Thursday, September 24, 2015

Adventures at the Greek Bridge Festival

At the end of the Chicago NABC and for a few days after returning home, I was mainly trying to figure out Atlanta Labor Day regional plans. Nothing was too appealing, so I asked Irma if she'd like to go with me to the Greek Bridge Festival in Athens going on at the same time. Irma was one bright spot from an otherwise annoying Chicago trip, so I thought this could be fun. I wasn’t entirely sure how serious I was about this since I had only known her about a week, but she was very interested in the trip so we made it happen.

It has been five years since I had been outside the U.S./Canada (by far the longest I’ve ever gone without a Europe trip). Each summer I toy with the idea of going to a bridge festival in Greece or France, but I’ve just never had anyone I like enough who also wants to go. The day after I made my plans, my aunt and uncle and cousin made arrangements to come from Berlin for a couple of days so it was nice to get to see them too. Yay.

As with any long trip to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people there are some problems, but it was basically fun – a steady routine of daytime visits around Athens, one session of bridge each night, and bars until the wee hours.

Irma and I didn't play so well the first 5 days in open and mixed pairs, and by the end of day 5, I think we were both ready to go home. However, we stuck it out and played the Swiss team event with a very nice and decent Greek pair - Thanos and Stefanos.

We needed something good to happen to feel good about the trip, our bridge play, and our friendship. The final two days were much better on all counts.  

Non-bridge players stop here. Bridge players, please read on.

Going into the last round of the Swiss we were in 9th place and up against our friends Tom Paske, Jason Hackett, Giannis Oikonomopoulos and his dad. With a close match we would both make the overalls but with a big win one of us could sneak into the top 5. Here are a few interesting boards from that round.

On the second board (#22), Tom had this defensive problem against my 4NT, knowing I have a weak NT with 4 hearts.

Dummy (on your left): 8643  K7  AKJ862  A
Your hand: A52  JT982  5  9642

The J lead was won in dummy with partner playing the 6 (upside down). A, K, a diamond to partner, assume you discard a discouraging club and a low heart. Then partner leads the 5 to declarer's A, A, then 3 more diamonds. What are your three discards? Partner throws the clubs starting with the Q.
You know 9 of declarer's points (AQ, K) and can count eight tricks for him (5 diamonds AK and A) so if you get in with the spade and lead a heart or club, that gives declarer the entry to score the Q and K he can't otherwise get to. So there's no reason to keep any clubs. Yes, if I held QJx or KJ(x) or KQ(x), all fairly reasonable holdings for this auction, there is nothing that can be done, but on the actual deal I help QJ-doubleton, and Tom didn’t work out the position.

On board 24 in third seat none vul I picked up AQ98  KJ4  9  Q7653 and opened 1. It proceeded: 2-2-P; P-X-P-P. I seriously considered running to 3 – spades are almost certainly 5-1 or 6-0 and we probably have a club fit that will split nicer. Fortunately I passed out 2X and this is what Irma produced: 743  QT53  A7654  K. Tom led K. I won and knocked out the A. Now a trump and I was able to score two minor suit tricks, four trumps in hand, and two club ruffs to bring in 470. Leading trumps on opening lead wouldn’t help because Tom couldn’t lead a second trump when in with the club. He could get to Jason by playing A and a heart so Jason could lead a second trump, but then they lose trump control and I could just ruff one club, draw trumps and have heart winners.

The next board (#17) they tried too hard to make up for the previous bad scores. Tom held KQJ KQT2 AJ642 J. I opened on his right: 3-X-4-X; P-? He opted to pass this and hope for 500 on pure power or that 4 wouldn’t make. Nothing to the play. We went down 1 and 4 makes exactly 4.
Board 19 put the nail in the coffin. At my table Jason, in third seat favorable, tried responding to 1 with 1 holding J64 T86 KT853 Q6. I like this tactical bid in this state of the match. The whole auction: 1-P-1-1; 2-2-P-4; P-P-5; X-P-P-P. This was a good sac (down 3 for 500). Oikonomopoulos bid ambitiously on our cards to 6.

AT32 AQ74 7642 3
KQ987 KJ6 AJ T98

A diamond lead kills the slam off the bat, but our teammates understandably led a big club. Now the contract can be made by finding the jack of spades: ruff one club low, ruff another club high, then finesse for the jack. I don't know the bidding at their table, but it’s not so clear to take that line of play. Knowing clubs are 7-2 swings the percentage in favor that line over one of the others (ruff the third round of clubs with the ten and be sure to pick up trumps, or ruff third round of clubs high and play for the J to drop doubleton, or draw two rounds of trumps before ruffing the third round of clubs), but it’s still not clear.

The final tally was 38-6 in our favor. We moved all the way to 4th for a decent payout, just .09 VP behind the high-powered Milner team.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

4 or 7 Hand but I was in 5

I faced a brutal play problem last night at the club. It was a 4 or 7 hand and I was in the worst possible level – 5!
AQ  AK9xxx  Qxxx
KJTxxx  J8x  AK  Jx
First let's start with the auction. That was pretty interesting too. My RHO opened 3Din first seat, both vul. I overcalled 3, what do you do with the north hand? He bid 4, in theory a slam try in spades but not necessarily a diamond control. I tried 4, my only semi-cooperating bid available even though I don't have a heart control. I didn't think the hand was strong enough to commit to the five-level by cuebidding 5 - it probably isn't good enough to cooperate at all. I figured partner might cue 5 and then I could cue 5.
The auction took a strange turn when partner bid 5 over my 4. Is he now trying to suggest hearts or is he making another slam move with no minor suit control? Regardless, no club cue so I sign off and play 5.
LHO leads the 10 and I basically have to get hearts right to make the contract, and getting hearts right likely means taking all of the tricks because if I get hearts wrong (or if the preemptor had Qxx and there is no right play), they will surely cash their two club tricks.
The non-high club lead suggests the club honors are split because he likely would have led a big club from AK so RHO has a club honor and QJ. LHO rates to have three hearts so if I go with that, I have a couple of options on how to play.
A)      Draw trumps, then cash the A, taking all the tricks when RHO has stiff Q and making 5 when RHO has stiff ten, and going down when he has one of the two small singletons.
B)      Draw trumps and lead the J, planning to double finesse. This makes 7 when RHO has stiff ten and 5 in all other cases (only way back to hand to lead hearts a second time is by losing two clubs and ruffing a club).
C)      Lead the J now, then draw trumps and take a second heart finesse. This makes 7 when LHO has QT(x) but goes down when LHO has QTxx.
Given that I was in 5 (not 4), I probably should take the safest line to make 5, which is definitely B. However, table feel and just the desire to take all the tricks led me to the slightly inferior line that risks a 4-0 heart split.
So the J was covered with the Q and no ten appeared. Then LHO showed up with four spades so the count no longer is much in favor of a 3-1 heart split – LHO has 7 pointed cards, RHO 8. So do I go back to playing for hearts to be 2-2 or continue with the double finesse. Is the good club player on my right equally likely to preempt with x, Qx, QJxxxxx, Hxx and x, x, QJxxxxx, Hxxx? I don't know but the latter is certainly a more attractive 1st seat vulnerable preempt.
So I tanked and played a heart to the nine, won all the tricks, and all the matchpoints.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chicago NABC Summary

This NABC was quite an experience. I like structure and plans in my life so when things get chaotic and my plans get screwed up, I take it poorly. When you agree to play with me, I expect a few things, and I think these should go without saying, but maybe I should make this more clear: be decently-well rested, hold yourself to high ethical standards, remain friends and have a post-mortem with me over dinner and drinks regardless of how good or bad our game was, and illness and failure to qualify are the only acceptable reasons to cancel our plans.

So, the first Saturday was miserable as I had one partner skip dinner without properly notifying me, another cancel on me to play with someone else for basically the rest of the tournament, and another "friend"cancel on hanging out with me during my planned days off in Chicago. I nearly came home after 2 days out of frustration.

Fortunately Sunday morning I went to the ACBL Board of Governors meeting and things turned around. I assisted with the Learn Bridge in a Day class that afternoon and a got a couple of games with Sean Ganness who I had wanted to play with for awhile. Monday I started hanging out more with the young foreigners - Swedes, Danes, Aussies mostly - and then played with the lovely Irma Petersen Wednesday-Friday. It turned out to be a fine week as long as masterpoints don't matter.

Even before I was good, I never appreciated going to a tournament without a pre-determined schedule of events to play and people to play them with. My time is too valuable to spend at tournaments without playing with my preferred people. I know this is hard for many to understand because relatively few bridge players have a day job with a 4 week vacation limit per year. At this tournament, however, I found the lack of a clear plan for the tournament after day 2 gave me more stuff to talk about, helped me socialize more and socialize with crowds I maybe wouldn't normally venture into.

One of the more interesting guys I met several nights at the bar was Mish, a mediocre bridge player but a well-known financial blogger so here's a shout out to him. I'll start reading his blogs more and hope to see him at a tournament again sometime. It was kind of funny how one of my non-bridge friends in Atlanta asked me if I had played against Mike Shedlock. I found it to be kind of a strange question and the name was unfamiliar to me, then he said he probably goes by Mish, and then I instantly recognized him. My friend is a regular reader of Mish's blog, and in one of his posts, he mentioned that he was between sessions at the National bridge tournament.

Here's one thing from the bridge table that irked me. I wasn't at the table but my opinion of someone in particular went way down when I heard this. You pick up a 4333 6-count and see partner open 2C, she bids 2D waiting (which partner announces as a transfer), partner rebids 2H, what do you do with this hand? Well, obviously you raise hearts, probably 3H but 4H is fine too, especially if you were playing that 2D promised a little something. What you don't do is pass. That's a highly unethical thing to do. Yes, we all get that partner thought she opened 1NT, and given that, it's clear the best chance to go plus is to pass 2H, but you aren't allowed to "know" that. As far as you know, your side is going to at least game in hearts because opener showed a monster with 5+ hearts, right? Anyway, that made 2 but the director adjusted to 4H -2. I would tack on a procedural penalty as well. Then this pair has the nerve to ask the director to reconsider that the contract should be 3H -1 because they would raise to 3H with the responder hand and opener with a 15-count and 4-card "support" would pass. Really? At imps, don't all hands with 4 card support accept invites? You're asking the director to give you more leniency after they've let you off without a procedural penalty for blatant misuse of UI. End rant.

I won't be seeing any of you at the Atlanta Labor Day regional for the first time since I've been a bridge player (15 years). I'll see some of you at the Greek Bridge Festival in Athens, Greece, instead!

Monday, July 13, 2015

July 4th Bridge

Three years ago, Sean and I drove to Bethesda, MD for the July 4th Washington DC regional and one of the most exciting weeks ever. I think I wrote about it back then. Two years ago was a similarly good experience at the DC regional in Reston. Last year, there was no incentive to go to DC and this year the DC regional wasn't over the 4th so I'm kind of sad. Instead I went to as Vegas the week before and Nashville the week after, each for three days, possibly influenced by the fact that Mikey and Alli and Liz would be at both of those.

In Vegas I played with Cristal, and we had a second in a bracket 2 KO and were in good position to finish second in the Swiss until having a bad last round. In Nashville I played with Sam Goldberg, and we had a second in a bracket 2 KO and were in good position to finish second in the Swiss until we had an unfortunate penultimate match against the leaders. After a blitz the last round, we finished second far ahead of third.

Here is one deal that was a 26 imp swing against Ron and Linda Smith and probably cost us 1st in the event. I held x, A9xxxx, KQx, AJx. I deal: 1H-P-2D-2H; 3D-3S-4H-P. Surely this hand is worth a slam try because as little as xxx, KQx, AJxxx, xx makes 6H pretty much cold, and that hand isn't good enough to make a 2/1. However, some other game-forcing hands such as AQx, Qxx, AJxxx, xx give 6H no play. So I blackwooded and found 2 with the Q so bid the slam, knowing that if partner has the SA instead of HK, I may need a heart finesse or a club honor from partner or a non-club lead. Unfortunately Sam tabled essentially the latter hand and Linda found a club lead from Qxx. How do we bid to get to slam on the hand with xxx, KQx in majors and not when responder has Axx, Qxx in the majors? I don't know.

After the session Sam had said he should have bid 2C to psych them out of a club lead. That would have made it harder for Ron to show his weakish 5-5 black hand. The night before, I held a hand where I psyched a 2D response to 1H with AQx, Kxx, Jxx, KJTx. Sam rebid 2S and I bid 3NT, confident that they would lead a black suit and I'd take 9 tricks while hopefully hearts also had only 9 tricks. That, however, was disastrous because my LHO still led a diamond from ATxxx so 3NT went down while 4H is cold.

These three-day regional trips are starting to get to me, and this week in Nashville I didn't even drink much despite it being the only one of the 3 tournaments in 5 weeks that I felt stressed at all. I'm going to start implementing a 2 am curfew (1 am when the next day starts at 10 am).

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lessons from the bridge club

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

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

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Suit Preference When Returning Partner's Lead in NT

In 2nd seat, all red, You hold:

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bridge hiatus?

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

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

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