Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More "Deep Thoughts"

A while back (http://cuebiddingatbridge.blogspot.com/2010/08/deep-thoughts.html), I suggested that he circumstance of a known two-fit scenario might best call for an "ask or answer" resolution of a ide "key card."  I am more and more convinced that this makes sense.

The major time I would see a clear two-fit scenario would be a raised response in a minor converted to the major.  For example, 1S-P-2D-P-3D-P-3S.  This scenario reduces cuebidding space to unwind the strength of the diamond suit, as only one person will be able to cue (or not cue) diamonds.  This lends itself somewhat to the "ask or answer" scheme. 

The trick may be in deciding when a suit becomes sufficiently focal to call for an "ask or answer" scenario.  Obviously, it seems that an agreed minor is and will be the focal side suit if a major is later agreed and if space was such that the minor could not be cuebid reliably as to internal controls.  Also "obvious" seems to be that a competitive situation may call for the "focal suit" to be the opponents' suit, which would be a permutation of the idea for a different cause.

An example of the latter might be the following.  You open One Spade, LHO overcalls Three Hearts, and partner bids Four Hearts as a strong spade raise.  You want to explore slam.  The classic method here is RKCB or cues.  Perhaps a reasonable alternative is an ask-or-answer scenario.  Ask with control in hearts; answer without.

Similarly, consider partner opening One Diamond, a 2H overcall, and you making a negative double.  This is passed to partner, who splinters 4H.  Passed to you.  In that scenario, it might make sense to have an "ask-or-answer" scenario for an implied focal side suit -- diamonds.  Perhaps Responder asks with the diamond King but answers without it. 

Boy am I wanting better mga-rules here.  I think there is something to this.

As I was just smoking a cigarette, another thought occurred to me.  My wife is a newer player and thus afraid of RKCB still.  When I try explaining it to her, the Queen ask always gets in the way.  We all actually hate that part of RKCB anyway.  The damned space it takes, and the question of whether 5H is a Queen ask after a 5D answer, hearts agreed.  The 1430 or 3014 problem. 

So, let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that the auction was one where Exclusion makes no sense (or where your partner does not get Exclusion as a concept -- my situation).  One might make RKCB easier if the ask-or-answer sceanrio was used.

Bid 4NT with the trump Queen.  Partner then answers a simple 5C = 0 or 3, 5D = 1 or 4, 5H = 2.  No 5S response.  This could even be easier.  5C = 0 or 4 key cards, 5D = 1, 5H = 2, 5S = 3.  In other words, regular Blackwood, with the King also counted.  The Queen problem is already solved.

Without the Queen, answer.

So far, easier, with no damned Queen-ask.

Advanced players, however, could keep the regular 0/3, 1/4, 2 structure.  Then, the "void show" coul be cheaper, or a wrap-around structure used.  In the latter, 5S+ could be bid with, say, 4.  With three, bid 5C and 5D asks for specific Kings. 

In other words, using an ask-or-answer structure to answer the Queen-ask problem could make for an easier THIRD version of RKCB (RKCB, 1430, and IQRKCB?).  "Immediate Queen RKCB" or just "IQ" for short.  Baby IQ would be the regular Blackwood-steps "RKCB."  Advanced IQ could be an enhanced RKCB with wrap-arounds or cheaper King asks or whatever.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Improving 1S-P-2S-?

A discussion on BBF got me thinking.  When the opponents bid and raise spades (1S-P-2S), fourth seat is jammed.  A structure to deal with this situation, however, might be worth considering.

1S-P-2S-2NT = both minors, or just diamond (Overcaller will correct 3C to 3D), or just hearts but weak (will correct either minor to 3H)

This part suffers some ambiguity in the 1-2-3 scenario, but that 1-2-3 is often the goal anyway.

1S-P-2S-3C = clubs plus hearts (Michaels style)
1S-P-2S-3D  = diamonds plus hearts (Michaels style)

Showing the second suit helps at this level and possibly higher.

1S-P-2S-3H = strong overcall in hearts (like a strong jump overcall)

Obvious benefits.

1S-P-2S-X = takeout OR just clubs

This is really problematic for higher levels, but it at least gets us in there without giving something up but with the gains of the other auctions.  Unwinding is simple:

Bid 3D or 3H if you would bid that after a 3C overcall -- if partner has the takeout he is pleased.
Bid 3C if you would bid that after a double -- if partner has just clubs he is pleased.

Bid 2NT (1S-P-2S-X-P-2NT) if you would have preferred a red suit in response to a takeout double.  If partner bids 3C, he has "just clubs."  If partner bids 3D, this is pass-or-correct.

Any thoughts on this structure?  I think I like it, myself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I was just reminded of a layout recently that I found interesting and called a "magnet" play.

The situation was that I had AK8 in hand, with J32 on dummy.  Playing this suit for three winners seems easy -- play the Ace and King and hope the Queen drops.

On this deal, however, there was an alternative line that made more sense.  Play RHO for five cards in the suit (contextually more likely than the Q-x dropping) and run a squeeze against those five cards and the known guard in another suit.  So far, so good.  (That line worked, by the way.)

However, a slight increase of odds seemed apparent, and I played for this (not that it mattered this time).  It seemed to me that playing the Jack from dummy operated as a possible "9 magnet" for LHO.  Suppose, for instance, that RHO started with Q10xx.  He might cover the Jack, but then he might not.  If not, LHO will see me play the Jack toward dummy and then fly with the King.  Doesn't that scream that I have A-K-10 and was fishing for a cover?  LHO might visualize this layout and decide to encourage me to play the other top spade later by jettisoning his 9 (to look like he started with Q-9 tight).

Thus, because the Jack has a tendency to dislodge LHO's 9 occasionally, it has the potential to cuase Q10xx with RHO to be a sufficient squeezable holding.  The Jack, in other words, "transfers the menace" by inducing a potentially intelligent jettison.

The same line works if I had 10xx in dummy.  The 10 to the King looks like I might have started with A-K-J.  So, the jettison of the nine, a tricky play, causes Q-J-x-x to be caught as a menace.

Now, all of this was relevant because I had to pitch one of these cards from dummy when running the squeeze.  In other words, I would END UP with only Jx (or 10x) opposite AKx when the squeeze ran.  Otherwise, the Jxx (or possibly the 10xx) works sufficiently without messing with it, and playing the top one actually might transfer the menace in a bad way.  But, since I had to pitch one anyway, I might as well run the magnet play, it seems.  That way, I might get LHO to transfer his own menace back to his partner via the jettison.  In other words, my pitch would allow LHO to guard the suit with 9-x-x, but the magnet play dislodges the 9 and keeps the menace where I want it.

Undiscussed Canape?

I am always curious when I notice sequences that call for an undiscussed canape approach.  I mean, sure.  Discussion is better.  But, some auctions just scream canape.

Here's an example.  LHO opens 1D, partner doubles, and RHO bids 1S.  You have 1-4-3-5 pattern with values to compete (if pushed) to the three-level.

One theory is to bid the long suit first.  The auction you anticipate is either:

2S-P-P-2NT or


In either event, you expect partner to take the 2NT call as showing 4H/5C.

The risk to that is this auction:


Now, you might score up +110 instead of +140, if partner has four hearts, which would be bad (especially at MP).

The solution is probably canape.  Bid 2H the first time.  The anticipated auction is:

P-P-P or

2S-P-P-3C or


In the first auction, you might end up in 2H on a 4-3 fit, which could be bad.  But, on the last two auctions, you end up in the right place, as long as partner takes this as canape.  Why canape?  With 4-4, you could bid 2NT instead of 3C.

So, if all of this makes sense, it seems like an undiscussed (or discussed) canape approach works just as well as the non-canape approach if the auction has two bids.  However, if the auction dies with this initial bid, 2H gets us to the right spot when partner has four hearts (probably), but 2H might get us to the wrong spot when partner only has three hearts.

Tough problem.  Any thoughts out there?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


At times, I wonder what people are thinking.  I mean, they also wonder what I am thinking (or smoking), but a recent discussion has me convinced that people have lost their minds.

Playing Walsh, the auction starts:


The discussion concerned what to do with four of a major and 5+ diamonds with GF values.  2M seemed to stand out to me, since that seems like the whole purpose of bidding 1D first with Walsh.  However, one set of good players noted that they promise 6+ diamonds when bidding the major at this point.  With exactly 5-4, apparently they start with either "new minor forcing" or "two-way new minor forcing."


First of all, suppose that you in fact have six diamonds and four hearts.  If you start with 1D, and then bid 2H, the auction to this point is:


So, you have four hearts and 5+ diamonds.  What call, precisely, will partner make that causes a problem?  If he bids 2S, 2NT, or 3C, you can NOW bid 3D and show that sixth diamond.  If he raises diamonds, or raises hearts, all is good.  So, what's the problem?

In contrast, to cater to the ability to show 4-6 immediately (which makes the 2M call less common), a goal that seems random and pointless, Responder has to forfeit something much more useful.  If the approach is "new minor forcing," I am at a loss as to which minor is "new," as both have been bid.  But, suppose that clubs is deemed "new."  Now, you cannot bid 2C naturally.  If both minors are "new," this is even worse.

So, when our side has bid both minors, and nothing more, we dedicate 2C and 2D as artificial calls, to for some reason allow distinguishing 4-5 from 4-6 more rapidly?  That just seems weird to me.  The only two suits that you cannot bid naturally are the only two suits that we are known to have.  Yeah -- that makes sense.

This type of nonsense seems to happen a lot these days.  Artificiality is great when a problem exists.  But, why is artificiality becoming the default?

Back on February 26, I posted on this exact same topic.  The opening bid was again 1C, again with a 1D response.  In that discussion, Opener rebid 1S, Responder bid 2C (thankfully at least that was natural), and the discussion was whether 2H showed something in hearts or asked a question.  Again, however, "natural" solved all problems better than the funky and apparently mainstream "2H as asking a question" treatment.

What is this obsession with asking and artificiality and structures, when just plain bidding what you have works perfectly fine, if not better?

I mean, I love structure and intricate artificial methods when they make sense.  It just seems like folks are grabbing artificiality as if it has some benefit in and of itself or something.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bridge Without a Partner

My friend Ken Eichenbaum has just released his new bridge comedy, Bridge Without a Partner.  This book is hysterical.  Kit Woolsey once called it his favorite bridge book ever.  Brent Manley hated the original version, describing it as filled with ridicule, which are two good reasons to want the book.  Do not miss this!


Monday, March 7, 2011


A thought.

There has been some debate between the classic responses to a 1C opening, Walsh responses, and Montreal Relay.  One modern innovation is toward "T-Walsh" or transfer Walsh.  So, could one, then, imagine and use yet another approach, one that might be called "X-Montreal," or cross-Montreal?

1C-P-1D = no 5-card major, typically a 4-card major.
1C-P-1H = 5+ spades
1C-P-1S = 5+ hearts

Let's play this out even further.  First, start with the spade sequence.  1C-P-1H.  Responder has 5+ spades.  From his side of the table, he could later bid 2H or 3H, as appropriate, to show a spade-heart two-suiter, longer (or equal) spades.  So far, nothing really sexy happens, except that Opener can bid spades first, which may in the long run be better for lead reasons.  The normal raise method could be 1C-P-1H-P-2S.  Not a jump shift -- just the normal raise that would have occurred if Responder had bid 1S instead of 2S.

What about the heart cross-over?  1C-P-1S.  Responder has five hearts.  Again, everything works out fairly normally.  Opener raises normally but grabs declarership.  1C-P-1S-P-2H.

You then might be thinking that there is a problem in the 1C-P-1S sequence, in that Opener cannot bid spades.  In the 1C-P-1H sequence, however, the auction is in theory improved, if Opener's 1S call shows hearts.  You end up with an easy auction (Responder has spades and hearts and could normally bid 1S and then 2H) being made even easier and better (Opener can show the hearts himself below 1NT, allowing Responder's 2H to show 5-5).  But, you end up with the easiest normal auction (Opener shows four spades after Responder introduces hearts) becoming what appears to be unworkable (the 1S call preempts the ability to show spades below 1NT, and Responder cannot later introduce spades without a reverse).

However, that perception of a complication is perhaps mitigated by that fifth card in hearts.  When the auction starts 1C-P-1S (Responder has five hearts), Opener either started with (1) a balanced hand or (2) an unbalanced hand with clubs.  If balanced, 2H is often the best contract anyway if Responder has a weak hand.  I mean, with five hearts, is the normal auction often 1C-P-1H-P-1NT-P-2H anyway?  So, let's start with the idea of Opener raising hearts (1C-P-1S-P-2H) with any balanced minimum hand (not the 18-19 balanced hands).  Is this, so far, workable?

Fairly so.  Responder will often bid just like he would after a transfer to a weak 1NT opening.  Opener will be allowed to make calls that confirm a true fit and calls that show shortness.  The opponents, if 2H is the final contract, will not know if the fit is real or not.  So far, I could live with this.

Back to Opener's problem at rebid.  Suppose Opener is unbalanced.  Because Opener will always rebid 2H with a minimum balanced hand, 1NT must, per force, show an unbalanced hand.  So, let's define that as promising four cards in spades.  Non-forcing, but this would carry a strong encouragement to not pass, as Opener might have a fairly strong hand.  If Opener has four spades and a balanced hand, with only two hearts, he could opt to treat this as "unbalanced" and bid 1NT, prepared to bid 2H later if necessary.

What bid would be left out?  If Opener is unbalanced, without four spades and without three hearts, he has at most 5 cards in the majors.  If diamonds are short (hence the unbalanced hand), Opener has 7+ clubs and has an easy rebid.  If spades are short, with only two hearts, again Opener has 6+ clubs and an easy rebid.  If Opener has precisely 3-1-4-5, 1NT to show spades is not implausible, nor is opening 1D instead (if that is your normal style), nor is rebidding clubs.  Strangely, a similar problem to other methods.

So, it seems to me that the five-card suit allows Opener to support hearts with a doubleton and to dedicate 1NT to unbalanced (or balanced with 4-2 in majors), so as to mitigate the problem sequence for a "X-Montreal" approach.

I am not sure whether this all would have any net benefit or loss.  I have only started to think along these lines.  But, as I am unaware of anyone tryig this method before, and as it seems workable, I am rather curious about the concept.  I would enjoy any feedback.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


One of my favorite little tools is opening 1D only with unbalanced hands and therefore including in 1C any balanced hands even if diamonds are (much) longer.  One of the benefits is very subtle.

Consider two hands from yesterday's Swiss Teams.

On one, my wife opened 1C, dutifully alerted.  RHO held both majors with clubs (4-4-1-4 type) and decided that a double in this context should show both majors and ONE of the minors.  I tend to agree. 

However, at favorable colors, I had seen this situation before and opted for the "odd" call of 1NT with 2-4-5-2 shape and two queens.  I immediately removed the two-level from their discussion.  LHO tried 2D, passed out.  They made, but 2S would have made 140.  The extra level convinced RHO to not risk further problems.

Later, partner again opened 1C.  This time, RHO made a normal 1S overcall, and I doubled for hearts.  LHO passed, and partner bid 1NT.  Not knowing whether my wife had diamonds or clubs dominant, RHO felt almost forced into a 2C call, lest they be blown out of their possible club fit.  As it was, partner had the normal club-spade two-suiter (2425) and the opponents ended up -200.

In either auction, the opponents might have resolved the problems better.  However, adding an ever-so-slight problem for them, and knowing how and when to induce failure in these types of sequences, is the kind of subtlety that I love.  Our teammates were impressed by the 6C contract we reached that the opponents missed, for a huge gain.  But, I enjoyed, even more, the couple of small gainers we got from these more subtle actions.

That said, flamboyance is also fun.  We had another where LHO opened 1S and partner overcalled 1NT as a light takeout (less than an opener down to, whatever).  RHO decided to double and sit back.  With xxx-Axxxxx-void-xxxx, it seemed like RHO was opting a double with spade support, which is odd.  The only explanation, it seemed, was that he was thinking slam.  So, wanting a diamond lead against 6S, I bid 2D.  This was passed to RHO who, with KQ10xx in diamonds, could not stand it and doubled.  I showed my "second suit" by bidding 2H, and LHO doubled.  Pass, long hesitation... ("Please go for the BIG number -- we are in TROUBLE!!!")  Well, the vibes did not work when RHO ended up bidding 3H.  After a few bizarre bids, they ended up in 4S, a huge gain when 6S is cold (RHO was void in hearts).  As added insult, our teamates made the overtrick in 6S, while we held 4S to 12 tricks (partner grabbed the induced diamond). 

But, I still like the subtle ones best.  The pro usually can deal with wild lunacy, but even the best fall prey at times to the very slight nudge.  Actually, the pro is more likely to get snared by the nudge than the average player.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Bids are Good Bids

When gioven two choices, pick the one that makes partner happy.

An auction last night illustrates this.  My partner, a good club player, opened a 19-count 4-1-4-4 hand 1C.  Whether you approve or would bid 1D is not relevant to the story, so assume 1C is OK.

I now bid 1D.  Partner had two plausible options.  The one he chose was 2S, a game-forcing jump shift.  Whether my call was right or wrong, I had somewhat of a problem deciding what to do.  In an undiscussed partnership, I decided to be practical, because my hand was not that fascinating.  My stiff club certainly looked bad.  So, with a marginal decision, I opted to bid 3NT to slow the auction down, hoping for at least a useful stiff honor to increase the chances that the suit was stopped.  In practice, the cards were just so, and the opponents could take the first five five heart tricks.  Partner also opted to pass for the same "practical" reasons.

What if, however, partner has instead opted the "happy" bid of 3H, a splinter? 

Now, I ignore the stupid "practical" option because my 5-card diamond suit and stiff club suggests slam.  In fact, 6D is laydown.

The point is that, among reasonable options, pick the one that makes partner smile if you want him to smile.  Bidding 2S, in the example, might have achieved a 2NT or 3C or 3D call by me, and then partner might have made a very descriptive 3D call.  His great spade suit would then be underlined, and the shortness in hearts would be inferred rather than shown.  But, the plan did not work when I, as partner, made a judgment call based on the info to date and when the plan seemed suddenly bad as to entry into the four-level.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Uncontested Structure Tailored for Contested Structure Parallels

I am more and more liking the idea of structuring the uncontested auction in a manner that caters to consistency and sophistication in the contested auction.

As a simple example, consider the benefits of a 3C response to a 1NT opening as Puppet Stayman.  In and of itself, it has obvious benefits, which is why a lot of folks use this method.  There may be alternative methods to explore this information in an uncontested auction, as well.  But, consider an added benefit to Puppet 3C after 1NT.

If you have this structure in mind, then it doesn't seem that complicated to kick into Puppet 3C (and transfers) if RHO overcalls 2NT for the minors.  1NT-(2NT)-3C as Puppet, and then transfers, is workable.

But, then take it a step further.  Often, Puppet 3C is coupled with 3H as 1345/1354 and 3S as 3145/3154.  So, suppose the auction is 1NT-(2H)-?  Now, one could have a semi-parallel structure where 3C is "Puppet" Stayman (3S=5, 3H=4, 3D=2-3), with a "parallel" 3H and 3S as shortness in hearts with three spades indicating the long minor.  Then, you might decide to have a double of 2H be a transfer (stolen bid), 2S as one or both minors weak or GF (which I like out of comp for this reason -- consistency between contested and uncontested, geared toward needs of contested on default; 2NT prefs diamonds BTW), 2NT as some general invite (usually with clubs anchor), and 3D as invitational with diamonds.

Whether  you love this structure or hate it, you may see the point.  I like Puppet 3C, 2S as wk/GF minor(s), and the 3-level frag-minors bids because of their own benefits but also because in contested auctions these create a workable core structure, with tweaks as needed or situationally suggested. 

Many other structures are such that any call disrupts the structure completely and forces something entirely different, which means more memory, more thinking, and less familiarity. 

When structures are similar, things that you see in repeated auctions lead to suggestions and judgment and modifications.  Playing "X Convention" in multiple situations means that it comes up a lot, meaning that you start to understand and feel it, and this allows you to realize, for instance, that a specific auction types suggests a specific weird call as a splinter rather than an honor, or a choice bid rather than a last train call, or optional rather than kickback.  Whatever.  If the structures vary a lot across sequences, you end up skimming the surface of the sequence and not gaining understanding, which weakens things.

So, think about developing contested structure first, perhaps, and then translating it to uncontested rather than the reverse.  I think it works better.