Sunday, 21 December 2014

The JJ

The Jackie Josephson is a teams-of-eight knockout run in parallel with the West District League. It has a handicap system, with a handicap of 1500 points for each division of difference between the teams, plus 1500 extra for the holders. We were playing a team who were not holders, but were from the first division, so started 1500 points up. We were due to play Paul Maiolani and Bob McKinnon at table 1, but there was a mix-up, and when I arrived a few minutes late at 7.33, the opposition were desperately trying to find an 8th player to turn up and fill in - they eventually persuaded Paul's wife to make it out there, and then shuffled the team around accordingly, so that she could play with Paul at table 4. 

I'll write up two boards, my highlight and my lowlight of the evening. I'll start with the lowlight. Here's a defensive problem (not too much of a problem, I think, but I managed to get it wrong):

I led a ♠ to Norman's ♠A, and he led the ♠T back to declarer's ♠J and  my ♠K, declarer pitching the ♥J from dummy. What's your next move? 

For some reason it just never crossed my mind that the ♥ suit might be completely wide open. I managed to convince myself that we were only beating this if another ♠ could set the suit up, and partner had the ♦A, and so continued with a third ♠. I have no idea if declarer's ♥ pitch from dummy actually affected my thinking as I pretty much just had a complete blind spot. That was a non-vulnerable game that I'd just wantonly let through. In my defence, Norman could probably have made my life easier by cashing one top ♥ before playing a ♠ - it's unlikely that giving away a tempo in the ♥ suit is going to be fatal (from his point of view, he knows from the lead that I don't have the ♦A, and that the ♣s are running), and even if he doesn't read my ♥T correctly, at least I'll know what to do when I get in. Here's the full hand: 

Here's a hand I played in 4♠: 

I'm not sure any of the bids in the auction are exactly textbook stuff (I might even have passed Norman's aceless 12 count), but still, I was in a reasonable game, and W led that ♦T. I won this in dummy, thought for a long time, eventually deciding that I was going off if west could ruff the next ♦, and played a ♦ to my hand (I probably should have just won it in hand in the first place...). I now played a ♠ towards dummy, and the J held, with the ♠9 dropping from East. This looks quite likely to be a singleton, but I couldn't be sure of anything yet. I played a ♣ towards my hand, E playing the ♣Q. I won this, and played a ♥ towards dummy. The ♥Q held, and I played another ♣. East won this, and exited with ♥ to his partner's A, who then played a third round of ♥s, with East following. That was in this position: 

I win the ♥ exit in dummy, and now I'm home - I know that West had 3♥s, surely at least 7♦s, and 2♣s, so that means the ♠ was in fact singleton. So I play a club to the J, ruff a club, and then ruff the final heart with the ♠Q, forcing East to lead away from the ♠T at trick 12. 

Interestingly, the only lead to beat this (double dummy) is to play a low ♣. I think the idea is that it takes out one of the entries to the south hand early (because the double dummy play to make the contract is in fact to play the ♠Q on the first round, and subsequently finesse (which I think you probably should do on restricted choice grounds, if you're playing on ♠s). In retrospect, this might be better than the line I did take, I hadn't appreciated the power of the 865. But my ending was prettier. Also, in retrospect, I risked just going off if East could ruff the third round of ♥s - this might be an acceptable risk after I had seen the ♠9 on the first round, but I have to admit to not having fully taken that into account during the play, so there was an element of luck involved, but at least I was able to see the ending when it was there.

No bridge over the holidays. I did consider heading down to London for Year End, but it ended up just being too impractical. I'm playing Monday, Tuesday Wednesday the first week back in January, though. Including the final Manning Foster, and a chance to win my first Buchanan Club trophy, as well as round 5 of the Winter Pairs.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Peebles Part II - Sunday Afternoon Teams

We started out Sunday at table 1, but things went down from there - we managed to finish the entire weekend with exactly twice as many VPs as we had at the end of Friday, so suffice to say Sunday was not a success. The same can't be said for the other teams we were staying with - Phil, Frazer, Alex and Phil managed to stay the course and win the event - eventually on a tiebreak from Ian Sime's team. We played them in the second match on Sunday, and the board below was most of the difference 

This was the most exciting board of the Sunday afternoon. 

This was the auction at our table. I decided to settle for a simple 4♠ on the first round, but didn't feel like defending was the right decision with my hand. Not a decision my partner was impressed by, although technically 5♣ can be made. 5♠X should be cheap over this, as there are 10 top tricks, but I managed to go for 300, having been given a chance of the full 650... 

Alex led the ♥7 to the J and A, and I dropped the ♥9 (because, why not?). Phil cashed the ♦A, then thought for a while before playing another ♦. I can now make this. Running all the ♠s squeezes West in ♥s and ♣s (although I have to read the end position right). Instead, I cashed a few ♠s, and then took the ♣ finesse, going two off (if the ♠s were 1-1, I would have taken the ruffing finesse instead). 

Our team-mates managed to double 4♠ on the board, so that wasn't exactly a win. Ian and Jun had the most unusual auction to discuss at dinner: 

I suspect Ian's plan was to be doubled in 4♠, but instead he managed to buy it in 3NT - which is after all likely to be making when he's pretty sure that partner has at least one ♠. Jun had a chance to make all 13 tricks when west led a low ♥ (East is squeezed in three suits when he runs everything) but was quite happy with 11 tricks.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

December Peebles, Part 1: Friday

We arrived at Peebles on Friday afternoon at around 1.20 with exactly 11 players. No one seemed to be too bothered about this, and it worked out ok - Alex got Trish Matheson to play with him, and so we had three teams of four. The teams were: Team Stephens (Martin, Sally, Phil and Peter); Alex Wilkinson, Trish Matheson, Jake Corry and Jun Pinder; I played with Yvonne Wiseman, and our team-mates were Ian Angus and Phil Morrison.

We did well enough, winning our section, which was good enough for joint 6th overall. There were 3 different boards in the set where one hand had 8 solid in a major... 

This one produced a variety of results. The auction shown in the one Yvonne and I managed, although I'm not sure I should admit to it. The one bid I think I got right was 1♠... Yvonne's 2/1 was game forcing, and I should definitely have rebid 3♠,  after that neither of us really knew what the other was doing - 4♦ was the only bid I could think of that Yvonne definitely wouldn't pass, although we did at least manage to make it to the 6 level. I managed the play ok, counting to 13 like a pro and putting my hand on the table. We were somewhat disappointed to have missed the grand, but that was enough for a big swing in, when the opposition decided to open the West cards 4♠, and were left to play there. Here's a question - if you do decide to open 4♠ on the West cards, do you raise when partner bids 6♠? (I think you probably do have to bid 6♠ with the East cards, even though it might be wrong. Partner is first in, so should have something) I think probably the answer is no, but that's part of the reason why I think 4♠ is clearly the wrong bid - it's pretty unlikely you're going to be unable to bid 4♠ later if it's necessary.

We went into Peebles for dinner, grabbing food in the Crown Hotel before going back to the houses we're staying in. Frazer Morgan and Ed Jones joined the party at some point before the evening session, and I'm playing in a team with Ed, Martin Stephens and Peter Stephens. Phil and Frazer are getting some practice in before the Camrose, and that leaves Yvonne and Jake to play with Ian Angus and Jun in the other team (we like to mix things up a bit).

I played this board in 4♠. Not perhaps the greatest auction, but I found the play interesting. the defence led a diamond, and I won and immediately played a ♣ to the K. East took this trick, and the defence cashed two ♥ tricks. If they now force dummy with a third ♥, I think I might be in some trouble, but they played a second ♦. I spent quite a while trying to figure out how I could ruff two ♦s and a ♥ and still not lose another trump trick before finally realising that I was going to have to bring in the club suit - which means I'm going to need 3 ♠ entries to dummy, and so the queen has to be on my left. I played a ♠ to the 9, ruffed a ♣ and when both opponents followed I was home - cross to the ♠J, ruff another club with the ♠A, and claim.

The board that generated the most discussion in the bar afterwards was the final board of the set. 

This generated a huge number of different auctions around the room. Assuming it starts Pass Pass, what do you open the East cards? The most popular choice among the people I polled was 1♦, the second favourite was whatever strong artificial bid you have available. There was a minority who chose 1♠, but I think this is probably pretty clearly wrong - it pretty much always loses the ♦ suit permanently. The 1♦ opener does have it's problems though - what are you going to do if it comes back to you in 4♣ or 4♥? Does 4♠ really get this hand across? How would you bid the same hand if you took out both of the aces? Anyway, this was the auction at our table, 4NT was a specific ace ask, and 5NT showed both. 7♦ is a reasonable shot now, but you're probably regretting the fact that you didn't get to find out about ♠s. 

When the bidding came back to me in 7♦ with the North cards, I quietly passed and hoped partner would be able to find a ♣ lead for himself. I actually thought for about 5 seconds before passing, which could have caused my partner a problem, as the only thing I think I could possible be thinking about is a Lightner double. However, I think it's pretty clear not to double on this hand, as you really have no reason to believe that the opposition can't make 7NT. No-one managed to right-side 7♠, so the winners on the board were those who somehow managed to stop in a small slam.

At the end of day 1, we're sitting at the top of the pack, with 51 VPs from 3 matches. We should be playing either Liz McGowan or Derek Sanders team in the next round on Sunday morning, but first, there's a pairs event - I'm playing with Phil Stephens, and it will be another chance for me to practice Polish leads, which I played for the first time yesterday with Peter. Good start to the weekend, let's hope it continues.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Grovesnor Aces

I played with Adam Dickinson. First time we've played together, but it worked well. We had almost no agreements, other than those we managed to come up with in the car on the way there. We still haven't actually agreed what leads we were playing (although I think it was 4th and 2nd, as you'll find out below...).We played weak no trump, bidding 4 card suits up the line (so 4.5 card majors, or something like that). I find in a new partnership without time to discuss anything, a weak no trump tends to work better, as there are fewer understandings needed. In particular, when partner opens something other than 1NT, you know he doesn't have a weak NT, which can help enormously in a variety of competitive situations. 

Edited, 6 December:
Apparently some of what I wrote below was controversial. I've deleted the names of the participants, and a couple of the more colourful phrases I used to describe what happened. Comments added in italics. General correction is, I didn't actually hear the initial incident, and don't know who was at fault there. I could hear a large portion of the subsequent argument, but don't want to get into a discussion of who was at fault.

The main event was not at our table, but at table 1. At some point, dummy didn't pick up the card declarer called for I think it was a singleton, so this is probably something we might all have done, and this resulted in some subsequent confusion at least this is the impression I got from the subsequent conversation. Her opponents then politely asked if she'd mind picking up the cards from dummy and making it clear that they had been played. There was then an argument, and I don't know the details of this, and don't want to speculate and then the fun started... From here is stuff I could hear from across the room I don't know too many details, but I do know that at some point dummy was refusing to play the cards her partner called for, and Law 44B had to be read out at the table: 
Play of Card from Dummy
Declarer plays a card from dummy by naming the card, after which dummy
picks up the card and faces it on the table. In playing from dummy’s hand
declarer may, if necessary, pick up the desired card himself.
Despite the sexist nature of the laws, it's pretty clear what it says, but dummy still refused to play the cards. At some point law 74 was also mentioned by our captain, who did very well to remain calm when giving a ruling at the table in a difficult situation. 
Proper Attitude
1. A player should maintain a courteous attitude at all times.
2. A player should carefully avoid any remark or action that might cause
annoyance or embarrassment to another player or might interfere with
the enjoyment of the game.
I think both captains handled the situation very well, but it was very distracting for all involved, and was entirely unnecessary distraction from what was actually a very interesting set of boards. 

I'm just going to mention one which we managed to defend very well, although declarer may not have played it optimally... 

Everyone vulnerable, West opened a weak NT second in, and that bought the dummy.

Partner led the ♦6, and when this when 3, 9, J, I could now place pretty much the entire diamond suit. Partner would not (I expect) have led the 6 from KQT6(x), although he might have led it from KQ76(x). Given that declarer didn't seem the sort to win the J when he had the T available, this meant I could pretty much place partner with exactly KT8x(x) in ♦s. Declarer now slipped up, playing the ♠J out of his hand, and Adam switched to the ♥2. I won the K, and returned a ♦, setting up the suit (it doesn't seem likely that we're going to get rich on the ♥ suit).

Declarer now played a ♠ to his A, finding out the bad news in that suit, and then decided to exit with ♦. I'm not quite sure what he was thinking here, but it gave me a chance to tell Adam I had the ♥Q by pitching the 2, and when he now cashed the ♥J before playing a ♥ to my Q, I stopped to have a think. I know declarer has ♠AQJx (I've seen them all) ♥xxxx (Adam would surely not have blocked the ♥ suit if he had 4), ♦QJx (by now I've seen the ♦T from Adam, so I know the exact position) and so he must have exactly one of the top club honours, either Ax or Kx. However, my partner is not insane. If he didn't have the ♣A, he would surely have cashed his ♦ tricks when he had the chance (he pretty much knows all this too), so I switched the the ♣Q, taking the rest of the tricks for +400 on a partscore board. 

I can't decide if it would have made my life easier for Adam to cash his ♦ tricks before playing a ♥ to my Q. I think actually it would have made it more difficult. I have to pitch both my ♠s, but this would be wrong if declarer had the ♣A, so I think Adam made my life as easy as possible by playing it this way. Good defence all round. 

We had a few other interesting boards, including one disaster where I went for 800 in 3♦X when the opponents couldn't make anything, and one lucky board where we rolled in a 6♦ which pretty much relied on ♦s 3-3 (or JT tight). We probably overbid somewhat (we were in game on 14 out of the 24 boards, and played 18 out of 24, despite the points being almost exactly evenly split). The team eventually managed to scrape together a 2-1 win, with a 600 point margin over the 24 boards at 4 tables. We really needed a 3-0, to keep with Dundas at the top of the league, but we're still in with a shout if we can manage big wins in the rest of our matches. Next week, December Peebles. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

National League - Second Weekend (just before the end)

Updated just after 11pm on November 23 (on the train home from the pub): Sime managed to beat Morrison by enough in the last match to win the league. Frazer Morgan and Phil Stephens have been picked as the third pair to supplement their team in the first Camrose weekend in January.

So, that was the second weekend of the National League. My partner didn’t manage to make it to the end of the weekend, so I only ended up playing 5 rounds, but this meant that I had a chance to sit and watch the “high quality” bridge in the first division for a round (I’m actually writing this as the last round of the first division happens). Harry Smith’s team won the second division quite comfortably in the end (as predicted). Bouverie sneaked the second promotion spot by .26 of a VP. My team sneaked 5th place, although we missed our goal of finishing above average, managing just 176/360.

Going into the last round of the first division, Piper leads by just over 4 VPs from Sime. Sime are playing Morisson, who currently sit in third place, and Piper playing Hay, who are sitting 8th, and already relegated - in theory this should give Piper a slightly easier match, so they're probably favourites to maintain their lead, but of course anything can happen in this game, cliché, cliché, cliché. The other exciting match in the First Division is Punch vs Short, with Sam, Stephen, Brian and Paul needing a pretty big win in order to keep themselves from getting relegated to the second division.

I watched Morisson play Piper in the previous match, sitting between Phil Stephens and Jun. There was some… interesting… play at that table. Including at one point a defender thinking he’d won a trick, asking declarer “didn’t you play a club on that last trick”, only to be told that clubs were trumps. On another board, someone discarded a trump on his partner’s winner. This was only topped by Phil and Jun’s efforts on board 1 of the set, in which they had the auction below.

Except… Phil and Jun took their cards out of the box after Phil passed 2H, and passed the tray back empty, not giving their partners the chance to actually pass it out - so on the other side of the screen, the auction was...

The director's decision was to scrap the board, as both South and West were at fault. 

One thing that was slightly frustrating was the fact that we were playing different boards from the first division, but I understand it's difficult to organise for these to be the same (as they play slightly longer matches, and for logistical reasons, it's useful to stagger things like the scoring up, and the lunch breaks).

Overall, it's been good. I've definitely preferred playing in a team of 6 to playing in a team of 4 - it has given me enough time to actually pay attention to all of the boards - by the time it got to the end of the Sunday last weekend, I was pretty much just following suit automatically (as you can see if you look at our result from that match). This time, though, I felt I was pretty sharp for most of the weekend. I suspect I'll try and play again next year, as this is one of the few events in Scottish bridge with a consistently strong (by Scottish standards), although I suspect we won't be in the same team, and I'm not sure Norman will be keen, so I'll probably be looking for someone to play with.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

National League First Weekend, Sunday

Well, that didn't go well. Norman and I went from 4th on the X-IMPs table at the end of Saturday to 20th at the end of Sunday, which suggests we had by far the worst performance on Sunday of anyone involved. Admittedly we did play one round against probably the strongest pair in the division, but I'm not really sure what happened for the rest of the day. We totally collapsed in the last match, managing just 0.09VPs as a team, and apparently we were -3IMPs a board, which seems nearly impossible.

With all that said, I think I'll just write up a hand they played in the first division, which Frazer Morgan did very well to get right:

You find yourself in 6♠, and West leads a ♠. You cover this with the ♠K, E wins and returns another ♠. You win this, and when you draw the last trump (pitching dummy's 3rd ♦), East thinks for a while, before pitching a low diamond. You play K♥, A♥ and then ruff a ♥, everyone following, then play K♣, A♣, and ruff a ♣, but the ♣ doesn't appear. You now play off the last ♠, pitching the ♣J from dummy, and East pitches ♦. You're now in this position. Seems simple right? 
You have to decide whether West has discarded down to ♦Qx and has the 4th ♥, or whether East started with five ♦s to the Q. Frazer eventually decided that if East did indeed have 5 diamonds then he shouldn't have had anything to think about on his first discard, so successfully dropped the ♦Q offside. Well played, and the Piper team with Phil Stephens, Frazer, Alex Wilkinson and Douglas Piper are deserved leaders of the first division after the first weekend. Harry Smith's team, who I think were clear favourites going into the weekend, lead the second division narrowly from Archie Bouverie and Cathy Ferguson.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

National League First Weekend, Saturday

At Paul G's recommendation, I haven't actually really been through any of the hands yet, so this will be my least bridge-y post yet. We played 5 matches yesterday, and won 4 of them! (admittedly the last one was 10.33-9.67, but we'll take every VP). We're lying in 3rd place, and have yet to play the two teams that are above us, but it's going well so far, and yesterday did not feel like a drain.

It was slightly frustrating that we were on a different timetable to the first division, so I didn't really get a chance to talk to any of the guys I know that were playing in that (and I don't even know the current 1st division rankings), but hopefully I'll get a chance to catch up with them today, as we finish a little earlier than we did yesterday.

So far so good, there'll probably be some bridge content if I write up what happened today (I deliberately did make a part-score on a squeeze yesterday, for what I think may be the first time ever, so I might also write up that one).

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The 49ers

I played a match yesterday with Jake Corry in the East District League against the 49ers. Their team is very strong, and at table 3 we faced Paul Barton and Brian Spears, who have been regulars in the Scotland open team for the last few years. Both Brian and John Matheson were getting the train back to Glasgow, so instead of hanging around for my usual post-match drink and post-mortem with the rest of the Merchiston team, I hopped in Ian Sime's car and went straight to Waverley - discussing a few of the hands on the train back with John and Brian. 

Here's one that I played in 4♥. Brian is pretty sure he misdefended it, and I have no idea whether I misplayed it, but it's definitely a tricky hand, and we had at least managed to find the best game.

The system we had agreed to play was the card that Jake sent me 6 months ago for the Men's teams, so neither of us was entirely sure of everything on it, and Jake wasn't quite sure about my 4♥. I was relieved when he passed, and Jake was relieved when Brian asked what 3♥ would have been over 1♠, and I confirmed it was a 3 card invitational raise in ♠s. Brian led the ♠5 from the West hand, and I had to decide what to do. 

You can be pretty sure the ♠5 is a singleton, and working on that assumption I considered several lines of play. You could play a ♣ to the A, ruff a ♣, pitch the last club loser on the ♠K, and hope that you can somehow hold the defence to 3 tricks in trumps. You could play a ♠ immediately, pitching a club. Again, you're hoping that you can hold the defence to three trump tricks, but this time you know you're going to let East have two ruffs. Or, you could try and draw trumps - hoping to hold the defence to 3 trump tricks that way, and get back to dummy later to pitch the clubs on the spades without anyone ruffing. This has the advantage that it's more likely to keep East off lead, and that it is obviously easier to keep the opponents to 3 trump winners when you use the K to draw some of them. It has the slight disadvantage that you're pretty much committing to take the ♣ finesse when E has the ♥A on this line, and when this loses think you can go off on some layouts where you could have managed the trump situation on the other lines.

I chose the last line, and Brian ducked the ♥K. It's now cold, as with only three trumps between them, it's not possible for the defence to make more than 3 trump tricks (in the end Brian ended up playing a ♣ and I made 11). Brian's other option was to take the ♥A and play a ♦, locking me in dummy. As the cards sat, I would now have made the contract if I cashed the second ♦ honour before playing a top ♠, as the ♦Q drops doubleton. However, it's not clear if I can, or should, get that right. 

The game ended with a comfortable win for the 49ers, which is not much of a surprise. I enjoy playing against Brian and Paul, and had some interested discussions on the train home (my hand record is covered in hands from various other events that John Matheson gave us when we ran out of steam on yesterday's boards). Tonight is the Gold Cup, which will be the first time I've ever played a 32 board match, I think. Norman and I are playing with Mike McGinley and Michelle Gladstone, against a team from Ayr. Then two whole nights with no bridge, followed by the first National League weekend, which will almost certainly be the first time I've ever played that many boards in two days. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Westchester Teams

In the second of the annual club teams competitions last Wednesday, Norman and I were paired up with John Di Mambro and Hugh McCash. We were hopeful going into the event, but both pairs had some disappointing boards, and we could only manage second place, behind the team of Betty Bell, Peggy Donaldson, Fergus and Lina Kerr (well done to them!). We would have won if I'd managed to make this slam... in retrospect I'm pretty sure that I should have, at least on the defence I was given.
I opened a normal strong NT, and Norman drove to 6N (after checking if I had 5 hearts), which is a little pushy, but should probably usually have some play. 

Betty led the ♦5, which nicely cleared up that suit, but I was still stuck for a likely way of making 12 tricks. There's Kx♣ onside, which is not very likely, I figured a better chance was to play the ♠ suit for one loser, which can be done whenever S has Hxx, as long as I guess which honour it is. When I led a ♠ towards dummy, Betty popped in with the ♠K, and returned a ♦. I decided to stick with my original plan and play for ♠ 3-3, and continued with a ♠ to the Q. When S showed out, I had nowhere to go. In retrospect, this was just plain lazy. There is clearly nothing to lose by cashing three rounds of ♦s before playing on the ♠ suit, as South is going to have to find some awkward pitches (although she should know she can get rid of the ♥s safely, as I'm unlikely to be 5-4-2-2. 

If I do this, South actually does come under pressure when I run the ♥s after the ♦s are done. I have a total of 7 red suit tricks, so she has to find three pitches in the black suits. As long as I still have the ♠A, she can't do this without either setting up all of dummy's clubs (with the finesse) or setting up all of the ♠s in my hand. Unfortunately by cashing the ♠Q at trick 4, I broke up my own squeeze. Note that there's no cost to just cashing at least 6 of the red suit tricks before I test the ♠s, so I think I can actually chalk this one up to a misplay. 

I haven't written up many hands in the past month, but that's mostly because I haven't found time to write anything. I've been playing quite a bit, and have quite a few tales to relate. 

I also have a lot of bridge coming up - next week I'm playing bridge Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (West District League, East District League and Gold Cup), and then have National League all weekend. Hopefully I'll find some time in between to squeeze in a couple of blog entries. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Shaky start at Broomlands

We played our first league match of the season in Paisley this week. We won 9-7, which is slightly disappointing. We were very much a team of two halves, finishing +3910, -650, +500 and -3000 (approximately), so we had much better performances at tables 1 and 2 than 3 or 4. However, it is a victory, and we don't need to win every game to ensure promotion.

Here's a board where our opponents stumbled into 3NT on a combined 23 count with only half a stop in my partner's 7 card suit, which he had shown in the auction. Have a look at all 4 hands and see if you can figure how the play went on a ♦ lead.

Norman led the ♦10 (promising the K), and declarer took the first trick and played a ♣ to the K. I ducked this, and ducked the next ♣ (very relieved to see partner follow with the 10♣). What do you do now after winning the third round of ♣s (partner pitches the ♠4, and declarer pitches the ♥4 from hand)?

Our agreement is that the first discard is either reverse attitude or standard count, depending what you think partner needs to know. Since Norman clearly couldn't have a ♠ entry, I figured it had to be count. If that's the case, then this contract is cold! If I play back the K♥, then declarer just wins, sets up another club, and has 9 tricks with 3♣s, 1♦, 1♥ and 4♠s. So what hope is there? Well, after declarer had carelessly let go of what appears to be his 4th ♥, I decided the best shot was to play a small ♥, and hope that declarer would somehow make a mistake. Of course, this runs the pretty big risk that declarer just runs the ♥ to the J, but since I couldn't see any way the contract was going off otherwise, I decided it was a risk I had to take, and shot back the ♥8.

I think declarer should still get this right. He has absolutely no play for 9 tricks if he wins this, so he's gambling +450 vs an extra -150 (we're only taking 8 tricks in defence even if partner gets to run his ♦s). However, I was pleased to see him rise with the ♥A, and that partner could follow to this trick.

It's interesting to look at how the play might go on any other lead. Double dummy, declarer can still make it, but in practice the fact that he has to try and avoid giving the lead to my hand will make things tricky.

Monday, 22 September 2014

So we had a teams match on Sunday at Martin's house. Rebecca Stephens (the newest addition to the clan, and only 3 weeks old) slept through the whole thing, and so Sally was free to play with Yvonne Wiseman. They teamed up with Phil and Peter Stephens to play against me and Martin and Jake Corry and Alex Wilkinson.

There were a few interesting boards, including one where Martin was disappointed not to make a slam, which would have come in on a simple squeeze. However, the one below is where I was most disappointed: 

I somehow stumbled into 4♠, which doesn't look great, but when it went small ♥ to the A, small ♥ to the K, ♥ ruff, I now just need to bring the clubs in for 4 tricks and be able to draw trumps. I started with the ♠A, and Phil on my left played ♠. I decided I had to go for it, and drew trumps and played towards the K♣. I think this is just wrong. I should play for E to have at most two ♣s, in which case it's clearly right to cash the A♣ first, as (as actually happened at the table) there's always a chance of the Q♣ dropping singleton offside.

I'm not sure if it's right to give up the ♦ before you draw trumps. The problem is that entries become awkward if you're made to ruff a diamond before you draw the trumps (in particular, I don't think you can pick up this lay-out any more, as you need to use the ♣A to get back to dummy to draw the 4th trump). I think my line of going all out to make the contract by drawing trumps was probably right, but playing a club to the K was just careless. 

We lost the match by 7 IMPs in the end, I think, so this would have been enough for a victory. Busy week for bridge this week, with the District Pairs qualifier on Wednesday and the Stirling Pairs on Saturday, and I've just got back from playing a match against a team in Paisley. Good timing, as Jess is off to Tuscany for an epidemiology conference. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014


As well as playing the second division in the west district league with Norman, I'm going to be making regular appearances for Jake Corry's Merchiston team on the East coast. We played a match yesterday against Derek Sanders Dundas team, who were a close 3rd in the division last year (having been docked a point for some reason). Last night, I played with Martin Stephens. Our team was carried to a very close 70 point victory by Yvonne Wiseman and Dougie Piper, who were the only one of our three pairs to finish with a positive score (Martin and I were sitting the same way as them).

I should probably have bid the slam on this board, but basically I didn't trust my partner enough. After further discussion, it's clear that I was probably right not to trust him, but that's beside the point...

After Martin's 1♥ response, I was always going to bid 4♥ at least. I was slightly put off the idea of slam by the double on my left, but I figured why not bid 3♠ anyway, and see what happens. What happened was that Martin made a 3NT bid. I think this should probably just be the bid he makes with any hand that might have slam interest opposite a ♠ splinter (maybe saving the cue-bids for non-serious slam interest?). In which case, my hand is pretty good - if partner has no wastage in spades, we either have no ♠ loser, or we have a significant majority of the remaining 30 points. I think the slam is unlikely to be worse than on a finesse if 3NT is intended as a serious slam try.

However, I was worried at the time that partner might have bid 3NT with a balanced 4432 with something like KJTx of ♠s, which does not look so good opposite my hand... In the pub, Martin conceded that he might have bid this way with that hand, so I'm not sure if I was right to pass or not.

Martin did play in a slam on this board:

Following the lead of a ♦ to his ace, Martin took the perfectly reasonable > 75% line of taking two finesses, to drift a quiet one off. Dougie Piper, sitting North for us at table 1, gained 1430 points, which was nearly the entirety of their plus score, by playing a ♠ to the A at trick 2! He actually ended up with 13 tricks, when the opponents didn't discard optimally on the run of the ♠s. 

It's not completely clear which is the best line. Your play doesn't matter if the ♥K is onside, as you're pretty much always going to be able take a ♥ finesse. Both are fine when W has a ♠K singleton. Dougie's line loses when W has Kx in ♠s and E the ♥K. However, it gains whenever East has stiff ♠K, and also a lot of the time when E has Kx in ♠s - basically, any time you can get rid of all your minor suit cards before he can ruff in, ie, as long as he has at least 3 in each minor. 

So it actually looks like Dougie's line is probably best, as it picks up almost all of the holdings where E has the ♠K and, unlike the double-hook, doesn't lose to the ♠K singleton in the wrong hand. However, I'm not going to fault Martin for taking his safe 75%.

As I said, we scraped a very narrow victory in the match, which is a good start to the season in one of our toughest encounters. I'm headed to Martin's house tomorrow for more bridge - a teams match including 3 full Scottish internationals, which in theory would make this one of the highest standard games I'll play in all year. On the other hand, I think people are likely to be paying more attention to Martin's 2 week old baby than the bridge, so we'll see how that works out.

Manning Foster

The Buchanan has several club competitions each year. The Manning Foster Cup is a teams-of-four event, starting with a first round, and followed by a semi-final and a final. Norman and I are playing with John Di Mambro and Maria Jackson, which I think makes us the favourites for the competition, although it must be close with Betty Bell, Peggy Donaldson, Fergus and Lina Kerr. Anyway, the first round was on Wednesday, and we finished a comfortable first place in the qualifiers, with 121 VPs from 9 matches. Betty and Peggy's team were a close second (we beat them by 6 IMPs, for what it's worth, but a 3 board match probably doesn't tell you much). I think we're hot favourites to meet them in the final - the semi is a 24 board match that has been scheduled for a week on Monday.

I thought this was slightly interesting from an ethical perspective. Norman opened 1♦, and North made a 2♠ overcall, *alerted by her partner*. I passed, and South bid 3♣ (not alerted). Norman figured I had a bust, and decided it was a sensible time to stay quiet with his 18 count (I mostly agree), and North bid 3♠, all pass.
Before I led, I asked about 2♠, and South explained that she'd misread it as Lucas, having missed the fact that Norman had opened the bidding. So what's the situation? South clearly is in possession of unauthorised information (her partner didn't alert her 3♠ bid), but on the other hand, 3♠ is impossible if 2♠ was Lucas, so I think she's probably entitled to pass. On the other hand, I think she's probably obliged to explain the situation as soon as she realises what's happened (ie, before she passes 3♠). 

With this information, I'm still not sure Norman is in a position to bid (if he does, I think he just has to guess to bid 3NT).
Note that while I said I agree with Norman that bidding over 3♣ is probably wrong, there are two reasons he might have known something was up. 1. the alert: ok, so a lot of players alert weak 2s when they shouldn't, but that's no reason not to ask, especially when he does genuinely have something to think about (I guess there's a slight worry that if 3♣ is passed round to me, I might have some UI that stops me reopening on marginal hands, but I still think it's right to ask). Second: South had already passed. If South has a passed hand, and North has a NV 2♠ bid, then surely it's unlikely that I've got a complete bust. This isn't quite as clear cut, as South could easily have one (or even, at a push, both) of my kings.

As in so many of these stories, I failed to call the director at the time. I probably should have. In fact, I think I should probably have a rule of just calling the director whenever there's any doubt, but there is that general impression at the club that somehow you're accusing people of something when you do this. Is there a ruling to be made after 3♠ is passed out? How do you think this auction should go? 

Bonus question - can you see how to make 10 tricks in no trumps on the EW cards? 

Edit - I had the wrong hand diagram. Fixed now. In other news, I may learn to proof-read one day, but that has not yet happened... 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Aggregate - slam bidding

Played with Norman on Wednesday in the aggregate tournament at the Buchanan. We managed to finish on exactly 0 points overall, which was not great given that I think we had the balance of the cards... 

Two slam hands, one that I think is hard to bid correctly, and one where I'm quite surprised by how hard people found it. I'll do them in reverse order: 

Exactly two N/S pairs out of 11 managed to find a grand slam on these cards. The reason I'm surprised is that these hands seem to be almost tailor-made for a remarkably straightforward auction. Playing simple Blackwood, this would go: - 2NT - 3♥ - 3♠ - 4NT - 5♠ - 5NT - 6♠ - 7NT. South has 7 tricks in his own hand, and no matter what flavour of Blackwood he's playing should be able to find out that his partner has the missing Aces and Kings. So why didn't people manage it? My guess is that most people just don't consider the possibility of bidding a grand slam. 

Having said that, here's one where Norman and I failed to bid a slam at all: 

I opened  1♦ the West cards, North overcalled 3♣  and Norman bid 3♥. What should I do now? I decided just to bid 3NT. I knew there was some possibility of a slam, but it's hard for me to see how we can get there, and with our methods its also hard for us to stop in 4NT if I do go past 3, so I was worried about that. Note that there are 12 tricks available in ♥, ♦ or NT, but it has to be played from the East side, as otherwise a ♠ lead sinks any chance of any of the slams making. Not sure how best that should be negotiated in the auction - I think maybe 3♣ just did it's job.

Danny Hamilton has been operating the vugraph all week at the Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championships. We decided on Tuesday to take part in the Open Pairs tomorrow, so hopefully we'll have some interesting stories from that. Our initial plan was to play whatever system the winning team was playing but having looked at the Hackett's convention card, we've chickened out of that, and are going to play the simpler Benji Acol that the gold medal-winning Wales team were using (only national teams are eligible for medals).  

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Thursday at the GBC

Martin Stephens came over from Edinburgh on Thursday night (making good use of his paternity leave!) and we played at the GBC. There were a few interesting boards. 

I got a good score on the board below. How do you play 4♠ on the lead of the ♥J? No opposition bidding.

I think the only chance for 12 tricks is for ♥s to be 3-3 and the trumps 3-2, so I cashed two top trumps and played off the hearts for 12 tricks and a joint top - only one other East managed to make 12 tricks. According to the travellers, only 1 received the ♣ lead that legitimately holds this contract to 11, so I think I played this one well (although it's possible I'm missing something). 

We didn't bid optimally on the the hands below (although we still managed to take over 60% of the matchpoints). 

Our auction was 1♦ - 1♠ - 2♣ - 2♥(*) - 2♦ - 3♠ - 3NT AP. 

I'm not sure where I could have bid better. I suppose I could just bid 2NT over the FSF bid, but I'm not sure where we go from there. Maybe my normal bid is in fact 3♥, bidding out the shape - which then allows partner to know we've got a ♦ fit? I'm not really sure what's standard on this type of auction, which is probably worrying, as this is a pretty basic FSF auction. 

After the jump to 3♠, I thought about going on, but didn't think Martin's spades were likely to be as good as they are. Any suggestions for how you and your favourite partner would have bid these hands to 7♦ (or even the more reasonable 6♦) appreciated. 

I don't have an electronic record of board 30, but the heart position was something like this: 

♥ 5

♥ AQJ76

♥ T93

♥ K842

Angus led the ♥Q from the West hand against 3NT, and Martin had about 8 tricks, and so decided to hold up. Angus switched to a ♦ to get his partner in, and the ♥9 came back. Note that at this point if Martin covers this, the ♥s are blocked, and the opponents can cash no more than 3 ♥ tricks to go with their ♦s. Note that Gerry can't prevent this by unblocking at trick 1, as then the defence can once again only cash 3 ♥ tricks before they are stopped.

I wish I had the whole hand, as the decision of whether or not to hold up at trick 1 was actually quite an interesting one, but I probably won't even manage to get 13 cards in each hand if I try to make it up... 

We didn't have a great final score, a few unlucky boards, a couple of misunderstandings and several that were poorly played (a few each), but it was fun, and I nearly beat the taxi Martin got back to Q street station on my bike. 

League fixtures are in now, and I'm playing in the second division in the West District (which is a higher standard than it was last year, but I think our team should still be favourites), and will be making some appearances for Jake Corry's Merchiston team in the East District. In fact, with that and a few other events coming up, my calendar is rapidly filling up with bridge... 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

St Andrew Bridge last Friday

Played with Norman in the St Andrew Bridge Club last Friday (Jess was out playing rugby). It's a much stronger field that we usually get at the Buchanan, although obviously still quite mixed - Cliff Gillis and John Murdoch and the Outred's probably being the strongest pairs (that I know of - there's a good chance there are stronger pairs I don't recognise). For a pairs tournament, there were an unusual number of interesting slam hands... 

There was one board where 7!d was cold, but our opponents collected a comfortable 75% of the matchpoints by cashing their 13 top tricks in 6NT (the latter was a bit lucky, but 13 tricks in diamonds pretty much only relies on a 3-1 break in trumps, with a couple of other chances).

Here's another one:

I opened the E hand 1!c, and when Norman bid 1!h, I decided a splinter in !d was the best way of describing my hand. I jumped to 4!d, which specifically shows a void (3!s would be a singleton in an unspecified suit). Norman's response is now "exclusion keycard". I realised at this point that I couldn't remember what we meant by that... apparently we just stick with the usual 1430 structure, including the trump suit in the responses. This clearly isn't optimal, as it means that on this auction we have to go past 4!h when Norman has 0 keycards, but it at least has the advantage of being easy to remember... 

Anyway, as I wasn't really sure what Norman's response meant, I didn't quite have the confidence to raise his 6!h bid to 7. I think it's more likely than not that he has the 3 missing aces, but as 6!h+1 was worth 80% of the matchpoints, I was probably right not to take the gamble.

A competitive auction that we definitely got wrong: 

I think the first two bids from both of us are fairly normal. However, something went wrong at some point, as we ended up pushing the opponents into a cold slam... 

I bid 4!s because after Norman has shown lots of spades and very little defence, I was confident it would be a cheap save. I think Norman's 5!s is a little more suspect. It could be a cheap save over 5!h, or it could push the opponents one level higher - but if it does the latter, he has to be pretty confident they're not going to make it. I thought for a long time about my final bid. I think this is one of those situations in which it's almost certainly wrong to let the opponents play undoubled, but I couldn't really see how a double was going to make any difference to the score. In retrospect, this was wrong, as a double can gain us something on the hands where 5!h already wasn't making. 

As the cards lie, the slam is a lucky make, and as I thought at the time, 6!s was not cheap against game, so after 6!h, we were stuck. not sure if this one was just unlucky, or if one of us could have done better

We bid the hands below sensibly to a very good 6!d contract, which was only managed by one other pair. A poor board for those who got greedy and decided to play in 6N, but a reasonably good one for the one pair that managed to stop in 3N... I think there are just too many points between the two hands for 5!d to be the right place at matchpoints - once you're past 3N and you know you're only missing one keycard, I think you just have to take the plunge... 

Finally, there was one more "slam hand", on which I went for 1700 "saving" against the opponents' 650, but the less said about that one the better... 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Getting to grand

Played aggregate at the Buchanan Bridge Club yesterday. Norman and I won by a good 1000 or so points, probably helped by being the only pair to successfully get to 6♥ on the board below. However, I was slightly disappointed we didn't manage to bid the grand... 

Our auction went like this:

I think maybe if I start with 4♦, a cue in ♦, implicitly agreeing ♥s, then Norman can bid 4♠ next, which must imply a club control. Note that 3♠ in our methods is definitely a stopper ask for no trumps, although I think it must retrospectively become a cue-bid after I bid 4♦ - in which case Norman should probably still bid 4♠ over 4♦, as I must have shown a pretty serious slam try. However, I'm still not sure if we're getting to grand - I can count 3 tricks in ♦s, 5 in ♥s and 2 aces, so there need to be three more from somewhere. It's very likely that Norman can ruff at least one ♠ and set up at least one ♦, but I'm not sure I can find out enough to actually be able to count to 13. 

At Ian Aitchison and John Donaldson's table, the auction was somewhat more unusual, however. I'm not actually able to enter it on the bridgebase handviewer. It started off sensibly enough:

However, Ian's choice as West in this situation was a double... 

Apparently this is an "inadmissible bid", and basically the only penalty is that Ian has to find an admissible bid instead - with the caveat that his partner is barred from knowing that he has a take-out double of 3♠, which I guess means he doesn't know for sure about the spade shortage, or that Ian has any extras. Ian chose to bid 4♥, which I think probably isn't right, especially after his attempted take-out double, as slam doesn't look out of the question, and partner is pretty much barred from bidding on unless he has an absolute monster - I'd have tried 4♠, even if it does commit us to the 5 level. Added advantage is that it must show a hand that's something like take-out of ♠, meaning that partner no longer has any unauthorised information (I'm not sure if you're allowed to take that into account when making your bid?)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

An impossible throw-in

The Sunday was a teams event, and Ed Jones came down to join us. I played with Ian Angus, and Martin Stephens with Ed. This is actually a pretty strong team, and we managed to make the main final despite being a good 20 IMPs down after the first 10 boards of the 26 board qualifier. In the final, I played possibly the worst bridge I've played for about 4 years. Not really sure why, I think I was probably mostly just tired.

Anyway, I'm not going to write about any of the hands I played in that session, so here's one where Jun got an interesting result. He lost two of the first three tricks in 3NT, and then made his 11th trick on a throw-in... 

I'm not sure if that was the actual auction, but I do know that Jun, with the long ♦ hand, ended up as declarer in 3NT. The lead was the ♣5, and Jun went up with the ♣A to take a ♦ finesse (he now thinks, and I think I agree with him, that this was a mistake. Basically, the entry to dummy can be used for something more useful than taking a ♦ finesse, so you should save it for later). Anyway, this lost, and North returned the ♣4 - as Jun puts it "kindly giving him a picture of the entire club suit". Jun ducked this, and put in the ♥Q on the ♥ return. He now cashed a top diamond and South showed out. Jun continued with another top ♦ on which South showed out again, and exited with the ♦5 (preserving the beer card), as North also showed out. This was the actual ending, with South having failed to follow twice in ♦s:

When South now wins this ♦ trick, he has to give declarer access to dummy, and an 11th trick (and, actually, a 12th trick, but that's overkill, as he's already lost two). With the 1 trick transfer, that brought Jun's total up to 11. Note that if South hadn't revoked, Jun was stuck in hand and could only make 10 tricks, as he'd eventually have to play a ♥ away from the AT. 

So now the important question... does this hand qualify for a beer? 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Harrogate (part 1)

I wrote most of this post on the train back from last weekend's shenanigans at the Yorkshire Contract Bridge Association congress in Harrogate. I went down to Harrogate on Thursday night with Sally Stephens and Jun Pinder. Ian Angus brought Martin and Phil up to join us, and the others in the house were Phil Morrison, who works in Leeds, so came over on Saturday afternoon, and Ed Jones, who joined us on Saturday night after playing a Gold Cup match in Darlington. We all stayed in a big house in the centre of Harrogate, which is an excellent way to enjoy a bridge congress (we did the same at Peebles in December), and a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel.

I played the Friday afternoon pairs with Jun, and we managed to finish above average, which I think is my only above average finish of the weekend... here's one hand where I was given an easy enough route to 11 tricks on the actual lead. On a different lead the play would have been interesting - not sure if I would, or should, have gotten it right.

West led a ♣, and now it's easy to make 11 tricks. You'e only ever going to lose tricks to a ♦ and the A♥. What's interesting about the hand is what happens if West leads a ♠. As the cards lie, you can now make 11 tricks as long as you duck the first ♠. East returns a ♣ (or a ♦, although you have to win that in hand), and now if West takes the A♥ when you lead towards the KQ (either time) he rectifies the count for a simple squeeze in ♠s and ♦s against his partner. If he doesn't (and you read the cards right), you can safely duck a ♦ into the East hand. I think you can usually get this right, as you can get a pretty good count on the East hand before you have to make the decision.

Against players who must have 6 cards for their weak 2s, this doesn't seem like the right line, as there's every chance you can avoid losing a spade trick if West has both A♥ and the third ♦, on which layouts these squeeze lines don't work. However, as the East hand was later described as super-maximum for a weak 2 in this pair's style, I think ducking the ♠ probably is right, as winning could be disastrous when West has a second ♠.

In the next instalment of the Harrogate chronicles, an interesting throw-in from Jun...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Buchanan Men's Teams

So, last Sunday I went to the Berwick Congress. I played with Sally Stephens in the pairs, and Peter Stephen's (Martin and Phil's dad) in the teams, where Sally played with Martin. We had an unimpressive performance in the pairs, Sally doing a few silly things, and me doing a few equally silly things, to just sneak into the top 50 (out of 54). However, we rallied quite a lot in the teams and managed to finish a creditable 5th out of 21, not bad given that Sally really doesn't play that often, and me and Peter have only played together twice before.

I have one interesting hand from the session I played with Sally, which leads to the question: can dummy revoke? However, I can't find the hand records from that session right now, so I might write it up later.

On Tuesday it was the Men's teams in the Buchanan Congress. Playing with Peter Cairns and Jim McGlauchlin, who recently won the National Pairs and will be 1/3 of our team in the National League, we had high hopes going into the competition. However, we didn't even come close to competing for the prize - failing to win even a single match.

This was probably the hand of the night: 
At our table as, I expect, at most tables, the auction began 1♣ 4♦ X (some people might have opened 2♣, I guess or 1♠), and some people might have contented themselves with 3♦). I was sitting North, and passed without really thinking about it. On reflection, I think I should probably make a bid, although it's really not clear what. 6♦ is an obvious choice, or at least 5♦. However, maybe I should try something like 4NT, to really muddy the waters. 

At our table, our opponents stumbled into the grand after I passed (I think the auction concluded - 5♦ - 5♠ - 7♠). I'm not sure how much I like this bidding, as East really doesn't know if the grand can make. However, it looks quite likely to be at worst a 50% shot (the cards you're really interested in are the ♣Q, ♦A and ♥K, any two of which will mean you're at worst on a finesse, assuming the spades come in), and it's not clear how he's going to find out much more about his partner's hand - what do East's available bids even mean on this auction?

Maybe if the opponents end up doing this much guesswork at the 5 level even when I'm silent then I was right to stay out of things. Anyway, congratulations again to the winners, and to the team of Jim Forsyth and Nigel Guthrie, Charles and Vi Outred, who won the teams competition, which was held yesterday.

I'm off to Harrogate at the weekend with Martin and Phil Stephens, Jun Pinder, Ed Jones and various other "young" bridge players (I think Jun's probably the only one of us who still regularly gets referred to as young when doing anything other than playing bridge), so will hopefully have something to report back from there.