Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monogamy in Bridge

We've all heard the saying "Bridge is like sex - If you don't have a good partner, you better have a good hand." But there really aren't many similarities between the two. Bridge players need not, in fact should not, be monogamous with their partners while in sex and relationships, monogamy is generally encouraged.

It is true that some people do well with just one bridge partner, and I see many happy couples who play almost exclusively with their spouse, but I think these people are in the minority. It takes 2 special people to get along with each other well enough for this, and even if I could get along with a spouse/significant other well at the table, I think I would still want more variety. It is well-known that established partnerships have better results than casual partnerships or pick-up partnerships from having more solid agreements, less bidding misunderstandings, and generally more comfort at the table. There are several auctions and defensive signaling situations that a first time partnership, or even a partnership that plays once in 3 months, will not have a solid enough foundation to handle well.

However, I think all good bridge players need 3 or 4 regular partnerships. For one, it is good to have a break from being across the same person all the time. Even if you have yet to get tired of each other, playing with other people for awhile will help prevent that from happening. You learn different things from different partners, you get to play different systems, and just gain a wider bridge knowledge. Likewise, once one has reached some substantial level of mastery, it is good to play a variety of different systems - no so much to master several different systems but to learn about them and be ready when the opponents play some strange system. I mean, surely it is easier to defend against precision if you have at some point played precision, and it is easier to defend against canape if you have played canape enough to learn some of the little nuances that aren't always alerted or even practical to alert all the little negative inferences that can sometimes be available to someone playing a "foreign" system.

I tend to think I have 4 regular partnerships with a couple more probably in the works - Sean, Emory, Joel, and my dad - and with these people I play 4 fairly different systems: canape Swedish club, 2/1 with lots of gadgets, 2/1 with lots of gadgets and a weak NT, and simple 2/1.

Does this having multiple partnerships transfer to romantic relationships as well. I think no, but who really knows? People in committed monogamous relationshipsare often seen seeking intimacy in other places, so maybe monogamy in romance is not our natural tendency either.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Doubling Partscores Without a Trump Stack

Around the middle Georgia clubs, I am regarded as one of the 2 or 3 best players, and am also known to be very aggressive in bidding. And I can get away with it here because I play the cards substantially better than all but maybe 1 other person, who is usually my partner. But really, it's just that I sometimes add a couple of points to my hands with the expectation of the opponents slipping a trick or two. Anyway, here are two hands where I made a close matchpoint double. In addition to these two, we also defended 2DX earlier in the session, but that one wasn't close at all as it got us 1100 and we had no game.

rst one I won't bother showing the whole hand but I held Axxx, Kxx, Kxx, QTx. Both vulnerable, partner opened 1NT, RHO bid 2D diamonds and a major, which I doubled. LHO redoubled, which was passed out. I lead a low trump and dummy comes down with a 5-3-2-3 2 count. We proceed to take 2 diamonds, a club, heart, and spade for -760 when 3NT our way has 10 easy tricks. I'll write that one down as being bad luck that the 2D bidder had 6 solid diamonds to the Q and 5 semi-solid hearts missing only the K. And how dare my LHO not take a preference to the major. 2H would go down because declarer gets tapped out of trumps (if we lead a black suit instead of trumps) but still be a bad score because there's no way it's going down 3 to make up for our +630.

A few rounds later, we come across this deal.
Dealer: South
Vul: Both

Pass1 11

Yes, I could have made a support double, and perhaps I would have doubled 3 with my partner's hand, and the double of 3 is clearly questionable. Anyway, after we cashed the first 4 tricks - AK, A, A, and then a , declarer took the line that I think is the way most people who listened to the bidding would take - a first round finesse of the 10, which led to down one here and +200 for us. By the way, I'm glad partner didn't lead another diamond, which I think is the right play at trick 5 (give me as little as 9xxx of spades and a trump promotion by leading a 3rd diamond would be the only way to surely set it), for declarer then would surely pick up the spade suit for no losers.

After the hand, east (one of the better players in the club), asks why she took the first round finesse in spades - well, I doubled so I'm more likely to have the Q. East then uses the argument that he would have played for the drop because he's playing against me and that I would double even with a bunuch of little trumps. It is true - I don't always have a trump stack when I double a partscore against vulnerable opponents in matchpoints - I do know what a matchpoint double is and how to shoot for the +200 that is sure to be a good matchpoint score while protecting our potential +110 or +140 on a hand where going -140 will be a bad score anyway. That wasn't exactly the case here. I had nothing to protect against. I just had a nuisance of 4 trumps and an indication that the hand is splitting badly for them (partner definitely has diamonds behind the diamond bidder), and it's likely a misfit (I've raised on one less trump than expected and it seems like she's running from 3D). Eventually, east said he would play the ace first because he wouldn't want to look silly losing to a stiff Q, and finessing the first round only helps if I have exactly 3 to the Q. With Qxxx, I get my trump trick no matter what. As it turns out, there were 2 other +200's on the hand and no other plusses for us but a few 110's and 90's for EW. So the double gained 1 matchpoint and whether they made 140 or 730 would make no matchpoint difference.

So, is it more likely that the doubler on this auction has doubled on exactly Qxx or has doubled on some hand without the Q? I dunno. It's close, but apparently the fact that I was the doubler makes it less likely that I hold the Q. I wouldn't blame west; she thought about the bidding enough to figure out that I was more likely to have the Q - something many novices and casual players wouldn't think about. Perhaps a better question is why west didn't open 2.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sometimes the Defenders Can Execute a Squeeze

I had an interesting hand as declarer, but it's probably more interesting a defensive hand or double-dummy problem.


RHO opened 2S and I bid 3NT. LHO led a low spade and I took RHO's king with my ace. I tested diamonds and they split well but sadly my diamonds were too good to gain an entry to take a 3rd high club. So, 5 diamonds, 2 clubs, and a spade - where is my 9th trick? Well, they have to make 3 discards each on the diamonds while dummy can safely shed another club. The opening lead marks lho with Qxx of spades (probably) so if I exit with a spade, they won't be able to untangle the suit, but then if they just put me back in with a club, I'll have to untangle the spades for them or give up the heart suit. So, against best defense, this is really unmakable. What three pitches do you make from LHO's cards: Q9x, AQxxx, Jx, Jxx?

On the actual hand, he pitched 3 hearts, so I then exited with a low heart, which he won and then tried to cash out the spades. They set up my T of spades for trick #9, but even if he makes a passive club exit after winning the HQ, I can lead another heart and then dummy's HT would have been my 9th trick. It's a little hard to see, but he needs to hold 3 hearts and depend on partner to hold Txx as the club stopper. Ducking spades twice doesn't really change the situation - lho still needs to keep a low heart so his p can get on lead with the jack - the defense needs 3 heart tricks and 2 spade tricks while keeping enough clubs to keep declarer from being able to overtake the CQ and cash clubs.

Maybe it isn't so hard to find that defense. The fact that I took trick 1 indicates that I probably have a second stopper, and it's safe to assume I have the ace of clubs and king of hearts, but definitely not 3 clubs, for I've already shown up with 4 spades and 5 diamonds. 3 clubs would leave me with a singleton king of hearts, not very likely. So, just hope partner can count too, and holds onto clubs when you start pitching them asap, before partner gets a chance to. My best chance now is to play the AQ of clubs (to take away lho's safe exit cards) and then leading a low spade. LHO has to go up with the Q and play another spade, squeezing dummy in hearts and clubs! When RHO wins the jack of spades, he has a losing spade, a losing club, and a heart while LHO still has AQx of hearts. Dummy has to come down to Tx and the CK. West scores the last 3 tricks with hearts. Kinda cool!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wins by Stratification

When I started playing bridge, I was almost always in flight A because I played mostly with my dad, so we would frequently place in the low overalls in the pair games. Being in that position (6th or 7th or so) might pay 2 or 3 masterpoints, and in a 2 session regional pairs, would usually be a score around 54-55%. That was right about where we belonged. I used to scoff at the fact that pairs in B and C could win more points than that for a lower score, and how some even won a masterpoint for a 45% game because they are flight C. There really should be some cutoff for the lowest score you can have and still win masterpoints. I kind of think anything below 50% should not win, regardless of your strat. Why do we want to reward people for playing below average bridge? And don't people feel ashamed to win points for having a bad game?

I guess it was after I had been playing 3 or 4 years that they started having the A/X stratiflighted games, and my dad and I were eligible for X. That 54% game that got us 2.5 masterpoints in the open pairs frequently placed 2nd in X for 10 points. I'm not totally sure I like this format of having A/X play separately from B/C because it takes stratification to an extra level that allows even more people with below average scores to win masterpoints, but it has gotten me a good bit of extra points and sort of gives us a handicap for our normally below average teammates. Stratiflighted events do one very good thing - people can play in the main event (whether it be the 2 session pairs or the swiss teams) and still play with peers, and it allows people with fewer masterpoints to play up and play with the top players, and also the the top players don't have to deal with any novices. Plus it allows the flight A game to be mid-chart. Bracketed knockouts don't generally allow people to play up, which kind of bothers me and has often been the reason I chose to play in A/X pairs instead of a knockout where my partner and I might be in the 3rd or 4th bracket.

This weekend with Sean in Columbia was no exception. We won a side game and then played the A/X pairs, had 53.4%, and placed in the low overalls (tied for 8th) but since we were in X, that was 3rd in X and worth over 4 points. It still amazes me how much easier it is to get a good score in side games than in open pairs. Then Sunday, we played in the A/X Swiss and had 56 VPs on a 60 average. (It was quite a feat to get back to almost average after 1 and 0 VPs the first 2 rounds) What did that get us? 10.86MP for 2/3 in X!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is Being a Bridge Bum Equivalent to Being a Prostitute?

Many of the bridge players I spend my time around now are bridge pros or are thinking about being pro or are closely related to pros, yet I still do not understand the whole concept of paying someone thousands of dollars to be your partner. On some level it's a lot like prostitution - selling yourself to someone to play together, just engaging in a different activity together - maybe prostitution for the mind instead of the body. This is part of why I didn't develop many junior bridge partnerships and a reason I lack respect for many of today's top junior players. By the time many of the juniors get good, they seek out people who would pay them to play. Do I blame them for this? I guess not, but I want the people I associate with to be good people, people that are productive members of society rather than people who help rich guys spend their money. Sorry - having some astronomical IQ and going to a community college part time with no career goals, skipping that school for weeks at a time to play bridge, and spending rich old men's money is not being productive to society.

I see lots of 20-somethings getting paid to play, and many of them I know are not better players, better partners, or better bridge teachers than me. Am I jealous of them? In some ways I am jealous that that lifestyle allows them more free time and doesn't require waking up early on weekdays but that sort of party lifestyle and laziness gets old. And I guess I am kind of jealous that they are getting apparenty more respect in the bridge world. But I reiterate that I do not want that profession or lifestyle and as a whole I am sure it would be unfulfilling. As much as I like bridge and as much fun as it can be to go to tournaments, it would severely take the fun out of it if bridge tournaments became work rather than a vacation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bridge is Easy

Sometimes bridge is an easy game. I could do no wrong last night. No matter how much my partner and I played less than optimally, we came out smelling like a rose. Sometimes that happens.  After the first round in which we missed 2 cold games, due partly to mis-sorting and partly due to unclear bidding understandings and partly due to conservative judgment. The third board was what seemed to be a relatively flat 3NT.  Anyway, we wound up with 12 out of 15 matchpoints that round, and a few rounds later, I did something I’m not sure I’ve ever done – pulled the wrong card from my hand. It was the ace of diamonds instead of the deuce of hearts. I was declarer and on lead and I had all but one of the tricks regardless of what I led, so it wasn’t a big deal.


But the hand I want to share today took place last weekend. LHO dealt and the auction went 1C-1NT and you hold:






You lead a small spade and here’s the dummy:






Dummy plays the J, partner wins the K, continues the T and then the 9, declarer taking the ace on the third round. Declarer then leads a low heart toward dummy. Suppose you win the J and cash the queen of spades, seeing dummy discard a heart, declarer a club and partner the deuce of clubs. Playing upside-down count and attitude (no special first discard like odd/even or lavinthal), What is the deuce of clubs trying to indicate to you? What do you lead next? Is declarer actually trying to set up hearts or is he throwing you in with hearts in hopes that you’ll help him out with the diamond suit, holding something like Qxx of diamonds? If he’s trying to get help in the diamond suit, why didn’t he cash some clubs first, to take out some of your safe exit cards? Would you ever play low on the heart lead?


Regardless of what carding system you use, I think a club discard when dummy holds AKQx should probably be suit preference for which red suit he prefers. At least that’s what helps here, and I can’t imagine a time when count or attitude in clubs would be important.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Takeout Double for Penalty

Bridge is not a game of deceit. You don't win at bridge by misleading the opponents. You win at bridge by describing as accurately as possible what cards you have and then figuring out how to most effectively use those cards to take tricks or get to the best contract. Making a takeout double when your best suit is the one they just bid is very misleading unless you have the agreement that double is for penalty or the totally absurd agreement that the first double just shows a good hand and later doubles are penalty. Failing to raise partner when you have 6 card support is bad partnership bridge as is rebidding lousy 5 card suits rather than preferencing to partner's "first" suit with a small doubleton, winning with the higher of touching honors, and giving wrong count at almost any point in the hand when partner could potentially care, among many other things but those all come to mind from yesterday.

I saw a hand yesterday near the end of the Nickell-Wolfson semifinal match at the Rosenblum Cup on vugraph where Zia and Hamman let the opponents make a 3NT contract that had virtually no chance. It was board 30 of the final set and it was all because Hamman gave false count in clubs, which quite reasonably led Zia to believe declarer had no entry to dummy's long club suit, Zia wrongly cashed a high card in a side suit prematurely. That nearly cost them the match.

Time and time again I see people, particularly random players in BBO, make this bid in which they first make a takeout double and then later in the same auction make a penalty double of the same suit. 1D-P-1H-X; 2D-P-2H-X; P-P-P. The doubler's hand: AJx, KQJT, Txx, QTx. The worst part is the doubler's partner "converted" to penalty with nothing in hearts and 4 good spades.
Later on, we had the auction: 1D-1S-X-2S; P-P-X-P; P. Again the doubler has spades (AQJxx) and partner opener "converts" with 2 little. How hard is it to understand that once you make a takeout double of a suit, further doubles by you in the same suit are also takeout, presumably with a little more values than you showed the first time?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Making the Proper Inferences from Canape Bidding

The notes I wrote on my personal scorecard during the Rosenblum are surprisingly not filled with notes and score estimates and marks for which ones might be blog-worthy despite playing at a slower pace than ever before. I guess that should mean that I was concentrating on actually playing rather than winning the post-mortem or finding something interesting to write about on here. I guess we just played some solid defense - and we did have to play a lot of defense. I declared a miniscule 16 hands over the 96 for which Sean and I were in, and he declared only 17. Here is board 20 from the 8th qualifying round against the China Geely Auto team.

The declarer north should have been able to make this 4SX contract against us, given the bidding (and the appropriate alert explanations). Granted, if south had not jumped straight to game, I would have bid hearts and then making the proper inferences would be easier.
Dealer: S
Vul: EW
West North East South
1 1 X 4
X Pass Pass Pass
It's not an easy hand under any circumstances, but our bidding certainly helped us here. Partner correctly led a diamond. I took the Q, A, and the heart A and then led another heart, forcing dummy to ruff. How do you plan to take all the tricks from that point. 1D was showed an unbalanced hand with 11-16 hcp, 4+ diamonds, not exactly 4 of either major, but possibly a 5 or more in a major. The double showed 6+ hcp and 3+ hearts. On my side of the screen, I was asked but I don't know about the other side, which included the declarer.

When north played the ace of spades, partner dropped the Q. Obviously, playing the other high spade will lead to victory but that's definitely not right. He then played the ace of clubs, under which I played the Q. I was kind of thinking that I need him to play me for a stiff club and Jxx of spades (assuming he also knows I am 5-4 in the reds) and to next finesse into partner's now stiff J. But he continued with another high club. Now I was sure he would get it right. I am marked with 2-5-4-2 shape, and with north-south only having 18 hcp, it's nor unreasonable that I doubled on high cards rather than a possible spade trick. But he continued playing me for Jxx of spades by ruffing a club (as I parted with a diamond), then ruffing a heart to lead another heart, attempting some sort of coup since he could not set up clubs and get to them or trump all the hearts and pick up trumps if I had 3 trumps. That would have worked if I started with something like 3-4-4-2 or 3-3-5-2, neither of which are possible distributions for a 1D opener in our canape system. Maybe he didn't ask about the alerts on his side of the screen.

Note that standard bidders don't really have any chance to defeat 4S as I would open 1H and get a heart lead, so this can kind of count as a win for canape. We would never get a diamond led through the K and declarer would surely disobey the rule of restricted choice just to avoid letting east in to lead a diamond.

Redoubled Sweetness

So, this doesn't qualify as one if our "best" bids or plays for the week but it's quite unusual.


Sean was N and opened 1NT, I bud 2C puppet like stayman, he bid 2NT minimum no 4 card major, I bid 3H smolen, lho now decides to double. Sean redoubles, which surely means I have good 3 card support and you might want to play it here. I tank and pass. With both black kings in the slit and the doubler having only AKQ9 of trumps, bringing in the contract for +760 was no problem.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Butler Scores

So, we finished with a very respectable 118 VPs on a 135 average in the Rosenblum and a 3-5 record. But it was some of the best bridge Sean and I have played together, except going for 1400 against air on the last deal in an otherwise win 60 round. And it showed in the butler (imp pair scores) as we finished the 3 day round robin at +0.19 imps per board and our teammates were -0.48 and -0.63.

That is all for today. I'm now enjoying drink number 8 for the evening with my favorite drinking buddy Alli.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rosenblum Adventures

So, I don't think anyone on our 6 person junior team playing for free and for fun thought we had any significant chance of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Rosenblum. I think I was the most optimistic, but that kind of changed after day 1 of the group stage when we were last in our group of 9 with 26 victory points on a 45 average. Today was a much better day - we probably wouldn't have thought it would be since we were playing the #1 and 2 seeds in our group of 9 and had a bye for the third match. As it turns out, we are still last in our group, but we are now at 81 VPs on a 90 average after a small win over the #2 seed and a big 28 imps win over the top seed, the Zambonini team from Poland. That 16 board match was the slowest bridge I have ever been involved in. With no breaks, we played the first 14 boards in 131 minutes, then the directors started hovering and the last 2 finished in another 10 minutes. Needless to say, it wasn't Sean and I that were slow - we were slower than our usual 5 min/board pace but nowhere near the 9.4 min/board pace the table was at.

That was perhaps one of the most fun sets of bridge I have played, but it started poorly. They made 4HX on board 2, which I think can be defeated but I'm still not sure. I'll have to look at a hand record later. Lose 11 to 170 at the other table. Board 3 our teammates failed to get to a good grand slam for another lose 11. On board 4, we had a system failure that caused us to sell out to 2C making instead of competing to 2S, which also makes. From there it was 56-2 in favor of us. I'll look at the hands more closely later, but I think this world class Polish pair kind of self-destructed, having some difficulty handling our canape system.

One auction that I am kind of amused by is when I opened 2C showing 11-16 either with 6+ clubs or 4 clubs and a 5 card major. LHO bid 4D and my rho held Qxxx, QJxxxxx, x, x, and elected to pass. They went down, losing 3 diamonds and the ace of clubs, when 5S is cold, but should 4D be leaping michaels there? Sean's screen-mate (the 4D bidder) thought it was 90% leaping michaels and my screenmate gave no explanation. I guess I am on the side that thinks it is leaping michaels, but looking at rho's hand, it sure seems like he may just have a reasonably big hand with long diamonds, and clearly this hand is worth virtually nothing in a diamond contract.

Anyway, with 3 matches left, against the #3, 5, and 8 seeds in our bracket, including the French under 26-team, we are only 26 VPs behind first and should have a decent chance to maybe Q to the round of 64, but this bracket is really bunched up as in most brackets the spread between first and last is between 60 and 70 VPs.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Squeezes are more fun than finesses


West led a 4th best spade against my 2NT and east to the Q, A, and
shifted to a heart. West won the A and led another spade to dummy,
making east squirm, eventually parting with a small club. How do you
play from here? Clearly a heart finesse is called for but there are a
few things to consider like the fact that the heart lead allows you to
get 3 tricks in the suit if the suit is 3-3, as it was this time, and
you probably should consider what might happen to people in 3NT. A
reasonable amount of people will get to 3NT so perhaps you should play
for the cards to lie such that 3NT could go down.
Anyway, I had 8 sure tricks - spade, 2hearts, 3diamonds, and 2 clubs -
with chances for another heart, 2more diamonds, and/or another club.
So, I took the heart finesse, cashed the K, seeing the 3-3 split. Next
came the diamond ace and the last heart, gathering another club from
rho and spade from lho, and a diamond from me. Then lho pitches
another spade on the third big diamond. So in the 3 card ending (with
7 tricks in the bag), I have Ajx in dummy opposite Kx and a losing
diamond, knowing rho has 2clubs and the diamond J and lho has 3 clubs.
So, do I finesse clubs or not? Does it matter whether it's matchpoints
or imps?
Honestly I was playing to squeeze east in the minors the whole time
and went through with it. Maybe it was a table feel thing or just
wanting to make a more dramatic play near the end of a bad session.
Alas, the Q did not fall under the A and K so I made only 3 but I
think it would have made for a neat squeeze even though it is
mathematically more likely that lho has the Q. But I think it's right
because having the club Q offside is the only way 3NT might go down.
That was one of the most interesting hands from the Athens sectional
yesterday, where my dad and I had a pair of 56% games.
Sent from my iPhone

Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Minute Planning for Philly

I had been toying with the idea of going to Philadelphia for awhile. At first I didn't think I would have adequate vacation time after the 10 day trip to the summer nabc in New Orleans but I guess I always wanted to go for a few days. And Philly is actually one of the cities where I think I might actually want to do touristy things. So, when attempts to get someone to play the mixed pairs with me the first 3 days of the tournament, I kind of gave up until early this week I started thinking that it's kind of silly for me to not go. A bridge event this big doesn't come so close - a mere 2 hour plane ride away - very often.

So, I entertained the idea of playing in the junior individual the last 3 days of the tournament but I kind of realized that my main motivation for wanting to play in that is to prove to other American juniors, most of whom I don't even like, that I'm every bit good enough to be on one of the USA teams again. But what can I say? When they had the trials for this, I didn't even want to play. I take pride in not caring much about getting major recognition for bridge, for keeping bridge as a fun social activity rather than the meaning of my existence so I'm glad I won't be going to play in that random event. I used to think individual games were great - almost non-existent in the bridge world today but it sure forces people to know what standard bridge is, to follow the same bidding and carding system and therefore might be the best indicator of who the best pure player is, without the little nuances that you learn from having an established partnership. But now, I really don't think an individual game would be much fun, except maybe at a club Christmas party or something like that. But playing with a partner I like at the table and away from the table is fun.

Anyway, I then made some attempt to get a partner for the imp pairs the 2nd week of the tournament but those thoughts didn't last long when I realized there's no junior discount for that and any partner I played with wouldn't be a junior. Then last Thursday night, Sean decided he wanted to go and could get away from school, and we actually got a decent-looking junior team, and teams of all juniors play free in the Open Teams (Rosenblum Cup), so here I am getting set to play tomorrow with Sean, Daniel Lavee and Samantha Nystrom from Canada, and Kaura Ginnan and Max Henbest from Australia.