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”

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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?

Continue reading “Stick it to the Man (Doubled & Redoubled!)”

The Operation was a Success, but the Patient Died

A few weeks ago I was on my way out of the bridge club around 12:30pm after a morning commitment there. A couple of afternoon players were caught in some wicked traffic, so I stuck around to fill in for a board or two until they arrived.

I end up with Tom Snyder (also filling in) and Janet Case as my opponents for the first board of the session. Having no agreements whatsoever with my partner, I was hoping for a ho-hum hand, without much headache. Of course, the bridge Gods were not amenable, and I sort my cards into the following hand:

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To my surprise, my partner (North) opens 1♣ in first chair! Tom Synder on my right overcalls 1. I decide to start with 1♠, unsure what I’d do later. Janet Case raises to 2 on my left, and partner surprises me again with a 2♠ bid! Tom Terrific competes to 3 on my right, and I decided that my hand is worth bidding 3♠, but no more. I buy the contract there. To recap:

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Janet leads the 4 on my left and I am left with this pair of hands:

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I sit for a minute, trying to wade through the mud and figure out the right line of play. I ultimately decide to ruff dummy’s diamonds in my hand. The alternative would be to pull trumps and try to set up my clubs, but it’s unlikely I’ll have an entry to the club suit after all of that is said and done. So, I ruff the first diamond in hand, play a heart to dummy, and ruff another diamond. I play another heart to dummy, and ruff that last pesky diamond.

I reach the following position:

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Now seems like a good time to pull trumps, with dummy looking better and better. So, I play the ♠Q out of my hand, West plays small, I play small from dummy, and East wins the ♠A. He now plays the ♣J, I cover, and West wins the ♣A. She now plays the J, which I attempt to win with the Q in dummy, but to my dismay, East ruffs it! He now plays a club, and I win that in my hand. Here is the position:

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I have lost 3 tricks (♣A, ♠A, and small spade used to ruff) and the opponents are still getting a heart. The opponents have 2 more trumps. I cannot afford to lose any spade tricks, but I am unfortunately stuck in my hand, and have to get to dummy. I play a small ♣ and West plays the ♣T – Which spade do you play?

Continue reading “The Operation was a Success, but the Patient Died”

Introduction to an Endplay

Players at most levels have experienced an endplay, and have often even heard the term thrown around. Generally when a defender gets endplayed, you can tell by the level of discomfort and squirming as they try as they might to find some way out of it. Alas! There is often no way out of it.

When you are endplayed, there is often no way around it; there is usually no reasonable way to avoid it. What a powerful play! Let’s introduce a fundamental endplay technique, for when a contract SEEMS impossible to make, but in reality, it is makable. Endplays are an intermediate+ concept, but players with less experience may find this interesting, at the very least to assuage your misery when you are endplayed by an opponent, as you will understand there was really nothing you could have done to avoid it.

For this basic endplay, you need a lot of trumps in both hands – generally at least a 5-4 trump fit, or perhaps 5-5. Your basic premise is to FORCE the opponents to play a suit that you don’t want to play. Their only other option would be to give a ruff/sluff, also giving you the contract.

Take the following pair of hands:

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We land on our feet in 4in the East. We have no information from our opponents on the auction. South leads the ♣T – we have to make our first assumption. Does South have the ♣K after he leads the Ten? Nope. So, we count 1 club loser.

The red suits are looking solid, so we look to spades for losers there. The spades are what is known as a “frozen suit” – the first side (defenders OR declarer/dummy) to lead this suit takes one fewer trick in the suit than if the other side broke open the suit. This takes some logic-ing, but if you think critically, you will see that if declarer leads spades himself, we will often lose the ♠A, ♠K, and ♠10. If the defense leads spades from either North or South hand, we can play second hand low to force one of the big honors, then only lose the ♠A and ♠K.

So, to recap: As East (declarer), we have one club and three spade losers – one too many! Try to put on your thinking cap and see how we may play to FORCE the defenders to give us a trick, either by leading spades, or by giving us a ruff/sluff late in the hand.

One you have a plan, see below for the solution. Continue reading “Introduction to an Endplay”

One Opportunity

There is plenty of talk among bridge players of “making a plan” when declaring. That is, deciding what you need to do to take the most tricks, and then carrying it out and re-evaluating if something doesn’t go quite as planned.

Well, let’s take it a step further: beyond simply making a plan, let’s talk about making a GOOD plan — a plan which has the best possible chance of working! Allow me to explain using a declarer play problem. See the hands below:

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South reaches 4♠ with no opposition bidding, and West leads a particularly unhelpful club honor. I tend to count losers in suit contracts, so here we have a possible 2 hearts, 1 diamond, and 1 club to lose — one trick too many. What is the best plan to avoid the loss of four tricks? Well, we have two possible finesses in the red suits, and hope that the A and K are on our right, with East. With that in mind, make a plan for tricks 1, 2, 3, and 4.

When you are ready, click on the link below.

Continue reading “One Opportunity”

Play it Safe

Many of you have probably heard of the notion of a “safety play.” In bridge, this is often a play that ENSURES making the contract, even on some wildly unlikely distributions, such as a 7-1 split in the defender’s hands. Take the following E/W hands from a recent CBA game in which Julie was playing.

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We safely landed in 3NT, and got a spade lead from LHO. Unfortunately, the ♠J got covered by the Q, so we only have only more spade stopper. Luckily, we should be able to take 2♠, 4♥, and 5♣ for a solid +460. With ten clubs between both hands, this should be no problem, as clubs will usually break 2-1 in the opponents’ hands. So, plan your play: After winning the spade lead, what will you play at Trick 2?

Continue reading “Play it Safe”

A Note on Strong 2♣ Openings

A strong 2♣ opening is something I have a lot of opinions about — some popular, others less so. A mentor I greatly respect taught me to generally not open a strong 2♣ with an unbalanced two-suited hand, or “freak” hand, unless it is absolutely necessary.  Many people play that opening 2♣ and rebidding anything other than 2NT is GAME-FORCING — often times, 22-counts (as fun as they are) are not really strong enough to make game with no help from partner. Thus, try to restrict the 2♣ opening to balanced, or semi-balanced hands, unless you have fancy tools and tricks to describe unbalanced hands thereafter.

The other logic behind this is that we have preempted ourselves by opening at the 2-level, and have not described one lick of our hand with our first bid. Well, this is fine and dandy if our next bid is a clear, concise 2NT, showing 22-24 balanced. However, consider the following hand. What would you open?

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To see what Julie recommends (and Tom agrees) for a “plan of action” with this hand, and the logic behind it, click on continue reading tag below. Continue reading “A Note on Strong 2♣ Openings”