Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Timing is Key to Playing a Hand Correctly

Here are the West and East hands and the bidding; you are sitting West:

ª Q632
¨  AKQ
§ KQ4

© 753
¨ T964
§ A76

South             West   North             East
P                     2N*     P                     4N**
P                     6N                   All Pass

! I would open this hand with three quick tricks, even though there are only 11 High Card Points. The bidding would then go 1C-1S-1N-6N because West would figure East with a minimum of 12 HCP for the opening bid. Adding his 21 HCP to 12, that’s 33 HCP and clearly a slam opportunity.

*20-21 HCP

**Asking to bid 6N if at the top of his bid, pass if at the bottom. Since West was at the top, 21 HCP, he bid 6N. With 32 HCP, slam should be tried; with 31, it’s a longshot without a long running suit.

Opening Lead 8§

You’ve got 10 tricks, AKQ of spades and diamonds and clubs and the ace of hearts. Where do you get the other two? If the jack of spades is a doubleton and it drops on the AK, you’ve got another spade because that makes the 10 good, or if spades split 3-3 you’ve got your 4th spade trick. That’s two chances for your 11th trick. If you lead out the AKQ of diamonds and the jack falls, that’s another. Considering the odds, let’s say that half of those work. You still need another trick. The only place to get it is to finesse twice in hearts. The question is, what do you do first?

The opening lead gives you the answer right off the bat. You must try the heart finesse first. You know that your Left Hand Opponent (LHO) does not have both the king and the queen of hearts. If he did he would have led the heart king, top of connecting honors. So Right Hand Opponent (RHO) is finessible, either holding both of the heart honors or one. Because of the opening lead, you know he has at least one of them. The reason why you must try the finesse first is that let’s say you lead out the AKQ of diamonds and the jack doesn’t fall. That means that when you take the heart finesse and it loses, the jack of diamonds will be another winner and if the winner of the finesse has that card, you are down. When you take the finesse first and lose it, you don’t have a sure loser to lose because you still have control of the diamonds.

After you take the heart finesse and it loses to North, you may then confidently lead out your AKQ of diamonds to see if the jack falls, which it didn’t. Then go to the board and take your AK of spades. If the jack doesn’t fall, take the heart finesse to your hand, which works because, as you knew, the honors were split, and hope that spades break evenly by leading the queen. As it was, the jack was a doubleton and when it fell, the spade 10 was good so your queen of spades was your 12th trick, 3 diamonds, 4 spades, 3 clubs and 2 hearts.

This hand was played eight times in a club game consisting of experienced players, mostly Life Masters, and everyone but one person played it wrong. Interestingly, only four found the slam. The other four were in 3N, making 5. Two of those in slam were down one; one was down two and one made it. Here’s the four hand layout:

ª 9754
© K2
¨ J732
§ 853

ª Q632
¨  AKQ
§ KQ4

© 753
¨ T964
§ A76

ª J8
© Q9864
¨ 85
§ JT92

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 no trump hand bidding and play

Here are the east and west hands and the bidding:


South             West   North             East
                               P                 1C
P                 1S       P                  2C
P                 2H       P                  2N
P                 4N*     P                   5D**
P                 6N

*  Roman Key Card blackwood
**1 key card with hearts, the last bid suit, as trump

Opening lead: 10D

Bidding: West got into a bind jumping to 4N so fast, although about the only forcing bid he could make would be 3D. How this would be interpreted is questionable. If East bid 3N, West is still in a bind about blackwood. Had Clubs been established as trump, East could have then responded 5S to RKC blackwood showing 2 key cards and the queen of trump. As it was, West was stuck because if he bid 5N, that would be asking for kings. The only way to get partner to stop in 5N would be to bid an unbid suit, which asks partner to bid 5N. Alas, the only unbid suit was diamonds and that was what East bid in response to blackwood, so West just bit the bullet and bid 6N.

Play: Actually, both 6N and 6C can make. But East, as declarer, ran the clubs, discarding spades, ending her chance to make the contract.

The diamond lead into her AKJ gave her 10 cold tricks, 6 clubs, 3 diamonds and one heart. How do you get two more? You can try to finesse the heart king twice, but that’s a 50% play. If it loses, you also lose the ace of spades. There is, however, a 100% play. What you have to do immediately is to set up the spades, and it doesn’t matter how they split. Lead the spade queen. If that holds for the 11th trick, go to the board in spades where you have the king and the jack. When they take the ace, your jack is your 12th trick and you don’t have to take the heart finesse.

I played this hand at a club game, playing West. Nobody got to the right contract, 6N, but us. Just about everyone was in 3N, making 5 or 6. A heart lead (hard to find) holds it to 5.

 Here are the four hands:

Dlr: North
Vul: N-S

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Aggressive Bidding with a 4 HCP Distributional Hand

Here’s your hand, sitting East, second seat, NS vulnerable:

ª 3
© Q987542
§ Q9863

Only 4 HCP, but 7-5-1-0 distribution! If we have a fit we can make beautiful music because then it’s only a 5 loser hand! North, my right hand opponent (RHO), dealt and opened 1S. At favorable vulnerability (they were vulnerable and we were not) I bid 2S, Michaels, to partially describe my hand as at least 5-5 in hearts and a minor. If my partner can’t support hearts and wants to know what minor I have she asks by bidding no trump. There’s no way I could describe a hand with a singleton and a void in one bid, but my partner knew that I had at least 5 hearts and an unnamed 5 card minor.

The bidding continued with my left hand opponent (LHO), south, raising to 3S. My partner passed and my RHO raised to 4S. I wasn’t going to go down without a fight so I bid 5H. Now my partner should know I had a strangely distributional hand and probably 6-7 hearts. LHO bid 5S and my partner doubled. I can’t do anything but trust her, so I passed. However, when I saw my partner’s hand, I nearly passed out!

Here is the four hand layout:

                ª  AKT642
                ©  J6
                ¨  KJ954
West                         East
ª 95                          ª 3
© AKT3                      © Q987542
¨ Q3                         ¨
§ AKT54                    § Q9863

                ª QJ876
                ¨ AT872
                § J72

We have a massive two suit fit and 6 hearts is a cold laydown (of course 7 spades or diamonds is also cold for NS).

What was the thinking of my partner, who is a fairly experienced player with potential? She knows we have a terrific hearts fit. She has the best hand at the table yet she didn’t open her mouth to bid or support me. Then she doubles! She must know that her AK of hearts is worthless on defense. Of course with her sitting there silent I can’t go on above 5S. I have to trust her and sit for the double. We didn’t take a trick.

She actually had two choices here. One is to immediately bid game in hearts. But the other is to bid no trump to ask for my minor. If it’s clubs, which it was, with the AK plus length in both of my suits she could jump to 6H or at least explore for it. If she gives me a support bid for hearts, I’m not going to stop competing short of 6H (after all, I bid 5H without a peep from my partner).  I asked North, who opened the bidding, if he would have bid 6S over our 6H bid and he said that he would not have. South agreed, saying he had done all he could with his 8 HCP hand. I had done all I could to communicate this hand to my partner with my meager 4 HCP, but to no avail.

My partner actually made two mistakes. The first was not entering the bidding immediately to communicate her support for my hearts, and the other was to double. It’s dangerous to double distributional hands unless you hold a lot of trumps because HCP are often worthless in such hands. As can be seen by this distributional hand, both pairs can make slam, but all four hands are worthless on defense.

Like the beautiful woman who got away, this is a hand I shall never forget.

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.