Friday, October 24, 2014

A slam

I was pleased to make this slam. I haven't been playing well lately (too much stress at home). This was the first board of a round, and on the last board of the previous round I put a cold 6NT on the floor. So it showed a certain amount of faith for my partner to give me that final raise to slam.


 I mistrust my analysis somewhat these days. I spend far too much time on BridgeWinners, and the exposure to world-class players is a bit intimidating. But my thinking was that I would draw trumps and take a ruffing spade finesse to get rid of the 4th diamond, making 7 if the AS was onside. Once the bad trump break showed up, I decided to ruff spades in my hand, hoping to bring down the AS, at which point I could lead winning spades from the dummy until North decided to ruff in. That plan didn't quite work, since the AS is so well protected. But the actual result was prettier, with North's QH and South's JD both trying to win the last trick.

 Looking over the hand the next day, it was suddenly obvious to me that a far superior line of play was available. After the AH revealed the bad break, I don't need the KH to draw trumps: the J9H in hand are sufficient. So at trick 3, cross to the KC, ruff a diamond, ruff a spade, ruff the last small diamond with the KH. Now ruff a spade and lead the JH. North can't stop you getting back to hand to draw the last trump with the 9H.


 So if this is so clear now, why couldn't I see it at the table? There are a couple of factors that spring to mind. First and foremost, there is the fact that I had such a clear plan for the simple case. When the trumps didn't break, the natural tendency was to basically stick with the same plan, just modifying it enough to try and cope with the new circumstances. It is difficult to take a step back and recognize that there might be a completely different possibility. A second factor is speed. I played too quickly, not giving myself enough time to consider different possibilities. That is a bad habit I have to work on. Third is pressure. At the table, you have opponents and a partner watching you, and you are under at least some time pressure. At home, you can relax, sip your coffee, and let your mind roam through the field of ideas. Achieving that state at the table is harder than it sounds.

 All things to remember when the next hand goes pear-shaped.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Well, times have changed, and yet still things stay the same. More or less, anyway. At the moment, my health is good. I finally shook off the last effects of the near-fatal illness that hit back in 2011. But now my wife is not so well, so we still spend too much time worrying about doctors and insurance and money. The Manhattan Bridge Club closed its doors a couple of months back, and we nearly all moved to Honors, including the management team. So Honors now runs close to capacity on weekday afternoons, and has a healthy set of games in the evenings too. Despite feeling a little sense of loss for the MBC name, we are actually better placed for bridge now than we have been for some time. So perhaps I should start blogging again. But I don't have the enthusiasm for it that I had five years ago. So I think I shall content myself with the occasional interesting hand. I'll start with a classic.

 I talk about psychs on a regular basis, but I haven't actually done one like this in a very long time, years I think. There's nothing original going on here, of course. Third in hand with 2 hcp and a partner who will open all 12-counts, I know the enemy has a game at least. I don't like being vulnerable, but we weren't having that great a game, so stirring the pot seemed justified. And opening the 3-card suit is the traditional approach: you are trying to pick off the enemy suit while reducing the risk of partner raising. I don't play Drury with Agent 99, so a raise would be dangerous. Everything worked according to plan. North had a nice hand, but with us bidding her suits, she decided to keep quiet. If I had opened a spade, Agent 99 would certainly have raised to 3S or 4S, but the 1H opening fetched a 1S response. She actually managed to escape for 2 down when South flew up with the AD on a diamond lead from hand. Perfect.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Game Tries

I was reviewing my system notes for what I play with Elwood, and it occurred to me I hadn't mentioned game tries.

These days, it seems like the “default” game try is what is known as a help-suit try. I have to say I have been distinctly unimpressed by this concept, and generally just don't understand them. When I was learning to play, 40-odd years ago, people used long-suit tries or short-suit tries. In either case, you weren't asking for help: you were describing your distribution, and hoping that the additional information assisted partner in re-evaluating his hand. Help-suit tries seem to me to fail to convey any useful information, and how Responder is supposed to judge what is “help” seems (at best) murky.

With that little rant out of the way, I can confess that I do play some game tries with Elwood, but it's a scheme he produced which he calls modified Kokish game tries. To the cognoscenti, that should ring alarm bells, because as well-known a theorist as Kokish is, he is also well-known for producing some of the most complicated schemes you'll find anywhere. (If you don't believe me, check out his “simple” defence to the Multi – it runs about ten dense pages!) But what Elwood put forward is not too bad.

The cunning ploy at the heart of the scheme is that (after a major-suit opening and simple raise) the next step bid is a relay asking Responder to name the cheapest suit in which he would have accepted a help-suit game try. If Responder retreats to 3M (declining all tries) or jumps to 4M (accepting all tries), Opener's hand remains concealed. This also leaves other bids free: there is room for short-suit tries, and also to mention a 4-card holding in the other major (to suggest an alternative trump suit).

The scheme is:
2NT* asking bid for help-suit tries
3C*/3D* short-suit tries
3H natural, 4 hearts
3S* short-suit try in hearts

2S* asking bid for help-suit tries
2NT* shows 4 spades
3C*/3D* short-suit tries
3H* short-suit try in spades

I don't know if this arrangement would meet Kokish's approval (I don't actually know what his scheme is), but I like that it seems to be pretty comprehensive.

These bids are off over interference, but Responder being a passed hand isn't a problem. They are also in play after Drury, for example after pass-1S; 2C-2D; 2S-?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Little Old Ladies

There has been a thread in the letters to the ACBL Bulletin (their monthly magazine) about the origin of the term LOL (Little Old Lady) for an opponent. Various people have mentioned hearing the term as far back as the sixties. I finally felt I had to write to the editor, because I'm pretty sure the term originated in England. I can't find any documentation now, but I remember reading that it originated with Richard Lederer back in the 1930s, when he was conducting post mortems with the likes of Skid Simon. If anyone can confirm this, I would be pleased to hear from them.

This strikes a chord because I have a client (just occasionally) who is the absolute epitome of the LOL. She is not too tall, ninety-something years old, with snowy white hair. And her bridge is pretty unique. A few years ago, she was a normal intermediate player, not very good, but fitting in well with the crowd. Now, well, she's starting to lose it, to be blunt. All artificial bids are now mysteries she can't grasp, and the play of the hand is weak (at best). This would probably be a significant problem in a lot of cases, but she gets by because she is also the sweetest, gentlest, just plain nicest person you will ever meet. Partners and opponents alike make huge allowances, because they don't want to upset her. Bidding without any artificial bids is hugely challenging, and basically unworkable for any sensible partnership. I mean, no Stayman, no transfers, no Blackwood, no strong 2C – nothing. I have largely given up opening 1NT, because she typically only has two possible replies – pass or 3NT (regardless of distribution). But once you get used to her style, you can occasionally get to a good contract. Some powers of visualization are required.


From past experience, I took the raise to 4H to be based on a pretty good hand with four trumps. Not really a hand worth such a raise, but pretty good, which was indeed accurate. (Of course, you have to get used to occasionally playing game with 17 opposite 6). Then it's a question of evaluating that East hand. It's only 12 points, but it's also only 5 losers. The club suit might be a source of tricks, or perhaps partner has a decent diamond suit. So I went for it, and was immediately terrified when the defence started with two rounds of clubs. But when the feared ruff didn't happen, I could draw trumps and claim, getting a pleased smile from the LOL.

Jump raises of my openings seem to be pretty strong.


The club raise seems to be about 11-15, as far as I can tell. I figured 3NT was automatic with my hand, but then the retreat to 4C took me aback. Usually, when I say 3NT, the auction finishes in about two seconds flat. (The LOL is well aware of her limitations, and can sometimes even get quite cunning with “prepared” bids – prepared for me to be declarer.) I figured she must have something unusual, so I bid 5C despite my club suit. The diamond opening lead did no harm, and I quickly wrapped up 12 tricks (ruffed three diamonds and led a spade towards the king). Surprisingly, that was a cold top. Several pairs went down, but I don't know what contract they reached. Quite possibly, North was able to intervene with 2D and scare people away from 3NT, and then declarers failed to handle a seven-card major suit fit.

Every once in a while, she will surprise you in a good way.


As he bid 3NT, North commented that they had been getting bottoms all night, so why not. I thought perhaps spades would be our best shot, assuming partner had a diamond trick or two (with little hope if she didn't stop the diamonds). I decided to lead the 8S, to make sure she put up the A or K if she had it. Well, that was a success in a surprising way. The LOL did indeed play the KS. Declarer should grab his nine tricks now, as five other declarers did. But ours ducked – and the LOL switched to a club. Oops. Down three.

This hand has no redeeming qualities, but I have to write it down because it's just so funny.


Declarer started with three aces in her hand, and finished with only two tricks. Awesome.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Eastern States

The Eastern States Regional is turning out as disastrously as I feared, for me. First, Agent 99 cancelled on me. We were supposed to play Thursday, and that was the only day she was available. Then I played a round-robin teams with Elwood on Friday, and that was hopeless. After the first four matches, we had a grand total of 3VPs – very discouraging. It was not just us. Elwood and I didn't produce any very good results, but our team-mates had a terrible day also. Between the four of us, we couldn't get anything right. I knew we were screwed after the first match. Not only was it a complete blitz – not even 1 IMP on our side of the sheet – but signs were there that things were wrong at both tables


When you look at this layout double-dummy, it seems obvious that E-W is booked for a big score one way or another. 6S and 6D each have 14 winners, so whether they make 6 or 7 depends only on whether we take the HA at trick one. And if they choose to defend 5H, there are not only 4 top tricks in aces and kings, but also a couple of ruffs to make the butcher's bill 800. In practice, West started with the DAK, so I was able to draw trumps for -300. A good result? Lose 5 IMPs. Teammates also chose to defend (and misdefend) 5H, but neither one of them seemed to have a red card in the bidding box. And they actually felt OK in the post mortem – another bad sign.

Our one victory of the day was against the team that was (on paper) probably the best in the bracket, headlined by Uday Ivatury. For just one match, nobody did anything stupid, and we squeaked out a win by a couple of IMPs. Small comfort.

The next thing to go wrong was a call from Elwood this morning, cancelling our plans for the Goldman Pairs. Which is why I have time to write this post, but I would prefer to be playing. We'll go along tomorrow and see if we can find some teammates in the Goldman failed-to-qualify pool, or maybe try an A/X pairs. I'd like at least one decent result from something, so that the whole Regional doesn't feel like a waste of time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Miscellaneous Misadventures

The Eastern States Regional is less than a week away. It is one of the two regionals played within the bounds of New York City, and therefore one of the highlights of my year. This year, Elwood and I will try our luck in the Goldman Pairs. This is the most prestigious pairs event in the New York calendar, taking place over two days with a two-session qualifier and a two-session final. When all is said and done, we remain a flight B pair, and can hardly hope to threaten the top pairs. Of some concern, then, is that for the past two or three weeks we have both been struggling, and in the routine club games where we used to consistently win, place or show, we have been struggling to break average. If we continue to perform like this in the Goldman, we will certainly not need to show up for the second day.

We raised a maximum barrage on this hand, to no avail.


Encouraged by the favorable vulnerability, I ventured a minimal weak 2 as dealer, which North managed to double with his 20-point hand. Elwood diagnosed slam and raised to 5 hearts, which I thought was a worthy effort. South, however, rose to the occasion, finding a cue-bid, and North selected his trump suit at the 6 level. Just another flat board, in the end.

A session at Honors produced a couple of interesting hands.

As he put down the dummy, South remarked that he hoped he didn't have too much. This lost the post mortem immediately, as North started to berate him before even playing a card. But I held some sympathy for South. North's opening sally was “You know I have game in my own hand. Of course you should go on.” But, absent an Acol 2 opening, or Namyats, or something, I wouldn't know that – I almost never have game in my own hand when I open at the four level. Apparently nobody had a bidding approach up to the task, as the board was flat at +480. Could you have bid the slam?

Another slam hand.

Student's raise to game struck me as being a tad aggressive, but it's ok according to the Losing Trick Count and actually worked well. Student hasn't learned Roman Key Card yet, and Gail Greenberg (sitting North) commented that if I knew I was missing 2 keycards I probably wouldn't bid the slam.

North-South missed a save here.


Again Student wasn't shy in the bidding, but my hand was powerful enough to make up for any shortage of high cards. I had considered opening 2C, which probably wouldn't have been a great success if N-S could get busy. Half the field made 5H, and most of the rest conceded 300 in 5Sx or 6Sx. One pair managed to go down in 5Hx, I don't know how.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Elwood has expressed his dissatisfaction with Cappelletti (which we were playing against weak notrumps) several times over the past couple of weeks. I'm no fan of it myself, so I was looking for a replacement gadget that would be acceptable to us both. Elwood isn't too interested in Lionel, which is probably better suited against strong no-trumps anyway. Eventually, I came across HelLo, the improved version of Capp that Jerry Helms has invented. So we're playing that now, against weak no-trumps.

The scheme is:
double = penalty, usually balanced 15+, could be fair strength with a good suit as a source of tricks.
2C = either diamonds or a major-minor 2-suiter. Advancer must accept the transfer by bidding 2D, and Overcaller can pass or raise with diamonds or bid his major holding a 2-suiter. As with Capp, Advancer can then use 2NT to ask for the minor.
2D = hearts
2H = both majors
2S = spades
2NT = clubs
3C = both minors

This arrangement keeps a traditional penalty double, which is pretty much de rigeur against a weak no-trump, allows Overcaller to show all varieties of 2-suiter, and introduces a transfer element that Cappelletti doesn't have. Using 2H to show both majors isn't any better than using 2D as in Capp, but at least with this arrangement you get to show a major single-suiter straight away, and you get the partial transfer style.

I'm not entirely sold on the value of the transfer business. I wonder if keeping 2D as both majors and using both 2H and 2S as natural might not be just as good? Still, we'll keep it as specified for now.

Of course, since making this decision, we haven't encountered a weak no-trump, but there are some around. I'll post any interesting results.