Friday, January 23, 2009

Back to it

The Bermuda Regional starts tomorrow, and I'm red-eyeing it out tonight. This tournament is always the best one on the ACBL's schedule. The local organizers work with the country's tourism department to create a wonderful experience. I'll give you all the details next week (if I can find an internet connection).

To hold you over, here's a couple of matchpoint problems:

(A) Red vs. white

♠ Q2 ♥A3 ♦KQJ5 ♣AT753

Partner, in first chair, opens 1C, and RHO bounces to 5S! What's your call?

(B) All white

♠ K ♥AKJT96 ♦JT973 ♣T

LHO opens 3C and RHO lifts to 5C. D0 you bid?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's over!

So the inaugural Charlottesville Regional is all over.

This is the most exhausted I've ever been.

That's not to say that it wasn't a fabulous time-- it was wonderful. I made some new friends and played some good bridge. It was just an immense amount of work.

The Regional was more successful than we thought it could be, due to lots of help from the DoubleTree staff. The two most notable performers there were Lee Taintor, customer service manager and Jim Moyer, executive chef. Lee was always there to help me out in any way possible, and often went above and beyond whatever I requested. Jim did a fabulous and creative job of keeping over 800 people fed quickly, tastily, and cheaply. I couldn't have done my job without them.

Also, I can't forget Renee and Tatiana at the front desk. All of the front desk people were friendly and helpful, but these two were amazing.

Thanks also to all of our volunteers, especially Nan Massie, Partnership Chair, Marie Hudick, Registration Chair, Chris Moll, Bulletin Chair, Steve Rothman, Recycling Chair, and Tammy Pepper, Prize Chair. But the hardest working person at the tournament (with the possible exception of Millard Natchwey, Chief Director) was Scott Tumperi, our Hospitality Chair. Tump was the friendly (and spectacular) bartender in the Hospitality Suite every night. We couldn't have done it without you, Scott.

Of course, the biggest thank you is to you the players. Thanks so much for taking your precious time and money to enjoy a week of bridge-playing with us!

There will be a vote in the District Six meeting in May on whether or not to add Charlottesville to the D6 regional rotation. If you know anyone on the D6 Board, please let them know how much you enjoyed the tournament.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Regional Time!

The Charlottesville Regional starts today! Meg and I are the co-chairs of the tournament, so I don't know how much time I'll have to post this week. I'll try to put as much up as I can...

For a warmup, here's a bidding and play problem faced by England's Phillip King (coauthor of The Kings' Tales and many other fabulously entertaining bridge books).

Phillip was in fourth seat at all vul and held


His LHO opened 3H, and there were two passes to him. What would you bid in this situation?

Phil pulled out a brave 3NT! Here's the whole hand:







South was leery about leading away from his hearts, so he started with the ♠8, won by declarer's stiff ace. The ace and king of clubs were cashed, and King was pleased with the drop of the ♣QT giving him two entries to dummy in the club suit. He led to the ♣J (South pitching the ♠6) and tried to run the 9. North covered with the 10 and King won with the J. He played his last club up to the dummy, South pitching a heart and North a spade. Then came the 4 to the 8 (both defenders following) and he stopped to take in the distributional information.

If diamonds were 3-3, he could cash the ace and claim ten tricks - five diamonds, four clubs, and a spade. Could that be the case? He decided not. South had led a spade and pitched a spade, so he had two there. He'd followed to two clubs and two diamonds. With the opening 3
call almost always showing 7, all thirteen of South's cards were known! So there wouldn't be a friendly diamond split. Since he knew all thirteen cards in the South hand, he could work out the North hand as well. These are the remaining cards as seen in declarer's mind's eye:





Taking the only chance he could see, he led a low heart from his hand! South (who, remember, had AQJ9762) couldn't work out the position (the
A from him allows him to claim the rest of the tricks!) and played the J. North had to win the trick and was endplayed into giving declarer two spade tricks or two diamond tricks. Declarer just lost two spades and two hearts for a scary +600.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A few bidding problems

Here's a few bidding and lead problems to help get you warmed up for the Charlottesville Regional:

(A) IMPs, white vs. red

♠ A KT964 none ♣QJT7542

RHO passes, you open 1C (or do you?), LHO passes, and partner bids 1H. RHO passes to you. What's your call?

(B) Matchpoints, red vs. white

♠ KJ862 T92 AJ3 ♣J7

RHO opens 1H, you pass, LHO bids a forcing 1NT, partner sticks in a 2S (!) bid, and RHO passes. What's your bid?

(C) Matchpoints, red vs. white

♠ AJ95 42 97 ♣AT932

There are two passes to you.

(C1) Do you bid?

After you, the auction continues 1NT (15-17) on your left, pass, 2C on your right.

(C2) Your call.

(D) Matchpoints, white vs. red

♠42 AQJ73 A8642 ♣3

You open 1H. LHO jumps to 2S (weak). The next two players pass. Up to you.

(E) Matchpoints, white vs. red

♠A86 Q95 T842 ♣984

The opponents bid uncontested (1D - 1H - 1NT [11-14] - 3NT). What's your lead?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Subtle Suit Preference

The opponents have the auction (1NT - 2C - 2D - 2NT - P), and you're on lead holding

♠ AKT73 94 A96 ♣984.

You lead your fourth-best spade, and dummy comes down with

♠ J965 K652 J84 ♣K2.

Declarer plays low from dummy, partner plays the deuce, and declarer wins the eight in hand. Declarer now shoots back the four of spades. What's going on in the spade suit? Well, it seems pretty obvious that partner has a singleton and declarer has Q84. So it seems right to cash two rounds of spades and exit a spade to set up your long card in the suit.

You can use a suit preference signal in this situation to show which suit you want partner to return. Now, if the dummy was something like

♠ J965 AQJT T84 ♣72,

partner would know not to return a heart, so the choice would be between diamonds and clubs. You would cash two spades and continue the ten of spades if your entry was in diamonds, and continue the three of spades if your entry was in clubs. Fairly simple, right?

But in the current situation (dummy is really
♠ J965 K652 J84 ♣K2) there are three suits in play for partner to return if and when he gets in. So you need to go a little deeper and use your spade honors to show suit preference as well! Here's how I would handle this combination:

Ace, then king, then ten (highest card at every opportunity): Please lead hearts!
King, then ace, then three (lowest card at every opportunity): Please lead clubs!
King, then ace, then ten (low then high): Please lead diamonds!

There's also a fourth possibility: ace, then king, then three. My instinct would be to use this to show something in both hearts and clubs but no sure entry.

In order for these subtle suit preference signals to be effective, both partners need to be paying attention throughout the defense- but if you're willing to put in the work, your defense can be devastating.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Playing in bad contracts strengthens your declarer play.

Last night at the bridge club, playing against an unusually strong pair for this five-table game, I picked up the unspectacular holding of

♠ J974 QT82 Q4 ♣T87

Nobody was vulnerable, and my RHO dealt and opened 1D. I passed, of course, and surprisingly, LHO did too. Partner doubled, and RHO passed. I had my first decision of the hand. The bridge books will tell you to bid up the line in all situations with 4-4 in the majors, but I feel strongly that this is an exception. Lots of times your partner will cuebid 2D over your 1H holding something like

♠ AQT3 AJ3 A5 ♣KJ94

and you won't know whether to 'reverse' into spades trying for your (possibly nonexistent) 4-4 fit there, or to rebid 2H to try to get out cheaply. So I advocate starting with 1S on this handtype, leaving yourself an easy 2H call on the next round. Here's a good rule that I always try to follow: Don't make your first bid until you've planned your second bid.

So I bid 1S, LHO passed, and partner leapt to 3S. I figured I had a lot more than I could on this auction, so bid the game. LHO led the nine of diamonds, and I saw



Pard had a great 19-count with a side stiff and four-card support, but I'm still not cold for 4S. Maybe this should make me rethink my "automatic" raise to 4S... but first I have to think about making this hand. From the lead, it looks like diamonds are 2-5. I have a diamond and probably two clubs to lose on top (LHO most likely wouldn't pass 1D with the club ace, so unless RHO has AJ tight, I have a second loser there). There's also a possible trump loser, and then there's the problem of it all adding up to ten tricks...

I played low from dummy at trick one, and RHO played an encouraging diamond spot (pretty much confirming the 2-5 break there). I won with the queen in hand and led a heart to the ace. It seemed like the best way to get up to ten tricks was to ruff diamonds in hand. In order to avoid a trump loser, I'd need the doubleton queen in opener's hand. So I led a low diamond off the table. RHO won with the ten (LHO following with the eight) and led a low diamond (usually the right play-- he didn't want to lead the ace, have me ruff high, then draw trumps and get a pitch on the good diamond king). I played loser-on-loser, pitching the seven of clubs. LHO ruffed in and led a club to the king and ace. Now RHO played the ace of diamonds to squash the king. I ruffed with the jack and was thrilled to see LHO pitch a club. Almost home! I led a spade to the ace (three, eight) and led two rounds of clubs. RHO followed to both of them, so I ruffed with the nine -- LHO pitched again. So clubs were 3-3 and the little club on the table was good. All that was left was to try to draw trumps-- low, low, king, queen! My two small black cards in dummy were good. Making four. Here's the whole hand:





When I started out declaring this hand, I certainly wasn't planning on ruffing out my 4-3 club fit for my tenth trick...

Monday, January 5, 2009

The hard way

The other day I played my first game of real, live bridge in nearly a month. We played my partner's normal system: old-school Schenken-style forcing club with four-card majors. Sadly, the system didn't come up very often.

We had a great time. On two separate occasions we went +500 the hard way.*

The opponents had the uncontested auction 1C - 1S - 2C - 2NT - 3NT. I was on lead with:

♠ AJ86 A2 K542 ♣752

What would you lead? I decided that as little as the ten of spades and an entry would help my spades run, so led the six of spades. Dummy came down and I saw:



A heart was pitched from dummy. Partner won the king and pushed back the ten of spades. Declarer covered with the queen, I won, and a diamond was pitched from the table. I had a problem. If pard had the spade nine, as the ten would suggest, I should cash the jack and lead the eight back to him. But if declarer had it, as the quick cover of the queen would suggest, I should switch to whatever partner's entry would be. After some thinking, I switched to a low diamond. My heart sank when this ran around to the queen. I thought I'd blown it-- it looked like declarer now had the AQ of diamonds and seven clubs for her contract.

Declarer led a club up to the queen, and partner won the king! We might be setting this after all... Partner played a low spade through declarer. I won the eight and cashed the jack. The nine dropped from declarer. Partner had made the fine play of the ten of spades from KTxxx! I cashed the ace of hearts and led a hopeful low heart. Pard won the king, cashed his long spade, and exited a heart. Declarer had to give me a diamond at the end for a satisfying down five. Here's the whole hand:





*The hard way is down five vulnerable, undoubled. Down ten nonvul, undoubled is the really hard way.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Book review: Dynamic Defense

The more of his books I read, the more I suspect that Mike Lawrence is the best bridge writer of our time. Over the holidays, I reread his Dynamic Defense. This is written in his classic "over my shoulder" style, in which Lawrence takes the reader through all of his thought processes at the table. There are a lot of detailed descriptions of tough defenses, but one of my favorite hands was fairly simple:

Mike held


and was on lead after a long auction. RHO opened 1NT, LHO transferred to hearts and showed long clubs, and they had a power auction, cuebidding and keycarding into 6H.

Mike's reasoning was such: They obviously have a ton of points, so the only tricks we have coming are in the trump suit. I might have two trump tricks, but a strong declarer will take a safety play, probably low to an intermediate card (T, 9, or 8) on the first round. So how do I make sure he doesn't do that?

He led the deuce of clubs, trying to suggest a singleton. Declarer hastily cashed the ace and king of hearts and conceded one down.

Dynamic Defense is a must-read for any improving player. I first read this book about six years ago when I was struggling to break out of Flight C. It helped teach me the right things to think about at the table. Hopefully it can do so for you too! Read this book, then reread it.

Buy Dynamic Defense at