Friday, September 11, 2009

Not sure what happened here.

Opener: Kxx-A10xxxx-AJx-x
Responder: Axxx-Qxx-Qx-AQxx

USA 2 had an auction I hate. After a 1H opening, looking at three hearts and four spades, Responder bid a silly 1S. This resulted in a heart rebid and a practical 4H. Thus, there was nothing in the way of any communication, at all.

Give Opener the exact same hand, but reverse the black suits. x-A10xxxx-AJx-Kxx. With that hand, the contract seems to turn on a diamond hook and heart cooperating, which is a bad slam. Add one point, though. x-AJ10xxx-AJx-Kxx. Now, the slam is a 75% slam. Really bad to end up in 4H without a clue as to whether this is right or not. The spade bid, if anything, would discourage Opener if he has a stiff, which would not be a bad thing.

So, I dislike the USA 2 sequence.

I liked the start of the Italian sequence. 2C is my view of the right call. Set a GF when you have 3-card support for Opener's major, even with five in the other major, I say. Makes life easier. A common theme. I don't know whether 2C did set a GF, though.

However, a necessary requirement to this making sense is for Opener to not rebid in a 3-card major for some unknown reason. I don't know why Versace rebid 2S. This must mean something in their approach that I do not understand.

The resulting auction was strange to me. A 2NT rebid followed, by Responder. Opener rebid 3H, which I presume to be natural. Responder bid 3S, which might have been a cue or might have been natural. I just cannot follow the sequence:


The end was really bad.

If Opener opts to rebid a three-card suit rather than his six-card suit, which might make sense, then 2D stands out. If the sequence is GF, Responder sets trumps (2H), and cuebidding starts. 2NT by Opener (not two of the top three honors) lets Responder know immediately that there is a likely heart loser. He bids 3C anyway, also two of the top three honors. Opener bypasses 3D to deny two top diamond honors, bidding 3H to show one of the top three hearts.

Responder at this point knows that there is likely a diamond problem and a heart problem. However, the proposed hand for a 75% slam still is possible. So, he trudges on with a 3S cue.

Opener, had he held the club King, would be able to cue that card as a courtesy cue.

So, imagine two hands:


With the former, where slam makes, Opener cues 4C next and could accept a 4D "last train" call because of the stiff spade, great heart secondaries, and diamond Jack.

With the latter, where slam fails, Opener has no serious interest and no cues left, bidding 4H, which is passed.

Thus, the extra space from a 2D call would help tremendously.

Back up, though. If Opener rebids 2H instead, what happens? Now, Responder must bid 3H to set trumps. This allows less room to explore. Opener cues 3S, whether he has the Kxx situation or the stiff. Responder, with only a 14-count, and quacks, bids a courtesy 4C, showing two of the top three clubs.

Back to Opener and the two proposed hands.

With the stiff spade hand (x-AJ10xxx-AJx-Kxx), Opener has a fighting chance. The stiff spade looks nice, the club King looks really nice, and Opener has two Aces. Maybe slam is found, maybe not. But, there is a chance. At least sniffing occurs.

With the actual hand, however, Opener has no interest at this point. A slow spade control, stiff in partner's suit, lousy hearts. A signoff occurs without grief.

In sum, then, I hate the USA 2 sequence. I love the Italian start, but I lost them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A tough Sao Paulo grand slam to bid, unless...

Opener: AK109xx-xxx-AQ-Ax
Responder: Qxx-AQJ10x-x-KQJx

Half of the teams in the Bermuda Bowl found the grand in spades, half a small slam.

The easy opening is 1S.

Responder actually has a problem, IMO. On the one hand, the clear textbook call is 2H, for the obvious reason. However, 2C is really appealing. The suit is real, so there is no lie involved. If Opener happens to rebid 2H, tactics can change to a heart raise, if you want. However, after either a 2H or 2D rebid, the latter seeming likely, Responder can set trumps at 2S, which saves a lot of space for cuebidding. Personally, I really like 2C. Hold that thought for a moment...

Let's assume, however, a normal 2H response. Opener has problem #2. He wants to rebid his spades, especially with three small hearts and no honor. However, support with support seems to prevail. So, 3H it is.

Responder now has hearts set as trumps for cuebidding purposes. So, he cues 3S to show a spade honor. Opener, liking everything about his hand except the three small hearts, probably bids 3NT serious, although blasting 4NT makes sense, but this leads to an inferior small slam, it seems. After 3NT, Responder might sense troubles and take over himself, but how? 4NT still only answers the heart question. 4S, as RKCB but re-focusing spades for answers works, if Responder thinks this through. After a serious 3NT, slam will surely be bid. So, a 4S call, if a grand is there, will yield a response showing three Aces and the spade King. That's 11 easy tricks (five spades, four clubs, two aces), with assuredly a 12th coming from hearts or a diamond ruff. A grand try should result in acceptance if Opener has the heart King (with which he will be surprised to hear the 4S call) or a sixth spade. If Opener bids 7H, a correction to 7S works.

Thus, Responder ultimately needs to ignore the heart suit even after agreeing hearts.

Wow, is that difficult, though.

Back up to the 2C option. I tend to leap at 2C as my option whenever it is plausible, This hand shows another example of why.

I want to hear a 2D or 2H call and then to set trumps at the two-level. Instead, I hear 2S. Now, at least I know about the sixth spade already. As Responder, I set trumps by raising to 3S. Whatever happens, if I make sure that I ask questions, I will be able to count 12 easy tricks (the same four clubs, two Aces, and now six spades) and need only a doubleton diamond for the 13th, or the heart King, or the diamond King, or a finesse/squeeze decision.

So, strange as it seems, I again like the idea of temporarily ignoring five cards in the other major when you have three-card support for the opened major, when 2C as the GF is plausible. It almost always produces a better result in the long run.

Tough hand. The key to an easy auction is to ignore the hearts early on rather than to ignore the hearts later. People sometimes think I am insane for ignoring side five-card majors in these circumstances, but just think about and watch the results of doing this when you have problem auctions with this situation -- three-card support, five of the other major, and GF values. The auction is OFTEN screwy when you respond in the five-card side major, whereas the alternative auction is USUALLY easy and more successful.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Weird problem at the WBF

Opener: xx-AKxx-Ax-QJxxx
Responder: AKQ-x-KQJxxx-xxx

The four top teams in the Bermuda Bowl played this hand. Two played in 3NT, one in 5D down one after club Ace, club King, club ruff. One tried 6D and met the same defense.

The four teams in the Venice Cup also played this hand. Two played in 3NT, one in 5D down one after club Ace, club King, club ruff. One tried 6D and met the same defense.

The Seniors had more variation. Only one opted a notrump contract -- 4NT-- making the same 11 top tricks everyone else in notrump claimed. Two tried 5D, one managing to slip through 11 tricks. One tried 6D, again.

So, of the 12 best teams in the world, presumably, only five, a minority, played in the normal notrump contract, and three actually tried for a slam off three cashing tricks.

Just plain weird.

I missed the bidding, but maybe I'll see a few later and have a better understanding of what went wrong. Anyone know?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Slam Bidding at the World Championships

Folks may wonder how important slam bidding is at the highest level of the game. In Round 4 of the Quarterfinals, three slam hands yielded 116 IMP's worth of swings between the eight teams. That's an average swing of 38.67 IMP's per board, and 9.67 IMP's per board per table. One additional slam hand resulted in everyone in the same small slam. So, four slams, wild swings on three of them.

Now, these three boards basically washed out in the Italy-Russia match, in the Bulgaria-Germany match, and in the Netherlands-USA2 match, as each match featured the same result on one slam hand, one winning another slam hand, and the other winning the third slam hand. Only the China-Norway match resulted in a net swing.

However, each actual swing deal is interesting in its own right.

The first was Board 26. Dealer held KQJxx-v-KQxxx-Kxx, Responder held A9xx-x-J9xxx-AJx. Because of a diamond ruff, four 6S contracts went set a trick, and one 5S contract went set, as well. Two signed off at 4S. One bid and made 5S. No one tried 6D, which is cold, or which induces a 6H sacrifice for only +800. Of course, +800 beats -100 or -200.

The second was Board 28. Opener held A10x-A-AK109xx-AJ2 and caught a nice Responder with Qxxx-KQ10-Qxxx-xx. Not a great contract, but just right when the spade KJ are together. Five found 6D, all making. Two settled for 3NT. One defended 4H for a measly +500.

The third was Board 30. Opener holding A9xx-AQx-AQ9xxx-v and Responder J10-Kxxx-Kx-AKQJx, 7NT seems reasonable, with 15 tricks in practice available. The extremely conservative might settle for 7D or even 6D. Strangely, however, although five teams bid 7NT and netted 1520, only one tried a small slam, the mysterious 6C bid by China (which happens to work when clubs split 4-4). USA2 tried the Moysian 4H, a VERY safe contract in practice, but perhaps the only contract that could be in jeopardy. USA2 scored up +480 on fine play. The last contract was 5D by Germany, a contract with at least strain resolved.

All of these three deals are tough deals, admittedly. But, there still seems to be room for improvement at the top levels of the game in the slam bidding department.

Twice in a Row???

Boards 14 and 15 in Round 3 of the Quarterfinals could have been better handled by USA 2 if they were using my two-way strong opening style.

On the first, the USA 2 Opener held AQxxx-x-A-AKQxxx, and his partner held K10xx-Jxxxx-KQx-J. After a Precision 1C opening and a 1S response (artificial, showing hearts), intervention of 2D caused Opener to bid 3C, Responder a practical 3NT, Opener 4C, and Responder 5C. This was fortunate to make, as a spade lead, heart return, and second spade ruff sets 5C. As it was, USA 2 scored up 440 for the game, losing 11 IMPs when the lay-down spade slam was missed.

In my methods, Opener starts with 2D, planning to rebid 4S to show a hand with 5S/6C and about two losers. In practice, however, Responder would immediately set trumps as spades and show extras, bidding 2NT. No diamond intervention would matter.

On the very next hand, South for USA 2 was dealer with KQJx-v-AKJxx-AQxx. Partner held xxx-xx-xxx-J9xxx. The opponents, admittedly, had a freak heart contract that made five (A-QJ98xx-Q9xx-Kxx opposite 109xxx-AKxxxx-x-x). USA 2 ended up defending 4HX, collecting -690 for a one-IMP loss when USA 2 at the other table was forced to the five-level.

I am not sure what the auction was, but in my methods, Opener starts with 2D. A three-loser hand with no rebid problems. He intends on checking first for a spade fit and, if none is found, bidding 3S to show both minors (and hence three-suited with short hearts).

If second seat overcalls hearts, North will double (whether "bust" or "support -- three-card spades) and fourth seat will blast hearts, after which Opener simply bids 4NT for the minors, and at least the 5C contract is reached. Whether 6C would be bid or not is a judgment call, but the 1-IMP loss here would either be a push or possibly a 4 IMP gain.

Two boards in a row, with 12 or 15 IMP's at stake at the highest level of the game. Still, USA 2 is up by 3 IMP's at this point.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another interesting slam hand in Sao Paulo

Opener: AKQxx-xx-AJ-Axxx
Responder: J10xxx-AQx-KQ109-x

This seems like an easy set of hands to reach grand, but not so much at the World Championships.

The first question is Responder's selection of a path. I dislike the splinter option with a fifth spade, poor spade honors, and slow values. I also dislike Jacoby 2NT, which I hate generally anyway. So, 2D seems rather obvious.

This yields an ugly-sounding 3C to Responder, although that could be predicted. What else but 3S?

Opener bids the obvious 3NT, so Responder shows his good diamonds -- 4D -- two of the top three. Opener likes that, but 4H ass LTTC seems obvious, lacking the heart control.

Responder has the heart Ace, which cannot be bad. sure, the stiff in clubs does not help Opener's club suit, but Opener knows that Responder lacks any honors and is till interested, and the stiff with five trumps seems nice. Seems like Responder has the best information, and no good way to show the fifth spades, so 4NT seems right.

Opener shows four. Wow. The Queen is not needed, but outside cards might be. Sounds like 5NT.

This is really cool. Recall that Responder already cuebid 4D, showing two of the top three diamonds. If Responder is now seeking a grand, we both know that Opener has the diamond Ace. So, all three top diamond honors are accounted for. This allows Opener to make a really nice call. He bypasses 5C because he does not have the club King. As he cannot have the diamond King or Queen, and is already known to have the diamond Ace, 6D shows the only thing left -- the diamond Jack!

You might think that Opener could just bid the grand, because Responder's 5NT call pretty much disclosed the fifth trump when Opener is looking at the Jack, but Opener does not know about the club stiff. Plus, why not describe your hand perfectly when you can?

Responder never knows about the spade Queen, but the 13th trick seems obvious now that the diamonds are known to run.

Back up if you don't like not asking for the Queen. Responder could do that also, bidding 5H (if regular RKCB) or 5D (if 1430). Opener will show the Queen and NOW can deny the club King but show the diamond Jack.

Back way up, though. after the 2D call, North held x-Jxxxx-KQxxxx-x, white on red. This might get messier. Not sure if that was the problem sometimes, but not always. The 2D start still works whenever Responder can bid 3S at his next turn. And, that was in fact available sometimes.

A biddable grand, but no one seemed to be in the RIGHT grand

From Sao Paulo:

Opener: 10xx-Kxx-Ax-AKJ10x
Responder: AKQxx-AQxx-Qx-Qx


First, the 3S call. Opener, although "minimum" by HCP, has a primed hand, support, and a trick source. But, with no spade card, immediate cues (4C+) are not a good idea.

Responder: 3NT(serious)
Opener: 4C

I like 1NT Openers to cue suits with two of the top three honors, as the first cue in a minor, to allow the "minor to emerge." In other words, this parallels a sequence where Opener had started 1C and thus was able to cue his club suit as his own suit. This method allows Opener's 4C call to do the same.

Responder: 4H (two of the top three honors, no diamond control)

Opener: 4NT (RKCB)

Responder: 5S (three with the Queen)

Opener: 6C (do you have the missing club honor?)

Responder: 6D (yes, and the diamond Queen, at least doubleton)

At this point, Opener has three reasonable contracts. 7S is the obvious, but that relies on spades working and no ruffs on opening lead. 7NT avoids the opening lead ruff and gives us a backup plan if spades do not cooperate -- five clubs, three hearts, three top spades, and a top diamond for 12 tricks, with a spade-heart, spade-diamond, or heart-diamond (or all three) squeeze available, that diamond Queen producing a better menace. Or, Opener could opt 7C, which is in jeopardy of a spade ruff on opening lead but that allows a simple line for the 12th trick, ruffing out spades.

As it was, some had trouble reaching the grand, and the grand was always 7S, making when spades cooperated. I did not see if anyone played 7C, which also makes, or 7NT.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What the Heck?

I assume this was a failed attempt to snow Meckstroth, but anyone know what was going on in the USA1-USA2 Bd 1?

Robinson opened with 10x-KJ108x-KQ-KQxx.

Boyd responded 2NT with Qx-AQ9xx-AJ10-AJx. Not my style. I'd respond 2C, hear 3C, correct to 3H, hear anything except 3S, and sign off. But, 2NT was their course, and fine.

Robinson bid 3C. Not sure what this showed. Maybe natural. Maybe artificial with no shortness. Maybe range.

Boyd bid 3D, Robinson 3H, and Boyd 4C. I do not know what all of this meant, but Robinson's next call, 4S, seems really strange.

The end result was a slam off the cashing top two spades. Any lead but a spade and the contract makes, so maybe someone got silly and hoped to turn off the spade lead.

I hope so.

Conditional Asking?

A thought just occurred to me last night, while playing at a local club and seeing the field miss two lay-down grand slams where there were more tricks available than in the red light district.

There seems to be a relatively modest number of times where you are fairly positive about reaching slam, with a primary real focus being a grand. In that situation, it often seems like ace-asking takes a while to get to the point. I mean, you bid 4NT, fairly certain that your answer will be encouraging for the grand, but then your 5NT call seems to grab a lot of space to unwind the rest. Occasionally.

So, sort of as a brainstorm idea, I was wondering back to the days in the Culbertson era where there was the 4-5NT convention and the days of the Neapolitan Declarative-Interrogative 4NT, in each case the asker saying something about his hand himself.

There seems to be some merit to this line of thinking, perhaps in some defined set of circumstances. In simply brainstorming, it occurred to me that perhaps some structure of "name the right answer" asking bids might save space.

For example, let's assume an auction where blah-blah-blah happens, and the person about to ask questions is fairly to completely certain that we have slam but is less certain about a grand. Assume also that, for the sake of discussion, no call above 4NT would serve any contextually useful purpose.

The person asking could name the "great response" as an immediate King ask. So, suppose 1430 answering. The person asking, instead of bidding 4NT, could bid 5D, asking partner to show specific Kings up the line if his answer to 4NT would have been 5D; if not, sign off at slam. Or, Asker could bid 5S asking partner to answer immediate Kings if his answer would have been "two with the Queen." Either way, space is saved.

You could even collapse this further. Suppose, for instance, that the asking bid of this type allowed a signoff at the five-level. So, the person asking questions could bid 5S, meaning, "If you have two key cards, plus the queen of trumps, answer immediate Kings." If partner, instead, had two key cards without the trump Queen, he would sign off at 6S. But, if partner held only one key card, he passes. Thus, you would not even need to be assured of slam to use this method.

This method might have a secondary, non-obvious benefit.

Suppose that your auction (recap so far of the auction: blah-blah-blah) is such that the person asking for Aces would be Declarer. When that happens, the person answering is required to bid all sorts of side suits artificially. This creates a lucrative ability for RHO to double as lead-directors and to pass as weak inferences as to lead.

However, if the anticipated Declarer makes this sort of "name the right answer" asking bid, RHO loses this opportunity whenever partner either signs off at five or bids only six. In other words, a "name the right answer" approach saves space while also depriving the opposition of lead-directing doubles and lead-inferencing non-doubles.

Fighting for every IMP

Recalling another humorous hand from years ago.

Another partner of mine was known for the exotic. He would play 24 boards solid, but the two that he tanked were usually story hands. No one could tank a hand with more style. An example was a hand where his decision at trick 2, although reasonable, yielded a net result of only taking two tricks, despite having started with three Aces and an eight-card fit, with no voids out there. A friend of mine and I, presented with the same problem, both zagged at trick 2 and ended up with 10 tricks.

Another deal was rich. A non-obvious slam bidding problem.

Favorable, I was dealt v-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxx. A powerhouse. Partner opened 1D, promising an unbalanced hand, and RHO overcalled 1S. Favorable, I peeked at the CC to my right and noticed "Rosenkranz XX" indicated. People often play Rosenkranz XX but have no idea what they are doing. So, figuring that a XX was likely, and wanting to be frisky, I doubled, negative. A tad light, but it will get better.

Sure enough, XX hit the table. Partner now made a 2C call. This was really getting interesting. When RHO passed, I was convinced that the opponents had a 9-fit in spades, which gave partner precisely 4-0-5-4 shape. There are a lot of tricks if partner has 4-0-5-4 shape. White on Red, time to get creative again. The obvious option is a 2S cue. Might as well show my powerhouse.

When partner resolved to bid only 3D with his xxxx-v-AKxxx-AKxx, RHO doubled. I erred by not redoubling, as the double was a striped-tail ape.

When the minors split 2-2, 13 tricks are usually available.

In practice, however, partner panicked, afraid that he would lose a bunch of tricks on a cross-ruff. That fear induced a line to actually enable a cross-ruff. So, he managed -1, for -100. Only five tricks dropped. Comparison revealed +140 for 3S, so we gained 1 IMP for the effort.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Just had a reminder of one of my favorite experiences at the table.

Years ago, I was a mad scientist. No -- really. I was playing with a good friend, who liked the bizarre. As a side example, we had an auction, never repeated I bet, where he opened 1C, pass, I bid 1NT, alerted as 2-5 HCP (why play the mundane 9-11? LOL). The explanation continued, that I would have "more minor cards the more vulnerable we were." We were red on white, so I should be contributing quite a few minor cards. After a double of 1NT, partner leapt to 6C!!! This was doubled. If a specific King was in the "right" place, we would have made 6C. Because the King was in the "wrong" place, we went -1 for -200, beating -450 (the overtrick coming because the King was in the "right" place for them, now). 1C-P-1NT-X-6C is unlikely to have occurred before, and even more so if 1NT was alerted as "2-5 HCP."

Anyway, we played a two-way takeout structure. Our 1NT overcall was a second takeout call, dubbed "RUNT" by my partner, for "Really Unusual No Trump."

So, at about board 2 in the seven-board match at the regional, I overcalled 1NT, alerted. Partner, who was loud especially when he was having fun, explained. "That's RUNT. Partner has either 5-10 HCP and at least three cards in each of the other three suits, or 19-22 HCP and any shape." So, we ended up doing something intriguing, like maybe some elaborate runout approach we had created when 1NT is doubled. Whatever.

A few boards later, in the same match, I doubled an opening bid, again alerted. "What's that?" Partner responded simply, "Son of RUNT." Responder then said, "OK, I'll bite." Partner then explained. "Well, he either has 0-4 HCP and at least 3 cards in the other three suits, or 11-18 HCP and takeout shape, or 15+ to 18 balanced, or maybe 15-18 and a very strong unbalanced hand as far as playing strength, or 23+ HCP and any shape."

Across the room, from the farthest corner, a voice rang out... "Of course that's what it means, you idiot!!!"

The room erupted.

I don't play RUNT any more. But, it was amusing for a time, and strangely effective. Maybe it was the six-pack that we always took with us when we played together.....