Thursday, July 29, 2010

Play Problem!!!

I almost never comment on play problems.  Bidding is my passion.  But, one from the US Team Trials written up in the ACBL Bulletin caught my interest.

Dummy: Kxxxx-K10x-x-KQ108
Declarer: x-AQ9xx-AJx-A7xx

Moss-Gitelman ended up in 6H by an auction that makes my head hurt.  My auction would not resemble theirs.  But, I'll refrain.

On a diamond lead, Moss won and attacked spades at trick two, King won with the Ace, spade back, and a late trump promo set the contract (LHO held two spades and Jxx in hearts).  The Bulletin commentary was that "Double Dummy" the line could be to ruff a diamond, pull a trump, club to hand, ruff another diamond, and exit a spade, which makes on this layout.  What a poor analysis!

I asked my friend Eichenbaum his line, and his was what I saw. 

Win the diamond and ruff a diamond.  Trick three -- small spade off table.  This is a timing play and deprives the opponents of any ability to create any stinkers, whether a spade tgrump promo, a diamond trump promo (the Bulletin concern), or clubs 4-1 and a simple trump in clubs.  Plus, it give RHO a problem when he has the Ace of spades but no Queen and must make a trick-three big duck.

Suppose that the small spade catches air, however, and someone wins it cheap.  Again, no harm can be done, but it gets interesting after this.  Suppose a club comes back.  You have to win in hand even if the 8 would win, because you cannot risk a 4-1 club split.  So, you win and ruff the last diamond, play the top heart, and ruff a spade back to pull trumps (one remaining in hand if they split 3-2).

One ending is to simply save KQ10 in clubs and a spade.  If LHO has Jxxx in clubs, you can win the club Queen, finding this out, and cross back with a spade ruff to hook clubs.  But, there is a sexier line, I think.

Save KQ tight in clubs, and the Kx in spades, as the last four cards.  On the same play to the Queen, clubs 3-2 means a claimer.  Cash the second club, pulling the last club, ruff back to hand, and enjoy the good 7.

If clubs do not cooperate, however, after winning the club Queen, ruff a spade back to hand, hoping to see the spade Ace, and then go back to dummy's club King to enjoy the established spade King.

That line works whenever either opponent started with the Jxxx in clubs and the spade Ace, because they will be squeezed out of their small spade to have a now-tight Ace of spades.  Even if the person with the Jxxx doesn't have the spade Ace, the alternative line works when the person with the Ace started with only Ax or Axx in spades.
The straight hook line is superior when LHO has Jxxx with no spade Ace and fewer than four spades.  My alternative line is superior when RHO has the Jxxx and either the spade Ace or 4+ spades.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Transfers by Advancer

It sometimes amazes me how thinking through one issue in one context often translates into an unexpected idea for a different sequence, completely unrelated.  I have found through the years that experience with various systems and conventions has expanded my thinking in this way, and I was recently reminded of this when considering a specific circumstance.

In my book, New Frontiers for Strong Forcing Openings, I realized that limitation of strong balanced hand pattern by splitting these between hands with known spades and hands without known spades did wonders for minor-suit sequences. 

Then, I though last night about a much more mundane sequence.  LHO opens a weak two in a major, and partner overcalls 2NT, passed to you. 

As a quick but related aside, this reminded me of a funny sequence.  Playing with an insane partner years ago (more insane than me), a 2S opening was passed around to me.  I balanced as an unpassed hand with a 2NT call with a questionable holding.  I had 1534 pattern with the stiff spade King, nice primed values.

Partner advanced with 3S.  What the heck was 3S?  We had forgotten to discuss this sequence!  RHO doubled, and it was up to me.

This seemed great!  I bid 4H.  This could never go wrong.  If partner took this as natural, I have five hearts.  If partner took this as a "flag" showing great clubs, I had great clubs.  If partner took this as RKCB for clubs, same happiness.  If partner took this as a cuebid, I was looking at the heart Ace.

4H was passed out.  Partner had a void in hearts and took me for balancing with a solid heart suit and the spade King.  Huh?

The funny thing was that the other top-flight team that we played for those 7 boards ended up in a 4-1 heart game two hands later.  When Declarer flipped out on Dummy, I commented that at least he got a stiff!

Anyway, back to the bidding.  It dawned on me that a good tweak to advancing 2NT overcalls makes sense, along the lines of "New Frontiers" when a major is already out of focus:

3C = Puppet Stayman.  Partner bids three of the other major with 4, three of the major with 5.  If partner bids 3D, 3H and 3S become flags (3H showing clubs, 3S showing diamonds) with either slam interest or game strain uncertainty (meaning, no stopper bolster).

Transfer to other major = normal.

Transfer to THEIR major = clubs (and either slammish or strain uncertainty, or even bust)

3S = diamonds (and slam or strain or bust)

This seems so obvious now...

Monday, July 26, 2010

General Principles

Discuss with partners weird auctions and ask for their take.  Being "right" is less important than being on the same page.  A case in point.

Last Thursday, a friend (who shall remain nameless) and I perpetrated this nightmare auction:

3H-all pass

This, of course, made no sense.  3H cannot be to play, can it? 

I asked my wife about the sequence, giving her my friend's hand.  She passed 3H also.  Weird.

So, I then had a more sane discussion with my regular tournament partner.  Of course he agreed that 3H was clearly a fit bid of some variety, supporting spades.  But, what meaning?

My take was "bid where you live."  I wanted to show heart values naturally, implying a stiff club, honor-third in spades, Ace or King of hearts, with good diamonds headed by the Ace.  That way, when partner has something somewhat like his actual hand (AJxxxx-K10xx-x-xx), he likes his hand, which is a good thing.

Eichenbaum's take was that 3H showed shortness, as many calls in similar sequences tend shortness.

I don't know or care so much whether "where you live" or "shortness" is the better in theory.  The best is whatever we agree and whatever springs from consistent thinking.  In retrospect, I would probably expect shortness with Eichenbaum but expected a "where I live" approach with the friend.

Maybe toss this sequence at your partner?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"New Frontiers" Now Available in Print!

My newest book, "New Frontiers for Strong Forcing Openings," is now available in print (paperback) for those who do not want the ebook version (or want both).  You can find it at Amazon:

Also, my friend Ken Eichenbaum's new book, "Winners Losers and Cover Cards," is also available now as a paperback through Amazon:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Michaels Rethought (yet again)

I have been thinking again about Michaels.  I think I have an easy tweak that y'all might like.

Partner cuebids spades, showing hearts and an unknown minor.

2NT asks for the minor. BUT, partner bids the OTHER MINOR. Advancer will bid 2NT with either a weak, LONG minor (trying to get out) or an INVITATIONAL hand (where he wants to explore game but primarily wants to know WHICH MINOR).

Example #1:

1♠ - 2♠ - P - 2NT!
P - ?

If partner has hearts and diamonds, he bids 3♣ (diamonds).  If you have the hand with long, weak clubs, you
PASS.  If you have the hand with long, weak diamonds, you bid 3.  If you have the invitational hand, you bid whatever you would bid had partner bid 3 to show his diamond suit: 3 = wrong minor; 4 = right minor.

If partner instead has hearts and clubs, he bids 3 (clubs).  If you have the hand with long, weak diamonds, you PASS.  If you have the hand with long, weak clubs, you bid 4♣ (trust that the 12-card fit is sufficient for that level).  If you have the invitational hand, you bid whatever you would bid had partner bid 3♣ to show his clubs.

You can see that the 2NT call, if tweaked to show the OTHER MINOR, works extremely well to handle any hands with a long, one-suited minor (wanting to get out) without any real problems. Partner almost always bids your long minor, which is fine. He should get the lead anyway.

But, what about the hand where you simply want to escape into partner’s minor? Bid 3♣, a WEAK pass-or-correct bid. This speeds up these sequences half of the time, which is a good thing, and it is ever-so-slightly more preemptive. Splitting the asks and the escapes between two bids helps somewhat if Opener intervenes. For example, consider these two auctions:

1♠ - 2♠ - P - 2NT!-3♠


1♠ - 2♠ - P - 3♣!-3♠

In the second, Advancer is known to have no interest in game, which helps the Michaels Cuebidder to better guess what to do.

In the former, Advancer cannot be certain which focus Advancer had, but he may be able to guess. With shortness in spades, however, he likely has at least tolerance for the weak-get-out-one-suiter scenario and can more comfortably bid four of his shorter minor, “accepting” the game try with the hedge of playing in four of that minor if Advancer had the weak one-suiter holding. Advancer might, for instance, bid 4♣ with ♠x AKJxx AQJxx ♣Qx.

This approach would also free up another call – a 3 call. Because 3 is not a call needed to show long diamonds and a weak hand, this could show a general invitational hand (or perhaps some other range) with support for partner’s major and no particular interest in the minor (not critically fit-dependent). So, compare these sequences:

1♠ - 2♠ - P - 3 = to play
1♠ - 2♠ - P - 3 = heart support, values (whatever range makes sense)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Modified Italian Canape System Paperback

I am pleased to announce that my new book, Modified Italian Canape system, by Master Point Press, is now available in paperback form, at Amazon:

So, if you were thinking about getting it but were unsure about the ebook format, this may be for you.

The "New Frontiers" paperback is expected shortly, also via Amazon.  Both may be available in other locations -- not sure.

Friday, July 9, 2010

WBF Convention Card Notes, Partnership Bidding, Etc.

I have added a new page to my blog, where I have placed a copy of the most recent version of the WBF CC "Notes" for my partnership with Ken Eichenbaum for the WBF Open Pairs in Philadelphia, in case anyone is interested.  The system is a fusion of styles, which is what most good partnerships become.  In many ways, there are likely aspects that are not perfect, and that perhaps one or the other of us would have preferred slightly different.  But, when you couple the need to cater to a partnership, and the strengths and weaknesses of each partner, and realistic memory loads, you end up with something like this.

That said, I feel very good about the end product.  I think we have reached a level of sophistication that will prepare us well for many contingencies.  Some of our most recent ideas are perhaps somewhat novel, and we have been testing them out with good experience on BBO on monday nights (partnership bidding area).  Feel free to kibbitz.  Be warned, though, that I like to smoke, and Eichenbaum likes to talk, so you might see occasional lulls while one or both are occurring.  For some strange reason, I cannot see who is kibbitsing, but Eichenbaum can.  So, he occasionally send comments to those who have been watching, including some of his students.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Predicting Jammed Colleagues

The other day, I faced a unique problem.  My hand was AQJ-AQJxxx-AK10-x.  I opened One Heart, and partner raised.  With this particular partner, methods were undeveloped and expected judgment poor.  He would never expect me to have this strong of a hand, and even if he did he would likely underbid the hand.  So, I went along the lines of trying to induce some sort of call that would interest me enough to launch a slam probe, bidding as cheaply as plausible myself.  First 2S, then over 3C biding 3D, then over 3H bidding 3S.  All sick, but plausible and calculated to get some action from partner.

The part that I did not think about until later was the alternative auctions at the other tables.  This was a club game, so the other auctions were likely to be (and were) inferior.  Everyone opened a Strong 2C (you do have 21 HCP, after all) and then heard a "step response" of 2H, showing 4-6 HCP.  Yes, very good methods.

This, of course, crammed their auctions.  Three Hearts was the obvious next move, but I do not know what Responder's solution was for xxx-xxx-x-AQxxxx.  The auction that followed also is unknown.  However, my guess is that Opener overbid (tactically) the hand with the opening call and then followed this up with another overbid, because that's what they do.

I could have opened 2C myself, to get into the same nightmare sequence (with the nightmarish methods we were using).  But, in the context of this particular partnership, I made a good decision to go slowly to control the auction and maximize my information.  However, I missed one concept.  When I reached a certain decision point, I should have taken some freedoms because of the likely alternative auctions.

In other words, I should have realized that this field would be ending up at the five-level or higher with these cards, whether safe or not.  If so, then I could have continued to force partner to make calls into the five-level, or asked for Aces, despite a lack of safety, as the end contract would be at least the same as the field.

In the end, I declared 4H for 13 tricks, against a field of 6H contracts, when partner rejected the game try and then did not even cooperate after my 3S slam try (1H-2H-2S-3C-3D-3H-3S-4H-P).  Now, I would NEVER have this auction with my normal partners, but I was trying to be practical.  (My wife, over a proposed 2S call, opted 4D as a splinter -- good for her!)  In thinking through the "field safety" idea, I probably should have made another try of 4S.

This auction is of course nonsensical, a "bobcater auction."  But, the idea was interesting to me.  Five-level safety is not necessarily, at matchpoints, a question of whether it makes or not but rather a question of whether the field will be at least at this level.