Aug 02

More natural slamming

Having shown off my ability to sustain long, natural auctions in the previous post, let's move back, for the time being, to Piedmont, where I missed an opportunity last Wednesday.

Playing with a pickup partner, I held

A5
KQJ86
KJ3
QJT

and heard my partner open 1.  The auction developed naturally: 1-1; 1-2!; 3.  Now I was at the crossroads.  I considered bidding 4, though the thought of a nebulous cuebidding auction for a minor-suit contract did not appeal to me, or perhaps a quantitative 4NT, to show some (positional) diamond values.  I finally decided to go with 4, but was less than happy when hearing partner's 4 reply, that sounded like a singleton after his failure to bid 2NT — I now played him for a 4=2=1=6 hand, in which case a slam would require him to hold the K, the A and the AK.  I gave a last try with 4, but had to pass my partner's 5.

West North East South
  1 P 1
P 1 P 21
P 3 P 4
P 42 P 43
P 5    

1. art. GF
2. cue
3. cue

Unfortunately, this time the full deal was

North
T863
A
A7
A97654
South
A5
KQJ86
KJ3
QJT

so slam was cold after the non-spade lead and still a 50% proposition on a spade lead.  As it happened, the club king was onside and my partner took all the tricks.

I initially (and with some bad faith) blamed him for choosing 3 instead of 2NT over my 2, thus making me devaluate my hand; however 3 is honestly the best bid with his hand.  Instead, I should have chosen a semi-natural 3 over 3; then he can bid 3NT and his diamond cue will now likely show the A instead of shortness.  When he skips the spade cue, the very worst hand he can have will be something like JxxxAAxKxxxxx or JxxxxAxAKxxxx (no light openings for us).  In both cases, slam is again near-cold on a non-spade lead, and still have some (not that great) chances on a spade lead: the first hand needs hearts 4-3 and the diamond hook to pitch three spades, a 30% proposition; the second one needs the diamond hook to pitch a heart and then a ruffing finesse in hearts — a bit less than 25% as there might be ruffs.  But these are very specific constructions, and it does look very reasonable to raise 5 to 6 in the following auction:

West North East South
  1 P 1
P 1 P 21
P 3 P 3
P 3 P 4
P 42 P 43
P 5 P 6

1. art. GF
2. cue
3. cue

Jul 31

More slamming

Sitting opposite Jannes in a side pairs game just after his strong finish in the fast pairs, I held

KQT
83
KQT8
KQJ5

A nice, natural auction ensued and could have landed me in a great slam if only my partner held the right cards…

West Jannes East Antony
P 1 P 2
P 2 P 21
P 2 P 3
P 3 P 3
P 42 P 4
P 53 P 54

1. no need to hurry
2. cue
3. 2 keys without the queen
4. the last making contract

As my partner pointed out, had he shown three keys (necessarily the A, A and A) then I should have bid 6, as the spades would provide a parking spot for the heart loser while 6 would have failed.  At the table, the opponents cashed the A and the A and we got the rest.

Interestingly, I think that if I directly jumped to 3 over 2, then a later 6 by me should either express doubt about the strain of the contract (, or NT), or be a grand slam try (depending on your agreements), as I would have voluntarily bypassed the possibility of cheaply keeping s in the picture earlier in the auction.

Jul 24

Grand slams from Philly

Back from 12 days of bridge in Philadelphia… I have to admit I was a bit worn off at the end.  Not many successes, except for placing 3/4 in the GNT Cs (if that counts as a success, but let's not be too picky).  At least I went two for two in grand slams.

The "scientific" one is from the A/X Swiss on the last Sunday (we did not qualify for the second day of the Open Swiss, but I got my first platinum point in it).  On my first deal opposite a pickup partner, I opened a normal 1 holding

95
KQ9842
K
KQ97

… and found myself declaring a grand after a mere three rounds of bidding:

West North East South
      1
P 51 P 52
P 53 P 64
P 7    

1. exclusion
2. 1/4
3. queen ask
4. yes + king

I received a spade lead and saw the following dummy:

North
AQ
AJT
AJT98642
South
95
KQ9842
K
KQ97

so I played a diamond to my king, and a trump back to dummy, ruffed a diamond high and drew two more round of trumps ending in dummy, making the contract and bringing 13 imps in when neither red suit broke 4-0 (I missed the better line of cashing a heart first, allowing myself to fall back on dropping a singleton queen of diamonds should trumps break 4-0).

By the way, a more interesting question is what my partner would have done had I shown up with the K instead…  Arguably, a 6 response to the queen ask should imply, at least, the possibility to sign off in 6NT, and thus a club control.  And it seems even better to use 6 to show the K, as my club holding is probably irrelevant.

The other grand, bid in a regional pairs, was even simpler to bid…  Geoff proposed to "play Fantunes" just before the start of the game (a system neither of us had tried before, hence the quotation marks), and was probably wondering about how to relay out a 23-point monster: AK865A7K5AKQ7… when he heard me open 1 (14+)!  A nice systemic win as he could count 37HCP and directly blast to a 7NT that had 14 top tricks (18 with normal breaks), probably the fastest auction to a grand I'll ever see :)

Jun 04

Double endplay

I just came back from two days playing in the California Capital Regional in Sacramento.  We first tried the open Swiss championship on Saturday, and got killed — a good reminder that decent opponents will actually kill you when you bid on trash.  With xxKQxxxxxxxKx, do you overcall at unfavorable after (weak 1NT)-P-(2)?  I never got punished for that before so I stuck in 2 (which, by the way, has no preemptive value whatsoever against anyone who knows what he is doing) and went for 800 even with a ten-point dummy.  Well, that was a costly lesson, but a valuable one.

After collecting a meagre 7VPs in the first four rounds, we dropped out and decided to play in the side Swiss, where we finished with a 2-1-1 record against poor opposition — basically a bad day.

On Sunday, lacking teammates to play in the Swiss, we entered the so-called fast pairs, which was supposed to be run at five minutes a board.  Well, we did play at five minutes a board, but a sizeable number of pairs were unable to do so and the directors decided to add time to the clock rather than to handle slow play penalties.  Why call it fast pairs then… anyways.  Holding AKQ62JT86AKT4–, I open 1 (various hand types to be clarified later) in first seat at unfavorable, partner responds 1 (any 0-6 or 7, or 9-11 unbalanced with one or both bad minors) and righty preempts the auction all the way to 5!  Having not shown strength yet, and unwilling to commit to either a strain or a slam, I have to double, and partner removes to 5!  Now what?  I guess at matchpoints the right action is to take your plus and stop there, but I foolishly raised to 6.  the club king is led and let's move to partner's seat:

NS deals
N vul
North
AKQ62
JT86
AKT4
South
T9854
Q73
QJ976

A duplicated void is not that common… but how do you get rid of your heart losers?  That seems impossible, and indeed, this being fast pairs (or not), partner quickly claimed down one, but as it happened, the preemptor also had the singleton ace of hearts, so partner could actually have thrown two heart losers in his hand (or on the board), one on the lead and one on the ruff and sluff he gets after eliminating the pointed suits and exiting a heart!

Anyways, despite my dropping a couple of tricks in defense, as well as a few bidding errors, we wrap up a 56% session.  We get a 45-minute break, after which the second session will start…

Mar 12

GNT C district champions!

So we won the district GNT C qualifier, and will get to Philly next summer to play in the national finals!

Eleven teams entered the flight C event, which was played as a two-day KO (first day, cut to 6 teams and then to 4 teams, second day, semi-final and finals, each match 28 boards).  With two players close to life-masterhood we were seed #2, can't complain about that…  Also, we had a 6-man team, which is good for that kind of long event.

Anyways, the first match was fairly easy — not much to say about it. The second was a round-robin with two qualifiers, but one of the teams had the pair that won the district NAP C, so we had to be careful.  We still won both matches.  Meanwhile seed #1 was playing impressively, being above +100 imps after the 56 boards of the first day.

On the second day, we got to play seed #6, which had one father-and-son pair playing a homegrown strong club system (relay system, their card said).  I guess they got a bit unlucky as they didn't have a single 1 opener over the first 14 boards (we sat out for the second half so I don't know what happened), whereas we got tons of Polish 1 openers.  Their mini-NT (10-12 white) didn't seem to cause a lot of trouble either, as we had no problem reaching game with AKQxx Qxxx x AKxx opposite Jxxxx Ax xx JTxx after their 1N opening.  I get very lucky when partner puts me in a 23 HCP 3NT:

NS deals
North vul
North
K9xx
AJ
AKTxx
xx
South
Q8x
xxxx
Qx
Axxx

Not only do I get the very helpful lead of a fourth best small , but I also misplay the spades by going for the direct finesse of the nine when I should play small to the king and small back to the eight, which wouldn't have worked here.

Oh, and they were clearly unhappy at each other's play, and I have rarely been that "obnoxious" in trying to make small remarks to create discord in a partnership…

Anyways, we win the match by 30 or so and here comes the final, again seed #1 as expected.  On the very first board, we defend 2X making 3: that's a pretty bad start (though it's only -280, not that big a deal in itself…).  Clearly, they are a very solid pair.  They play SAYC with no gagdets (or at least I didn't get to see any alert by either of them over 28 boards) but they play it well (which is much better than, say, playing a strong club badly :-)) and their cardplay, especially in declaring, is very solid.  Nothing really good comes in out way, and at half-time we are behind, 17-38 (including another 2X making 3 on another board for them, at the other table… how often does that happen?).  Ouch.

Well, it's time for some action, so here are some boards from the second half.

You hold JTxxx AQx x xxxx and partner opens, white on red, 1N in first third seat (11-14), and righty doubles.  You can show a two-suited escape, or a one-suited escape, which by agreement can also be a "psychic" escape into shortness with a three suited hand.  Well, I decided to have fun and go for the last option, so I XX'ed, forcing 2 by partner, and then "escaped" into 2.  This went back to righty, who doubled again, and now I made a terrible choice by bidding 2 (whatever).  You know the story: pass, pass, double, let's get serious now, bid 2 (poor partner doesn't have any idea of what's happening now) and play there.  Quite incredibly, I was in a 18 HCP contract which had some play at the game level as partner held Q9x Kxx xxx AQTx.  At the other table, our partners play in a normal diamond partscore for +6 imps.

A couple of boards later, I end up in the following game

South deals
NS vul
North
Jx
Kxxx
KTx
KTxx
South
AQx
QJxxx
Q
AJxx

West North East South
P P P 1
2 3 P 4
AP      

A heart is led to the ace and a spade comes back.  Now what?

I duck it to lefty's king, win whatever comes back, draw trumps, eliminate spades and endplay the overcaller with the Q.  As he also had the Qxx, I would have probably tackled the clubs in the wrong direction otherwise.  At the other table our teammates returned a after two rounds of trumps, solving the problem for declarer (grrr…)

Now, the silliest one: holding x xx KQJ9x A6532, red on white in first seat, I open 2N (preempt in both minors), partner squiggles a bit and passes!  A spade is led and partner puts down, as expected, QJTxx Axxxx Ax x.  For some reason, righty ducks the first spade and all of a sudden I have eight tricks???  At the other table they had an awkward auction and ended up in 3 after having tried all four suits, down 1 and another 6 imps for us.

At that point we were fairly late, we got a warning from the director a couple of minutes before.  I know we made up some imps but think that one extra board will definitely be needed so as the next-to-last board is wrapped up, I ask partner to quickly put down a first bid for the last board.  Yes, we get to play the last board!  Well, it seems to be a fairly routine 4 in our way (1-(3)-4-AP) with 10 top tricks… except that our teammates found the sacrifice in 5 AND somehow they didn't get doubled, -200, win 9 (the biggest swing of the half! everything else was 6 or less) and win the match 50-48!

Jan 31

Mind your spots

Holding 9532AAKQ75J95 in a Swiss teams at Quicktricks, I had an awkward auction:

West Steve East Antony
      1
P 1 P 1
P 21 P 3
P 3 P 3
P 4 AP  

1. artificial GF

A club is led and I see that 3N would have been a better spot:

None deals
South vul
Steve
KT76
KQ974
9
AQ6
Antony
9532
A
AKQ75
J95

I take the ace and cash three diamonds, pitching both remaining clubs from dummy.  My RHO ruffs the third diamond and exits the club king, ruffed in dummy.  I get back to my hand with the heart ace (that I carefully kept in order to be able to lead towards the spade king), reaching the following position:

North
KT7
KQ97
South
9532
75
J

Now I need to navigate the trump position correctly (cashing my hearts first doesn't change anything)… but I carelessly lead the nine, covered by the queen, king and ace, and eventually my RHO scores four tricks with his AJ84.  Of course, a small one is always better than the nine.  I have to be more careful, I guess (and yes, this cost us the victory tonight… by a single VP of course).

Jan 29

Hiding information at matchpoints

 

Here is another hand from last Sunday.  It is actually the very last hand we played.  I was dummy during the previous hand and noticed that the directors had posted the preliminary results on the wall behind me; at my great surprise we were having a slightly above average game, so combined with our near-60% first session (we came in 3rd, half a board ahead of the 4th), we still had some chance of qualifying.  As I sort my cards for the last board, I immediately see that the board will not be a flat one, as I hold AKQ762QJT87KJ-.
 
We have an uncontested auction:
West Martin East Antony
      1
P 21 P 3
P 3 P 4

1. balanced 12-14 or 18+
 
Some club wastage could be expected so I go low and stop in game.
 
A small club is led and I get the following dummy — so much for the "expected club wastage"!
South deals
EW vul
Martin
JT3
932
A54
AKQ2
Antony
AKQ762
QJT87
KJ
 
So here is the big question: do I want to risk a diamond finesse to make 4 or 6, or play it safe and get my 450?  I start by drawing trumps in two rounds, ending in dummy, and…  Our current score finally swings my decision (I was expecting a much worse session) and take my eleven tricks.  After all, other declarers may have been limited to ten tricks after immediately losing two hearts and a ruff.  This proved itself worth an average-minus, as, of course, the king was onside (but even 480 would have been — barely — not enough to qualify).  The full hand was:
South deals
EW vul
Martin
JT3
932
A54
AKQ2
54
K5
T873
JT763
98
A64
Q962
9854
Antony
AKQ762
QJT87
KJ
 
Still, the more I think about the hand, the more I am convinced that an immediate diamond finesse is correct at matchpoints.  If the heart honors are split it would be very hard for the opponents to find the killing lead (even if other declarers may choose not to bid their hearts, in an auction such as 1-2-3-4), so I'm actually not that much ahead of the field; if will also be quite hard for West to find a heart return holding Kx(x); and finally there is the remote chance of the hearts being blocked.
 
Of course, the more I delay the finesse, the easier it will be for my opponents to find the heart return.  Say, for example, that I start by drawing two rounds of trumps, ending in dummy with the jack (I don't really have the choice as there is no other entry).  If the opponents are giving each other diamond count, then they should expect me to have 6=5=2=0 shape, and once the diamond hook loses, my LHO can see that I am going to pitch four hearts away, so he may as well hope his partner has the ace.  On the other hand, if I immediately take the finesse, I may have for example KQxxxAQxxKJxx- and be trying to ruff my last diamond (with such a hand I cannot afford to try drawing trumps first) — in which case a heart returns unnecessarily gives a trick away.  Still, my reluctance at immediately cashing the clubs should ring a bell somewhere.

Jan 23

A suit combination and a squeeze

So Martin and I failed to qualify for the NAP flight C nationals by about half a board… such is life.  We agreed just before the start of the play to switch to Beowulf intermediate twos (two of a major showing exactly four cards with 8-11 HCP and unbalanced), but guess what, we had no two-level opening at all in the two sessions (2 is precision, 2 a classic weak two and 2N 5-5 in the minors).  Anyways, here is an interesting deal:

West deals
EW vul
Martin
K84
AQ64
62
KT63
Antony
AQJ532
92
53
Q87

Despite having an uncontested auction, I end up too high, in 4 (due to some mixup about vulenrability-dependent NT ranges… anyways).  The opponents cash two top diamonds and switch to a trump.  Now what?

Clearly the field is going to end up in 2 or 3, so I expect the board to be a top if I make and a zero if I go down.  Thus I need to play clubs for one loser, and will probably need the heart finesse as well (or some endplay position with 2-2 trumps).  I start by drawing trumps, they are 3-1 so no endplay… now what's the best line in clubs?  The excellent SuitPlay program gives me the answer: small to the queen and small to the ten, which has a 32.5% chance of producing three tricks.  This is quite reasonable as it keeps a major tenace if the queen loses.  However at the table the line failed as the club position was A54=J92, where I cannot avoid two losers…  Down one for a full zero.

Here is the whole deal:

West deals
EW vul
Martin
K84
AQ64
62
KT63
West
7
KJ85
QJT97
A54
East
T96
T73
AK84
J92
Antony
AQJ532
92
53
Q87

I can actually make my contract on a ruffing strip-squeeze without the count against West: as I run my trumps, he can pitch three diamonds and a heart, reaching the following position:

North
AQ64
KT6
West
KJ85
A54
East
irrelevant
South
32
92
Q87

On the penultimate spade, he has to choose between pitching a heart, allowing me to finesse the queen, take the ace and set up the last one by ruffing (keeping the club king as an entry), or a club, allowing me to play clubs for one loser (small to the king and small ducked back).

I'm quite impressed to see that half of the declarers in the C field managed to score 10 tricks (whereas only four out of 10 in the A field got it right)… I'm curious to know how they did — in particular if this line is better than simply playing on the clubs!  (It's also after noticing that that I bothered checking the hand records and discovered that indeed 10 tricks were takeable double-dummy.)

Nov 26

Bad bridge of the day

So Frank, C.J., Eric and I are in Seattle now for the Fall NABCs… We played in the USBF team trials for the U26 world championships (which will be held next summer in China).  Three teams entered for two spots, but unfortunately (though predictably, I may add) we got killed and withdrew after just one of the two days of competition (the Daily Bulletin put a gracious caption for our picture: "They competed in the Junior Championships: …").  At least I got to beat my previous record of the biggest loss on a single board: 18 imps for defending 2XX+3 (that's -1960 if you're not used to so many redoubled overtricks).  One more than my previous record, 3NTX-6 for 17 imps.  Whatever.

So today Frank and Eric took the day off, whereas C.J. and I decided to "enjoy" some easy bridge playing in a random compact bracketed knockout.  Given that both of us have around 50 masterpoints, we got to play in bracket 42 6 teaming up with two charming little old ladies.  We win the first match by 4, and in the second one comes a seemingly innocuous deal where I reach a rather hopeless heart game:

North deals
NS vul
C.J.
AT74
A53
QJT76
J6
Antony
K8
KQJ9874
84
Q8

The A is led and I drop the queen without much hope (on a very good day, they won't cash their tricks and I will set up the 10)  Then comes the king and it should be obvious that I have a doubleton club… but it's a club that comes back again on the third trick!

Whatever, the bridge gods decided to punish us for playing in such a low-level KO by having us still lose the match by 4 when our teammates miss a couple of games.  So be it.  Tomorrow will be tourism instead.

Nov 21

System win… well nearly

Sunday at the El Cerrito sectional.  We got seeded to the last bracket, asked to be bumped up one bracket to at least play 7×7 boards instead of 7×6, but then at the last minute they merged the bottom two brackets together.  Oh well.  At least let's hope we can win that.

The first match is quite flat, but our teammates misplay a game for a 15 imps loss.  Second is a blitz, and third a near-blitz as well.  Seems we are doing OK-ish.  Then comes match 4, again not much until this board comes up.

North deals
None vul
Martin
KJ
xx
QJxx
KJxxx
Antony
AQTxx
AKTx
Axxx

Will you reach the slam in either pointed suit?  Playing some normal version of 2/1 it doesn't seem very easy to find the 4-4 diamond fit before a signoff in 3N or 4 occurs.

At our table Martin opened 1 (unbalanced, 1 is Polish) and rebid 1N, which I thought showed 54, but was actually 5-4 in the minors either way (I mixed up with the 2 rebid).  Seeing no intelligent way to investigate for slam I just leapt to 6… 6 of course.  When partner failed to correct to 6 we ended up down 1 on a club lead for a 11 imp loss instead of a 10 imp gain.

So we scored a lowly 47VPs in the first four matches of the Swiss.  Luckily, we now get a chance at submarining after the lunch break.  Indeed, the 5th match is a 17VP win and the 6th a blitz (+ a director call that we cancelled when we saw it would not matter at all).  So before the last match, we stood at 84 VPs, tied for second and playing the leaders, who were 7 VPs ahead.  At least we just had to do well to win.

I can't help but try and swing in that match, for example opening 2 in first seat, all white, on JxxxxxJxxxxxx (partner raises to 3N and goes down 1, should go down 3 if the opponents don't block their clubs).  Still, they have a partscore so it's going to be only a few imps.  On the very last board, holding Axxx xx Jx QJxxx, I make a fairly normal X after 1-(2), that partner converts to penalty holding AQTx(!!) for 500: all in at the right moment, and we end up winning 16VPs.  Doesn't that sound enough, especially when we learn that the other team at 84VPs got blitzed?  But wait!… they got blitzed by a team at 81 VPs… who end up winning by 1.  Argl.

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