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...