Bridge Problems

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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The Extended Support Double

Zach Brescoll and I had the following defensive disaster at the club the last time we played together in what was otherwise a very good game.    See if you can do better than I did.

Playing West (the hands are rotated), with our opponents vulnerable, I picked up the following pretty collection:


Following 3 passes to me, I opened 1 (which in our system just showed 11-15 HCP with no 5-card major), South overcalled 1♠, Zach made a negative double showing 4+ hearts and North bid 2♣.  I made the obvious jump to 3 (showing 6+ diamonds and 14-15 HCP).  South passed as did my partner.  North, my right-hand-opponent bid 3♠.

What should I do know?

Obviously I’m going to bid again but what?  4 was the safe choice but did I have some other options?  In our style, I did.  A double here would show a sound opening and leave the decision to Zach as to what to do to.  I liked this option — having already showed 6+ diamonds by my 3bid, my double would give Zach the option of rebidding his hearts with 5, taking me to 4 diamonds without 5 hearts, or, if he thought we could set the contract, passing.  Defending the contract doubled with opponents vulnerable was particularly attractive so long as we could manage the set, since unless we could make 5, setting the contract at 200 a trick would be a top board.

So I doubled.  South passed.  Zach thought for an uncharacteristically long eight seconds and then passed.  So the final contract was 3♠ doubled.

Zach led the 3 and the following distressingly strong dummy came down:


I took the A and considered my options.  I counted 3 tricks only — my two Aces and a heart (presuming my partner at least had the Q).  To set the contract, I had to start by placing  Zach with at least the ♣A or A.  I was pretty sure he had one or the other, otherwise he would not have enough values for his negative double.

But that would not be enough.  That’s only 4 tricks.  I would also have to get a club ruff for our 5th trick.   How would I manage that?

Obviously, I had to get to Zach’s hand while I still had a trump.  So I shifted to the K, declarer taking the A, Zach playing the encouraging 4.  Good — Zach has the Q.  He must also have the ♣A for his negative double and so we are still in the running here.

Declarer played a low spade to the ♠K.  I took my ♠A immediately.  Here are the exposed hands after I’m in with the ♠A.


Now I was at a cross-roads.  I needed to continue in a manner that Zach would know to shift to a club when he got in.  If he shifts to a club, it is down 1 for a top.  But if he does not shift to a club, it’s a bottom board for sure.  But how could I communicate that message to him?  The hand absolutely depends on me getting this right.  Click on the link below for the answer.

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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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Combining Your Chances

The relationship between brothers is complicated.   My parents promised me that I would be as tall as my 6′ 2″ brother, Sam.   I topped out at a runty 5′ 9″ (in the morning) and have been looking for payback ever since.  I thought I had an opportunity for some payback when Sam joined us for our Thursday lesson series on various bidding conventions.  While we typically only bid the hands, Sam, sitting South, wanted to try playing the following diamond slam:


A note on the bidding:  The topic of that day’s lesson was Lebensohl over reverses.  North’s bid of 2NT over 2♥ showed in this case a weak hand, and demanded that South relay to 3♣, at which point North would typically sign off in South’s minor.  But South “breaks” the relay with his 3 bid showing 6-4 in diamonds and hearts and a maximum reverse.  This sets up a game force. North has perfect cards for slam try. Since the relay break sets up a game force, now North raises to 4 bid as a  slam try. South is more than happy to oblige and, after checking for aces, goes to 6, trusting his partner to have values to justify a slam try after trying to sign off using a lebensohl 2 NT. 

How would you play the hand after the lead of the ♠8, East playing the ♠K (promising the ♠KQ) under the ♠A?  Diamonds are not 4-0.  Click on the link below to see the answer.

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