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Another new, yet very old auction

(The second in a not-really-series).

Playing online, I pick up a typical (weak) 1NT opening:

S:xx H:AKx D:Axxx C:xxxx (ish)

So I open 1NT. And partner wheels out an unexpected bid — 3 Hearts.

What is that? In the olden days, that was a five card suit and choice of games or slammish. Nowadays Jacoby transfers handle the choice of games … although I had been thinking that making 3H mean “5 card suit slammish” is likely better than most systems.

In fact, which playing with new partners, I don’t normally bother filling out what 1N-3x means (with the exception that 3C should be Puppet Stayman). I haven’t heard this auction in a while, and I don’t know what it means. If I’ve discussed it, its so long that I can’t remember. Partner is in DC, and so may play some variant of Washington Standard, which I think makes this a 3=1=(54) forcing bid. But since I’m not sure and I don’t think its just hearts, I’m going to punt and bid 3NT. This gets doubled by my LHO.

Partner bids 4 Hearts. If he’s doing that with a stiff heart I think I’m going to make him play it as punishment for torturing me with an undiscussed auction. I pass and LHO doubles again. Partner doesn’t pull, so I guess he really has hearts. I pass and while he plays it he shows up with:

S: Axxxx H: Jxxxxx D: x C: x

I still don’t know what’s going on. Only hours later do I realize …. early on I learned (and still play with most people) that 3 Hearts is 5-5 in the majors, invitational. But its been probably a decade since I’ve seen that, even though I play it with most partners. The good news (from my perspective) is that four hearts doubled is that good place to be.

But A near-year of not even looking at a convention card is showing, I think.

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Bridge

The Giorgio Duboin Bridge Cheating Scandal

BridgeWinners has posted a summary of the evidence against Giorgio Duboin in recent online play. There are also links to the full hand records and analysis by several world class players. (The full report is here).

The one nice thing about online bridge is that it facilitates these kind of analysis into “Suspicious” and “Anti-suspicious” deals. (A suspicious deal is one where you make an abnormal decision that works out much better than suspected, whereas an anti-suspicious deal is one where the abnormal decision’s punishment works out even more poorly than normal). The methodology was to look at G.D.’s play when kibitzers were allowed (and he therefore may have been able to login with a second ID to see the layout or have an accomplice do that and relay the info) and when no kibitzers were allowed.

I haven’t read the full report, but even the summary seems damning with solid methodology and reporting, but perhaps gamers with more experience in this field will have a different opinion.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with

A typical slam

Playing on BBO with my normal partner against two local experts, I pick up a perk-me-up.

S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx

I open 1 Heart and hear a surprising bid from partner …. 2 NT, which is our strong and game forcing raise in hearts. (Jacoby 2NT)

There are a number of responses, but this is easy enough, I bid 4 Spades, which is our “ace” asking bid. (Kickback Roman Keycard Blackwood). Partner bids 5 Clubs, showing one ace.  Now comes the important part of the auction — I bid 5 Spades, the king ask. Importantly this promises possession of all the key cards partner doesn’t have. He’s shown the ace (of clubs). I’ve shown the other four aces (the heart king counts) and the heart queen.

A fairly descriptive bid for one supposedly asking.

Partner shows a king (we play specific kings rather than number of kings) but I’m done and bid 6 Hearts. If partner can’t count thirteen tricks knowing about my five cards, I have nothing else to say.

I get the Spade Ten lead and the following dummy.

          S: KJ H: JT9xxx D:Q5 C:AK3

ST Led

          S: Ax H:AKQxx D:AT C:J8xx


I cover the ST with the SJ (why not) and RHO follows low. Trumps break 1-1, so now its just a question of which line is best. In both cases I cash a spade first to eliminate the suit.

Line 1 — I lead the queen of diamonds hoping that RHO has the diamond king and doesn’t cover.

Line 2 — I cash the ace of clubs then lead ace of diamonds and lose a diamond. Whoever wins the diamond king will have to lead a club, and I can play my jack (if RHO won) or let it ride to my jack (if LHO won).

Line 3 — I can cash AK of clubs and then lead towards the jack.

Which line is best?

Line one is a swindle. It starts at 50% (RHO has the DK) but it requires a mistake. RHO is an expert and will never make the mistake looking at the DJ, and will rarely make it not. Call it 5%

Line two works if the DK and CQ are in the same hand, which is slightly less than 50/50 (~48% due to the law of vacant spaces, not bothering to modify it for cards played). It also works if the DK is stiff or if the DK only has a single club and has to give me a ruff and sluff (Clubs are 5-1). Those are pretty small chances, so a touch better than 50% feels right.

Line three works on any 3-3 club break (I lose to the CQ but can pitch dummy’s losing diamond on the fourth round of clubs). If RHO has the long clubs it also works (either the club queen falls or I can set up the jack for the diamond pitch). If LHO has 5 or 6 clubs I have to switch gears and play the diamond ace, diamond queen and hope that RHO wins and has to give me a ruff and sluff. Only if LHO has four clubs am I down. Clubs break 4-2 (either way) 30% of the time, but that is just for either 4-2 split. LHO having four clubs is 15%. And 1/3rd of the time, RHO will have the doubleton queen. In fact, there are 15 possible cases of LHO having four clubs. I win in six of those — RHO having T9 (the 8 sets up) and all the Qx cases.

Line three must be north of 75% (even ignoring that I still have the stiff diamond king shot if all else fails). I didn’t work the math out at the table but I played Line 3.

Of course this was LHO’s hand

S: QT952 H:5 D:K74 C:Q9xx

Down one when line two works. My first thought (and second) was “Typical slam. Inferior line works.” But now, in the cold light of day…

Maybe I should have known this. The Spade Jack won at T1. RHO would have to be playing a deep game not to cover (since the lead of the ST shows the 9), so that card is confirmed. That’s a mildly attacking lead against a strongly bid slam …. why not a passive lead? A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner. Perhaps the reason for the mildly aggressive spade lead is that the other two suits looked even more aggressive? Perhaps because LHO was looking at a choice of bad leads?

How much should that change the odds? I don’t know. A stiff trump lead is normally frowned on as it may finesse partner, but in theory partner should have Jxx or worse on this particular auction. (But one of us may have stretched and Jxxx is possible). I don’t know if the lead changes the odds around enough to make Line two more attractive than line one. That’s a table feel issue. But against expert opponents whatever the base numbers say Line two has a “plus factor” because of the lead….ah well.

Written by taogaming

September 16, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

A new, yet very old, auction

Playing online (where else?) pick up a normal 1 No-Trump opener

S:K9x H:AKT9 D:KJ8 C:J95

4333 is bad shape, but the spots are excellent. Partner wheels out a novel bid — 5 No-Trump.

I think this bid was covered in my very first lesson of bidding. The college bridge club had a sheet with a 7×5 bid grid of all the bids, and one section of them was “What this bid means opposite a 1N opening.” 4N (the Quantitative Slam Try) was definitely there. But 5N as “Bid a grand with a maximum, else bid a small slam” likely was. Of course, it never comes up. By which I mean, I have been playing bridge for over 30 years and this is the first time I’ve actually seen 1N-5N at the table.

I bid 6N. The play was boring, I could finesse a queen for seven (or play for some random squeeze that seemed less likely than a finesse). I finessed, making seven.

Next hand.

Written by taogaming

July 14, 2020 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Bridge

Bridge in Corona

I’ve played on BBO (and earlier on OKBridge) for over a quarter century. I finally played a sanctioned tournament online. A few thoughts:

  • From a strictly time/money perspective, a big win. Although the tournament was only 18 boards (boo!) it took 2 hours. A full 24/27 board tournament still keep it ~30 minutes faster than a club game. And there’s no time driving too and from, etc. Cost was several dollars cheaper.
  • This is partially due to the fact that nobody has to get out/sort/put back cards and the clock is 7 minutes a board feels generous (instead of a touch rushed for most people). Also, the enforcement is automatic, after 14 minutes the hand ends. I assume it goes down as an average (unless the director can see timing and adjust).
  • The ACBL/BBO did well to make games sponsored by clubs. So most people go to “their” club and you know everybody. This does help a bit because when Hank and I are playing Polish we still have to alert, but most people aren’t surprised/asking a lot of questions (which takes much longer). So you are still “seeing” your regulars, but only a few sentences of chat between hands means the social aspect is much worse.
  • There is a big discussion about cheating. See Bridgewinners. What needs to happen is an automated way to fill out a recorder form (basically “I smell something funky, please investigate.”) These exist, but are such a pain to fill out nobody every really does. (Actually, I wonder. Jeff G. sits in review for national appeals committees, but maybe they only happen at high level). But by being automated BBO could provide a certified copy of the bidding/play to at least prevent “remembering with advantages” by either party. Right now there were a few questionable things that happened, but honestly in a club game I get a fair number. Most are just mistakes. But the ability to see exactly what happened is enlightening.

Anyway, I wouldn’t normally play a club game online and this doesn’t really change that. But you make do…

Written by taogaming

June 1, 2020 at 10:11 pm

Some Bridge Reading for You

Mats Nilsland has made his new book “Competitive Bids the Scanian Way” free to download for your Corona-reading pleasure. I’ve only scanned the first bid, but I have a few other books on Modern Scanian (which means approximately “Scandanavian,” with some differences I may not grok) bidding, and they are full of interesting ideas. Kind of like reading “Better Bidding With Bergen” in the late 80s … his ideas were rarely used in club circles, and are now reasonably common.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Bridge

RIP Josephine Grabow

Josephine (‘Jo’) Grabow is now the third bridge partner I’ve lost. Not only was she a much more frequent partner (I haven’t played with her in a few years, but we had 5-6 of us that would play practice and rotate houses, but she seemed in perfect health. She just performed the lead in a local theater production two weeks ago, and I saw her last weekend at the tournament. She played at the club on Monday, and Tuesday suffered a massive stroke. It’s infuriating and heartbreaking.

Written by taogaming

January 24, 2020 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with

Heat 1

I had an arranged bridge partnership for the weekend, as I was skipping this years North American Open Pairs. My partner (from CA) was described as a nice expert and she was. After going to the wrong hotel (this tournament was in the same place for a decade …. ), I arrived in time to make a card and sit down to a simple sectional pairs game.

Not much happens in the early rounds,

Then I pick up (Red vs White):

S:KQ8xx H:Txx D:– C:ATxxx

My RHO gets things off with a 3D preempt. Since I have diamond shortness, it’s my obligation to stretch. There’s something to be said for double, but with 5=3 in the majors I bid 3S. If partner bids 3N I think I may pull, but she bids 4D as a slam try and I slam on the brakes with 4S.

LHO leads the diamond three and I see this in dummy:

          S:AT9x H:AKx D:KJ852 C:9

3D led

          S:KQ8xx H:Txx D:--  C:ATxxx


I think I’ve done well. I only have one loser (and third round at that), but winners seem thin on the ground. I cover the diamond 3 with the 5 (maybe RHO will mess up and play too high) but he’s there with the 6 and I ruff.

I could start ruffing clubs before pulling trump but I don’t think my communication is great. After some thought I pull a round of trump with my ace(*) and when both follow I risk playing a club ace and ruff a club with the spade ten. RHO plays the CJ on this. I play a spade to my king and both follow. Ah, that’s great. I ruff a club and RHO pitches a heart. I play AK of hearts and RHO follows with the jack once and then pitches a diamond. Now I only have two trumps and four losers, but I know everything.

                   S:-- H:5 D:KJ82 C:--

S:-- H:Qxx D:-- C:KQ                  D:AQT97

                   S:Qx H:T D:-- C:Tx 

RHO has only diamonds left.I lead the diamond deuce to his seven (pitching a heart) and when he cashes the diamond ace instead of ruffing I pitch a club. He’s forced to lead to my king, allowing my to dispose of my last club.

Not difficult, but I’m pleased to find this double loser-on-loser endplay.

(* Update) — I realized that starting with the ace was stupid, I’m not actually sure I did it, but maybe. Clearly if anyone has four trumps it is likely to be west, so I should have started with the King. So let’s all pretend I did that. Maybe I did, who knows?

Later, a near slam hand:

S:Jx H:AKJxx D:AKJ C:xxx.

Partner (in second seat) opens 1C, I have an easy 1H bid and partner bids 1S. I bid 2D, artificial and forcing to game. Partner bids 2H, showing 3 card support and I set trumps and show slam interest by bidding 3H. Partner bids 3S (first or second round control) and I bid 4D (ditto, also denying a club control). Partner bids 4H and we’re done. LHO (a relative novice) leads the nine of clubs and I see:

S:KQ9x H:Qxx D:xx C:AQJT

I see that slam was roughly 50/50, and with that lead the club king is likely off sides. I’m a bit stuck because there’s a chance that LHO has the king is has done something weird. I decide to risk the ruff and play the queen.  It loses and when a club comes back LHO follows low. I pull trumps (which break) and then lead a small spade to my queen, planning on claiming +650 when the ace takes it. But it holds. Hm. Now I have a chance for six. I cross back to the diamond ace and play two rounds of trump, pitching spades. When I play a club to dummy I see LHO follow, meaning he led top of nothing. I’m really starting to like my chance for six, now. My gut is that LHO has the diamond queen and is squeezed. When I cash the clubs I come down to an automatic squeeze position in spades and diamonds.

Dummy has the spade king and a diamond and two good clubs. I run the clubs and come down to KJ of diamonds. LHO has a good poker face, but my vibe is telling me he’s got the queen. Since he led top of nothing from xxx, he was looking for a safe lead, so there’s also a restricted choice argument. (If he had nothing in clubs and diamonds, he’d pick randomly, at least from my point of view. But if he had the diamond queen and decided to lead nothing, his choice was restricted). I lead a diamond to the king and am rewarded when the queen falls. +680.

Later on I’m defending a game with a 2C opener declaring on my left, trumps are pulled, and partner has only room for one card.

Dummy has T8x of hearts and I have J9 tight. When declarer leads the low heart off the board I’m ready and fly with the jack. This is the position I’m hoping for:


        CHO: Kxxx

Declarer: AQxx   Dummy:T8x

        ME:  J9

(The ace and king could be reversed). Declarer covers my queen and partners king wins. Partner exits safely and declarer, having no place to discard her two small cards, takes the ‘marked’ finesse of the heart 8 and is off. Note that if I’d followed with the 9 then declarer would simply drop my jack (or go back and finesse by leading the T or 8. Since that was bound to work, my falsecard gave declarer and obvious (and losing) alternative.

Sadly, I’m off by a card since declarer only has three hearts (AQx), but I’m still happy to have spotted the mandatory falsecard. As the day goes on I realize I’m in Zia’s “Heat 1,” where everything you do seems to work out, your analysis seems sharper. I’m in a good mood, and that makes it easy to play well. Even though our scores are only mediocre (our opponents are bidding their thin slams, and there are a few questionable bids by each side), but I’m in the zone.

Then, my LHO is a solid local expert who has been an expert for my entire bridge playing career, I decide to make a sign-off on a not-so-borderline invitational hand, because the signoff will accurately show my shape and the invite will see partner force to game before I can provide the news. (This follows Woolsey’s advice of “when choosing between two bids and one is a mild over/underbid, make the one that shows your shape.” I had lobbied for the convention to let me show that at a low level, but we’re playing a simpler one where partner may jump with a maximum hand before I can finish….)

Since I’m in the zone, my underbid gets a lead directing penalty double from the S.L.E. (she doesn’t expect us to end up there, and she’s right), meaning everyone who is going high will get massacred with bad breaks and offside suits.

Even more amazingly, my RHO (an imaginative and sometimes flighty player), misreads the double is takeout and informs my partner as such. So partner passes and when he bids I come out of the woodwork and make a double that must be penalty. The smoke clears at 1700 points, although 500 was enough to make the top cold. LHO is still griping (justifiably) at her partner when I pick up.

S:Kx H:QJ8 D:AKJx C:JTxx

This is an easy 1NT, so I have an easy auction. Partner will be captain. The auction proceeds:

--- --- --- ---
X*   P  2C** P  (*Alerted as Meckwell, either a long minor or both majors. **Forced relay)
2H*  X  2S** P  (*Both majors, **Correcting to preferred major)
 P  3S*  P  3N  (*Do you have spades stopped. 3N= Yes)

I get a small spade lead and see that this is as touchy a contract as the auction (coupled with my tenous spade stopper) imply.

Dummy has S:J9x H:KTx D:xx C:AK987

I call for a low spade and gratefully cover RHO’s queen with the king. Nobody is vulnerable, so LHO may have risked the bid with only 4=4 in the majors, but in any case the club finesse isn’t likely to work. Still, its my obvious source of tricks to attack first. I carefully lead the club jack. LHO plays the deuce. She can see dummy so she may have ducked the Qxx, but I fly with the ace and play the king, finishing the unblock with my ten. LHO shows out on this, so I lead another club and RHO wins the queen, LHO discarding two hearts, presumably encouraging. RHO continues with spades and LHO wins the queen and knocks out the jack (as I pitch a diamond). When I cash my two clubs RHO follows with a discouraging heart and then pitches his fourth spade.

That confirms what I already knew. He doesn’t have the heart ace. People with sure entries don’t pitch winners.

I get rid of my low diamond on the fifth club and LHO (after pitching a diamond on the fourth), pitches her fourth spade.

I run through the bridge syllogism again.

RHO pitched a spade winner, therefore RHO does not have the heart ace. And since LHO pitched a spade winner, LHO does not have the heart ace.

Maybe I have it? I double check. Nope. I can’ t quite work out why its going on, but that’s not necessary. I simply lead a heart and when LHO wins she returns one and I can pitch my jack of diamonds and avoid the finesse. Ah, now I know. If she kept the spade winner and pitched a diamond, her queen would fall under my AK. And if she pitched a low heart she’d be endplayed after cashing. But in either case she’d have held me to 3N instead of letting me make an overtrick. An uncharacteristic mistake, probably caused by fatigue and annoyance at partner.

In both matchpoint sessions we do OK, but in the Swiss teams the next day I confirm I’m in zone one, as our pickup team just gets edged out of first with a 5-1 score, the loss being very narrow match 13-15 (mostly decided at the other table). I’ve often been in zone three (where you seem snakebit at the table), so its nice to have some time in the sun.

Written by taogaming

January 20, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Bridge

Problematic hands

While I think that Polish Club is a good system, it has a few weaknesses. One big one is strong hands with primary diamonds and a secondary major, or two suited hands with the minors. (Standard American also has problems handling these in the strong and artificial 2 Club opening). So … while we open 1 Club with “Most” 18 point hands, we will sometimes open 1 diamond with a hand up to about 20 or 21 HCP. But normally those only show up a few times a year.

Playing at the club, I pick up S:x H:AK D:KQTxx C:AKJxx

Tough. If I open 1 Club I won’t be able to show both minors below 4 Clubs, when 3N is the right place. So I open 1 Diamond. Partner bids 1 Heart and I bid an artificial 2N. (Since we open all balanced hands 1 Club or Notrump, this bid is free). This shows an strong (18+) hand, either primary diamonds or a minor two suiter. Partner bids 3 Diamonds, showing that if I have a minor two suiter, he prefers diamonds.

That’s excellent news. Unless partner is 4=3 in the minors he likely has a doubleton club and 3+ diamonds, taking care of a diamond loser. No point in fooling around. I bid 4 Hearts, key card blackwood in diamonds (kickback) and partner bids 4 Spades, showing one ace. Since we have a loser,  I settle for 6 diamonds, which should be pretty reasonable.

LHO leads the spade king and I find out that partner has pretty much the worst hand.

S:ATx H:T9xxx D:8xx C:Tx

Partner took a shot at improving the contract, but not only does he have the ‘wrong’ ace he has no extras. But he could have a lot more points and this would still be dicey, so I have no complaints.

I win the ace and have to decide how to play. I can finesse the clubs, but then I’ll need something good to happen in diamonds and I may still have a club loser. But if the diamond ace is onside (or maybe the jack) I don’t really need much in clubs. Any 3-3 break or the long hand to have the long trump. So I play the diamond off dummy and RHO follows with the jack. I win with the diamond king.

If the diamond jack was stiff I’m down, but I think it was from AJ tight, so I can make if RHO has two or three clubs (because if he over-ruffs dummy he won’t be able to pull dummy’s last trump). I lead the AK and a small club and LHO stares at this and shows up with the diamond nine. Ah well.

Amazingly I pick up another problematic hand later the same session.

S:AKxx H:– D:AQTxxx C:AJx

I open 1 Diamond again, and LHO bids 1 Heart which goes Pass Pass to me. I bid 2 spades, which could be weaker than what I actually have but partner will strive to keep the auction alive. Partner bids 3 Spades and I reveal the monster hand by making a slam try with 4 Clubs. Partner bids 4 Diamonds — possibly a singleton but likely the diamond king. I don’t have quite enough to force, but I try again with 4 Hearts. Partner bids 4 Spades.

After some thought, I pass. If I give partner the diamond king, what else can he have. If he has the club king and the spade queen (as well as four spades), he wouldn’t have passed over 1 Heart. Even with two kings he may have bid with a spare jack, especially). Realistically the best hand he could have is the spade queen + diamond king or two kings.  And Hank isn’t shy. If he had that he might have taken control.

I don’t think he has it.

I get a spade lead (the ten) and I see I’m right:

S:9xxxx H:Qx D:Kx C:Txxx

I win the Spade A and K (RHO following once, but then discarding), so I have a spade loser, but when diamonds break I can pitch three clubs from dummy and make six.

Still — a club lead would set the slam (unless spades split) so it’s reasonable to not be there.

Even though we were in the non-making slam and out of the making (on this lead) slam, I still feel like we acquitted ourselves well enough.

Written by taogaming

December 21, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Bridge

Tagged with ,

Some recent thoughts

I played the actual Shades of Tezla light and darkness scenario. I don’t like the new orc/monster/dragon tokens scattered into the base game (because they make the variability much higher) but in a scenario designed for them, it was fine. But the rulebook font is so small that basically the TaoLing has to read everything for me now. (It was tough to read even when I bought it….)

Played another game of Race: Xeno Invasion (cards only). I should play more Race. Ditto Baseball Highlights:2045.

Apparently Favor of the Pharoah was a gift at a recent game convention, because many locals now have a copy, so I played it a few more times. I think its an improvement over To Court the King, but the setup is a pain.

Reading many new bridge books. Most are on card play, but I did buy Five Card Majors the Scanian Way, and it has many new ideas and a definite philosophy. (‘Scanian’ approximates ‘Scandanavian,’ possibly meaning mainly Swedish. I think.)

Hank and I use transfer bids in competition (transfer advances and after takeout doubles); the Scanians have more including over 1C without competition, which has some proponents in ACBL land and I would play when playing Standard, if any partner wanted to. Scanian also includes switch bids: oftentimes hearts means clubs and vice versa, especially in competition.

There are parts that are likely not legal in ACBL-land (like Multi-) … actually I stared at the new ACBL regs and Multi seems to be legal by the rules but not by the commentary. Also putting 18-19 balanced into the 2C opening. But even if you strip it down to legal, building a system to allow more judgement and multiple ways to bid the same shape and strength (depending on how the HCP are distributed) is intriguing. Also fun are fit jumps (jumps showing the suit bid and a fit with opener’s suit). Of course this is likely for interest only to serious tournament players, and even then most won’t care.

Written by taogaming

November 2, 2019 at 5:33 pm