Sunday, December 23, 2012

Two Wrongs Often Make it Right

First the Weather Report in Rochester, New York. It snowed and we have a clean blanket of snow covering the ground and more on the way. I have forgotten all my Minnesota driving skills and so have experienced going down the highways mostly sideways and out of control. Nobody sent the scotch that I requested in my last post, but fortunately I brought my little bridge flask along and have had plenty of table experiences that challenged my resolve. 
A couple of times I have discussed what I believe to be the significant advantage of long term partnerships when it comes to bidding bridge hands. Usually familiarity presents itself by precise bidding and a little intuitive feeling about borderline situations that gives them an edge. In spite of this, they occasionally get off track and you expect to benefit by the unintended misunderstandings. Lately, however, just when it looks like somebody is going to put a “top board” in my stocking, I end up with a lump of coal. Here is an example from Friday (E-W vul):

KQ7654                 T82
J                             853
J62                         T983
KJ8                         QT7


 My partner, Mike Spitulnik, sitting East passes as does South. I am sitting West holding 11 hcp and a 7 LTC hand. I am sure many would choose to open that hand in 3rd seat one spade, but with my partner being a previous pass and holding a single heart and no real defensive values, I decided on two spades (preemptive). I might point out that in standard or 2/1 I probably would  not open this hand in 1st or 2nd seat. IMHO, too good for a pre-empt and not good enough to open in 1st or 2nd seat. Yes, I have a good rebid, but that might not find me much solace if opponents find their heart fit. Surely if I open and partner doubles a high level heart contract he is not going to be happy with my defensive values. I’ll take criticism over this choice!!

North and South are experienced players, not experts, but know their way around the bridge table. After my 2 spade bid, North overcalls 3 hearts. Without hesitation her partner raises her to 4 hearts. When the South hand comes down as dummy, Mike and I are trying to be stoic, but our eyes meet and we are savoring what surely has to be a doomed contract and a high board for us. Normally you would expect North to have 14-16 hcps for the 3 level overcall so when South came down with 7 hcps it became clear that Santa was on his way. At the conclusion of play as they wrapped their 4 heart contract, we sat there like plucked geese knowing that we had been the victims of double offsetting miscommunication. We hear South say “Well, I knew that her bid at the 3 level was highly invitational and I did have 7 hcps.” North’s rejoinder was “Well, I was surely entitled to bid 3 hearts with 20 hcps. One wrong compensated for another and our anticipated good board turned into an average minus. If you hold the North hand, double first and then when South bids 3 hearts, raise to 4 hearts. Now you are showing 17+ hcps and a game invitational hand. 

The next one catches one of my favorite rascals, Bill Foster, and his longtime partner, Gayle Phillips, in a senior moment. They are both Gold Life Masters and Gayle only plays with Bill. After a couple of false starts, Bill is my nominee for this year’s “zero tolerance” award.

I see Bill and Gayle coming to my table, but I am loaded for bear with one of my top partners, Lydia Fischer. Lydia celebrates her 90th birthday today and is so close to 5,000 master points that every time we scratch I expect diamonds to rain down from the sky. We play K-S by choice which totally suits me since it is a system I play often. Here are the hands (N- S vul). 


T986432                         void
96                                    KJ87
AK                                  QT52
82                                    AJT93


I am South and dealer and open 1NT (12-14). Gayle without hesitation overcalls 2 spades!!!  Lydia passes and without any tempo break Bill passes. I have no rebid so I pass and we are in 2 spades. All of a sudden Bill regains consciousness and realizes that he has passed an opening hand equivalent with a void in the trump suit.

Bill does not take criticism all that well and Gayle can dish it out when justified, so he goes on the offensive saying, “partner I know I made a tragic mistake by passing, and please do me the favor of not commenting about it in front of these nice people. It is not clear what Gayle’s 2 spade bid was all about, but given she claimed it was preemptive and there was no conventional alert, it seems likely that she did not notice my 1NT opening. The next thing I hear Gayle saying, “what mistake, I made a weak bid of two of 2 spades, what did you want to do other than pass?” Now Bill, always quick to grab the offensive and get off defense, says “What weak 2 bid, you made a 2 spade overcall!” No one can go from guilt to indignance quicker than Bill. It was a draw, so Gayle played the hand in two spades with a ten high suit and a board void in trump. In spite of the convoluted bidding and mutual miscues, they actually made 2 spades which was a top score on the board, sharing it with 3 clubs. How did we fare? Well I did not see diamonds descending from the sky. It was late in the day, and I did get a chuckle seeing two very good players having super senior moments. Only Bill Foster could come out of this smelling like a rose. I am sure that he reveled with our frustration. If he has to stuff a lump of coal in someone’s stocking, I’m sure that I would be one of his favorite candidates. Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all my readers.
Commentary to


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Responsive Doubles (Part 2)

Since I am journeying to Rochester, New York for 2 weeks I need to find the cold weather gear. Rochester is the snow equivalent of Buffalo, it just avoids the publicity. For all the wonderful things that Toronto has to offer, the only thing it sends to Rochester is a snow dump as it comes over Lake Ontario. I went to Ocala yesterday shopping for one of those World War II bomber hats with sheepskin flaps but all I got was strange stares. Nothing new for me. Forget the warm clothes, just send really good scotch. Second Choice, some fur lined sandals.

Today we continue with my dialog on being a "4th seat warrior." Just to stay in focus with my current theme, in Noverber, I first discussed major suit OBAR bids (Opponents Bid and Raise the same suit) where partner has passed in-between. I noted that 2NT following this OBAR sequence is “unusual” for minors (preferably 5-5 or a strong 4 carder if 5-4). So with xx, x, KQxxx, QJxxx and 1h/p/2h, bid 2NT showing your minors. Partner picks his best minor.

In my most recent blog, I started the discussion of “Responsive Doubles” where opponents make OBAR bids in either majors or minors with an intervening take out double by partner. A double directly over opponents raise in this sequence is a Responsive Double. If it is a minor suit OBAR sequence, then the responsive double always shows 4-4 or better in the majors. When it is a major suit OBAR, there are a couple of twists depending on which major suit is bid. To cement this concept in your mind, it may be a good time to review again the preceding blog, Responsive Doubles (Part 1).

In this post I am going to discuss an OBAR sequence where partner has made an intervening standard overcall over the opening bid. Note that the only difference in this situation is partner’s overcall rather than a take out double. In all of these bids that I have discussed, just watch for the OBAR sequence by opponents, as that is the prime requirement your 4th seat intervention. Your double in this instance is said to be “responsive” to partner’s 1 spade overcall and shows 5-5 in the unbid suits. Like unusual no trump, in 4th postion it can be 5-4, but the 4 carder should be playable against 3 card support. AJTx just won’t do it.

The auction is 1h/1s/2h. Your hand is x, xx, KTxxx, QTxxx. Tell me, is this hand a piece of crap or the crown jewels? You got to see the beauty in this hand. At any vulnerability I’d be jumping up and down to double for minors. Partner is almost guaranteed to have at least 3 card support in one of the minors. Why do I know that? We know that they have an 8 card fit and when opponents have an 8 card fit it is a 93% probability that we will have an 8+ card fit as well.

You and partner need to agree on the maximum level of responsive doubles. For ease of memory some writers recommend that you and partner apply responsive doubles through the same bidding level that you use for negative doubles. What is the double if it is made beyond your agreed level? Penalty double, natch!

At the two level you don’t need much by way of hcps. It is always better to have your points primarily in your long suits and to be more aggressive when non-vulnerable. If you have doubt, it is rarely wrong to get into the bidding.

Now, in addition to our natural bids and cue bids, you have three more ways to get into the bidding after the opponents smugly “OBAR” you. Let me say this one more time, if the opponents OBAR they are showing an 8+ card suit. It is almost a mathematical certainty that they are headed for a minimum +110 if it’s a major. They are fat dumb and happy and unless opener has a game going hand, they are praying for an opportunity to play it at the 2 level. You are not supposed to be the answer to their prayers. You are supposed to be their worst nightmare.

I think some of may say “Isn’t this a balancing problem and isn’t the guy in the pass-out seat supposed to take care of that?” Can’t we just pass and blame partner for failure to balance. That a may soothe your conscience, but not get many matchpoints. Balancing in the pass-out seat has a counterpart and it is called pre-balancing. All of the bids discussed above are pre-balancing bids because they occur prior to any rebid by opener.

How do you know when to pre-balance and when to pass it around to partner to balance? One of the best guidelines is to count the cards you have in their suit. If they have 8 and we have 5 and you have only 1 of the 5, that means that partner has 4. If he has 4 cards in their suit, it is unlikely that he has a hand suited to balancing, so look at your hand again and do something. The opposite is equally true. If you got 4 cards, partner has 1 so let it roll around to him. How about those 3-2 splits. Well if I have two, I am going to try to pre-balance, since I think my chances of getting it right are better than pard’s.

Is bidding in these circumstances risky business? Sure, there is some minimal risk, but the riskiest thing you can do at match points is let opponents play the hand at the two level. If you make a responsive double what can possibly happen? Opener has three choices, redouble, bid again or pass. A redouble by opener, whatever it means in this sequence, will become meaningless since partner will bid something opposite your responsive double. If opener decides to pass, partner will also take a bid. In each instance we may find a good fit and be able to successfully compete for the hand. What if they bid again? Well, now they have to take 9 tricks instead of 8, and if they fail, we beat all those pairs that let their opponents play at the two level. On the other hand, if they bid again and make 9 tricks, it’s the same match point score whether they bid 2 or 3, and nothing is lost.

So partner responds to the responsive double. The choices are about the same as before, opponents can pass, double or bid again. They pass? I like our chances of getting a favorable board. They double? Get real, how often are opponents going to take the risky course of doubling you into game? Not very often if, and if you think not, just look at your own doubling record. Most of the time they will feel that you are robbing them of a good contract and will raise the bid to the 3 level. Well, if they do, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Assume they have an 8 card fit, the Law of Total Tricks states they are safe to compete to the 2 level. There is an excellent chance that a three level contract is one too many.

So take the time to learn how to be a good 4th seat Warrior. If you are not afraid to make overcalls that show only one suit, how can bids that show two alternate suits present more risk?

You may have noticed my cat Virgil at the top of my blog. I am sorry to say that we lost Virgil a couple of weeks ago. He was a Norwegian Forest Cat that we had for 15 years. He spent every waking hour wondering how he could comfort Alla and me, and simply wore himself out. What more could you ask, but we miss him.

On a Cheerier Note, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers. I Promise in 2013 to make it a priority to post some kind of an index to the Blog that is more user friendly than Blogspot’s archive.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Responsive Doubles (Part 1)

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone and without a doubt I have a lot to be thankful for, mostly surviving a number of these holidays. Actually I am tied with Willie Nelson, but I am worried his “Grass” consumption will give him an edge in the end. Anyway, it was not the big event of the week, I am really celebrating my reinstatement as a Notary Public as decreed by the Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State of the Great State of Florida.

This is good news for all my unmarried readers or the great pretenders. If you are contemplating marriage, or maybe just a rehearsal, you can come to Florida for my winter special. My big extravaganza is poolside ceremonies, but also offer palm tree or golf course venues. All Florida requires is a license ($93.50 on your Visa) and my only requirement is a certification of competency from your psychiatrist. If you are ambivalent, I also do “no license marriages”, since the Holiday Inn down the road has a “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Same Don Ho Music, Champagne toast and Ice Carving.

Like many of my blog post, this one is directed to the “duplicate wars.” You can teach uncontested bidding in a week, but it takes a lifetime to understand how to effectively interfere in competitive auctions. Many of the competing opportunities come up in auctions where “Opponents Bid And Raise” the same suit. Marty Bergen uses the acronym OBAR to generically describe these auctions. Most often it is 1major/2major, but can also be in the minors. In this discussion your partner has competed over the opening bid with a Take Out Double. Thus you are sitting behind RHO who has raised to the two level. It’s now or never and you need to take never out of your vocabulary. Not to be lost in this discussion is that partner having made a take out double has a real opening hand.

In my last blog post, we looked at the 1h/2h OBAR sequence where partner had passed in-between the bids. With xxx, x, AQxxx, KJxx (non-vul, 10 hcps and 2 quick tricks) I advocated the call of 2NT to be Unusual No Trump showing minors and a desire to compete. Yes, I am forcing partner to the 3 level but with decent shape and hand strength it is the right call. We are favorites to have at least half the points and maybe more.

Today, we are going to stay with OBAR sequences, but change the facts so that partner makes a Take Out Double over the opening bid. Assume first that the OBAR sequence is in either minor, say 1c/x/2c, and as advancer you hold xxxx, Jxxx, AKx, xx. It looks like you have a major fit somewhere, but how can you explore it with only 8 hcps. Partner by his double has announced shortness in clubs, so presumably he has at least one 4 card major. You really don’t care which major and with this minimal hand you do not want to take two bids, so you need a bid that says “pick a major partner.” Actually we do have a bidding card for that, it is red with an X, and in this sequence is called a Responsive Double. The quality of my majors is lousy, but my hand is plenty strong for this action. In discussing Responsive Doubles, Karen Walker (a Bulletin Columnist) says you need only 6-7 points since in this auction partner is still able to bid at the 2 level. Responsive doubles have a lot in common with Negative Doubles, just in a different seat and several commentators recommend that you play them through the same level as you play negative doubles to make it easy to remember.

The other OBAR auction is 1major/2major. Again partner makes an intervening Take Out Double. Let's say it is 1h/x/2h/. Partner, for his take out double, hopefully has a heart shortage, likely 4 spades and tolerable support for the other 2 suits. Let’s assumes you hold Qxx, xx, AKxx. JTxx. A Responsive Double on this hand runs the risk that partner will respond in spades with his 4 card suit. You want to restrict his choice to minors so we don’t end up declaring with a 7 card spade suit. The best practice is that if you have 4 spades, you bid 2 spades to show them. If you fail to bid 2 spades and instead make a Responsive Double, the take out doubler assumes you have minors. So with the above hand you make a Responsive Double asking partner to bid his 4+ card minor. In this case you are forcing partner to bid at the 3 level with the Responsive Double, so you need more stuff to enter the auction, but 8 or 10 working points are sufficient. We want to challenge the commitment of opponents with a 3 level minor suit bid. In this case the Responsive Double asks “pick a minor partner.”

If the major suit auction is 1s/x/2s, bidding 3 hearts to show a 4+ card heart suit is not as easy, since to do so at the 3 level requires at least a good limit raise. In spite of the fact that partner’s take out double of spades strongly suggests 4 hearts, if you have fewer than 10-12 working points you will be misleading partner and be in 4 hearts before you can catch your breath. Max Hardy, a fallen hero of mine, suggests that the way to slow down this auction is to make a Responsive Double asking partner to pick a minor. When he picks a minor you now rebid 3 hearts to show him you have hearts, but not enough in values to make a 3 heart call over 2 spades.

Responsive Doubles are vastly under used in today’s competitive auctions. If everybody who has them checked on their convention card knew how to use them, we would hear of them more often. Her are some simple guidelines:

Responsive Double after Minor suit OBAR

1. A minor suit OBAR auction by opponents with an intervening take out double by partner.

2. To make a responsive double, you need 6-7 points and 4 cards in both majors.

3. Take out doubler picks a major and all hands rest (hopefully).

4. If the Responsive Doubler takes a second call after the Responsive Double it is definitely game invitational.

Responsive Double after Major Suit OBAR

1. A Major Suit OBAR by opponents with an intervening take out double by partner.

2. If you make a Responsive Double it will ask partner to pick a minor.

3. Alternatively if you bid hearts at the 3 level as suggested by the take out double, it show a good invitational hand with 4+ hearts.

4. If you have 4+ hearts but less than limit raise values, make a Responsive Double first asking partner to pick a minor. When he bids a minor you now bid 3 hearts to show a minimal hand with 4 hearts that could not bid hearts directly over 2 spades. This warns partner of your more limited values and should slow the auction way down.

Look for opportunities to make a Responsive Double when you hear 1y/x/2y. You are telling partner to pick a suit and you save a level of bidding. Remember the risk is always in not acting after an OBAR sequence. Pass is for “newbies”, not for bridge warriors and winners.

The next post will continue to deal with OBAR sequences, but instead of making a take out double, partner makes an overcall. The responsive double will continue to serve us in this bidding sequence, but some of the meanings change. Comments and Questions directly to .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bidding Unusual 2 No Trump with a "Spanx" Crises

Knowing that I am an unrelenting “fashionista”, I overheard my friend, Dick Ragatz mention that the latest rage in the Men’s department is “Spanx.” If you don’t know what they are then you must have a perfect body. Think about cut off panty hose. Strolling through Dillard’s men’s department, I spotted a rack full of them. I think you can guess the rest. Knowing that this was new territory (at least that is my story), I consulted my wife Alla on how to keep them from riding down like cheap panty hose. She said tuck your shirt tails under the Spanx.

Full of renewed confidence I decided the perfect place for a practice run was the Friday Bridge game in Hernando. To add a little courage, I decided having a beer on the way to the game would be a good idea on the theory that nothing can hurt my bridge game. It can’t be much more than the third set of boards when my aging bladder started to send signals. I rushed to the men’s room to find that the only way to get through three layers was “drop trou” and sit down. Now I am a stand up guy and relentlessly adaptable to new solutions, so I grabbed some scissors from my infamous “black bag” and cut a nice 6 inch arc out of the front of the hem of my golf shirt. The good news is that the problem was solved. The bad news is that I have a curious hole in the front of my $125 golf shirt. So if you see me wearing a red shirt, you will know that it is a Spanx day. If you see me tugging at my waist, please don’t pull the alert card.

One problem solved, will the rest of the day be flawless? Oh hell no. I am on some of my best behavior closely adhering to bidding standards as set forth in our 40 page bidding agreement:  Bang, I am in 4th seat non-vul vs. vul and dealt something like xxx, x, AQxxx, KJxx. The bidding goes 1h/p/2h/2NT. I think this bid cannot be misunderstood, but admit it has not been recently (possibly never) discussed. My partner is an unrelenting purist and anything that is not discussed in the past 20 minutes has the meaning ascribed to it by Charles Goren in 1948. I, on the other hand, am more of an innovator in the style of Marty Bergen. As someone is sure to say, “Sir, you are no Marty Bergen.” Fortunately, we are still smiling and partners after the opponents ran the first 9 tricks in the majors. Nothing like an undiscussed bid to punch a hole in your game.

OK, who is right? Well, both of us. My partner because he is entitled to be consumed iny his time warp, and your blogger since modern bridge long ago changed the default of the 2 No Trump in this sequence to Unusual No Trump for minors. My hero, Larry Cohen, in a recent free news letter discusses the many facets of Unusual No Trump. Here are some of his guidelines:

1. In the direct seat most often it is a weakish preemptive hand showing the two lowest unbid suits with decent suit quality and 5+/5+ length. If vulnerable, the suit quality should move from decent to good. If preemptive, the bidder intends to pass any preference shown by his partner. If the hand is a really good hand (17+), the intention would be to a make a second bid showing these values. If the hand falls in between preemptive and really good (the so-called in-between hand) you need an agreement with partner whether to use Unusual No Trump or, alternatively to try bid both suits. There are adherents to both styles.

2. In the direct seat 2 NT is Unusual if opponent opened 1c, 1d, 1h, 1s, 1NT or 2c. The last two opening bids may surprise you since they occur so rarely

3. If partner is a passed hand, his bid of 2NT after his initial pass call is still Unusual 2NT. e.g. p/p/1c/p/2c/2NT (diamonds and hearts).

4. If opponents bid and raise any suit, e.g. 1h/p/2h/2NT, that is unusual no trump. If the bid and raised suit is a minor, the unusual 2NT guarantees at least 4 cards in each major.

5. Conversely, if the 2NT bidder is in the “reopening seat” 1d/p/p/2NT, that is the traditional 2NT reopening abid and shows a balanced hand with a stopper and 18-20 hcps.

6. How about the sequence ? 1x/p/1y/2NT. Unless you have some contrary bidding agreement (as we do) it should be treated as Unusual.

7. What if your LHO doubles your Unusual No Trump bid. 1h/2NT/x or 1h/p/2h/2NT/x. A pass should show equal length and substantially equivalent quality in both unusual suits and bidding either suit over the double should show a preference. A redouble can have any value you assign to it. Perhaps a hand with stoppers and some support fot the indicated suits, looking for No Trump. Your call.

The final issue is how long the two suits need to be. In the direct seat I prefer staying with the traditional 5+/5+. This reflects my general preference for disciplined bids so as to increase the quality of the information passed to partner. My fundamental belief is that the more discrete you make your bids and responses, the better the exchange of information and hence result. If your partnership permits 5-4 or 6-4 hands, it’s a choice of style, obviously not mine.

In the OBAR sequence (opponents bid and raise) with a 4th seat 2NT bid, it doesn’t bother me that the Unusual No Trump bidder has 5-4. If you look at the probabilities, opponents have an 8+ card suit and the odds are 93% that we also have an 8+ card suit. If we do nothing, they are well protected by the Law of Total Tricks and we will never find our competing suit. If they take another bid, good, they are one level higher. If they don’t take another bid we very likely will find an 8 or 9 card suit to compete in.
Was it an “unusual” day in the trenches? Definitely unusual for me, but then most are!!! Comments to .

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Some Days All You Get is an Intersting Hand!

Some Days All You Get is an Interesting Hand

As time keeps nibbling at your memory and focus, the results tell the story. So it is for me, and all I get many days are interesting hands to ponder. If you are able to retain your brilliant and clever partners through these tribulations, you also get reminded along the way of how fortunate you really are to hang onto them. 

If I had to judge last Friday by the result, I would have to say that it wasn’t even worth $1.50, but Board 27 provided both several bidding options as well as a platform for my partner, Mike Spitulnik, to demonstrate his declaring skills which are highly regarded here in our little Rochester bridge community. Here is the hand rotated to show South as the declarer. None vulnerable and West, as dealer, passes. Now it is up to North!

********* AQ94
********* AJ87



I am sitting North and have to make a decision, stay in tempo and try to salvage something from the day. I never really counted points on this hand, just calculated Losing Trick Count (LTC) and the Quick Tricks (QT). I remember my excellent Florida mentor, Pat Peterson, telling me about the 4+4 Rule. This bidding guideline says that you can open a hand with 2 clubs if you have four LTC and four QT’s. Playing rules always provide a good defense in the post mortems, so I opened 2 clubs. I felt comfortable with this because I never counted hcps nor considered what I was going to say as my dummy only came down with only 17. I am sure most opened my hand 1 diamond. Perhaps double dummy you can reach a spade slam, but 10 out of 14 failed. If you choose that route I think it needs to go 1d/1s/4h (splinter). This does not look good from South’s position since there are 7 hcps of duplication in hearts and good bridge says to bid 4 spades.

Mike and I were playing “2 diamonds waiting” so his hand is worth a positive bid and he correctly bid 2 spades so he could bid two hearts later if necessary and not take up unnecessary bidding space in a game force auction. With a heart void and no prior agreement of how to show it in our 1430 system, I decided that I wanted to control the hand from my side so I set the trump suit by bidding 3 spades. As Robert Burns wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.” Mike’s next bid was not 4 spades but rather 4 NT! In retrospect, I think he was justified in assuming “Captaincy” since I had already shown my hand and values and his hand was still unlimited. Now I am right where I did not want to be. How do you show a void when partner launches into key card not knowing you have one?

My friend and expert, Eddie Kantar, explains it this way:
(i) 5NT shows 0 or 2 keycards and a void somewhere.
(ii) 6 clubs shows 1 or 3 key cards and a club void.
(iii) 6 diamonds shows 1 or 3 keys and a diamond void.
(iv) 6 hearts shows 1 or 3 keys plus a void in hearts.
(v) 6 of the agreed suit shows 1 or 3 and a void in a higher ranking suit.

 You only use these responses so long as the response does not carry you beyond 6 of the agreed suit. If we had an understanding my bid would have been 6 hearts. Absent an understanding I bid 5 diamonds showing 1 or 3. Since our agreed suit is spades Mike could have employed a "Queen Ask" by bidding 5 hearts and my response would have been either 5 hearts denying the queen, or in this case 5 spades showing the queen. You can only use this Queen Ask when spades are the agreed suit, as a response of 5 hearts when hearts is the agreed suit is a close out.

Another approach to bidding Mike’s hand would be to ignore the key card ask entirely. I am suggesting something called the “Grand Slam Force” invented by Josephine Culbertson about 80 years ago, but still in the bidding vocabulary of experts. I have used this twice in my life and both times in the same afternoon. After I bid 3 spades setting the trump, a bid of 5NT asks partner to bid a grand slam with two of the top three honors in the trump suit, and otherwise bid a small slam. This is my chance to bid 7 spades! How can you justify foregoing a key card ask only to show the grand eloquence of your bidding style. Easy, partner did open 2 clubs and hopefully he has the values (hcps and/or distribution) to support it.

In real life, Mike was not going to give me the chance to "f-bomb" this up. After I showed 3 key cards Mike bid 7 spades in an effort to reclaim full benefit for his entry fee. With 14 tables, 2 played a small slam, we played a grand and the rest stopped at game. Mike was the only declarer to make 13 tricks which, according to the computer, can be made against any lead and from either side. Our opponent led the 8 of spades and who can blame her. Looking only at the N-S hands, see if you can do it. Did I not tell you my partner is clever! He is so modest he probably has already crawled under his desk.

Can I claim anything for myself? Well, blogger’s are not supposed to be self-aggrandizers, but in retrospect I think Pat Peterson’s playing rule led me to the best opening bid. First, Mike was assured that I had no more than 4 LTC. Since we have a fit, the LTC formula should apply. Since he has 6 LTC, we have together 10 LTC. To determine the number of tricks we are likely to take subtract the losing trick count from 24 or 24-10=14, a Grand with an overtrick yet! The 4 QT requirement assures him that this is not just some long suit, but rather I have some outside stuff as well.

How did we get catapulted into seven spades? Well we knew the hcp requirement was a number ending in 7, and in end result we found out that 27 seems to work as well as 37. Remember, this is discussion, not dogma, and as long as you bid and make 7 spades, do it your way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Fiish Will Bite on Anything!

I was salivating over a 3 NT contract last week at the Wednesday game at Temple Beth El. I could see that everyone would be in 3NT, so I dedicated myself to getting that extra trick that must be lurking somewhere in this computer generated hand. Here are the N-S hands:



The opening lead from West was the heart 3, I put in the J and it held. I knew that the odds of the diamond suit splitting 3-3 were about 35% and the 4-2 break was 48%. The true odds of running diamonds from the top was about 39% since the JT doubleton in either hand would also work holding the 9 of diamonds. If I get lucky and run 5 diamond tricks, maybe somebody will discard a spade and help me out.

I started with the Ace of diamonds and I see Greg Giles, who is sitting East, smoothly play the Jack of diamonds. Greg was someone I did not know, but his face was totally innocent, so I credited him with a stiff Jack and decided to go after West’s ten that was bracketed by my Q-9. I came back to my hand and led the 3 toward my Q-9 tenace and see Greg taking my trick with the 10 of diamonds. Did he start with the JT? Oh no, worse than that, he had played the J from JT5 and I went for it like a rat to cheese!

While clearing my head, I hear a loud roar of laughter at the table. I am about to lecture my opponent for gloating and look across the table and see it is my partner Jim Bailey who is laughing telling me I got suckered by a clever false card. Well, at this point I am thinking that if I have to go down, there is nobody else I would rather take with me than Jim.

It is all very humiliating: Here I am the Prince of Probabilities being taken down like a novice. Still licking my wounds in the aftermath, and clinging to a faint hope that I can patch up my reputation, I turn to the Encyclopedia of Bridge looking under suit combinations. Sure enough, I found the exact card holding with the following play advice:

1. For 5 Tricks play the top honors hoping that the Jack and Ten drop in 3 rounds. It is a 39% probability.

2. For 4 Tricks (a safety play) start by leading small to the 9 in case East is void or has a single that is lower than the 9. This play will take 4 tricks 90% of the time.

3. When playing against players who are not devious and unlikely to false card the Jack when holding JTx, cash the Ace and if you see an honor drop from East, finesse the 9 on the next play.

So my claim is that I did not make a mistake or get suckered, I just misjudged Greg’s character. He is in fact a deceiver and a ruthless one at that. How did it all work out? We got a zero on the board, but I was able to swallow my pride and recover for a high finish. The moral of this story is never trust an innocent face. Or better yet, just mindlessly lay down the top 3 honors no matter what you see.

If I substitute the ten on the board in place of the nine, should you now finesse the ten or play the diamond honors from the top? I don’t have to look in the Encyclopedia of Bridge to know that finesse is a 50% probability, so at first blush it looks like the finesse is the percentage play. But wait, adding the 10 in place of the 9 changes everything, since the Jack becomes a significant card. No defender would play the Jack from Jx since it would give declarer the whole suit, and this changes the odds on the 3-3 break from 39% to 52%. Thus, playing the honors from the top is 2% superior to taking the finesse. For those who want the mathematical explanation of these phenomena, see my blog post of September 23, 2007 entitled “The Odds and Ends of Bridge (Post Graduate Course).”

Will all of this convince Jim Bailey that I am not a fish? Absolutely not, so perhaps I should just admit that I got bamboozled by an innocent face. A pretty face works equally as well, so powder your nose ladies.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Larry Miles RIP -- Spadewood Lives On

Larry Miles was one of my early bridge blog readers. He often sent me comments and I could tell Larry was not your average bridge player. I eventually asked him where he was from, and said L.A. I replied I have a brother in Los Angeles, and he said that he meant Lower Alabama, Mobile to be precise. It turned out that his summer home was in Newark, New York, about 45 minutes from mine. We arranged a few summer games, but his favorite partner was his wife Julie, so our opportunities were limited.
Larry was everything I ever wanted in a bridge partner. He was kind, modest, self-effacing, polite, caring, and always the southern gentleman that his momma brought him up to be. As I found out later, his bridge skills and analytical abilities matched all of his excellent personal traits. He was one of the best that I have ever seen at solving play of the hand problems and was well versed in classic bridge literature.
Larry developed serious health problems and died about a month ago. So he and I never got to complete our games planned for this summer. I just wished I had a final game and a chance to tell him how much his friendship meant to me and the inspiration he provided to me. Larry had his own thoughts on how to bid certain hands and hated both Blackwood and Gerber over 1NT openers. He found often they resulted in confusion and thought them deficient in reaching light suit slams when partner opened 1NT (15-17). If the partnership had 31 or 32 hcps, had all 4 aces and could find a 4-4 fit, he wanted to be in slam.
 In no trump auctions he wanted to get rid of both Gerber and Blackwood, and he developed the perfect foil to accomplish this, SPADEWOOD. When partner opened 1NT, he used both Stayman and Major Suit Transfers and 2NT to show a hand that wanted to play minors. This left open the 2 spade bid which was “Spadewood.”
 Spadewood initially starts out as a range ask (not uncommon among some expert players) and opener bids 2NT with 15-16 hcps. This rebid can be passed if responder only wished to play at game against maximum no trump hand. So that takes care of invitational hands. If opener has 17 hcps, he shows the number of Aces starting with 3 clubs = 0, 3 diamonds = 1 etc. If responder is interested in slam he then starts by bidding his 4 card suits up the line in an effort to find a 4-4 fit. This also confirms to opener that all four Aces are held. If no fit is found they play the lowest game level no trump available. If responder wishes to sign off after finding that not all aces are held, he likewise bids the lowest game level of no trump. These no trump bids, which are to play, most often come at levels lower than the competition due to the efficiency attained with Spadewood. Larry claimed that he would often be playing 3NT when opponents were trying to remember how to stop in 5NT.
The final contingency: Opener rebids 2NT but responder wants to make a slam try anyway. Responder now asks for Aces by bidding 3 clubs which is like Gerber, but at one level lower. It is well to remember that “Spadewood” supplements Stayman and Transfers and is simply another way for responder to get information when responder has a balanced hand.
Initially I thought this might be some strange home brew, but played it with Larry to accommodate his strong feelings about it. I find that it is very sound and works just the way it was advertised. You get the information you need, most often at one level lower than opponents, and you find more light slams that can be played in suit contracts with 4-4 fits. Like all conventional bids, you have to give up something in exchange. In this case it is 4 suit transfers meaning you will play some minor suit part scores with the no trump hand on the table.
Larry’s favorite bridge topic was “Spadewood”. He only once wrote a definitive comment about the convention and that may be lost to posterity. Out of respect to my friend Larry, I wanted Spadewood to live on and not expire with him. I think Larry would be pleased. Larry was important to me as a friend. As a collateral benefit, he always made my bridge game look better than reality. Larry always read my bridge blog posts with a critical eye. I hope he is reading this one. I will be looking for your comment Larry.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Equal Level Conversion Examples (Part 2)

1. Opening bid is 1 heart. You hold:





This is the early example shown by Robert Ewen in 1973. He suggested you try for a spade contract by making a t/o x, since if partner bids clubs you could “convert” to 2 diamonds. Note: When one heart is opened we use ELC with a major minor holding, with the minor having 5+ cards and the major 4 cards. If you had one more club and one less diamond you would bid the same way. If you make an ELC double it also implies shortness in the opening bid suit.

2. If the hand is xx, KJxx, AQJxxx, x (hearts and spades reversed from ex. 1) we could use ELC if the opening bid was one spade, since we could convert to diamonds at the 2 level over 2 clubs. If the opening was one club we could not double on this hand since if Advancer bids 1 spade we could not convert to diamonds at the one level. A “double and bid” with a club opening would mean the big 17+ hcp hand.

3. Opening bid is 1 diamond. You hold:





 Do you really want to overcall a heart? Do you want to use Michaels on a 5-4 hand? I hope not to both questions. Perfect for an ELC t/o x. It neatly solves a problem hand. If Advancer bids clubs we convert to the better major hearts. Advancer surely doesn’t have a 4 card major or we would have heard about it. He may well have a 3 card heart suit. Think positive, on a better day Advancer bids 1 spade! We may be the only pair not to lose the spade suit. If RHO opens 1 club, it’s the same story. Note: If the heart suit were better quality you could overcall 1 heart, but you still risk losing the spade suit if Advancer’s holding is 2 hearts and 4 spades. If the major suit holding is 5-3, it is always better to make the overcall since that holding is not suitable for the ELC double.

4. Opening bid is heart. You hold:





You make a t/o double; responder bids 2 hearts, Advancer bids 3 clubs (maybe 8+ hcps and 5 clubs), pass by opener: Doubler coverts to 3 diamonds. Diamonds will be the best suit we have. If Advancer had 4 spades he would (hopefully) have shown the spades at the 2 level rather than bid the 5 card club suit.

 5. Opening bid is 1 club. You hold:





Double. If Advancer doesn’t respond in hearts, we bid spades to convert Advancer’s diamond response. Despite the popular belief that you can show both suits by overcalling spades and bidding hearts next, it is surprising how often the heart suit gets lost in traffic. If the opening bid is one diamond instead of a club, it is the same story.

6. Opening bid is 1 spade. You hold:





Double and convert to Diamonds if Advancer bids clubs. Again, we preserve our chance to find the 4-4 heart fit.

7. Here is one for real men (and ladies too!)!  Opening bid is 1 club. You hold:










 Double of course! If partner shows diamonds you convert to hearts. ELC. If Advancer has more spades than he does hearts, he should take a preference to spades. If you trap on these hands you might lose game in one of the majors.

 Here are some Balancing Examples:

8. Opponent opens one spade and there are three passes to you. In the balancing seat you hold:





With the club single 1NT is not attractive. Certainly a re-opening bid of 2 diamonds will get votes, but isn’t double the best choice if you play ELC doubles in the balancing seat? If partner bids the expected 2 clubs, we convert to 2 diamonds. If partner bids hearts, we are happy whether he has 4 or 5 card suit. Given the bidding and balancer’s holding, it seems likely that we will find partner with some diamond help.

9. South opens 1 heart and North raises to 2 hearts. All pass to you in the balancing seat. As West you hold:





The question is not whether to balance, but how best to do so. If you bid 2 diamonds, you will surely lose any spade fit. Better to make an ELC double. Suppose balancer’s partner holds Q10xx,xxxx,xxx,Ax. Then the hand makes an equal number of spades or diamonds.

10. South opens one heart, responder bid 1NT(F). You hold:





Here you are in the pre-balancing seat. You have 21/2 quick tricks and 11 hcps, and 5-4 distribution in suits that have not been bid. A pre-balance is a command performance. If you bid 2 diamonds, you just know that partner will have 4 spades. Make the pre-balance with an ELC double. If partner bids clubs, just convert to 2 diamonds. It's at the same level so you haven’t shown extras

 General Reminder: When you have the big 17+ hand, you can’t make a Double and ELC conversion. You have to make a cue bid or jump in the converting suit. Also, if your “double and bid” action is not ELC, (1s/x/ p/2h/3c) then you do have the big hand.

Equal Level Conversion Doubles (Part 1)

I always wanted to do a post on this subject, but felt it may be too complex for many of my readers. In June’s issue of The Bulletin (Pg. 26) I saw that Larry Cohen made a passing reference to Equal Level Conversion. Since his 2 short paragraphs left much unsaid, I have decided (for better or worse) to put a little meat on the bones. It’s been a while since I have written anything for my advanced readers, so here it is! You will find the endnotes grouped on at the end (duh!) This is a 2 part post, the next post will consist of examples and answers.
As we all know, the “Gold Standard” for take-out doubles is that doubler has support for the other three unbid suits. The only common exception to this is the “double and bid” situation.[1]. Since modern bridge theory supports single level overcalls with hands as good as 17hcps, double and bid action generally shows a hand that has a good 17+ hcps and a re-biddable suit. Since doubler has the best hand at the table, and it is his intention to take a bid over whatever partner’s action might be, it is not important that doubler can’t support partner in one of the unbid suits.

 These combined disciplines have stood the test of time pretty well. They set a sensible standard, promote partnership trust and set the stage for competitive bidding or a good defensive effort with a head start on count and values. Yet, there seems to be a recurring problem with certain two suited hands that are not 5-5. You are sitting in the second seat and see one heart opened on your right. You hold something like AKxx, xxx, AJ10xx, x. What call do you make?

 Most partnerships would overcall 2 diamonds. The problem is that you may catch partner with Qxxx, x, xxx, Axxxx and we miss a good play for game in spades. It is easy to bury a spade suit with this type of hand. Another approach is to overcall the 4 card spade suit[2]. The problem with this is that I like the assurance that partner’s overcalls have 5+ cards in the suit. If you have to question that each time a major suit is overcalled, you have lost valuable hand count information and may miss a 9 card diamond fit in which you could have competed. You could try to trap pass[3], but explain that to partner when the bidding goes 1h/p/3h, and our options are gone.

 There is a way that you can “have your cake and eat it too”, and not have to sweat your way through these awkward holdings. You simply make a take out double (!) and if advancer bids 2 clubs, you bid 2 diamonds. You are going to say, “Wait a minute, I have just shown a hand of 17+ hcps with double and bid. No, not if your partnership understanding is that you can make Equal Level Conversion (“ELC”) take-out doubles.  Under the ELC understanding, the bid of a new suit by doubler is not forcing if it is at the same level as Advancer’s[4] bid. Now doubler can bid 2 diamonds and Advancer will know that it is not forcing and also know that in this sequence (1h/x/p/2c/p/2d), I started with 5 diamond and 4 hearts. On a good day advancer will respond 1 spade over our double and we have found our 8 card spade fit. Even If Advancer bids 1NT (somewhat rare), he has a heart stopper, and surely he must have Qxx of diamonds. We can play it in NT, but without the club stopper, a bail out to 2 diamonds may guarantee the plus score[5].

I need to answer a few quick questions before they are asked:

1. How do you now show the 17+ hand if an ELC double and bid sequence is non-forcing? In the 1h/x/p/2c/p auction you can either cue bid hearts (e.g. 2 hearts) or you can jump in diamonds (e.g. 3 diamonds). Both are a one round force in these auctions.

2. What do you do if opener’s partner (responder) bids 2 hearts and Advancer bids 3 clubs? Bid 3 diamonds, it is still equal level conversion.

3. What if advancer jumps to 3 clubs after a pass by responder? Same answer as question 2.

4. What do you do with 6-4 hands? This is the good part, bid them the same way as 5-4 hands. This overcomes their unsuitability for Michael’s Cue bids.

5. Is the ELC double alertable? No, but you must mark the box for Min. Off-shape T/O in the upper left hand corner of your convention card. Notice that it is not marked in red or blue[6].

6. Is this something new that you are springing on me? No, it has been in the literature a long time. Mr. Robert Ewen (a British bridge writer) commented on the sequence in 1973, although he did not use the term ELC[7]. Max Hardy commented on ELC extensively in his book on bidding 2 suited hands written in 1996[8]. Notwithstanding this exposure, the convention was not used extensively until Eric Rodwell and Jeff Meckstroth added it to their partnership agreement. “Meckwell” refers to their agreement as Minimum Equal Level Conversion, but the principles remain unchanged. Bridge World Standard 2001 seems to indirectly endorse ELC, but they appear to limit its use to the situation where your unsupportable suit is clubs[9]. Many players who use ELC would use it over any one level opener if the hand holding is correct. See examples. in Part 2.

 Here are some general rules to help you spot ELC situations. If the opening bid is minor suit, the two suits must be majors. It the opening bid is a major, the two suits must be a minor and a major. In minor-major situations, the long suit is always the minor suit. In the major-major combination, the holding can be 5-4, 4-5 or even 4-4[10] if the rest of the hand fits ELC. If doubler’s rebid is at a higher level than advancer’s responsive bid, this is not ELC, it shows the traditional “double and bid” hand.
Part 2 of this post will contains several examples of the use of the principle of ELC doubles. These should be very helpful to you in demonstrating the flexibility of ELC and better understanding its use. What can be better than showing distribution and strength, all at the 2 level? As Max Hardy said, “Fits take tricks”. It’s a good thing he was a bridge author and not a poet!

[1] I am aware that some partnerships play off shape takeouts where over 1 heart you can double with almost anything as long as you have 4 spades. I leave to each reader to decide if this is good bridge and how you distinguish between real take out doubles and off shape doubles made only to show 4 cards in the opposite major. I am going to ignore it.
[2] This was the suggestion of Mike Lawrence in his Complete Book on Overcalls in Contract Bridge (1979). It would be nice if you could make Mike declarer when you do this!
[3] A respected technique 50 years ago, this flies in the face of modern bridge teachings. With today’s aggressive bidding, opponents will have your underwear up around your ears before the auction gets back to you.
[4] “Advancer” is bridge writers’ terminology for the partner of the take-out doubler. It also applies to the partner of an overcaller.
[5] This decision may be different in match points and IMPs. I think that ELC is equally effective in match points and IMPs, but surely the knock-out player will like it as he will not want to miss that major suit game.
[6] While the double may not be alertable, in fairness to opponents, I would alert doubler’s equal level conversion. It is akin to the situation in 4 suit transfers where a 2NT response to a 1NT opener is conventional and the invitational 2NT is preceded by 2 clubs. You don’t have to alert the 2 club bid (it could be Stayman), but if responder next bids 2NT, you alert it as invitational and possibly no 4 card major.
[7] Doubles for Takeout, Penalties and Profit in Contract Bridge (1973).
[8] Competitive Bidding with Two Suited Hands (1996). Max called it Equal Level Correction. Max used ELC in connection with his preferred 5-4 conventional bid which he refers to as Top and Bottom Cue Bids. See the book for an explanation.
[9] Bridge World 2001 Expert Survey, See sections 307 and 308.
[10] Using ELC with 4-4 major suited hands is rare, since often they will accommodate themselves nicely to traditional take-out doubles. Some players just say, “Stop the music, enuf is enuf". See the examples.
[11] As usual, the author disavows any knowledge of the subject matter of this memo.