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.