Friday, March 30, 2007

Point of discussion - cuebidding

Cooperative slam bidding isn't easy. Look at this hand from the final Swiss match in Montegrotto. You have:


Partner opens 1D, showing 11-13 bal/5M332 or 11-15 with 4-card major and unbalanced hand. Your RHO overcalls 1H (red vs white) and you jump to 3C, a gameforce with 6+suit. Partner bids 3NT and you have your first decision to make; pass or invite slam. If moving on, what's the best way/bid?

Bidding 4H should show a void and gets that vital fact across, but you'd really like to fetch a diamond cuebid from partner and leave more room for exploration and the possibility to sign-off in 4NT (4H also sets clubs and 4NT is no longer natural). Let's say you bid 4C and partner raises to 5C. Would you bid on?

That was correct this time as dummy tabled Kx/KJxx/KJx/98xx and the A of spades where onside (no swing in the match).

First question is, must partner cuebid? When should he signoff in 4NT? When in 5C? This is both a matter of finding the optimal way of handling a situations like this and personal ability and style.

When you had a choice to cooperate previously and didn't (i.e. bid 3NT in example) and partner moves again, my view is that you have to cuebid on any excuse. Repeat: ANY EXCUSE. Being ace-less isn't one of them. Having wasted values may be a reason, but since you bid 3NT partner expects wasted values. You have to focus on remaining useful cards/shape, not thinking 'I have only 6 working hcp when my opening bid promised 11/12+'. And, you have to make sure partner is on the same page. This means that there are hands that can just raise, and there are hands that can signoff in 4NT.

With KQJ/KQx/Jxxx/xxx, I'd bid 5C.
With QJx/AQxx/Kxxx/xx, I'd bid 4D.
With QJxx/KQJx/Kxxx/x, I'd bid 4NT.

Obviously, it's impossible to get to the right contract every time; we have to work the percentages and try to avoid bad slams and get to the good ones. My point is that certain situations calls for, almost demands, cuebids even with devalued hands with wasted values. Especially when a minor suit is the designated trump suit, as there is less room available below slam 'commitment' (when major is trumps, after 4M, you can go with 5-level cue's).

Back to the deal in question, I think that cue-bidding was called for over 4C, and I think the strong hand may have raised to slam anyway since partner didn't bid 4NT, whereby indirectly suggesting useful values.

Work on your cue-bidding 'philosophy'.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Down memory lane

I've played maybe half a dozen NABC's, but only once in a regular partnership (otherwise with clients on pick-up teams). The exception was the 2002 Summer NABC in Washington DC for the Spingold. My regular partner was Magnus Eriksson, who doesn't play much these days, and we played with a couple of Danes; good friend and excellent player Lars Munksgaard (Rosenblum quarter-finalist in Lille -98) and sponsor Claus Christiansen.

Claus had played successfully as a junior (national level) and then stopped for almost 30 years, building a large multi-million medical corporation (MD and research scientist). He had started playing again a few years earlier and wanted to try the American scene. Magnus is, by the way, the father of Cecilia and Sandra Rimstedt. Cecilia is already a World Junior Pairs Champion and NABC winner and Sandra just got selected for the Swedish Ladies Team this summer (both still teenagers!).

This time the Spingold was a special event for us; lady luck was on our side. After beating a couple of weaker teams (one contained all-time great Marshall Miles; a favorite author) by large margins, we ran into Welland-Fallenius, Garner-Weinstein and Moss-Gitelman in round of 32. We won by 2 imps. Next up was Shugart-Robson and Forrester-Brogeland. We won by 1 imp. Claus was 'unconscious', in a positive sense, playing way out of his league. The rest of us did pretty well, but Magnus and I was a bit sloppy against Shugart.

For the quarter-final, we got Schwartz-Becker, Zia-Rosenberg and Cohen-Berkowitz. Claus lost it a bit but Lars was good and our partnership played really, really well. A hand I'll never forget was the following against Berkowitz (S) - Cohen (N) in the second set:



S/all vul, auction (Precision-style):
pass - pass - 2C - X;
2D - pass - 3C - pass;
3NT all pass

Magnus (West) led a low diamond to my (East) ace and we cleared diamonds, Magnus having Kxx. Berkowitz tanked and continued with the J of spades from dummy, letting it ride and winning the trick. He thought some more and led a low club to the queen - king - small. This looked good. If the ace of hearts was onside, 9 tricks were easy now, 4 spades + 3 clubs + 1 diamond + K of hearts.

Should he give up on all those club tricks in dummy? They were down 34 after the first set and every imp counts. Would RHO really be tricky at this point, with a game at stake? He finally muttered 'I'll trust the guy' and led a club to the 9. One down. A swing of 16 imps compared to +110 at the other table (+5 instead of -11 imps).

My hand:

I had plenty of time to think the hand through before the club play. Declarer was 100% to hold this exact hand after the spade trick, considering he was a passed hand and hadn't gone for the clubs right away. I went for the queen gambit, gambling on him not playing for me to have done so rather than following with the ten, deciding that him dropping my queen was a greater chance/risk. Besides, moments like this don't come that often. I'm no chicken.

The last quarter, we were up by 13 going in, and were slugging it out against Zia-Michael. On board 8 a slam decision had to be made. We were playing a full relay system (denial cues etc) and by the time the auction had reached 4S I knew the whole hand, barring some loose J's. Our combined resources included ca 34 hcp and a 5-3 diamond fit, but I knew we were off the K of clubs. The grand depended on the club finesse (and 'reasonable' breaks). I figured we needed this finesse to be on to pull out this match (Zia-R had bid a slam on a finesse on board 1 of the set that I thought our teammates would miss, which turned out to be correct).

So, I jumped to 7D and wrote down for all the kibitzers that the king of clubs was missing; that this was a deliberate decision and not some bidding error/misunderstanding. The K was onside with Michael (he left the table after the hand and was out for 5+ minutes) and we won 13 imps on that board. A kibitzer next to me leaned over and said 'this is why I love relays!'. My analysis was proven correct. We won by 9 (the final segment ended 55-59!).

For the semi-final, we played Jacobs-Katz, Lauria-Versace and Bocchi-Duboin. Playing 4-handed all the way, we finally lost; this time by 10 imps (68-78 over 64 boards), and Jacobs went on to win the event.

Family and regular work has kept my away from NABC's for some years now.

I'll be back.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Signalling advice

This deal came up last weekend ago in a match. Opponents bid 1S (11-16 5+suit) - 4S and partner leads the K of diamonds (Rusinow; promising the A). You see this:


What diamond to you play?

Many players would now encourage the lead, especially since they don't want a shift to another suit with this holding. Against suit contracts, the standard expert practise when holding Qxx over dummy's Jxxx after partner leads high showing A-K combination is to discourage. Encouraging show ability to ruff or suggests a holding that avoids setting up the J in dummy if partner continues.

On this deal, let's say you do discourage and partner shifts to a heart won in dummy. Which heart do you play and why?

This must be a singleton. Partner, if expert, should also recognise the diamond position and wouldn't shift to a heart with this dummy unless hoping for a later ruff. So, play the queen! This shows the queen of diamonds (Qx/Qxx). A low heart indicates a possible entry in clubs (A/K) and a middle heart denies an outside entry. Full deal:


This deal eluded the defence at both tables (East encouraging on the lead twice). I think our teammates should have gotten it right, but not having played that much together, they were on different wave lengths.

Get a working knowledge of 'standard' situations. Or pay up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Camrose exhibit

In an early post I showed a deal where I didn't overcall a natural 2C with 3-5-1-4 shape. I mentioned a Camrose deal that got me thinking that one should be careful with club length. Here the evidence is submitted to the "court":

W/all vul/imps


At one table Justin Hackett overcalled 2H after a Precision 2C-opening (against Ireland's Garvey-Carroll) and bought it for 3 down, -300.

At the other table Arthur Malinowski and Niklas Sandqvist (our old Swedish buddy!) also opened 2C, playing a Polish Club variation, but here Hanlon passed and Nick tried 2D and then 3D after 2S-reply. That drifted 3 off as well for 12 imps to Ireland.

Admittedly, on this North hand passing a more attractive, but still only the Irish reached for the green piece (and it wasn't even St Patrick's Day). And you can bet there are English players who thinks this was an unlucky result (the English commentators on BBO did).

I know how I feel. What do you think?

Monday, March 26, 2007

The 'beer dilemma'

Playing a district playoff match for the Swedish 'GNT' (grand national teams), my teammate, Krister Ahlesved, got to 6D on the resources below (I don't want to know how ;). As my opponents were satisfied with a mere game, a lot of imps were riding on the result.



This called for a favorable layout after a heart was led to the ace. 3 rounds of clubs (discarding a H on the ace of spades along the way) saw LHO ruff in with the J of diamonds as declarer discarded the obvious H loser from dummy. When a small trump was returned, the only successful opposing distribution was JTx vs xx, so Krister ducked to the queen, cross-ruffed, setting up the long club (ruffing with the ace of trumps). The king collected the remaining trumps and he was left with the 7 of D and the 8 of C.

The 7 of D is internationally known as the 'beer card'; if you win the last trick with it, partner has to buy you a beer later. In Sweden, the 8 of C has a similar long historical tradition.

So, what would it be? Should the last trick in the winning slam be completed with the 'national' card or the 'international' card?

The mental anguish was too much. He claimed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Think first

Here's another 3NT from Italy, day 2 of the teams. We bid 1S-1NT; 2D showing 11-13 with 54+ and I jumped to 3NT, a bit aggressively (my favorite Kokish qoute: 'You can't cut it too fine' ;). West led a low H (attitude).



Not exactly a 'claimer' ;-) RHO inserted the 9 (queen would, of course, have been better for me) and I won with the J and attacked diamonds. RHO won the 2nd round as LHO followed with the ten (good) and returned a low H. I played the K and West won the ace and tanked. This meant that the ace if clubs was onside as he would've had a hard time not continuing hearts with a sure entry.

After about 2 minutes, he emerged with a low spade which I won in dummy as East contributed the T. What's going on?

I cashed 2 diamonds in dummy discarding clubs as West pitched a club and a heart. After a club to the K felling the J, I decided that LHO was 4-5-2-2 and led a spade to the K, dropping the queen, making 4. Why? Well, this particular East wouldn't play the T from Tx, in my view. Once I got a clue of the opposing distribution, this became the indicated line.

Think first? Yes, West made the classic mistake of scooping up the K of H first (on partner's return) and THEN started thinking. If he had followed low, keeping defensive communications alive and establishing a long H, it's very likely that I would hook the spade immediately as it wouldn't be possible to try a high spade first. I'd be 2 down instead.

Winning a trick is good - knowing what to do after that is even better.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Take the lead

Leads are a complicated area. You have:

1H on your right and 2D overcall by you, negative X from LHO, partner passes and LHO bids 2H, all pass. Imps, what's your lead?

Magnus Lindkvist used to say "I ask myself 2 questions: Can I get a ruff? Can partner get a ruff? If the answer is no, then lead trumps!" It's a bit simplisticly put, but it is certainly good advice.

Frederic led the ace of spades, looking for a ruff, and the Austrian former star player, Franz Terraneo, slipped on this innocent looking partscore in the Swiss A-final:



Ace of spades lead and continuation, suggesting the suit breaking 2-4. He tried another high spade, discarding a club from hand, ruffed with the 7. Frederic underled the ace of clubs to my K and another spade saw a missguess when the T of hearts of over-ruffed with J and LHO got out with the club ace.

Franz now had to concede a trick in both red suits for 1 down when RHO had 4-2-2-5 distribution. Would Freddan really have led a spade from the actual holding with Kx in hearts?

Everybody makes mistakes. Make sure the opponents' don't go unpunished.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Making a difference

Concealing a 5-card major with 5332 and minimum values made the crucial difference on deal 1 of the first Swiss match. This was the deal:



I haven't got the full layout (hand-dealt) but LHO had Qxxx in trumps and Kx in H. We bid:
1D - 1S
1NT - 2C
2D - 3NT

1NT was 11-13 and 2C followed by 3NT showed choice-of-games with 5332. West now chose to lead the king of H and when he continued the suit, 4S came home for +620. At the other table the auction started 1H-1S and Mårten led a diamond for a painless +100.

Was this a random positive result for this treatment or did we deserve a swing due to a better systemic approach?

Put me down for no 2.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Supporting - shape beats strength

Handling weak hands with somewhat attractive shape can be tricky. Frederic had this collection against a relatively weak Italian team.


All vul, partner opened 1S showing 5+ (11-15; denies 5332) and RHO overcalled 2C; would you pass or get a 2S-bid in the auction adhering to the 'raise on any excuse' principle?

Freddan raised to 2S and the bidding continued 3S by LHO, 4H (!) by partner and he passed. LHO went on to 5C which came around to you. What would you do now?

First of all, is pass by partner forcing? I guess a lot of partnerships play it that way, but I don't. Appreciating the full value of the shape (visualizing diamond shortness across the table), Frederic pressed on with 5H, passed out (a bit surprisingly!).

High club was led and this was my view.



Looks good as no double suggests the H finesse is on and that spades break. Ruffing in dummy and hooking the hearts was disppointing as LHO won and got out with the last remaining trump, East encouraging diamonds.

So it came down to the spade suit and I had to decide whom to play for Hx. If to the left, low spade from hand and if to the right, low spade from dummy to the J (which also caters for stiff K/Q and KQx). Reasoning that RHO's 3S and in tempo 5C indicated 10+ minor-suit cards, I went for spade from dummy.

This wrapped up +650 which meant 15 imps when teammates were +600 in 5C. Full deal:


Raising on any excuse brought in the imps. Again.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Canapé jump strikes

The CJO reared its head in the 2nd session pairs in Italy. All red, Precision 1D in front of me and I had:


I made a jump overcall of 2H showing 4H and longer undislosed minor (ca 11-15 hcp). Partner raised to 3 and I bid game of course. West led the J of C and dummy came down:



Partner's raise was aggressive for sure. Winning pairs involves bidding thin games to a much larger extent than the textbook percentages suggest. Reasons for this includes declarer's advantage, sub-par leads and the frequency of less than perfect defence.

I ruffed and played 3 rounds of diamonds ruffing in dummy as West discarded a club. Ignoring the trump finesse I played the top trumps ending in hand as the queen dropped to my left. I left the last trump and made 5 by leading D's. LHO should have ruffed in but didn't. This was a top score, not so surprisingly, as even finding hearts was hard to do; bidding game even more so.

Maybe this convention should be called BJO - Best Jump Overcall's.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Too late

Playing bridge way past midnight may be a challenge, especially when staying wake is your top priority. Here I need to come clean when I realized too late that I misplayed a game.

Day 2, first teams session way past midnight, Frederic got a nasty bidding decision with K/Kxxx/A/KJ87xxx after a 14-16 NT by partner and his RHO overcalled 2S. He bid 2NT showing invitational or better with 5+ clubs or a weak competetive hand with long H's or long D's. Partner declined invitation with 3C and system now dictated a 3S cuebid to show gamegoing values with C's (3red would've signoff). Partner now bid 4H (natural) suggesting no (or unsuitable) spade stopper. What to do?

After about 4 minutes, Frederic passed, finally deciding that bad breaks was a bigger possibility after the overcall on apparent minimum values and knowing that I was minimum or bad club fit. Weak suit quality a potential problem, although I could still have 5-card H's. The layout (S/all white):


A low diamond was led to the ace, heart to A, K of diamonds and West followed with the heart 8! Hour was late, West replaced with D (i.e. no revoke), spade discard from dummy and I noted trumps broke and therefore cashed H Q. When East followed with ten, it hit me like an express train. Now clubs were 0-4 and I was was down on a hand that looked like a missed slam!

Low club from hand after discarding the spade in dummy is a 100% line (not cashing a 2nd H). Hey, even club to the ace in trick 2 makes it as long as I continue low C from dummy after 2 rounds of spades. No 'harm done' in the end as teammates were +300 in 6C X and the match ended with a blitz for us.

It still hurts.

I'll be away playing over the weekend, posting resumes Monday.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Game on the line

This match wasn't letting up. On the very next board, my hand looked like this: Axxxxx/xxx/JTx/x

The auction started the same at both tables: 1NT (14-16) by LHO and partner overcalled, red vs white, with a constructive 2H. Now the paths diverged. The Swedish RHO, Krister Ahlesved, passed and so did the others, leading to +170 when the normal maximum was 9 tricks.

My RHO made a take-out X and I jumped a bit aggrressively to 4H, properly X-ed to my left. Mihov led the K of spades, but on this deal there were no cows within miles.



Frederic made short work of the hand, composing himself like a true professional after the previous mishap. Ace of spades ditching a diamond, club from dummy, RHO jumps ace and shifts to the obvious trump. Frederic inserts the J, felling the T, ruffs a club and leads a diamond, conceding a club later for +790.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Keeping focus

On the very next board, the opponents bash to 3NT after strong 1C, neg 1D and 1NT showing 17-18. It's my lead and I have QJx/J98/xxx/KQxx. I go with a spade honor and dummy comes down.


Declarer takes the K as partner encourages and ducks a H to your 8, partner playing the 2, even number or a holding unsuitable for other contribution. You're up.

What's going on? Is declarer trying to steal a game with something like Axx/AKTxx/AQx/xx or is he perhaps just building a potential heart trick with AKxx? How should we defend to beat this contract against the maximum number of layouts? Why did we just go down in a slam?

The decision to go active or passive when in defence is sometimes the hardest one to make. I decided to shift to a club honor. This would avoid the 'steal' and while giving up a trick when declarer has the ace, it might not be over as it also builds a trick for the defence.

This was the full deal:


Wrong - but not fatal. Declarer grabbed the ace and played the 9 of spades from hand to Frederic's ten. Nothing mattered now. We could always get five tricks before declarer could get nine and a bullet was dodged. A low club shift would have been the end of the defence's chances.

Teammates were +150 when North (Mårten) found a minimum (within 17-19 range) with 4-4 in the majors and the auction halted at 2NT. He didn't let any fear of missing a [possibly] playable game affect his evaluation of the hand's worth.

Don't panic on defence and, whenever possible, look for ways to hedge your bets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'A cow flew by'

This is an expression I picked up in a Hugh Kelsey book. It means that your mind wandered off to something you saw outside the closest window (like a flying cow ;) and you just dropped the ball. That's what happened to Frederic in this 6NT on deal 3 from the final match against Aronov-Mihov:



We reached 6NT after a strong club auction where South showed hearts and dummy diamonds and clubs. A low club lead to the J and Q followed by a diamond floated around to the 9. Diamond continued to Q and ace and when entering the hand after unblocking the hearts, RHO discarded a spade. The deal is now an open book and this is the remaining cards:


This is a classic double-squeeze position and and cashing the hearts means West must release the spade guard and dummy can discard the 8 of clubs on the final H honor. After a club to the K, East is finished and dummys small diamond or the 9 of spades is the slam-going trick.

Then came the 'cow', and declarer called for the last diamond instead of the club on the final H. Endposition ruined and -50 on the scorecard. What we didn't know was that declarer went 2 down at the other table in the same contract.

Frederic is a very good cardplayer; things like this happen to even the best. I'll show you a deal later where I fouled out, but first two more crucial deals from the very last match.

Beware of the cows.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Numero uno!

The long weekend in Italy went very well. First a 2-session pairs with 160 pairs. We ended 3rd with 62+%. Then the main event; the teams with 99 entries this year. Italian top dogs, Bocchi-Duboin, Lauria-Versace and Fantoni-Nunes, was missing this year because ACBL Nationals. Apart from that the field was pretty good but very uneven with many weak teams entering as well.

The format was 8 board matches, first qualification (7 matches) in 8 team groups then the field was divided into A, B, C-groups for another 6 matches, Swiss-style.

Our team (Wrang-Nilsson, Ahlesved-Gustawsson) had the highest score going into the Swiss with 156 (out of 175) and never looked back. We did lose 2 matches, against Allegra (= Lavazza) with Lanzarotti-Ferraro and against Bulgaria including Mihov and Nanev. We actually played Bulgaria the final 3 matches, winning the last 2. I've got plenty of deals to share, albeit not always with a 'point'.

Let's kick off with a declarer problem from the Q-phase. I had Ax/J8xx/KT9xx/Jx, all vul, and partner opened 1S (11-15, 5+), RHO overcalled 2H and I passed. Partner reopened with 3C and I closed precedings with 3NT.



Not so good playing 3NT with 4S a seriously superior contract. Well, no time for whining as RHO grabs the H7 lead and shifts to a low D. Decision time - what to do?

To make 3NT we need the club K onside and either black suit breaking. Since K of C needs to be with LHO then ace of D is more likely to be with East for the overcall. East might also have contemplated shifting to the queen of D in case partner has AT to beat it legitimately (this particular East I was not so sure about though).

It's important to keep focus even when in 'wrong' contracts. Going for the inferential logic, I rose with the K and made 6 when both clubs and spades behaved with East having 3-5-2-5 and Ax in diamonds. This game was missed against our teammates.

The definition of a good game at imps is 'one that makes'.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

3NT is an asking bid

After a 1NT-opening many choose to have two ways to show a 5-card major as responder. One way to get to 4H/S vs all hands with 3+ support and one way to offer a choice of games, letting opener pass with 4333 (typically). A normal way to do this is to use a 2-level transfer followed by a jump to 3NT as the "choice"-bid.

What about after a 2NT-opening then? I hadn't reflected much (strangely enough) about that until disaster struck in Holland. This was the deal:



After 2D-multi by RHO, South overcalled 2NT and had to decide what to do after partner bid 3D (transfer) and then 3NT.

The board was played 4 times. At two tables this auction occured and South passed both times for -200, one time East opened 3S instead shutting everyone out (!) for -50 and at the final table East was silent throughout and N-S could relay in comfort to 4H for +620.

After a 2NT-opening space is scarce and we no longer have the luxury of two ways to show our major. How should we handle it? As it is far more frequent that we have a hand wanting to play 4 of a major whenever a fit is found than offering a choice, this should take precedence. The transfer bid of 3D/H followed by 3NT is therefore an asking bid; is asks for support.

No use of judgement from the 2NT-opener is involved any longer; he just looks at his major-holding. With 3 or more, remove to 4H/S even with 4333-shape (may cue-bid with suitable maximum). With 5332 and some useful high cards, the responder could suppress the 5th card and simply check for 4-card support via regular Stayman and play 3NT otherwise, which btw, is what some people do after a 1NT-opening. Fortunately the deal occurred in a practise match.

Next time, we know what to do.

EDIT 21/3/2007
Today I found an article at Larry Cohen's site on this very subject.
How weird. I can't find which date it was published, just listed under 'Recent articles'.


I'm leaving for Montegrotto, Italy, today for 4 days of bridge. Posting resumes Monday.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The canapé jump overcall (CJO)

What's that? It's what I use instead of the weak jump overcall. The CJO is the equivalent of a Raptor 1NT-overcall; the jump to 2H/S shows 4-card in the overcalled major and 5+ cards in an unbid minor and about 11-15 hcp. This treatment lets you get this awkward hand off your chest in one bid and is more difficult to cope with for opps than the Raptor 1NT. We've been using it for over 10 years now, btw (Lindkvist-Fredin among others)

But, this doesn't solve the problem after a 1S-opening with 4H & longer minor. So what to do? Revert to Raptor here? No, you can still use the 'non-jump canapé overcall' of 2H and use 1NT to show a heart overcall! By interchanging the meaning you get to keep the meaning of 2M consistent AND get your heart suit in at a more convenient level.

The idea of using (1S) - 1NT as showing 5+ H is something I came up with -95/96. This convention lets us get hearts in the picture cheaper and provides room to play in 1NT/2m if doubled or misfit. With constructive values, we can start to explore strain and level with more accuracy. The biggest downside is that it may wrong-side an occasional 3NT-contract.

So what about (1H) - 1NT? I use it to show both minor suits (54+). Why? Because more points gets exchanged on 2-suiters than 1-suiters and by pinpointing both minors when we are potentially outranked by the majors gives us a chance to evaluate the fit and bump the level. Downside is wrongside (NT). Another plus is that you also make it a bit more difficult for the opponents to find spades (no neg X).

After (1C/D), I favor a natural 1NT-overcall. If you can't stand that, you can use 1NT as 54+ in M's (and let the cue-bid be specific 2-suiter with highest and lowest).

All this may take a while to digest, but I recommend it and it is battle-tested against the best. My current partnership is so new that we haven't gotten around to these 'extra' treatments yet (just the CJO).

We will.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Weak jump overcalls (WJO's)

A treatment that is popular with many is the WJO. I dislike it. Sure the WJO has its moments, but I've seen so many bad ones that I believe it to be a big anti-percentage action.

It gives away too much information to the opponents in a situation when it's unlikely to be your board. It's premptive, but not enough for the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages. For instance, if you push them into 3NT they're likely to make it because declarer can hold up etc. It's of course also a matter of the opposition playing strength; weaker opps may not be able to take advantage of the WJO's drawbacks. As usual, choose your poison, but do it by choice and not habit. For me, I have better uses for the 2-level.

Last weekend, another WJO came my way. All white (pairs) and I opened 1D (11-16 unbal 4+D) with Qx/Kx/AQT9xx/KJ9 as dealer. LHO overcalled 2H and after partner's take-out X, I jumped to 3NT. West, an old buddy of mine and a decent player, led a low H.



East played the J and I won. It's easy now to fall prey to the gut reaction of leading the Q of spades. Pause for reflection and you realize that few would make a WJO with A+AQ vs an unpassed partner. The K of diamonds is a distinct possibility however and I continued H to set up an extra heart trick first. West could have saved the defence by shifting to a spade immediately but this was hard to find. He cleared hearts and I set up spades for 10 tricks and 100% on the board when the K of diamonds indeed was offside.

And another WJO bit the dust.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Careful play

In this 3NT yesterday my partner, Håkan Nilsson (all time #2 master point holder in Sweden), showcased his good technique:



Dummy showed spades and declarer 11-13 balanced. West led H 6 (3rd/5th) to the Q and K. He decided right away that he wouldn't finesse in diamond and therefore started with a low diamond from hand for the safety play.

This was one of those occasions when it was needed as West discarded a small spade and when the club finesse was offside, 9 tricks was the limit (and a 90% score). Safety plays like this are easy when presented with the deal on paper but all to frequently missed at the table, especially in a pairs tournament.

This day, justice was served.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Room for error

Playing a qualification heat for the national pairs today (in our district), two pairs was way ahead of the pack going into the last round. Q-ing was guaranteed, but finishing 2nd is never an option. The other pair was sitting out the last round (one pair didn't show up for the event), netting about 60% for the round. We were behind going in and needed therefore better than that to eke out a win. On the first board our opps bid a 25 hcp 3NT, after partner opened, collecting a normal 10 tricks. This proved too challenging for the field giving us a mere 20%.

We were playing the Swedish 2-way 1C system and on the last hand (2-session 1-day event) my partner, Håkan Nilsson, opened 1C showing 11-13 balanced or any 17+. Complete auction (all vul):

1C - (pass) - 1H - (2D);
2H - (2S) - 3C - X;
4H all pass

RHO took a while for his final pass and after the K of diamonds was led, this was the view:



Some aggressive bidding for sure, but we needed an 85+ % board. Technically, this looked like a very simple deal; 4H makes with trumps 2-2 or 3-1 with stiff Q and goes down otherwise. Instead of going after hearts immediately, I decided to open up spades and give West a chance to go wrong. 2 rounds of spades to East as West followed small and a diamond shift ruffed in hand. Another spade from hand and West fell from grace by ruffing in with the H 9 as I discarded a club from dummy.

Complete deal:


Ruffing in with the actual holding was wrong (of course) and resulted in +620 and we won by a fraction at 61,5%.

Remember that people do more silly things at the end of a long day as long as you give them a chance. In the fashion of a Nike slogan: Just let them!

My good friend Anders Wirgren kindly (and of course correctly!) has pointed out that the hand always can be made legitimately if declarer plays for trumps 3-1. Crossruffing puts West in a very uncomfortable position with threats in both minors (what to discard when the final spade is led from hand).

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Oops - we did it again!

Bidding slam when missing too many cashing aces happens to even the best players in the world. Here's a hand from this weekend's action in China at the Yeh Bros Cup.

This deal is from a knock-out match in the play-off (vs USA2) and features the reigning world pairs champions from China, Jack Zhao and Zhong Fu.


N/none, the auction went
(pass) - 1D - (2C) - 2H;
(3C) - 3D - (pass) - 4C;
(pass) - 4S - (pass) - 5C;
(pass) - 6D all pass

This cost 11 imps. What went wrong?

Clearly 2H was forcing and 3D seems ok (despite short H and minimum strength) playing a strong club (which I believe they do).

4C looks like a cue agreeing diamonds (but may have been only way to make a slamtry in diamonds if 4D would have been invitational only).

4S is a clear misbid in my view, this shows a better hand than this; I'd temporize with 4D instead.

Now West gets in an awkward position, not wanting to use Blackwood as a 2 ace reply will carry them overboard, although it's hard to see an East hand with only 2 aces after that 4S-bid. Maybe there is more to the auction for this pair than meets the eye.

5C looks like a "last-train" effort with better than expected trumps, a source of tricks with interior solidity in H's and the K of S. Could, on the other side, have been a plain cue-bid if 4C was just agreeing diamonds.

Whatever 5C meant, I looks like it was mis-interpreted as 6D suffered from a fatal shortage of aces. Maybe East expected a void with unsufficient strength to jump to 5C previous round.

Is there a point to this deal then? Yes, in my [subjective] view. An than important part of the methods your partnership uses is that they should, to the most possible extent, assist you and your partner in minimizing problems. If the Parity Key Card mechanism (described in previous post) had been used, West could effortlessly have bid 4NT over 4S, gotten a 5C-reply (0 or 2 keycards) and ended things with 5D.

If you think that "we would never gotten in to that mess", then you are kidding yourself. If something like this can happen to the world champions, then it sure can happen to you too.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Defence logic

In a brand new partnership, there may be quite a few defensive situations to work out when it comes to signals etc. Other situations work themselves out by sheer logic. It's still nice to see that you're on the same wavelength.

This one come up in t' Onstein against Team Orange's Ricco van Prooijen.

I had xx/AK9x/T987xx/A, white/red at imps and the auction went:

pass - (1S) - 2D - (3D);
pass - (4S) all pass

1S was 5+ and 3D showed 3-card support with invitational or better values. Some may not agree with the overcall, but I wouldn't dream of passing when we easily could have the highest making contract. The fact that the suit is bad is not an issue.

I led the K of hearts, playing Rusinow.


Encouraging 2 from Freddan and 6 from declarer. At this point I don't know if partner has a doubleton (singleton), wanting a ruff, or the queen. No problem, I cashed the ace of clubs, which must be a singleton (no reason otherwise to play it) and checked Frederic's signal. He followed with the 10 which must indicate the queen of hearts as an entry. Low club would indicate a ruffing entry.

I continued with a low heart to partner but it was all in vain as declarer ruffed and claimed.


I had never seen this variation before but as long as logic is used a lot of layouts can be interpreted correctly on-the-fly. We both recognized right away here how the club signal should be used.

We could obviously have gotten another trick with an intial club lead, but that might have given me a nasty guess later on a slightly different layout.

Best bulletins

Serious players read World Championship book and tournament reports to analyse, improve and observe the best partnerships in action. Others may read just for fun.

Whatever the reasons, reading bulletins from various tournaments is often of a lesser value, bridge-wise, as they focus on results and often just some highlighted deals. Bulletins from WBF & EBL events are pretty good though.

A brilliant exception is the bulletins from the NEC Bridge Festival (played in Yokohama every Feb); this year was the 12th time.

Web site here:

The bulletins are produced by Eric Kokish & Richard Colker, with Barry Rigal filling in for Kokish this year (good job!). These bulletins are just superb and, in my view, of higher quality than the reports in the World Championships books.

In the archives now you can find hundreds of pages. Go get them. Now.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Parity what?

Parity Key Card Blackwood. Yes, yet another variation of old Blackwood.

"Parity" refers even/odd number of key-cards. Regular RKC uses an either/or variation also of course, but with a discrepancy of 3 (0/3 & 1/4). By reducing this to 2, valuable space is preserved and the need for the 1430-switch is eliminated.

This may lead to problems distinguishing which number to expect. That's why it isn't used all the time, only in cue-bidding situations where ambition, captaincy etc reveals what to expect.

PKC (Parity Key Card) applies when both players have made at least one cuebid (splinter-jumps are by definition not a "cuebid"). Non-serious 3NT (or serious if that's the prefered version) is regarded as a cuebid. Whether non-jump shortness-showing bids should be regarded as a cuebid or not are a matter of partnership definition (I think not). When a minor suit is trumps then 4m (setting trumps or “waiting”) followed by 4NT over cue is also PKC.

1step = 0/2/4
2steps = 1/3 no Q (unless ¨ is trumps; then could have Q with 1)
3steps = 1/3 + Q.
Step 4 shows unexpected “max” reply otherwise coinciding with trump suit (don’t want to risk pass from asker).
Continuations as after regular RKCB.

The parity concept has been used in variations of denial-cuebidding within a relay-framework bidding system. This variant is an original idea, I believe. Remember where you saw it first!

A grand lead

Another board from the weekend in Denmark ended very luckily for our side thanks to the good old advice of leading trumps against grand slams.

The opponent on lead held K742/742/965/J82 and listened to this auction:
1D - 2C
2H - 3H
3S - 4C
4D - 4N
5D - 5S

1D 11-15 various
2C artificial gameforce
2H 4H & 5+m (not 5422 shape)
3H supp
3S/4C/4H cue's
4N Parity Key Card
5D 1 A and denies trump Q
5S grand slam try

He lead a trump and this was the full deal (rotated).

E/EV vul

My partner (not Frederic) played the system for the first time and forgot about the Parity Key Card response denying the trump queen. (There was also a mechanism available after 2H for finding out sidesuit & shortness.)

After the low heart lead, I naturally dropped the queen offside to make. The lead was certainly somewhat unlucky, but trump leads vs grand slams have a far worse track record than most believe.

There are some people out there who willingly bid grand slams (with split top honors) without the queen, expecting to get a trump lead solving the situation or otherwise playing the non-leader for it. On this deal, for instance, possesion of the queen was only implied; it wasn't explicitly shown.

5-card majors or 5-card majors?

A never dying system debate is the fundamental one about the length required to open in 1 of a major. The world at large has voted for 5. Now the italians (Lanzarotti-Buratti & Fantoni-Nunes) have taken that a step further by not allowing 5332 (or even 5422) with a minimum hand when opening 1H/S.

This seems to me like a way to go, especially since computer analysis of large samples of hands played at BBO and OKBridge shows that 5332's (with long M) are best opened with a 1NT (in a 15-17-range). Does this apply for weaker hands outside the NT-range?

I believe so and therefore in my current strong club system (the structure increasingly popular in Sweden):
1C 16+
1D balanced/(4441)/4-M & 5+m
1M 5+
1NT 14-16

... we open 1D with all 11-13 and 5M332. This isn't a original idea, but we go as far as stating that it is obligatory in 1st/2nd position. This hand can't be shown systematically after 1H/S.

What's the verdict so far? With only a couple of hundred boards played it works well. A board from the Danish first division (imps) a couple of weeks ago against the Danish Open Team mainstays Dorthe & Peter Schaltz:


1D - pass - 1S - -1NT;
2S - D - pass - 3D;
pass - pass - 3S - 3NT;
pass - pass - D all pass

Spade lead into the tenace but still +800 with no game on our way. But, in practice, a lot of auctions went 1S-4S and no club lead for +620. Still +5 imps. More to come on this theme.

Last, an anecdote from Rosenblum 1994 in Albequrque. The three best placed junior pairs (de Knijff-Börgesson from Sweden) on the butler from the Junior European Champioships earlier that year were sponsored by the WBF to compete in the teams. As part of the package Bobby Wolff gathered the youngsters in his suite for a social outing and some fatherly bridge advice. "Boys! If you ever to want achieve anything in bridge - play 4-card majors!"