Sunday, February 27, 2011

Free Ebooks, Sort Of

FWIW, at our local club's website (, I have upoaded three "Free Ebooks."  These are really compliations of 2010 articles from out local club newsletters.  But, some might find these interesting or funny or whatever. 

One of these "ebooks" is a set of several articles from 2010 written by Ruth Odenweller, the main club director, called "Bridge Tips."

One is a collection of 2010 articles in the series written by me and my wife, Leah, called "the Bickersons on Bridge."  Some of this is actual bridge stuff, but some is more on the humor side.

The third is a small series on 2/1 GF that I wrote for beginners in the club thinking about switching to that approach from standard. 

I am not vouching for any of these three being quality work, as I just cut and pasted the articles from the newsletter.  And, the newsletter articles were not drafted with any intention that they be published other than as a newsletter article.  So, the editing may be lousy, and the content moreso.  But, the price is right.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sometimes the Problem with Natural Bidding... that people often don't understand how to bid naturally.

I have been in a posting battle in BBF as to what I think to be a simple sequence.


The debate concerns what 2H means.  I say, "bid where you live," meaning that 2H shows a value in hearts.  Maybe this is a start to a pattern description with 4-3-1-5 or 4-2-1-6 shape.  Maybe it is a card from perhaps 4-2-2-5 pattern with interest in 3NT.  Maybe a blend of the two.

The contrary view is that 2H asks about a heart stopper.  I don't understand that, because to me a 2D rebid and a 3C rebid each suggests a lack of a heart card, the former not as clearly because notrump has not yet been abandoned.

I included an insanely long post on the topic a few minutes ago, so I am not inclined to do this again here.  However, my purpose here is to encourage people to think through some auctions to decide whether artificiality is really needed.  Sometimes, I think what is needed is a bit more flexibility as to what is meant by "natural."  his is a good case in point.

To me, Opener's option of bidding 2H (or 2D for that matter) is not one that is limited somehow to 3-card heart suits and 4-3-1-5 pattern.  Why does "natural" have to mean "the maximum amount of cards that I already denied" in this sequence? 

I mean, sure.  If Opener has 4-3-1-5 pattern and interest in bigger things, 2H stands out.  But, what about a heavy HCP hand with 4-2-2-5 but only Kx or Ax (or maybe Qx?) in hearts?  If we are not looking to play hearts, then why is having three hearts more important from a "natural" or "bid where you live" perspective than holding, say, Kx?  If your purpose happens to be to explore 3NT, which is worse if partner thinks you have H-x-x in hearts -- 4-3-2 in hearts as your actual holding or K-2 as the holding?

The entire discussion on BBF is probably (if you agree with me LOL) worth reading.

It took Ken Eichenbaum a while to bang this one into my head, admittedly.  For years, I developed a lot of theory into artificiality and asking bids and the like.  These have their distinct place, and having lots of sexy agreements is certainly something I like.  But, I missed the deeper natural game, if that makes sense, until much later.

Some auctions don't need artificiality -- they need understanding of how to bid.  A situational discussion as to what the natural inferences are in a given sequence can, at times, be more intricate and complex than any gamma asking bid sequence or structured cuebidding sequence,especially if this is foreign to you (at least to the level to which one can actually develop "natural" thinking).  You might THINK that you need artificiality in some sequences because you have not thought through what all the "natural" sequences should ideally mean.

To a degree, "Cuebidding at Bridge" was somewhat of an exploration of natural slam bidding, if you think about it.  It may have seemed to those who read the book that a lot of it was extremely artificial, but I bet that if you think about it, and certainly when you bid this way for a while, it is actually more natural than initially one would think.  Not the surface "natural," but a deeper natural, if that makes sense.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review in Bridge Magazine (UK)

I was pleased to see a nice review of New Frontiers for Strong Forcing Openings forwarded to me by Ray Lee of Master Point Press.  It apparently is in Bridge Magazine (UK):

New Frontiers for Strong Forcing Openings Ken Rexford

One of the most popular methods amongst club players in this country is Acol with Benjamin two-bids – usually described affectionately as “Benji”. Having accepted that Acol 2♣ and strong two-bid hands have a relatively low frequency, these are now handled with an opening bid of 2♦ and 2♣ respectively. In addition, there are a number of players who play “reverse Benji” – this has the advantage of retaining the Acol 2♣ opening and responses, with the 2♦ opening now used to describe any Acol 2-bid in a suit. Unfortunately this brings further problems, particularly where the opener has an Acol 2-bid with hearts.

However, even those pairs who have been playing these methods for a long time often have nothing more sophisticated available that a “2♦ relay” response, and hand definition following one of these strong opening bids is often clumsy and at an inconveniently high level.

In this book, American expert Ken Rexford describes a new way of using these two opening bids (2♣ and 2♦) for strong hands. The basic idea is easy to grasp: the 2♦ opening bid shows a strong hand including at least four spades, while the 2♣ opening (with one exception) denies four spades. This one simple idea now gives the following results:

1. You will have no problem handling strong hands with four hearts and five or more of a minor. In fact, you will be able to agree hearts at a level low enough for all calls above 2NT to be cuebids. You will also be able to agree the minor, instead, at a level below 3NT, and often with space for some cuebidding below 3NT.

2. You will be able to set spades as trumps when Opener has four and Responder has a fit, at a level low enough for all calls above 2NT to be available to help look for a slam, no matter what Opener’s pattern may be. If the major is not agreed, you will be able to agree any longer second suit held by Opener below 3NT.

3. You will not bypass 2NT to show five hearts after opening 2♣, even if Responder shows an immediate double negative by bidding 2♥.

4. You will be able to find any major fit, whether Opener has four, five, or even only three of the major, below 3NT when Opener has a balanced hand with 20+ HCP’s. Puppet Stayman has a problem when Responder has five spades and four hearts. You will not even have a problem finding either possible fit when Responder has, for instance, five spades and three hearts or five hearts and three spades.

5. You will be able to identify a specific minor with slam interest, below 3NT, when Opener has 22-23 balanced.

6. You will occasionally even be able to identify a specific four-card minor with slam interest, again below 3NT, opposite an Opener with 22-23 balanced, and even after asking Opener about the majors.

7. You may be able to agree a major below 3NT, and start cuebidding, when Opener has 20+ balanced.

8. Responder will never have a problem deciding whether a new major shows, or should show, four or five after Opener shows a long minor.

9. Hands with 4-4-4-1 pattern will not be that difficult after a strong, forcing opening.

10. You will be able to show both minors below 3NT.

I believe that any regular partnership playing a form of “Benji” would benefit from adopting the ideas in this book. In particular, those hands that have been difficult in the past (e.g. strong 3-suiters, strong hands with a 4-card major and a longer minor) can now be handled efficiently. This book is highly recommended.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Very Strange Puppet

About the strangest place to play Puppet Stayman that I have actually used is in the following sequence:

1C - P - 1X - P -
2NT - P - 3C!!!

You might be wondering, "What?!?!?"  Well, an explanation is probably called for.

With several partners, I play a fairly common (now) treatment where Opener, after starting with One Heart or One Spade and hearing a Forcing 1NT response, bids 2NT as an artificial Game-Force, with various hand types.  This allows immediate Jump Shifts to show intermediate CP hands that have extra playing strength.  If you do this, you know my problem.  What, then, do you do with the balanced (17-)18 count with 5332 and a 5-card major?  Several unsatisfactory suggestions have been provided, including, "Just bid 3NT -- it probably makes," or "Try some sort of sexy 2C rebid."

I dislike both options for various reasons.  A third possibility is one that I tried out for a while and actually liked a lot.  I suppose  liked it mostly because it was weird, and I like weird.

The idea was to open One Club with all the normal meanings, but you might have a 5-card major (either) if you have the big balanced 18-count.  The unwind, then, is of course Puppet Stayman.

Obviously, however, "Puppet" is modified so as to cater to the elimination that just happened if Responder's call was a major, as Opener is not too likely to have 5-card support that he suppressed.

I am still uncertain as to whether this solution is ideal, as I only tried it in one partnership and only for a while.  But, I am somehow drawn to it, perhaps like a mosquito to a bug zapper but perhaps because there is something to this.  I don't play this anymore, because of partnership switches and the like, but I thought some folks might find this suggestion to possibly solve a problem you might be having. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two More Puppets?

Nothing that spectacular, but I kind of like this treatment.  Partner opens 1NT, and you have a 5-card major with 5332 pattern and 3 cards in the other major.  Obviously, one can work out that the best contract might be four of the other major.  So, how do you handle this?

Puppet Stayman, of course.  But, after the transfer.

Start with a transfer to your long major.  If partner does not super-accept, bid 3C Puppet Stayman.

If partner has five of the other major (without support for your major), he bids it.  Raise as you will if you have 3-card support (raise to game without interest; bid 4D with slam interest).

If partner has three-card support for your major, he bids your major.

If partner has neither, he either bids Three Diamonds (likes clubs) or 3NT.

Sure -- you might have clubs also.  If you bid Puppet Stayman, you might have clubs too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Price of Information

On a related note to the "steppingstone Bid" is "Price of Information" Series.

Partner passes, and RHO opens a strong 1NT.  White on red, you overcall 2C because you are playing Cappelletti and have a one-suited hand.  This call is alerted as such.  LHO doubles, passed to you.

So, you bid 2D, alerted by partner as showing a one-suited hand.  The opponents ask if that means diamonds, but partner says, "nope -- could be any suit."

The idea is that you play a series of calls above 2CX as all one-suiters without specificity as to which suit.  If the opponents really want to know, then they must double you and find out with a final pass, but then you end up declaring. 

This maneuver, properly alerted, cannot be deemed a  psychic.  Rather, it is "steppingstone-ish" in that the opponents cannot leave you in your contract undoubled and therefore must take action.  However, you are obviously creating a tactical problem for them.

Moreover, this sequence also is "steppingstone-ish" in that it compounds definitions.

If one way to 2S is 2C-X-P-P-2D-X-P-P-2H-X-P-P-2S, then 2C-X-P-P-2S shows something different, as does 2C-X-P-P-2H-X-P-P-2S.  If this situation presents itself, this may call for some discussion.

Of course, there is a defense to the "POI Series."  LHO stops doubling and lets RHO start the doubling.  But, this defense is only partial.  Sure -- it eliminates the box of being forced to defend our contract doubled.  But, it still forfeits definition somewhat for the opponents and it still gains us bidding space to fine-tune whatever we might want to fine-tune.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Steppingstone Bids

The ACBL does not like psychic bidding, let's face it.  If the Rules say that you can, that only gets you so far.  When you start actually whipping one out here and there, your partner inevitably will end up at some point in some interrogation, thinking that he needs an attorney.  Why?  Usually you either made a really good psychic, or perhaps partner was not a complete dolt and noticed that 50 points in the deck, two sweating and confused opponents, and favorable colors suggested a "forcing pass" solution to a bidding problem.

At one point, years ago, I grew so frustrated with the nonsense that I decided to develop a new type of bid entirely, one that I called a "Steppingstone Bid."  I wonder, still, how the GCC and Rules account for this beast.

I mean, we all know that there are types of bids.  A "normal" bid shows what you have and designates (in theory) a possible strain and proposed level.  Natural.  Then, you have asking bids, relays, puppets, marionettes, and other varieties of bids.  But, what about a "Steppingstone Bid?"

A "steppingstone bid" is defined (by me) as a call that is not forcing upon partner but that "forces" the opponents to take action to unwind your possible meanings.  That's not even right as a definition.

The situation is one where you try to maximize "useful space" and you stack meanings efficiently by taking advantage of a scoring-based situational "force."  That still doesn't explain it well.

OK, an example.  Partner opens Two Hearts, weak.  You are playing that any call at the three-level is forcing, 2NT is Ogust., and 3H is a raise.  But, Two Spades is a non-forcing response.  So far, fabulous.  But, you realize that you cannot show a weak hand with one or both minors.

So, you decide that 2S instead shows one or both minors, weak.  If partner prefers diamonds, he bids 2NT; if clubs, 3C.  You then place the contract accordingly.  That's better, in that you handle more hands, but then you cannot get out in spades.

Suppose you decide that, white on red, you will play that Two Spades shows either spades OR one-or-both-minors.  Suppose, further, that you play 2S as non-forcing.  How, then, will partner know what you have?  Easy!  The auction becomes, in a sense, forcing.  Why?  The opponents cannot defend 2S if you have one or both minors because they make +620 or better in Four Spades and get at most +400 against Two Spades undoubled.  Thus, Two Spades is, in a sense, "forcing."  Just, you partner is not the one who is forced.

Now, how can that type of call be treated as a psychic when the advantage gained is obvious?  You stack bidding space up, which is constructive.  This may be an unusual type of convention, and it may resemble a psychic, but alerted and explained, it is not.

So, take this a step further.  Partner opens Two Hearts in third seat.  After a double, you could play Suit/Lead.  Suppose, instead, that you want to play a method where Responder can escape to a long suit OR suggest a lead, but you want to also be able to play Two Spades, or to bid 2NT as both minors.  If you start working this up, Steppingstones works (at least white on red).  Bid a suit that you either want as the lead (shortness perhaps) or that you want to declare.  The opponents are situationally forced to unwind this for you, meaning that you stack meanings and thereby are "constructive."  The fact that this ends up looking a lot like a classic psychic is irrelevant.  Your purpose is honorable, efficiency results, and alerts clear up the ambiguity  (somewhat) for the opponents.

So, then, is this a "controlled psychic?"  That's the rub.  By my thinking, a "controlled psychic" is a term that makes no sense.  If one can ask whether you have X or Y, and if you can have X or Y, then having X (the "psychic" meaning) is not a psychic because you by definition can have that holding.  So, I have no idea what a "psychic control" is.  However, if this means a way to back-door a meaning that is not otherwise allowed, OK.  Call it that.  Whatever -- the point is that a "Steppingstone" should be allowed if alerted and explained when all possible weak meanings are allowed as conventional responses, of course.  Then, it is not a psychic and hence there are no psychic controls.  For that matter, by definition, PARTNER is not using any "control" anyway; the opponents are the ones who are "forced."  I cannot imagine that the GCC prohibits calls that force the opponents to do something intelligent if they want a good score (or try). 

I bet there are other uses for Steppingstones, like perhaps even a Steppingstone Pass?  I mean, in theory we all do THAT call.  LHO opens 1NT.  RHO transfers.  You pass, planning on making a different call when the auction comes back to you, because you know that the auction MUST come back to you, as LHO cannot pass.  He is forced.  So, you stack meanings in this manner.  The question is whether there are more situations where you can "Steppingstone" auctions.