Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Western Cue Bid

Some time ago a pair of players had a hand much like this one:

West          East
K2           53
AK974     32
KJ98        AQT742
96          AJ4

West            North            East            South
1H                1S                  2D               2S
3D                Pass               4C               Pass
4D                Pass               5D               Pass
Pass              Pass 

East played in 5 Diamonds and went down one after a Spade lead. North took two Spade winners, and the defense later got a Club trick when the Heart suit did not divide well.

This is a disaster for East-West because West can make 3 No Trump. There is no defense to it. How do you think the bidding should have gone? Some players thought that West should bid No Trump instead of raising Diamonds, but that seems like a biased view. For all West knew, slam in Diamonds was available.

There is a convention that would have gotten West to 3 No Trump. It has many names, but the most popular is the Western Cue bid.

The way it works is simple. The opponents have bid a suit but your side is marked with most of the HCP. If your side has not found a major suit fit and if it is clear that your side does not have a major suit contract available, a cue-bid of the opponents’ suit does not show a control, as do many cue-bids. It instead says, “I think we can make 3 No Trump if you have a stopper in their suit.” In other words, it's "asking" and not "telling."

On this hand, East could have bid 3 Spades instead of 4 Clubs, asking, "Do you have a spade stopper?" West does have a Spade stopper and bids 3 No Trump. West is not worried about Clubs because East has suggested that the hand be played in no trump, so East must not be worried about Clubs. Further, no one has bid them and East rates to have something in Clubs given he has shown a good hand. In any event, West must trust his partner that Clubs won't be a problem and answer East's question, "Do you have a Spade stopper?" by bidding 3N.

Here is another example.

West          East
AQ          874
87           QJ92
AKJ875    Q942
JT8         A9
West            North            East   South
2D                P                  3D      P
3H*               P                  3N      P
P                  P
* Western Cue

South opens 1 Heart and West bids 2 Diamonds. West does not have enough to double first and so is obliged to overcall. East makes a good raise to 3 Diamonds. Do not forget to raise your partner’s overcalls when you have support. A raise does a lot of good. West can see six likely Diamond tricks, and with South opening the bidding it is pretty sure that if a Spade finesse is needed, it will work. So West bids 3 Hearts, asking if East has a Heart stopper. He does and he bids 3 No Trump as requested because 3 No Trump will make almost all the time. It would take extremely bad luck to go down.

One big advantage to the Western Cue bid is that the person with the stopper is declarer, so the lead will be by her LHO and thus into her stopper. If the person without the stopper is playing the hand, the lead will go through the person with the stopper, which often means that it's not a stopper after all.

Western Cue only applies when you do not have a major suit fit. If you do have a major suit fit, cue bidding opponents' suit generally means you have first round control, either a void or the ace of that suit.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reopening Doubles

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 you’re 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 2 No Trump, but wouldn’t you like to hit 2 Diamonds? Alas, you can’t double it because that would be a negative double, wouldn’t it? And it won’t do you any good to make a negative double for two reasons. First, you don’t have the bid. You don’t have four Spades. Second, you want it to be a penalty double, not a negative double. 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 LHO passes, your partner must double with 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 because you don’t have much.

Requirements for a reopening double are as follows:

          A reopening double can be made only by opening bidder;

          After LHO has overcalled and there are two passes by your partner and your RHO.

          Opening bidder has two or less cards in overcalled suit.

          Opening bidder must have tolerance (at least 3 cards) for all unbid suits.

          Opening bidder’s hand cannot be distributional.

As to the last rule above, if opener has a long suit, six cards or more, 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


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:

                        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.

                        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:

                        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.

                        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 the requirements in addition to shortness and the appropriate bidding after your open.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Play When You are Sick

This happened yesterday. My partner and I were playing in a club game, sitting east-west. When we came to the third table my RHO, wheezing and sniffing said, "Welcome to the sick table." My partner, Gail, a registered nurse, and I looked at each other. I asked, "you're both sick?" My RHO replied, yes.

Gail and I looked at each other again, and we were both unhappy. We both know that one of the best ways to spread a cold is to play cards when you are sick. I said, "This is very upsetting. You should not play when you are sick. You expose everybody in the room to your illness. I don't want to get sick for two weeks just because you want to play bridge. Playing bridge when you are ill is selfish and inconsiderate."

Gail added, "Please cover your mouths with your hands when you cough."

Both of our comments were met with embarrassed silence. My LHO is an experienced player and should have known better. He was sicker and quieter at our reaction. Let me say here that these are both very nice people and Gail and I like them.

One of the best ways a cold is spread is by ill people playing cards. Since they were sitting north-south and we were sitting east-west, we were only exposed to their coughing their germs over us for the 20 minutes we were at their table. However, the people sitting north-south, the same direction that our ill opponents were sitting, will touch their cards, not knowing that they have been handled by people with a communicable illness. They will then put their hands to their face, maybe pick up something to eat, do a lot of things that can expose them to the germs that been left on the cards.

Whenever I learn before a bridge game that there is somebody in the game with a communicable illness, most often a cold, I decline to participate and go home. But when the people who are ill don't tell anybody and the game starts, you're stuck. Similarly, I won't play if I am ill with a cold, not because I don't feel like it, but because I don't want to expose anyone else to my cold. I'll only play if people are aware of my cold and still urge me to play.

After the dialogue Gail and I were seething that we were being exposed to these people's illnesses simply because they selfishly wanted to play bridge and didn't care about exposing everybody else to their colds. We discussed it with other east-west players after the game and they all commented that they were irritated by being exposed, kept as far away from them as they could and left the table as quickly as possible.

The game progressed and we picked up our hands. Here is the layout:

Dealer: South
                        ♠ K8652
                        ♥ AJ
                        ♦ 874
                        ♣ A63

Tony                                        Gail
♠ Q7                                        ♠ AJT94
♥ 74                                        ♥ KQ65
♦ KJ962                                   ♦ QT
♣ Q874                                    ♣ T9

                        ♠ 3
                        ♥ T9832
                        ♦ A53
                        ♣ KJ52

West (Tony)   North     East (Gail)  South
P                1S             P               1N
P                P               D               P
P                P
Bidding: Gail and I have an established partnership, so our bidding is a little different than what might be standard for most people. As I have indicated in prior columns I strive to defend 1N doubled. Here, North opened in third seat and Gail passed. This does not mean that she is a  "passed hand." As her partner, I recognize that she could have an opening hand but no bid. With 12 HCP, she has 4 hearts, but she cannot double because she cannot support any suit that I bid, and she is not strong enough to double and then bid her own suit which, when she bids a major suit, promises at least 17 HCP. So she must pass here. 

However, when 1N is passed around to her, she is strong enough to double because of our partnership agreement. Our partnership agreement is that if opponents' bidding shows weakness and you are in the passout seat you should double 1N with 10 HCP. Here, a third seat opening (often less than an opening hand) followed by a 1N response and a pass by opening bidder, couldn't be weaker. So Gail doubled, asking me to pass if I had a hand with defensive values. 

Although I only had eight HCP, I had a fairly good five card diamond suit headed by two honors and Queens in 2 other suits. From the bidding I assumed that Gail probably had an opening hand, so I passed for penalty. We wanted to get a top board, but equally persuasive, we wanted our opponents to remember this for a long time.

Play: Normally there are rules for what the double of a No Trump bid calls for in terms of lead. Here, when neither of us has made a bid, a double would generally call for the lead of dummy's first bid suit, a spade. 

However there are things that mitigate against this. The first is that Gail is sitting behind spade bidder so after she takes the first trick what she leads back is strictly a guess. I, of course, don't know that she has such a wonderful running spade suit. If I lead the queen, if declarer covers with the king Gail takes 4 spades off the top. If the queen isn't covered, she takes 3 spades, but in the meantime I will probably have to jettison some of my diamonds on her spade leads, so even if I knew about the high quality of Gail's suit, I don't think a spade lead is as good as my diamond lead. 

As I have said in a prior column, the rules for opening lead against a doubled 1N contract are subservient if you have a better lead in your hand. I already knew that Gail liked spades. She knew nothing about my hand. Since I had a pretty good five card suit I can tell her about it now, and this might be the only chance I have to tell her about it because it's unlikely I'm going to get in any time soon. 

So I led the six of diamonds, fourth from longest and strongest. Gail played the Queen, which held, and returned the 10, which declarer took with her ace. After that, it was brutal. Declarer only took 4 tricks, losing 3 diamonds, 2 clubs, 2 hearts, and 2 spades. I got in with the club queen to make my two diamonds which had set up (I had had to sluff one of my diamonds while hearts were being played). And then I returned the Queen of spades through the King on the board, so Gail got two spade tricks. If you're interested, you can play the hand yourself, but the result was that we took nine tricks for down three doubled, +800 for us. Everybody else in the room set 1N, but we were the only ones who doubled.

So the moral here is, if you're sick and aren't the least bit considerate about infecting your opponents, there is karma in this world and you might find yourself down 800. Don't play when you're sick.