Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: A Look Back

2008 was a very good year for me personally and professionally. I got married, improved my bridge play, took on some new students, and met a lot of fun, talented people all over the ACBL. I played in six Sectionals, ten Regionals, and two NABCs (sorry, Detroit-- I decided that I only wanted to do one frigid-weather Nationals this year). A lot of work has gone into planning our own Regional. My proudest accomplishment is, over the last 18 months, bringing a bright beginner well along her road to experthood.

Here's the places I went for bridge tournaments this year, and how I did at them:


Salem, OR Sectional: 13
Bermuda Regional: 59


Las Vegas Regional: 63


Toronto Regional: 23


Washington, DC Sectional: 8
Gatlinburg, TN Regional: 78


Medford, OR Regional: 17
Portland, OR Sectional: 10
Raleigh, NC Regional: 29


Grants Pass, OR Sectional: 9
Reston, VA (Washington, DC) Regional: 38


Las Vegas NABC: 22


Charlottesville, VA Sectional: 26
Hunt Valley (Baltimore), MD Regional: 26


Seaside, OR Regional: 22


Virginia Beach, VA Regional: 57
Boston NABC: 19


Charlottesville, VA Sectional: 25

Looking back, this year marks the fewest Sectionals I've played in many years. I didn't quite make it to either of my annual goals for colored points-- 100 Silver and 10 Platinum (98 and 6, resspectively). Hopefully my 600ish will put me somewhere reasonable on the Top 500 list. I'm hoping to make it in the top 300.

So here's to as fun of a 2009, starting with the Charlottesville Regional!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pressure (Warning: contains math)

I'm often asked the main differences between club-level bridge and high-level bridge. My answer's always the same: "Pressure." Expert opponents will attempt to give you a problem on every hand.

Here's an example:

You're West, holding


In an all-expert IMP game, you deal (nobody's vulnerable). North opens 1H. Partner (former junior standout and current all-around great guy Charlie Garrod) leaps to 3S. South thinks for a bit and bids 4H. What's your call?

First of all, how many defensive tricks do you have? I'd say right around one and a half. Most of the time the opponents' spades will split 2-1, and the diamond holding will usually be worth a trick. Once in a very great while, you'll be able to take two spade tricks-- remember, partner's under 30 and won't always have a seven-bagger for a nonvul three bid.

Next, is it safe to bid? Well, I'd argue more that it's not safe to pass! I think we have seven spade tricks and a diamond for at worst -300 in four spades doubled. So it's certainly right to bid.

But here's the pressure part. When he held this hand against me, Stan Schenker made the gutsy call of 5S, forcing the last guess on his opponents!

We guessed correctly -- 5S went for 500 when we could only make 5H -- but let's look at the mathematics of the situation:

Let's say that the opponents will double 5S 80% of the time, and bid a failing 6H 20% of the time. So, 20% of the time we win 11 imps for +50 opposite +450. The other 80% of the time would be split up like this:

3/4 of the time, 5S will go for 500. We'll lose 2 imps for this.
1/8 of the time, partner has a better hand than we expected and will only go for 300. We now win 4 imps.
1/16 of the time, partner has a worse hand than we expected-- maybe a six-card suit. We go down 800, and lose 8 imps. Ouch!
1/16 of the time, partner has a real dog. They defend well and we go for 1100! Lose 12! Oof!

So here's the whole table:

20% win 11
60% lose 2
10% win 4
5% lose 8
5% lose 12

Put all these wins and loses together and the expected imp gain is plus 0.4 imps! This means that this action could work out well, it could work out poorly, but in the long run, it's a winning action.

The percentages I used to weight the actions are totally subjective, and only a product of my at-the-table experience. If you think that the numbers are wildly different, plug them in to a spreadsheet and play around with them. You can download the Excel spreadsheet I used for this exercise by clicking this link.

Two-fifths of an imp may not sound like that much, but if you make sure all of your bids and plays have a positive imp expectancy, you'll find yourself winning most of your matches.

Nice bid, Stan!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our New System

Meg and I have recently switched over to a version of Transfer Precision, with some success. I thought I'd give you folks quick rundown on the system.

"Standard" Precision is a strong-club system with natural positive responses to 1C. With our version of Transfer Precision, we bid a strain other than what we have in order to have the stronger (and less defined) hand as declarer more often. Here's a quick rundown on our responses to the forcing 1C opening:

1C (16+HCP if unbalanced, 17+ if balanced; any shape)

  • 1D = 0-7 HCP or 8+ with a 4441 shape (any singleton)
  • 1H = 8+ HCP, 5+ spades
  • 1S = 8+ HCP, 5+ hearts
  • 1NT = 8+ HCP, 5+ clubs
  • 2C = 8+ HCP, 5+ diamonds
  • 2D = 8-13 HCP, balanced
  • 2H, 2S, 3C, 3D = 4-6 HCP, six-card suit
All of these positive responses can be made on less than 8 HCP with a good enough reason. I'd certainly show a positive hand with




Over partner's transfer positive, opener can bid the suit shown to show a fit and start a (short - for now) series of asking bids. Here's an example of our asks at work:



1C - 2C;
2D - 3H;
3S - 4C;
4N - 5H;
7D - P.

1C = 16+, artificial
2C = 5+ diamonds, 8+ HCP (game force)
2D = Tell me more!
3H (sixth step)= Six-card suit with one of the top three honors
3S = Tell me more!
4D (third step)= Three controls outside diamonds (A=2, K=1; this must be the ace of clubs and king of spades)
4NT = Keycard ask in diamonds (eventually we'll use 4H for this, but we haven't gotten around to discussing all the ramifications of this yet); opener doesn't yet know if responder's suit is Axxxxx or Qxxxxx
5H = Two keycards without the queen of diamonds
7D = Six diamonds plus AK of the other three suits is twelve tricks... if partner has club length I can get a club ruff for the 13th. With my club shortness it makes it more likely that he has length there. Well, here goes -- I hope he has 3+ clubs or a major-suit queen!

How would you and your partner get to this 29 HCP grand slam?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Charlottesville Sectional

The Charlottesville Winter Sectional was an amazing success. Table count was up a lot from last year. It was successful for us, too -- for the second Charlottesville tournament in a row Meg and I were 1st and 2nd in the masterpoint race. (You can check out my post on the last tournament here.) This time, she edged me out-- she played one session with our friend and teammate Geoff (3rd on this tournament's list) while I played with our buddy Al. Meg and Geoff placed, we didn't... so it goes. I'll get her next time!

Playing together, we had two event wins and three third overalls. This was a surprisingly strong showing; I wasn't expecting to do great things this tournament. We'd just made the switch over to playing Transfer Precision. There are always some speedbumps with system changes, especially sweeping ones like that.... and there were. Happily, the few misunderstandings we had didn't cost. Our best event was the Saturday night Swiss-- we won all four of our matches for a total of 72 Victory Points out of a possible 80. We outscored the opponents 119-3! Those 3 imps were my fault. I held:


Meg opened 1C (strong, artificial, and forcing). I could have bid 2H to show 4-6 HCP and a long heart suit, but I decided that Jx of spades wasn't worth the full 1 HCP. I planned to show a 0-3 hand on the next round...and maybe I should have. So I bid a conventional 1D, (usually) negative.

If Meg had rebid 1H (Kokish; hearts or balanced), I could have rebid 2D showing an awful hand with long hearts. But her rebid was 2C. Now I reevaluated... I had a fit for partner's long suit and two doubletons! So I bid 2H trying to find a fit there. When she rebid 3C, I gave up.

She went down two for -200. The opponents went down 100 in 2H at the other table. Had I bid 2H immediately or passed her 2C, we would have pushed the board and been perfect for the event! Oh well...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let's defend!

You're vulnerable, they're not. You're leading the field in the penultimate match of a sectional Swiss Team event. Against the second-place team (a very solid, if unspectacular bunch) nothing of much interest has happened in the first few boards. On board three you pick up:


Your RHO opens 1C in first seat, and your side stays out of the auction. The opponents bid

1C - 1H;
1S - 2D!;
2N - 3H;
3N - P.

Upon querying you find out that 2D was an artificial game force. Before you make the opening lead, you try to reconstruct the opposing hands.

RHO opened 1C, rebid 1S, showed a diamond stopper, and denied any heart support. It seems like he holds 4135 (possibly 4144 with great clubs and awful diamonds).

LHO responded 1H, forced to game, then rebid his hearts even after his partner denied holding three. So he must have six hearts. Not much more is known about his hand (except that he's wildly unlikely to have four spades). Let's give him a tentative 3622.

If those are the shapes of the unseen hands, what does that leave partner? Three spades, two hearts, five diamonds, and three clubs (3253).

(By the way-- if you don't do something like this before your opening leads, you should try it. It's amazing the things you can figure out before seeing any of the other 39 cards.)

So now that you have a reasonable picture of the unseen hands, what should you lead? Diamonds feel right; they're your side's probable eight-card fit. So which diamond? You decide that it's probably right to start untangling the honors. So which one - the queen or the ten? It's just barely possible that LHO is 3613 or 3712 with the singleton jack of diamonds, so you decide to table the queen of diamonds. Dummy comes down and you see:






Almost what you had constructed, except dummy's singleton honor is in clubs. Declarer plays low from the table, partner plays the three (upside-down attitude), and declarer wins with the king. What's going on here?

Normally, you'd expect partner to hold the ten of diamonds to be signalling positively when you lead the queen. You hold the ten, though. So your lead has worked fairly well and hit partner with a diamond suit headed by the jack! That's great news... but we haven't taken five tricks just yet.

Declarer leads a heart toward dummy. You play low smoothly (of course), declarer sticks in dummy's nine, and partner wins with the queen. The nine of diamonds comes back from pard. Continuing your trick-one plan, you unblock the ten. Declarer lets you hold this trick. You exit your third diamond and partner plays the jack.

Dummy's now in and exits a high heart to your ace (partner following, declarer pitching a spade). Now what?

What's going on in the diamond suit? Does pard only have three diamonds himself? Did we just set up declarer's fourth diamond? You put yourself in partner's shoes. With an original J93, would you return the 9 on the second round from a holding of J9? You don't think so. It's much more likely that partner held J983 and is giving you a suit-preference signal for spades. But that's not all-- since partner is flagging a spade card, he won't have anything in clubs! If you don't cut transportation now, declarer can get at least three club tricks to go with two diamonds and four hearts. So you table a spade, and declarer sighs and concedes down one. You pick up ten imps for your trouble, as your teammates are +420 in hearts. Here's the whole hand:





This hand was defended in this fashion at the table by my lovely wife Meg. We went on to win the event. Well done!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Should I bid that grand slam?

I got an email the other day from a good friend spending the winter in Mazatlan, Mexico. He held:


His partner opened 1S. He gave a game-forcing spade raise (much better than a 4C splinter, in my opinion) and found out about short diamonds opposite. He hopped into RKC and found his partner with two keycards and the queen of spades. He was wondering if he should bid 5NT (asking for kings), 6S, or 7S.

Here's the auction up to this point:

1S - 2NT
3D - 4NT
5S - ?

There's a little-known extension of Roman Keycard that I'd like to share with you. Let's say that the trump suit has been irreversibly set, as in this auction. After the number of keycards have been shown, you can ask for kings with 5NT (We strongly recommend that the response to 5NT show specific kings rather than number of kings) as a grand try, but there are other grand-slam tries available. We play that bidding a new suit asks for third-round control of that suit.

Without third-round control, responder bids 6 of the agreed trump suit. With a shortness control (a doubleton) responder bids seven of the agreed-upon suit. With a high-card control (the queen), responder does something else interesting. So let's give opener a few sample hands on this auction:

1S - 2NT
3D - 4NT
5S - 6H!

Hand A:


Without third-round control in hearts, responder signs off in 6S.

Hand B:


Responder has a doubleton heart, so bids the cold 7S.

Hand C:


Responder has the queen of hearts, so his job is to do "something interesting". His partner already knows about the aces and the queen of spades, so responder cuebids 7H to let his partner choose the right grand slam.

Hand D:


Now responder has something "interesting" other than the queen of hearts. He cuebids 7C to show both the queen of hearts and the king of clubs. Now the asker can count top tricks-- 5 in spades, 5 in hearts, 1 in diamonds, and the A and K of clubs-- 13 running tricks without ruffing! Over 7C the proper bid is 7NT. It's not only the top-scoring grand slam, but it's the safest one!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Well bid hand from Boston

Jenni and I tackled this hand in the Open Board-A-Match:

Playing against our friends Robert Todd and Richard Helams, I picked up this huge one loser 6-6 red hand... and saw my partner open 1D! [1D was limited to 15 HCP and could be as short as 2 in a balanced hand.] I started with a quiet 1H. Robert, having passed his eight-bagger on the first round, bid 2S at his next turn. Jenni passed, I forced, and I kept making slam and grand tries until Jenni showed the king of clubs. My 6D bid was a plea for her to bid 7H with the king of diamonds. She didn't have it, so she couldn't bid the grand... but she was able to put it in the top BAM spot of 6NT! This was not what I had originally planned with my 6-6, but it seemed like it had to be a good contract for the form of scoring.

We were very happy with the result, until we found out that our opponents had a bashing auction to 6H, and our teammate made the very reasonable lead of his stiff diamond... our +1440 lost the board to -1460. Too sad!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hands from the Open Board-A-Match in Boston

I played the Victor Mitchell Open Board-A-Match Teams with Jenni Carmichael. We played a fun version of Transfer Precision (much like Meg and I play, with a few tweaks). Click here to read my earlier post on this event, written from Boston.

Here's a few more hands from the BAM:

(A) All red

Partner opens 1D (2 or more diamonds, 10-15 HCP), RHO passes, you bid 1H, and LHO jumps to 2S. This gets passed around to you. What's your call?

(B) Red vs. white

You open 1D (could be short, again...), partner bids 1H, you rebid 1S, and partner splinters with 4D! What's your call?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A few bidding problems from the Boston NABC

Here are some problems I faced in the Mini-Blue Ribbon Pairs playing with Mike Develin. All problems are at matchpoints.

(A) All white

LHO opens 3H, partner overcalls 3S, and RHO passes. What's your call?

(B) All white, matchpoints

Partner opens 1S. RHO overcalls 2H. What's your bid / plan?

(C) All white

LHO opens 1C, partner overcalls 1NT, and RHO passes. You can:

-bid 2H (transfer to spades)
-bid 2S (to show an invite with diamonds)
-bid 3C (weak transfer to diamonds)
-bid 2C (Stayman; pulling 2H to 2S shows an invitational hand with 5 spades)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wrapup: You Be The Judge II

I recently posted two terribly underbid hands from the Boston NABC and asked for readers' opinions on where the blame should lie. I received a very nice set of responses, but sadly, not enough to meet the Fabulous Prize threshhold of twelve respondents. Maybe next time! Anyway, here's the results:

(For reference, here's Hand One and Hand Two.)

Hand One:

Percentage of blame: West 89%

Worst call: 6C

Hand Two:

Percentage of blame: West 25%

Worst call: Pass

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You Be The Judge II: Boston NABC (Part Two)

Here's the second You Be The Judge hand from Boston:

Hand 2:


IMPs, all red

North dealt and passed. East passed, and South opened 1D. Here's the total auction:



Here's your questions:

(A) What is West's percentage of the blame for these ten lost IMPs?

(B) What was the worst action taken?

Once again, if we get enough responses, a fabulous prize* will go to the jurist that comes closest to the consensus.

Let's get those votes in!

*Prize is not even moderately fabulous.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You Be The Judge II: Boston NABC

For the original You Be The Judge post, click here.

Your job (yes, you. Even if you've never commented before, this is a great time to start) is to answer two questions for each of these two hands.

I will post one hand today and one tomorrow.

(A) Assign a percentage of the blame to West. (If you think both partners contributed equally, West gets 50%. If West had three times more of the blame then East, West gets 75%.)

(B) Name the worst action of the entire hand.

If we get enough commenters (12 or more), the person with both consensus answers and is closest on the percentages will receive a fabulous prize*.

The case before the jury today is a crime of underbidding:

(1) All red, matchpoints

East opened 1NT (14-16). West Staymanned and bid 3C [forcing] over the denial reply. East bid 3D, and West splintered with 4S. East cued 5H, West bid 6C, and East passed. Here's the auction:

--- 1NT;
2C - 2D;
3C - 3D;
4S - 5H;
6C - P.

There are clearly thirteen runners in any of three strains.

(A) What was West's percentage of the blame for missing this granny?

(B) What was the worst action taken by either partner? (This does not have to be by the player to which you assigned most blame)

Hand #2 tomorrow. Let the deliberations commence!

*Prize is not fabulous.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Boston NABC Wrapup

It was a historic North American Bridge Championship. Eric Rodwell put together an unprecedented performance. Rodwell was second in the two-day Life Master Pairs, first in the two-day Open Board-A-Match Teams, first in the three-day Blue Ribbon Pairs, and first in the three-day Reisinger Board-A-Match Teams for a staggering 623.75 masterpoints [all platinum] for the ten days. This performance should solidify his standing as the top American player, if not the top player in the world.

On a more personal note, it was a successful NABC for me as well, even though I earned only about 1% of Rodwell's points. I created very fun partnerships with old friends Jenni Carmichael and Mike Develin, as well as new friend Adam Parrish. I also played a national event with my good friend and former regular partner Drew Hoskins. On top of that, there were two successful days with my student Michael. I had a good time with all of my partners this week, and learned something from each of them.

I have lots of hands to report... but not today. Now I just need rest!