Learn to Play Bridge Like a Boss

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H. Anthony Medley is an Attorney, an MPAA-accredited film critic, and author of Learn to Play Bridge Like A Boss,Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, and UCLA Basketball: The Real Story. He is a Silver Life Master and an ACBL-accredited Director and the author of a bridge column for a Los Angeles newspaper.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

6-5 Hand and Unfairness at the Bridge Table

You are West, in third seat. How would you open this hand:


Only 10 HCP but 6-5 distribution. Many players who play reverses would open 1D and then rebid 2C because a reverse (opening 1C and rebidding 2D) would promise 17 HCP at least. But if you have 6-5 distribution and an opening hand, you may still reverse by opening 1C and then rebidding the diamonds twice to show that your distribution is 6-5 rather than 5-4.

But is this an opening hand? It only has 10 HCP. According to modern bidding practice, this qualifies as an opening hand because it has 10 HCP and 10 cards in its two longest suits (called the Rule of 20). With only five losers and 2-1/2 quick tricks and satisfying the rule of 20, this hand clearly qualifies. So the corollary to this rule is that if your hand is 6-5 and you have enough points to qualify for an opening hand, it is strong enough to reverse. Here’s the layout followed by the bidding:

East dealer

                        ♠ AQJ32
                        ♥ KQ9832
                        ♦ --
                        ♣ K9

West                                        East
♠ 4                                           ♠ 10987
♥ 6                                           ♥ A4
♦ A10743                                ♦ KQ92
♣ AQ10654                            ♣ 872

                        ♠ K65
                        ♥ J1075
                        ♦ J865
                        ♣ J3

But as played at a local bridge club, North opened the bidding out of turn with a conventional Precision opening bid of 1C which shows 16+ HCP and says nothing about clubs. The director was called and East did not accept the bid so North was advised that when the bidding came around to him he could make a “comparable” call but if he did anything else his partner would be barred for one round. East and South both passed and West opened 1C. North bid 1H, which the director ruled was a “comparable call.” This was incorrect (see below), but the bidding went on as follows:

West  North East   South
                            P          P
1C       1H           1NT      P
2D       2H           3D       4H
5D       All Pass

At this point the director showed up and pulled the boards, saying everyone would get a “No Play” because the next round had already begun. West protested, saying that they had to wait more than five minutes to start the round because NS was slow in playing the previous round and then north’s bid out of turn caused an additional delay of a few minutes while the director was called and had to make a ruling, so EW should not be penalized, but should be protected. He also said that his opinion was that 5D making would be a top board and a “No Play” would damage EW. The director was not persuaded.

After the game the printout revealed west was correct because at all 11 tables the NS pairs were in 4 or 5 hearts, making. No E/W was in 5D. 5D is cold, but even if it goes set one trick it would be a top for EW. The only problems are the 4-0 trump break to the jack and playing clubs correctly. But normal play when there are four trump to the jack missing is to first lead to the hand that has two of the top three honors to discover the distribution of the missing cards because that keeps a two-way finesse in play. When west leads to dummy’s KQ and reveals that South holds all four trump, the finesse is easy to take back to west’s hand to the A-10. Played correctly, West loses only the spade ace and the club king. Had North had all four diamonds, West could come back to his hand with the ace and finesse through the board which would still have the Q-9.

As to playing the clubs, the correct play is to put the king in North's hand since he showed a big hand and finesse by playing the 10. If North wins the jack, then play the ace hoping that North had KJ tight. As the hands exist, though, the finesse of the 10 forces out the king and the jack falls under the play of the Ace and the queen.

Even though it is clear that fairness requires that EW get a top board since all the scores (except one where North bid 6H and went down one) are NS and the delay was clearly not the fault of EW, the director refused to grant EW equity.

In a telephone call to the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), West was advised that once cards are pulled from the board, the hand must be played, either immediately or as a late play, further buttressing the EW claim that they should have been awarded the top score on that hand. The ACBL said that at the very least EW should get an average plus, but the director only awarded the average of their game, which was less than an average plus.

The ACBL further stated that the director was wrong in ruling that North’s 1H overcall was “comparable” to a Precision 1C opening bid and that his partner should have been barred from bidding for one round. Since his partner passed anyway, that didn’t matter, but she took her unauthorized information (that North had 16+ HCP) to jump to game when she only had 6 HCP, something she’s unlikely to do without knowing that North had a huge hand, which she could not know from the bidding as it existed.

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