Bridge Problems

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.

Continue reading “The Extended Support Double”

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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“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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Check and Double Check

I had the pleasure of playing with Jean Davis in the under-10,000 mixed Swiss team event in this year’s Summer nationals in Atlanta.  I was delighted when she accepted my offer to play in the event, and flattered when she agreed to try upside-down count/attitude signaling, my preferred defensive carding method.  (More on this in a future column).

It was  the very last hand of the last round in the evening session.  I, South,  was dealt the following so-so collection of cards:


The dealer, East on my left, passed; playing 2/1, Jean opened a club; my RHO (West) made a weak jump overcall of 2.  We eventually ended up in the ambitious contract of 4 as per the bidding shown with the dummy below.


A note on the bidding:  Even playing 2/1, a 2 over 1 bid necessitated by East’s interfering 2 IS NOT game forcing.   It should, however, still show a decent 10-count, as it forces partner to bid for at least 1 more round.  Swayed by the favorable placement of the K behind the presumed A, I decided to count my hand as a decent 10-pointer.    Similarly, since my 2 bid was not game forcing due to the overcall, Jean’s 3 was NOT forcing, or even very encouraging.  With heart support and a 14-count or a good 13-count, Jean would have bid 4 (since I would pass 3 with a minimum 2 bid) but with any lesser hand she would have made the minimum 3 bid.  My 4 bid was an overbid premised on the belief that partner’s spade honor(s) would be favorably placed behind West’s spade honors revealed by West’s 2♠ bid.

The dummy was about what I expected.  The Q was a big disappointment, however.  Had this been the ♣Q, my chances would be much better. 

On the first trick, I played low from the dummy and then unblocked my K under RHO’s A to create an entry to the dummy.  East returned a diamond; I took the Q in dummy and led a heart.  Low from East, K from me and A from West.  Back came a trump with the J falling from East.  Good:  a 2-2 heart break.  In my hand, I decided to lead towards the ♠K, trusting the ♠A to be on my left due to the 2♠ bid.  As predicted, West rose with the ♠A.  Then then made the curious lead of the ♣9.  

This looked foreboding as it appeared to be top of a doubleton, which means the protected ♣Q is on my right.  Down 1.  With nothing better to do, I delayed matters by winning with the ♣A, cashing my ♠K  and then leading a spade for a ruff back to my hand, my right hand opponent following to both spades.  

Decision time in the club suit.  I play my ♣J.  West plays the ♣2.  I have lost 3 tricks already and can’t lose a 4th.  Do I play West for 3 clubs to the ♣Q92 and assume West led the ♣9 trying to talk me out of the finesse?  Or do I rise with the ♣K, playing my RHO for a ♣Q doubleton?  What would you do if you were me?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

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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?

Continue reading “2N Or Not To Know (Making Negative Inferences)”