Thursday, 4 December 2014

Jackie Josephson Cup: Maccabi vs Team Rowan

Being a 1st Division Team we got a bye straight into the third round. I was hoping we would be playing a lower division team to boost morale, but unfortunately we got drawn against another 1st Division team - Bonnington from Maccabi. This was the same team we played last year, and narrowly beat with the benefit of our 1500 point handicap from being in Division Two (report here). This time we're both in Division 1 so it was a straight shoot out, and we got shot out the cup with a trouncing.

Me and Anna rushed there straight after work only to wait half an hour for the hosts to turn up, and never really recovered from that psychological blow, combined with the fact that they were much better at bridge than us. In the first half I had a couple of makeable 3NTs, which I tried my hardest for but fell one trick short each time. Although I don't think I could have done much more there was so much potential for error in defence the +100s the opponents were collecting were surely good scores for them. In fact me and Anna seemed to be getting all the cards, but not many points.

Then I launched Anna into a very tricky 6♥ which she didn't like much and guessing everything wrong went three down. Amazingly it made for Bonnington at another table for a combined 1730 point swing, expensive at aggregate scoring.

The deficit at half time was about 2000 points. "That's nothing." I told captain Jill, "we'll make that up easily." Instead we went backwards. I made three individual blunders that each cost a game swing, and the opponents couldn't believe their luck. They robbed us blind on this hand:

No one vul
W deal
♠ x x x
♥ A x x
♦ A T x x x x
♣ J
♠ J 9
♥ K J T x x x x
♦ x
♣ Q J x
♠ A K 8 x
♥ Q x x
♦ x x
♣ x x x x
♠ Q T x x
♥ -
♦ K Q J x
♣ A K x x x

This was really the auction. Anna opened a standard Weak Three and I topped her up to Four. South bid a mad 4♠. At the end of the hand he explained that "I couldn't let them play in 4♥". "Why not double?" said his partner.

Anna lead a Diamond, and after inept defence 4♠ made. What a tragedy.

After this I was on the tilt, and made a very light raise then opened a five card weak Two which fooled the opponents into going down in a cold 3NT. "I'm on a roll." I thought, and sacrificed in 5♥x, going five off for -1100.

At one point I doubled the opponents three times in a row, with varying success. This last one was a terrible double, which reaped an ill-gotten reward:

All Vul
E deal
♠ K J x x
♥ A
♦ A J x x x
♣ x x x
♠ Q
♥ Q T x x x x
♦ Q x
♣ A x x x
♠ A T x x x x x
♥ J x x x
♦ -
♣ J x
♠ x
♥ K x
♦ K T x x x x
♣ K Q T x

I decided to pass the East hand rather than opening 3♠, in case we had a Heart fit (which we did). South opened 1♦ and Anna made a simple overcall. My plan as East was now to bid Spades then support Hearts later, but when North bid 1♠ I leaped to 4♥ straight away. North now bid 5♦, and reasoning that the Spades were splitting badly I doubled. North said later he thought about redoubling, and maybe he should have.

Against 5♦x Anna lead her ♠Q., and North covered with the ♠K and I won the ♠A. I now know that both declarer and partner are out of Spades, but thought it was worth a shot and returned a Spade. Declarer rashly discarded a Club, so Anna ruffed the Spade and cashed the ♣A for one off. Hooray! South then said that was the worst play he'd ever made. Then he realised that actually after my Spade return he'll still go down unless he ruffs with the ♦K and finesses trumps. After that he felt a lot better.

In the end Team Rowan lost the match by about 5000 points, so we're out of the cup. Gives us more time to focus on the league.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Glasgow League Division One: Civic vs Rowan

Last night we were at St. Andrews to play a team called Civic. Me and Anna sat down against Bill and Ileen.

Things started badly, when on all of the first three boards we had chances at game, but unfortunately played the partscore hand in game and the two game hands in partscore. Our next chance at game came when we had 25 points but no Heart stop, so wisely stopped in 3♣. However, this was the layout of the Heart suit, with West on lead:

♥ J x x
♥ K Q T x x ♥ A x
♥ x x x

To beat 3NT West needs to lead a low Heart, which never happened, so where it was bid 3NT made.

That turned out to be all the good cards we had in the first half, and our opponents went on to rack up a series of games against us. At the half way point Team Rowan was about 2000 points down. The damage was softened by some nice gingerbread cake.

In the second half the contracts were low, until we got to the 'slam hand' (rotated so Anna is South and I'm North).

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

1. Looking at just North and South, what contract would you like to be in?

Me and Anna ended up in 6♣. It was not a success. This was the full deal and our terrible auction:

No one vul
W deal
♠ A K Q
♥ A Q J 8 5 4
♦ 9
♣ T 9 3
♠ 6 2
♥ 9 6 3
♦ Q 7 5 4 3
♣ K 7 2
♠ T 8 7 5 3
♥ K T 2
♦ A J T 2
♣ J
♠ J 9 4
♥ 7
♦ K 8 6
♣ A Q 8 6 5 4

Surprisingly, all of these were natural bids. I opened 1♥ and Anna replied 2♣. Fine so far. I then went for a three card reverse of 2♠, despite having a perfectly good 3♥ rebid available. My addled thinking was that my hand would be a good dummy for Clubs, and if I rebid 3♥ we can't get to Clubs. Anna bid 3NT. I didn't fancy that with my singleton Diamond and six Hearts so bid 4♥ to play, and now the wheels came off. Anna quite reasonably corrected to 4♠, and since I knew that was a 3-3 fit I escaped to 5♣. Unfortunately it didn't end there; Anna corrected me back to 5♥, and I went for 6♣. This was passed out.

Before the opening lead the opposition asked a flurry of questions about the auction. We couldn't tell them much, as we'd just got into a muddle and don't have agreements for bidding on after 3NT like this. West kept asking me what I guessed my partner's bids meant. I was a bit uncomfortable guessing but said that I thought Anna's bids could be cuebids or could be natural. East asked me at what point we'd agreed Clubs. I said not until the 6♣ bid!

West lead a Spade, then on seeing dummy reserved her rights, presumably because she thought she'd been misinformed. The only thing I can think of that could be misinformation is that during the explanation I was asked about my shape and said that my bidding had shown six Hearts and four Spades

2. Was I wrong to say this?

Perhaps she reasoned that since I also supported Clubs I must have a Diamond void, so she'd been deceived out of leading a Diamond. Anna won the Spade lead and immediately finessed Clubs, losing to the ♣K. West still didn't lead a Diamonds, instead playing another Spade. Anna drew the remaining trumps. She now has a chance to make the contract if she can set up the Hearts, which needs them 3-3 and a good guess as to who has the King. She went for the straight finesse, which lead to two down.

Note that the other way to play 6♣ is to try and ruff Diamonds, which makes whenever you have no Club losers.

The other two tables I talked to afterwards managed to play in 4♥, which is good going as 3NT goes down on a Diamond lead. 5♣ also makes.

Anna and I obviously lost a game swing for our team on this hand, but pulled back some points with good defence later on, then on the very last board Anna bid and made our only game.

In the end Team Rowan lost by about 1600 points, for a 5-11 defeat.

Monday, 24 November 2014

East Swiss Pairs 2014

Last year I played in The East of Scotland Swiss Pairs with Kris Nyugen from Edinburgh and we finished 11th (read my report here). This year I was playing with Anna. One thing stayed the same though. Just like last year I was part of the the last pair in the room, jogging in at a minute past one.

Since we live in Glasgow now we left quite quickly afterwards to drive home, and in my hurry I picked up two copies of the hand records from the first half. Hence I'm going to focus on the early deals.

In Round One we played in a slow and measured way. We bid conservatively and took no risks, apart from two wild moments (out of six boards).

Non-vulnerable, this was Anna's hand. We play standard Acol.

♠ A K Q J 8
♥ K J T
♦ 8 6
♣ A Q T

1: What do you open?

Anna went for the usual 2NT opening. We're not too strict about this bid and it could even include a singleton. I raised her to 3NT which was passed out, or so I thought. Then Anna pointed out that she hadn't actually passed yet, and still had a bid. After some thought she pulled out 4♠, which surprised everyone. She was worried about the Diamond suit. This was the full deal.


South lead a Heart. Anna now has ten top tricks (five Spades, two Hearts including a ruff and three Clubs). This is one more top trick than in 3NT, so ought to be a good score. However, lots of people made ten tricks in 3NT, getting their extra trick either in Clubs or Diamonds. Anna could have got her eleventh trick here, but guessed to play for Clubs 3-3 rather than the ♦A onside so only made 4♠=. I think this hand demonstrates how tricky Matchpoints is.

After this board I thought we must have been doing badly so pre-empted wildly on the last board of the set. This had no effect as the opponents calmly bid 5♥ over me and made it. In fact we hadn't done as bad as I thought, and we scored 8/20 VPs, and moved just slightly down the field.

In Round 2 came the Deal of the Day, with big decisions for all four players. With nobody vulnerable my left hand opponent dealt and opened 1♥.

♠ 7 2
♥ K 6 4
♦ A
♣ A K J 6 4 3 2

2. What do you overcall with this hand?

I decided I was too good for 2♣ so doubled planning to bid Clubs next round (which for us shows about 16-18 and a good 6+ card suit). It was only when the bidding got back round that I thought of 3NT. This was the full deal and auction at our table:


After my double East was restrained in not bidding her eight card Diamond suit, and in fact was restrained throughout. Anna has the perfect hand to respond 1NT to my double (8-11 points, Heart stop), but curiously chose to introduce her three card Spade suit. This proved to be a tactical masterstroke, as the opponents can actually make 6♠ but were cut out of the auction by her unusual bid. Perhaps out of frustration West jumped to 3♥. I was now all set to bid my Clubs, but remembered about 3NT and bid it with some confidence. I've got seven top Clubs (probably) the ♦A and surely a Heart on the lead.

Unfortunately East thwarted me by leading a Diamond. I played the ♦Q from dummy hoping West would have to play the ♦K. He played low so embarrassingly I had to overtake my winning Queen with the singleton ♦A. With the surprise Club support in dummy I've eight top tricks. I thought about crossing to dummy and leading a Heart through West to try and steal a ninth, which probably would have worked as he wouldn't expect me to have so many cashing Clubs. If however he did rise with the ♥A though he could then lead a Diamond back, and the defence would take seven more Diamonds and the rest in Spades, for a rare 3NT-8.

I decided instead just to run all my Clubs, which would lead to one down at worst or make if someone messed up the discards. I think West presumed I had ♦AK because he threw his remaining Diamond and in the end I was able to safely set up my ninth trick in Hearts, and actually finished on 3NT+1.

We collected 13/20 VPs for this round and moved up the field a bit.

In Round 3 we persisted with our counter-intuitive matchpoint strategy of bidding minor contracts wherever possible. This worked out well, as we missed a few doomed games. I had a little decision when dealer with this hand.

♠ 2
♥ 8 7 4 3
♦ A 7 6 4 3 2
♣ 4 3

It's worth noting that if you were playing reverse bridge (lowest card wins the trick), this would be a 2♣ opener. As we were playing normal bridge I passed. Anna opened 1♥, a natural bid showing a four card major.

3. What do you respond?

I think that you'd be mad to pass as you have an excellent hand in support of Hearts. I bid 2♥, and felt quite comfortable when Anna raised to 4♥. Then, having passed throughout, one of the opponents went into a long think about sacrificing over 4♥. I'm glad he didn't, as it was a double fit hand:


Against 4♥ North lead the ♠A then switched to a Diamond. Anna won the ♦A while also unblocking her ♦K, and went on to make the obvious eleven tricks. I think if South did bid 5♣ I might well have bid again.

We won this round with 17/20 VPs, and moved up to Table 5.

For lunch I had a scone:

In the second half we continued to bid calmly, declare averagely and defend generously. I have no records or memory of the hands so can only say we finished in joint 9th place, good enough for the 1st Bronze Prize:

Well done to Yvonne and David Wiseman on an emphatic win. Full results here and photos of the winners here (though this SBU News page might have changed by now).

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Glasgow League Division One: Rowan vs Phoenix

Last week Team Rowan suffered a 15-1 loss to Team Phoenix from Hamilton.

On our table we played against Alan and Martin. It was an exciting set of boards, and I think we gave as good as we got.

Board 2
NS vul
East deal
♠ A Q J x x x x
♥ x
♦ Q J x
♣ A x
♠ x
♥ A Q T x x x x
♦ A x
♣ J x x
♠ x
♥ J x x
♦ x x x x
♣ K Q T x x
♠ K x x
♥ K x
♦ K T x x
♣ 9 x x x

After two passes it came round to me sitting West. I would normally open this hand 1♥, but being third-in-hand I decided to mix things up with an immediate 4♥ bid. North bid a prompt 4♠, which I thought would probably end the auction. However, Anna chipped in with a 5♥ sacrifice, South weighed in with 5♠ and it was back round to me. I remember reading somewhere that if you choose to pre-empt with a good hand you should be prepared to double later on. I didn't really want to double 5♠ but with my two Aces felt I ought to give it a go.

Against 5♠x Anna led a Heart, and I was surprised when my ♥Q held the trick - Anna must have supported with only three Hearts. I was slightly worried about dummy's Diamonds so switched to a Club. Declarer took the ♣A, drew trumps in just one round then played on Diamonds. I snapped up the ♦A and we got our Club trick, for one down. "Great defence partner!" Anna said, with her eyes, while actually writing the score down silently.

That ought to have been a good board for us as 5♥ goes down as long as the defence find a Diamond switch. However, when Christine was declarer in 5♥ it went down when she gambled on North having a singleton ♥K so lost a trump trick, and when Heather & David were sitting North-South declarer managed to squeeze home in 5♥. Overall a bad one for Team Rowan then.

On to the next, where I rolled the dice again.

Board 7
All vul
South deal
♠ x x
♥ x x
♦ J T x x x
♣ A K Q x
♠ Q J T x x x x
♥ J x
♦ x x
♣ x x
♠ 9
♥ K Q x x
♦ A Q x x
♣ x x x
♠ A K x
♥ A x x x x
♦ K x
♣ J x x

South opened a weak 1NT (even though it's got 15 points if I've remembered the hand correctly). I had the seven card Spade suit and was planning on opening a weak 2♠, reasoning that the seventh trump made up for the weak hand. Over the 1NT I thought I should still bid, so overcalled 2♦ showing a six card major. North doubled and Anna bid 2♥. This would normally be pass or correct, but after the double I don't know it means. South doubled this and I now got to bid my 2♠, passed out.

There's a certain five losers of the top, so to make it I've just got to get rid of the Diamond loser. I tried to do this by setting up the Hearts but once I realised they were 5-2 it became tricky, so I banked on the certain Diamond finesse. This was a 'marked finesse', as by the time I came to finesse South had already shown 12 points, and in the auction North had doubled 2♦ to show Diamonds. I was shocked when the finesse lost. Maybe I miscounted South's points.

I hoped it would still be a good score for us, as the opponents have 25 points between them. North-South can make 3NT if they manage to force a couple of Diamond winners, to go with the other six top tricks, before the defence get into Hearts. 3NT made on Trish & Christine's table (where Team Rowan were defending) and went down on Heather & David's table (where Team Rowan were declaring). So another bad one for the team.

At the half way mark I expect we were quite far down. Tom & Raymond went to chat with their pals from Hamilton, while Anna lingered by the tea and coffee, waiting for me to make here a cup of tea.

Here's one I bodged:

Board 15
NS vul
South deal
♠ Q 6 x
♥ J x
♦ K x
♣ J T x x x x
♠ A K T 9 8 4
♥ x x
♦ x
♣ A Q x x
♠ J 7 x
♥ x x x
♦ A J T x x x
♣ x
♠ x
♥ A K Q x x x
♦ Q x x x
♣ K x

After South opened 1♥ I overcalled 1♠, and North made a very light 2♣ bid. This makes my hand slightly worse with the Club finesse likely to fail, but I felt was strong enough that when Anna supported me with 2♠ I could bid 3♠. When South bid 4♥ I bid 4♠ without really thinking - it was one of those nights where both sides just seemed to keep bidding.

When dummy came down I was glad Anna was full value for her 2♠, and game looked decent. I planned to get five trump tricks, four Clubs (with three ruffs in dummy) and the ♦A. The only danger was that when the defence got their ♠Q they could play another trump to cut down my ruffs, in which case I'd have to rely on setting up Diamonds. I didn't consider the lucky Club position making the ♣Q a winner.

North lead a Heart and South took the first two tricks and played a third Heart. I ruffed with the ♠T, and North shrewdly threw a Diamond. I started my cross-ruff, and got two Club ruffs in dummy before North took his ♠Q. He played a Club through and I had to ruff high in dummy to stop South over-ruffing. All this ruffing high had weakened my trumps and I ended up with my ♠4 in hand losing to North's ♠6. In fact on this layout once the ♣Q becomes high I don't need so many ruffs so can draw one round of trumps and make it.

I should say I played this hand painfully slowly, and apologised to everyone afterwards. And on the other tables? Christine managed to make 4♠ for Team Rowan in the West seat, and it was also made by the opposition East-West pairs. So due to my bodge another bad one for Team Rowan.

My final board is a big one, where me and Anna got very carried away:

Board 18
NS vul
East deal
♠ Q J T x x
♥ x
♦ Q x x
♣ A x x x
♠ K x
♥ Q x x x x
♦ A K x x x
♣ x
♠ x
♥ A K J x x x
♦ J T x x x
♣ x
♠ A x x x x
♥ x
♦ -
♣ K Q J x x x x

Anna dealt and chose to pass the East cards. I think this was perhaps a mistake, as it caused her to bid like mad later on to 'catch up'. South opened his freak hand 1♣ and I overcalled 1♥. Although I could have bid 2NT to show a two-suiter we only do this for weak or strong hands, so with my middling hand I have to bid twice (if possible). North bid 1♠, Anna came in with 4♥, and South bid 4♠. I could have passed this, but was determined to show my second suit and maybe direct the lead so bid a natural 5♦.

Things took off now, and we bid the double fit all the way up to 7♥. No one knew who was sacrificing and who was bidding to make. I wanted to double 6♠ to stop Anna bidding on as I thought we could beat it, but was worried if I doubled my ♠K would get finessed. Anna did go on and pull out 7♥, and it was up to North to end the madness by doubling.

Once the defence took their two tricks against 7♥x my main concern was whether or not they could have made 6♠. Unfortunately, when I drew trumps the Hearts were 1-1, meaning in defence of 6♠ we would have got one Spade and one Heart (but no Diamonds).

7♥x-3 cost us 500 points, which was bad considering they were going down in 6♠, but a good sacrifice against their 4♠ game.

On the other tables Trish & Christine sitting East-West defended 6♠x-1 for +100 and David & Heather sitting North-South judged very well to defend 6♥-2 and also collect +100, so overall I think the other pairs saved us. There was of course also a fourth table for Team Rowan featuring Tom & Raymond, but they remain tight lipped about their adventures.

Overall it was regrettably a big loss for Team Rowan, and I fear we are still without a win in Division One.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Glasgow League Division One: Rowan vs GUU

Anna and I missed the first match of the season, but we had an inkling it didn't go well when nobody mentioned the result. For the second match we were at home to another good team. It was good to see everybody again at the Buchanan club. We still lost the match, but at least picked up a few points in a narrow defeat.

There was one slam hand, which was bid at three out of the four tables:

Dealer West
All Vul
♠ x
♥ x x x
♦ Q x x x
♣ A J x x x
♠ J T x
♥ Q 9 8 x x x
♦ x
♣ Q x x
♠ x
♥ K J
♦ K T x x x x
♣ K T x x
♠ A K Q x x x x x
♥ A x
♦ A J
♣ x

Both me and Anna were close to opening bids. I decided I was too weak for 2♥, don't know why Anna didn't open 2♦. As it is we both passed so our opponents, Bob McKinnon and Ian, had an unopposed auction to 6♠. The 4NT bid was Keycard in Clubs, so I guess South didn't know if his partner had the Ace or King of Clubs and couldn't go on to investigate a grand slam (which could very well have been laydown).

I lead my singleton Diamond and felt pretty hopeful about getting a ruff, but alas not to be. My lead gives away the 12th trick straight away, but in fact with the Diamond finesse working slam is always there, and even has chances if the finesse fails if you have time to set up a Diamond trick by force.

I think with interference it's quite hard to get to 6♠. From Team Rowan Trish and Christine missed the slam when West opened a multi 2♦, South bid a direct 5♠, and North passed.

At the half way point we were about 1400 points down, not too bad.

As for Anna & I, we played OK. We had one hiccup due to miscounted points, and one 3NT I could have made but didn't (and only realised this morning I could have made it), but otherwise we did fairly well.

My highlights were when we got to a robust 5♦, in preference to an ugly 3NT, and Anna brought it home. Then she started chuckling playing 4♥ when she realised she'd blocked the Club suit. It didn't matter though and we got a good score for that one too when the opponents could have sacrificed in 4♠. They were obviously deterred from bidding on by my earlier brisk double of their 5♣ contract (which thankfully went one off).

The other highlight was when Bob, who'd been quiet as dummy, suddenly slammed his fist on the table, on top of the Ten of Diamonds. I'd been in a dwam and didn't know what was going on. I thought he was trying to straighten the card, then he explained that a little ant had been walking across the table.

My lowlights were when Anna kept opening and rebidding the suit I was very weak or void in, and I had to ponder whether to plough on or do the sensible thing and pass. This happened three times. Once I passed it out and despite the misfit we missed a game. Then I passed it out and we played a 6-0 instead of a 5-3 fit. The one time I bid on it turned out Anna had opened 1♠ on a weak 10 count and was now desperate to pass, but I kept making forcing bids until eventually we subsided in 3♥, which luckily still made:

Dealer South
Love All
♠ x x x
♥ A x x
♦ x x x
♣ A Q x x
♠ x
♥ K Q 9 8 x
♦ Q x x x
♣ K x x
♠ A T x x x x
♥ J x
♦ A x x
♣ J x
♠ K Q J
♥ x x x
♦ K J x
♣ x x x x

North lead the ♣A, so I just lost a Club, Heart and Diamond for 3♥+1. Where East opened 2♠ it made once and went down once.

In the second half of the match our table was fairly flat. Heather and David had a good card and so our final deficit was 940 points, which still translated to a 6-10 loss. Plus two points for turning up!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Seven

To close the week of bridge the final event was the Open Pairs. I signed up to play with John Faben. In advance we'd agreed to play whichever system the winners of the main event used. When the Chairman's team prevailed this meant playing Hackett-Hackett, downloadable here. You might notice that the link there is for their 2005 system. We noticed this too but only after it was too late, so that's what we ended up playing.

The main features are:

Strong NT
Four card majors, open them even with longer minor if weak
Three weak twos, could be five cards and 3-10 points
2/1 game forcing
Standard count and attitude

There was also lots of other stuff that we quickly gleaned from the convention card, and agreed to play even though we didn't really know what we were doing. This included: four suit transfers, mini-splinters, South African Texas openings, Puppet Stayman, Kokish after 2♣, a funny defence to a 1♣ opening, various ways of showing two suited hands. It was foolish to try and play this unfamiliar system, of course it was, but we figured we might as well have a go, even if this was the highest standard I've played in for a long time and was costing us £40 each for the days play.

Besides, it couldn't go worse than last time me and John played together. That was at the New Melville Congess (report here) where we'd agreed to play a ridiculous mish-mash called Puppet Culbertson. I actually felt pretty confident with the Hackett's convention card. If it was good enough for the Hacketts (nine years ago), surely it was good enough for us?

The format was eight rounds of fix boards, matchpoint scored then converted to VPs. I'm not sure how they did the conversion, but you could to pretty terribly and still get 1 or 2 VPs, as we found out.

Round One - 14/20 VPs

I thought we played really well here, beating Norman Levitt and David Shenkin. I was sharp as a tack. On the first board defending 3NT declarer ducked the first Spade trick to me, and rather than just banging on with the Spades I shrewdly switched suits and we ended up with three tricks in defence and a very good score. Then John robbed them blind in 4♠, stealing a vital overtrick for a top board. Can you work out how he got 11 tricks here, declaring 4♠ as East?


South lead the ♦K, and his partner gave count. John cleverly ducked this, and when South continued with a low Diamond he was able to win in hand, draw two rounds of trumps, then finesse Diamonds and get his Heart away. Ducking the first trick is vital; if he wins then later tries to set up a Diamond winner it will be too obvious and the defence will switch to Hearts. I have to say if I was declarer I wouldn't have thought of ducking, I would just be thinking "Brilliant, 10 tricks".

That hand is also notable as it was my first ever 2/1 auction. After East opened 1♠ I had to reply 1NT, then when East rebid 2♣ I showed Spades and we were away.

For comparison, the Hacketts only made 4♠ there, and Jun Nakamura-Pinder and Phil Morrison got a gift when they sat North-South and their opponents only bid up to 3♠

Our only small losses in this set were when the opponents bid up to the normal contract and made the normal number of tricks, which always seems to get the declaring side about 60%. At the end of the round we scored 14/20 VPs, and moved up to Table 10. That proved to be our high water mark.

Round Two- 2/20 VPs

I didn't enjoy this match much. Our opponents, Tracy Capal and David Sherman, had their game faces on and beat us soundly. It was one way traffic, and I was standing in the middle of the road getting run over by it. I got hammered off three doubled in 3NT, then came the low point of the day:


When 2♣ got passed back to me I thought about coming back in with 2♠. I knew that South had denied four Spades and North wasn't bidding Spades, but I was too scared so I passed. Of course me and John had a massive Spade fit, and even if we play in 4♠-1 that's better than letting them make lots of tricks in Clubs. Declarer somehow made ten tricks, possibly due to me throwing the ♦9 in an over-enthusiastic signal, but it didn't really matter.

For comparison, the Hackett's were North-South and defended 3♠ making, and Jun & Phil were also North-South and defended 4♥-1 (I expect it was put in wrongly into the Bridgemate and it was actually 4♠-1. Some people can't cope with being North)

Despite averaging only 30% of the matchpoints we still bagged 2 VPs for our pitiful efforts.

Round Three - 8/20 VPs

I thought we'd won this match against John Large and Tadgh O'Mahony, but the scorecard disagrees. The opponents missed an easy slam by playing in 3NT, which is worth mentioning as in the bidding an opponent said "Never knowingly underbid" before making four overtricks. Then we missed a bad 6♠, because after John opened one of our very dodgy Weak Twos I didn't think slam was likely - I blame the system.

The crushing low point was this doozy. Our first absolute zero of the event. It's an interesting hand, as John blames me but I think it was entirely his fault:


My bidding was exemplary. John opened the South hand 1♦, and I replied 1♥. East then came in with 2NT, alerted as strong with the other two suits. West bid 3♠, and now I felt I was obliged to show Diamond support. East bid the obvious 4♠, then John with his flat 4333 hand with 12 points decided to press on to 5♦. This was doubled and to be fair to John he took all the tricks he could, scoring 5♦x-4 for minus 1100.

For comparison, the Hacketts played in 4♠+1, and Jun & Phil also defended 4♠+1. Out of 45 tables we were the only North-South pair declaring the contract.

We scored 8 VPs here to fall below average, and get catapulted into the second room, where we would remain for the rest of the day. Thanks John. My dream of getting to play against the top players was in tatters, and I now only dreamed of lunch.

Round Four - 18/20 VPs

Despite my crushing hunger we came roaring back, against Sam Malkani and Ian McClure. There was one hand where I held five Spades and was secretly pleased when the opponents got up to 4♠, and even happier when they got up to 5♠ and went one off. This was the most interesting deal of the set:


I've got an easy 3♥ bid, then North looked at his running Clubs and bid 3NT. I might have bid 4♥ as East, but John was worried about losers in the minors so doubled instead. Against 3NTx he lead a top Spade, and I discouraged. He then lead the ♦J, which was ducked (I should have overtaken it). He then played a Club, which declarer won in dummy and decided to take full advantage of being in dummy to lead up to his ♥K, fully expecting me to have the ♥A. He was a bit surprised when John won this trick, and if John had somehow realised exactly what had happened we could have taken another six Heart tricks. Instead John cashed two Spades then exited with a Diamond and the end result was a normal 3NTx-2.

This turned out to be a good score for us. The Hacketts did even better by playing 4♥+2, and Jun & Phil defended 3NT very poorly to take it only one off. I believe that after cashing a Spade East continued weakly with the ♥6.

We scored a splendid 18 VPs in this match, to take us fractionally above half way at the break. There was a meagre 30 minutes allotted for lunch, barely enough time for a bean wrap.

Round Five - 1/20 VPs

After lunch we had a post-prandial slump that Jake Corry would be proud of.

Our opponents were Harry Smith and Bob McCall. They judged well to get to two games most people missed, then I went on the tilt and decided to bid one more and suffered 3♥x-3. The part of the Hacketts' system we were struggling the most with was not opening a weak 1NT; as it meant we ended up later overbidding all these weak balanced hands.

I tried to level my tilt and bid this next hand sensibly, but somehow things got worse as we missed the slam. Who should have done more?


Such was the high standard that we were one of only five pairs to miss the slam. The Hacketts bid to 6NT+1, Jun & Phil to 6♥=.

Round Six - 10/20 VPs

Like Alan Partridge we bounced back, slightly. To begin with I played 2NT-1 with a nine card Spade fit then we doubled them in 4♥ and misdefended, but got it all back with a tremendous slam auction. At least one third of John our system discussion had been about Kokish auctions (see here), so I was delighted to be able to open 2♣ on a monster hand. Unfortunately it all went haywire after that.


I opened 2♣ and North immediately got in with a 2♦ overcall. John doubled this, which maybe to him showed Diamonds but I didn't know what he meant. I bid 3♣. I could have bid 4♣ to set them as trumps but thought we might still play in a major. John bid a useless 3♦, then when I bid 4♣ a useless 4♦. By this point I was a bit worried he might actually want to play in Diamonds, so I was a bit nervous about bidding 5♦ myself. My thinking was that I wanted John to be able to cuebid in Hearts or Spades, so by bidding Diamonds that lets him cuebid. He thought that since I couldn't cuebid myself he'd sign off in 6♣. I thought he probably had ♦A and guessed I might have an entry into his hand so had a punt at 7♣.

After seeing dummy I claimed immediately. For my fragile ego this was a massive boost.

For comparison the Hacketts got a great score when their opponents (Alan Mould and John Matheson) overbid to 7NT, and Jun & Phil made 6♣ against the eventual winners Andrew McIntoch and David Bakhshi. Jun & Phil were obviously doing well by this point, but not well enough that Jun still took the unnecessary Heart finesse and only made 12 tricks!

Round Seven - 14/20 VPs

A more relaxed match against Steve Bailey and Frances McKeon. The best board was where I felt pretty pleased to make 3NT+1, then afterwards realised I had been dealt ten top tricks.


For comparison, at both the other tables Declarer made 11 tricks.

We won this match to take us up to 67 VPs, from seven matches. That means we needed to get 13/20 VPs from our last match to finish average.

Round Eight - 0/20 VPs

Unfortunately though, we got a drubbing and got zero. Many low points to choose from. I could mention the hand where John forgot what the contract was and tried to get a ruff against 3NT. "What an odd lead" said declarer as John rattled off his Ace doubleton.

But instead my featured hand is the final deal of the event, where I went for a mad punt and that backfired too.


John opened his hand 1NT and I've got the nice West hand. I could have bid a 2♥ transfer, 3♠ slam invite or 4♦ Texas transfer to Spades. But it was the last hand of the day and I was tired so went for an immediate 6♠. I like to bid this way with a void because if the opponents don't know your hand you might get a favourable lead and make a bad contract when you shouldn't. Also, my 6♠ bid cleverly shut North out of the auction. North lead the ♣K and when Hearts split I had 13 tricks without needing the Diamond finesse.

Although it was good that 6♠ made it was actually such a good contract that everyone was in it, and lots were bidding and making 7♠. I blame John for failing to find the obvious raise, especially as we had previously discussed that any slam auction where we weren't missing a keycard we would raise Six to Seven. We decided this during the afternoon as on this set of boards it seemed that the grand was always making, and it would have worked well here too.

On the other tables the Hacketts bid to only 6♥ and Jun & Phil did something horrible and only got to 4♥ defended 4♥ [Edit - I missed they were North-South for this set]

And the overall positions? Me and John finished 66th= out of 90 pairs. Not a great effort. Jun & Phil were up to Table 2 at one point but fell away, still finishing in a decent 29th=. And the Hacketts? They were playing the same system as us, so (barring minor differences in quality of play and defence) ought to have about the same score. However, they finished in 4th and were close to an overall victory. But of course they were playing their 2014 system, me and John were lumbered with the defunct 2005 version so no wonder we did so poorly.

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Six

I was at home on Saturday as Jake Corry took over my Vugraph duties. The final of the main tournament was won by the Chairman's Team (Paul Hackett, David Bakhshi, Jason Hackett, David Mossop, Justin Hackett and Andrew McIntosh), beating Wales. England took the Silver over India. Having a team in the knock-out stages that wasn't eligible to win any medals slightly messes up the draw, and I think the England team can feel a bit hard done by to have drawn the Chairman's team in the semi-final, which for my money was actually the highest quality match. However, as Cameron Small (I think) of the England team told me, England actually only very narrowly won their Quarter Final against the strong Scottish President's team, so really in the knock-out tournament stages it's all a bit random.

In the TransNational Teams, where after an extensive round robin only the top four went into semi-finals. In the final the Scottish President's Team (Sandy Duncan, Irving Gordon, Derek Sanders, Stephen Peterkin, Liz McGowan, Sam Punch) prevailed over Canada.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Five

Just back from commentating on the two afternoon session of the semi-final. In a very close and high quality match The Chairman's Team (captained by the Commonwealth Bridge president Paul Hackett) narrowly defeated the England team. In the other semi-final Wales defeated India. That means that Wales have already won the Gold medal, as the Chairman's Team are not a Commonwealth nation so can't get Gold.

I watched Justin and Jason Hackett of the Chairman's Team against Ben Green and John Holland of England. It was good doing both sessions of the same match, as I got to know the players' systems, in particular their carding methods. This helps you work out what low card they have played when it's all going a bit fast.

As there were just two tables we were in a smaller side room and the atmosphere was very different. It was so quiet players were whispering, and often the only sound was me frantically typing away.

It took a while for the match to settle. There was some sort melee in the Closed Room, and then complaints about the low light. At one point Jason said he couldn't go on, so the players picked up the table and all carried it to where they thought it would be a bit lighter. I had to pick up my table and follow. Then a guy from the hotel turned up with a lamp, and crawled under a side table to plug it in. It was a massive disco light, aimed at the ceiling, and nearly blinded me when he turned it on. I missed some of the play as I could barely see.

Then came my commentary low point. With 900 people watching a mobile phone went off. "Someone's phone is ringing." I reported. "Players look at each other accusingly. South denies it was him. Whose phone is that?". Then I realised it was mine. I had it on vibrate but in the silent room the vibrating sound was very audible. I tried to brazen it out and do nothing, but it kept vibrating, and jostling a bag of Mini Cheddars in my rucksack. Eventually I got up to turn it off, and apologised to the players.

For this match my expert commentator was Michael Rosenberg, who is a world expert on the analysis. That meant I could leave the bridge up to him, so I could focus solely on reporting the play, player's reactions, cardigans, drinks and general discussion. It was like being a radio commentator, but instead of speaking you have to type as fast as you can.

My table finished early and with the match poised at 35-35 I went through to the physical Vugraph Theatre, to watch the final few hands along with the crowd. Although the audience here was only a handful of people, it felt like a lot of pressure on the players as their every card was scrutinised by the live crowd.

Apologies for the low resolution photos:

Vugraph coodinator Sandie Millership and two of the victorious Welsh team

Nervous moments watching the end of the match

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Four

I had a day off yesterday and missed not being there. A bridge tournament is a funny place. It's not often you get to see the door to the gents swing open and someone shout out "You bid Three Spades - logical!".

Yesterday was the last day of the Round Robin. The main story was in Group 2, where England 2 suffered a shock loss to Northern Ireland, and the Scottish President's team took full advantage to claim the final qualifying spot. These are the final standings, with the top four in each group going through to today's quarter finals:

Group 1
1 England 188.96 VPs
2 Canada 183.18 VPs
3 Scotland Chairman's 178.03 VPs
4 Scotland 174.55 VPs
5 Wales 2 158.60 VPs
6 Australia Women 134.25 VPs
7 South Africa
8 Malaysia
9 Harris
10 Pakistan
11 Singapore
12 Malta
13 Guernsey 2
14 Barbados
Group 2
1 India 193.50 VPs
2 Australia 193.01 VPs
3 Wales 165.35 VPs
4 Scottish President's 155.85 VPs
5 England 2 151.67 VPs
6 Pakistan 2 136.90 VPs
7 Nortner Ireland
8 South Africa 2
10 Isle of Man
11 Guernsey
12 Jersey
13 Black Swan
14 Kenya

I watched a bit at home. I'm always rooting for the underdog, but when it's a big team against a small team it just seems inevitable that IMPs are going to flow towards the better team. And it doesn't take much. Even if the difference is only 1 overtrick per board, that would still lead to a 14-6 win in VPs.

In one match Barbados were losing heavily to the Scottish Charirman's Team, and finally got a break when in the other room North-South missed a slam. Could the Barbados North-South take advantage? It was agonising watching, as they got themselves into position then threw it away:

I'm not quite what happened, but 6♠-5 was not a good score.

Today is the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals. The teams that are already out play in the Transnational Teams along with 21 other local teams, so it's going to be a busy day at the Radisson.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Three (2)

Today I missed the first session, but am on the Vugraph for the other three matches today. So far we've had two and there's one to go. It's quite hard work, especially as I broke my glasses last night so am straining in contact lenses. In the break between matches I collapse with the Tournament Directors in our little common room. Unlike actually playing bridge, you're never dummy.

My first match today was SBU against South Africa 2, and I watched Gerald Haase and Victor Silverstone (in a rejigged Scottish partnership) against Peta Balderson and Jenny Gautschi. The South African ladies were very charming, and even acknowledged me at the end of the match. The Scottish veterans however got a little heated (but only with each other), which made for some good viewing. It was fascinating to see close up how someone could make a (very forgivable) mistake in defence and still be thinking about it on the next hand when he was declarer. "I couldn't have played that worse" and "I'd agree with that" was the conversation I reported. But on the next board I could visibly see the Scots pulling themselves together and Haase made a great 3NT to level the tie. The high scoring match went down to the final deal and with good defence the SBU prevailed 39-29.

In every match each team has two pairs, which play against the two pairs of the opposition in different rooms. The 'Open Room' is designed for spectators, both physical and online, and the 'Closed Room' is mostly there to compare scores between the rooms. You don't get so many people watching the broadcasts in the Closed Room. There were only 30 people today, but they enjoyed it I think and a couple of spectators thanked me for the commentary. Since there was no expert commentator I stretched myself a bit and reported on the bridge too, mostly by relaying what other kibitzers were saying to me. This needed a lot of fast typing.

I also had been given a copy of all the deals in advance with computer analysis ("Guard this with your life!") which helped me appear more knowledgeable than I was.

For the next round I watched the England pair of Phil King and Cameron Small against the other South African team with Diana Balkin and Maureen Holroyd. We are playing in the rather plush Radisson Blu hotel,and all the chairs have seat covers. The English South Cameron Small very deliberately pulled his off before sitting down. Would he replace it at the end I wondered? He didn't. At one point the lights went out, and I was able to talk about that, to give it a live feel. The expert commentator paulg (Paul Gipson) mentioned another time they'd had to finish a match by the lights of mobile phones.

I made a real effort this match to try and pick up the spot cards of the players. This is hard when declarer is running a suit, and the player furthest from you is discarding fairly randomly. Sometimes though, it really matters and you need to report it correctly.

Here's an example of where it matters:

North has got to 4♥, and East leads the ♣A. The card West follows with is crucial here to tell East to stop playing Clubs (and switch to a Spade). Initially I missed the card West followed with and just clicked the ♣4. Actually she'd played the ♣T, which I believe was encouraging for that pair. I quickly undid my play and corrected it to the ♣T. East then continued with three rounds of Clubs. Declarer ruffed the third round, drew trumps and claimed the rest for 4♥+1.

On the other table game was defeated. East and West had bid and raised Clubs, and East amazingly underlead his ♣AKQ by leading the ♣7. Declarer played low from dummy letting West rather surprisingly win with his ♣T, and return a Diamond for East to ruff. The end result was 4♥-2. This and a few other game swings meant England won the match comfortably 50-1. At my table the English didn't realise they were doing well, and when Cameron Small peeked over my shoulder at the laptop at the end of the match he was rather surprised.

Here's me in my volunteer's T-shirt and lanyard:

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Three

Play is yet to start on Day Three, but we're nearly half way through and the top teams are emerging. After 6/13 rounds, here's the leaders. Only the top four in each group will qualify:

Group 1
1 Canada 96.20 VPs
2 England 1 95.17 VPs
3 Scotland Chairman's 80.74 VPs
4 Scotland 80.31 VPs
5 South Africa 72.36 VPs
6 Wales 2 65.66 VPs
Group 2
1 Pakistan 2 92.29 VPs
2 India 89.01 VPs
3 Australia 80.22 VPs
4 Wales 71.58 VPs
5 England 2 70.30 VPs
6 Isle of Man 69.49 VPs

I've gone down to sixth place as I wanted to include the Isle of Man, who had a good day yesterday beating England 2 and beating Australia. I sat with them in the lobby and they were surprised and delighted at their good showing so far, and their captain joked that they had just become favourites to win the event.

Outside of the top positions Group 2 also features a close battle between two Channel Island teams, with Guernsey currently just ahead of Jersey.

Personally, I'm rooting for Singapore. This is for no particular reason apart from I'm going there next month, and they seem to be a nice team. They are currently 9th in Group 1, with some work to do. I'll be looking out for them today.

Finally, I've decided I don't like the new VP scale (my previous article on that is here). Since there are already arbitrary thresholds for when points become IMPs it doesn't makes sense to be overly precise in converting IMPs to VPs. And those decimal points look ugly.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day Two

Yesterday was a shorter day because of the Opening Ceremony; today the tournament is in full swing and there are four matches.

I missed the first round of matches and have just been the Vugraph Operator for the second, watching SBU against Australia. This was an interesting match as on my table we had the hugely experienced Willie Coyle and Victor Silverstone representing Scotland, against the youthful Australian pair of Pete Hollands and Ishmael Del'Monte. I met the Australian team walking home last night and they are all under 40. One of them was even wearing shorts.

It was a victory of youth over experience. At one point (Board 21) the Australians bid up to a very bold 7♦, which one commentator described as something like "exuberant", and said no other pair would bid it. Dee Harley of Australia said "Ish' will make this" and he duly did, for a massive score.

Then when it came to Scotland's turn for a grand slam they were muscled out by an Australian barrage:

East opened 1♠, South fired in with 3♥ and West bid 4♣, described as natural. North kept up the pressure with 5♥ and East bid 6♠, passed out. After the opening lead East claimed all the tricks without even showing his cards saying "I could make Nine Spades." The other Australians bid to 7NT - well done! The finals scores aren't quite in but looks like a big win for Australia.

From an operator's perspective it was a tough match as they bid and played so fast. At one point the connection went down and I had to restart the table and try and frantically enter the players' names and nationalities while keeping up with the play. They also had the annoying habit of not always following suit with the lowest possible card when not trying to win the trick. I know players like to signal but it would be a lot easier for me if everyone always played the ♦2 from ♦432.

Here's a photo of my high table and the view I get after most of the players have left. The table just beneath me is the one I would follow.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship - Day One

This exciting international event is in Glasgow, and I've volunteered to be a Vugraph Operator to help people watch the match at home. Watching bridge doesn't mean watching an actual video; it would be hard to follow. Instead people watch a diagram of the complete deal (something the players don't have of course) and the diagram is updated as each person makes a bid or plays a card. That's the job of the operator. His other job is to give a sense of the atmosphere, by reporting on who's muttering to partner that he could have made that contract, who'd nipped out for a cigarette while dummy, who's called the tournament director, who's banging their head against the table and so on. Each table also has a couple of expert commentators watching who actually analyse the bridge.

This is the first time I've been a Vugraph Operator. It's actually a lot like playing on Bridge Base, but you have access to some more menus, for example allowing you to input the names and national flag of each player, and to modify the final contract if you've input it incorrectly. It was fun.

There are two featured matches in each session of bridge. The one I was working on in the morning was Scotland against South Africa. Here's a deal that produced a swing:

Board 5
Dealer North
NS Vul
♠ 8 6 5
♥ 8 4 3 2
♦ A J 2
♣ 8 7 6
♠ A T 4
♥ A 5
♦ Q T 8 7 6 3
♣ A 9
♠ K J 7 3
♥ K Q T 9
♦ 9 5
♣ T 3 2
♠ Q 9 2
♥ J 7 6
♦ K 4
♣ K Q J 5 4

The South African South opened 1♣, which Iain Sime of Scotland overcalled 1♦. His partner John Murdoch responded 1♥, and when Sime rebid 1NT that ended the auction. Fairly standard stuff. Of course the real fireworks were happening in the Vugraph commentary, where before the opening lead I reported "East-West put bidding away too soon; North asks for recap" and after declarer won the second round of Clubs "West puts cards down for a think. East settles back and takes off jumper". Meanwhile the match commentators (whose aliases were jacksond and mrdct, don't know their real names - but see comments below) suggested West was worth a 1NT overcall, and debated how poor a contract 3NT was.

In the other room the South African East-West did get to 3NT, with this auction:


Declarer guessed both majors correctly for nine tricks, making 3NT without any Diamond tricks at all. This was worth 7 IMPs to South Africa, the biggest swing in a very low scoring match that they finally won 14-8, leading to a narrow VP victory.

At lunch time the players all milled around the Radisson Blu Hotel and we retreated into a volunteers room. The hotel looked to be doing a good job hosting the event (as far as I could tell) apart from the odd internet glitch, which is really something that should never happen.

In this event there are 28 teams in total, representing 17 nations. See a list of participants here and photos of some of them here. The teams are divided into two groups. In each group they play a complete round robin, with the top eight going on to the quarter-finals. That means 13 rounds of round robin during the week.

In the second match of the day the featured match was Scottish Bridge Union (a second Scotland team) against the Scottish President's Team (another Scotland team).

From the President's team were Gerald Haase and Derek Diamond, who along with Iain Sime and John Murdoch from this morning, were members of the Scottish Senior Team that did so well in the World Championship I've been reading about in this book: Scotland's Senior Moments. The book is reviewed by Paul Gipson on his blog here. Paul Gipson was also one of the expert commentators at the table.

From the SBU team were Stephen Peterkin and Derek Sanders, who runs the Edinburgh No Fears bridge club (link here). It seems it's quite a small bridge community in Scotland, and going to this event and having to manually enter the names of players at the table has really helped me recognise a few people.

The match was very good natured. I learnt that Derek and Derek, in opposition here, used to play together, and I think they were part of the Scotland team that won the last Commonwealth Nations championship in 2010 in Delhi. At one point Derek Sanders was declarer in 5♠x and said he was going to surprise people here, and he passed out the double. Derek Diamond then waved the redouble card at him; apparently Derek S has a reputation for redoubling.

From a Vugraph Operator's perspective the major turning point in the match was the introduction of the air conditioning. I reported that all four players were now covered up; West in a jumper; North-South in jackets and East in a suit.

There were about 600 people watching the match online. I hope they enjoyed it. It was really interesting to me to see the little asides players made after the hands, quickly working out what might have been, and also how professional Derek and Gerald were in moving on from a misunderstanding and also from a misplayed contract.

In the end the SBU team won the match narrowly, and both teams are about average overall.

At the end of the day the top teams in each group are Canada and India.

The official Goody Bag

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Start of a new Season

Team Rowan from Buchanan Bridge Club were promoted to Glasgow Division One last year. Last night we met some of the other teams in a special start-of-season curtain raiser, scored as a big Teams Match. Based on the results, we'll be back in Division Two next year.

It was the first time me and Anna had played in a few months, and before we started Anna trotted out all the usual pre-excuses about being rusty. Actually though I think we played alright, despite our team of four coming last (results here, curiously scored as 'Lunchtime Pairs').

There were a lot of flat boards, with the losses coming from not being aggressive enough in the bidding. If this is a hint of what's to come in Division One, there's going to be more bold bidding, and more doubling.

Here's one where we lost a game swing:

Board 5
Dealer North
NS Vul
♠ Q T 3 2
♥ K
♦ Q 9 4
♣ A T 7 6 4
♠ A 9 8 7 6
♥ J 7
♦ 8 7 2
♣ Q 9 5
♠ K J 5 4
♥ Q 3
♦ A K T 6 5
♣ 8 3
♠ -
♥ A T 9 8 6 5 4 2
♦ J 3
♣ K J 2

On both East deals and opens 1♦. South overcalls 4♥.

What do you bid now as West?

On my table I was West, and had that dilemma. I went for a pass. As you can see 4♥ is unbeatable, and in fact when I lead the ♠A declarer made 4♥+3 for -710. David and Heather Merriman were our team-mates. At their table the auction started as above, but this time the opposition West came in with 4♠, which is a bit wild but has the safety net of some Diamond support too. North can't really double this, and it was passed out. Despite the good Spade support in dummy it went three off, but still a good score of 4♠-3 and +150, which combined with our score meant an 11 IMP loss. Was I too meek?

By contrast, here's a hand where boldness gave us a rare gain:

Board 24
Dealer West
None Vul
♠ K J 5
♥ 8 5 3
♦ K J 8 7 3
♣ 9 8
♠ 4
♥ 2
♦ T 9 6 5 4 2
♣ K Q 7 6 5
♠ Q 9 8
♥ A Q 6
♦ A Q
♣ A T 4 3 2
♠ A T 7 6 3 2
♥ K J T 9 7 4
♦ -
♣ J

1♣ promises at least four, and 3♣ was alerted as "both majors and strong".

What do you bid now as West?

With a singleton in both major, and excellent Club support, I decided to go for it, with 5♣. Then on the way to the bidding box I decided to upgrade, and pulled out 6♣. Maximum Pressure. North was having none of it and bid 6♠. This was doubled by Anna and passed out.

6♠x-2 gave us +300, a good score. How would we have done in 6♣? I bid it as an advanced sacrifice, but with Anna's balanced 18 count it's actually pretty close. South claimed he would have underlead his Spades to get a Diamond ruff which would put it one down; but we'll never know. Without that unlikely lead you can make it, and around the room people playing in Clubs were making 12 tricks.

After that temporary high we had a bit of a slump, which I attribute to my overheating and Anna denying herself any biscuits.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Success at the seaside

Me and Anna were on our summer holiday in Suffolk last week, and revisited the Sole Bay Bridge Club in Southwold. Anna made her usual complaints about not having played for ages but actually it was fine, she defended well and was dummy for most of the hands anyway. Here's one she did get to play:

Dealer South
EW Vul
♠ Q x
♥ K x
♦ A Q J x x
♣ A K x x
♠ A
♥ Q J T x x x x
♦ K x
♣ J x x
♠ K x x x x x
♥ A x x
♦ x x
♣ x x
♠ J x x x
♥ x
♦ x x x x
♣ Q x x x

West opened 1♥ and I was sitting North with 19 points. I doubled, planning to bid NT later. When it got back round to me it was at 3♥, and I doubled again. Next time it was at 4♥ and I doubled a third time, this time expecting that I could beat 4♥. Anna finally cracked though and removed my double by sacrificing in 5♣. I'd accuse her of hogging the bidding, but this was virtually the only hand she played.

5♣ actually went pretty well, and Anna lost just two Spades and a Heart for one off. How would 4♥x have gone? To beat the contract I need to cash my ♣A, see Anna encouraging, then cross to her ♣Q and she plays a Diamond through. Not sure if we'd have managed that or not. Our score on the hand of -50 points was worth exactly 50% of the matchpoints, as on every other table East-West played the Heart game and half of them made it. It's good bidding from everyone sitting East-West to get to a decent 4♥ with only 18 points between them.

Me and Anna had a pretty good run in defence. The highlight was when the opposition scrambled into a dodgy looking 2NT and I doubled on principle. They ran to 3♥, which Anna was happy to double with six of them. The lowlight was when I had to get up and stretch after an auction because I had cramp from swimming in the sea.

Finally here's a hand where I thought I was being clever, but actually I was being foolish:

Dealer South
EW Vul
♠ Q 9 x
♥ x x
♦ K 9 x
♣ A Q T x x
♠ x x x
♥ K J x x x
♦ x x x
♣ K x
♠ A J x x
♥ Q x x x
♦ J x x
♣ J x
♠ K T x
♥ A x
♦ A Q T x
♣ x x x x

I opened 1NT and Anna raised to 2NT with exactly 11 points. I should have passed but made a poor raise to 3NT. West lead a Heart which I won with the ♥A because if I duck it will be obvious to them to continue Hearts next time. Things are looking bleak.

I played a Club up to dummy and West immediately played the ♣K. I beat this with the ♣A and had a think. It was clear to me at the time that West had a singleton ♣K, so Clubs were only going to give me two tricks before I let the opposition in. I figured if I kept playing Clubs I would lose one Club, four Hearts and one Spade, for 3NT-2. So I cunningly decided to play on Spades now, so that I could collect a Spade, four Diamonds (hopefully), one Heart and two Clubs for eight tricks and get out for 3NT-1. This would actually be an OK matchpoint score as I'd tie with everyone in 2NT-1. So I lead a Spade up to my ♠K, which held the trick. I then took my Diamond tricks, and when taking my Club tricks I found the Clubs were splitting after all, so I ended up with a surprise 11 tricks. 3NT+2 gave a matchpoint top, but was very lucky. If East had of seized her ♠A the defence could have cashed five tricks and I'd have gone down in a 3NT which was cold.

Thanks to the Sole Bay Bridge Club for another fun evening.

Anna lost in the Southwold Maize Maze

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Coughing Scandal in Bali

The April 2014 SBU News reported that after a thorough investigation the World Bridge Federation (WBF) have found a pair from the winning Germany Senior Team guilty of cheating at the 2013 World Championship in Bali. Since then the German Bridge Federation (GBF) has also condemned them. This is the final nail in the coughin’. It is now only the Doctors themselves who protest their innocence.

Dr. Michael Elinescu and Dr. Entscho Wladow.

In this article I will look at the background, how they cheated, how they were caught, the defence, the aftermath, and what happens next.


"It’s the German doctors, hold your cards up!" (David Gold)
(Spectator article)

Elinescu and Wladow have been under suspicion for many years. They play a unique bidding system which leads to unusual results, and have been accused in the past of unethically failing to explain their bids or conveniently forgetting agreements. In 2008 the Italian expert Fulvio Fantoni wrote about Wladow’s "peculiar bidding". They have also been accused of unfriendly and intimidating behaviour at the table.
(Elinescu-Wladow convention card)
(Fantoni article)

As a result of these suspicions in 2008 and 2009 they were extensively monitored by the WBF, to no avail.

How they cheated

"They are just a couple of hacks" (Eric Rodwell)
(Bridge Winners article by Mike Passell)

The World Championship was played behind screens, which makes illegal communication very difficult. With the screen in place you can’t see your partner. There’s only a slit at the bottom of the screen to pass around the bidding tray, and a small door which is opened to draw the cards from the holder and to see dummy’s cards. The screen also extends to the floor to prevent foot tapping (that’s another story).

This image is taken from a video of the event. Elinescu is leftmost in the picture and Wladow rightmost. Their opponents are from the USA2 Senior Team. The German Doctors found a way around the screens - coughing. Just after picking up their cards they coughed to show partner shortage (singleton or void) in any suit:

One cough Club shortage
Two coughs Diamond shortage
Three coughs Heart shortage
Four coughs Spade shortage

It’s a remarkably simple code, especially for a World Championship pair!

As an example, here is the hand that they have just picked up in the image above:
(WBF hand record)

F 5-12
Dealer W
NS Vul
♠ T86
♡ KQ95
♢ –
♣ KJT932
♠ Q7432
♡ A64
♢ KQ72
♣ Q
♠ AKJ9
♡ JT
♢ AJ65
♣ A85
♠ 5
♡ 8732
♢ T9843
♣ 764

In this deal (and all deals featured here) Elinescu is North and Wladow is South. In the video recording you can clearly hear North coughing twice to indicate his Diamond shortage and, five seconds later, South coughing four times to show his Spade shortage.
(Youtube video)

There was also a second use of coughs. When one partner was about to lead the other would cough to indicate the suit he wanted.

One cough Lead Clubs
Two coughs Lead Diamonds
Three coughs Lead Hearts
Four coughs Lead Spades

For example, in the deal above West became declarer in 6♠, meaning North was on lead. If South had wanted a particular lead he could have coughed before the first card, but as it happened on this deal remained silent so North lead a trump.

Coughing to show shortage and suggest an opening lead already gives the pair a huge advantage. But there may have been even more to the coughing code. For example, sometimes with Heart shortage they coughed once then once again, which might have been an alternative to three coughs. There is talk of a call-and-response system, where opening leader can cough for two suits, and his partner coughs back to say which one he prefers.
(Eminenti report)

Elinescu-Wladow also played several rare conventional bids which had two possible meanings. They may have used coughs to indicate to partner which version they had. For example, in one hand in the final Elinescu opened a non-vulnerable 2NT, which for them showed either both minors or just Diamonds. Wladow’s odd bidding in response suggests he 'knew' his partner had the version with just Diamonds.
(Elinescu-Wladow convention card)
(WBF hand record)
(Bridge Winners article by Eddie Wold)
(Parody of Elinescu-Wladow convention card)

There is also a strong suspicion that there was cheating outside coughs, with Wladow exploiting the time when the screen door was open to signal to partner via sweeping hand movements and touching the bidding tray. The best guess here is that the code was to sweep his hand when he had 0-5 points, and not to sweep for stronger hands. It certainly looks odd in the video. However, this and the more exotic aspects of the coughing code have not been proven. With the Doctors still denying all accusations it is unlikely the full code will ever be known.
(German Bridge article June 2014)

How they were caught

"I’m sort of the hero of the bridge world right now for having caught them, everyone’s been dying to catch them for so long" (Eddie Wold, USA2 team)
(CBC radio interview)

The World Championship in Bali began with 22 senior teams. This was reduced to a field of eight (including the Scottish Senior Team of Willie Coyle, Derek Diamond, Gerald Haase, John Murdoch, Victor Silverstone and Iain Sime) for the quarter finals. The Doctors have long had a reputation as an eccentric pair, and suspicion of them was now widespread. At this point in the tournament the USA2 non playing captain Donna Compton started keeping an eye on them.

Germany progressed to the semi-final where they beat France. Phillip Vanhoutte, of the losing French team, said afterwards that "We lost, not because they cheated, but nervousness of having to meet: during the 16 boards I played against them, I mostly wasted my time trying to dissect their code".
(Bridge Winners article by Eddie Wold)

In the final Germany met USA2, in a match of six sets over two days. At this point Compton privately asked WBF Championship manager Maurizio Di Sacco to monitor the Doctors. The request was refused as at this point Compton was offering no new evidence.

In Set 3, just before the overnight break, Elinescu-Wladow sat down against the American pair of Eddie Wold and Mike Passell. When Wladow first coughed, Wold thought it sounded a little off. Then Elinescu coughed too, and Wold thought that sounded really forced. I’ve listened to the videos and I agree that Elinescu is definitely a less convincing cougher. Wladow is at least a bit throaty.

Wold decided to keep a note of how many coughs each player made. There’s no column for recording coughs on the standard score card, so he had to improvise:

(Eddie Wold's score card)

In the DLR AND VUL column the little numbers record the number of coughs the opponent made. For example, on Board 2 the small '2' is because North, coughed twice. This is that actual deal, which shows North does indeed have Diamond shortage:
(WBF hand record)

F 3-2
Dealer E
NS Vul
♠ J7652
♡ J984
♢ 3
♣ QJ2
♠ 983
♡ K5
♢ J65
♣ A6543
♠ T
♡ A732
♢ QT984
♣ 98
♠ AKQ4
♡ QT6
♢ AK7
♣ KT7
Pass3♣ Pass4♠

The German auction is also unusual. Why did South (Wladow) jump to 4♠? According to Compton’s report, when Eddie Wold questioned Wladow about his 4♠ bid the response was "I thought I had responded 3♠ and my partner had passed me out"
(USA2 analysis of final)

Wold soon noticed that the coughs were coming just after the Doctors picked up their hands, or just before the opening lead. He said "The real clincher came to me when my opponent seemed to lead [a Club] instantly after getting one cough from his partner. In the finals of a world championship, everyone takes a couple of seconds to think before putting their lead on the table, but not this opponent."
(Bridge Winners article by Eddie Wold)

At no point did Wold confront the Germany Team or call the tournament director, although he admits he was tempted. Instead at the end of the Set he gave his card to his captain, Donna Compton, who then went over the hand records and fully cracked the code.

That night at their team dinner the Americans discussed what to do. Some were reluctant to continue the match. Some suggested taking an excessive amount of cough sweets to offer their opponents, or coughing themselves to either obstruct the code, or just embarrass the Doctors into stopping. Instead Compton took the score card and a spreadsheet she had made linking coughs to deals back to Maurizio Di Sacco. This time the WBF decided there was enough evidence to take things further, and Di Sacco quietly placed his assistant Manolo Eminenti as the table operator with instructions to film the next set that featured Elinescu and Wladow. This would give a unique opportunity to catch the Doctors in the act.

When the cameras arrived one of the Americans improvised and said they must be broadcasting this match live. The Doctors didn’t suspect anything and Eminenti was able to observe and document the coughing. Germany went on to win the match by a narrow margin. Mike Passell of the losing USA2 team said "It was a long last day playing against a pair we knew were cheating."
(Bridge Winners article by Mike Passell)

Shortly after the tournament Donna Compton submitted a formal complaint and request for an inquiry to the WBF. The Doctors (along with the bridge playing world) were still unaware of the allegations, and they kept on entering tournaments. For example, a month later they played in the prestigious Cavendish pairs. To gather more evidence Di Sacco had asked the Cavendish tournament director Bertrand Gignoux to observe them whenever possible. Gignoux found that on all occasions where he was at their table the coughs matched the code, including this hand were South had two shortages:

♠ 4 ♡ KQT94 ♢ 6 ♣ AJT974

"South ... coughed two times then 10 seconds later, four times."
(Cavendish report)

The WBF held a hearing in March 2014, six months after the World Championship. The key finding of their report was that the Doctors were guilty of breaking Law 73B: "...The gravest possible offence is for a partnership to exchange information through prearranged methods of communication other than those sanctioned by these Laws."
(2007 Bridge Laws).

The coughing was linked to both showing shortages and suggesting opening leads. The hand movements and touching the tray were deemed "contrary to the screen regulations" but nothing more. Elinescu-Wladow were banned from playing together in any WBF event for life, and banned individually for 10 years. They were also requested to pay the costs of the hearing. The report cleared the rest of the Germany Team and the GBF of any wrongdoing.

The defence

"I have asthma, of course I cough a lot" (Entscho Wladow)
(Speigel article - Skandal bei Bridge).

Following the WBF hearing both the GBF and the Doctors appealed the decision.

When the WBF first announced their intention to hold a hearing there were immediate objections from the GBF. These objections took two forms. Firstly, they objected to the process itself, specifically that the hearing was to be in America, that one of the panel of three was American, and that the time of the hearing was inconvenient as it coincided with their AGM. They were offered the possibility of defending themselves on Skype, but refused this.
(GBF letter 13th March 2014)
(German Bridge article May 2014)
(Video of Ulrich Wenning speech)
(GBF letter 20th March 2014)

Secondly they objected to the evidence. Their letters to the WBF say that sometimes there were no coughs or five coughs, which didn’t match the code. They query why the video monitoring was removed for Set 6. They complain that with the strong air conditioning at the event lots of people were coughing, so it would have been hard to tell where each cough came from.

There are also interesting comments on the hand above (F 3-2) where Wold claimed to have questioned Wladow about his unusual 4♠. The GBF pointed out (correctly) that this would not have been possible as Wold and Wladow were on different sides of the screen. On that same board the American West Mike Passell found an inspired defence to beat the contract. He lead the ♣A then ♡K and continued Hearts to get a ruff, gaining 12 IMPs for his team. It is tactfully pointed out that this unlikely defence is no more remarkable than the unusual plays of the German Doctors: "We do not want to assume that the successful defense in Board ... came about on the basis of violating 73 B."

What undermines the GBF protest is that it was lead by its president, Ulrich Wenning, who unfortunately was also a gold-medal winning teammate of Elinescu-Wladow.

Following the hearing the GBF provisionally suspended the Doctors. They appealed their suspension, and lost the appeal, though the process is not yet finished.
(Neapolitan Club: Provisional Suspension for Elinescu and Wladow)
(Neapolitan Club: The GBF Appeal)

After the WBF report the GBF also commissioned their own independent investigation, lead by five top German players. This included more detailed analysis of the hands and leads, and also included testimony from a bridge playing physician who distinguished between imitation and real coughs. Real coughs, it said, are "mostly accompanied by body reactions - like a red head, leaning forward/nodding, twitching etc." This investigation reported in May 2014. It was "100% convinced that unauthorized information was exchanged". It accepted that there was coughing to show shortage, but not enough video footage to link coughs to opening leads or to rule on the suspicious hand movements. This therefore reversed the GBF’s earlier position that there was not enough evidence to conclude there was cheating. The report did maintain the GBF objections to the WBF hearing. The GBF appeal to the WBF therefore remains in place. The report says that this is because "It is important for the GBF’s Executive Committee to continue to be involved".
(GBF report May 2014)
(GBF press release)

The GBF are now considering their own disciplinary procedures against Elinescu-Wladow.

It is now only the German Doctors who protest their innocence. Wladow claims the videos might have been manipulated. In an interview with Der Spiegel he protests at the length of his ban, saying "In 10 years I could already be as dead as a mouse.", and calls the sentence "eine Frechheit" (an impudence).
(Spiegel article - Skandal bei Bridge)

The Aftermath

"This is the biggest scandal the GBF was ever exposed to" (Ulrich Wenning, GBF president)
(Speigel article - Skandal bei Bridge)

In the mainstream press the story has been reported as a scandal to interrupt the otherwise sedate world of bridge. Within the bridge world there has been a re-examination of many of the old hands bid by Elinescu-Wladow, with the thought that they probably achieved their good results by foul play.

Here are two example hands from the World Championship semi-final, where Elinescu-Wladow’s odd actions can be explained by their coughing code.
(WBF hand record)

SF 5-7
Dealer S
All Vul
♠ KJ73
♡ K95
♢ KQ
♣ K985
♠ A4
♡ T42
♢ A652
♣ AQ64
♠ QT652
♡ QJ7
♢ 9
♣ JT32
♠ 98
♡ A863
♢ JT8743
♣ 7
1NTPass Pass2♢

The 2♢ bid by South (Wladow) is very unusual, as his left hand opponent had made a natural 1♢ opening and he knew his partner had Heart tolerance. But as Mike Passell said "The Doctors cheated on every single hand - when they didn't cough, they had balanced hands." South would have known his partner had at least a doubleton Diamond, which makes bidding 2♢ a lot safer.
(Bridge Winners article by Mike Passell).

The result was 2♢+1, gaining 5 IMPs for the Germany Team when on the other table South played 2♡–1.
(WBF hand record)

SF 6-24
Dealer W
None Vul
♠ A854
♡ 8765
♢ 7
♣ J954
♠ –
♡ Q3
♢ KQ86432
♣ Q763
♠ KJT97
♡ AJ92
♢ JT
♣ T8
♠ Q632
♡ KT4
♢ A95
♣ AK2

On the other three tables South found a bid over 3♢, but here Wladow made an excellent Pass. This is much easier to do if you know partner has a singleton Diamond from his cough, and even easier if you somehow know he has a weak hand. The live commentator was baffled by the Pass: "South's decision to pass was well.....winning"

The result was 3♢–1, gaining 4 IMPs for Germany when their teammates defended 3NT–1.

Unhappy with simply cherry picking certain deals, American expert Kit Woolsey conducted an investigation to look for evidence of cheating on the opening lead. He made a systematic search of all the deals in the knockout stages of the World Championship were three conditions were met: the partner of the opening leader clearly wanted a particular suit lead; the opening leader wasn’t likely to lead that suit without help; the opening leader would honour his partner’s suggestion as he didn’t have his own suit to lead. To determine if these conditions were met he polled other experts, and came up with a list of 28 crucial hands. If the Doctors found the winning lead on those hand that would be consistent with a pair using illicit signals.
(Bridge Winners article by Kit Woolsey)

Here is an example hand which meets the criteria:
(WBF hand record)

QF 5-2
Dealer E
NS Vul
♠ 7
♡ K93
♢ AKQ3
♣ 87532
♠ Q84
♡ 7
♢ 98765
♣ JT64
♠ AKJT6532
♡ AJ2
♢ 2
♣ A
♠ 9
♡ QT8654
♢ JT4
♣ KQ

Wladow was South, and has a difficult choice of leads. There’s arguments for a trump (Spade), your suit (Heart) or from your King-Queen (Club). Only 5% of experts polled would lead a Diamond. However, now look at the North hand! With North coughing for a Diamond that lead is a lot more attractive, and Wladow found the ♢J at the table. Note that 6♠ still makes on any lead, but that is not relevant to the investigation.

A second example is the hand featured earlier (SF 6-24) where Elinescu found an unlikely Club lead to his partner’s Ace-King.

Out of the 28 hands that met Woolsey’s criteria a normal expert pair would find the unlikely winning lead by chance about 4 times. Elinescu-Wladow found it 15 times, which is statistically very significant. Of the 13 times they did not lead partner’s suit most of these are borderline cases where it’s unclear which suit you might want to cough for. But just for balance here is one counterexample where they made a bad lead which is hard to explain:
(WBF hand record)

F 2-24
Dealer W
None Vul
♠ J93
♡ 96
♢ Q8643
♣ 972
♠ K
♡ KJT8742
♢ 9
♣ AK84
♠ 752
♡ AQ5
♢ AJT75
♣ QJ
♠ AQT864
♡ 3
♢ K2
♣ T653

For a pair with coughing signals you would expect North (Elinescu) to find a Spade lead to his partner’s strong suit. Instead he chose a Diamond. We’ll never know why!

What happens next

"We are considered by the world bridge population as the true winners, but whether we actually get the medal or not remains to be determined."(Eddie Wold)
(CBC radio interview)

There are several appeals still outstanding. The GBF are still appealing some aspects of the initial WBF hearing, and the Doctors are appealing both the WBF hearing and their ban by the GBF. There is also the matter of what disciplinary procedures if any the GBF will now bring against the Doctors.

However, for almost everyone the Doctors’ guilt is now firmly established, and the main issue is whether the Germany Senior Team will keep their World Championship title.

Donna Compton’s letters to the WBF specifically requested Germany lose their gold medals and USA2 be promoted to 1st place. This is following the Olympic charter, which the Bridge charter is based on, where if a competitor or team is disqualified everyone else is moved up one place. However, the WBF hearing makes no mention of disqualifying the Germany Team. Mike Passell of USA2 said "I found the rest of the Germany Team to be great gentleman and of high ethical standards. I will be surprised if these fine gentlemen have any interest in keeping their gold medals under these circumstances." For now though they are keeping their gold medals, and the WBF website still lists Germany as the winners.
(USA2 request for inquiry)
(USA2 formal complaint)
(Bridge Winners article by Mike Passell)
(WBF website)

Further interesting links:
(Karlkjunk article: Coughing Fits)
(Donna Compton's website: German Coughing Scandal)
(Neapolitan Club: various articles)
(Bridge Base Forums)
(Bridge Winners article of suspicious hands)