Friday, September 24, 2010

Wingman Day Poker

I don't play much poker. Bridge and scrabble are my games. But today was the annual wingman day at work, not too unlike a middle school field day. So it was mostly a time for us engineers to be 13 again for a day. But one event - poker - didn't really for in with the rest: volleyball, tug of war, kickball, basketball, board games, and a dunking tank.

Since I am well known around here as an bridge expert, even by the people who are clueless about the game, they expected me to dominate at poker. This is the fourth year I've been here for this and I have yet to be much above the middle of the pack. Anyway, there were 56 players and I disappointingly went out in 43rd. I had a few small gains and hadn't really lost any chips until this hand which was my last.

I got AT of hearts. The flop was QT4, all different suits. With a 50 big blind, it's 3 checks to me and I raise 150 in the flop with middle pair and top kicker. 2 people call. The turn is a ten, someone in front of me raises 300, called by me and another. The river is another Q and lady in front of me (not the person who raised previously) goes all in, about 1500 in chips, which I called with about the same amount left. And as you might guess now my tens full of queens lost to her queens full of tens.

Perhaps it is time to start hosting a poker game at my house. Maybe it'll help me actually start having a social life in Warner Robins again rather than having my friends (at least my friends who are close to my age) in Atlanta, Winston Salem, Hong Kong, Wisconsin, Seattle, NYC, and Pittsburgh, among other places.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Montreal Relay - Not Something I'll Be Promoting Any Time Soon

As many of you know, I have a certain fascination with Montreal even though I still have never been there. However, I very much dislike the Montreal relay convention. I had heard of it before but had never played it and it may well be my new least favorite convention in bridge. I was coerced into playing last night. I rarely play in the Wednesday game in Macon but there was supposedly a very good player passing through who wanted to play and they called me to partner her, but she insisted on Montreal relays but called it by another name, Kennedy. Maybe it's a south florida thing. Here is the summary:
After a standard 1C opening (or a could be as short as 2 but natural):

1D is normal response values but artificial promising no 5 card major and at least one 4 card major. Thus, opener must bid a 4 card major if he has one next and minor suit lengths are still ambiguous.
1M response promises 5 and 1NT denies a 4+ card major.

Yes, it is true that this system will get opener playing your 4-4 fits and you will find 5-3 fits sooner. That is what people seem to think is the advantage of this little convention. However, it really slows down the process of finding the 4-4 fits, especially when they bid over 1D. Now you are kind of clueless as to whether this is a total misfit hand or youhave a fit and need to be competing. Are 5-3 fits really that hard to find after a normal 1C-1M start? With so many ways to check back for 3 card support and support doubles, responder promising a 5 card major at the 1 level seems very unnecessary. Getting the opener to play the hand may be a very slight advantage when you wind up in a partscore, but by the same token, you get responder playing 1NT when you don't have a fit. And when responder has a stronger hand, who gets to declare is pretty irrelevant, so that little plus is a wash.

A couple of rounds into it, I picked up AKTx, AJT, Jx, AQxx and dutifully opened 1C and she bid 1D (alert). I would hate to bid 1S and then have her play NT even though she specifically said that a NT rebid by opener would deny a 4 card major. So I bid 2NT anyway and, yes, we missed a spade fit. 2NT is rarely passed. Why not checkback for a 4 card major, even bid 3S if you're not sure 3 of a minor would be forcing?

This is like the anti-Walsh convention, and I like Walsh. Walsh is little more than bypassing any number of diamonds to bid a 4 card major in response to 1C. That way opener can then bypass a 4 card major after 1C-1D because responder either has no 4 card major or has enough points to bid it now, over 1NT. You get the bigger hand playing 1NT more often, which is probably more useful than getting the big hand playing 2M. And you find out about possible fits sooner so that interference doesn't cause such a problem.

Obviously I'm going to like Walsh better because I like canape and Walsh is kind of canape-ish. True canape would bid a 4 card major before a 5 card diamond suit regardless of suit strength (not only with minimum responses as in Walsh), and true canape would bid a 4 card a diamond suit before a 5 card major in response to 1C, which isn't such a bad idea if your partner is in on it too.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm all for finding out the 4-4 major suit fits as soon as possible so any system or convention that delays bidding 4 card majors isn't going to rank very high on my list.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Safety Play: 9 cards missing the QJ

A9xxx opposite KTxx

This is a holding all good bridge players are familiar with and at least think about taking the safety play, but it is something that many somewhat new players may not realize. A priori, the percentage play to take the most tricks in the suit is to play the AK first but only very slightly. This holding most often leads to an application of the rule of restricted choice. When you play one of the high honors and the Q or J drops, it is right to finesse for the other honor if possible. It's also good technique to start by leading low toward one of the honors rather than just lead the big honor first. That way, when second hand is void, you can still pick up the suit for one loser. This play leads to taking all 5tricks 46% of the time and on average yields 4.42 tricks. But 5% of the time, you'll have to lose two tricks (a 4-0 split is 10% but you can pick up one of the 4-0's by leading low and seeing the void in time to adjust and hold it to 1 loser). So, clearly this is the best way to play the suit in matchpoints unless you are in a good contract that you think the field will not get to.

In imps, however, a safety play may be called for. If you need to guarantee that you get 4 tricks in the suit, lead low and finesse either the T or 9 when second hand follows. Still apply the rule of restricted choice when second hand plays an honor. This will yield 4 tricks every time and might get you 5 tricks if second hand is lazy and doesn't split the honors from QJx. So, this is not a safety play to be taken at matchpoints but may have it's place at imps. Here is an example from a hand played today on BBO.



In 3NT, on a heart lead, you have 5 major suit tricks and probably need 4 diamond tricks to make the contract. Otherwise the defense will get enough heart tricks to set you (unless the person with the diamonds has the ace of clubs and only 3 hearts, in which case you can afford to lose 2 diamonds after ducking the 2nd round of hearts but not the 3rd). Yes, many if not most people will make it to 3NT but some might get carried away and go down in 6D so giving up a chance to make 4 is probably worth taking a safety play in diamonds. Win trick 1 with the K in dummy and play a diamond to the 9 at trick 2, and you will be rewarded when west shows out.

As a side note, I see many players, even some rather experienced players, who insist on playing to for the drop instead of a finesse holding 10 cards in the suit missing the K. Yes, there is a 13% chance that you will find a singleton K offside but that is the only case that play will win over a finesse while a finesse wins over the drop when there is Kx or Kxx onside. A 2-1 split is 78% and the chance that the 1 is the K is 1/3 of that or 26%. A 3-0 split occurs 22% of the time and playing for the drop will never work so 26+0 = 26%. A finesse is 50%. 50% or 26% - tough choice...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Double Dummy Solver has a slightly cool feature in its free downloadable program that calculates the par result on any hand. Well, I guess there are actually several programs that do that nowadays but this one allows you to input your bbo hands with the click of a few buttons. Then it calculates your imp score against par. Now, it is a bit unreasonable to expect par to be an average score on all the boards, particularly when the par result is something absurd like bidding 7NT that happens to make on 2 3-3 splits and a finesse or something like that.

So, yesterday I played 58 hands, mostly with Sean and wound up the day about -2 imps, but when imped against par, I was +81 imps. Does that mean the BBO field last night was incredibly unbalanced? We all know the BBO field is not very strong but this is a ridiculous difference. And over the past week, in 154 BBO hands, almost all with Sean and Mili as my partner, I have been -80 imps (not a great week of bridge for me) but when imped versus par, it is +86 imps. Wow.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Miniroman 1D

If you ever play precision, please don't do it the way one pair at the
local club plays. Basically, here is their opening bid structure:
1C any 16+
1D 11-15 w singleton diamond or 15 bal
1H/1S/2C/2D 11-15 5+ card suit
1NT 11-14

While I'm actually not a fan of precision, I do believe the best way
to play it is:
1C any 16+
1D 11-15 4+
1H/1S 11-15 5+
1NT good 12-15 (including most 5422's w/o 5M
2C 6C
2D 11-15 3 suited w short diamonds (including 3415's w/o 5M)

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

To Finesse for the Q or Not

Between sessions Sunday, Bryan and I were having a discussion about the correct way to play a trump suit with a 9 card fit missing the AQ. One of my friends played Weinstein in a KO and Weinstein correctly guessed to play low to the K, picking it up for 1 loser when Ax was in from of KJT9x with no interfering bidding. It must have been one of those table feel plays. At the other table, the play was low to the J for down 1 in a game and lose 12 in a match that was otherwise even.


With no other information about the hand, the percentage way to play the suit for 1 loser is low to the J. Comparing that to low to the K, it wins when 2nd hand has Qx, Qxx, AQx, AQxx and loses when 2nd hand has Ax or Axx. In all other layouts (any singleton onside or AQ offside), both lines come to the same number of tricks.


In the first round of our evening match. I had a trump suit in a spade partial (after rho had opened, I overcalled 1S and lho bid 1NT) with KJx in dummy and 97xxxx. Naturally, I played low to the J, losing to the stiff Q. With this bidding, low to the jack is definitely right, but interesting to note that this is pretty much the same as the previous hand except I don't have the spots. Low to the K now a slightly higher percentage play because the case where lho has Qxx is no longer a win for finessing the J (because Qxx is actually QT8 and still results in 2 losers).


A little later in the round, I got irritated when when the declarer thought he has taking a backward finesse when he was really just making a bad play by playing for the drop instead of a simple finesse for the Q with 8 trumps. With no potential problems of getting tapped out or us getting a ruff, declarer had Kx in hand and AJ98xx in dummy and no opposing bidding or any useful information about our distribution. So he plays low to the A and then leads the 9 back. I covered with the now-stiff Q, thus he made a game that I was sure Mili would go down in by doing the normal thing of playing the K and then low to the J. She did go down, and I'm glad. If you really want to finesse me for the Q, lead the J off dummy first. In this case, that's roughtly equivalent to playing for the drop, assuming you plan to finesse the 9 when the J is covered. (If you're not going to finesse the 9 next, it's worse than playing for the drop because you may have wasted the J to pick up a stiff Q.) Anyway, this picks up QTxx offside for one loser when all other lines must lose 2 tricks on that layout so it can only be right if rho is known to have trump length. Fortunately, as is usually the case playing reasonably weak players, I stole it back soon enough.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ATL regional fun

So, as I get close to 2000 masterpoints, I have 18 blue ribbon qualifications, but, until today, had not won a regional knockout. Most times I play maybe 2 days of pairs and the Swiss teams on the final day so it's not that I haven't had success at regionals - just haven't played many knockouts. (correction - I went back and looked at all my records and actually, I was mistaken. I apparently won a KO at the 2006 ATL regional with Coberly, Owen and someone) And to get this win, Bryan and I teamed with Mili and Angie - a team in which my partner and I had 97% of the team total and are nearly double their age. We got to the final against Richard and Andrew Jeng, Zandy, and Murphy and it donned on me that I was in a no-win situation. If we win, it was expected - the kids aren't supposed to stand much chance against two very experienced players like Bryan and I. If we lose, it would be kind of embarrassing for us, or it would make the girls feel bad for "bringing us down". Bringing us down was not how it happened at all. They consistently came back with good results. Anyway, at the half we were up 19 and the second half was looking bad from my end. I felt like we had given up the lead plus about 10 more in the first 4 boards, had a few average-ish boards and then on the last board we didn't get to a cold game with 25hcp. So, to win by 16 for the whole session was a pleasant surprise.

The first 3 matches in the KO were fairly easy victories. It was kind of nice to play low-stress bridge against relatively weak competition and not play very well and still win. I was slightly concerned that we would win up playing against bad players who were also annoying but our opponents were all pleasant and not as bad as they could have been in bracket 2 (out of 2) at the end of the tournament.

Earlier in the weekend, Bryan and I won the Friday night BAM with Jourdain Patchett and Sharon Meng and had a good showing in the flight A pairs Saturday.

Anyway, here is the hand from the final that garnered the most discussion. Board 2, I picked up Qxxx, x, K9xxx, Jxx in 3rd seat favorable vulnerability. I open 1H, Richard doubles, partner bids 2D as 4 card drury, passed back to Richard who doubled again, all pass. We found our 8 card fit and went down 1 to win only 2 because Mili and Angie only got to 3H. 4H their way was pretty much cold.

But my favorite and probably Bryan's favorite hand was this slam we bid in the 2nd round. Our slam bidding success was pretty bad. We went down in 5 slams and made only this one, which could have been beaten



They had just gotten what I fully expected to be lose 13 when he neglected to take a simple trump finesse for the Q, thus picking up my Qx off-side and making the vul game. We bid to 6H, doubled by lho, after bryan opened 1NT. No diamond lead so the contract might have a chance. LHO had all 5 outstanding hearts and clearly shouldn't have doubled because it gave Bryan a hint as to how to play the heart suit. You don't quite have enough entries to shorten dummy's trumps to execute a coup, but when the defender failed to ruff a club until the 5th round (after pitching both of dummy's diamonds), it was pretty easy: CA, HJ covered and won, CK, CQ pitching D, CJ pitching diamonds (lho pitching spade), spade AK-ruff, losing only the heart 10. To exxecute the coup, you would need to trump lots of things in dummy and wind up leading from hand at trick 12 with K9 left in dummy and Tx left with lho but I think the best you legitimately can do is be in hand to lead a good club at trick 11 while dummy still has 3 trumps and lho has only 2. If only it were an actual coup..

Thursday, September 2, 2010

At What Point Is Bridge No Longer Fun?

I take pride in the fact that I don't take this game too seriously - serious enough to be picky about who I play with and to be competitive at all levels but not serious enough that I lose any sleep over anything bridge-related or let it interfere with the game being fun. I take pride in the fact that I play with good people - not always the best available partners or teammates but people I enjoy being around and other people who have a good balance between bridge as a competitive game but also a leisurely activity.

As the excitement for the world championships in Philadelphia next month builds up, I see many of the juniors on the USA teams playing online and I kind of wish I was on one of the teams and I kind of regret not making any effort to be on one of the teams. I'm sure I'm as good as many if not most of the 12 USA juniors that will be representing in Philly. But then I remember that my only established partnership with another junior is with Sean and I'm certainly not encouraging missing a week or more of classes in the first semester, and that's still a relatively new partnership, and it is Philadelphia, not nearly one of the best places to get a paid trip to. Then I also remember how much less fun bridge is when played so seriously. Only 2 times before have I played at a tournament for more than 3.5 days in a row - 8 days the nationals this past summer and 6 days at the FISU tournament 2 years ago - and by the last day or two, bridge wasn't fun anymore, and the quality of my play was significantly worse than the first couple of days. If I get used to playing in long tournaments, then maybe the small tournaments will stop being enjoyable.

So, I'm thinking about going to Philly, maybe for a 3 day weekend either the first or 3rd weekend of October but my priorities are in line - Saturday October 9 is Georgia Tech homecoming, and some much needed time with the former classmates. Anyone want to go with me to Philly the first weekend? It looks like the Mixed Pairs is Saturday to Monday October 2-4. That would fit my schedule perfectly. I just don't exactly have a regular female partner. I guess Alli and Mili and Shaz are kind of close to being regular partners but not like Sean or Emory.
Anyway, I'm off to the Atlanta regional tomorrow afternoon for 3.5 days of bridge with Bryan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't Gloat

Do you ever play against people that just really irritate you? Of course, we all have, whether it be for the place they keep their convention card, the fact that they don't know what a proper takeout double is, the way they turn the played boards, the way the place the cards on the table, their analysis of the hands, the fact that they criticize partner at every opportunity, the way they don't claim when they have all trumps and aces left, or simply the way the look at you. Most of those are just little pet peeves that aregenerally nothing to legitimately be concerned with but sometimes it can be down right rude.

Take, for example, a player who is in 2SX making an overtrick when the defense has no chance to set it. The player goes on and on during the hand and after about how it was cold and how his partner made a good bid and how they just got a top and that the opponent made a stupid double. Or maybe the player who was just defending 3HX and set it for 1400 but goes on for awhile about how they should have gotten it for 1700. Or maybe, a player psyched or semi-psyched a 1S overcall and got the opponents to a doomed 3NT instead of the makable 4S. After the hand, the pair praises each other for their "good bidding" and tells the opponents they should have bid 4S or how they got a top by screwing the opponents by making a bid or play that was onorthodox. Just accept your good score and move on. You can laugh about it and talk about how you "got 'em" after the round is over but while you're still at the table, spare them the embarrassment. Would you like it if your opponents shoved your bad boards in your face like that? No, you'd want them to keep quiet and move on.

This all qualifies as gloating. It is rude, and is something I have very little tolerance for unless everyone at the table is drinking. It is probably not as bad as the angry player who critiques his partner after every hand or gives unwanted lessons, especially bad lessons. It is just bad etiquette and very unsportsmanlike. It is also the reason there are many bridge players, particularly juniors, who I have lost respect for or refused to play with. You can be confident and show that you're a better bridge player without having to tell people about it all the time. Let your score do the talking. If you beat 'em by 50 imps while being pleasant the whole time, they're realize that you're good, and they'll respect you more than if you beat em by 30 (dropping 20 imps by doing silly crap and not getting away with it) but make sure they realize when you've stolen a good board from them.