In a pickle

The following hand is one of my favorites for a lesson. It originally came up in a tournament long ago, and I continually return to it again and again. I was dealt the following as North, and the auction proceeded as such:

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Whether or not N/S are playing 2/1, North will bid 1N over 1♠. In 2/1, this is the Forcing 1 NT (6-12 points). Not playing 2/1, this is 6-9 points and non-forcing.

South now makes a GAME FORCING JUMP SHIFT to 3. This puts North in a bit of a pickle. He can’t bid NT with no stoppers in the minors, especially diamonds. He has no major suit fit to speak of. What would you do?

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Count it Out

Last Sunday, Tom and I hosted a defense seminar focusing on upside-down attitude. We had a wonderful, engaged group, and we covered a broad range of material about opening leads, signaling, and forming a defensive plan. I found one board that Tom created for our practice session particularly interesting. The following hand (North) ends up on lead against the auction listed below:

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Perhaps you made a light takeout double of 1, but the final contract remains – West made a help-suit-game-try (HSGT) to invite East to game, but East rejected the invitation. We lead the ♠A, showing AK, and the dummy comes down in the East:

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Clearly, East was having none of the game try, and settled in 3. We lead the ♠A and partner signals encouragement per our defensive methods. We successfully cash the ♠K, declarer following. Obeying partner’s encouraging signal, we lead a 3rd spade and  partner ruffs. Here comes the first teachable moment – when we give partner a ruff, we should give him SUIT PREFERENCE to indicate which suit he should play upon getting on lead with his ruff. Here, we have club suit preference, so we use the lowest spade (♠5) to give the ruff. Partner was paying attention, so he ruffs the spade, and plays the ♣J. Declarer plays the Q, and we win the ♣A.

What is your next play?

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Little Rabbit

One of my first introductions to Zach Brescoll was in 2014 in Las Vegas at a training camp for junior (<26) bridge players, in preparation for the World Youth Team Championship to be held in Istanbul about a month later. The training camp began just after the Las Vegas NABC concluded. At some point during the festivities, I found myself at a table against Zach. I distinctly remember on one board: his partner opened 1♠, he supported spades at the 2-level, and his partner launched straight into RKC without making a forcing, descriptive bid at the 2-, 3-, or 4-level. These descriptive bids may ultimately help determine whether we belong on small slam or grand slam, or in spades or NT.

He smiled and shook his head, and muttered “Little Rabbit,” referring to the way his partner jumped like a rabbit.

Zach was, and still is, a better and more experienced player than I am, so I defer to his bridge judgment in most cases. I have always kept this notion with me – jumps eat up a lot of space, and thus they should be VERY descriptive. They should really get the point of your hand across.

With that in mind, consider the following hand:

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I was dealt this crazy hand on BBO, playing with Zach earlier this week. He was the dealer and opened 1, RHO bid 1, and I started with 1♠. To my surprise, Zach raised me to 2♠! I know he’s got around 12-14 points, and 4-card support in spades.

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What are our possible bids here?

  • 3♣ or 3 would be natural and forcing (a Help Suit Game Try, or possibly probing for slam).
  • 3 would be a CUEBID of the opponent’s suit, showing a very good hand – too much to just go to 4♠.
  • 3NT would be natural and balanced, offering to forego our spade fit and play in NT.
  • 4m would be a SPLINTER – showing shortness in the bid suit, and slam interest in spades.
  • 4 would also be a SPLINTER – showing shortness in hearts, and slam interest in spades.
  • 4♠ would be natural and to play (no slam interest).

What would you bid?

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The Best Lie

Nearing the end of a long sectional weekend, I was convinced to play two rounds of the Sunday Swiss on a team with Zach Brescoll, Jean Davis, Brad McKeown, and Dave Cantor. The team had played very well all day, and I came in for the last two rounds, given that I had two of the best volunteers I could ask for at the helm in the kitchen.

Usually at least once per session, there is just no good bid for a hand I hold. Whether it is an opening hand, a responding hand, a competitive auction, an invitational hand, or one of many other types of bidding problems, sometimes you just have to fib. In situations like this, I like to approach the menu of options (possible bids) and use process of elimination to determine the best lie. I try to figure out my partner’s worst- and best-case scenario bids, and go from there.

One such hand came up in the final round. I hadn’t kept a close eye on the scores, but I was pretty sure this match would decide our fate in, perhaps, the top five finishers of the day. It was the second or third board of the round, and I pick up the following:

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It was a decent enough 15-count, albeit with a singleton honor. I always like to plan ahead to my next bid, so I started envisioning the possible auctions. The toughest situation to accommodate would be opening 1♣, and hearing 1♠ from my partner. The hand is not strong enough to bid 2 as that’d be a reverse. I don’t want to rebid 2♠ with only three of them, nor do I want to rebid 2♣ with only 5 of them, and not great ones at that.

With that in mind, expand your menu and think about what you might open this hand, with the notion of the “best lie” in mind.

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Poker Face

It is said that poker and bridge have a lot in common. Perhaps not in the mechanics, format, and scoring of the game, but certainly in terms of hedging your bets, reading your opponent, and playing the odds. The following set of hands includes one hand from the recent over/under game at CBA, and the rest are hands that Zach or I have happened upon recently while practicing on BBO (Bridge Base Online). They are all markedly similar: they are each strong, unbalanced hands with a long, strong minor.

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These hands tend to be unwieldy enough when we get to open the bidding. When the opponents open, either a normal opening bid or a preempt, it is almost impossible to get to the right contract scientifically.

On each of these hands, you are in 4th chair, and someone opens the bidding in front of you. On the first one, the auction goes (1) – P – (P) – ___ to you.

On the subsequent three, the auction goes either (1♠) – P – (P) – ___ or (2♠) – P – (3♠) – ___ to you.

What might you do in these cases?

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“In a Force”

The following hand is another I (Julie) played in Atlanta at the NABC this past month. It was the final session of the 0-10,000 pairs, and my partner and I had over 50% in the first three sessions, so we were hopeful that a big (60%+) game would catapult us into maybe a top 10 finish.

This particular hand features doubles. Doubles tend to be one of the hardest parts of the game to get a feel for – we’ve all set the opponents undoubled 3 or 4 and wondered, ‘could I have doubled?’ And, on the flipside, we’ve all been guilty of doubling an opponent’s making contract. The best thing you can do is follow a strict set of guidelines and never assume your partner will ‘figure it out’ when you stray from these.

I was sitting South, and I picked up the following hand:

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My partner was the dealer, and no one was vulnerable. Partner opened 1♣, and my RHO overcalled 1NT.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.54.01 AM.pngThis part of the lesson is something you would never figure out on your own, but rather need to be taught at some point or another – When partner opens, and they overcall 1NT, your double is PENALTY. Partner would almost never pull the double by bidding, unless he had a crazy 5-5 or 6-5 hand that he needed to describe.

You can make this penalty double of 1NT with as few as 8-9 HCP. Here is the logic – partner has at least 12 points to open the bidding. RHO is showing 15-18, so we’re at 27 already. Add a minimum of 8 from us, and we are up to a bare minimum of 35 HCP accounted for. That leaves an absolute maximum of 5 for dummy. Most often, dummy will have closer to 0 than to 5. Thus, declarer will never be able to get to dummy to take finesses or set up a long suit there, meaning he is almost always going down.

So, we have plenty to double on this particular hand, with 13 HCP and a source of tricks in clubs. West now bids 2 as a transfer to spades, partner passes, and East accepts the transfer. What now? I haven’t gotten very much across about my hand – I have more HCP and a more interesting shape than I have shown with my penalty double of 1NT. What would you do?

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2N Or Not To Know (Making Negative Inferences)

Last weekend I traveled to Atlanta to play in the nationals with a good friend who I hadn’t played with in a few years. He graciously agreed to play the system I play with my regular partners, and we practiced away on BBO. Despite all of our practice, there are still (somehow) bridge situations that will arise that we have not explicitly discussed. Enter: The power of the negative inference. Negative inferences are a “must” in bridge – they involve thinking about what partner did NOT bid (or play) as a clue to what they ARE bidding (or playing).

For instance – playing 2/1, partner opens 1♠, we bid a Forcing 1NT; We show a side 4-card minor, and partner shows a preference by bidding 2♠. Partner did NOT raise 1♠ to 2♠, but supported them later – thus, he has only 2-card support. We can infer something about partner’s hand both by what he DID bid and what he did NOT bid.

So – how does this possibly relate to “2N or not 2N”? Well, in the midst of a 0-10,000 event with my partner, I pick up the following hand:

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I am South, in fourth chair, and after two passes, my RHO opens 1♠. I generally like a better (and/or longer) suit to make a 2-level overcall, but I have a good hand, so I dutifully overcall 2. Two more passes follow, and RHO balances with 2♠.

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Now I have to put my thinking cap on and figure out how to get us to the right spot. I generally try to avoid letting my opponents play at the 2-level if I can help it, and I have a good enough hand to want to compete. But what to bid? I cannot make a takeout double with so few hearts. Any thoughts?

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