Monday, January 31, 2011

Wilmington Regional Success

This month has easily been my most successful bridge month, winning 8 free plays in 16 tournament sessions. This whole dressing up thing is really worth it. People are nicer to me (well, 98% of the peole are nice to me anyway but now it's like 100%) and it's somehow easier to ignore the little annoying things many people do. Maybe it's the outfits. Maybe it's the winning. I don't know.

In Wilmington, NC for the last 3 days of the regional, Sean and I had 4 sessions in the A/X pairs, each between 57.34% and 62.50%. That was good for a first and third and we were quite pleased. Sunday, we managed 2nd in X in the Swiss. Sean may have found some success away from the bridge table, too. ;)

Anyway, I'm sure I did lots of good things (although winning pair games isn't so much about doing brilliant things as it is about giving the opponents a chance to make a mistake and not screwing up the easy hands), but today I am writing about my one and only possible declarer play mistake this week. It was round 9 Saturday night and I knew we were still well in the hunt to be first overall for a second straight day, but I was a lazy declarer here.

Dealer: N
Vul: Both

♣ J93
♣ Q7642


Pass2Pass 3 
Pass 3Pass3
Pass 3NTAllPass

We had a canapé auction but the same concepts should apply here as in a 2/1 auction. I generally think 3is asking for a heart stopper and then 3NT over the 3♠ as showing a tentative heart stopper. I thought one of us should have bid 4♠ instead of 3NT but I'm not sure who. Anyway, In 3NT I got the 2 lead. I ducked twice and then quickly played AK, kind of figuring that even if I have to lose a diamond, they can only take 1 more heart and I'd still make the contract. I didn't bother checking to see about their leads until after the hand was over when I found out they play 3rd/5th leads against NT. Even knowing that, it's not entirely clear whether west led a 3 or 5 card suit since the auction kind of screamed for a heart lead. 4♠ is almost sure to make 4, even with a diamond loser and 5 or 6 if you pick up diamonds for no losers (depending on whether you pick up the Q). But will the field be in 4♠? Doubtful. It's probably going to be a 1-2-2♠-3♣-3NT auction at most tables. That puts the other hand on lead but that auction strongly suggests a heart lead as well. So the number of spades you could make is not too important in determining how to play the hand.

Had I "known" that hearts were splitting 5-3 from checking their CC, does that make the double finesse in diamonds the percentage play? At matchpoints? I'm not so sure but it's definitely something I should have thought about. It loses an overtrick when east has singleton or doubleton honor (but not QJ tight, assuming you follow the rule of restricted choice), but gains when west has QJx(x). Additionally, it gives up the option to finesse spades later and get more overtricks as the spade entry to hand would be needed to lead diamonds thereby limiting you to 10 tricks when diamonds are right unless there's ♠Qx. Interesting hand.
The results: 690, 3x660, 650, 600, 2x150, 5x-100, so 1 pair found the safer 4♠, 2 played presumably a diamond partscore, and those that made 3NT mostly made overtricks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bridge Etiquette: Giving Partner Unauthorized Information By Asking The Wrong Questions

Last night I was in 3rd seat favorable vulnerability. Our auction goes P-P-1H-P-1S. At this point RHO says:

"Are you playing that system you were playing with that girl where you bid your weak suits first and then bid your strong suit later?"
"No, pretty much normal bridge today."

Guess what RHO's heart suit looked like. I raised to 2♠ and that ended the auction. What's funny is that I actually hand a canape hand that I decided to open in my GOOD 4 card heart suit instead of my 5 card club suit. While it is true that opening 1 on this hand type regularly would require a pre-alert (not an alert on the actual bid), this was a tactical deviation, not uncommon in 3rd seat, and our convention card does say we may open 4 card majors in 3rd and 4th seat, although that is meant for hands more like: ♠xxx, AKJx, Ax, ♣xxxx. Opening 4 card majors has always been in black on a convention card so it never requires an alert, just a pre-alert if it frequently has a longer side suit.

I have always been one to get annoyed with people easily, but some bridge things have started bothering me more lately, largely thanks to Sean. :( One of the most common times this happens is when people ask if a 2 opening showed diamonds but there are others, like asking whether a 1 opening showed hearts. It frequently gives away unauthorized information to your partner - that you have the suit they bid! Inexperienced players often don't realize this so I can usually answer their questions nicely and not think anything of it, but when a good player, or at least a player who should know better, does this, it is irritating.

On a related note, Friday, Meg opened 1NT and we had the auction: 1NT-(2♠)-3NT-P-P-P. 3NT was alerted and LHO asked before passing over 3NT:
"Are you playing Lebensohl?"
"Okay." Pass.

After the final pass, LHO asked: "Will you explain to my partner what Lebensohl is?"
Meg says "You can't ask for your partner."
"Well, then explain it to me."

If she had just started with "please explain" from the very beginning, there would have been no issue but once it became clear that she did not need a further explanation but only wanted it for her partner's benefit (so her partner wouldn't lead into Meg's AQ, maybe), it became unethical. I think Meg went ahead and reluctantly said that it showed game values without a spade stopper.

Monday, January 17, 2011


It feels good to see my name at the top of the masterpoint list for the Macon sectional. Except for a 95ish table sectional in Valdosta a few years ago where I won about 16MP, this is the first time I've been the masterpoint leader for a whole tournament, but that's mostly because I rarely play a whole tournament. No one tried to refer to Meg as Dana, although 2 people who certainly had not met Meg before talked as if they had seen her with me at the Macon club before.

Anyway, here's an amusing hand from our third match in the Swiss. It was a turning point for us.We were at 23VPs on a 20 average after losing to one of the top teams in round 2 and already went down in a makable game in this round.
We had the following auction:
1♣-P-1♠-P; 2-P-3♠-P; 4NT-P-5-P; 6♠-X-P-P; 6NT-X-P-P; P.
1♣ was a weak NT or any big hand, 1♠ was 8+ with 4+ spades, 2 was natural game forcing, 3♠ showed a self-sufficient suit, 5 showed 3 keycards. A fairly straightforward auction. My rho, a good player, doubled and Meg quickly corrected to 6NT and we had 12 top tricks as long as Meg's ♣K stayed protected on opening lead. The doubler had like an 11-count with ♣AQ.

Meg had ♠Q, AKJxxx, AKx, ♣Kxx
I had ♠AKJxxxxx, -, Tx, ♣JTx

Doubling 6NT only cost 1 imp because they stopped in game at the other table but passing 6♠ and getting a club lead would have been disastrous to us. The next hand they were pushing and bid a 6 slam off 2 cashing aces so we came away with a big win and did not look back after that.

Doubling a slam generally calls for the lead of dummy's first bid suit, but in this case, since 1♣ was artificial, is dummy's first bid suit clubs or hearts? I tend to think the double would ask for a heart lead, but most others think it calls for a club lead. Eh.

Slams Come back to Back

I just finished the first of probably many weekends of bridge with Meg. It was quite satisfying and one my most successful sectionals ever - only a 200ish table sectional but we racked up over 23 master points with a first and a second in pair games, and first in the Swiss.

Playing in the last round against the team tied with us for the lead, they bid 6 making on board 6. On board 7, they managed to stop in 5 with 12 easy tricks in either major. There's an adage that slams come back to back but it's kind of amazing how often that is actually the case. On board 8, rho opened 1 and I bid 4♠ at unfavorable vulnerability. LHO had an interesting hand: ♠Qxxx, -, AJTx, ♣KQTxx. She opted to double but they were cold for 7 of either minor. It's hard to not double at this vulnerability but man this was a powerful hand. Thankfully our teammates (Enrico Beretta and Jimmy Fordham) bid 2 out of the 3 slams for enough to win the match and the event.

Here is a fairly simple gland slam to bid from the pair game we won.
♠AKxx, KJTxxx, x, ♣AK
♠QJx, AQxx, AKQx, ♣xx

1♣ showed a weak NT or any big hand. 1 showed 8+ w 4+hearts. 3 was a splinter. One thing many people don't understand is that the 5NT continuation over the blackwood response is a gland slam try. Then after showing the king of clubs, the blackwood asker then bids 6 to still show some grand slam interest. Clearly the opening bidder should bid 7 at this point but why jump to 7? 6♠ is the proper bid over 6 to show the spade king in case that helps partner decide which grand to bid. Knowing opener has the spade king makes 13 tricks in NT countable, while the jump to 7 I think might suggest that we may need to trump a spade or ruff out diamonds or something like that to make 7. But getting to a grand was enough for a good score in this field.

But one of the most amusing hands of the tournament was in the 5th round of the Swiss. We had had a bunch of flat-ish boards and I thought we needed a swing to get a big win so in third seat favorable vulnerability, I get ♠Tx, KQTxx, xxx, ♣Qxx. I opened 1♠, Meg bids 1NT, which gets passed out. RHO leads a low heart and LHO asks Meg if I opened 1♠ (yes), whether it showed 5 spades (no, i showed 4), the why didn't you alert that he has only 2 (i thought he had 4 but he psyched), and this sort of questioning continued awhile. She rolls home 8 tricks but sadly 4♠ their way doesn't make (off ♠A and ♣AKQ) but our teammates passed it out. Win 3 imps.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Evil of Matchpoints

Dear Matchpoints,

What have I ever done to make you hate me? -- I know that this is a common feeling for most players at some point or another, but it struck me particularly hard in one session in Charleston. I was playing with Andre and we were having a not great round when I was presented with this play problem:

♠QTx Kxx x ♣KT9xxx

♠AJx QJ9x Jxx ♣AQJ

Andre And I were playing a strange system so at our table he opened 2♣ with the North hand as natural 8-12 HCP and I responded 3NT. The lead was the 4. I ducked to the T and winning with my Q ((it might be a better play to play the K, but in any case I ducked)). So what now? Naturally I laid down the ♣A and ♣Q and went to the board and continued to run the clubs. I pitch two diamonds and a heart while my opponents pitch mostly hearts a diamond and each one spade - LHO the 2 and RHO the 3. So now I play the ♠Q and RHO plays low in tempo and I start thinking.

My first question was "is 3NT a standard contract?" I have a clear 1NT opener and at most tables that should be followed by a direct 3NT. The only time this could be different is if RHO could have 6 diamonds and might preempt the auction landing us in some level of clubs. I decided that this was not a likely occurrence for a couple of reasons: 1) diamonds easily could be 5-4, and 2) so many people play Flannery or Mini-Roman or something else as their 2 opener that even if he does have a preempt half the field won't be able to systematically open 2. So now that I think most everyone in the field will be in this contract what should I consider? Had they lead a diamond then I would be down at least 2 from the start of the hand. If the spade finesse loses then I too am down two; if the finesse wins, however, I have an easy overtrick in this contract. So what to do?

They play standard discards, but it should be so obvious that signalling in spades is useless on this hand that I decided I couldn't trust LHO's deuce of Spades. I decided to play for down 1. I cashed my ♠A and gave up. For me I believe the deciding factor is how RHO played low in tempo. Yes, he has had plenty of time pitching on clubs to think about his play, but if he believes is partner might have the ♠J then covering the queen is necessary. I thought that the fact he didn't cover the queen tilted the odds enough that LHO had the queen that playing for down 1 was correct. Down 1 would win anytime the field leads a diamond and any hand where LHO has the ♠K.

Of course from the start of this post it is clear that this play did not work in my favor. RHO had the SK, and I collected all of 1 of a total 15 matchpoints on the board. LHO had something like ♠xxxx Axxx KQx ♣xx and I assume all tables got a heart lead. Although this brings up another question - should playing the ♠A give me field protection in an expert field? I think it should. If this were a hand from the Open Pairs in Philadelphia I would expect all the tables to be getting similar leads ((certainly no better leads)) and most of the players to think along these same lines. I when asking a few people about this hand I did get the advice from some "I NEVER play to go down." I don't think this is a always a good strategy in matchpoints, but the field clearly played that way in Charleston and I managed to turn a good board into a near bottom.

Just one more board to keep me awake at night. I'm still honestly not sure I did the right thing but I think I did. I'd love to hear if anyone has other things I should have taken into consideration.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Macon Winter Sectional

I'm gonna need a lot more practice before making a regular habit of playing online poker for money. With Robins AFB closed this Monday and part of Tuesday due to icy roads, I took that time to play dozens of sit-and-go's on Poker Stars. It looks like I played about 30 of them with a $3 buy-in and $.25 entry fee and ended up some $40 in red.
Anyway, the Macon sectional starts Friday. This is the 4th year I've been living here and it looks like I'll be continuing the streak of bringing different young players for this tournament, at least the one in January. For the tournament in August, I tend to play with locals or my dad. In 2008, before he started playing and teaching full-time, Robert Todd came for the sectional and we had very mediocre results. In 2009, my GT friend (and best drinking buddy I've ever had although Alli and Mike are close now) Ramesh took the Greyhound bus to spend a weekend playing with me when my canape system was still in infancy. In 2010, Sean, who many of the locals already knew, came to play with me but grabbing all the attention was Dana Berkowitz playing with pick-up partners. From time to time, people here still ask me about her and if there is/was romantically involved with either me or Sean (awkward), and I'm kind of thinking that when the locals see me playing with Meg Myers this weekend, they're gonna think she's Dana. Now, they don't look alike to me, but really - how many attractive white 20-something year old bridge-playing ladies with long black hair very fashionably dressed could I have as friends who would come to a sectional in Macon? They did mistake Sean for another kid last time he was here, even though most of them had seen Sean at least a couple of times before. To be fair, Sean does actually look like John Albanese.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

8 Ever, 9 Never?

When you get a bad board, do you often feel a need to try to get it back immediately? This generally isn't a good idea - playing for big swings or "tilting" or otherwise doing irregular things in the long run cost you more matchpoints than it gains, but right after your opponents get a good score is probably the best time to shoot for a top because they are a little relaxed and may think they can take advantage of you. In matchpoints, good scores come mostly from the opponents misdefending or the field not getting to the best or normal contract, but a few times you can sort of steal a good board by taking an anti-field play.
After a bad first board against Dave and Gretchen Smith (I think) in the open pairs Friday afternoon in Charleston, I declared the following hand in 3NT, making 5, after which I got a rather odd look from my partner, and a question of why. I wouldn't say I was so much shooting for a top this time but actually making the proper play.
Our auction was 2♣-2-2-3NT.
2♣ showed 8-12 with 5+ clubs and no 4+ card major.
2 asked for a 3 card major.
2 showed 3 hearts.
After the spade 9 won the opening lead, I decided this was a time to not follow the "8 ever, 9 never" slogan and finesse rho for the ♣Q, knocked out the A, and then rho had to hold on to Txx to keep me from making 6. The percentage difference between playing for the drop and playing one honor and then finessing a priori is only about 2%, and the "knowledge" that lho had 4 spades to the KQ seemed to be enough to play rho for ♣Qxx. There are actually a lot of situations where it is right to finesse with 9 cards missing the Q, mostly when someone preempts, and this one is only very slightly in favor of the finesse.
However, one thing I didn't take into account was the fact that the field would be in 3NT but by my partner and likely get a heart lead. After my hand opens 1♠, the auction would probably continue: 1♠-1N-2♣-3♣-3NT. Indeed, my rho has a clear heart lead, so I was already doing one trick better than the field by getting the spade lead from the other side. Therefore, I should have tried to play the rest of the hand the way the field would. And I'm pretty sure the field would not be finessing. When you've already been given an advantage on a board, play down the middle the rest of the hand so you don't give back your average-plus. Sean has a similar situation from the same session when he had to decide whether to finesse for the contract or play for -1 after arriving at a normal contract but getting a little defensive help early in the hand. Maybe he will write about it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How to Shuffle for a Team Game

I feel a need to reiterate one of my pet peeves. When boards are made and have yet to be played, they should be placed right-side up, not upside-down. Many boards allow you to see the bottom card (or at least part of it) when it is turned over. You may not see this as a bad thing but I may happen to remember that east has a red face card on board 13 or something like that. In a pair game, I don't mind as much when people turn the played boards upside-down, but it still doesn't make sense to do that because it's really easier to just put the top one on the bottom - they stay in order and stay and nearly stacked (the boards with interlocking notches don't stack well when some are upside down). I mean, it's not like you need that to remember which boards you've played.

The ACBL has no set procedure for how to shuffle before a team match but I suggest the following:

The first person to take a board to shuffle for a swiss team match or KO match shall turn all boards upside down or turn a card up in all of the boards.
Starting with the highest numbered board, shuffle the cards 7 times and deal them in a circular manner (don't go side to side so that the end hands always get 2 cards in a row).
Place the dealer's cards (the hand with the last card dealt) in the dealer position on the highest numbered board that is empty
Place the board face up on the table mat
If you have the last board (the lowest numbered board and therefor the first board to be played), hand the cards directly to the players.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Appearances at bridge tournaments

Over the last 4 days at the Charleston regional, I received more compliments and complaints than ever at a bridge tournament. It feels really good for people to mention liking this blog when they see me at tournaments, and I rather liked the compliments about my attire as well.

Thursday and Sunday at the Charleston regional, I dressed up (dress pants, dress shoes and blazer) supposedly because I was trying particularly hard to be a good role model for the kids with whom I was playing. The real goal was teaching good bridge and how to be a good trustworthy partner. This includes not gloating, taking time to play hands, trusting partner and playing in such a way that partner can trust you, not bidding rashly, and not psyching, but I saw more psyches Friday and Saturday than I've seen in serious bridge in a long time (but none by Ricoh) and it was bothering me immensely by the end of Saturday. I can't say that this tournament was a big success personally, although today the A/X Swiss with Sean, Ricoh, and William did basically go well. By any standards, 73 VP on a 70 average in the flight A game with them is very good, including a fun win over the Granovetters.

Had we won anything Thursday or Friday, I would likely be winning the unit 114 1000-2500 mini-McKenney but it looks like I'll be a point or two short. Too bad I spent most of Friday and Saturday (New Years Eve and New Years Day) being irritated and grouchy. I'm inclined to blame it on being dressed "normally" those days (jeans, nice tshirt, GT wind breaker). So, next time you see me at a tournament don't be surprised to see me in a suit.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Post Mortem

Is it just me or are people less interested in going out to dinner and going over all the hands in detail than they used to be? The post mortem over a nice dinner has always been one of my favorite parts of a bridge tournament. Maybe it's a sign that i'm hanging out with people who aren't as interested in improving their game and learning from their mistakes (and others' mistakes). If you aren't interested in going over the hands after most sessions of bridge at a tournament, I am probably not interested in playing with you. What kind of attitude makes one want to play bridge but then not try to have an intellectual discussion about the game later. That's how you learn. It's one of the best ways to improve at bridge - go out to dinner after the game with your partner and some other (better) players and discuss the hands regardless of whether you had. 65% or 45% game, as long as you have the maturity to not fight much in the process.