Seven Notrump

In which some people who play bridge blog about it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The 18-21 Problem

How do you bid a hand with 18-21 high-card points? Under the strong-twos bidding system I learned from bridge-guru Alexa, one should jump-shift with a holding of 18-21 points: i.e., open one of a suit and then rebid with a jump (whee!) when the bidding comes around again.

The problem I find with this is that partner (and everyone else) often passes my opening, giving me no chance to show that strength by jump-shifting (jumping shift?), and leaving me in a 1-level contract with a powerful hand. For example:

♠ A 9 2
♥ 5 3 2
♦ J 10 7 6
♣ 9 7 5
♠ K 8 3
♥ J 9 8
♦ K 9 4 2
♣ 10 6 4
♠ J 10 7 4
♥ 10 7
♦ A Q 5
♣ Q 8 3 2
♠ Q 6 5
♥ A K Q 6 4
♦ 8 3
♣ A K J

Sitting South I deal and open 1H, everyone passes, and there's no way to find the game contract we ought to be in.

A year or two ago I was sick of being passed. I therefore proposed a modification of the system wherein I can open 2 of a suit, thus forcing a response from my partner, if I have 18 good points. (Opening two of a suit was previously reserved for an even higher point count, and thus I almost never saw such an opening in action.)

My amateur modification seems to do more good than harm, but forcing a weak partner to talk isn't always beneficial to the contract. I wonder if there's a happy medium or a better workaround. Or heck, the other day I got stuck in 1D with 16 points -- maybe I ought to lower the barrier even further.


  At Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:54:00 PM, Anonymous shirley said:

paul is retarded, but he likes diagrams and gesturing with his hands.

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Real deal

Here's an actual deal. Notice Felicity's skull-and-crossbones coasters.

I'll diagram it out for you:

♠ Q 9 7 4
♥ K Q 10 8 5
♦ A Q 8
♣ 7
♠ J 8 3 2
♥ A 7 4
♦ 7 4 2
♣ 6 5 4
♠ 6 5
♥ 9 6 3
♦ K 10 9 5
♣ K Q J 3
♠ A K 10
♥ J 2
♦ J 6 3
♣ A 10 8 6 2

South (me) dealt. We played the hand twice, out of curiosity. I don't remember the exact bidding sequences -- Matos might -- but the first time South bid 4S and made two overtricks, and the second time South bid 3NT and made two overtricks, I seem to recall. How would you have bid it?

Matos interjects: I do remember the exact bidding sequence--or more accurately, I wrote it down.

First time around:
S: 1C
W: Pass
N: 1H
E: Pass
S: 1S
W: Pass
N: 2D
E: Pass
S: 2NT
All pass. N-S made 5.

Second time:
S: 1C
W: Pass
N: 2H
E: Pass
S: 2S
W: Pass
N: 4S
All pass. N-S made 6.


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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How would you play this?

♠ 7 6 5 3
♥ K Q 8
♦ A 6 2
♣ 9 8 3
♠ A K
♥ 10 9 4 3
♦ 10 8 5
♣ Q J 10 4
♠ 4 2
♥ A 7 6 5
♦ J 9 7 3
♣ 7 6 5
♠ Q J 10 9 8
♥ J 2
♦ K Q 4
♣ A K 2

You, South, are in a 4S contract. West leads the club queen.


  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:35:00 PM, Blogger M said:

This seems fairly cut and dried to me on a quick look. Take the ace and king of clubs, lead the eight of spades hoping against hope for an A-K fallout. Either way, you could only conceivably lose two spades and a heart on this. (I'd force the heart ace with the jack from hand or 8 from dummy.) Don't see how you could lose the contract, frankly.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

Not that easy. When you lead the 8 of spades, West will win that trick, win another spade, win another club, and the heart ace is still out.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:53:00 PM, Blogger M said:

Whoops--yeah, you're right. Hadn't remembered the club jack.

Maybe going right to spades once the first trick is taken is the right tack here. Leaves some mystery as to the club king's whereabouts from West's p.o.v. (You could also start in on hearts or diamonds after the first trick, but the point is the same.) Another possibility might be to give West the first trick for similar purposes.

Those plays don't minimize the jack's looming placement; they're more cod-psychological, hoping to distract West from his obvious play(s). There is probably a better strategy here, though; I'm just not seeing it.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

You mentioned you wanted to work on your strategic discard skills, so this is a discard puzzle.

I'll post my solution in a bit.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 3:32:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

My solution:

After winning the first trick, I'd flush out the heart ace right away, to enable myself to throw a losing club on a winning heart. I'd lead the heart jack to the 8, then follow with the 2 to the king if if the ace didn't come out on the first round. East would win either the first or second heart trick and lead probably a club. I'd win that trick, transfer to dummy with a diamond, and lead the heart queen, discarding the 2 of clubs from my hand. After that, South is void in clubs so I don't have to worry about losing a club trick: just the two spades and the one heart, and I make my 4S contract.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 3:46:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

I can't see another way to win it: without that timely discard you're doomed to lose a club trick regardless. Someone's got to lead clubs at some point and when they do, that 2 loses. Your only hope then would be for East to hold up her heart ace till the third round, when it would be trumped, but there's no reason she would do so.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 5:40:00 PM, Blogger M said:

yeah, that's very good. I'm at work and wasn't looking very hard, obv.

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Some help for posting hands

Here's a little form where you (we) can type in bridge hands and receive nicely formatted HTML. Enter the deal and/or other information -- each section is optional -- then click Make Code and copy and paste the resulting HTML into a post, where Seven No Trump's CSS (lifted, with much thanks, from Thomas Andrews) should render it handsomely:





AUCTION (p = pass ; d = double ; r = redouble)


Lead:      of




  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:31:00 PM, Blogger M said:

Nice! Thanks.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Stayman versus transfers

Hi. Pardon me if I don't introduce myself right now, except to say that Matos has an inflated opinion of my bridge skill.

At yesterday's game, hosted with pie and dips by the abundantly gracious Felicity, there was a discussion of the relative merits of the Stayman convention versus straight transfer bidding in response to a 1NT opening. I left in the middle of the discussion, actually, so let me know if I missed some important conclusion.

With straight transfers, responder simply names the suit under the one he/she favors, allowing the opener, who presumably has a stronger hand, to play the contract.

Stayman as I learned it, in combination with transfers, goes like this: In response to a 1NT opening, 2D shows five hearts, 2H shows five spades, 2S shows a five-card minor and no four-card major, and 2NT shows a balanced hand. (Any of these bids can be made at the 3-level instead, which promises maybe 12 points and is forcing to game.) A 2C response is Stayman, showing at least one four-card major suit.

Responses by opener to 2C are: 2D in the absence of a four-card major; 2H with four hearts (may also have four spades); 2S with four spades (implies less than four hearts).

In yesterday's play (we agreed to use Stayman at the outset) there were two hands where responder (me) passed 1NT because he had fewer than 8 high-card points, despite a nice long suit. If we were playing straight transfers I would have indicated that suit and in one case we could have bid and made 4S.

So what's the advantage of Stayman? It's weighted toward finding a major fit, whereas plain transfers generally wind up in responder's longest suit, whatever it may be. That can be a good or bad thing, I think. We ought to have a duplicate tournament to duke out the long-term results of the two conventions. What do you think?


  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:22:00 AM, Blogger Lisa B. said:

I believe the theory behind Stayman is that a partnership with a 4-4 major fit plays better in the suit contract than in NT because the doubletons will provide ruffing ability and produce tricks.

When you use Stayman, the partner describes precisely that partner has 4 of the major and no more, whereas a transfer system without Stayman indicates a suit preference without communicating length.

You can still also use the transfer to show extreme length in spades or hearts (6 or more) with fewer than 8 high card points. The partner then passes, leaving the contract at a low level in the suit. Had we used this exception together with Stayman and transfers yesterday, perhaps those "missed" spade contracts would have been found.

Using Stayman and transfer, you can also show diamonds and clubs -- if you must -- but it gets expensive and is more than a little gaudy. You should still have 8 HCP for this.

To show extreme length in clubs (6 or 7), you can bid 2C in response to 1NT, and rebid 3C to show that the club bids are "sincere" rather than Stayman indicating 4 of a major.

To show extreme diamonds (6 or 7), bid 2C after the 1NT opener, and pass if the opener bids 2D under Stayman. However, opener may then bid 2H or 2S, and partner must go to 3D to show diamonds (also, as in the club scenario, jerking around opener who just thought a 4-4 major fit had been found).

Not only does it get expensive to show off in clubs and diamonds, but it's not nice to toy with your partner like that unless you have a very clear understanding. It also gives a lot of information to the opponent, which can be painful if opener and partner are both missing a stopper in the same suit. If you do have the points, the hand will probably play well in NT, where you can cash in the diamonds and clubs more discreetly.


  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:50:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

You can still also use the transfer to show extreme length in spades or hearts (6 or more) with fewer than 8 high card points. The partner then passes, leaving the contract at a low level in the suit.

I like that flexibility. But who's to say opener will pass?

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 9:01:00 PM, Blogger Lisa B. said:

Opener can't pass. "Transfer bid" here refers to the weak hand's artificial 2D (to show hearts) or 2H (showing spades) after 1NT, which forces the opener to bid the "true" long suit and allows the stronger closed hand to play.


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Sunday, June 18, 2006

A hand

South Dealer

None Vulnerable

10 9 5 4
J 9 5
J 10 5 4
6 3

Q 6 3
A K 7
K 9
K Q J 9 7

A 8 7
Q 10 8 4
A 8 3 2
A 4
K J 2
6 3 2
Q 7 6
10 8 5 2

South: Pass
West: 1♣
North: Pass
East: 1NT
South: Pass
West: 3NT
All pass

East dummy, 4♦ led

This is the first practice hand I dealt and wrote out the play for recently--the first time I'd done so since I was a teenager. The division is fairly cut and dried; in basic numbers, West has 19 points, East 15--18 and 14 if you discount doubleton points, which you might be tempted to here. Any and all decisions here are mine and mine alone (by "practice hand" I mean I did it as an exercise, alone), and that's what I'm putting it up here for--to be scrutinized, picked apart, shown my flaws in logic and play.

I'm especially curious about the bidding. I learned to play bridge from my family--mother, aunts, uncles, grandfather--who were largely taught by my grandmother's family, the Whites. Barbara, my mother's mom, doesn't play, though her first (and long-since ex) husband Pito learned. My mom, her brothers James, Bob, and Tom, and if I'm remembering correctly my aunt Cathy all play; Mom's ex-husband Chris played some as well. There may have been satellites--friends and cousins--that did too, though I'm less sure of that. At any rate, there was very little "official" about their play; every game was contract and not rubber, for example, and some of their "rules" would get them kicked out of any halfway upstanding bridge club--slamming a discard on the table to signal ownership of the next high card, for example. It was, as they used to refer to it, "kamikaze bridge." And while I don't slam cards on the table, I was also taught to play in a very straightforward manner, one that didn't include conventions like Stayman.

Oddly, given the family's discarding propensities, bidding for slam never really came up either. The goal with us was generally to bid and try to make game, each and every time. (Some of the rubber games I've played more recently involved stopping at, say, a two-bid to finish incomplete game from the prior hand.) So when I do these practice hands, I generally tend to halt bidding once game is made. And obviously my seeing both hands affects the bidding as well.

I think that's the case here. West's one-club bid is straightforward: clubs are long and strong (K-Q-J), with 19 points total, an ace, two king stoppers, and a potential queen stopper in the support suits. I'd conceive it as a signal to go higher, but also as an "I actually have clubs" bid more than a "name your suits" one. East, meantime, has three aces and even-enough distribution; low suit is A-4 of clubs, support everywhere else, a perfect match. 1NT is the obvious response.

West has no four-card suit beyond the initial bid, and I'd like to think I'd go 3NT instinctively as a result. Certainly, a 1NT response to one club is offering a nice array of stuff, and 3NT fits it perfectly. But I'm also tainted by seeing all the cards, so maybe I'm kidding myself here.

My play-out is where my lack of polish comes into full view, though: my North leads the diamond 4, for no better reason than it was the card at the end of my hand at the time. Granted, I'd probably do something similar during actual play; with a bunch of losers like North's, why not? Still, there might have been something better to do. At any rate, it was led, and dummy took it with the Ace, followed by the same suit's 2 led to West's King, the heart 7 to dummy's Jack, and spade 7 to South's King. It's the only trick N-S made; South switches to the Heart 3, West cashes both high hearts before taking dummy's spade Ace. Dummy comes back with the heart 10--and because there are no other hearts, the 10 carries the trick. Clubs then fall for four consecutive tricks, and West takes the last one with the Queen of spades. Bid 3, made 6.

It's entirely possible this is how a real hand would play out, but I'm curious: Would you have bid for slam? Opened differently? Defended harder? The comments box is wide open.


  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Paul said:

Sitting East in this deal I'd respond 3NT. To me, East's 1NT response is limiting, indicating no more than 10 points.

(As I play, the 1NT response can be used semi-artificially too, without a legitimate no-trump holding: if, say, opener bids 1S and you have good long hearts, fewer than 3 spades, and only 9 points. Bidding a new suit at the two level would show more than 10 points, and passing would show fewer than 6, so 1NT is the proper bid.)

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:31:00 PM, Blogger M said:

What would you think of a 2NT response? I suppose that's benefit-of-hindsight (not to mention benefit-of-seeing-all-the-cards), but since six were made 2NT seems like a good nudge for slam.

  At Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:41:00 PM, Blogger Paul said:

2NT is sound but a little conservative. You know opener has a minimum of 15 points; you have 14; that's definite slam territory.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Introducing myself

Hi. I'm Michaelangelo Matos, and I mostly write about music. I've also been playing bridge off and on since I was 13, and recently--I'm 31 now--I've decided to get serious about playing. So I've started this blog in order to discuss the game. I am no one's idea of a great bridge player. I have good instincts and know the basics, and my play is generally solid. But I'm a pretty artless bidder, my defense needs some work, and I could stand to be more cunning in contract situations, especially tight ones--effective suit discards for later overtricks, for example. So this is a kind of public diary of that process, complete with a comments box that I hope will engender tips and advice. Hopefully I'll figure out how to paste in visuals appropriate to representing full deals; apologies for the rather amateurish presentation that'll have to hold in the meantime. But hey--it's a blog.

I'll be joined by my friend Paul, a much more seasoned and better player than I. My hope is to have him comment on my puzzling ideas of what constitutes "bidding" and "play," as well as contribute any other thing he feels like. We may expand it to include other players' commentary and questions and advice, as well. Paul plays a lot socially, and when we play together chances are we'll include highlights of those games. Informally, we're part of a foursome called the Big Beat Bridge Club, where we play bridge while listening to Fatboy Slim and Cut La Roc mix-CDs, among other things. He likes music a lot, too, and knows a lot about food. The more we talk about bridge in relation to other things, I feel, the more fun this will be. Enjoy.


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