Friday, August 29, 2008

Book review: Right Through The Pack

Right Through The Pack by Robert Darvas and Norman de V. Hart is absolutely my favorite bridge book. First published in 1947, this book lets the cards tell the story-- each one, from the lowly Two of Clubs to the regal King of Spades, has a narrative ranging from instructional to fantastical. The text is over sixty years old, so the bidding seems quite antiquated to our super-modern minds, but the bidding is usually just used as a way to get to the strange contracts that need even stranger plays to come in. (In fact, in Ely Culbertson's introduction, he states "in many of the deals -- very many! -- the accompanying bidding could not be justified by the world's greatest optimist.") One of my favorite hands from the book is The Tale of the Nine of Hearts:





An "unjustifiable" auction got N-S to seven spades. The eight of clubs was led to the three, nine, and king, and South saw exactly twelve tricks and no legitimate possibility for a thirteenth... but there was an illegitimate possibility lurking around. He drew trumps while eliminating diamonds, finding out that East held one spade and three diamonds. The play to the first trick suggested that East held QJ9 of clubs, and therefore the 1=6=3=3 shape he actually held, leaving the position:








Declarer led to the ace of hearts, then led the jack of spades, overtaking in his hand, leaving the ace of clubs stranded on the dummy! He then played the rest of the trumps pitching hearts from the board, making poor East believe the end position had been this:









East let go his king of hearts to save the club protection, thinking, as who would not, that declarer would never strand an ace on the dummy... but South took the last two tricks with his two little hearts.

Buy Right Through The Pack at

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Smolen and Delayed Texas: Bidding after 1N - 2C

We play a very extended version of Stayman. When our partner opens 1NT, most of he time that we hold both majors (4-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-4, 6-5), we'll start with 2C. Here's our response structure after starting 1NT - 2C:

2D = no major
2H = weak hand, both majors; pass with better hearts, bid 2S with better spades
2S = invitational with 5 or 6 spades (may or may not have four hearts)
2NT = invitational (should have a four card major)
3C, 3D = natural, game forcing
3H = five spades, four hearts, game forcing (Smolen)
3S = five hearts, four spades, game forcing (Smolen)
3NT = to play
4C = 5-5 or better in the majors; opener bids his better one
4D = four spades, six hearts (Delayed Texas Transfer)
4H = six spades, four hearts (Delayed Texas Transfer)
4NT = invitational to 6NT

2H = four hearts, will only have four spades if a maximum hand
2S = invitational with 5 or 6 spades (tends to deny four hearts)
2NT = invitational with four spades
3C, 3D = natural, game forcing
3H = natural, invitational
3S = artificial slam try in hearts with no minor suit shortness
3NT = game values, four spades; opener can correct to 4S with 4-4 in the majors
4C = splinter raise of hearts
4D = splinter raise of hearts
4H = to play
4NT = invitational to 6NT (to ask for keycards in hearts, you need to start with 3S)

2S = four spades, can have four hearts if non-maximum
2NT = invitational with four hearts
3C, 3D = natural, game forcing
3H = artificial slam try in spades with no shortness
3S = natural, invitational
3N = game values, four hearts; opener can correct to 4H with 4-4 in the majors
4C = splinter raise of spades
4D = splinter raise of spades
4H = splinter raise of spades
4S = to play
4NT = invitational to 6NT (to ask for keycards in spades, you need to start with 3H)

This is simpler than it looks if you just remember that three of the other major is an artificial raise of opener's major. Another good system is what I play with my good friend Drew:

1NT - 2C - 2M -
3 Other Major = artificial slam try in partner's major with a side singleton
Next step = asks for singleton
4C = quantitative slam try with a fit
4D = keycard ask in partner's major
4NT = quantitative slam try without a fit

As with all other agreements---- a bad agreement is better than none at all! Do you know what your partner would have for these sequences? Talk it over!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Transfer McCabe

How do you build a convention? Well, first you look for something artificial you need to insert into your system, then you look for an unused (or seldom-used) bid that you can assign that meaning to. Seventy-some years ago, Easley Blackwood got tired of going down in slams missing two aces, and noticed that almost nobody ever bid 4NT. He put those two things together in what is now the most famous and widely-used convention of all time.

When your partner opens a weak two and your right-hand opponent doubles, what does a redouble mean? Generally, a redouble shows a good hand and invites partner to make a penalty double if he has length and strength in the opponents' runout suit. But when partner opens a weak two, he's specifically saying he doesn't have length or strength in any of the side suits! So, the redouble can be used as something artificial without giving anything up.

So, many partnerships play the modern form of the "McCabe Adjunct" over their weak two bids.

Originally, McCabe was a convention used in noncompetitive auctions. When a weak two bid was opened, responder would bid 2NT "McCabe". This forced opener to rebid 3C, which responder would either pass or bid 3 of another suit to play. As originally written up, this wasn't terribly useful.

Eventually, someone adjusted this to being on only over doubles. The modern McCabe Adjunct is:

2H (double):

XX = relay to 2S, to sign off there or bid 3C or 3D
New suit = lead-directing raise of the hearts
2NT = asking bid (Ogust, Feature, or whatever it is you play 2NT as over a pass)

This worked pretty well for me for years, but when I heard of the concept of adding transfers to this auction I immediately adopted (and loved) it. Here's what I play with any partner that's willing to learn it:

2H (double):

XX = Long spades or a spade lead-directing heart raise
2S = Long clubs or a club lead-directing heart raise
2NT = asking bid
3C = Long diamonds or a diamond lead-directing heart raise
3D = raise to 3H with ace or king of hearts
3H = raise without one of the top two honors

So here you can have your cake and eat it too-- sign off in a long suit (transfer to it and pass partner's forced acceptance), direct the lead in a side suit (transfer to it and return to partner's major), or direct the lead (or don't direct the lead) in partner's suit (transfer to it or just bid it).

One of my partners uses this over all preempts... weak jump overcalls, opening three-bids, and even opening four-bids! I think this is just as theoretically sound.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Doorknob Doubles and Redoubles

This mini-convention was originally written up in the March 1996 Bridge World. I think it's a fine idea.

Doorknob is a double or redouble only used by the opening side in auctions that start:

1C (1H) 1S


1D (1H) 1S.

So basically, we've opened a minor, they've overcalled a heart, and our partner bid a spade (showing five or more). When right-hand opponent doubles, or bids 2C/2D/2H, we can use an artificial double or redouble to show our handtype.

Most 2/1 players use Support (re)Doubles here, but I've never found that too useful. When I have a minimum opening and know we have an eight-card spade fit, I want to get to 2S ASAP without giving the opponents more room for discussion. So until I read this article, I used double or redouble to show a good non-directional hand.

Kleinman suggests using a double as showing the common handtype that's the toughest to show here-- a good five card minor with two-card (generally honor-x) spade support. This follows the 'Support Double principle' in that a double shows a known seven card fit for partner's suit.

In several years of use, this convention has come in very handy several times, getting us to strong 5-2 fits in spades and good 5-3 fits in the minor. The one time that the Doorknob double got passed, it was a great board too. Both partners knew there was a misfit, and knew their partner's source of defensive tricks.

As with all new conventions, we need to think about what we're giving up. In this instance (assuming we're already playing Support Doubles), all we're giving up is responder's knowledge that opener has three or four spades for the raise to two. I really don't think this is a problem though I realize some Law of Total Tricks nuts do. For you Law folks-- when opener raises to 2S under Doorknob, responder knows that there's an 8 or 9 card fit, but opener knows the exact length of the partnership's fit, and can LOTT-compete as necessary. Oh, and read Anders Wirgren and Mike Lawrence's great book I Fought The Law Of Total Tricks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Splinters Over One Notrump

Sounds a little oxymoronic, doesn't it? A splinter normally shows a big fit for partner, a game-forcing hand, and a singleton or void in the bid suit. The splinter over 1NT certainly has the last two qualities, but we don't know about a fit yet.

We use 3H or 3S over partner's 1NT opening to show shortness in that suit and both minors. Some use this bid as 4441-type hands, but we prefer to have them show 5431-type hands. We'll open pretty much any in-range balanced hand with a five-card major with 1NT -- any 5332 and some 5422s. We've found that it's often right to play 3NT on these hands even with a 5-3 fit. The three times it's right to play a 5-3 major suit fit are

(a) You can ruff something from the three-card holding.

(b) You have an unstopped side suit that you can ruff to stop the bad guys from running tricks against you.

(c) You have a long (but not great) side suit in dummy that you need to ruff to set up.

Parts (b) and (c) don't usually come up when you've opened 1NT, so we worry about the first one. When responder has three cards in one major and a stiff or void in the other (and a game-forcing hand), we bid three of the short suit. Opener now knows (99% of the time) the best strain (if not the best level) for the partnership to play!

1NT - 3H = 3=1=(4-5), 3=0=(5-5), 3=0=(4-6), game force.

Opener bids 3NT with a double stopper or better in hearts;
With slam interest, opener bids 3S, 4C, or 4D showing his preferred suit, or 4H positive in both minors;
Without slam interest, opener bids 4S, 5C, or 5D showing his preference, or 4N to get partner to bid his best minor.

The minor suit distribution isn't terribly important, as long as you've got a hand with both minors, so partner can pick either one. It is important with these splinter bids to promise exactly 3 cards in the other major, so when pard has opened 1N with five cards in that major, you know you have the magic 8-card fit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


From BLML:

IMPs, red vs. white
LHO opens 4H in third seat, and it gets passed around to you.

---- --- (P) P
(4H) P (P) ?

You hold:

KT73 T 972 AQJ94

What's your call?

Hunt Valley Weekend KO: Third Session

Just so there's no suspense, we lost 9-60. It was hideous.

We were down 25 at the half. 13 of those were fairly random imps, and 12 were due to over-optimism on defense. On the first board of the second half, another 10 went out the window, and it became a scramble from there. Nothing worked to our advantage, and neither pair had a very good card either half. Not many problem hands, except for the easy ones we got wrong.

(A) A643 A K95 QJ865, red vs. white
It went three passes to me. Had this been in the second half, I probably would've called this a strong notrump... but I opened 1C.

(P) P (P) 1C;
(P) 1D (1H) 1S;
(2H) P (P) ?

(B) KT853 K5 52 J973, all white
You pass in first chair. LHO opens 1D, pard passes, and RHO bids 1H. Is this enough to overcall?

(C) AQ7532 K94 975 K, white vs. red
You open 1S, and partner lifts to 3S - a 4-card invitational raise. Is this an accept?

I misplayed this hand:

Dealer: S

Vul: All



♠ 5

♥ K7643

♦ AT972

♣ A5

1♥ (2♣) 2♠ (3♣)
3♦ (P) 3♥ (P)
4♥ (All Pass)

West led the queen of clubs, two, three (encouraging), and I won to lead a spade up. West hopped ace and tried to cash the jack of clubs, but East overtook with the king and shot a diamond through. My only shot was to let it ride to the queen... but West won the king and they later took a trump trick for down one.

Now, if I had just let the queen of clubs hold the trick, assuming the diamond king (and spade ace) on my left (what else can he have for a vul two-level overcall on a QJ-high suit?), when trumps break 3-2, all they can take is a club, a diamond, and a spade. Yet another case of playing too quickly.

Apparently, this was played card for card in the other room.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Master Solvers' Club

The Bridge World is the premier magazine for serious bridge players. I would recommend a subscription to anyone with a keen interest in the game.

TBW's mainstay feature is the Master Solvers' Club. This feature has been copied by almost every other bridge magazine on the planet. There are seven bidding problems and one opening lead problem given to a panel of a few dozen of the world's top experts. Bridge World subscribers enter their choices online every month, and the very few who get a perfect score on all eight problems in a month get invited on the panel for an upcoming month. This can be a lot of fun as an email discussion between a group of friends. I used to have a lot of fun as a member of the S.O.Bs (Southern Oregon Bidders). Since moving to the East Coast, I haven't had the opportunity to be in a group like that, so I'd like to start one. If there are any other subscribers out there who would like to join me in this, please email me at McKenzie (at) DoubleSqueeze (dot) com.

Hunt Valley Weekend KO: Second Session

After skating through the first session, we came into another three-way. We had a repeat from the first ring (the MABC allows playbacks at any time. I think this is a poor idea) and our old friends Cheech and Chong.

First quarter, vs. Cheech and Chong:

(A) Q KJ864 J532 AK7, all red
RHO opens 1D. You overcall a heart, lefty passes, and pard advances with a forcing 1S. Pass on your right. You bid 1NT (do you?) and pard bids 2D. What's your call?

(B) 62 73 KT942 T854, all red
Pard opens 2NT (good 19-awful 22). Do you have a bid?

After six boards, we held the commanding lead of 11-10.

Second quarter, vs. Cranky Old People:

(C) 9754 AJ96 KQ9 AK, all red
LHO passes, pard passes, and RHO opens 1S. Green? Red? Else?

(D) KQJ763 5 K J9652, white vs. red
RHO opens 2H. You overcall 2S. Lefty bids 3D, pard cues 4D, righty passes, you bid 4S (do you?), and lefty bids what he probably should have the last time, 5D, pass, pass. You're up.

After six, we were up 14-3.

Third quarter, vs. C+C:

(E) J 432 AK73 KT752, white vs. red
Partner opens 1C in first chair, and RHO comes in with 1H. You cue 2H to show an invite or better in clubs, which pard pulls to 2NT. Pass, 3C, or 3N?

This was a very quiet set. Our teammates bid to a good game and went down on a ruff while C and C stopped in 2S making 3 for the only swing. We lost 12-18.

Fourth quarter, vs. COP:

I screwed up this hand mightily:

KT7 QJT87532 none 72, all white

Pard opened 1D, I responded 1H, she bounced to 2N, I bid 4H, and she passed. RHO came out of the bushes and doubled! I forgot to redouble, and when LHO led a low spade and dummy came down as

A95 A4 QJ96 AK93,

I also failed to pick up Kx of hearts onside... what should have been +1480 and win 14 was turned into a sad +790 and win 7.

We didn't need the seven imps. It got ugly... we won the match 41-8. On to the semis! We drew... you guessed it... Cheech again. Grr.

I'll post what happened at the table in the Comments. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts about these hands!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hunt Valley Weekend KO: First session

We entered the Weekend Knockout with our old friends UK and Mullet. With 11,000 MPs on our team and only 54 teams in the event, we expected to make Bracket I, but when the sheets came out, we ended up in the middle of II. There were ten teams in the bracket, so there were two three-ways and two head-to-head matches in the first match. We fell into a three-way.

As always, I'll post what happened at the table in the Comments. If you're reading this via RSS or LiveJournal feed, come to the site and find out.

First quarter:

MY LHO made some insane calls. At unfavorable, she bid 3D over my 2S with xxx xx Axxxx ATx. Apparently her partner had seen her overcalls before-- she competed to 4D only over pard's 3S with a hand I'd be making a slam try on. +100. This was a quiet six boards, except for our teammates' going for 800 at unfavorable in a weak notrump escape auction. We were down 2-12 after six.

Second quarter:

(A) KJ862 KJT652 8 Q, white vs. red
RHO passes in first chair, and you?

(B) K KT4 AKT52 8642, all red
LHO opens 1H, pard overcalls 1S, RHO bids 1NT. Your bid.

(C) 963 54 AJ8752 K8, all white
Pard opens 1H in first seat, and RHO overcalls 1S. You make a negative double (do you? What would you do if your minors were switched?), and LHO leaps majestically to 4S. Pard's in there with 5C, righty passes, and it's up to you.

After six boards, we led 35-0.

Third quarter (down 2-12):

Again, nothing very spectacular our way. The big swing hand was the opponents flailing their way to slam off three bullets for win 11. The final score of the match was 27-15.

Fourth quarter (up 35-0):

(D) 84 A7 KQT84 9872, white vs. red
RHO quickly passed, and when I pulled out my Stop card prior to opening 2D (which I strongly believe is the right call), lefty disinterestedly pulled out a pass card. We certainly could have called the Director and exercised our options, but it didn't seem too necessary in this match. Pard passed 2D, and righty balanced with 2H. On the table action, do you have a call?

This was the quiet set we wanted it to be, and won the match 42-2. So onward to the quarterfinals! With six teams left in the bracket, it was another three-way. We drew the other survivor of our ring (the slam off three aces team) and our old friends Cheech and Chong.

Stay tuned.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Impossible Spade

When your partner opens 1H and you bid 1NT (forcing or semi-forcing), there are many possible shapes for your hand. You could have any hand from

AKx xx Kxxx Jxxx


x none QJxxxx KJxxxx.

So many different handtypes in this one bid... but the one thing they all have in common is that they have fewer than four spades.

So what does a later spade bid by the 1NTer mean?

If opener rebids something at the two level, a jump to 3S is a splinter raise. So, 1H - 1NT - 2D - 3S should look something like:

7 K3 AQ6432 QT53.

But how about the "simple" 2S rebid?

The way I play it, over 1H - 1NT - 2m, 2S shows a maximum raise in the minor (tending to not have spade shortness - see above). 1H - 1NT - 2C - 2S is probably something like

K63 J4 Q75 AJT83.

Playing this, I can give a "courtesy raise" to 3C with a hand like

J63 J4 T75 AJT83,

and partner will know not to take me too seriously since I didn't start with 2S.

When partner rebids 2H over my 1NT, I use 2S as a two-way bid. This shows either a three-card limit raise in hearts, or an invitational hand with 5-5 in the minors. Opener treats it as the minor hand, generally showing his preference at the three level. If he wants to accept game in a particular minor, he bids four of that minor, forcing. You still have to leave room for partner to correct back to 4H with the three-card limit raise!

The flip side of this is when the auction goes 1H - 1NT - 2H, a 3H bid shows limit-raise strength with only two cards. This information can be very helpful for close game decisions.

So let's say responder holds

(A) A8 6 KJT62 Q8532

(B) J86 KQT A963 T65

(C) 4 KJ3 AJT74 J752

in these sequences:

(1) 1H - 1NT - 2D -

(2) 1H - 1NT - 2H -

My suggested auctions:

(A1) ... 2S! [great diamond raise] - 3D [I'm not interested] - P
(A2) ... 2S! [good hand with both minors] - 3m [I choose this one, please go away] - P

(B1) ... 3H [three-card limit raise]
(B2) ... 2S! [good hand with both minors]- 3D - 3H [cancel that, I really have a great heart raise]

(C1) ... 4H [started out as a three-card limit raise, but your diamond bid made this hand a game-force]
(C2) ... 2S! [good hand with both minors] - 3D - 4H [started out as a three-card limit raise, but your diamond bid made this hand a game-force]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hunt Valley: Tuesday Evening Hands

This was the wackiest set of hands I've played in years.

All problems matchpoints. What happened at the table will follow in the Comments.

(A) KJ963 A 9 986432, red vs. white
RHO passes. First of all, what's your action? I decided to open 1C. LHO bid 1D, pard bid 1NT, and RHO tabled 2H. What's your call here?

(B) AQ74 none KQT753 Q42 white vs. red
You open 1D in first chair. Lefty passes, partner bids 1S, and RHO butts in with 2H. You're up.

(C) 43 J72 AT43 T865, all red
LHO opens 1C. Pard doubles, and RHO bids 1H. I know I won't get a lot of support here, but let's say you bid 2D. (For those of you who disagree with 2D, would you bid if you could show the suit at the one level?) LHO now bids 3C, partner bids 3H, and righty passes. Your call.

(D) KQ9 A96 AJ754 K7, red vs. white
You open 1D (1N would have been 14-16). LHO overcalls 2C, which is raised to 3C on your right. What's your bid?

(E1) A9 T65 KJ8765 T4, white vs. red
Partner, in first seat, opens a 14-16 NT. Your choices are 2N (natural), 3N, or 2S (clubs or invite in diamonds). What's your guess?

(E2) Say you go the third route, and start with 2S. Pard bids 3C (does not accept an invitation in clubs), and you bid 3D, revealing your hand. Partner continues with 3H. You're up.

(F) 62 AJT8753 72 KJ, all white
Pard opens 1D in first chair. RHO bounces to 3C, and it's your call.

(G) AK6 J85 93 AKQ63, red vs. white
In second chair, pard opens a weak 2D. RHO comes in with 2S, and you bid 3N. This is passed around to righty, who viciously doubles. You can make a "content" pass, a "doubt" redouble, or a "pansy" pull.

(H) 8763 none A732 J6542, white vs. red
Pard opens 2S in first chair. Righty doubles. You can bid some number of spades, or stick in a lead director at the three level (by bidding one under the suit). You're up.

Hunt Valley: Tuesday Afternoon Hands

Mike and I placed 3rd overall (of 78) in the Tuesday Open Pairs. The event certainly was ours to win if we'd played perfectly. We ended up about 1¼ boards out of first place. There were an amazing amount of interesting hands. All problems matchpoints. What happened at the table will follow in the Comments.

(A) Q Q653 AJ43 AK84, red vs. white
LHO open 2S, pard passes, RHO lifts to 3S, and you?

(B) A2 AJ6532 A7 A83, all white
You open 1H. LHO overcalls 1S, pass, pass to you. Your call.

(C) A5 T5 KQJ4 T8753, red vs. white
Pard opens 1C, RHO overcalls 1H, you bid 2H (limit raise or better in clubs), and partner rebids 2NT. Pass, 3C, or 3NT? [A 1NT opening by partner is 14-16.]

(D1) J63 J973 AQ4 A93, all red.
Pard opens 1S. Your choices are 2C [game force], 1N [semi-forcing], or 2N [limit raise or better].

(D2) If you bid 1N, what are your rebids over partner's two-level rebids?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hunt Valley: Monday Hands

Mike and I played in the Single-Session Knockouts. We did some bad things, and some good things, and a lot of neutral things. There wasn't a heck of a lot in the cards. It was a surprisingly boring set.

All hands IMPs. What happened at the table will appear in the Comments.

(A) A5 T943 AKQJ94 A, all white
In fourth chair, I opened 1D. Pard bid 1H. I pulled out an undiscussed 4D (one of our final agreements was "anything we haven't discussed, assume expert standard"), and he keycarded with 4S. I showed 0 or 3 (5C), and he bid 5H. We had also agreed that 5H is a signoff opposite zero and the queen ask opposite 3, "unless you've opened 2C or something." Do you pass 5H or bid 6H to show three without the queen?

(B) AKQJT3 AJ T3 A63, red vs. white
You to open. Your choices are 1S, a semi-wacky but not ridiculous 2NT, or an Acol 3NT (16-21, source of tricks with side stoppers).

(C) T5 AKT JT2 JT742, red vs. white
You pass in first chair. The auction continues: P (1C) 1D (1H) 1N (2H) P (P). Do you have a call?

(D) 6 AQ873 AT5 QT84, white vs. red
You open 1H, and partner splinters with 4D. You're up.

(E) KT63 J AQT843 A5, red vs. white
Pard opens a weak 2H in first chair. Righty passes, and you...?

(H1) JT8 A7 QJ3 KQT73, red vs. white
Righty opens a strong notrump and plays there. Your lead.

(H2) KJ954 865 K95 Q8, all white
RHO opens 1D. You overcall 1S (unless you're Brian Meyer). LHO cues 2S (LR+), RHO bids 2NT, and LHO lifts to 3NT. Your lead.

Hunt Valley: Monday

For the Hunt Valley Regional (held this week just north of Baltimore, MD) Meg had a previous commitment for the first two days, so I get to try out a new partner for a few days. Mike Gill was nice enough to agree to join me. Mike is a great player and a heck of a nice guy. He's a grad student at the University of Maryland in astrophysics. He was also a member of the 2005 USA Junior Team in Sydney, Australia.

Mike and I had a couple of hours to cobble agreements together. Here's a few of the things we decided on.

14-16 notrumps, with extended Stayman and better-minor lebensohl
1H-2S and 1S-2N as a limit raise or better (with these responses)
3S relay over 2N
Semi-forcing notrumps over 1M
Fit-showing jumps in competition
Upside-down count and attitude with standard Smith echo
Snapdragon and Doorknob doubles and redoubles
Modified Landy over their notrumps (2C = majors, double of a strong NT = major/minor, all else natural)
Transfer McCabe
Exclusion Keycard
Non-serious 3NT
Modified responses to Michaels
Acol 3NT openings
Pass-double inversion
Bad/good 2NT

...and a few other fun things.

Monday, August 11, 2008

2NT - 3S Relay, and The Most Dangerous Convention in Bridge

How do you handle minor suit oriented hands when your partner opens 2NT? Most casual partnerships have no way of showing minor one or two suiters over this space-guzzling opening. I've cobbled together a somewhat simple set of responses to cover these hands.

When my partner opens 2NT*, my bid of 3S forces 3NT out of partner. Once partner rebids 3NT, my further actions define my hand.

*Note: All these bids are also used in the auction 2C - 2D - 2NT.

2NT - 3S - 3NT -:
4C = natural clubs, slam try
4D = natural diamonds, slam try
4H = shortness in hearts with both minors
4S = shortness in spades with both minors
4NT = transfer to clubs
5C = transfer to diamonds

Some partnerships prefer to switch the 4C and 4D responses, to show the other minor, to make opener declare more often.

The 4H and 4S bids show at most one in the suit bid, and at least 5-4 in the minors (usually 5-5).
There's also one important sequence in here that I forgot to mention: 2NT - 3S - 3NT - Pass. Sure, you could've just bid 3NT in the first place, so there has to be some special meaning to this sequence, right? Well, many years ago, the Pakistanis played this to say "I'm sorry I screwed up that last hand!" We have our own meaning for it... and we'll tell you if it comes up at our table.

Warning! The following is for people with strong stomachs and good memories only!

The following has been termed "the most dangerous convention in bridge." I play it with only one partner at the moment...

Over 2NT, 3S is the relay to 3NT, and 2NT - 3NT is a relay to 4C!

The shortness bids of 2NT - 3S - 3NT - 4H/4S now definitely show 5-5 in the minors.

Starting with 3NT shows 5-4 in the minors.

2NT - 3NT - 4C - 4D/4H are "transfers". These show three cards in the suit above. So you'd bid 2NT - 3NT - 4C - 4H with 3145 or 3154. Partner can bid the transfer suit to suggest a place to play-- he has a 5 card fit (or maybe a good 4 card fit) with your three-card major.

If you're 2-2(45) you rebid 4S.

So the whole scheme of The Most Dangerous Convention In Bridge:

Starting with 2NT or 2C - 2D - 2NT:

3S = relay to 3NT
4C = slam try with clubs
4D = slam try with diamonds
4H = 2-1-5-5, 2-0-6-5, 2-0-5-6
4S = 1-2-5-5, 0-2-6-5, 0-2-5-6
4N = transfer to clubs
5C = transfer to diamonds

3NT = relay to 4C
4D = 1-3-4-5, 1-3-5-4, 0-3-5-5
4H = 3-1-4-5, 3-1-5-4, 3-0-5-5
4S = 2-2-4-5, 2-2-5-4
4NT = I forgot the convention again! I really wanted to play 3NT!

Yes, we really have "I forgot" in the system notes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Modified Two-Way Drury

Drury is a "must" convention for any partnership that may open light in third and fourth chair. Especially at matchpoints, it's good tactics to open the bidding in third chair with a hand like AKT96 K753 97 T5, but when your partner will gleefully leap to 3S with a hand like QJ83 T6 K542 QJ32, you'll go down hard (sometimes doubled) at the three-level.

Douglas Drury devised his now-famous convention in self-defense. He was tired of raising his partner Eric Murray's third chair openings to the three-level and watching him go for 1100. He felt much better being able to stop at the two-level for only 800!

As originally written up, responder would bid 2C with almost any maximum passed hand, and opener would bid 2D with any minimum. This got quickly amended by most tournament players to promise a fit with the 2C call, with opener's negative rebid being two of his major (known as Reverse Drury).

A further innovation was Two-Way Drury. Responder would bid 2C with a good three-card raise, or 2D with a good four-card raise. I played this this for a few years, until I learned of this modification:

2C = 4 card constructive or limit raise
2D = 3 card limit raise
2M = 3 card constructive raise

After P - 1M - 2C, opener can sign off in two of his suit, or bid 2D to ask which type of raise. With the constructive raise, responder returns to two of the major. With the limit raise, responder bids as naturally as possible. So, with

KT98 QJ52 J76 83

the auction would go (opponents silent)

P - 1S;
2C! - 2D!

but with

KT98 QJ52 A76 83

the auction would go

P - 1S;
2C! - 2D!

and with

KT98 QJ52 A763 5

the auction would go

P - 1S;
2C! - 2D!
4C (splinter).

Knowing partner's exact trump length is a very important thing for some players. I made the decision a while back that I'm not one of them. I decided that three bids (2C, 2D, 2M) to raise partner was a little too much wastage. The argument for two-way Drury is that on a lot of hands that would bid a natural 2D over partner's third chair opening would've opened a weak 2D in first chair. I decided to go with that argument... so now, with most partners, I play P - 1M - 2D as Reverse Drury, and P - 1M - 2C as natural!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Modified Responses to Michaels Cuebids

When the opponents open one of a major and your partner bids two of that major (Michaels Cue Bid), what do you do with a good hand and a fit for partner?

"Standard" procedure in this auction is to bid 2NT (asking for partner's minor) and correcting partner's minor suit bid to three of his major with a fit there, or raising the minor suit call to 4 with a fit there. This seems pretty ungainly to me. So I've accepted a new set of responses.

Let's say your left-hand opponent opens 1S, partner bids 2S, and right-hand opponent passes. Here's the response structure I prefer:

2NT = game try in partner's minor
3C = pass with clubs, bid 3D with diamonds
3D = game try in hearts
3H = to play
3S = heart raise with spade shortness
3N = to play
4C = heart raise with club shortness
4D = heart raise with diamond shortness
4H = to play
4N = bid your minor

It's basically the same structure over (1H) 2H (P), except you have the possibility of playing 2S:

2S = to play
2NT = game try in partner's minor
3C = pass with clubs, bid 3D with diamonds
3D = game try in spades
3H = stopper ask
3S = preemptive raise
3N = to play
4C = spade raise with club shortness
4D = spade raise with diamond shortness
4H = spade raise with heart shortness
4S = to play
4N = bid your minor

You may wonder how I am able to make all these game-tries opposite the standard wide-ranging Michaels bids. Well, that's easy-- I've stopped making Michaels bids with bad hands. In my bridge youth, when I was dealt Jxxxx xx Jxxxx x, I was thrilled to throw in a 2H bid over my righty's 1H. I considered it unlucky the first ten times pard went for a number at a low level, or overvalued my hand and pushed to a no-play game, but after that I started wising up. These weren't unlucky hands for the method, they were reasonable results playing a bad method. My buddy Roger suggested a fairly strict set of rules for Michaels two-of-a-major bids and Unusual 2NT bids, which I've (mostly) stuck to:

When you're at favorable vulnerability, have 7 HCP in your two suits;
When you're at equal vulnerability, have 9 HCP in your two suits;
When you're at unfavorable vulnerability, have 11 HCP in your two suits.

Note that this doesn't say anything about total hand strength. At unfavorable, I'd happily Michaels with AKTxx xx AT9xx x, but wouldn't think of it with Txxxx AK T9xxx A.

Since I started playing Michaels as good hands (or at least two respectable suits), my partners have been going down in silly contracts a lot less. Not forcing them into dumb spots is a good way to keep partners happy!

Fit-showing Jumps

I think that fit-showing jumps (FSJ) are one of the most useful competitive treatments out there. With many of my favorite partners, I play these jumps in almost all competitive situations.

The basic fit-showing jump is a fairly simple concept. When your partner bids a suit and your RHO takes an action, a new-suit jump by you shows invitational values, length and strength in the bid suit, and a fit for partner. For example, let's say I hold 742 A76 KQJ93 94. My partner opens 1H, and my RHO bids 1S. Most folks would just bid 2S, showing a limit raise or better in hearts. Playing FSJs, I leap to 3D to show this hand. Let's give partner two sample hands, and see what he would do on the two auctions.

(A) A53 KQJ84 A87 52

(B) A53 KQJ84 52 A87

Of course, with either hand, over 1H (1S) 2S (P), partner will take the same action (if it was me, it would be bidding game at IMPs and signing off at matchpoints, but wouldn't be sure if either was right), but over a descriptive call like 3D, partner can confidently bid game on (A) and confidently sign off with hand (B).

Of course, as with any convention, we need to ask ourselves "what are we giving up?" Here, to play FSJs, we're giving up strong or weak jump-shifts, whichever your partnership is currently using.

A strong jump-shift should be a hand like:
AK AQJ864 KJ3 J2.
Over your partner's one of a suit opening and an overcall, you jump in hearts to show a powerhouse with long hearts.

A weak jump-shift should be a hand like:
85 KJT864 963 52.
Over your partner's one of a suit opening and an overcall, you jump in hearts to show an awful hand with long hearts.

Most tournament players long ago dropped the "standard" strong jump-shifts in competition in favor of the weak jump-shift. They noticed that the weak hands came up far more often than the strong ones, and, especially with the rise of Two Over One Game Forcing, the big hands had many other ways to show strength and get information out of partner.

So they moved to weak jump-shifts, in large part (in my opinion) because there weren't any other widely-publicized alternatives. I played them for a while, but noticed that even when the right hand for a weak jump-shift came up*, two or three of my long suit wasn't always the right contract. In fact, it'd often give the opponents the fielders' choice of doubling me or bidding to their best contract (remember, they've already shown values and shape on your right). So when someone explained FSJ to me, I was an overnight convert.

*Also, my partners would often not wait for the right hand to come up to make the weak jump-shift... giving the opponents even more of a fielders' choice.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Two Hands from BBO

I played on Bridge Base Online this evening with my friend Anne. Anne was the winningest female player in the ACBL last year. She ended up the year with 1,419.97 masterpoints-- just ahead of Melanie Tucker with 1,419.86! Check out the tight race here. We held two hands that illustrate the importance of accuracy with high-level competition.

Dealer: South
Vul: N-S
Scoring: IMPs





P (P) X (P)
5♠ (6♥) X (All Pass)

Anne and I play a system that allows light openings with good playing strength and the spade suit. The South hand certainly has both, so I had an easy 1S opening. Lefty bid 2H, pard bounded to 4S, and righty bid 5H. Now, 4S by us is sort of a 'two-way' bid. It shows either a minimum game-force in high cards and a fit, or a preemptive raise to 4S. So my pass to 5H wasn't forcing. When pard doubled 5H, by agreement this said "I was bidding 4S to make", so with my undisclosed playing strength, I bid to 5S. LHO made the good decision to continue on to 6H (would you bid one more after being doubled in 5?), and partner's double ("Please don't bid any more, pard") ended the auction. On most lies of the cards, we would be on for 5S but not 6, and the opponents would be -500. With both minor-suit finesses on for our side, though, 6S was on, and 6H went -800. This was a well-judged hand for both sides, bidding to the single-dummy right spot. We figured out what was going on by good partnership and good understandings. West did it from a good (educated) guess.

On the very next board, we picked up

Dealer: West
Vul: E-W
Scoring: IMPs





(P) P (1♠) X
(3♠) 4♥ (4♠) 5♥
(P) P (5♠) X
(All Pass)

My RHO opened 1S in third chair, and I had an automatic takeout double. My lefty made a limit raise in spades, and pard (bless her-- great bid!) was in there with 4H. Righty bid 4S, and it was my guess. At IMPs, it tends to be percentage to bid one more, so I pulled out 5H. This would've gone for 300, but righty had heard of the 'bid one more' principle also, and bid to the doomed 5S. I didn't want my partner to worry about re-saving in 6H, so I doubled. We collected our two clubs and a diamond for +200.

These were both big pick-ups. Sure, there are hands consistent with the auctions that would have worked out poorly for our actions, but I think all of our bids were 'right'. Thanks again, Anne, for playing! (And nice 4H call!)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another defense

A few days ago I posted the worst defense ever perpetrated. To show that we're not totally pathetic, here's a nice defense we put together yesterday.

Dealer: West
Vul: Both
Scoring: MPs


♠T led


1N (All Pass)

North-South got to 1N from the North seat after Meg overcalled 1H. She got off to a spectacular start with the ten of spades (playing attitude leads), starting the unblock. (You can see that if she leads a spade spot card, the suit blocks and we get only three spades.) I won with the king, dropping the jack, and continued with the ace, dropping the queen. Now a heart through, declarer ducking, partner playing the ten, and declarer winning the ace (it's probably the right play to duck the ten of hearts, but we would untangle our tricks anyway). A club finesse was taken to partner's king. She shot her last spade through the eight to my 97. I took two spades and led hearts through again. We took four spades, four hearts, a club, and a diamond, for +400 the hard way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Modified Smolski over Notrump

There's an ever-growing controversy over the best system to play over the opponents' 1NT opening. It seems like the most popular systems these days are DONT and Hamilton (Cappeletti), but I don't really like either of those. I think that there is a real competitive advantage to immediately overcalling two of a major without going through an intermediate step (double in DONT, 2C in Hamilton).

My other criterion for a notrump system is that all two suiters (with the possible exception of both minors) should be able to be shown at the two-level.

So I picked up a convention put together by the true gentleman of Bermudian bridge, Roman Smolski. Roman started with Brozel as a base. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Brozel structure is:

Double = Unspecified single suit
2C = Clubs and Hearts
2D = Diamonds and Hearts
2H = Hearts and Spades
2S = Spades and a Minor
2NT = Clubs and Diamonds

He modified it with the "immediate majors" principle like this:

Double = Two-suiter including Spades
2C = Clubs and Hearts
2D = Diamonds and Hearts
2H = Hearts
2S = Spades
2NT = Clubs and Diamonds
3C = Clubs
3D = Diamonds

When your partner makes a Smolski double over 1NT (showing spades and another suit),
you can bid 2H or 2S as an offer to play, or you can bid 2C or 2D as a "pass or correct" action. Partner will pass if you've bid his second suit, or bid his second suit if possible at the two level. If pard has spades and clubs, over your 2D he'll revert to 2S to show the blacks. Of course, if you have a good hand, you can always pass the double! The final response is 2NT, "cuebidding the opponents' suit", showing a game-try or better in some suit (a game-try or better with a balanced hand would just pass the double). Over responder's 2NT, overcaller bids his second suit at the three-level without game interest, or at the four-level with game interest.

I played Smolski with some success for a few years, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Then I picked up a hand like QJT97652 J4 86 3. Over righty's 1NT I wanted to bid a preemptive 3S, but was afraid partner would think I had a big hand. Then, with a different partner, I held something like AKJT765 AQ8 K2 7. I wanted to bid a strong 3S, but was afraid pard would think I was preempting! So I decided we could pack a little more artificiality into Smolski without much problem. So here's the final (for now) product of Modified Smolski over Notrump:

Double = Two-suiter including Spades, or a strong Spade one-suiter
2C = Clubs and Hearts
2D = Diamonds and Hearts
2H = Hearts
2S = Spades
2NT = Clubs and Diamonds or a strong Heart one-suiter
3C = Clubs
3D = Diamonds
3H = Preemptive with Hearts
3S = Preemptive with Spades

Anyone with an improvement on this method? Feel free to comment, or email me at

Modified Responses to Jacoby 2NT

The Jacoby Two Notrump convention was a real revolution in its time-- prior to its use, most pairs played 1M - 3M as a forcing raise, and 1M - 2N as natural and forcing. Using 2N as the forcing raise allowed players to make invitational raises with 3M. This doesn't sound like a big deal to those of us who learned bridge in the '80s, '90s, or like me, in the '00s, but it was a huge advance.

But the Jacoby Two Notrump's time was forty years ago. Bidding has evolved so much since then that I think a new set of responses (maybe even a new bid for the forcing raise) is long overdue.

So here's the set of responses I like to play to my partner's 2N:

First step [3C] = any minimum hand
Second step [3D] = non-minimum, no singleton or void
Third step [3H] = non-minimum, a singleton or void somewhere without a good five-card side suit
Fourth step [3S] = non-minimum, a side suit of at least five cards headed by two of the top three honors

Over 3C, partner can relay (bid the next step, 3D), asking for hand-type. Opener responds in the same sort of steps as over 2N - first step [3H] no singleton or void, second step [3S] shortness somewhere, third step [3N] good side suit (this should be rare... when would you treat a 5-5 hand with a source of tricks as minimum?)

Over 3D, cuebids start. 3M is just 'waiting'.

Over 3H, partner can relay with 3S to ask where the shortness is. Opener re-relays with 3N to show a void (partner can ask with a re-re-relay where it is) or can bid their singleton naturally. (If the opening bid was 1H and opener has a stiff spade, opener will rebid 4H.)

Over 3S, partner relays with 3N to ask for the side suit. Opener once again substitutes hearts and spades, as in the last paragraph.

If responder declines to relay, he's showing a cuebid in whichever suit he bids (3N is a substitute cuebid for the relay suit, except, of course, over 3S).

This may seem way too complex written out, but it's fairly easy once you understand the relay and substitution principles in use.

Remember what I said about a new bid for the forcing raise? It seems to work fairly well to use the bid of either 2M+1 or CJS.

2M+1 just means the cheapest bid over a single raise -- 1H - 2S or 1S - 2N.

CJS stands for "cheapest jump-shift"-- 1H - 2S or 1S - 3C. If you use the second scheme, this frees up 1M - 2N as natural and forcing -- so with a hand like Q3 AQJ8 K642 QJ6 over 1S you don't have to bid 2C or 2D on a non-suit, or 2H on a four-card suit.

The advantage of using 2M+1 is that it will keep all of your asking sequences below 4 of your major.

I think overall, using CJS is the better way to go-- but either is better than 1M - 2NT.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Some Hands from the Sectional: IMPs

Here are some of the problems we faced during the two (successful) team events from this weekend's Sectional. All problems IMPs. Tales from the table will be in the Comments.

AQJ5 732 Q65 T96, all white.
RHO opens 1D. Man or mouse?

KQ6 62 QT974 A53, favorable.
First question: Do you open in second seat? I decided to pass. LHO opened 1H, pard jumped to 2S, and righty (friend and sometimes-teammate Mullet) doubled. What's your call?

QJ752 J62 AT A84, all white.
This time you decide to open your minny, and partner splinters with 4C. Are you proud enough of your hand to cue 4D?

A8 KQ743 KQ4 A93, all red.
Another splinter decision: over your 1H, pard jumps to 4D, wrecking a good bit of your hand. Pros: It's still a nice hand. Cons: There are no below-game slam tries available. What's your decision?

JT9 QJ63 QT8 J65, unfavorable
The opponents bid uncontested: 1D - 2D! - 2S - 3C - 3N [! = limit raise or better]. Your lead.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Some Hands from the Sectional: Matchpoints

We had a very successful local Sectional this weekend. Here are some of the more fun hands of the three days. I'll post "what happened"s in the Comments section. All problems are from the pair games.

J875 T63 98764 A, unfavorable.
You pass, partner opens 2C (strong, artificial, and forcing), you respond an artificial 2H (one ace or two kings), and partner "raises" to 3H. Your bid.

A642 A9 A95 A852, favorable.
Three passes to you. Do you bid the "automatic" strong notrump?

KJ4 A64 A743 843, all red.
This is your first hand with an unfamiliar, but expert, partner. He opens 1S. You bid 2D, game-forcing [or do you? I'm happy to hear suggestions-- your choices are a semi-forcing notrump, 2N Jacoby style, 3S limit raise, or some other creative call], and he rebids 2H. Your call.

J A532 AJ53 T654, all red.
Partner opens 1S, you bid a semi-forcing notrump, and he rebids 2C. Your call.

KQT962 -- 6 AK9542, favorable.
You open 1S, lefty passes, partner raises to 2S, and righty comes in with an insufficient 2H. Your bid. (Do you accept the insufficient bid?)

AKQ86 AQ7 K84 KT, favorable.
RHO opens 3D. You're up.

4 9876432 Q 9873, unfavorable.
RHO opens 1C. Do you have a call?

AKJ82 QT63 3 AK9
You open 1S and partner bids a semi-forcing NT. Your rebid is?

Worst Defense Ever

Dealer: East
Vul: None
Scoring: MPs


♦4 led


1 – 1♠
1N – 2♦!
2♠ – 4

We were East-West, and were silent throughout the auction. North-South had a New Minor Forcing mishap and ended up in their 0-4 fit!

East started out with a diamond lead to the king and ace. A spade went to the queen, and a spade back. West declined to ruff (pitching a diamond), hoping East had ducked the ace on the last round, so North won the ace. That's three tricks in. Declarer cashed one more diamond, that's four. A club to the king, for five. Now West ruffed the last spade from dummy, and just in case North's heart shortness was the singleton jack, played the queen of hearts, won on the table. Six tricks. Declarer cashed king of hearts (seven) and a heart, East winning. East now drew the last trumps from dummy and partner, and exited a diamond -- and North's last three cards were all good. -420.

The Director, despite our requests, did not dock us ten masterpoints apiece for this defense.

Sectional Recap

This weekend's Charlottesville, VA Sectional was quite a success. This was Meg's first tournament as chairperson, and things went off without a hitch. Table count was down about 15, due to the competition of the concurrent Morganton, NC Sectional, which drew most of the southwestern Virginia players.

On Friday afternoon, after a few hours of setup and hospitality, Meg and I won the pair game with 68%. We split up in the evening-- I played with Chris Moll, former District 10 President and current member of the District 7 Board and National Appeals Committee, as well as a great player and a heck of a guy. We just missed the overalls. Meg played with the future Mrs. Chris, Tammy Pepper, and they also had a solid scratch.

Meg and I were fourth overall and fifth overall in the two Saturday pair games, and teaming with Chris and Tammy we won the evening Swiss event.

With C&T again on Sunday, we had a great start, a rocky middle, and a great finish to win the A/X Swiss. This made me #1 [26.72], Meg #2 [26.27], Chris #5 [14.82], and Tammy #6 [14.37] for masterpoint winners for the tournament (we sandwiched Marsha and David Platnick [22.18], who played very well all tournament). This was my first sectional win, Meg's first 20+ sectional, and Tammy's first 10+ sectional.

Chairing and setting up this tournament was good practice for our upcoming Regional in January-- the first this town's ever had. Meg and I are co-chairing, and we hope anyone reading this with some spare time that week considers making the trip!

Attention Law Nerds

If you're like me, the Laws, ethics, and proprieties are one of the most interesting parts of the game. Every good player should have at least a general knowledge of the Laws of the game, and every club-level player and higher should know their rights and responsibilities when Unauthorized Information abounds.

The World Bridge Federation Laws Committee has put together and published the 2007 Laws of Duplicate Bridge. This lawbook, which went into effect January 1, replaces (but mainly just refines) the 1997 Laws. The WBF allowed its member organizations (like the ACBL) to start its use any time between January 1 and September 30. Surprisingly, the ACBL only dragged its feet 92% of the way, and agreed to put the laws in place starting September 8. Wanting to learn more about the changes in the new Laws, I did quite a bit of online research. The most interesting thing I ran across in my wanderings was the Bridge Laws Mailing List. This is a great meeting of the minds of some of the best directors and players from around the world. You can read archives here and subscribe to the list here.