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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Courteous Bids

The hand I selected to write about today exemplifies one of the most versatile – and underused – bids in all of bridge: The Cuebid.

I stumbled across this hand whilst killing time during an unfortunate cold that hit myself and Zach before last weekend. Trying to keep my mind off the unfortunate state of my sinuses, I took to Bridge Base Online (BBO) to play a few practice hands against robots in what they refer to as an “Instant Tournament.” These 8-board mini tournaments give the human player the best hand at the table (by HCP), and can be played at imps or matchpoints.

The following is my hand on one particular deal:

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Seems harmless enough, right? So, dealer (East) on my right passes, and I open a 15-17 1NT. My LHO Robot bids 2♠, which the bots play as spades and a minor. My partner bids 3, game forcing with 5+ hearts. LHO passes.

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What would you do now?

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Help Suit Game Trick

As many of you know, I run a teaching (“Barometer”) game a few times per month, on Saturday mornings and Thursday afternoons. They are both capped at 499 MPs, and consist of 12 boards. All tables play the same board at the same time, and I instruct on each board directly after playing it. To prepare for this game, Zach and I deal 12 random boards, and discuss together the best way to handle each one, which is what I teach at the game. The lessons that come up most often are things like competitive bidding, New Minor Forcing, 2/1 auctions, etc. But, occasionally, we get something freaky, like the following hand:

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Hands like this may look like an absolute nightmare to figure out, even to players with years and years of experience under their belts. It can be so tough to handle these types of hands in uninterrupted auctions, let alone if the opponents interfere!

So, let’s start to parse this out. I tend to preach opening these types of hands at the 1-level, in case any of you were tempted to open 2♣. Opening at the 2-level can really preempt us out of finding the best contract. So, we open 1♠ and hope for the best. To our surprise, partner raises to 2♠! The opponents are still silent.

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Now we may have visions for slam – partner is showing us 6-9(10) points, and a spade fit. So, it’s looking like no spade losers, but what about those pesky hearts? If partner had the ♠Q and K, it’d be hard NOT to make a small slam, and that’s only 5 HCP. But, if partner has the KQJ for his 6 points, it’s not looking great for the home team. So, how best to gauge all of this……

Think about what you would bid now, and when you are ready, click “Read more.” Continue reading “Help Suit Game Trick”

Stick it to the Man (Doubled & Redoubled!)

A couple of weekends ago I traveled to Michigan to visit my best friend, Jonathan, during one of the two annual regionals that take place in the Detroit metro area. We played team games all weekend, which are my favorite, due to the form of scoring and the fact that it allows more down-time with friends between rounds than in a pairs game.

So, we are putzing along on Saturday with a few victorious rounds under our belts, when we wind up playing against a particular Michigan team that we’ve come to know well over the years. One select member of this team is infamous in the community – he tends to act a bit entitled, flashy with his wealth, and generally purports an “above-it-all” attitude. And, at an impressive 6’5″ tall, he tends to be am imposing figure in any room.

We play a few harmless hands in our 7-board match, our opponents endlessly analyzing each previous hand to ensure themselves that they did nothing wrong. Then, around the 5th board, I pick up the following hand:

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The dealer is Mr. Hotshot to my right, and he opens 1♣. We are non-vulnerable, and I really don’t want to pass this hand. While I hesitate to encourage this bid to aspiring players, I bid 1NT, for better or for worse, showing 15-18 HCP, a club stopper, and (usually) a balanced hand. It was certainly a risk, but I deemed it the “least lie” with this particular hand.

My left hand opponent passes, and to my delight, my partner bids Stayman. Whether or not we have a heart fit, it looks like I will not be punished for my off-shape NT overcall. Now Mr. Moneybags decides to make a Lead-Directing Double, showing clubs. Generally when he opens 1♣, then later doubles an artificial club bid, it tells his partner he actually has a decent club suit and wants partner to lead a club. So, here is the auction thus far:

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The auction is back to you, and the tension in air is palpable — what would you do?

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