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Interesting Hands during Lockdown
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Bridge Tip of the Month

JANUARY

Some players are slower than others but there is also a lot of valuable time wasted at the Bridge table.  Always make the opening lead BEFORE you write down the contract on your scoresheet and at the end of the hand, North's number 1 priority is to enter the result on the traveller and get it checked by the opponents, NOT to fill in his own personal scorecard.

FEBRUARY

When partner opens a 12-14 1NT and you have 5-4 in the majors, with 11+ points transfer into your 5-card suit then bid your 4-card major (forcing).  With fewer than 11 points, with no aspirations towards game, use Stayman.

MARCH

Try to avoid the losing Bridge practice of underleading an Ace as an opening lead against a suit contract.  Almost as bad is leading an unsupported Ace.  The lead of an Ace generally promises the King.  If you don’t have this, try to select another suit as the opening lead.

APRIL

A good way to improve your Bridge playing techniques is to deal some random hands and see how suits break and cards lie.  One good one is to test out 'split honours'.  Give you and partner 13 cards each including eight spades missing the King and Queen.  Then deal the rest of the cards out randomly and see how often you would only lose one trick by finessing twice.  The odds are that you should succeed 75% of the time by doing this.

Another one you could try is to do as above but only missing the Queen.  See how often you would catch her by playing off Ace and King and see how often you would catch her by finessing.  You should find that it is much better not to play for the drop when you have only eight cards in the suit.  However, a variation on that is to have nine of a suit missing the Queen.  Normally it will be right to play for the drop rather than to take a finesse.

MAY

Whilst we have to continue maintaining Social Distancing, why not give online Bridge a try?  Bridge Base Online is free with a small charge made if you want to enter any of the club or county events that attract Master Points.

JUNE

Many Declarers go wrong at Trick 1 because they play too quickly and don't plan the play.  When dummy goes down, take a few seconds to reflect whether you are in an easy or difficult contract, whether it will require some luck to make it and, if it looks easy, what are the possible dangers.  Should you win in hand, in dummy or duck the opening lead?  More haste, less speed at the start often means less time trancing during the middle of the play when things have gone wrong.

JULY

Always watch the vulnerability.  If you are vulnerable, going down can be very expensive.  Minus 200 at Pairs is nearly always a poor result.  When you are not vulnerable you can be more pushy, especially if you end up sacrificing against vulnerable opponents.  For instance going three down doubled in 5♣ non vulnerable is profitable against the opposition's vulnerable 4♠ but if you are vulnerable and the opposition are not, you cannot even afford to go two down doubled in 5♣.

AUGUST

The most underused word in the Bridge vocabulary by less experienced players is 'Double'.  It covers a huge range of scenarios but it is very important to have partnership agreement on whether the double is takeout or penalties.  Many more doubles are used for takeout rather than penalties compared to how it used to be.  For instance if you opened 1NT, left hand opponent jumped to say 3 and your partner doubled, what would that mean, takeout or penalties?  It's all down to partnership agreement and if you don't have agreement, you can't really do it at all.

SEPTEMBER

Should you cover an honour with an honour?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no and sometimes maybe.  When you are defending, it helps to think ahead whether you consider it right or wrong to cover if Declarer plays a certain card.  If you don't think ahead, you will either play too quickly and maybe make the wrong decision or hesitate and completely give the game away.

OCTOBER

Miscounting trumps is the downfall of many Declarers, either because they leave one out or draw one round too many.  There are two good ways of counting trumps.  One is to count them as they go but some Declarers lose track when somebody ruffs.  One good way is to count up your total trumps when you see dummy then mentally tick off the opposition trumps each time they play one.

NOVEMBER

A takeout double is probably the most useful tool in the bidding vocabulary.  Yet is is a much underused bid as many players are not sure when/when not to double and often nervous about doing so.

DECEMBER

Continuing the theme of takeout doubles, many players do not know how to respond to it.  Rule of thumb is to respond at the lowest level with 0-7 points, jump with 8-10 points and cue bid the opposition's suit with 11+.  With a good stop in the opposition's suit, bid no trumps at the most appropriate level.  Occasionally with a very good holding in the opposition's suit, it may be appropriate to pass and turn the takeout double into penalties.

 

Interesting Hands during Lockdown
Slam Woes

The above hand came up in a recent Seniors match.  My team was Steve Preston, Dave Huggett, Jeremy Baker and me playing against a team from Bath.

The bidding started the same at both tables but after 3♠ I cue bid the Ace of Clubs which quickly propelled us to 6♠ whereas the other South just signed off in 4♠.  In the initial bidding, after a change of suit at the two level, 3♣ was game forcing and therefore 3♠ is stronger than 4♠.  The 4♣ bid therefore shows interest beyond game so the jump to 6♠ is emminently reasonable if not a bit hurried.

So much for the bidding, two different ambitions and looking at all four hands a contract of 6♠ looks very promising.  However, the play was much more different than the bidding.

Against 6♠ West decided not to give anything away and led a trump.  The Jack of spades appearing at trick 1 was significant as it meant Declarer and Dummy had all the top trumps.  However, a trump attack also meant that any plan to ruff clubs in dummy was thwarted as the opposition would have to regain the lead and would play another trump, reducing club ruffs to one and leaving a potential loser.

A good alternative therefore was to try to set up dummy's hearts and Declarer could afford to lose one if necessary, discarding three clubs on three hearts, providing hearts broke no worse than 4-2 (or 5-1 with a singleton Queen).  At trick 2 I played King of hearts but at trick 3 this plan was dashed as North ruffed, revealing an unlucky heart break.  North returned another trump but with the 4-1 break in trumps, 6♠ was now impossible.

At the other table the play was completely different.  On lead against 4♠ North led a small diamond.  Declarer won in dummy and immediately set about the clubs.  He ducked one at trick 2 but it was too late for North to find a trump switch and he continued with a second diamond.  Declarer won in hand, played Ace of clubs, ruffed a club, returned to hand with a heart and ruffed his last club.  Declarer now played dummy's last trump, the Queen, but when the Jack appeared from South, he was able to overtake with his Ace and draw all the outstanding trumps, the final trick being the Ace of hearts for 12 tricks.

Both opening leads were fine and either lead could have worked out better but on this occasion the trump lead was lethal.  It made an incredible difference and completely dictated the line of play.  Some may have selected the singleton heart and as the trumps and hearts lay, this would also have been too much for Declarer with an unavoidable club loser and either a heart or a heart ruff.

Double dummy Declarer can still make 6♠ on a trump lead by getting one club ruff and finessing the Jack of hearts but it's a very unlikely play and definitely against the odds, just happens to work!

In the event this hand provided an important 11 imp swing to the Bath team.  Could have been worse though as there would have been no reason not to make the same lead against 6♠ and that would have resulted in a swing of -1030, equating to minus 14 imps.

A real devilish hand on what was otherwise a good slam with a variety of play possibilities.  No justice!

Decisions, Decisions...

On picking up the South hand, with great excitement you count up an eight card heart suit.  However, before you have worked out what you're going to bid, West opens 1♠, partner overcalls 2♣ and East jumps to 4♠!  Now what?

Before looking at all four hands, what would you bid?  Once you have made your decision, look at all four hands and see the consequences of your action...

It's a difficult decision and on this occasion, if you had bid 5♣ you would have come up trumps.  Had you bid 5 you would have gone down, possibly doubled.

However, now see the hand below...

Decisions, Decisions (Version 2 - The Real Deal)

Same hand as above, same question and probably the same answer.  Read on as this was the last board in an actual deal in a recent teams match...

My choice was 5♣ and even when East doubled, I stuck with it (how stubborn) but I have canvassed opinion from a number of players and most of them would have bid 5.

If you look at the full deal, this time it is another story altogether.  East led a spade, West found the heart switch which East ruffed and later made the Queen of clubs so 5♣ doubled was one down.  But that was only the tip of the iceberg...

At the other table, West had decided to open an aggressive 4♠, North doubled, East bid 5♠ and South bid 6.  There was no defence to beat it as Declarer's third club was parked on dummy's Ace of diamonds resulting in a very expensive swing of 1630 or 17 imps.

As a further point of interest with this loathesome hand, a pre-empt is intended to put the opposition off track, causing them to make difficult decisions at a high level, and reaching the wrong contract.  Occasionally however a pre-empt is counter-productive and propels the opposition into a contract they might otherwise not have reached.

An important difference between the two bidding sequences is that after a 2♣ overcall by partner, he is likely to have good clubs but maybe nothing in hearts whereas a double of 4♠ implies at least tolerance for the other major.

In the bidding sequence highlighted above a bid of either 5♣ or 5 could have been right or wrong but either way you are unlikely to reach 6.  The majority of people I have asked opted for 5 and whilst I certainly thought about bidding that, I think I still come out in favour of 5♣ though I must admit I think it maybe the first time I have not bid an eight card suit!