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Opponents, Expertise and Enjoyment

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I’ve been thinking about the “Expert” tag again. I’ve always been on the fence about calling myself a bridge expert, but how should one define expert? I thought back to my days playing chess and at a tournament there may be ~3-4 players with the expert title in a field of 40 or so. And you know what, “in the top 10%” feels like a good definition for “expert.” Expert is good, experienced, but not terribly rare. You run into experts fairly often.

After thinking about it, I looked up the USCF ratings graph, and expert is roughly top 3% and Class A is 10%. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering or maybe it was just a tough field, but there’s something nice about round numbers and even measurement systems, so from now on my internal metric is

  • Expert = Top 10%
  • Master = Top 1%
  • Senior Master = Top 0.1%

Grandmaster is another few orders of magnitude … perhaps Top 0.001% or 0.0001%-ish. From the USCF site, these are “close enough if you squint and/or are bad at math” accurate. Good enough for me!

Last week’s Bridge Regional inspired this train of thought. I played team games, partnered mostly with Hank (for the first time in nearly two years) but playing with relatively new players, so we were not in the top bracket. Hank had more master points than the rest of the team. I am definitely under-counted because I rarely travel for tournaments (and don’t even play many club games, as there haven’t been night games in ages).

Apparently there was lots of complaining going on (when we were supposedly out of earshot, although Hank and I did overhear a few). “Why do we have to play against them?” etc. Hank and I sometimes get this because we play an odd system, but I also heard it a few times when I was playing with Tom (and we play something close to expert standard 2/1). Tom was in Flight A when he was partnered with other people, but we were second bracket. Again, all through the normal sorting of teams based on rating.

It was odd to be whispered as some sort of “Bridge Bogeyman” in the bracket.

My favorite was when Hank and I got to a routine 6NT … ice cold for with a two-way finesse or drop of the queen for the overtrick. (ATx opposite KJ9xx or so). As there were 8 cards in the suit (five missing) with no real clues I decided to play for the queen to be under the KJ9xx (as that way I could also pick up a 5=0 break as well as any 4=1 breaks) and slapped down the ace and then finessed. Queen was wrong, making six. I think the hand took under a minute to play. It was just for an overtrick.

The other declarer played for the drop (and it worked) to score the overtrick. It was a close match, we won 6-2, with that overtrick IMP being half of the 2 we lost. But as we going over to compare Hank and I hear “I was sure that they would bid the grand slam for a big loss!”

There was a lot to unpack there:

  • A grand slam should only be bid at teams if its around 70%, which this clearly wasn’t.
  • The play of the drop is inferior to a finesse in that situation (with no relevant information changing the odds).
  • When in doubt, experts should stick with the field and trust on their play to win instead of random bidding differences.

But the fact that I know the above list (and they don’t) is part of why I’m now comfortable calling myself an expert. (At least in that field).

You become an expert by being the small fish in a big pond. (At least, if you are capable of becoming one). IMO one of the reasons bridge is dying is that most people value winning over learning (or a close fought loss). Board-a-match and Long KO matches (which both greatly favor the stronger team) are replaced with IMPs and Swiss (which have more luck). Stratified Swiss (where teams with same records play each other, so the Best Flight B may play a match or two against Flight A) becomes Bracketed Swiss (where all the best teams are Bracket 1, the next best are Bracket 2, and you only play in your bracket).

At a local sectional there was a big brouhaha when the sectional tried to turn a bracketed swiss into a stratified (because brackets need a specific number of teams). Several teams threatened to walk out. There were impassioned speeches! It was vaguely ugly.

Expertise isn’t magical. Mostly its avoiding stupid mistakes. When I was mentoring a newer employee who had just finished a code camp and she was bemoaning how everyone knew so much more than her, I pointed out that most of that was just time. After you make a mistake for the 5th or 10th or 100th time you eventually learn to recognize it before hand and avoid it. But you don’t learn from your mistake if you don’t actually notice that it was a mistake …. like winning an IMP from the wrong play …. or a bug you put into production that someone else fixes two years later after you’ve left the team ….

Anyway, when Hank and I were discussing this (and related themes) we were joined by a local ~Senior Master (by my categorization …. several national championships, pro, and a sometimes board gamer). At some point I noted that “The real difficulty with playing against a strong player is that you can have a situation where you know that a weak player may not find a defense that is too tough, so you don’t have to consider it as an option).

Senior Master then told the following story: (paraphrased)

“I was playing against Bob Hamman” (Grandmaster, arguably the greatest player of all time) “and held AKJ9 of a suit. I played the ace and Bob dropped the queen behind me. As you said, with a novice or even an intermediate player, it would be easy, cross to dummy and finesse the nine against the ‘proven’ ten. But against ‘The Great Bob Hamman’? So I thought. I figured it was a coin flip but even if the finesse of the nine worked I would still have problems [due to the rest of the hand] …. but if Bob had false-carded from Q-T then I could claim, so I played the King. Bob just shook his head, said “too good!” and dropped the ten.”

For the most part, Hank and I didn’t do too well. Partially that’s rust (two years without playing together is tough for our system) but partially that’s just playing with a weaker pair. When we lost and it was my fault, I was annoyed at myself. When it was our team-mates fault, I shrugged and moved on. It’s just a game. I guess I’ve always been an odd duck — I tend to dislike games I win on the first play, unless it’s everyone’s first time. They are usually too simple.

Perhaps bridge players need to hear that Reiner quote.

When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.

Reiner Knizia.

Written by taogaming

December 28, 2021 at 9:44 am

At least we have some nice slam auctions

Bridge books for beginners say that you need 32 points for slam, but of course distribution counts for a lot. Yes, in NT with flat hands, even 32 points may not be enough, but with the right distribution, you can go much lower. For example, Mike Lawrence points out that if one person in the partnership splinters, you are really playing with 30 HCP deck, so the right 27 points is often enough.

Playing poorly in a Swiss teams, at least I have the consolation that Hank and I are getting our slam auctions mostly right.

For example: I have S: AQTxx H: Ax D:ATxxx C:x (ish)

Hank passes and my RHO opens 2 Hearts. I’m going to drive to game, so I pull out a bid of 4 Diamonds showing 5+ Diamonds and 5+ Spades (The ‘Leaping Michaels’ convention). Sure, I’ve got a few too many losers, but odds are that Hank will have a card or two. LHO bids 4 Hearts.
In fact, he has something like five spades and six clubs and a heart void with a few queens and kings. He envision my stiff club (since the opponents stopped at 4H, they are likely only have 11, not 12) and saw in his mind that the hand would likely play as a total cross ruff, so he bid Six Spades for a nice pickup. (Slam on ~22 HCP with good distribution).

Later on, I hold S:AQTx H:xxx D:Axx C:Axx. Hank opens 1 Heart so already I am looking for slam. I don’t have good enough trumps (or points!) for our version of Jacoby 2NT and in any case spades may be a better trump suit so I start with 1 Spade, and we have the following auction:

Hank  Me
1H 1S
2C 2D* [*Artificial Game force]
2H* 3H** [*May be waiting, ** Sets trumps, at least a mild slam try]
3S* 4C** [*1st or 2nd round spade control, **1st or 2nd club control, but minimum slam try]
4H*** P [***Oh, in that case, please stop]

Making 5, I think, when Hank guessed right to pick up trumps holding S:x H:KJ9xx D:KQ C:KQxx. (ish) We were well served by having a “serious” slam try and a “minimum” slam try options (skipping 3NT showed a minimum try). I was worried by my bad trump, and Hank was worried by his lack of aces and mediocre trump suit.

Finally I pick up S:AT8xx H:xxx D:A C:QT97. Hank opens 1 Spade, RHO bids 2 Clubs and I bid 3 Clubs (showing a limit raise or better). Obviously I’m going to drive to game, but with this distribution slam may be in play (despite Hank and I being limited to 17 HCP for a one-of-a-major opening). RHO bids 4 Clubs and Hank bids 4 Hearts. I think this is a cue bid, possibly a minimum. The point is that Hank is expecting four spades to make. No doubt he’s looking at a club void. Well, I know we have no diamond losers and almost certainly no spade losers. Hearts may by touchy but partner must have something … I bid 4NT (keycard blackwood) and Hank bids 5NT, showing 2 or 4 key cards and a void. We have all four key cards (since we don’t need to worry about clubs) but a small slam is pushy enough, so I end the auction in six spades.

Hank had a solid minimum, with S:KJ7xx H:AJxx D:KJxx C:– (ish) which made the play of the hand interesting. Ruffing the club opening lead and drawing one round of trump (the pre-emptor dropping the stiff queen) he had stopped drawing trumps, pitch a heart on the diamond king (after pitching a heart) and then played ace of hearts hearts. When the opponents didn’t lead a trump but instead continued clubs, he could cross ruff two diamonds on the board (The 4th round with the ten) and then end up with no trumps in his hand and A8 in dummy. He had to hope that when he lead a heart the hand with the 9 (sitting behind dummy) could not over ruff the 8 … when that happened, we scored the ~23 HCP slam scoring nine trump tricks, two aces and a king.

In many ways this is the other side of the auction. I know we’re light on points, but I can see that we’ll be scoring quite a few trump tricks (I did think Hank was likely to be a touch heavier on HCP or have a sixth spades but a making slam is a making slam…). The rest of the day was full of defensive errors (and forgetting a system we hadn’t played in nearly two years) but at least we had a few bright spots….

(I also got a monster with S:KQxx H:A D:AJ C:AKQxxx but everyone and their dog would try for slam with that. Tried for slam, rejected, making five for a push).

Written by taogaming

December 19, 2021 at 11:25 pm

Posted in Bridge

Reynolds Team Match

So, I played my first match in a Reynolds monthly KO against actual experts. It would have been brutal even if I was playing well, but I had a few senior moments and a misclick (that I’m blaming on Jacqui). Also, it was decidedly weird playing the normal system with the opponents using weird bidding systems. The things I encountered for the first time ever in those 32 boards….

  • Gazilli
  • Weak 2 bids that are even weaker than normal (4-9 HCP … and only a 5 card suit!)
  • Ekrens 2 Hearts (showing 5-4 or 5-5 in the majors and a weak hand …)

(My opponents also opened 2N showing 5-4 or 5-5 in the minors and a weak hand … which I actually played for three years with Hank, it came up exactly once. The very first hand we played using Polish … and yup, our opponents were playing Polish. Both opposing pairs were playing Multi).

I don’t think I’ve played a KO match against a strong team in 7 years. Time to knock off the rust, I guess. And it was good to get exposure to things you don’t normally see inside the ACBL (at least, not at the levels I play). Perhaps next time we’ll survive to the 2nd round, or at least fight to a respectable loss in the first.

Written by taogaming

December 14, 2021 at 10:56 pm

Posted in Bridge

An opportunity …

Playing in the Swiss Teams (with a new partner) I had an interesting defensive problem. I (as East) held the following

S: Txxx H: T8xx D: Axx C: Ax

and heard the following auction by the opponents

LHO   RHO
---   ---
1NT   2C  [1NT is 15-17 High Card Points]
2S    3S
4S    Pass

Partner led the club deuce and I saw the following dummy

S: Kxxx H: Txxx D: KQ8 C: xx

I won the club ace and continued with my club spot (the un-readable seven, IIRC). Partner — not being endowed with second sight — switched to a diamond … king – ace – small.

You’ve taken three tricks. Partner could have either major ace, in which case the hand is already over. But what do you do?

Amazingly, the correct answer is …. return a diamond and this is something you can figure out with the information at hand. Declarer has four spades (from the answer to stayman) and five clubs (assuming partner led fourth best). That makes her shape likely 4=2=2=5. Declarer has the Queen of clubs (since partner would have won the queen from KQxx) and the jack of clubs (since partner would have won the jack from KJxx.

If she has the diamond jack and the heart ace as well, she makes by 4 spades + 1 Heart + 2 Diamonds + 3 Clubs. So partner needs either the diamond jack or the heart ace. But not both! What if partner has the diamond jack and the heart king? You can see the end position after declarer runs spades and three more clubs…

Dummy H: J D: Q8

Partner H: K D: J9

Declarer H: Q D: T C: x (good)

When declarer leads the good club partner is squeezed in the red suits. Declarer doesn’t even need the heart queen or diamond ten … partner would have already thrown the queen of hearts earlier.

What if you lead a diamond and partner had the heart ace all long? Well, if declarer has the diamond jack, she only gets one pitch from dummy, so partner still gets the heart ace. The only time switching to a diamond costs a trick is if partner started with AQ of hearts … (if partner had the AK then the bidding makes no sense and partner would have led it). Even then we still set the contract (instead of down two). At teams, that’s fine.

What if declarer has a stiff heart and was 4=1=3=5 (allowable by the new ACBL rules if the heart singleton is an honor). Then declarer can’t get any pitches on the diamonds (if she has the jack) and will still lose a heart (unless she also has the ace, in which case nothing matters).

Nope, the absolutely correct play is to break up the squeeze at trick four by leading diamonds to break up communications. Now when declarer runs her black suit winners, partner can tell (once I pitch on the first club) what is declarers shape is and hold onto Kx of hearts and wait.

(You can also break up the squeeze by holding up the diamond ace at trick three, which means that the count is not rectified …this may get into some weird strip squeezes but in general will work).

Sadly, this was an opportunity lost because I woodenly shot back a heart at trick four. And partner had the magic hand J9 of diamonds and K of hearts. Making four on a squeeze. Only after the hand did I realize that I could have broken it up (two ways!).

Written by taogaming

October 12, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Bridge

“The thing about Bridge,” said the Rabbit …

“is that you can get lucky. No matter how good you play at Golf or Tennis or Billiards, you aren’t going to beat the pro. But in bridge sometimes your mistakes work out. And,” he added in a lower voice, “sometimes you get all the cards. The experts really hate that.”

I’ve been playing with Roxie recently, and we’ve been doing OK but — contra the Rabbit — you can also get unlucky. In the morning session we bid a decent slam If my club jack is in diamonds, its cold. If diamonds break, its cold. Neither is true. I’m also playing against a national champion, so no misdefense. After six tricks everyone just shrugs, we all know its down one. We did well enough to scratch, but there had been warnings. Novices getting to the right contracts. Diabolical suit splits. I should have paid attention.

Playing in the evening session (against a strong married couple) I picked up

S: Axx H: x D: AKQJxxx C: xx

RHO in first seat opened 3 Spades. Well, there was nothing to it. While 3 NT could go down quite a bit on a heart or club lead, why should LHO lead a heart or club after her partner bid spades? Unless she had a solid suit (or near so), I figured I’d get a spade lead and on said lead I figured to make eight tricks.

And — as thee saying goes — where there are eight tricks, there are usually nine.

So I bid 3NT. LHO passed and Roxie seemed to have a bit of a problem. Eventually she bid 6 Hearts, and RHO passed.

Roxie could have transferred to hearts and asked me something, but she’d set the contract. No doubt she had a void to shoot a slam, and I had more than a strong suspicion that void was diamonds. My hand would not be particularly welcome, I thought. If hearts didn’t break we could easily lose a heart and some other things. But it would be a grave breach to pull her bid to 6 NT. The stiff heart would be a sad note, but two small would be normal, so perhaps the suit would play for no losers. Still, I considered bidding, but passed.

When RHO tabled his card I said as I put down dummy: “Sometimes nobody does anything wrong and yet you get a ludicrous result.” I could see how the play went. RHO would lead a spade and Roxie would have to take some number of discards on diamonds, her sole entry to dummy being hit. But likely she could only cash two or three diamonds, not the four (or perhaps seven) tricks I had thought my hand worth.

But RHO had tabled …. the nine of clubs!

I put down dummy and it went small small to Roxie’s Ten. She then played down the AKQ of hearts. LHO followed twice and RHO followed three times. Roxie then played another heart, both opponents pitching spades. Roxie played another heart ….

“Diamonds Break,” RHO said helpfully. LHO started to put her hand away, but neither of them quite conceded the rest of the tricks and slowly it dawned on everyone that there was a reason that Roxie hadn’t claimed the rest, and so they pulled their hands back to their chest.

It may help to see Roxie’s hand:

S: — H: AKQxxxxx D: — C: AQTxx

After leading out her hearts Roxie had to lead a small club. RHO showed out. LHO won and returned a club, letting Roxie take the marked finesse but with clubs breaking 5-1 there was still a club to be lost.

Off one.

“What you said when you put down dummy, how did you know” asked RHO.

“Signs,” I said. “And Portents.”

Update — I’ve been informed that partner was in fact 8-5 instead of 7-6 (which doesn’t really change the play. I have updated the above). And in fact 6 hearts can be made. After winning the club cheaply Roxie plays the AK of hearts then the ace of clubs. If RHO trumps the club, he is endplayed and must give access to dummy. If not, Roxie plays her deuce of hearts to endplay him. (You play the ace of clubs first in case RHO has 9x of clubs).

Written by taogaming

October 9, 2021 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Bridge

An unlikely bridge event

Playing with Roxie, in the second round the director is playing with a new-ish player (“Joe”) who doesn’t have a partner. As with any new-ish opponent, you hope they have to make decisions and it works out as well as we could have hoped.

  • The first board, Joe leads K from Kxx in partners suit. This gives partner a trick (that she could have technically taken herself, but would not have, on the bidding). We score a co-top. (7.5 out of a possible 8).
  • The second board Joe misbids to land in a contract he might have gotten to anyway for a poor score. He misplays to turn that into another co-top for us. 7.5/8)
  • On the third board, Joe makes a takeout double which I redouble (to show 9-11 points, as I’m a passed hand). When Joe bids again at the three level, I have an easy penalty double and don’t have to share the top with anyone this time. 8/8.

Roxie and I win N/S with 63% (one or two of our decisions don’t work out, but most of them are correct and do work out, and a near-perfect round like that certainly helps. We only have one below average round when I forget that a takeout doubler was a passed hand, and make a bad assumption based on it, and even that round was 40%…)

Winning East/West with 65% is … Joe and his partner! Their round by round percentages (remember, 50% is an average round) were 65, 81, 75, 77, 85, 04 (vs us), 81, 56, and 60! Amazing!

Written by taogaming

September 6, 2021 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Bridge, Session Reports

Luau

At the Bridge Club yearly Luau I am playing with Roxie against very nice newcomers … so before the round I congratulate them for playing and generally encourage them. (New players are rare and valuable). Rather unfortunately, the first two hands against them have belonged to us, so we get to routine, average-ish contracts (although likely pick up a bit on one hand against a misdefense). In an earlier round the pair who don’t have a firm grasp of their own system have the hands, which gives us good results as they can’t bid them. I was hoping for a repeat….

Then I pick up the sort of hand that bridge players dream of, but rarely see….

S: — H:A7 D:AKJT9x C:QT762

Not many high card points, but bursting with potential. I am dealer, vulnerable vs not, and I have an easy One Diamond opening. My LHO bids One Spade and Roxie is there with Three Diamonds. We play that as pre-emptive, but red vs white it should have something of note. My right hand opponent bids Four Spades.

Roxie should have at least four diamonds for her bid, and five is more reasonable, so I’m losing at most a heart. Losing three clubs would be unlucky but possible, but it takes very little for my hand to make slam (particularly if I get a spade lead). KJ of clubs would do nicely. Red vs White its just possible partner has more (a side king, even).

Since I think slam is still in the picture (remotely) but also that I’m expecting to have a good chance to make, I bid Five Clubs. This should help Roxie know that clubs honors would be welcome offensively. LHO passes, Roxie declines to push for slam with Five Diamonds and RHO is there with Five Spades.

Is Five Spades making? Well, if Roxie doesn’t have anything in clubs, she should have a card or two in spades and hearts, and those would both work. I have two aces (although its possible the diamond ace may not cash). I think if five spades makes we’re getting a bad result, so I’ll try to protect our position. I double.

LHO passes and Roxie contemplates this and pulls to Six Diamonds. This goes to LHO, who bids Six Spades. This comes back to me, and I don’t think my logic has changed. Admittedly they are one level higher, but against that I suspect that someone is void of diamonds. And the new players may just be horribly misbidding. In any case, I’m likely only risking a matchpoint by doubling, so I double again and nobody has anything else to say.

Partner leads the eight of clubs….

Dummy: S: Kxxxx H:K8xx D:x C:Axx

Roxie: S:xx H:xxx D:Qxxxxx C:8x Me: S:– H:Ax D:AKJT9x C:QT762

Declarer: S:AQJT9x H:QJT9 D:– C:KJx

After winning the club in hand (covering my queen with the king) declarer pulled trumps in two rounds and then lead the H9 to the HK, which I won. When the diamond ace didn’t cash, I still had hopes that partner had the heart queen or jack (and that declarer misplayed), but eventually declarer took the rest for a score (for them) of 1660.

I should have simply passed five spades, I had already bid my (shapely) fourteen count to the five level opposite a pre-emptive hand (and while part of me wants to say that CHO should have perhaps bid four diamonds, that bid could easily be a disaster red vs white). The silver lining? Doubling did only cost a single matchpoint. Still, that number was a bit more encouragement than I like to give out, new pair or not.

Written by taogaming

August 8, 2021 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Bridge, Session Reports

Kibitzing on Realbridge

I spent part of yesterday watching the JLall4 Quarterfinals on realbridge (https://kibitz.realbridge.online). Some thoughts:

  • The matches are delayed by 30minutes (and in the final session for multi-session events even longer) to prevent cheating. Which is nice but that also means that when one table has a problem they hold the other tables …. so one match kind of got delayed. (Of course I can just turn on a videogame until they restart, but still….)
  • They have commentators (watching on the same delay you are) which is nice. One is a local expert I’ve known and played against, and several well known experts also.
  • You can rewind the hand to watch, generally the User Interface is fine.

Written by taogaming

June 19, 2021 at 9:03 am

Posted in Bridge

Welcome Back, Pt 2.

A few more hands from yesterday.

Holding S:AT97 H:A D:KQJ2 C:AQJ3 I’m not surprised when its three passes to me. I could open in diamonds and jump shift (and maybe I should, as this could easily be a minor suit slam), but I just decide to open 2NT. (The ACBL recently changed, so it is not an illegal agreement to open hands like this in NT, with a stiff honor). Partner bids 3 Clubs (stayman) and raises my 3 Spades to 4 Spades.

I get the 8 of hearts lead and see this.

Dummy S: Q654 H:Q752 D:87 C:K92

8 of hearts led

Hand: S:AT97 H:A D:KQJ2 C:AQJ3

We’ve reached a good game, with only three fast potential losers, but its tricky. I duck the heart 8, RHO playing the 6 and win the ace. I could play either opponent to have the long trumps, and perhaps I should play LHO for it, but the play of the spades in isolation is to lead the queen. Perhaps the opening lead should dissuade me, but if RHO had 6+ hearts in 3rd seat non-vulnerable, I suspect I may have gotten preempted. I lead a club to the king and play the queen of spades. RHO covers this easily so I win the ace and LHO drops the “ominous eight.”

I note that this means that (apart from the jack) my spots are high. I continue with the spade 9 and LHO does indeed show out, pitching the diamond ten (standard signals). RHO wins the jack and obediently shifts to a diamond, king-ace-small. A heart comes back (the four) and I cover with the 7, and ruff the 9.

This is annoying. I have 3 high trumps but I don’t see a way to get rid of my losing diamond (even if I could pull trump, which are blocked). I need RHO to follow to two more rounds of clubs and diamonds, and that can’t happen unless LHO’s heart lead was a lie and in that case RHO would have had to follow higher on the first trick).

But I can’t see anything better and I play for it, but RHO ruffs the 3rd club and I’m down one. I think this may still be OK because people who banged down the spade ace lost two trumps plus a ruff, but those that did that likely used the entry to ruff an extra heart before pulling trumps, so it was a wash. -50 was a very common score. Still, an interesting hand.

          S:8 H:H843 D:AT9xx C:T8xx

S:AT97 H:A D:KQJ2  [4S-W]   S:Q654 H:Q752 D:87 C:K92

          S:KJ32 H:KJT96 D:65 C:75


One final hand. Against a weak pair I pick up S:KQJx H:JTx D:JT9 C:xxx and partner opens 1 Heart. I have an easy raise to two hearts, but …. there are a number of points against it.

  • I’m 4=3=3=3. That’s NT shape and a downgrade.
  • I’m aceless and only one king. Another NT shape and another downgrade.
  • By the losing trick count this is a ten loser hand. Terrible.

Breaking with the field is a risk … we’re a strong pair in this field and to throw the dice on the bidding means possibly giving up all chances to win the board on the play. But I have a few “extra ways to win”. The most likely is that if I raise to 2H partner will bid a terrible game (or invite) and we get too high. Or she may have her bid but hearts break poorly.

And I’m also influenced by the fact that we play Flannery. Our 2D opening shows 11-15 HCP, four spades and five hearts. So I know that partner probably doesn’t have spade fit (if she does, she’ll let me know in either case). I decide to go with my instincts and downgrade this hand. It could turn out poorly, but i would consider that unlucky. So … rather than raising hearts or bidding spades, I bid 1 NoTrump (semi-forcing) and hide my four card spade suit (if partner has spades, I want her declaring). I think the most likely outcome will be that partner bids two of a minor and I bid two hearts — ending the auction in the same place while discouraging partner from going high on borderline hands (since she’ll place me with only two hearts). If partner tries for game after that, it will likely work and it will be easier to get to 3NT instead of 4H.

If partner happens to pass 1 NT, well that’s a higher scoring contract anyway (and I have no ruffing value in hearts). AND I’ll likely get a spade lead, as I’ve hidden my suit.

As expected, partner bids 2 Diamonds and I take a preference to 2 Hearts and partner passes.

Looking at the hand and traveler after the game, I see that I did in fact risk everything. Partner had a 16 count 2=5=4=2 with terrible spots (xx KQ8xx KQ7x AQ). My jack-tens were pulling a lot of weight. We have three aces to lose and maybe the king of clubs, and there’s a decent shot at a ruff, so our 24 HCP game was not a favorite, but neither a huge underdog.

On this hand, it happened to be cold and the field got there.

But! As it turns out I had one more way to win that I hadn’t dared hope for.

My RHO decided to balance into 2 Spades. I had an easy double and partner (knowing I may have four spades on this auction) had an easy pass. When the smoke cleared our +800 was an actual top. You need a bit of luck to win.

Written by taogaming

June 6, 2021 at 9:07 am

Posted in Bridge

Welcome Back!

Playing in a (real) unit game I’m having a good session when we sit down against a Pro and his (expert, but non-Pro) wife who are the strongest pair in the field. We have two probably “touch below” average boards (I guess wrong on the first board; the pro takes the maximum number of tricks in a board that a few will get wrong) when I pick up:

S:A8xx H:J9xx D:9x C:Axx

With nobody vulnerable, it passes around to partner who opens 1 Club. With the opponents silent, I bid 1 Heart. Partner jumps to 2 No Trump, and I bid 3 Diamonds (checking back). Partner bids 3 Hearts, but I was checking for a 4-4 spade fit, so I bid 3 NT. Partner considers this and bids 4 Hearts. Uh-oh. We’re probably playing a Moysian, but I can’t correct it, so 4 Hearts it is. My LHO (the Pro) leads the diamond 8, but they lead second and fourth.

Dummy S:Kx H:AQx D:KQx C:KJT9x

Diamond 8 led

Hand S:A8xx H:J9xx D:9x C:Axx

I suspect LHO has led from ?8x of diamonds, but for now I have an easy cover with the king. RHO wins the DA and returns the diamond five to the 9, ten and the queen. This is ugly. I don’t necessarily need the king of hearts on side, but it looks like I need a 3=3 break. I’d like to come back in clubs, but that risks some ugly things so I think I’ll make the somewhat weird play of blocking spades and lead a small spade to the ace and then I take the heart finesse which wins, RHO playing the heart eight. That could just be suit preference, but it could also be T8x or KT8 simply waiting to see how I take the finesse again (the stiff eight is too ugly to contemplate).

I could just bang down the heart ace and a heart, playing for the 3=3 break. Then I’d have to ruff the diamond return and pick up clubs. But since I have to pick up clubs I think I’ll try to do it first. RHO has five diamonds (assuming that LHO wouldn’t lead 2nd from a bad four or five, which I think is true) so all I’ve got to go on is the principle of vacant spaces and the fact that LHO led from diamonds, so perhaps that was his safest lead and he didn’t want to lead from an honor. Both of this inferences make LHO more likely to have the queen of clubs, so I cross to the club ace and take the hook. When it wins (whew!) I play the heart ace and it goes 7-small-Ten. I don’t think I’m being jobbed so I play a 3rd round of hearts and when they break I claim the rest. Making five for an excellent score, as the normal 3N by partner will be have ten tricks on the (expected) diamond lead but not path 11, so +450 is the maximum. (Update — It being a club game this turned out to not be a top as a few pairs slipped up and let 3N make 5 (and in one case, six!) but it was still 14 out of 17 or so).

The rest of our session is solid (and our few questionable plays are never punished and in one case rewarded for +800 on a part score hand), so we get first overall. A nice return!

Written by taogaming

June 5, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Bridge