Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Misbidding big hands

Me and Anna went for Sushi last night then the Buchanan pairs. I had a duck mix served in a lettuce leaf instead of a plate, and we scored 60%. This was good enough for 7th out of 50 pairs (top score 67.95% by John Donaldson and Sandy Wilson). Here's two slam hands we bodged:


South opened with a fairly textbook Weak Three in Clubs. I was sitting West with 20 points, a Club stop, and solid Hearts. What should I bid? I could have bid a risky 3NT going for a matchpoint top, or doubled then bid Hearts. Jake taught me well last week at the New Melville Congress (see report here) that with a single suited hand it's best not to double, as partner might pass your double.

My hand isn't quite single suited here, but I think double is still dangerous. Whatever partner bids you're then in trouble for your next bid, and it might be hard to get your strength across. That's why I went for an immediate 4♥ bid, which I think describes my hand perfectly - a very strong hand with good Hearts, and certainly not a preempt after the opponents have preempted.

[Edit - from a discussion with Martin Stephens and the 'panel', which I would guess includes Phil Stephens, I've been informed that actually 4♥ here shows a slightly weaker and more distributional hand. With my actual hand I should in fact double, and trust that partner will take realise when I bid again I've got a monster. For example, after my double Anna could jump to 4♠, then I bid 5♥ to show a big hand with Hearts and Anna raises to 6♥]

Anna wasn't sure about the 4♥ bid, so took the cautious route and passed. She has a great hand to play in Hearts, and so I made an easy 12 tricks. One interesting point in the play - after drawing trumps I lead the ♠J, which North ducked, presumably in case partner had a singleton ♠K. I then fancied I had a chance of making all 13 tricks, as I discarded my ♠K from hand on the extra Diamond in dummy, then ruffed a Spade. If North had started with just ♠Ax the Ace would have come down and all of dummy's Spades would be winners.

Surprisingly, 4♥+2 scored an undeserved 52%, as a few tables only made 11 tricks, and the slam was bid only twice. This was a very conservative field. That's why we scored so poorly for overbidding this one:


This time it's Anna who has a big hand and gets preempted. When North opens 2♥ she opted to double; I would have gone for an immediate 3NT. In response to her double I bid 3♦, although I'm maybe nearly good enough for 4♦. Anna then leapt to 5♦, which is pretty ambitious as I could be sitting opposite her with a 0 count and 4 small Diamonds. Since I had so much more than that, and expected at least 4 card support, I topped up to 6♦.

North lead the ♣J. You can see the contract ought go down, with a Club and Spade loser, but the interesting thing is how to play it to maximize your chances to sneak home. I think that's something expert players do very well, play to get a mistake from the opponents rather than giving up when they know they can't make it. I reasoned that there was no way North could have the ♣K for the ♣J lead, so the finesse was bound to fail. I went up with the ♣A, fearing South would win the King and give a ruff. This is foolish, as since no one else is bidding slam I'm going to get exactly the same score for 6♦-1 and 6♦-2 and I shouldn't worry about the ruff. In fact if I finesse the ♣Q, and South wins she's then got a tough problem. If she returns a Club, quite reasonably expecting partner to have a singleton Club, I can then set up my Clubs, discard Spades, and make the contract. An opportunity missed.

On 25 tables, no one else bid 6♦. So our 6♦-1 was worth just 8% of the matchpoints, as we beat the pair in 6♣-1 and drew with those in 5♣-1.

As Anna said afterwards "5♦ was a good contract, why didn't you just leave it in that?"

Sunday, 27 April 2014

New Melville Bridge Congress 2014 - Part Two (Teams)

This is Part Two of my report of the New Melville Bridge Congress. Part One was the pairs, see here.

After the pairs finished we dashed to the pub for lunch, and some analysis of the afternoon's play. Two veggie burgers and two hot dogs. As the official results weren't in yet the main aim was to determine which pair had done better. With an ad-hoc BAM scoring system me and John concluded we'd won, but since neither pair did well at all we decided to switch the partnerships for the teams. I would re-unite with Jake, and Martin would play with John.

Me and Jake have played together competitively about once a year, beginning with a valiant but doomed attempt to win the Portland Bowl cup for Edinburgh University (see here). We have settled into a system of Weak NT (11-14), five card majors, and Rubensohl even though I'm not too sure how to play it.

The Teams Tournament consisted of only four matches, each of six boards. To give myself an extra boost of freshness I changed my T-shirt before the first round.

Match One: 20-0 (Total 20/20 VPs)

In our first match me and Jake were against Derek Sanders and Cath Dempsie, while Martin and Jake played Deirdre Sanders and Michael Marshall.

There were two big hands. Firstly, I doubled the opponents in 5♦, holding ♠ AK952 ♥ T94 ♦ - ♣ AQT63 . It was slightly risky, and I got very worried when Derek said he was thinking about redoubling. But I made my three top tricks, and opposite my Diamond void partner had five of them, so also got two trump tricks and it went three off. On another board Martin and John also collected an 800 penalty. These two hands were enough for us to win the match by 28 IMPs, which translated into 20-0 VPs. A flying start!

I should also apologise to everyone for Board 4, which I played painfully slowly, eking out a tortuous 3NT+1.

Match Two: 20-0 (Total 40/40 VPs)

Remarkably we kept things going in the second round, playing against Liz Barr and Ritchie Thompson's team. Jake bid an aggressive 4♠ which they missed at another table, and I eked out another 3NT by ducking a lot. Those were both game swings in. On the other table Jake and Martin collected yet another +800 when Martin punished a poor 4♠. Collectively those three good scores lead to +27 IMPs and another 20-0 win. That meant that whatever happened we were bound to finish on at least half marks.

Match Three: 20-0 (Total 60/60 VPs)

On this round against John Hamilton's team we got a bit of luck resulting in two game swings. John and Martin missed this slam, but so did the opposition. I think it's very hard to bid:

You can see that East-West have a big Diamond fit. There's just one loser in Hearts, as all the losing Spades go on the top Clubs. Even if you miss the slam 5♦ is a much better contract than 3NT, which needs Hearts 4-4.

Here's three attempts to bid the hand. I've starred the conventional bids.


The first one is from the opponents at my table. After the 1♦ opening there's an inverted minors response of 2♦, then East bids 2♥ to show a minimum (says nothing about Hearts) and West jumps to 3NT. Against 3NT I duly lead the ♥K and we got our four tricks. The second table is Martin and John bidding. This time after the inverted minor they used 3♦ to show a minimum, then West bid a natural 3♥. East didn't have enough in Spades to bid 3NT so bid 3♠, then West bid 3NT. What's the point of inverted minors if all it does is get you to 3NT?

The best auction I think was the third table from Derek Sanders and Cath Dempsie. East opens 1♦, West replies a natural 1♥ and East rebids 2♣. West has a powerful hand and jumps to 5♦. If instead of 5♦ West instead goes for a forcing 4♦, or fourth suit forcing you've a decent chance of finding the slam. On 24 tables 6♦ was bid only once, by Liz McGowan and David Liggatt I think.

Scoring up at the end of this match was more good news, we had enough IMPs for another 20-0 win.

Match Four: 12-8 (Total 72/80 VPs)

Going into the final round we were on 60 VPS out of 60, and our closest opponent on 45 VPs. This was the team of Irene Sime and David Kaye, who we had to play next. We all worked out that even if we lost the match by 17-3 (but no more), we would still win overall. I was terrified we were going to lose 20-0. I was pretty tired by now and went on a raid to the kitchen to get some tea. All I found was an old silver tin, which it turned out contained Earl Grey's, one each for me and Jake.

I was hoping for six flat boards. The first one ought to have been flat but I was too shy to rebid my Hearts, and so I landed Jake in a horrible 3♦-1 while the other table was easily making 4♥. Apart from some rather silly bidding with John in the morning, this was my only big blunder of the day. It cost us 10 IMPs.

This next board produced a heated debate in the Whigwam pub afterwards.

What do you open with the East hand? On our table the opponents opened 2♣, then rebid Clubs and got to a reasonable 5♣ contract. This went one off when the defence got two Spades and a Diamond - bad luck. When John and Martin sat East-West John opened the East cards 2NT [Edit - I had this backwards before, but I'm informed it was definitely John who opened 2NT]. Martin raised to 3NT and South lead a top Spade, the ♠A. The only signal the defence had available was for attitude, so when North discouraged South switched to another suit. What a relief for declarer! John took his ten tricks and we gained back 13 IMPs. On a different table when Derek was sitting East he instead opened 1♣, overcalled by South. He then twice cuebid Spades to try and encourage partner to bid 3NT. On the second time of asking Cath sitting West decided her ♠764 was a good enough stop and bid 3NT. North, not unreasonably, thought the opponents had Spades stopped so lead a Diamond. 3NT+1!

I have to admit if I was East I would have opened the hand 2NT. Of course it's not ideal, but so often you can make 3NT even when it's a bad contract (as happened here on two tables). However, Jake is adamant that 1♣ is the best bid. I now agree, as long as you are playing with a partner and opponents who will make sure the bidding doesn't die in 1♣.

These were not the flat boards were were hoping for. On the next one Martin had a big hand and launched himself all the way to 5♠. This went off one, for a game swing out. But then he got another good hand and this time propelled himself to an excellent 6♥, making +1 and not bid at the other table. Must have been stressful for John, with weak hands each time watching partner make forcing bid after forcing bid.

After those ups and downs the last two boards were mercifully dull, and in the end we won the match by 3 IMPs to give a 12-8 win in VPs. This gave us a stonking 72 VPs overall, and clear first place. I think we were pretty lucky, and just happened to have four good matches. Since the tournament only had four rounds there wasn't much scope for the best teams coming through, and expect with more rounds we might have slipped back a bit. It's odd we all did well in the teams having done poorly in the pairs; and similarly I noted that the two that won the pairs came last in the teams.

In conclusion: a famous win.

New Melville Bridge Congress 2014 - Part One (Pairs)

What a day! The New Melville Bridge Club is in Edinburgh, right next to the zoo. Me and John Faben got the early bus across from Glasgow and met the rhinos, gibbons, tapirs, and of course the pandas:

Yang Guang and Tian Tian

This was a very relaxing way to spend the morning and I will try and do the same before each bridge tournament.

At the club we were the last pair to arrive. We curtly acknowledged Martin Stephens and Jake Corry, who would be our team mates later in the day but for now were just another opposing pair. Altogether there were 55 pairs in the tournament. Two years ago I think John won the event playing with Phil Stevens. Last year, with a generous handicap boosting our score, me and Anna came 3rd and Jake and Martin second. Read my report of last year's congress here.

This year instead of Anna I was playing with John. We were playing a terrible system we'd devised called Puppet Culbertson. It consisted of normal Acol, with the addition of two conventions, Firstly, we would use Puppet Stayman wherever possible, even though neither of us really understood it (or maybe he did, but I didn't). Secondly, and more fundamentally, all slam auctions would be conducted using the Culbertson New Asking Bid. This means that once trumps are agreed any new suit bid asks partner if they have control in that suit. I'd just written an article about this convention in the Scottish Bridge News, and was delighted that John had agreed to play it with me.

Armed with our makeshift system, could me and John evoke the spirit of Culbertson and cut through the field and surge to triumph? No. Could we finish above 50%? No. Could we even beat Martin and Jake? Sadly not.

We had one early triumph, where I deliberately bid wildly and it paid off.


South and West passed and North opened 1♥. I had the East hand. Probably the right bid is 2♦, but with partner having already passed I decided to pre-empt. Also, I calculated that there was virtually no chance of making a Puppet Stayman or Asking Bid on this auction, so we might as well get the hand over quickly. I bid an immediate 4♦. This puts South under pressure. I would definitely have bid something, not sure what, but she passed.

South lead a Heart against 4♦. When I saw dummy I was pleased John had such a weak hand, so thought the opponents probably had a game somewhere which they've missed. Although they only have a seven card Heart fit they're almost certain to make 4♥, and also 5♣ is easy. Also, as the hand record above shows, if North is declarer he can make lots of tricks in No Trumps. I know on Jake's table North-South did bid 5♣ so East-West sacrificed in 5♦x-1. Luckily I was only in 4♦, and I've a good chance of actually making it. On my table the defence cashed their two top Hearts then North lead another Heart. I was able to ruff high and start on Clubs, in the end just losing two Hearts and a Club to make +130. This was a top score for East-West, but strangely only got us 98%. Looking at the results here, there are a few results where someone should have got 0% or 100% but instead got 2% or 98%. Don't suppose it matters much. Anyway, that was our best board. I followed this success by doubling 2NT on the next deal, which declarer made with a healthy three overtricks.

About half way through the event me and John were doing quite well. There was one Puppet Stayman 'success', where we accidentally missed our 4-4 Heart fit but ended up making 10 tricks in 3NT for a good score. But then came Culbertson Corner. For one round we were sat right in the corner of the room, and unfortunately for us, both boards gave me an opportunity to use our slam bidding convention, which I eagerly took. On the first one, John wasn't playing ball:


John opened the West hand 1♦, and I got very excited sitting East. Straight away I'm thinking slam. I've got a Diamond fit and five losers. I know it's matchpoints, and we should look for a major fit, but if I bid 1♥ it might be hard to set Diamonds as trumps later. I decided to make an immediate Asking Bid in 4♥. The question mark in the auction above indicates that 4♥ is an Asking Bid, not that it's a dubious bid (it's textbook). The bid is supposed to set Diamonds as trumps and ask partner for second round control in Hearts. We'd discussed on the bus that Asking Bids are normally at the four level, so even though 3♥ would be basically the same, I decided to keep it simple and bid 4♥. John went into a think. Was he trying to recall the Culbertson Table of responses to Asking Bids? No, he was wondering if 4♥ was natural. In the end he passed. Disaster.

South lead the ♣A against 4♥. I decided that my goal for the hand was to not show any emotion and give away that we'd had a mix up. Secondary to that I would try and make the contract. I didn't think that mattered much as everyone else would be scoring better for being in a slam. But the ♣A revived my interest, and I now actually had a decent chance of making it. I crossed to the ♦A and finessed the ♥7. South won the ♥Q and returned a Spade. I went up with the ♠J, so now had only two top Spade winners. I cashed these, along with two Clubs, managed to sneak three Diamonds by the defence, and finally a Spade from table trapped North's ♥KT under my ♥AJ so I lost just two Hearts and a Diamond for 4♥=.

It was fun to make such a poor contract, and enjoyed playing it recklessly quickly - normal speed for everyone else I expect. But would we get any Matchpoints? Thank goodness for Jake and Martin. They bid to 6♠, and went off, as did a few other tables, so we got 34% for +420. John said afterwards that he was thinking about replying to my Asking Bid, but knew the proper response was 6♦, showing second round control in my asked suit (Hearts) and the outside Ace of Diamonds. He didn't want to leap to 6♦, but it would have been a great result. Got to trust the system John, don't argue with Culbertson.

Perhaps overly concerned by missing slam on that Board, on the next one I got rather carried away. In a competitive auction John invited me to game, and with a shapely 6 point hand I decided that actually game wasn't enough. I drove us to a terrible slam via not one but two Asking Bids. I'll not reprint it, as no one will benefit by seeing that auction again. When dummy came down I was delighted it actually had some play. How do you fancy 6♠ by East?

South lead the ♣A, and then switched to the ♦K. At the time I assumed that she had ♦KQ, but looking at it now that was a very bold switch to the ♦K. It didn't matter here. It was all about the Heart suit. I drew trumps, (carefully unblocking the ♠8 so I still had an entry to dummy) then played three rounds of Hearts. If they were 3-3 I was home. They weren't though.

There's a hand in The Bridge Memoirs of Robin Hood by David Bird where Robin and his partner make a slam, and the opponents exclaim in surprise. Just 21 points between you and no singleton or void, how did you do it? We had only 21 points there, and no singleton or void, that could have been our Robin Hood moment. Instead we were the only East-West pair to get a negative score on the board, and duly got 2%.

Overall we finished on 47.7%, just behind Martin and Jake. Not a victory for Puppet Culbertson, but also we didn't play or defend very well. Congratulations to the winner Dilys Gellatly and Marjorie Murray who scored an excellent 64.36%. Full results on the New Melville website.

Friday, 25 April 2014

I demand a recount - Deal of the Week #19

Here's a fun deal from this Thursday lunch time, which features far too much bidding and not enough passing.

Dealer South
EW vul
♠ Q J T 9 7
♥ A J x
♦ x
♣ J x x x
♠ -
♥ x x x
♦ A K x x x x x
♣ x x x
♠ K 8 6 3
♥ T x x x
♦ x x
♣ A Q x
♠ A 5 4 2
♥ K Q x
♦ Q J x
♣ K T x

NC dealt and opened the South hand 1♠, eschewing the more obvious Strong 1NT. AP sitting West jumped in with 3♦, nicely describing his hand. JW sitting North likes the Spades but holds back and bids only 3♠. I was sitting East. I thought there was a decent chance that my partner meant 3♦ as a strong hand, so I felt I ought to support him. No bid seemed right (a good indicator you should pass), but nonetheless I pulled out a bid of 4♦. South has a flat average hand with lots of defence so should pass this, but instead bid 4♠. West should then also pass, having shown his hand the first time with 3♦, but instead bid again with 5♦. North now had a think, and rather than passing (then partner doubles), he bid a reckless 5♠. That's four bids in a row, one from each player, where I think they should have passed but instead they bid. Finally, I ended the auction with a double, delighted to have avoided playing 5♦x (four off, -1100).

NC was declarer in the high pressure contract of 5♠x. West began naturally enough with a top Diamond, then switched to a Club, and I took my ♣A and returned a Diamond, ruffed in dummy. Declarer now needs the rest. You can see that with the Club and Spade finesses working he should be OK, as long as he can arrange entries to dummies to finesse in both suits. NC was already in dummy with the Diamond ruff and duly finessed in Spades, three times, finally snaring my useless ♠K. He could now cross to the ♥A and finesse in Clubs, risking going two off it loses. Instead he cashed all his Heart winners and the ♣K, finishing in hand. He got down to just one card left, and I was sitting East deciding which I should keep - the top remaining Heart or the top remaining Club? I had a think and shrewdly worked that declarer must have a Heart left, so chucked away my master Club. Except, of course, I was wrong, declarer had one more Club and duly scored the ♣T to make 5♠x. Big points to NC and JW.

Not sure how I miscounted. I was sure partner only had two Hearts, leaving declarer with four. One of them went missing somewhere!

With that big score NC and JW took an unassailable lead in the week.

Clearly we were shuffling well because this was the next hand:

S deal
♠ K Q x x x x
♥ K
♦ -
♣ K Q x x x x
♠ A
♥ x x x x x x
♦ K x x
♣ A J T

How do you get to 6♣?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Thwarted in Sicily

Me and Anna just had a one week holiday in Sicily. I'd found Bridge Clubs in both Catania (here) and Palermo (here) but sadly we didn't make it to either club. They both appeared to meet every day, with sessions at 1730 and 2130, but on the day we wanted there was only attività sociale which we didn't fancy.

Mount Etna

By way of compensation, we played on Bridge Base on the first day back. Here's a hand I bodged horribly, in both the bidding and the play. The Italians would not have been impressed. IMP scoring, everyone vulnerable:

Anna sitting South opened 1♦, and West overcalled 1♥. I now have a bit of a dilemma sitting North. I have Diamond support, but after the overcall if I bid either 2♦ or 3♦ that's weak. Since I had weak Diamonds, and a balanced hand with a Heart stop, I instead bit 2NT (11 points is too good for 1NT). What I maybe should have done is make a cuebid of 2♥, which we play as good support for opener, after which Anna would have possibly signed off in 3♦, or bid 2♠ after which I bid 2NT then she signs off in 3♦.

Against 2NT East inevitably lead a Heart, the ♥T. I could have taken this but felt confident of getting my ♥Q in the end, so ducked the first three rounds of Hearts and won the fourth. I can now make the contract fairly easily as Diamonds are 2-2, by just giving up one Diamond, which along with the four Hearts means the defence only have five tricks. If it turns out that Diamonds don't split I can switch to finessing in Spades and Clubs, which will also get me up to eight tricks if both finesses work.

Instead, I went for the finesses straight away. After winning my Heart I wanted to keep East off lead so lead up to the ♣A then the ♣J, losing to East's Queen. Although the Club avoidance play makes sense, keeping West off lead, it's much better to take the Spade finesse first, keeping your Clubs to help you unblock the Spades. Even if my Club finesse had worked I still wouldn't have been able to get all my tricks as the Spades are tangled. After the Club lost I switched to playing on Diamonds, and when they came in went one off, in total losing four Hearts, one Club (un-neccesarily) and one Diamond. 2NT-1 lost about 8 IMPs, as a few North-South pairs were actually making 5♦. A lucky contract but at least they had the right trump suit.

Next week the Melville Congress in Edinburgh with Jake, John and Martin.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Sole Bay Bridge Club

Me and Anna are regular visitors to Southwold in Suffolk, but last Wednesday was the first time we'd been to the Bridge Club. There was a very warm welcome, and we had a fun time. I can tell you that no other club I've played at is as vigilant for dropped pens. Three times I left mine behind, and every time someone quickly sprung up to return it. When I attempted to steal another pair's pen they were just as quick.

Although the company was lively, the boards were flat that night. We defended a lot of 1NT contracts. I played quite well, until the last board of the night when I bodged it. I threw away the ♣T, forgetting that the ♣J had already been played. This cost the contract, but more importantly cost me my moral authority, so I was no longer able to criticise Anna for her (alleged) blunders. Anna was delighted at my mistake, and kept mentioning it when we were at The Sole Bay Inn afterwards.

Here's one hand which we defended well (after drinking too much Broadside this is how I remember it):

Dealer North
No one Vul
♠ Q T x
♥ A x x x
♦ x
♣ A x x x x
♠ A K J x x x x x
♥ K J x
♦ x
♣ J
♠ x x
♥ x x
♦ A J T x x x
♣ x x x
♠ -
♥ Q T x x
♦ K Q x x x
♣ K Q x x

Anna sitting North passed and so did East. I was sitting South and opened 1♦, planning to rebid 2♣. But I didn't get the chance, as West came straight in with a massive 4♠ bid. Most people at the club play strong jump overcalls, but I don't suppose that matters when it's 4♠. Anna doubled the 4♠, and it was back round to me as South. I've got a Spade void but I trust that Anna has a decent hand, so I passed. With her two Aces and three Spades she reckoned she had three defensive tricks.

The normal lead against a doubled contract is a trump, but Anna couldn't afford to lead a Spade so went for her singleton Diamond, even though she doesn't really want a ruff. If declarer guesses Hearts right there's only three tricks to lose, a Spade, Club and Heart. But, if you are unlucky and guess Hearts wrong, it magically ends up costing you a further trick.

Here's how it happened: declarer won the opening Diamond lead with an Ace, and lead a Heart up. She guessed to play the ♥K, which is probably right as South did open the bidding. North won with the ♥A, and played ♣A and another Club. Declarer ruffed in hand, and played another Heart, getting ready for the ruff. I won this Heart in South, and lead a Diamond, ruffed by declarer and over-ruffed by North. North then lead another Club, which declarer ruffed. She then finally got her Heart ruff. However, the catch was that declarer was now stuck in dummy, and only had Diamonds left. She had to lead a Diamond back to her hand, and so North ended up getting another trump trick by over-ruffing. So in the end the defence came to two Hearts, two Spades and a Club, for 4♠x-2 and +300.

I'm not sure if this was a good score, but I reckon it probably was, as not everyone will double 4♠, and a few declarer's might make it. If North-South play they can make 3NT I think, but it's not a great contract.

Thanks again to the Southwold Bridge Club for a good evening, I hope we'll be back soon.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Not as good as Robin Hood

Me and Anna have both been reading the excellent Robin Hood series of bridge books my David Bird. Robin is usually the hero, and will smile pleasantly when Maid Marian raises him into an impossible contract, which he then makes by some clever method. Last Friday at St. Andrew Bridge Club neither me or Anna was playing like Robin Hood, and we were lucky to finish on as much as 44%.

Despite misdefending many hands, and giving gifts to nearly every table we played against, there were a few highlights. Three times I had long suits and high level decisions to make, and each time I got it right, pushing the opponents just enough but not overbidding myself. This got us good plus scores for defending 4♠-1 on Board 8 (when we refused to sacrifice in 5♣), 5♥-1 on Board 13 (when I chose not to bid 5♠ even though I had eight of them) and 5♠x-1 on Board 17.

In my featured hand below it's Anna with a tricky decision to make.

Board 25
Dealer North
EW Vul
♠ A 8
♥ 5 4
♦ 8 4 3
♣ K J T 8 7 4
♠ K Q 6 5
♥ J 7
♦ Q J 7 2
♣ 6 5 2
♠ J T 7 4
♥ K Q T 9 3 2
♦ A 5
♣ 3
♠ 9 3 2
♥ A 8 6
♦ K T 9 6
♣ A Q 9

Anna sitting East has only ten points, but a nice hand with both majors so opened 1♥. South has 13 points, but has no bid, so passed. I was sitting West and started with a 1♠ bid. North then bid 2♣. Playing weak jump overcalls, and especially at favourable vulnerability, I would have gone for 3♣ instead. The advantage of that is when East then bids 3♠ over your 3♣ West doesn't know how strong the 3♠ is. After the 2♣ overcall when East jumps to 3♠ (as she did) that shows good support in Spades and a six loser hand. It's also a bit pre-emptive, as Anna could have bid 3♣ with a really good hand. South has good support for partner and bid 4♣. West has eight losers opposite partner's six, and nothing wasted in Clubs, so bids 4♠. North then had another look at the vulnerability and sacrificed in 5♣. Anna sitting East passed this, but when it came back round to me sitting West I doubled. This is mostly because 5♣ feels like a sacrifice, but also because I've got a fairly flat hand so don't mind defending.

When the double came back round to Anna, she was a bit nervous about passing. She has shown a decent opening hand, but has only 10 HCP, which might be a lot less defence than partner expects. Me and Anna have had a few blunders where we've wrongly rescued partner's penalty double, but mostly now we just pass them out. Anna did pass out 5♣x.

There's not a lot to the play. Declarer has only nine tricks (six Clubs, one in each other suit), and with a flat dummy no chance of any extra. 5♣x-2 was worth +300 to us. This was worth 75% of the matchpoints. The double was important, as it took us from +100 to +300 and passed all the pairs sitting East-West making part scores. And what about East making 4♠? The three tables playing in Spades all made ten tricks, although it can be beaten if North leads a Diamond either on the opening lead or after winning the trump Ace.

My second hand features Anna wilfully ignoring the advice of Bernard Magee, and getting away with it. We subscribe to Bridge Magazine, edited by the wonderful Mr. Bridge. The last few issues have had an Acol Bidding Quiz on the front cover, by Bernard Magee. Each question subtly illustrates a particular point in bidding, which people often get wrong. Try this question, in Bridge Issue 133 from January this year:

The answer, says Bernard, is easy once you understand the auction. With a good hand East would double the 1NT. So his 2♠ must be a weak hand with a lot of Spades. West must therefore pass. A link to the full online version of Bridge Issue 132 is here.

This was the auction me and Anna had on Board 16. Not quite the same, but similar:

Board 16
Dealer West
EW vul
♠ 8
♥ J 9 6 4 3
♦ Q 4
♣ 9 8 7 6 3
♠ Q T 9 7 6 5 3
♥ T 8 5
♦ 9 8 7
♠ A K 4
♥ Q 7
♦ A K 6 3
♣ Q T 4 2
♠ J 2
♥ A K 2
♦ J T 5 2
♣ A K J 5

I've got the exciting West hand. I thought about opening a Weak Two in Spades, reasoning that my seventh Spade might balance only having two points. I think this would have worked OK on this deal, we still get to 4♠, but on other auctions partner might expect me to have slightly more defence. So I passed. Anna sitting East opened 1♣, and South has an easy 1NT overcall, showing 15-17 and a good Club stop. It's now time for me to show my Spades. I remembered Bernard Magee's Acol Bidding Quiz and made a weak sign off in 2♠. I was then rather alarmed when Anna raised to 4♠. I think she might have suspected that I had a normal two level overcall (10+ points, 5+ Spades), rather than a hand two weak for a Weak Two.

4♠ was passed out, and when I saw dummy I was greatly relieved. I have seven top Spades, two top Diamonds, and am very likely to get a Heart ruff for my tenth trick. Whenn North lead a Diamond I won in dummy and immediately started on Hearts. This is necessary just in case trumps are 3-0, in which case drawing even one round of trumps could mean I've no trumps left in dummy by the time I get my Heart ruff. I did finish with ten tricks, then wondered if I could have done more to try and develop a Club trick, by ruffing out the Clubs, though in fact that wouldn't work here.

Making 4♠ was worth 69%. Everyone playing in Spades made 10 tricks, except one 4♠-1 and one 4♠x+1. The best score for North-South was South playing 1NT (presumably after a 1NT overcall and West passes). This made a remarkable ten tricks, which means that West definitely didn't lead a Spade.

Full results from St. Andrew's here, well done to Donald Kennedy & Alasdair Forbes winning on the evening with 63%.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Notes on a Scandal

This is my first report about the German Coughing Scandal - replaced by a longer piece for the SBU news available here.

I was very surprised when someone told me that they'd seen a story about Bridge in a newspaper. Of course, it was the cheating scandal, where the German Senior Pair of Michael Elinescu and Entscho Wladow have had their gold medals from last year's world championship removed, for coughing to each other to give special signals. They have also been banned from World Bridge Federation (WBF) events for life as a pair, and for ten years individually.

The German team. Wladow then Elinescu are on the far left.

I've been looking into this. It was an impressive investigation by the WBF, and I am satisfied the German pair are guilty.

Here's a summary of their coughing code. There's two opportunities to cough. Firstly, you can cough once you've got your cards and before the auction starts to show a void or singleton, using this code:

1 cough Club shortage
2 coughs Diamond shortage
3 coughs Heart shortage
4 coughs Spade shortage

Secondly, just before your partner makes the opening lead you can cough to indicate which suit you want lead, with the same code as before.

Apparently, there's long been a suspicion of this German pair. They are known to be not especially ethical, and have in the past for example just said they "can't remember" to defend themselves in tricky situations. They were investigated in 2008 and 2009 with no conclusion. The USA team wanted them monitored for this final, but the WBF refused. So one of the USA team, Eddie Wold, took it upon himself to discreetly note down on his scorecard when the coughs occurred, so he could later match this up with the hands they had. After showing this evidence to the WBF, they agreed to install video cameras (which happens often anyway, so isn't too suspicious) for the next two segments of the final. Based on this, they've been convicted, in a hearing which just happened in the USA.

Here's all the relevant links I've found, if you want to find out more:

  • Summary from The Telegraph Newspaper here.
  • Initial Request from USA for this pair to be investigated, including Spreadsheet matching coughs to hands here.
  • Full technical report of the WBF hearing here.
  • Video feed of the final here.
  • Rebuttal from German Bridge Union here.
  • Article from a few years ago subtly implying the pair is up to something here.

The initial request from the USA also has several further allegations, suggesting a more complicated cheating code involving how they pick up their cards. The rebuttal from the Germans is interesting, and points out that sometimes the coughs don't match the alleged code. I watched a bit of the video myself. It makes for very dull viewing, and as you can't actually see the cards you can't work out if the coughs are matching or not. I did notice one bit though where Elinescu is on lead and Wladow doesn't cough at all.

One things for sure - there'll be plenty of gags next time someone accidentally coughs at the bridge club!

Read my full report here.