Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lessons from the bridge club

Last night was an interesting night at the bridge club. I learned a couple of things: when the opponents bid 1Major-2Major, let them play it there. Twice I either Emory or I balanced and they proceeded to bid a cold game. Annoying.

Another lesson was that psyching and successfully keeping them out of their 4-4 spade fit which makes 3 or 4 is not such a good result. They played 2D and made exactly 2 for what ought to be about an 80-90% board for us. I held xx, xx, KJx, QT9xxx and at favorable vulnerability the auction was 1C-X to me so I obviously bid 1S. Next hand doubled, showing 4 hearts, partner support redoubled, confirming to me that the opps had a spade fit. Then it went 2D-swish. I was satisfied with -90 as there ought to be lots of -140 and -170 scores. This is why you should play penalty/stolen bid doubles opposite a takeout double - to ensure that the opponents don't psych you out of your major suit fit. This double (1C-X-1S-X) as takeout isn't so useful - if you have hearts, just bid them.

Of course, against good competition, the opponents never would ahve tried to sell out to 2Major and the field would have actually gotten to a spade contract in the latter scenario.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Suit Preference When Returning Partner's Lead in NT

In 2nd seat, all red, You hold:
T865
K9
AQT4
986



Auction:
1C (strong) - P - 1D (0-7) - P;
P - 1S - 2H (5-7, 5+H) - P;
2NT - P - P - P
Opening lead: D4



Dummy:
Q2
QJ753
532
JT5



Partner wins K and returns 9, covered with the J. You cash the Q and T. Dummy sheds a club. Partner follows with 8 and 6. Declarer pitches S7 and HT. Your lead to trick 5. What are your thoughts? For the 2NT rebid, we can expect declarer to have 16-17 (maybe 18) hcp, leaving partner with 4-6 in the remaining three suits.


Partner is up to something here by not returning fourth best. Normally the only reason for not returning 4th best is if he needs to remain on lead for a finesse through declarer or to unblock, and neither is the case with declarer known to have a doubleton diamond. So partner must be trying to show some suit preference. Does playing to-down in diamonds suggest a spade or a heart? I think it suggests hearts because spade tricks are clearly not going away and hearts aren't running. If declarer has AKJ and AK in the black suits, he has 9 tricks as soon as he gains the lead. If declarer has the heart ace, it's now stiff so it can't hurt to lead a low heart. The HT discard is very telling. It kind of gives away the position. Either he had blanked the A and is banking on a (winning) black suit finesse instead of a heart finesse to make his contract, probably with an overtrick or he just has a stiff T and has 9 black suit winners.




But what if this guy is being a hand hog and actually has three hearts and was just trying to entice you into leading from the K with a hand like AKJxx, ATx, Jx, Axx instead of attacking his vulnerable club suit? with that hand, a heart ensures the contract while a club lead could set 2NT. But if that's the case, he can have the good board and we'll chalk it up to a fix.




This play is more difficult if declarer keeps the HT and instead throws a low black card on the fourth diamond. When partner has the heart ace, it's still likely declarer will get 8 tricks if you don't take both hearts now, but he would have to be 5-5 in the blacks for it to matter. How much should we cater to declarer not bidding 3C on a 5-5 hand? I don't know - we would have to know the player's tendencies a little more. Anyway, we are back to the question of what partner's diamond plays suggest about what to do next.  We know that the heart suit isn't a threat But from partner's perspective, declarer could have xxxxx, AK, Jx, AKQx in which case a spade lead is very crucial. I suppose partner could play the 8 at trick to suggest hearts, but three-suited suit preference situations can be confusing. I'm gonna go with: in this context, spades is the suit to avoid so for partner to show a heart preference, he would lead back 4th-top-bottom (6-9-8) and to show a club pref he would lead back 4th-bottom-top (6-8-9), leading back not 4th best in this non-unblocking situation and then showing 4 suggests something else, in this case a spade. If dummy's hearts were better, I'd say hearts would be the unexpected suit and the normal suit pref signal would be between spades and clubs.



As it turned out, declarer's hand was AKJxx, T, Jx, AKQxx and the trick 5 play of a heart would lead to -1, anything else making 3. It didn't make any difference in the matchpoints because the field was either making 4S or going down 2 in 3NT.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bridge hiatus?


Summer 2015 is approaching and lifestyle changes are coming. It seems about once a year there’s a significant life change, but none too big because I’ve lived and worked in the same place now for 7 years. I haven’t posted a lot on here lately and I still don’t have any bridge hands to write about but they will come as I’m probably going to be playing more bridge again. My life has been all over the place. I’ve been involved in so many things outside of work, and trying to schedule time for everything has been crazy: bridge, Bob, other Atlanta friends, Alexandra, my parents, my dog, directing bridge club games, the D7 News, tournament flyers, freelance writing, ALTA tennis, USTA tennis, T2 tennis, trying to find a woman for me, and trying to understand women. You’d think I would know a lot about women and be able to read their minds pretty well given that I have a lot of female friends I talk to on a regular basis, but they still baffle me and drive me crazy, but that’s for a different blog. I think I’m going to resurrect my old blog that used to be mostly about travel, but it’ll have more of a male-female relationship theme to it.



Back to bridge. I played a lot of bridge in late Feb through mid-March with, I think, tournaments in 5 out of 6 weekends but have not been to a tournament in the last 8 weeks, skipping Gatlinburg for the first time in probably a decade. This may well be the longest I've gone without a bridge tournament since I was serious with Hillery in 2008. Weekend getaways to sectionals no longer appeal to me as something to do to keep from being lonely. Regionals have even lost some their luster except when they’re either financially beneficial or with someone I really like in a place I like.



Summer typically has more tournaments that I like going to, but all I have scheduled is three days in Las Vegas in June, and nine days in Chicago for the NABC in August (half with Cristal and half with Sean). Memorial Day weekend is now unexpectedly open. Last year is the first time I did not attend a Memorial Day regional in a long time because I was at my good friend Brian’s wedding in Lexington, and I didn’t miss bridge that weekend at all. I thoroughly enjoyed that trip and wedding. I had planned on a more traditional relaxing beach/water park vacation for Memorial Day, but various circumstances have made those plans dissolve. It bothers me slightly to have a holiday weekend right around the corner with no real plans. Then again I’m often slightly bothered by things that probably shouldn't bother me. Anyway, I'm open to playing somewhere over Memorial Day, playing in Greenville June 12-14, in Jacksonville over July 4th, or Pasadena or Nashville or Reston July 10-12 if there's a good offer. Suggestions?

Monday, December 15, 2014


The trip to Providence a couple of weeks ago was quite a pleasant trip. It was low on stress and low on drama, much unlike the previous two. The quality of bridge at my table was acceptable. Cristal and I qualified for the second day of the LM Pairs, had one decent session in the final and then collapsed. It was a real struggle – we didn’t really get any gifts the whole two days and I was pretty pleased with how both of us played. In the two-day BAM, Sean and I played with Cristal and Igor. On the first day, Sean and I got lots of gifts and stole a few boards as well, enough to carry the team into day 2. On day 2, we didn’t get so many gifts, had a couple more than our share of bad boards, but Cristal and Igor did just enough to get us into the extremely low overalls.

Here’s one of our best boards that wasn’t a gift.
QJTx, AK, x, AKTxxx
AKx, Jxx, AKxxx, xx
11 - 22
23 - 24
34 - 45
4NT6 – 6NT7
78 – P

1 – 15+, balanced or natural
2 – 0-7 w/ 6+, or game forcing w/ 5+
3 – happy playing 2 if responder has the weaker hand
4 – natural-ish, but possibly just a concentration of values
5 – cue bid
6 – RKC for spades
7 – might be off the rails but this is what I think we can make
8 – probably a Moysian but I think this will make

The contract rolled home when spades split 4-2 and clubs split 3-2.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

GT-FSU this weekend

I haven’t posted my college football rankings at all this season. Frankly, I’ve been too busy to even bother looking at it until last week. I got caught up on all the games and stuff before Thanksgiving and now heading into conference championship week, I’ll post the rankings.

1. Alabama (11-1)
2. Oregon (11-1)
3. Ohio State (11-1)
4. TCU (10-1)
5. Mississippi (9-3)
6. Florida State (12-0)
7. Arizona (10-2)
8. Georgia Tech (10-2)
9. Michigan State (10-2)
10. Boise State (10-2)
11. Georgia (9-3)
12. Wisconsin (10-2)
13. UCLA (9-3)
14. Mississippi State (10-2)
15. Missouri (10-2)

Yep, my computer dislikes FSU even more than the people. How is Mississippi #5 at 9-3? Does my algorithm have some sort of bias toward Ole Miss for some reason? That's the only ranking that I see as being inappropriate.
Predictions for conference championship games:
Georgia Tech (a 3 point underdog) to win 31-27 in Charlotte on Saturday
Alabama (a 14 point favorite) to win 30-24 against Missouri
Ohio State over Wisconsin 34-31
Oregon over Arizona 37-31
 
I’ll be at the Tech-FSU game rooting for the Yellow Jackets. I’ve actually put in some theoretical results for this weekend’s games and the computer has the winner of GT-FSU moving up to #3 or 4 pretty much regardless of what else happens. I think it’s almost impossible for the selection committee to put GT in the playoff (top 4) even with a convincing win but would be worth considering especially if a couple of the 10-1/11-1 teams lose.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Think!

Over the years, I’ve been accused of not sharing enough information and being vague about my plans, but I also am often the one trying to plan activities in advance more than other people. A few times I’ve been accused of giving too much information or being too persistent in getting other people to commit to things, so I don’t quite know where the happy medium is. I guess it's different for everyone. Regardless of the specific situation, I aim to encourage other people to think and reach their own conclusions rather than feed them information, even when it is on a subject that I am an expert on.

When I was a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech, I asked people to explain things rather than simply look at the result and checking the work as done. College, especially in engineering, is about learning how to solve problems more than anything else. In presentations, I asked tough questions like why they chose a particular algorithm for controlling their robot. All too often, teachers give a formula and say it applies in these circumstances so all they have to do is plug in numbers into a formula (or in the case of non-math based classes, recall facts that they memorized). In the real world, things rarely if ever fit that mold - we'll generally have time to look up the formulas or facts but what is critical is knowing how to use that information. Essay questions, particularly those that get students to put their thoughts into coherent sentences and articulate rather than regurgitate what was in the book are great and help create a strong level of understanding.

As a bridge teacher, I try to teach people what to think about during a bridge deal rather give them formulas for what to bid and what to lead. Of course, students always like the plug and chug methods because they are easier and require less brain power. When a beginning student asks if he should open 1H with a particular hand, I ask “What does 1H show? Does your hand fit that description?” When a beginning bridge student asks which card he should play, I ask “why do you want to play that card or that suit” and remind him of the few general guidelines (like leading top of sequences, leading partner’s suit, etc) and “what might happen if you play that card”. Even beginners can intuitively figure out the right plays when forced to think about the right things and visualize potential outcomes. The problem is many people were never taught a proper thought process, particularly for defense. When he asks if he should bid again, I ask whether he has already shown and whether he has something close to that, and whether his partner made a forcing bid. In bridge, what you can assume from the student varies widely depending on their level, but everyone should have some base from which you should assume they know or can figure out something and work toward something more.

As a friend, I also apparently want to try to make others think and connect the dots by leaving out bits of information. This probably isn’t quite as good a quality as being friends isn’t supposed to be exercise of the mind like school and work and bridge are. Basically, I don’t like telling people how to get places or trying to give them directions or telling them what time they need to leave to get somewhere on time, in much the same way you probably don’t like having a back seat driver or your mom nagging you to clean your room and brush your teeth. We all have smartphones and GPS now so we can fend for ourselves if you give us an address, right? We’ll meet at X time ay Y place. The end. I will assume you can handle all the intermediate steps like planning your day to meet the schedule, making arrangements with whoever else is needed, driving, parking, taking toilet breaks, and calling if you’ll be late or need help with something. Time and time again I get bitten by this because some people just need the details spelled out.

While playing bridge when, it is assumed that my partner is already thinking plenty, I like to do what I can to guide him to the right decision. Similar to the other examples, he still has to think and process the information and form his own conclusion. I often times hear other people say “well, I told you to lead hearts when I discarded a high heart.” I think that is fundamentally a bad way to look at signaling. Giving an encouraging heart signal more appropriately is saying, “I have a preference for hearts (possibly because I have good hearts, because I want to trump hearts, or because I have nothing useful anywhere but this looks lease detrimental)”. Regardless, partner has the right and obligation to think and decide for himself, based on his hand and other clues, whether to agree to your suggestion or take an alternate defense. I would rather partner take time, think, and come up with some reason for his play, whether right or wrong, than to play quickly not considering the options. Anyone who plays bridge with me can tell you that the errors that bother me way more than the other are ones that come as a result of not taking time to think about a play that would be clear if you took a few seconds to analyze the situation. If you think, then you must have some rationale and if you have rationale, all is good. The logic used to get there may be flawed but it's a heck of a lot better than having no logic.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Memorable Atlanta regional

The Atlanta regional last week was one of the most memorable tournaments. Emory was inducted to the Georgia Bridge Hall of Fame, and Bryan and I teamed with Emory and Olin for a respectable showing - 2nd in a KO, 3rd in Sunday Swiss, and just missed overalls in the Monday Swiss. We ended up being the only team to beat Meckwell all week (in the semis of a KO). In addition to the bridge and the ceremony, I had a ton of fun hanging out with some really awesome friends.
 
A critical deal in that match was when Levin and Weinstein had the uncontested auction 1C-1H; 1S-5C; P. What do you think he should have for this 5C call? Basically, is it exclusion or natural? I believe it's exclusion, that's what I thought at the table, and that's what Levin intended. I'd be interested in hearing their post mortem about this. Meanwhile a bunch of good players were pretty much split on the issue but many said they wouldn't bid it without having previously discussed it. Tim Crank had the interesting idea that it should be exclusion but for hearts instead of spades. For spades, you can splinter and then bid exclusion; there are lots of ways to bid clubs (and 5C natural here is a rather unilateral decision especially when the opponents aren't in the auction); but there's not really any way to set hearts and then exclusion for hearts with a club void. You'd have to go through 4th suit forcing and then bid hearts and a 5C bid over that would still be very nebulous.
 
Yesterday I finished up the September D7 News as well so like will be kind of calm for awhile for 3 weeks. After that, the fall looks busy again. I'll probably make to 8 tournaments with 4 or 5 different partners between Sept 26 and the end of the year - all just weekend trips except the Charleston regional at the end of the year.
 
I don't particularly like my column this time. There are a couple of other things I wanted to write about - relationships in bridge including drama with the youth programs/international teams, reasons people quit bridge, the bridge rating/mp system as compared to tennis/chess/scrabble - but couldn't organize my thoughts in a coherent manner.