Sunday, 15 April 2018

Melville Congress - when to finesse

I played in the Melville Congress Pairs with Martin Stephens a couple of weeks ago. Our result is probably something we'd both rather forget, but there were a couple of interesting boards. Here's one: 

You play in 4♥. The lead is the ♦9 the AK♦ are cashed and then the third round is ruffed. A small ♠ exit goes to the T♠ and Q♠ which you win. What do you do now? 

This is the sort of hand that everyone would get right if it were in a chapter on 'counting the defenders points' in a book', but is much harder to actually get right at the table. So far North has shown the AK♦ and the Q♠, and passed in third seat. Unless she's playing a very deep game, the ♥ finesse can't possibly be right, and you should play the ♥A now, hoping S started with Kx in ♥. You drop her now singleton K, and (as the saying goes) she holds her cards closer to her chest for the next board. This particular hand is one of those occasions where this play would have been rewarded.

 A look at the traveller shows that 11 people played in ♥ with a ♦ lead, and only 3 of them made 10 tricks, so it's obviously harder in practice than it is on paper... 

Here's the next one, where we found our way to slam.

Here's the second one. I won't give you the auction (suffice it to say that there were too many rounds, and that we were in both 6♣ and 6♠ before settling in 6NT by East), but I think North had the opportunity to double ♦ for a lead at some point, and South obliged. This is unfortunate, as 6NT is a pretty easy make on any other lead, with 4♠'s, 2♥'s, 1♦ and 5♣'s. However, as you can see if you look closely at the picture above, it's also makeable on this lead, at least in theory... 

How, exactly? Well, North had the guard in both red suits, so it looks like you might be able to squeeze her. However, if you try that, you'll find that a simple squeeze doesn't work, because West's black suits are both longer than East's, and the only entry in a threat suit is in the West hand, so you can't arrange to play the squeeze card from the right hand. However, if you manufacture this ending: 

North is squeezed on the play of the last ♠. If she keeps KT♥, you can throw her in with the ♦, and if she comes down to bare K♥, you can drop it, you just need to read the ending right to know which to do. (North has the option to bare the K♥ early, to make your guess tough, and even to ditch the K♦ playing her partner for the T, but the latter seems really unlikely to work, as in that case you've given up the ♥ finesse for effectively no compensation)

Of course, in practice this is not something you can do at the table, since you need to decide not to take the ♥ finesse in order to embark on this plan. If you manage to pull of this strip squeeze, relying on North holding all of 3 specific cards in favour of a straightforward finesse in ♥s, then I think she really does have a case for wondering whether you're peeking!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Three No Trump vs Broomlands

I played the hand below in 3NT in an aggregate teams match, West led the jack of hearts, East playing the 7. What's you plan (and which ♥ did you use to win trick one, assuming you won it?)

I won and ran the ♠Q, which was covered on my left. My plan now was to cash all the ♠ and ♥ winners, and exit with a ♥, making whenever the spades are 4-3 and either the diamonds are 3-3 or the diamond honours are in different hands (and in the unlikely case that the ♥s are 3-3), and also in some edge cases where the defence don't have the entries to cash their tricks. 

When I gave the hand to Phil Stephens, his first plan was to immediately play a ♦ to the 10, (or I guess a ♦ to the 9) although he's since discussed it with a few people, and come round to taking the ♠ finesse, I think because it's hard to see a route to 9 tricks if you can't make 3 tricks in ♠s. 

One interesting point he brought up was that one of the dangers with taking the ♠ finesse is that against good defence, you still don't know how many ♠ tricks you've got when the Q holds. On this particular hand, I don't think that matters, but it's not something that had immediately occurred to me.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Jackie Josephson

We had a match in the 'JJ' (Jackie Josephson) cup last night. This is a handicap competition, where teams from the lower divisions get a head start of 2000 points per division, and we were playing against Gilmorehill, who are definitely a first division team (with at least 5 recent Scottish internationals playing). 

The hand below caused a few rules discussions at half time, although in the end it didn't really matter too much, as we lost comfortably. 

2♣ was Drury, but it was not alerted. Here is where the first question comes up. I'm pretty certain that Norman would never bid 2NT in response to Drury. Obviously the bid should have some meaning, but Norman has a very strong preference for always playing an 8 card major fit once one is identified, and I just couldn't figure out what 2NT could possibly mean. My bid of 3♥ was sort of a hedge against the possibility that it shows a weak NT, but in practice I knew what was going on (and I'm pretty sure I would have known what was going on even if I was behind a screen) - am I ethically obliged to hang myself by bidding 4♥? Especially when I'm not even sure 4♥ would be the correct bid over whatever 2NT does mean. 

However, that's not the only issue. Looking at Jim's hand (South), he has a pretty safe double of 2♣ for a lead if it is alerted. Absent this information, John led a ♠  which gives away the spade suit, and Norman made 3♥. With the double, you'd have to get the spade right to make 9 tricks in ♥s. However, there isn't really any scenario where Norman gives Jim the information he needs to double, and we still end up bidding to 3♥, so it seem harsh to rule whatever fraction of 3♥-1 you would deem appropriate. Charles suggested a fair ruling would be 2♥ making, which I would definitely have accepted, but in the end, we decided to scrap the board entirely (as another table had been unable to play it due to overhearing the result) so it was all moot.

I'm genuinely not sure what the ruling should have been for either of these things, but I'm glad the match didn't finish with a 10 point gap :)

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Matchpoint Wednesday (unfortunately)

I played with Norman in the Matchpoint Wednesday tournament at the Buchanan this week. It's not part of the Winter Pairs, as we're about as far from winter as you can get, but it's still a club-wide matchpoints competition. 

 We finished third, with a score of about 62%, beaten comfortably by John Di Mambro and Douglas Mitchell, on 65%. Our card would have been much better at aggregate, as we had an 1100 penalty on a board where most pairs failed to bid game, and bid two making vulnerable slams, but that's not how you win at matchpoints... 

 I had a chance to make up most of the difference on this board: 

NS played in 3♠, as you might expect, and Norman led the ♥8. Declarer won in hand immediately set about drawing trumps, with a ♠ to the J, and I returned the ♦Q. I actually thought about my return for a few seconds, knowing that I wanted to somehow let Norman know that I could ruff a ♣, but eventually concluding it was too dangerous to return a low ♦, in case declarer had KTx (which was the case). However, what didn't occur to me until too late is that I can return the ♦J. If this is allowed to hold, I play the ♦2 next, and hopefully Norman can figure out something strange is going on in ♦s, and find the ♣ ruff now. It's maybe not quite so clear if declarer does cover the jack, but I think it gives the best chance. 

 Here's the board where we bid a slam that only three other pairs managed to get to: 

Norman opened 1♣ and rebid 2NT over my 1♠ response. At this point, I pretty much just bid 6♣ - I know we have a 9 card fit (we only open 1♣ with 2 if we're exactly 4432, so he would have supported spades if he didn't have 3♣s), and it's hard to imagine a 19 point hand that doesn't have pretty good play (or how I'm going to find out when Norman has such a hand). In practice, I messed around bidding checkback, and then realised that we play 4♣ over 3♥ as a cue agreeing ♥s, so blasted 6♣. I think I could have bid 4♣ over 2NT as some sort of slam try, but I don't think I was going to stop, so I should probably have just jumped to the small slam immediately.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Counting Bridge Auctions

I wrote a bridge-related thing which I posted on my main website, as it's mostly maths-related, but it might be of interest to people who read this blog and don't know about that one (ie, Danny), so I'm linking to it here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bridge in Canada

I'm in Prince Edward Island (or "the island", as the folks around here refer to it) to visit Jessica's mum for Christmas. We had the extended family for the couple of days either side - a total of 14 people, with the requisite amount of seafood chowder, quiche and roast turkey. All quite an undertaking. 

On the day we arrived, I had a quick check to see if there were any nearby bridge clubs, and discovered that there was a game with a guaranteed partner at the extremely nearby Haviland club - just a few minutes walk through the snow, and right next to the sea. 

Everyone was very welcoming, and inquired what I was doing on the island. I had a nice game with Ray Malone, who sometimes does some teaching at the club as well, and we tried out a fairly basic 2/1 system. 

Looking at the website, we appear to have finished third, with 58%. As far as I can tell, that is comparing East/West percentages with North/South percentages and I don't remember there being an arrow switch, but as Paul pointed out when I visited Chennai, third is probably an appropriate place to finish as a first-time visitor. The results are here: 

We would have finished in a comfortable first place had I not forgotten to duck the second spade on the board below. For some reason I became convinced the suit was 4-4 when North returned the 2, but failed to take into account that if they were 4-4, I could afford to duck a second round.... 
The next board where I failed to make a game was a little more interesting, although looking at it again, I think I just overthought things, and it should be fairly simple. 

How do you play 4 spades as East after the defence take the first two tricks with a heart to the Ace and a ruff, and play a club?

The correct line, I think, is to simply cross to the ace of diamonds and take a spade finesse. I was concerned that by doing this I would cut myself off from the heart winner in dummy, so I played a low spade immediately, successfully managing to find the only way to fail on the actual layout, which was Kx with North. If the spade finesse loses, you're still ok as long as South doesn't have another spade to return, as now you can unblock the hearts and draw the last trump by crossing to dummy. If the spade finesse wins, of course, you don't need the second heart winner. 

Anyway, it was a fun afternoon, and a very picturesque setting: 

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year from Canada!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Winter Pairs 1

It's September again, and that means the club's premier pairs competition, the Winter Pairs, has started. Norman and I got off to an enormous start, with a score of 68.3%. John Di Mambro and Douglas Mitchell got an almost-as-enormous 66.23% to finish in second place, so the race is well and truly on. The format is that your top 4 scores out of 7 evenings count, so another couple of really big scores will be necessary if we want to win, but we've certainly given ourselves the best chance. 

We only got a below average score on 4 boards out of 24. Here's one of them: 

I played in 3NT. I won the first heart trick, hoping the suit might be blocked (it is), and ran the club queen. When this won, I could see 10 tricks for the taking. I cashed everything before taking a diamond finesse - confident that South would not have bared the diamond K, and was held to 10 when it lost. I'm not quite sure how three people managed to make 11 tricks even after getting a heart lead - maybe winning the lead and taking a diamond finesse immediately? Perhaps it's tough for South to cash two hearts on that line when they can see that that sets up a heart trick for declarer.