Bridge Problems

“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?

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Another Face of the Suit Preference Signal: Trump Suit Preference

Playing at the club this past week with my wife, Janet, I picked up the following uninspiring collection of cards:


Janet opened the bidding 1 and my right hand opponent (“RHO”) doubled.  My bid.

My mentor and partner Zach Brescoll has always advised me to respond to an opening bid with an Ace and nothing else, but there are exceptions.  One of them is when your right-hand opponent has made a take-out double.  Hearing the take-out double, you know your partner will always have a chance to bid again and so you need not stretch your values to keep the bidding open to protect your partner in the event that partner has a very strong hand.  Here, particularly, the takeout doubler is suggesting length in the majors and so neither of my two major suits look promising.  Had my RHO passed, I would have responded 1 in a heartbeat, but not now.  So I passed.

My LHO bid a quick 1♠, Janet bid 2♣, and my RHO raised to 2♠.  This ended the bidding.

Here is the bidding:


After some thought, Janet led the ♠7 — a trump.    The following dummy came down and declarer played the  ♠K.


My turn.  Time to plan a defense.  What can I figure out from the bidding, opening lead, and the dummy?

Partner opened a diamond and then freely bid 2♣, suggesting a sound opening hand with either 5-4 or 4-5 in the minor suits.  She made a passive trump lead, bringing to mind the old bridge adage — when in doubt, lead trump.  The trump lead pretty much rules out her having started with the AK or KQ, as with either honor combination she has an easy opening lead of a high diamond.  So I’m thinking she has the AQxx(x) or AJxx(x), with a high diamond honor being hidden in declarer’s hand.  She probably has the A and the ♣K — all holdings which she would be reluctant to lead away from, opting for the trump lead instead.   That would give her an opening hand.

Given her likely diamond holding, she is obviously searching for a way to get to my hand to lead a diamond through declarer’s diamond honor.  She would be delighted to learn that I have the ♣A, if I can tell her that I have it.

Is there any way to communicate my club holding to her?  Think and then click on the link below to continue.

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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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When No Hope Exists

Playing with Zachery Brescoll at a recent club game, I picked up the following hand (which I have modified slightly for pedagogical effect):


After my RHO passed, I had to decide what to open.  Zach and I play a strong club system, so I can’t open this 1♣.  Instead, I opened the hand 1, which shows a wide variety of opening hands without a 5 card major.

After my LHO passed, Zach responded 1♠, my RHO overcalled 2, and it was up to me.

Playing precision club, I can jump to 3♠ with this hand, which does not show 16-17 points, but rather shows a sound opening bid with shortness somewhere.  The bid has a slightly pre-emptive quality, as I expect that if partner has a very weak hand, the opponents can make something.

Over my 3♠  jump, my RHO passed and Zach bid 4♠ (Holding the hand shown below, don’t try this at home!)  With Zach playing the hand, his LHO (my RHO) led the ♣10.  Here were Zach and my hands:


Zach made 4♠.  How did he make this apparently hopeless contract?  (The protected ♣Q was on his right, behind the ♣AK).   Click the link below to see the answer.

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The Many Faces of the Suit Preference Signal

At this past Saturday’s game at the club, the North hand had an AVERAGE 13.02 HCP and so Peter Shwartz and I, playing East/West, had plenty of opportunities to practice our defense.  I, playing West, picked up the following hand:


The bidding proceeded as follows:


I led the obvious lead of the A and the dummy below came down:


Peter then played the  2 declarer following low.  What was Peter trying to tell me?  (We play upside-down count attitude signals).

Typically, partner’s obligation when you lead the Ace of a suit is to give an attitude signal, but there are several exceptions to this, this hand illustrating one of them:  when the dummy shows up with the protected Queen, there is typically little point in continuing the suit, since the play of the King will just promote dummy’s Queen to winning rank.  An attitude signal is useless here and so Peter’s signal defaults to the 2nd signal in the signalling hierarchy — count.  So the 2, playing upside-down count, gave EVEN count (HoLe — HIGH odd, LOW even).  But which is it?  Did Peter start with 2, 4 or 6 diamonds?

Well, it can’t be 6 since else declarer would have ruffed but did not.  2 or 4?  Sometimes this is a tricky determination to make but here it is easy.  I know from the bidding the Peter is void in hearts and so if he had only 2 diamonds, he would have been 6-5 in spades and clubs and certainly would have bid something.  Moreover, even if for some reason, he did not bid this 6-5 hand, he has no hearts and so there is no point trying to give him a ruff.  I might as well assume he has 4, not 2, diamonds.

I’m still on lead.  What do I do next?

Since Peter has 4 diamonds, declarer has another diamond and so I am at a grave risk of allowing the declarer to quickly promote the diamond Queen on the board.  It’s time to “go active” and try to promote our tricks before declarer can promote hers.   So I must shift — but to what?  Spades or clubs?

If partner has the KQJx of spades, I must knock out declarer’s spade Ace right now;  but if partner has AJ(10)x of clubs, I don’t have to act immediately as I will get back in the with the ♦K soon enough.  So a spade shift is best.  I shift to the ♠6, my middle spade, planning to play the ♠8 on the next round of the suit to show 3 of them (MUD — middle up down to show 3 without an honor in the middle of the hand).

Dummy ducks, Peter plays the ♠9 and declarer the ♠A.

Now declarer plays the inevitable 9, dummy following low and Peter playing the 5.  What do I do after winning the K?  The following cards remain between my hand and dummy:


Click the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “The Many Faces of the Suit Preference Signal”