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)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Deal of the Week - End of Year Review

Never mind the SQA exams the real test happens every lunch-time on the bridge table. This year the team of NC and JW have been attempting to overcome the incumbent champions AP, TB and ID. At one point NC-JW were losing the series by 13 weeks to 16, before a hot streak took them to 19-16 with five weeks to go. There was talk of a dormie, whatever that is. They were pegged back to 19-18 before clinching the series last week by 20-18.

As NC says, "you've got to have something to look forward to" and I've really enjoyed the bridge this year. I've no doubt they've also benefitted from my experience and accurate use of bridge phrases, such as "Tartan Twos", "Sputnik Doubles", "Swan distribution", "Texas transfers" and "SOS redouble".

Here are some collected highlights taken from throughout the year:

Lunch Bridge - Deal of the Week #1

I've started a new job, and luckily there's a game of bridge at lunch time. It's rubber bridge, which I'm not so familiar with, and it's taking me a little time to learn the local bidding system ...

Slam Down Smackdown - Deal of the Week #3

It's only Monday, but I've already got a hand of the week.

Before this deal NC complained of not having had a good hand since 2008, but he got one here and opened 1♦ as South. There was then a bit of confusion as North-South realised they already had 60 towards a game, and they nearly stopped in 2♦. But with me egging him on and the lunch break nearly over, NC was talked into 6♦.

NS vul
W deal
♠ x x x
♥ K Q x
♦ T x
♣ A K 8 7 x
♠ x x x
♥ x x x
♦ Q x x
♣ Q T 9 x
♠ K Q x
♥ J x x x x
♦ x x
♣ x x x
♠ A J T x
♥ A x
♦ A K J 9 8 x
♣ J

AP found the best lead for the defence with a Spade, and with the trump finesse losing (and no way to set up Clubs) NC had to finish in 6♦-1. I hope he doesn't hold it against me.

The decider - Deal of the Week #4

After Monday to Thursday it was all square - this week's lunchtime bridge league all comes down to Friday. With five minutes left, TB and ID needed a game. It's a pressure cooker.

Before picking up his cards, TB sitting checked the score and declares he was going to bid whatever he has. Then he opened 1♦. But wait! It's not his deal. NC sitting West was having none of it and got in first by opening 1♥...

Deal of Last Week - Deal of the Week #6

The Joke of the Week was about a Cheese Factory, but unfortunately none of the bridge this week caught my eye enough to feature in the Blog. The closest was a hand where I coffee-housed NC into bidding an excellent 3NT. I then had to leave the room suddenly, just as his opponents were cashing the first five Club tricks for 3NT-1. I maintain it was a fine contract.

Luckily there's some unresolved business to write about from Last Week. A deal so big it has stretched over the weekend to become this week's featured deal. With NC and JW hundreds of points behind on Friday lunch-time, they needed some magic. It didn't happen the first hand, or the second, but then came this golden opportunity.

♠ A Q T x x
♥ x x
♦ A J x x x
♣ x
♠ -
♥ K Q x x x x
♦ T x x x
♣ A x x
♠ x
♥ J x x
♦ K Q x
♣ Q T 9 x x x
♠ K J x x x x x
♥ A x
♦ x
♣ K J x

JW immediately opened the South hand 4♠. No time for messing around. No one quite knew the score, but it looked like he needed at least a small slam. I advised North to bid "at least a small slam", and he wisely went for just 6♠.

ID sitting West considered his lead. He was tempted by the ♣A. This would have been the right lead against 7♠, where you only need one trick. But against 6♠, you need two tricks. So the best lead is a high Heart. This will probably lose to the ♥A, but then you'll be poised to get your two tricks. So ID lead the ♥K, which was won by declarer in hand. The lead has worked - declarer now looks like he is facing a loser in Hearts and Clubs. The only way to avoid this is if he can pull off some magic in the Diamond suit, and that's exactly what happened. NC drew trumps then was able to set up the Diamonds to discard his Heart loser, and make a tremendous 6♠=.

There followed some frantic calculations as to the final score. In fact, this continued on to Monday, and I'm still not sure who won the week.

Wee Sleekit Cowran Beastie - Deal of the Week #8

I should have stayed out of it. I tried to, but I couldn't help myself.

In today's lunch time bridge North-South were on their way to a Spade slam when someone asked my advice. I suggested bidding Clubs, an "Italian style cue bid" which confused everyone. NC was then coffeehoused by the opposition into passing, and after playing the hand very nicely finished on an embarrassing 3♠+3.

Criminal - Deal of the Week #10

This week TB and AP crushed the opposition to win the week and recover the lead in the series. But there were some missed opportunities - criminal misses. At least NC had some good jokes.

Two weeks in a day - Deal of the Week #11

This Friday for the culmination of the week I sat in for NC. On the first hand I forgot that we already had 40 points towards game and needlessly powered us into 5♣, when 3♣ would have been enough. Luckily, 5♣ still made, so NC and JW were still in prime position to win the week. Then I was foolish again. When TB took a wild gamble on 6♥, knowing he needed a big score to overcome his deficit I played right into his hands and doubled. My partner JW was astonished, and informed me of this. Of course TB redoubled, and it would have been hugely embarrassing if 6♥xx made. To my relief the contract went down so the week belonged to NC-JW.

Later on Friday TB suggested we play another whole week's worth of bridge. "It's only a game" said JW, and agreed to the double or nothing. To add extra spice both BM and SG made their competitive debuts on the bridge table.

Having had a drink or two I can barely remember any of the hands that evening, including the ones I attempted to write down or even photograph. The only one I remember is this one - after some bold bidding JW and NC reach 4♥ with just 19 points between them:

♠ A K x x x
♥ x
♦ x x x
♣ J x x x
♠ Q J x x
♥ A J x x x x
♦ K x
♣ x

The game proved unbeatable, and that was enough for JW and NC to clinch a second week in one day.

Nearly of the week - Deal of the Week #15

After some ambitious bidding NC and JW reached an unlikely 4♠ on a 4-3 fit (known as a Moysian). It was not to be and NC ultimately finished one off. This was actually not a bad result, especially seeing as he was playing today without any carrots.

At least we didn't redouble - Deal of the Week #16

Here's a bonus Deal of the Week, as requested by JW who bested me in 6♦x. I could have made it too.

Board 2
Dealer East
Love All
♠ Q
♥ x x x x x
♦ K T 4
♣ A K Q T
♠ x x x
♥ K J x x x
♣ J x x x x
♠ x x x
♥ Q x
♦ J 9 8 6 5
♣ x x x x
♠ A K J 9 8 x
♥ A
♦ A Q 7 3 2
♣ x

I was sitting South and finished in an excellent 6♦. JW sitting East has all those Diamonds and doubled me, which should have given me a good clue how to play the contract. But I ignored the warning sign and let JW collect two trump tricks for 6♦x-1, which he celebrated enthusiastically. To make things worse, we could have made an easy 7NT.

"That's the kind of deal that can ruin your whole weekend" said JW.

Stealing 3NT - Deal of the Week #20

This week NC and JW handsomely won the week, to draw the series back to 16-16. SG popped in too.

Twice I went two off doubled, in contracts I maybe could have made. But instead of looking at another bodge I'd rather write about one where I did well. Or rather my partner did well, because AP was in 3NT and I was dummy. 3NT is the most common contract at the bridge table, and often makes when it shouldn't. AP robbed 'em today to level the series. Everything to play for.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Team Rowan leaving dinner for Jimmy and Audrey

In September last year I wrote about the team dinner for Team Rowan at the start of the season(link here). Since most of that post is about the Multi 2♦ convention, I'll just reprint the summary:

On Tuesday night the whole squad went out for dinner at Cafe Andaluz. After a fine meal, our Team Captain gave a short speech. "Most of all, have fun, and let's try not to get relegated!". I had the beetroot salad, mussels, and paella.

Last week we again went out to Cafe Andaluz. This time I had goats cheese, mussles, and serrano ham, and rather than wishing good luck for the season Jill instead congratulated us for gaining promotion. However, with Division One looming next year, the advice is definitely still to try and avoid relegation.

It was a poignant meal too, as Jimmy and Audrey are moving away from Glasgow to live in England. All the best to them!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

World Simultaneous Pairs

At the weekend me and Anna entered a very exciting event, the World Bridge Federation Simultaneous Pairs. We played a set of boards at the Buchanan Club in Glasgow, and they played the same set of boards in other clubs all over the world. So for every single deal your score is compared to thousands of others. To win the event you'd need a pretty amazing score, at least 70%. That was never likely to happen, but me and Anna did do fairly well.

[Note - I'm writing this before all of the final results are in, but of course won't publish it until every club has played the event]

There's three boards of interest I'm going to show below. Two of them feature 5 of a minor contracts (our speciality) and the other the board I predict to be the flattest of the event.

Board 28
Dealer West
NS vul
♠ K J
♥ A T 8 5
♦ K Q J 7 4 3
♣ 5
♠ -
♥ Q 7
♦ A T 8 2
♣ A K J T 9 7 6
♠ Q T 9 7 6 2
♥ J 9 4 2
♦ -
♣ Q 8 3
♠ A 8 5 4 3
♥ K 6 3
♦ 9 6 5
♣ 4 2

This was a great board for us. I opened 1♣, and North doubled. Anna has a six card Spade suit and support for my Clubs so has an easy 1♠ bid. When it came back to me I overbid with 3♣, which is a bit much with a void in partner's suit, but I did it anyway. North now bid 3♦, and Anna with a great fit for Clubs bid 4♣, though could have bid game herself. I had a twinkling that slam might be possible so cuebid 4♦, but Anna told me to settle right down by signing off in 5♣. We actually only have 19 points between us.

North lead her ♦K and I had to decide whether to win my ♦A or ruff. I ruffed with the ♣3, and now all of my trumps are high. I ruffed a total of three Diamonds in dummy, crossing back with Spade ruffs, then drew trumps and cashed the ♦A, just losing two Hearts. 5♣ is an excellent contract, to beat it North has to play a trump on the opening lead.

Could anyone do better than our score of +400? I suppose some EW pairs will make 5♣x, and some NS pairs might sacrifice in Diamonds and go for 500. And just maybe some EW pairs will bid a crazy 3NT and make it if the defence set up a ninth trick for declarer. But overall I think 5♣= is a great result, and I predict we will get a global matchpoint score of 89% for this board.

[Update - we actually scored 69% for this board, less than I predicted. Our score of +400 for East-West was the most common result]

My second featured board is one where we decided to play in 3NT instead of 5♦, and lived to regret it. I say we decided to play 3NT, it was me who bid it, as Anna kept pointing out afterwards. She hates to miss a good 5♦ game:

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

As Eric Kokish says in his commentary for this event "...the mission for East-West will be to identify the perfect fit and find a route to the unassailable 5♦". We didn't manage this. When Anna rebid 3♦ I thought with my ♦Kx there was every chance the Diamonds would run. Plus I had a good stop in Spades and I knew that our weak suit was probably Hearts which they wouldn't lead after I cunningly bid it. Bidding 3NT seemed a no-brainer. Anna thought for ages over my 3NT, and reluctantly passed.

North lead the ♠K and when dummy came down I felt a guilty flush, as it was clear right away that 5♦ would have just two losers and make easily. In 3NT I'm in trouble. I have just one stop in Spades and one in Hearts. There's two ways to play it. Option One is to duck the Spade lead twice, and hope that they are 5-3 and the person with the ♦A has no more Spades. However, this line isn't as good as it looks, because an alert defence can switch to Hearts. Here after South wins the second Spade, he can see that by playing a low Heart to dummy's Ace he can get two more Heart tricks for himself, along with the ♦A. Option Two is to win the ♠A straight away, which works nicely if Spades are 4-4. I decided that Option Two was more likely, as North didn't overcall 1♠, and duly won the ♠A and went one off.

We finished this round a bit early and Anna spent five minutes lamenting that we weren't in 5♦. I think it's easier for her to bid it than me, as she has only four losers in 5♦, and knows that the Diamonds aren't running in 3NT. In the commentary it suggests that -50 will be a common result for those playing 3NT, but I reckon actually lots of defenders will give away the contract. Plus of course the East-West pairs in 5♦ or in part scores will beat us. So I'm going to say that for 3NT-1 we will get a global score of 24%.

[Update - we actually scored just 6% for this board. The most common result was +150 for East-West, presumably for scores like 3♦+2 or 1NT+2]]

My final featured hand is a simple game:

Board 32
Dealer West
EW vul
♠ A T 9 3 2
♥ K 5 3
♦ 5 4 3
♣ K T
♠ J 7 5
♥ A 9 6 4 2
♦ A J
♣ Q 7 6
♠ K 6
♥ Q J T 8
♦ K Q 9
♣ A J 8 5
♠ Q 8 4
♥ 7
♦ T 8 7 6 2
♣ 9 4 3 2

I decided to open the West hand 1NT, as if I open 1♥ I have to rebid 2♥, and someone once told me "Only perverts rebid 5 card suits". Anna bid Stayman, and I thought about inventing a 3♥ bid to show five Hearts, but it would have been pretty confusing and totally unnecessary. I'm glad I just bid 2♥. Anna raised me to 4♥ and playing the hand was easy. I lost the Heart finesse and also lost the ♠A for 4♥+1.

I can't see any way you could make more or less tricks in 4♥, so it ought to be very flat. I suppose you might try 6♥ and go off one, or 3NT which will probably get a Spade lead and go down. Or if North leads a low Spade you might lose two Spade tricks and just make ten tricks. So I predict that our 4♥+1 will be worth 55% of the global matchpoints.

[Update - we actually scored a healthy 70% for this board. The most common result was indeed +450 for East-West, but there were also some +420 (4♥=) and -100 (6♥-1)

Overall me and Anna scored 61% within the club, and in the global comparison 55.55% (though this might still change). Not bad.

Buchanan results here.
Global results on Ecats website here.
Me and Anna results on Ecats website here.
Commentary Booklet here.
Deal analysis here.