Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is Your Drawer Full of Dull Knives

I thought I was through posting to my blog. First, I had a heart attack recently. What surprise, as a lawyer I went through life thinking my job was to give heart attacks, not get them. Second, after 10 years I thought maybe I had already said everything I had to say on the subject of winning bridge. Then two events occurred this week that piqued my interest, and my urge to communicate with my readers reappeared. The first thing I did was to start to re-read “How the Experts Win at Bridge” written by Burt and Lynn Rose Hall in 1996. The authors are not glitzy super stars, but their organization of material and writing style quickly convinces you that they not only have something to say, but can say it in a way the you can understand. Ask any teacher or student of the game and I think, you will get the same enthusiastic response. Amazon currently offers the book at $12.95, clearly a bargain. The book contains a glowing foreword by none other than Larry Cohen, the only endorsement that I have seen him make.

The second thing that occurred was that I opened up Larry Cohen’s most recent Free Newsletter. Go to and you can sign up for it in the upper right hand corner. The main feature of the current newsletter was a 20 question test to determine how aggressive your bidding style actually is in practice. It is worth taking and better yet have your partners take it as well top see how you match up. Don’t get on all your war paint for the test. Be honest and call the hands the same way you would in a club game today. Don’t fall into the trap of “this is the way I would like to bid them if I only had the courage.” Once you have taken the test, read Chapter 2 in the Hall’s book and then go back and take the test again and bid them the way the experts would. If you are like me, you may find that you have a drawer of dull knives that have not been recently sharpened to consistently maintain the real aggressive bidding style that is required by today’s standards.

When and what you bid is determined as much today by vulnerability as it is by the cards you hold. If you are non-vulnerable, you will be excused from all but the most egregious bids, and maybe some of those as well. If you non-vulnerable, and particularly if it appears to be the opponents’ hand, desperate measures are called for. Any action other than “pass”, if it seems a bit too aggressive for you, may be just the action that you need to take. This includes the following:

Aggressive Preempts: Don’t wait around for the perfect disciplined preempts. Unless the vulnerability is unfavorable, get your bid out on the table and don’t worry about any special rules for 1st and 2nd seat  or how many cards you hold in a major. The Halls show these hands as examples of non-vulnerable preempts:
(i)           KQJ96 72 T542 87 (open 2 spades). Here you may be able to compete for part score in spades, take up opponents’ space, give partner lead direction or possible set up a save.
(ii)         42 65 T86 QJT963. (Open 3 clubs). Mostly for the same reasons, but here the absence of majors makes doing something mandatory and that word ain’t PASS.
(iii)       64 J862 QJT94 62. (Open 2 diamonds.) Don’t worry about your 4 hearts, if they got spades you need to do something to create some disruption and give partner some direction.

I know, I took these bids right out of your mouth. Good for you, but you are not excused yet.

Let’s turn to opening bids. Here are 3 more examples from Hall’s book. Let me give you a clue, high cards are not as important as having good shape and having whatever points you do have in long suits. Which of these do you open?
(i)        AQ64 72 54 KQ875 (11 points). Open 1 club in all seats. This is easy, only 6 LTC and 4 nice spades.
(ii)       KQ8642 A9872, 8 4 (9 points). Only 5 LTC, both majors and a nice rebid. Gotta be willing to kill for this shape.
(ii)       6 AJT953 KQ8 542 (10 points). Open 1 heart. It is too good for a weak 2 bid. If partner is a passed hand, 2 hearts is worth consideration, maybe even three. Shortage in spades always excuses irrational behavior.

How are you on Take Out Doubles? Still waiting for that 13 point 4441 hand? Did you notice that train has not been in the station lately? How do these suit your comfort level after a 1 club opening?
(i)           A752 K976 Q432 7 (9 points). Double. Great shape and 3 controls carry the day.
(ii)         A873 K95 AT65 85 (11 points). Double even though you may end up in a 7-card heart fit. Note the prime honors with 5 controls.
(iii)       KQ97 J85 JT84 A6 (11 points). Not as clear as the first two hands, but double anyway. Always add something for a 4 card spade suit. Here it tilts the decision.

Just to get you started here are the first two hands on Larry’s test. Softballs you might say, but keep on going. You are dealer, nobody vulnerable, would you open the bidding with:
1) KQ854 AJ987 54 4     2) KJ43 QT7 QJ3 K87.

There are 18 more and you get 5 points for each “yes.” When you finish check the Analysis of the Results. If you can hit the I-95 speed limit, you don’t need that knife sharpener.


stoney said...

Mr. Solberg,

I, for one, am glad to see you back and hope you have a full recovery. When no posts appeared after the August 24, 2013 article on continuations after 1NT forcing I was rather concerned and wondered if I would ever see another of your articles. A couple of years ago my wife and I got back into duplicate bridge after over 30 years and I found your blog extremely informative and thoughtful. Thanks for taking the time to provide some insight for the rest of us.

Larry said...

Tommy, an excellent post - I use that book in several of my classes for Intermediate players. Good to have you back.