Monday, 19 November 2018

A successful national league (or who needs to make grand slams anyway)

This weekend was the conclusion of the Scottish National League, with a fairly successful first weekend (we were second, which felt disappointing after being in comfortable first place after the first day, but was definitely more than we expected going in), we were in with a chance of winning. 

The way they schedule the second weekend of the National League, the top teams from the first weekend tend to play against the teams that finished lower down in the first weekend on the Saturday, and play each other on the Sunday, so we were hoping for some big wins on the first day. We didn't quite get them, but did well enough with three wins, one loss and a draw to have a chance if we did well on day 2. 

We started off with a good win against the team of Frazer, Phil, Mike Ash and Arend, who had Malcolm Culbertson subbing as Mike couldn't be there on the Sunday. We then narrowly beat Sime and went into the penultimate match some 18 VPs behind the leaders. We had a fairly good win against Jim Hay's team in that match, and with Sime beating the first place team, we went into the head-to-head needed to win by 7 IMPs to win the league. 

The last match was not exactly tight, with 85 IMPs swinging over 12 boards (including one which was flat in 4H making where the defence has 4 cashing tricks), but Phil and I let through a doubled slam with an overtrick on the first board, after I had tried to double for a lead, and it wasn't really possible to catch up from there. When the merry-go-round stopped, we had lost that match by 45-40 and the team of Derek Sanders, Alex Adamson, Danny Kane and Irving Gordon were relatively comfortable winners of the whole event, and the automatic picks for the Camrose team in the first weekend in January. 

Phil and I, however, had done enough over the two weekends to be clear at the top of the Butler, and that coupled with being in the second placed team in the event, was enough for us to be picked as the third pair, so I will be playing for Scotland in January! 

I have to be honest I wasn't expecting this going into the first weekend, where our aim was literally 'let's try not to get relegated', but I'm very happy to be selected, and Phil and I will be putting in a bit more practice between now and then when we can. 

Couple of hands below from the second weekend: 



Partner leads the ♥4, declarer wins with the ♥A, dropping the ♥6, and crosses to hand with the ♦A, cashes the ♦K pitching a , and runs the ♣T to your K. Partner playing the 4 and 9 of ♦ and the ♣6 (standard count). What do you return? 

♥♦♠♣

Partner could have led from KT543, in which case you want to return a ♥ now, or declarer could be concealing the ♥K, and partner could have the ♠Q. I don't think it's actually possible to know on this line of play. This certainly seems like the line of play declarer would take with with ♠Qxx ♥Jxx♦AKJx ♣ T9x, hoping to make his 9 tricks before you get the ♥s going against him (although that's maybe not quite an opening bid - he could still have the Q as well, I guess). I think it's probably right to cash a top ♠ first, as this only costs when parter has exactly ♠Qx, and not the ♥K. On the actual deal, you go off if you try that: 

I think this is actually a really interesting play hand. At our table, Douglas actually won the ♥ lead in hand with the K and then ran the T♣ immediately, I guess hoping that either spades were 3-3 or that it would be hard to find a switch. After this start, I think the only defence from my side with any realistic chance of beating the contract is to play partner for the ♠Q, and return a low ♠ (catering for the case where he has Qx). We got this right, and that board was flat when Iain Sime also got it right on almost the line of play I gave above (Paul actually only cashed one round of ♦s, which as we decided over lunch probably shows the defence that he has another entry to his hand (otherwise he just doesn't have 9 tricks), and we're not sure if John and Iain were playing some sort of Smith peters). 

I think the optimal line of play is probably the one I gave above, hoping to represent something like ♠Kxx ♥Jxx ♦AKJx ♣ Txx, where your only realistic chance it to run home with 9 tricks before the defence takes their heart tricks, but it's not clear - e..g, if the defence plays Smith Peters, then this might just give South a chance to clear things up.

One of our less successful boards was against the Short team on the Saturday. After a good auction, I played in 7NT on the hands below:


I got a ♦ lead round to my hand, and now despite the ♥ break, you should always make 7NT. Just take a  finesse, cash your ♦s , and the double squeeze is automatic - W has to keep Q♣, and E has to keep a ♥, so neither can keep three ♠s when you come down to ♠ATx opposite ♠Kx ♥8 (dummy pitches the ♣T after West's last discard). Unfortunately I didn't do this. I refused the ♣ finesses for no good reason, and basically played for a layout where Sam on my right hand only 12 cards... 

In the pub on Saturday, people were pretty sure 7N should also make on a ♠ lead, but I'm still not quite convinced (assuming that E manages to play the 8 on the first round...). The consensus was that you can squeeze West out of his ♦ winner and then when you play the 4th diamond force a ♠ discard which opens up his partner to a ♥ squeeze, but I just don't think there are enough tricks for the squeeze to function - West can afford to discard one card in each suit, and East can afford to discard two ♠s, and that's all the discards they have to make on the tricks you actually have. Obviously you can make it by running the ♦T on the first round of ♦s, but I think this is probably a bit unrealistic.

Here's another board where I failed to squeeze the opponents, but at least this time I did my best (from the last match against Derek and Alex):

I played this in 5♦X, after west opened and the opposition had bit to 4♠. Note that you are always making if the ♣s split 3-2, but unfortunately there's no way of setting up the ♣s for a ♥ pitch without letting W make his small ♦. Alex defended accurately, winning both ♦s, and playing a third ♦ immediately to kill the entry to dummy. When the clubs don't break, it looks like you now need the ♥ finesse, but this is one of those situations where you don't need to take the finesse, because if it's right, E is squeezed when you run the ♦s. I did manage to spot this at the table, and cash the ♥A before running all the trumps, but unfortunately (and not unexpectedly) it wasn't to be this time, and I had to lose a trick at the end to go 1 off (still a good save against 4♠). 

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. 

http://www.johnfaben.com/blog/counting-bridge-auctions

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: http://clubresults.acbl.org/Results/270256/2016/12/161219A.HTM 

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!