Sunday, July 8, 2018

The losing Trick Count

Here’s your hand which was played recently in a club game:

♠ 9843                        
♥ A7                           
♦ A4                                       
♣ T9652

South               West                North               East
                                                P                      1D!
1H                    P*                    2D**                 4D***
P                      ?

*    West should make a negative double here, showing at least six HCP and four spades
**   Limit raise (10-12 HCP) or better (but since north is a passed hand it is clearly not more than 12 HCP). North stretched here but with 4 card support and a doubleton, this is a reasonable limit raise.
*** Extra values (16+ HCP) and at least a six card suit, probably longer.

High Card Points aren't the be all and end all in hand evaluation. Another aid in evaluating hands is called "The Losing Trick Count" (LTC). There have been entire books written on it, but I believe in keeping the game simple and this explanation is really simple.

First you count your "losers." For this method, there is a maximum of three losers in every suit. They are offset by high honors. So if you have a heart suit consisting of the 9,7,5,3, and deuce, you have three losers, the maximum. But if the suit is Ace, 7, 5, and 3, you only have two losers because the Ace is a winner. With AQ753, you only count one loser because you have two of the top three honors. Q532 would be two losers because the queen is not a loser. But Q5 would be two losers because a doubleton queen is a loser. Q53 is counted as ½ loser. AKJ would be one loser. AKJ432 would still be only one loser. Get the picture? I hope so because that ends the explanation.

After you determine how many losers are in your hand, you listen to partner's bid. If she gives you a one over one raise, she should have 8-10 losers. A typical opening hand has 6-7 losers. A limit raise has eight losers, no more. Any bid that shows extra values, like an invitational jump, or a jump shift, should be evaluated as five losers or less.

After you hear partner's response, you add her losers to your losers and subtract the total from 24 and that's the number of tricks you should take. So if you open with a seven loser hand and she raises your suit, she has at least eight losers, maybe more. That's 15 losers between you. Subtract that from 24 and the difference is nine. That's the maximum number of tricks you should take and not enough for game. If, however, you open a major suit with six losers and she gives you a limit raise, that promises not more than eight losers. 8+6=14. 24-14=10 tricks, so you should bid game.

There is a big caveat here, however. The losing trick count should only be used after you have found a trump fit. If you don’t have at least 8 trumps between you, you should not evaluate your hand using LTC.

Here’s the entire hand where using LTC would have found the game:

                        ♠ Q652
                        ♥ 8542
                        ♦ 83
                        ♣ AQJ

West                                        East
♠ 9843                                     ♠ AK
♥ A7                                        ♥ 3
♦ A4                                        ♦ KQJT9765
♣ T9652                                  ♣ 87

                        ♠ JT7
                        ♥ KQJT96
                        ♦ 2
                        ♣ KT83

Using LTC, west should count her losers, three spade losers, one heart loser, one diamond loser, three club losers for a total of eight losers, and realize that with her two diamonds she and partner have a trump fit. Due to East’s strong jump, she should place no more than five losers in east’s hand (actually it’s a 4 loser hand). 8+5=13. 24-13=11, the number of tricks east should be able to take, so west should easily bid 5D. As it was, west passed and EW missed a cold game.

As to the bidding, however, East could open this hand 2C because she has 9 sure tricks, seven diamonds and two spades, which qualifies for a strong 2C opening bid.

I’ll have more on LTC in future columns.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Use a Crossruff to Overcome a Bad Trump Split

Can you make 7 Diamonds with this deal from an ACBL-sanctioned game several years ago? I was sitting East and my partner, an advanced player, was West.


West                         East
2                            AQJT9
AK7                         65
QJT7                       AK54
AKQ98                     63


 South       West          North         East
                                  P                 1S
P              2C             P                 2D
P              2H*           P                 2S
P              3D            P                  4D
P              4N            P                  5C**
P              5N            P                  6C***
P              7D!           All Pass

 *   Fourth Suit Forcing. This means that partner must take another bid. She cannot pass. Some people play that Fourth Suit Forcing is a game force, which means that neither can pass until game is bid.

** Roman Key Card Blackwood, 0 or 3 key cards. This is an extension of Blackwood where, in addition to the four aces, the trump king is also a key card, so if you hold 2 aces and the king of trump (which I did), you respond with 5C which shows three key cards. The responses to a bid of 4N are as follows:

5C       0 or 3 key cards
5D       1 or 4 key cards
5H       2 key cards without the trump queen
5S        2 key cards with the trump queen

*** No kings. Since the trump king is a key card, it is not included in this response.

 Opening lead: ten of Hearts

The hand is relatively cold for 6N, but only one pair in this game was in 6N. Some were in 6D, making 6. My partner showed admirable confidence in me when he put me in 7D even though he knew I didn’t have the king of spades and he only had one spade for me to make a finesse. Also, it turned out that everything shaped up wrong. Clubs didn’t split, the king of spades was offside, and there was a horrible 4-1 trump split. Can you make 7D?

I took the ace of hearts and led a low diamond to my king, then another low diamond to the ten. North discarded the 4 of spades, so I got the bad news on the trump split . I started clubs and South discarded the 4 and 10, so I figured that clubs split badly and that the king of spades was offside. I took the ace of spades and started a ruffing finesse sequence with the queen. South covered and I ruffed. I played the king of hearts and ruffed a heart. That left me with the following holding:


West                         East
Q                            A


Even though south has two trump to my one in each hand, the hand is over. I led the two spades and sluffed two clubs, leaving me with a spade and the trump ace in my hand and a club and the trump queen on the board. So I trumped the spade with my queen and trumped the club with the ace, a high cross ruff that smothered South’s two trumps, making 7 diamonds.

Paradoxically, the only way it can make is if the spade king is offside. Otherwise the ruffing finesse would not work.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Michaels Not Always the Best Way to Show a Two-Suited Hand

Here’s your hand, sitting South:


Here’s the bidding:


·         Michaels, showing a hand containing at least 5 hearts and 5 spades

Ah, this is a puzzle. Partner has cue bid your seven card suit! But it’s a conventional bid, Michaels, showing two five card majors. What to do?

This was a hand I played with my former partner, Mille Garrison, in a four section, two game event in the 1996 Palms Springs Regional Tournament against some of the best players in the world. Millie was sitting West and I was sitting East.

In this hand, this South passed. Millie, West, also passed so North had to play the hand in 2D, a suit in which he was void.






Bidding: This is a shining example of why Michaels is not always the best way to show a huge 2-suiter. People think that if they have a two-suited hand, they should always use it. I don’t agree. North misbid. There is no way that his partner could know he had a hand that was 7-6. He should overcall Millie’s 1D with 1S and then jump to 4 hearts with his second bid, letting partner choose which suit. And partner, given two singleton honors, should take him back to his first suit.

If North bid Michaels, as here, and if East passed, as here, then South should bid 2 spades. Partner can’t possibly know the shape of that hand. Here, who wouldn’t be tempted to pass 2 diamonds with a seven card suit headed by the AJ, even if LHO did open 1D?

However, since his LHO, West, opened with South’s 7 card suit, there’s a good possibility that West has four diamonds (you know she has at least three), so how many diamonds could North have? He’s already shown an unbalanced hand, so the chances of him having more than one are slim and the chances of his being void are excellent. So if you think about it, you shouldn’t be tempted to pass and take the chance that your partner will be forced to play this in a suit in which he is obviously horribly short. If partner shows two 5-card majors (which is all Michaels promises), and your RHO passes, make a choice between the two, even if you have two singletons.

Play: As East, I led the 4 of clubs, Millie taking South’s king with her ace. She smothered the singleton queen of hearts by leading her king. While South could get rid of one club on the AK spades, South was doomed to play the hand out of her hand and we got 2 club tricks and 4 diamond tricks for down one. Because Millie had five clubs, she could always take South’s diamond lead and force him to ruff and lead into her again. My club ten backed up by three other clubs was a huge card for the defense, keeping South from getting any club other than the queen.

Other tables were playing the hand in 4 spades, making, losing a spade and two hearts. I don’t know how they bid it. We were the only table at which North played the hand in 2D. It was the last hand of the day for us. We set it one trick and it gave us the best score in the room on this hand which was enough for us to win the 64 table event.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New Minor Forcing

Your partner opens with one of a suit and you bid a major.  Partner rebids 1NT.  What do you bid with this hand?

ª KJ874
© 87
¨ AJ8
§ Q104

2S is too weak a bid, and it should promise a six card suit.  Opener will pass it most of the time and that might cause you to miss a game.
3S is too strong a bid.  If your partner has a minimum with only two spades you could be too high.

A good solution exists which is called New Minor Forcing (NMF).  It works this way.

If your partner rebids 1NT, and you have a five card major with invitational values, you may bid two of the lower ranking unbid minor suit.  If the bidding started with 1H- P-1S-P-1N-P-?, you use 2C as your asking bid. This says nothing about clubs and is alertable.

Your bid promises at least invitational values (10 High Card Points [HCP]  and a five card major) and it is possible that you have more than that.  Your main intent with the NMF bid is to show that you have at least five cards in the suit, not four cards, which is the minimum that your initial response promised, and to find out if partner has at least a three card fit for your major. Since your initial bid only promised four cards in the suit, your partner should not raise with only three (there are exceptions to this, but not many). NMF is the best way to tell your partner that you have five cards in the suit and that she may now support it if she has only three cards in your suit.

If your partner has three-card support she bids two of your major with a minimum (12-13 HCP) and three of your major with a maximum (14-15 HCP).  If she does not have a fit she shows four of the other major if she has it.  If she cannot bid a major she bids 2NT with a minimum and 3NT with a maximum. Sometimes, however, she might bid 2 of your major with only two cards in your suit. This occurs if she opened with a weak hand, like only 12 HCP and feels that the best contract would be at the two level in a 5-2 fit. The thing to remember is that if she supports your suit, it does not absolutely promise three cards in the suit, although it generally does.

West              North              East                South
1D                   P                     1S                   P        
1NT                 P                     ?

One                Two                 Three              Four
ª QT874        ª AQ874          ª K10874       ª Q9874
© 32               © Q73             © AK              © 109764
¨ QT7            ¨ 73               ¨ K873           ¨ A3
§ KJ8             § K73             § 98               § 9

One:   Pass.  You have a balanced hand with too few points to worry about game.  It is quite acceptable to forget about the spades. If you were to bid NMF here and partner had a singleton spade with a minimum hand, you could easily get too high, when you could make 1N.

Two:    2C, NMF.  You have enough points to invite game.  If partner bids 2S you will know she has a minimum opening most probably with three spades and if she bids 3S you will know she has a maximum opening with three spades.  You will go to game if she shows a maximum.  If she bids 2D, denying a major holding or 2H, showing four hearts but denying three spades, you will bid 2NT.  She can go on to 3NT with a maximum.

Three: 2C, NMF.  You have game points but wish to check to see if 4S is the right game or 3NT.

Four: 2H.  This is a rare situation,  just about the only auction where responder can bid a new suit which does not force opener to bid again.  This auction occurs when partner rebids 1NT and you are able to show spades and then hearts.  You are allowed to bid 1S and then 2H when you have five spades and four or five hearts and less than ten high card points. 

If partner has opened 1C instead of 1D, the new minor forcing bid would be diamonds instead of clubs. That’s why it’s called “new” minor. You bid the unbid minor suit to show your hand. 

Often, players are tempted to use NMF with less than invitational hands (less than 10 HCP). Don’t succumb to this temptation because by making a NMF bid you are promising your partner specific values. If you make it without them, you don’t know what your partner is going to do. She might have a big hand and take you to a game or slam, relying on your bid, when you don’t belong there. Bridge is a game of trusting your partner. If you unilaterally deviate from your agreements, you are just making it more difficult for your partner to trust you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Don’t Make a Weak Preemptive Opening Bid in 4th Seat

There is no reason to preempt (open with a weak 2 or 3) in fourth seat. The purpose of a preempt is to keep opponents out of the bidding or to keep them from finding a contract. If you are in fourth seat and everyone has passed, you know that since neither opponent has an opening hand, the most they can have between them is around 22 High Card Points (HCP) or less and probably don't have a game. 
So if you have a weak hand with a good six card suit in 4th seat and you open the bidding, there’s a good likelihood that between them your opponents have more points than you and your partner. If you open with a weak bid and they then enter the bidding you have allowed them to find a part score they could make. As a result, there's no reason to open the bidding with a sub-opening hand in 4th seat. To do so just invites opponents to search for a part score contract they can make. If you don’t have enough HCP to make an opening 1 bid in 4th seat, pass.
As a result of this, a two level opening bid in fourth seat is available for a descriptive bid other than a weak two, if you have an opening hand. I use it to show 12+ HCP with a six card suit. So if I have 12+ HCP with a five card or less suit, I just open at the one level. But if I have a six card suit with an opening hand or better, I open at the two level. This has two positive effects:
1. It more specifically describes your hand to partner and allows you to proceed bidding without having to rebid your suit to show six cards; and
2. It hinders opponents from entering the bidding to find any contract they might have because the level is too high to start exploratory bidding when they know you have an opening hand or better.
With that as a preamble, here's a hand we held recently:


West (Me)                          East
♠ K3                                   84
♥ KQ972                             Void
♦ J93                                  AKQ87542
♣ 986                                 AK3

                        South (Dealer)

South                West         North         East
P                       P              P!             2D
P                      2H            P              3C
P                      3N            P              P
My partner played our system and opened 2D, although it's puzzling why North did not preempt with 2 spades in third seat. There is a feeling that you should not preempt if you have an outside four card major. But in this situation, North, in third seat, must preempt with 2 spades, holding six spades and three of the top five honors. He should forget his four little hearts, especially in third seat. If North preempts with 2S, it would make our finding 3NT extremely difficult, if not impossible. But when your opponents' make a mistake, take advantage of it, and we did.
I felt my partner probably had a pretty good hand, 15-16 HCP; I had no reason for that other than instinct. I did know that she had an opening hand with six diamonds, so I immediately thought we had a shot at 3NT since I had three diamonds to an honor. My heart bid showed a good five card suit. Since I already knew she had at least six diamonds, she was free to bid 3 clubs to show a club stopper. That's all I wanted to know. When she had my unstopped suit and I had a spade stopper, I bid 3NT, expecting a Spade lead into my king doubleton.
You can see that if North leads a heart, South takes the ace and if she shifts to the queen of spades through my doubleton king they can defeat the contract, taking one heart and six spades before I can get in.
But, as anticipated, I got the opening lead of the jack of spades (the unbid suit and the standard lead given North’s spade holding) and we took 11 tricks (one spade, eight diamonds, and two clubs) off the top. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Negative Doubles, Part III: The Reopening Double

Before getting into the Reopening Double, there’s one last item to cover. You may use a Negative Double to show minor suits if partner, for instance, opens 1H and your Right Hand Opponent (RHO) overcalls 1S. If your hand is like the following:


A negative double shows two four card minor suits and at least 8 High Card Points (HCP). This is a perfect hand for a minor suit negative double.

When you add any bid to your repertoire, you give up something. When you play negative doubles, you give up the ability to double some low-level bids by opponents for penalty.

Even a lot of experienced players aren’t aware of the fact that the reopening double is an integral part of the negative double system. What if, not vulnerable v. vulnerable, in third seat and the bidding goes 1 Heart by your partner then 2 Diamonds by your RHO? It’s now your bid and you hold the following cards:


You could bid 3 No Trump, but wouldn’t you like to double 2 Diamonds for penalty? Alas, you can’t double it because that would be a negative double, which you can’t make because you don’t have four spades. So how can you defend 2 Diamonds doubled in this hand? You clearly cannot double because your partner will respond as she has to in the negative double system.

The answer is that if your partner opens the bidding followed by a bid at the 2 level by your RHO, and you pass and your Left Hand Opponent (LHO) passes, your partner should “reopen the bidding” with a double if she has shortness in the suit bid by opponents and tolerance for the unbid suits. Shortness, in this context, means no more than a doubleton. So if your partner has two or less of your RHO’s suit, she should double. To be specific, here’s how the bidding goes.

Partner              RHO                  You       LHO
1 Spade            2 Diamonds        Pass      Pass

In the previous situation, your partner should protect you by doubling when it’s her turn. Then you can either let it sit for penalty, which you would do with the above hand, or pull it by either bidding your partner’s suit at the 2 level if you can, or making the best bid you have under the circumstances.

This is called a reopening double because it’s made by the opening bidder, and she’s reopening the bidding by doubling since, with two passes to her, if she passes, the bidding will stop. If she doesn’t bid or double, the auction is over.

Of course, you might have a legitimate pass, too. You might not be passing because you have opponents’ suit. You might have the following:


If you have this holding and your partner makes a reopening double, you should just pull the double and support your partner’s opening suit, in which she’ll have at least a 5–2 fit. Your partner anticipates this. Her double is just inviting you to let it stand for penalty if you have a lot of opponents’ suit. If you don’t, just retreat to the best contract. If you retreat, your partner will know you passed originally because you don’t have much.

Requirements for a reopening double are as follows:

1.   A reopening double may be made only by opening bidder (you, in this example);
2.   After LHO has overcalled and there are two passes by your partner and your RHO.
3.   Opening bidder has two or less cards in overcalled suit.
4.   Opening bidder must have tolerance (at least 3 cards) for all unbid suits.
5.   Opening bidder’s hand cannot be distributional.

As to the last rule above, if opener has a long suit , six cards or more, without support for all unbid suites, or is 5–5–2–1, she should either rebid her six-card suit, in the former, or bid her second suit in the latter. Look at the following two hands:

1. J5            2. J75
AQT864       AKT864
8                 8
AQT8           AK9

Bidding is as follows.
You               LHO                        Partner         RHO
1 Heart        2 Diamonds              Pass             Pass

How do you, as opening bidder, respond with each?

Hand 1: 2 Hearts. This is not a hand with which you should use a reopening double. True, you have a singleton in your LHO’s suit. And, true, your partner is almost certainly sitting behind your LHO with a lot of Diamonds. But your hand has two shortcomings that make it inappropriate for a reopening double:

1.   You don’t have tolerance for all unbid suits. Your Spade doubleton is insufficient for support if your partner responds to your double with a bid of 2 Spades. Remember, your partner might be short in your suit. So if you double and your partner doesn’t want to sit for the penalty double at the 2 level, she has to either support your suit if she has two cards in it, or bid her longest suit. If she has five Diamonds but not enough to sit for the double, her longest suit might be Spades. She could be 4–1–4–4, so she would be forced to bid Spades, and you can’t support her.

2.   Your hand isn’t strong enough. You really only have two fairly certain tricks, your two Aces. Remember, you have to take six tricks to set them. Otherwise they’re going to get a terrific score, making two or more, doubled!

Hand 2: Double. This is a very good hand with which to make a reopening double for two reasons:

1.   You have tolerance for both unbid suits, so if your partner can’t support your Heart bid you have at least three cards in the unbid suits. The worst that can happen is that your partner will be playing in a 4–3 fit at the two level, not a disaster.

2.   You have a good hand, with two Ace–King combinations. In a defense you have good trick-taking capability.

Remember this: Just because you have an opening hand and shortness in LHO’s suit, you don’t automatically make a reopening double. Your hand must fit all the  requirements set forth above in addition to shortness and the appropriate bidding after your open