Monday, February 28, 2011

Decisions on Whether to Bid More Hearts

Last weekend was the Atlanta Almost Spring Super Sectional in which I played only the Saturday afternoon flight A pairs and the A/X Swiss on Sunday and was 7th in both events. Saturday, or rather, trying to schedule what I would do Saturday, was one of the most stressful things I have done in awhile. I had several goals in mind: eat at Chipotle, play my tennis league match in Warner Robins in the morning, drive 2 hours to the tournament in Roswell, play one session with David, play 1 session with Mili, eat at Chipotle, make sure John has a partner (preferably another junior) for all the games, leave adequate time for David to go out with his old friend, eat at Chipotle, hang out with Mike and Alli. Coordinating things with several people can be difficult, especially when some of them don't have cars and need to ask parents for permission. I failed to accomplish at least 2 of those goals but it's all good - Saturday night kibitzing Patty and Kevin against Tom Carmichael and Mike Cappelletti, then drinking, karaoke-ing, and bowling with Mike, Alli, Owen, and the Teels was great.

Sunday's Swiss produced several interesting deals and intersting auctions. On the second hand of the day, I opened 1 on ♠KT, QJTxxxx, -, ♣AQTx, LHO overcalled a natural 1NT and partner raised to 2. Would you bid over 2? Vulnerable? At imps? I could just envision my partner putting down something useless like ♠Jxx, xxx, KQxxx, ♣xx and being doubled and down 2 or 3, so I passed. However partner had the most awesome 6 count to go with my hand: ♠Jxx, ATx, xxxx, ♣Jxx, so we were +170 while our teammates were -790.

In the second round at unfavorable vulnerability, I picked up ♠Axx, QJ9xxx, Qx, ♣QJ. LHO opened 3♠, passed to me. I wanted to bid 4, and a few years ago, I would have automatically bid 4 but I'm more conservative now or at least I was yesterday. Unfortunately passing was another losing call, but my counterpart had an easier time bidding that hand because Joe doesn't preempt with seven spades headed by the T and AK on the side and I agree that it's not a hand you should preempt. If you switched the majors and switched the opening bid to 4, would you be more inclined to bid 4♠? Logically, overcalling 4 and 4♠ should be equivalent hands but I think many more people would bid 4♠ over 4 than 4 over 3♠ even if it's only because of the saying that when you open 4 it is a transfer to 4♠ for the opposition. Fortunately it got better after that.

My opponent in the last round had another decision of whether to bid hearts of not. At favorable vulnerability, she held: ♠AJ9x, KJxxx, xxx, ♣x. After passing, her LHO (my partner) opened 3, passed back to her. Would you balance here? If so, do you bid 3 or X? I definitely think this is not one where you should balance because it doesn't seem like we will be making much of anything. Partner is surely short in diamonds but didn't act over 3 so we probably don't have game and X clearly has a huge flaw in that p may bid 4♣ and 3 could get us to a very bad spot as well. But, with the other 2 hands fresh in my mind, I may well have doubled as well. That did get 4♣ from her partner, which was doubled. And I also had an easy double when she ran back to 4. +800 against air was a good way to start the last round.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Bridge Game With No Scores in the 40's

I just noticed that last night's bridge game was odd. It was a 5 table 3/4 Howell with 8 rounds of 3. Take a look at the results. The usual suspects were at the top and the usual ones at the bottom, but not one score was in the 40's. It looks like a reasonably normal distribution of scores at the top but 7th place our of 10 was 51.04% and then it jumps way down to 38.02% for 8th place. I don't think I've seen that before, except maybe in a section with only 6 pairs, but 10 pairs is pretty substantial.

Getting to the Spring NABC in Louisville

I’ll be at the Spring 2011 NABC for a little over 3 days this spring – enough time to play the IMP pairs and a couple of midnight game with Sean Friday and Saturday March 11-12, maybe a couple of midnight games, and then do who knows what on Sunday. When I started looking into travel to the Spring NABC in Louisville, initially it looked like Delta was the only airline flying from Atlanta to Louisville, and therefore could get away with charging way more than what I think the 322 mile flight should cost. At that time it was around $340 and today is trying to charge $600 for a round trip March 10-14. But then I ran across Vision Airlines and I only found them because there was an article in the Macon newspaper about them reviving commercial flights out of Macon (to Destin, FL this time).

Anyway, I was able to book a Vision Airlines flight for $120 for Mar 10-14. I had also tentatively booked a room at the Econo Lodge about 6 blocks from the Galt House where the NABC will be held. However, I’ve still been trying priceline to see if I could get a better deal and maybe a nicer place. Today, I put in $71 for 4 nights at a 3+ star hotel in downtown Louisville and it gave me the Galt House. With taxes, that’s only about $86/night. Of course, there’s the drawback that the reservation is non-refundable and you can’t be guaranteed a particular type of room.
So, if you’re still trying to plan how to get to the NABC in a couple of weeks, check out Vision Airlines (if you’re from near ATL) and priceline.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What is Forcing in Standard American

How long is it going to be before 2/1 game forcing becomes part of Standard American? It is overwhelmingly the most popular system played at tournaments while at clubs it is probably still the preferred system for only about 40% of the players. It’s not really any more difficult than Standard American, and if we teach people 2/1 game forcing from the start, they’ll probably even get the hang of it quick because beginners like guidelines such as “don’t pass until you’ve bid game.” However, almost all beginning bridge classes and bridge books teach Standard American first so I guess we have to adhere to that. But I was playing SA a few days ago and realized that I don’t know what is forcing and what isn’t. I have become so accustomed to 2/1 game forcing or other funky systems that don’t use 2/1 game forcing (but it isn’t a big deal because opener’s and is limited in big club or small club or Polish club or Swedish club or big diamond systems).

I haven't played Standard American with any regular partner since I was 15 and a beginner so tons of things that I think a lot about now didn't even cross my mind back then. I had always heard that in Standard American, a 2/1 bid was forcing to at least 2NT or sometimes people would say responder promises a rebid when he makes a 2/1 (and 2NT is opener’s only non-game rebid he can pass). So, 1S-2D-2S would still be a one round force but 1S-2D-3C would not be forcing. Is that right? That doesn’t make sense. And is 1S-2C-2H-2S forcing? My instinct says no. Another one I’m not sure about in Standard American is whether jump rebids below game are forcing or not. Without new minor forcing or fourth suit forcing, I realized I don’t know how to bid hands as responder when I’m not ready to settle on a strain or level by the second round of bidding. I guess with the people I have taught, if they ever got to the level of being able to ask questions like this, it was time for them to play 2/1.

I looked up the Standard American system on the ACBL website. Jumps to 3 of a previously bid suit are all invitational (except when responder made a 2/1 and then jumped to 3 of opener’s first suit in which case it is forcing) and jumps to 3 of a new suit are game-forcing. 1D-1H-1NT-2C is natural and non-forcing. The booklet makes no comment on auctions where opener rebids 3m (but does not jump) but it does say that “Responder promises to bid again if he responded with a new suit at the two level unless opener’s rebid is at the game level.” I think that pretty well sums it up.

On another different note, what’s your style on what to bid over partner’s 1S holding: Txx, AQJx, AQJ, Kxx? Many people play that 3NT shows this kind of 4333 hand but usually has a range of 13-15 or so. This might be too good for that and most players probably don’t have such an agreement. Would you ever consider a forcing 1NT response (and then a jump to 4S next time) or a 2/1 (and if you make a 2/1, would you bid 2C, 2D, or 2H) or Jacoby 2NT? I think this is an interesting dilemma. My instinct is to bid 2D with this particular hand and bid a forcing 1NT with a similar hand but a few fewer high cards.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scrabble Fun at Lunch

If I ever leave this office, one of the few things I will miss is the Wednesday lunch-time scrabble game. There are typically 3 or 4 of us that play on any given week. This week, it was pushed back to today due to yesterday's celebration of someone else leaving the office. It's a lot easier to teach people scrabble than to teach bridge, especially in such a limited time, and the natural breaks you get in scrabble are more conducive to playing while eating, too.

Next to bridge, scrabble is surely my favorite game but I have still yet to go to any competitive scrabble clubs or tournaments. I've looked for them before but there aren't any in middle Georgia and Atlanta only has couple of scrabble clubs but they usually meet at times that are inconvenient to me. I expect I would be a favorite to win the bridge equivalent of flight C scrabble tournaments but not be competitive in flight A while in bridge I am competitive at all levels.

Today's game was fun. I scored 262 in a 4 player game - more than double anyone else's score - and the game only lasted 7 rounds thanks to 3 bingos: REUNITE, CHARGER, and RAISING.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Savannah Sectional

A couple of years ago I kind of decided that I would quit going to small sectionals that are not local. For awhile, when Hillery was a huge part of my life, I didn’t go to such tournaments, but in the last 2 years, I’ve been to so many small sectionals. The Savannah sectional I went to last weekend is a good example of why one should skip such tournaments. Yes, small sectionals generally have the advantage of having good snacks available throughout the tournament but the quality of the competition is often about the same as a good club game and the quality of the playing site is often unpleasant.

I guess a big part of why the playing area at the Savannah sectional was so uncomfortable was because the crowd was way bigger than they expected. Last year the tournament had 231 tables in play and this year it had 297 tables, and the ballroom was very cramped with low ceilings so it was just a really stuffy atmosphere. This coming weekend is a sectional in Anderson, SC, which I am skipping even though it has been one of the small sectionals I have been to several years in a row and I know they do have a nice playing site – in a gymnasium. It’s amazing how much difference it makes having a 50 foot ceiling instead of a 9 foot ceiling with 200 people in the room.

Anyway, Bob and I scratched in both sessions Saturday and probably just missed the overalls Sunday with 70 VPs on a 60 average. In the pivotal last round, one of our teammates didn’t lead a singleton against 6S, the only lead to set it, and that was a swing of 26 imps and 11VPs because we stopped in 4S at my table.

There’s one bidding sequence that came up a couple of times which was kind of confusing. After an uncontested auction starts 1NT-2H-2S-3C, I had always thought 3S here was 3+ card spade support, 4S was 3 card spade support but an otherwise crummy 15, and any other bid denied 3 card spade support. So 3D or 3H here would be stopper-showing or possibly a cue bid toward a club slam. Both times this auction came up, I had good club support but only a doubleton spade and we somehow wound up playing 4S both times. In matchpoints, I guess it’s not so abnormal to eventually decide to play the 5-2 major instead of the 5-4 minor but these auctions were both in the team game – no hand records and I didn’t bother keeping good notes during the Swiss team game. Would responder ever transfer to spades and then bid clubs with 6-4 or would you always just insist on spades with that sort of hand?

A couple of times I saw opponents Jacoby transfer and then jump to 4M and then put down a 10-count 6-3-2-2. Don’t beginning (or at least intermediate) bridge books/teachers teach that you use Texas transfers for minimum game forces with a 6 card major (or hands that are planning to key card blackwood in the major) and that you use Jacoby and a jump to 4 to show mild slam interest and a 6 card suit?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Failing at combining the chances

When partner opens 1NT and you pass, that should deny having a 5 card major. Therefore, to balance by bidding 2 of a major after LHO has overcalled, as in this deal, you are really showing a takeout double of their suit. That way double can be for penalties. You lose the ability to make a takeout double and have opener convert it to penalty but that doesn't happen much anyway. You could still play X by responder instead of 2 as takeout but with more tolerance to have it converted - more like a hand that's almost good enough to invite and not short enough in their suit to give up on penalizing them. Personally, I like it to be penalty, especially at matchpoints. Regardless, north's 2 is definitely takeout of hearts, not "to play to 2." Here is an example, which turned out to be a fairly interesting hand to play as well, but only for matchpoint freaks.

Dealer: S
Vul: Both

♣ xxx
♣ Qx


PassPass2 Pass 
Pass 2Pass2♠
Pass PassPass

1NT was 11-14 and at first glance it looks like a fairly boring hand. You have 4 sure losers and have to pick up clubs for no loser or pitch 2 clubs from hand on dummy's hearts to avoid a 5th loser. Odds are slightly in favor of east having that card just because she bid but why finesse if you don't need to? After a diamond lead and spade switch, I led a low heart toward dummy. West did well to not rise with the K as that would have made it easy for me to get 2 heart tricks. I could have (and probably should have) finessed the 8 - 1 heart trick does me no good because it still leaves me having to guess the ♣Q. Anyway, I played the Q, which east won and led another spade. Now I had to go ahead and trump diamonds before dummy's trumps went away, coming back to my hand with the ♣A to ruff my last diamond. Then when I led to west's K, she cashed the ♠Q and led her last diamond.

East pitched a heart on the last spade, which left me in a bit of a bind as to what to discard from dummy from T8 and ♣KJ. In my hand I have left a small ♠x and ♣Txx. East definitely doesn't have it, so now I basically was left with a club guess but only one way to finesse now instead of a two way finesse but by now I put myself in a position where I would be risking the contract by finessing into east who still has a good diamond. I pitched a heart and played a club to the K fully convinced that east had the ♣Qx and west had 9x. Either way, I was able to work out that it doesn't matter what I pitch - if the 9 is a stiff now, then the ♣Q also has to be stiff, regardless of which hand has it, given that east has the last diamond. Alas, I was wrong on that too and we came out with a very normal score.

So, if I finesse the 8 at trick 3 and it loses to the 9, is the contract ever in danger of going down? Only if someone has 5 hearts and makes me use a trump for one of the hearts, which is fairly unlikely. Otherwise I will always be left with a good trump in hand before having to guess clubs. So, my conclusion is finessing the 8 at trick 3 is the right play.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Favorite Bridge Play

One of my favorite things to do as declarer is ruff a suit in dummy when we had 4-3 to begin with in that suit. One such play kind of came up today on board 27 of the ACBL-wide International Fund game.

Dealer: S
Vul: None

♣ KQT8
♣ A97


I was west and we stopped in 6 after finding out we were off the Q. They led a spade and I finessed hearts, then played K-A. Then I ruffed a diamond to make sure there's not a K doubleton dropping, then played the CQ and ruffed a club in dummy when the J didn't fall. I repeated the heart finesse and drew the last trump. It's a play the wins over drawing all trumps and playing clubs from the top when the person with Jxxx also has the 3rd heart but loses only when someone trumps the 1st or 2nd round of clubs. Even if they ruff a big club on the 3rd round, we get the trick back by trumping the 4th round. If it turns out that clubs break 3-3, I just draw the last trump and have a good club in hand.

In the hand analysis, Frank Stewart says he thinks EW will "score only average for +1020." That seems quite optimistic to think as many people will bid a grand off the Q of the key suit as will score less than 1020. Average players won't think to ruff a club and won't risk either the diamond finesse or the anti-percentage club finesse. +1010 was good for 78% of the matchpoints at the Macon game as 980 for EW was the most common score.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Unusual Penalty Doubles

These deals from last weekend in Wilmington, all involving strange penalty doubles, were rather amusing and contributed a lot to our winning.

Sean and I play a Gambling-like 3NT opening. It always shows a solid 7 card minor but in first and second seat it could contain 2 outside controls and possibly even more in 3rd seat. Friday night Sean dealt and held: ♠JTx, T9xxxx, Txx, ♣x. The auction went: P-P-3NT-4; P-4-X-P; P-P. It's hard to imagine how I could have a double but even with this crappy hand, leaving the double in when they're bid his 6 card suit was no problem. I held 7 solid clubs, plus the ♠A and KJ so I just wanted to let him know I do have some defense and he can do something smart. We only beat it 2 but it was good for almost all of the matchpoints.

Saturday afternoon, Sean held another beauty: ♠97, T97, 7632, ♣Q765. The auction, with me as dealer: 1♣-P-1-P; 1-P-1♠-X; XX-P-P-P. Here's a quick lesson on part of our Swedish canapé system.
1♣ was either a weak NT or any 17+.
1was any 0-7 or 12+ w/o a 4 card major.
1 was 18-20 bal or 23+ bal or 17+ 4+ unbalanced and possibly canapé.
1♠ was any 0-5. Redouble was undiscussed and I am glad we were both on the same page in thinking that it's a business redouble. I had a 24-count that's canapé with longer spades: ♠AKQ43, AKQ4, Q8, ♣A8. We were probably getting to 3NT or 4♠ going down. Good thing she made a lead-directing double on her T8652 suit with 2 jacks outside. In case you were wondering, 1♠ redoubled making 2 is 1120.

Saturday night, I made yet another penalty double and Sean had a crappy hand. This time my LHO dealt and Sean held ♠QJ4,
T5, QT83, ♣AT53. Our auction: P-P-1-P; P-X-1♠-X; 2-P-P-X; P-P-P. Since we do not play strong NT overcalls (1NT would be takeout showing 4 spades and a 5 card minor), he is aware that I may well have a strong NT but just have no bid. Therefore, balancing on lighter values is probably a good idea, but in this case, he has a decent balancing double at the one level by a passed hand whatever your system. As it turns out, all I had was a 4-3-3-3 hand with A-AK-K and 3 small hearts and would have never doubled 2 if the opponents were not vulnerable in matchpoints. With trump leads at every opportunity, we prevented a diamond ruff in dummy and set it one for +200 and a top. The rest of the scores on that board were pretty evenly divided between +100 and +130.

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