubled, and were finally back in 4♦. At this point I doubled as Martin had run out of double cards, and by now I was feeling pretty confident it was going down.

3♣ x - 3♦
- - x -

I was pleased they'd finished with Diamonds as trumps, as I had a clear lead; the ♥J. Martin won two rounds of Hearts then returned the ♥2, as a signal for a Club ruff. We took the first six tricks then the ♦K to come for 4♦x-4 and +1100. In aggregate this is a huge score, and is actually one of the reasons I don't like aggregate as a few hands can dominate the scores.

Luckily our opponents were experienced enough to take this in their stride and got right back into it, beating us on a series of marginal games. Towards the end of the evening I was getting rather tired, and was quite unprepared for this big contract:

1♦ 2♥ 6♦ -
- -

I opened 1♦, which is the agreed bid in our system. This is the only distribution where I could have only three Diamonds. North made a weak jump overcall in Hearts and Martin thought for just a few seconds before popping down 6♦. North lead the ♥J and dummy came down.

This was only my second hand of the evening and I was really hoping it would be easy. But there was work to do. My hand is not very suitable, with only three Diamonds and wasted ♥AK. I have a certain loser in the trump Ace and must therefore avoid losing to the ♦J.

After a considerable pause I realised there was also no way I could get rid of all my Clubs on the Hearts, so I would need the Club finesse. Assuming the Club finesse was working, and considering North's pre-empt, South was likely to have long Diamonds. So, I won the Heart lead in hand and crossed to dummy with a Spade, then followed my instinct by leading a Diamond to the Nine. This heldm and after that everything fell into place. After a few more long pauses, 6♦ was home.

In the end we won the match 9-7.