Seven Notrump

In which some people who play bridge blog about it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Control bidding

Blackwood is awfully nice, but it's not always the best way to find a slam; in fact, it's deficient in quite a few ways. Its original intention was not to help bidders fumble their way to a slam, but rather as a method to help them stop short before slam if too many important cards are missing. Blackwood omits any information about voids, and also can leave the asker wondering just which aces have been promised.

Much more useful in a number of circumstances is control bidding*. Control bidding takes place after a trump suit has been agreed upon. After the agreement, a bid of another suit shows a control in that suit. ctrl A control is a stopper: aces and voids are first-round controls (they can win the first round of the suit); kings and singletons are second-round controls.

To make a control bid, bid the lowest suit you have a first-round control in; partner will respond with the lowest first-round control he has, and so forth. So directly bidding diamonds denies having a control in clubs, since clubs is lower than diamonds. A bid of the trump suit denies having any more controls, or just shows no interest in slam.

After you've bid your first-round controls, typically at the four level, you can continue bidding at the five level to show second-round controls if it seems like you want to go for slam.

Here's an example. You have:

♠ A K J 8 3 2
♥ 7 5 2
♦ -
♣ A Q 10 8

Partner opens 1D, you respond 1S, partner bids 3S to agree emphatically and invite game in spades. Slam is a possibility if partner has control of hearts, so you bid 4C to show your cheapest control and initiate a control-bidding sequence. Partner bids 4H, telling you that he doesn't have a first-round diamond control (which is fine, because your void controls the suit) but he does have a heart stopper -- either the ace or a void. A return to the trump suit would have denied the relevant controls.

You can now bid 5D, showing your diamond control, reasserting your interest in slam, and denying second-round control of clubs. If partner has second-round control of hearts and thinks slam is a possibility, he'll bid 5H to show that, and you can bid 6S, knowing that you have all the suits stopped; otherwise 5S is a denial bid.

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

What a lovely slam. If, instead of control bidding, you had bid Blackwood, and partner told you he had one ace, you wouldn't know if it was the useful ace of hearts or the useless ace of diamonds.

*Note that control bidding is also known as "cue bidding," but that's a confusing usage, since the phrase "cue bidding" has another, unrelated meaning: bidding the opponents' suit.



  At Wednesday, July 04, 2007 11:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

How then do you show trump controls? My aggressive/crass partnership like to start showing controls early, after a forcing jump raise, just to see what we can see. But we can easily see ourselves at 6H and off AK of trump. Comments?

  At Thursday, July 05, 2007 1:13:00 AM, Blogger Paul said:

I'm glad you asked, Anonymous. There are a few good ways to talk about trump controls after a control-bidding sequence that covers the other suits. Blackwood is one; especially Roman Keycard Blackwood, which counts the king of trump as a keycard.

There's also an old convention called the Grand Slam Force (which is sort of a bad name for it) in which a bid of 5NT asks partner to bid 7 of the agreed suit if he has two of the three top trump honors, and less than that if he doesn't.

For situations where even a small slam is a shaky proposition, bidding 5 of the trump suit is an asking bid: partner should bid 6 holding two of the three top honors and pass otherwise.

But never fear, 6H is makeable with the AK of hearts missing, as long as you have the other 11 trumps and the trump split is even.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Keeping an eye on the count

Someone asked what the usefulness of count signaling is. One common use is when there's a long suit in dummy without external entries, like so:

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

South wins the spade lead in her hand. She has four club tricks, two spade tricks, and one heart trick off the top -- two tricks short of her contract. She leads a low diamond toward dummy. East has to decide whether to win the trick with his ace or not. If he wins the first diamond trick, South wins whatever card is returned and leads to dummy's four established diamond winners, making 5NT. If East holds up the ace until the third diamond trick, South wins two diamond tricks in dummy, enough to complete her 3NT contract. The way to defeat the contract is for East to let dummy win exactly one diamond trick, then take the second with the ace. How to figure that out? Count signaling.

When South leads the first diamond from dummy, West plays the 2. This is the start of a low-high count signal, indicating to East that West started with an odd number of diamonds. East does a little mental arithmetic. Dummy has five diamonds and East has three. The odd number in West's hand is obviously not 5, since that would leave declarer with zero diamonds. It's probably not a singleton either -- if it is, there's no defense against South taking her diamond tricks. So the assumption is that West started with exactly three diamonds, so declarer must have exactly two. If West holds up the ace until the second trick, declarer won't be able to get back to dummy's diamond winners, because there are no outside entries. Declarer is held to eight tricks, and the contract goes down -- all because of counting.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Defense basics: Signaling

By popular demand, here is a rundown of some simple defensive signals.

Attitude signals
When partner leads a suit, to encourage the continuation of that suit (if, say, you have an honor in the suit, or a doubleton with a chance to trump), discard high and then low.

To discourage the continuation of that suit, discard low and then high.

Count signals
When declarer (or dummy) leads a suit, or when attitude is obvious or irrelevant, we signal to show count, not attitude. This helps partner figure out how many cards in the suit declarer holds. Discard high and then low to show that you were dealt an even number of cards in that suit; discard low and then high to show an odd number.

Suit-preference signals
When leading a card to partner for her to trump, lead a low card to request the return of the lower of the two other side suits; lead a high card to request the return of the higher one.

For example: if spades is trump, and you know partner's out of diamonds, lead a low diamond to indicate that you have the ace of clubs (clubs being the lower outstanding suit). Partner will trump the diamond and lead a club to you, which you win, giving you a chance to lead another diamond for another trick. If instead of the club ace you have the spade ace, you should lead a high diamond instead of a low one.

Lavinthal is a special suit-preference signaling convention. When you can't follow suit, you can indicate which other suit you prefer. It's used only the first time you can't follow suit and must make a discard (often when declarer is pulling trump). Discard a card from a suit you do not like. A high card indicates interest in the higher of the other two suits (not trump and not the one you're discarding); a low card shows interest in the lower one. For example, if spades is led and you are out of spades, discard a low club to show interest in diamonds.

After your first discard, a high card in a suit signals that you would like that suit led to you; a low card in a suit signals that you do not like that suit. So for instance if spades is led and you are out of spades and like diamonds, but can't part with a high diamond to show that preference, discard a low heart (and perhaps next a low club) to show your distaste for those suits.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Defense basics: What card to lead

Let's standardize on some standard leads. This helps you win tricks as well as giving your partner clues as to what's in your hand.

Leads when defending against a no-trump contract

The top card of a three-card or longer sequence that includes an honor.
KQJ    109843    AKQ7

This includes broken sequences:
KQ1063    10975

and internal sequences:
AQJ10    Q109854

If your partner bid the suit, you can lead the top of a two-card sequence:
KQ4    109543    

From a long suit without a suitable honor sequence: the fourth card down.
A98532    KQ87

From a doubleton: the top card.
76    K4

From three low cards: the middle card, then up, then down (aka MUD).
765    932

From three cards headed by an honor: the low card.
K98    AJ3

Against a trump contract, some principles are different.

Lead the top card of a two-card or longer honor sequence.
KQ4    109543    AKQ7

From three cards headed by an honor: the low card, unless that means leading away from an ace.
K98    AJ3

From a long suit without a suitable honor sequence: the fourth card down, unless that means leading away from an ace.
A98532    KJ874

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Be good to your cards

Mine were getting a little the worse for too many sandwich-fueled, greasy rubbers, so I gave them a bath.


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Friday, June 01, 2007

Bridge reading

Somebody dumped a trove of bridge books in the dollar racks at the Strand, and I've been spending my hard-earned dollars on them. There are still a lot of Goren paperbacks for anyone who's interested, but I've snapped up some classics, including Terence Reese on "Master Play" and Bergen on Bidding. The Dostoyevsky is a little disappointing though, with very few practical tips.


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