Saturday, 19 December 2015

2015 Cheating Scandals

2015 will be remembered as the year of bridge scandals, as several World Class pairs have been accused of systematically cheating.

The background

Last year it emerged that Dr. Michael Elinescu and Dr. Entscho Wladow had been illegally communicating during the 2013 World Senior Championships. They are now known as the German Coughing Doctors. Their basic code was that one, two, three or four coughs meant Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts or Spades respectively. This was used both in the auction, to tell partner about a shortage in the indicated suit, and just before the opening lead, to suggests a suit to partner. They were an eccentric pair with other mannerisms and hand movements (a theme we will see repeating) and there may have been more to their code. They have been found guilty by both the World Bridge Federation and German Bridge Federation, but maintain their innocence (another recurring theme).

This year things began relatively quietly, when at the end of the 2015 World Championships in Chennai a cryptic note in the Daily Bulletin stated that the well-respected American Senior Mike Passell “was found guilty of violating CDR 3.1 (Laws of Duplicate Bridge), 3.7 (Actions unbecoming a Member participating in an ACBL event), 3.20 (Ethical Violations) and E13 (Prearrange a deal or part thereof).” It eventually emerged that Mike had been accused of deliberately creating a ‘fouled board’, by messing up the cards on a deal he’d already played so it couldn’t be played at the other table, and was therefore unscored. This occurred on a hand where Mike had already received a bad result, so it didn't look good. In his defence Mike explained that he had noticed a card face up on the floor and merely added it to the wrong pocket. He admitted an error of judgement in not calling the director, but denied deliberate wrongdoing.


This was soon overshadowed by much bigger news, when after his narrow quarterfinal loss in the prestigious Spingold tournament Norwegian Boye Brogeland publicly accused Israeli pair Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz of cheating (without saying how), and promised there were more revelations to come. Analysis of video evidence from Per Ola Cullin of Sweden found a link between where a defender placed the tray containing after the auction and the suit he wanted partner to lead.

In this video still Fisher (leftmost) is on opening lead and Schwartz (opposite) is about to place the yellow board down. His board placement matched the suit that he wanted partner to lead, as indicated by the suit symbols. Tellingly, Schwartz’s irregular placement of the board only occurred when his partner was on lead; the rest of the time he placed the board in the middle of the table like everyone else.

The code is nicely explained in a YouTube video by Michael Clark, and there is an analysis by Kit Woolsey on the BridgeWinners website.

Boye set up a website called outlining the accusations and occasions where F-S achieved good results by suspected foul play, and suggesting there may have also been a coughing code. Naturally F-S denied the allegations, and have hired a lawyer and set up their own Facebook page in defence.


Then came the next bombshell, as announced that they had “received overwhelming evidence alleging improper communication between the world’s #1 and #2 ranked bridge players, Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes, during the 2014 European Championships.”

It took some time before the actual cheating mechanism was unearthed by Maaijke Mevius from the Netherlands. The opening lead is placed vertically when the suit contains an Ace, King or Queen (or is a singleton) else is placed horizontally. This extra nugget of information allowed the partner of the opening leader to defend with much greater accuracy, particularly as ‘Fantunes’ as they are known, play an unusual system of Slawinski leads where the opening lead is often ambiguous.

A team of volunteers (including some Bridge Internationals) reviewed hours of footage and found the orientation of the opening lead followed this system on 82 out of 85 deals. Notably, both F-S and Fantunes were under suspicion before it was known how they were cheating. This was because of their uncanny good fortune and unjustifiable winning decisions had stood out to other experts.

Their is another Michael Clark YouTube video and analysis by Kit Woolsey.

In this video Fantoni (leftmost) makes the opening lead horizontally. His partner now knows he has no high honour in that suit, and no singleton. There may also have been more to their code. The pair were investigated in 2014 for the infamous Blackout Defence, where Nunes made a very illogical but successful action then claimed it was because he had a blackout.


After the Fantunes revelation there were rumours of a ‘third pair’, confirmed German Internationals Alex Smirnov and partner Josef Piekarek announced on the BridgeWinners website that they were “aware of the ‘whispers’ circulating about our ethical conduct, and we are sorry to say there is some truth to them. We regret that in the past as a partnership we committed some ethical violations” (read more here).

Some applauded their honesty, some said they only came forward as they were about to be rumbled (“sounds like an advance sacrifice” said Tom Hanlon of Ireland). With the World Championships about to take place in Chennai in India there were now pairs from Israel, Monaco and Germany under suspicion. All three teams withdrew from the tournament, a blow for their supporters and honest team members.


The Polish team did not withdraw, despite rumours about Cezary Balicki and Adam Zmudzinski (known as B-Z). It was found that they were communicating illegally by how they spaced out their bidding cards. A card placed close to the previous bid indicates a minimum hand for the previous bidding, a well spaced out bid means a maximum for the previous bidding.

The analysis of this was thoroughly done, with one set of analysts looking at the spacing of the bids, and a separate set independently looking at whether the bids were maximum or minimum. A very strong correlation was found. Although the video resolution is poor the spacing of the bids can be seen nicely in the videos in Kit Woolsey’s analysis on

B-Z are known as an eccentric pair, not least as sometimes Zmudzinski touches the dummy while in defence. Above is a still from Australian Ishmael Del Monte’s article on Bridge Winners entitled ‘A Helping Hand’. Balicki fans out dummy’s Spades with all five fingers. He had five Spades himself (shown above). A correlation was found between the number of fingers he touches a suit with and his own length in that suit (see here).

Just before the World Championship the WBF withdrew the credentials of that pair, but allowed Poland to compete with other players. Controversially they won, and were crowned World Champions.

The future

With the notable exception of Smirnov-Piekarek all the pairs claim their innocence, so in that sense the cases are not settled. National and International bodies are deciding how to act, as are tournament organisers whose previous winners are now tainted. There are also of course rumours of a ‘fifth pair’, and investigations continue.

Collectively the accused pairs have exploited many methods to communicate, which work even with screens, using audible coughs and visible finger, board, bid and card placement. There is even speculation about other possible ways of exchanging information, such as the angle of the scoring pen.

In response to these weaknesses Fred Gitelman of Bridge Base has designed a hybrid computerised version of the game where players meet around a table but input their bids and plays on tablet computers. This would cut out some methods of communication, and make recording suspicious activity much easier. However for some experts, notably Sabine Auken, this lacks the visceral excitement of playing with cards; picking them up and seeing what you’ve been dealt.

Although for most club players the cheating scandal just leaves a bad taste, one positive thing is that the elite game is now cleaner than ever, which is good news for the other top players who have been so active in the investigations.

Finally, here is probably the best summary in the popular press from Newsweek.

If there are any errors or inaccuracies in my article please let me know and I can correct them - Thanks, Danny.


The school bridge club that I look after has come on leaps and bounds, as we've been meeting twice a week this term. The focus has been on play and defence and I've left the bidding to be natural, only emphasising the value of the game bonus.

We've had a couple of three-board Team's Matches, which is the first time I've been able to get anyone interested in scoring. More importantly, I was able to introduce the notion of resulting, which is when you decide what people should have done based on unknowable factors. For example, saying "I should have bid 4♥" just because 4♥ happens to make on a lucky layout.

In our match I was impressed that on all three boards reasonable contracts were reached on both tables, despite the lack of bidding sophistication. This was the one that decided the match:

Board 3
Dealer: S

♠ 7
♥ J974
♦ T
♣ AK96432
♠ 4
♥ Q32
♦ K9862
♣ QJT5
♠ KQT965
♥ T85
♦ AQ74
♠ AJ832
♥ AK6
♦ J53
♣ 87

On one table South opened 1♠, West made a 2♦ overcall, North bid Clubs and after a good competitive auction ended up in 5♣. When this came round to West she doubled. The kids love doubling, and tend to do it far too often, but I think this time she had her bid.

In 5♣x declarer ended up losing two trump tricks, along with a Diamond and a Heart. It is possible to avoid losing two Clubs with an early finesse, and you might avoid a Heart loser with some fancy footwork, but that's beyond us at the moment and the result was 5♣x-2. On the other table North played a sedate 3♣= for a big gain on the hand.

Afterwards North was roundly blamed for overbidding in getting to 5♣. However, if the trumps had split 2-2 he would have made it. So that was my lesson for the day - just because a contract fails it doesn't mean it's a bad contract.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

One hand from the Bermuda Bowl

The Bermuda Bowl is the bridge equivalent of a World Championship, and just took place in India. Put yourself in one defender's shoes for this deal.The opponents have just reached 3NT, after bidding some minors then checking for stops. You and your partner have been quiet throughout. What do you lead from this?

♠ T843 ♥ KQJ43 ♦ J8 ♣Q5

I expect you chose the obvious ♥K. When the hand was played live in the quarterfinal match between England and USA1 one of the commentators suggested instead leading a deceptive ♥J. But at the table the English defender, Andrew Robson, went one better and lead the ♥4! This was the full deal:

The American declarer sitting East assumed from the lead that Hearts were splitting 4-3, and was worried that if he ducked the Heart he'd get a Spade switch. So he immediately won the ♥A, reasoning this way he would lose only three Hearts and a Club. However, once the defence got in Robson surprised everyone at the table by cashing four Heart tricks to set the contract. On the other table game made easily ("Difficult to see how 3NT can go down" said the commentator).

I like this deal as it shows the subtelty the expert game. Any intermediate player would have lead the ♥K, but an expert leads like a beginner and plays fourth highest.

Glasgow League Division Two - Buchanan vs Team Rowan

Team Rowan scored a fantastic 15-1 win in the first match of the season. Could they maintain that form with Anna and I in the team?

Things started badly. Our opponents seemed to be bidding and playing very slowly, and in response we got a bit tired and the bidding suffered. As an example of how it all seemed to go wrong after Anna had passed I opened a light 1♥ and she responded 2♣, natural and showing 10+. I had ♣AKx so passed. On another day Anna would have five or six Clubs and 2♣ would have been a good contract, but today it was a 4-3 fit and went two off.

At one point the opponents had a mix-up and ended in a 6-1 Spade fit. If we'd have been sharper we could have beaten it, but instead let declarer make it. Anna made a couple of good 3NTs, but then we went off doubled in a bad sacrifice, twice. This was the low point:

No one vul
N deal
♠ 9 x x
♥ x x
♦ J x x
♣ A Q J T x
♠ K J x x x
♥ K x
♦ Q x
♣ x x x x
♠ T x
♥ Q J x
♦ A K x x x
♣ K x x
♠ A Q x
♥ A T 9 x x x
♦ x x x
♣ x

East opened 1♦. With Anna having already passed I felt like I was right for a weak 2♥ overcall, but decided to spice things up a bit and bid 3♥. No particular reason, but I was a bit bored perhaps. The pre-empt worked as West was forced to make a stretch to bid 3♠. However, Anna wasn't in on this and thought I had a genuine 3♥ bid with something like ♥KQJxxxx and so raised me to 4♥. East doubled and I had to take the medicine.

The defence took three Diamond tricks then East switched to the ♠T. I covered and West won the ♠Q. He couldn't continue Spades so lead a Club. I thought about finessing but thankfully didn't, and was able to hold my losses to 4♥x-4, which still cost 800. On a part score hand this is expensive, especially on aggregate scoring.

After all the other tables finished we were still playing. At one point someone actually turned out the lights, then realised we were still playing. It was just our table left and the two team captains waiting for a result. The very final board epitomised the disaster. After I had opened 1♥ partner was silent and the opponents reached 3NT. I had:

♠x ♥ JTxxx ♦ AQxx ♣Qxx

Obviously I lead a Heart, and then found partner's only points were five Diamonds to the King. In the end we lost the match 12-4. As the team captain said, it could have been worse!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Saturday Night at the Club

Saturday night at the Buchanan is a new event at a convenient time, so last night Anna and I made our return to the club. It's been six months since we've played any Matchpoints.

While the standard did not quite rival the Bermuda Bowl (happening right now in Chennai) there were a few highlights. Three times I doubled aggressively when Anna and I had a misfit, and every time we took them down two or more. Once we made 12 tricks after an opponent revoked, and afterwards I could hear someone at another table trying to figure out how on Earth someone had made 4♥+2.

The hand I remember best though is of course one where I didn't get things right.


Although we play a weak NT, Anna opened her 15 point hand 1NT. Neither of us noticed this until the next day. My plan was to transfer to Spades then bid Hearts, which for us shows at least 5-4 and is game forcing. But after I transferred into Spades South weighed in with 3♦. Anna passed and when it came back to me I wasn't sure if 3♥ was still forcing (I think it is) so bid a potentially ambiguous 4♥. That might have looked like a splinter, but Anna correctly took it as natural and was delighted to pass with her excellent Heart suit.

South passed this too (I would have bid 5♣), and lead the ♦A. "You've hit the jackpot there" said a defender as dummy came down.

I could see loads of Heart winners, loads of Spade winners and just one Club to lose. An easy 12 tricks. I ruffed the Diamond lead and started drawing trumps. After two rounds of trumps though I suddenly realised I had a problem. As trumps had split 3-1 to draw them all was about to take my last trump in hand, after which I would be wide open in Diamonds after losing the Club Ace. It's good I realised this, but a shame I realised it so late. I therefore started on Clubs before drawing the last trump, thinking this was fairly safe. The defence was accurate though and South took her ♣A and gave her partner a ruff. My easy 12 tricks had turned into 4♥+1.

Of course what I should have done right at the start is ruffed a second Diamond in the South hand then drawn trumps, which gets me to 12 tricks with 5 Hearts, 5 Spades and 2 Diamonds. I can even play for all 13 tricks by ruffing all three Diamonds. Every other table made +2, except for those that got an immediate Club lead.

The next time I was sure I had 12 tricks I played much more carefully:


I have the 20 point East hand with a void. I decided to only open 1♠, then when Anna showed support I splintered with 4♥. Anna passed this quickly, as she has already stretched to bid 2♠. I got a nice Diamond lead, and so was able to get two tricks out of the Diamond suit and this really was an easy 12 tricks. Every other table was also in 4♠, making 11 or 12 tricks depending on the lead.

Overall we finished in 1st place, and David & Heather were 2nd. Bring on the next league match on Tuesday!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Scottish Cup (Plate) - Round One

We were knocked out of the Scottish Cup in the first round by just two IMPs (report here). As consolation we entered the plate.

Anna and I met met with John & Adam at the Glasgow Bridge Centre. Our team-mates had a veritable sheaf of paper with them - their new system. It looked pretty intimidating. Could they remember it all? Could we play a bit better than last time?

Anna had just finished four night shifts in a row and I was also worried she might be a bit slow. But quite the opposite, she got stuck in straight away. At favourable vulnerability Anna overcalled 1NT with:

♠ A T 9 5 3 2 ♥ A 9 7 6 ♦ 7 6 ♣ 8

This ended up going for 300 in 2♠x-2. This was unlucky, as 3NT didn't quite make their way.

Then it was my turn to go a bit overboard.

Game All
E deal
♠ 7 6 5
♥ 5 3
♦ Q J T
♣ J 9 8 5 3
♠ Q J 3
♥ Q J T
♦ K 6 5
♣ Q T 6 2
♠ T
♥ K 9 8 7 4 2
♦ A 9 3 2
♣ A 7
♠ A K 9 8 4 2
♥ A 6
♦ 8 7 4
♣ K 4

I overcalled 1♠, and when Anna gave minimal support I bid 4♠. The opponents were not slow in doubling, and I was rather anxious when dummy came down and I could see this was going to be bad. The play of the hand was strange, as I was hoping that the trumps didn't split, as although that would mean I went down an extra trick it would mean that they had one less loser in their hypothetical Heart contract.

I finished on 4♠x-2 for -500. It could have been worse, as if East had of underlead the Club Ace I'm not sure what I would have done. I could maybe work out she has the ♣A for her opening bid but my instinct is always to play low and it probably would have been -800.

John & Adam rescued us on the deal, by making 4♥ for +620. 4♥ looks like it can be beaten with a loser in each suit, but in fact it needs perfect defence to do that. "I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have done that" said Anna.

There were two more big swings in the first half, both caused by our opponents (Lucy & Lorna) having a strong preference for playing in 3NT. In the first they eschewed their 6-2 Heart fit and 5-3 Spade fit and played in 3NT. It had nine tricks on top and declarer played very carefully for a tenth. On the other table Adam played in Spades and when Hearts broke 5-0 he suffered a defensive cross ruff and down two. But in very similar circumstances the 3NT preference backfired here:

Game NS
N deal
♠ K 4 3
♥ K Q T 7 5 3
♦ K 7 6 5
♠ 8 5
♥ 9 8 4
♦ T 9 3 2
♣ A K 9 2
♠ Q 6 2
♥ A 2
♦ Q 8 4
♣ J T 8 7 6
♠ A J T 9 7
♥ J 6
♦ A J
♣ Q 5 4 3

South found herself in 3NT. Me and Anna play standard leads, though I'm not totally sure she knows what they are. But she found the textbook ♣A here. We play reverse attitude so I encouraged with the ♣6, while wishing we played standard attitude. I could see that if Anna continued Clubs there would be four Clubs tricks for the defence plus the ♥A. Instead she quite reasonably switched, to a Diamond. Declarer won the ♦J, played a Spade to the King and finessed Spades. At this point she led a Heart. I was East and took my ♥A. A brilliant play, which might not seem significant but was for me, given that I duck almost constantly, often well beyond there's any value in it. It was quite an achievement to take my Ace on the first round. There was logic to it. I figured that if I let declarer win the trick she might have nine tricks already - one Heart, five Spades and three Diamonds (I didn't know the Diamonds were blocked). That non-duck was the highlight of the day. We did then take three more Club tricks for one off.

At the other table Adam and John made a comfortable 4♠+2. At the half-time break we were up 13 IMPs. Sandwiches were provided, but I was full so just had some chocolate from a M & S mini-bucket.

In the second half we played opponents with a strong NT, five card majors and Ekrens 2♦. The one time they opened it we handled it well when Anna doubled and we got to 6♣-2 (duplicated at the other table). My defence got a bit sloppy, and at one point I managed to duck my Ace when declarer clearly had a singleton, then somehow help her to establish that suit anyway, to give a farcical 2♠+2 when we could have beaten the contract.

Another time I had a feeling that 3NT was going to be bad, but felt we had the points so bid it anyway. It went four off, two off on the other table on another lead. But this was the low point, as both me and Anna stretched to bid a thin game and the cards were merciless:

Game NS
E deal
♠ K T
♥ 7 5 2
♦ K Q 4
♣ Q J T 6 2
♠ 4
♥ T 4
♦ J 8 7 6 5 3 2
♣ A 9 5
♠ A Q 9 8 7 2
♥ A 8 6
♦ T 9
♣ K 8
♠ J 6 5 3
♥ K Q J 9 3
♦ A
♣ 7 4 3

After a 1♠ opening I decided to get in the auction with 2♥. Anna counted seven losers and raised me to 4♥. I think with her Spade doubleton she can almost see how the first three tricks are going to go: a Spade lead to the ♠Q, ♠A then a ruff, so should be wary of bidding 4♥. But then I suppose I started it with an awful overcall so take the blame.

Dummy is a very poor fit, with an annoying ♦KQ4 opposite my singleton Ace. I finished down three, but at one point did manage to get to dummy and had dreams of discarding some Clubs for two off, but the 7-2 Diamond break foiled that. On the other table Adam & John pushed to 4♠ with the South hand so it was vulnerable undertricks all round and a heavy loss on the board.

The good news from the second half was that Anna made 5♣x and John a very poor 6NT. I belatedly took some sandwiches and we went to score up. Had we done enough to hang on? Sadly not, and we lost 75-82. Just 7 IMPs, which could have been saved on any of a number of hands. Our Scottish Cup is over. As Anna said to me on the way home "I think you actually made more bodges than me tonight."

Monday, 3 August 2015

European Youth Bridge Championship - Tromsø 2015

This is a spectator's report from kibitzing at the European Youth Bridge Championship in Norway this summer.

Two weeks ago I was watching this tournament on BBO, then one week ago I was on holiday travelling from Oslo to the Northern Cape. On the way I stopped off in Tromsø and watched some of the final round of the U26 and U21 teams.

In the morning I sat with England coaches Bryony Youngs and Alan Shillitoe, who lamented their teams problems in coping with extremely aggressive opposition.


Then I caught up with Scotland coach Liz McGowan. The U16 Scottish team had already finished their games, but the U21 team were in action. They recorded a good result in the first match of the day with a narrow loss to Denmark. I met Ronan Valentine & Liam O'Brien, who were not playing that match, then in came the rest of the team: Jun Nakamaru-Pinder & Stewart Pinkerton along with Suzanna Nesom & Olivia Bailey. We tried to work out how Olivia had managed to make a very tricky 3NT. Then we watched a video with Ronan and Liz being interviewed by the organisers (available here and surprisingly non-embarrassing, they are both pros in front of a camera).

Despite not doing too well in the event the team were in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying the trip. Jun told me the cheapest place for a pint in Tromsø, a steal at just 65 Kroner (£5)!


In the afternoon I watched a live match of Scotland against Italy. I sat behind Ronan Valentine, and it was tense. For all of the first three boards he had big hands, and big pressure.

This was the biggest board of the match:

Love All
W deal
♠ A T 7 2
♥ Q 5
♦ A K 8 7 3
♣ A 4
♠ J 6 3
♥ T 7 6 3
♦ 9 2
♣ T 6 5 2
♠ Q 9 8 5 4
♥ J
♦ Q 6 5
♣ J 9 8 7
♠ K
♥ A K 9 8 4 2
♦ J T 4
♣ K Q 3
- 1♥
- 2♦* - 2♥
- 3♥ - 3NT*
- 4♠* - 5♦*
- 5♠* - 6♦*
- 7♥* - -

The 2♦ response was 2/1, game forcing. Then 2♥ apparently showed six, as North was able to raise with a doubleton. 3NT was a slam try, and 4♠ was asking for keycards in Hearts (they play kickback, where the suit one above trumps is Blackwood). 5♦ showed two keycards without the ♥Q. 5♠ was a follow up ask for Kings, and the 6♦ reply showed either the ♦K or the other two Kings. Here, North knew that South was showing the other two Kings, ♠K and ♣K, so he confidently bid 7♥.

The auction was swiftly done and they were right in sync. The Italian West was a very quick player and as soon as he sensed they were getting to a grand slam he shuffled a Heart to the front of his hand, then instantly lead it. As you can see, with Hearts 4-1 there is an inevitable trump loser and the contract had to go one off. It was a tough break on the Scots, when the other table was only in a small slam.

Overall about one third of the tables were in a grand slam, which I think is good bidding. 7NT is the best contract, but still goes down as the Diamond finesse also fails.

The Scots went on to lose the match, and did not do well in the overall rankings. In fact it's fair to say it was not a classic tournament for Scotland.

In the U21 category this was the final table, with the top six qualifying for the next World Championship (in Italy).

1 Netherlands 218.22
2 Sweden 205.23
3 Israel 189.18
4 Italy 171.98
5 Germany 169.71
6 Latvia 169.32
13 England 118.40
16 Scotland 49.22

The U16s featured a very young Scotland team:

1 Poland 153.05
2 France 148.92
3 Sweden 148.48
4 England 144.41
5 Netherlands 142.75
6 Israel 134.78
11 Scotland 31.09

In the U26 these was no Scottish team, but note that England qualify in 4th:

1 Poland 241.80
2 Sweden 241.54
3 Norway 229.41
4 England 210.64
5 Netherlands 209.15
6 France 204.31

If you want to pick over the full results, they are here.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Scottish Schools Bridge Championship 2015

This is a report on the annual schools bridge championship in Scotland. I was there with two teams of four from The High School of Glasgow, making our debut in the event. Several strong teams from other schools have recently finished school, plus the event was not well publicised by the Scottish Bridge Union, so there were only six teams in total. On the upside this meant at least one of our teams was guaranteed a top 5 finish.

My school bridge club only started last November, and we're still very much novices. When we arrived at the Bridge Club in Stirling some of the friendly pupils from Hutcheson's Grammar school came over to say hello, and ask if we play Four Card Majors or Five Card Majors. Our captain instantly replied Four Card Majors, a nice bluff as he'd never heard of this before. The boy from Hutcheson's then demonstrated his roundhouse kick in the car park. You don't see that too often at the bridge club.

The format was everyone playing everyone else in a series of short team matches. My two teams coped brilliantly. A lot of it was new to them. For example, they had never before played with:

  • Sitting in seats by Compass Points
  • Cards arriving pre-dealt in boards
  • Square Tables (not school desks)
  • Bridgemates for scoring
  • Quiet (ish) at the table
  • No Jaffa cakes during play

Very soon after arrival Liz McGowan got everyone organised and playing straight away, and a hush fell on the room. I sat on the corner of one of the tables, kibitzing along with the other teachers and Stirling locals. "This is intense" one of my team said as she picked out her first set of cards, and counted and recounted her points.

In the few months we've been playing we've barely touched on bidding, which means most contracts are very low. This can occasionally lead to a good result, for example in this hand:

Our North-South played 1♦+1. After two passes South opened 1♦ and in our safety-first style North passed too. On the opposing table the hand was passed out altogether. However, there's a limit to how far you can get by only ever bidding at the one level, and we did pay the price for a few missed games:

On this board our East-West played a comfortable 1♥+2, whereas the Aberdeen East-West won the board comfortably by making 4♥= and securing the game bonus.

At the lunch break we went to sit out in the sun and enjoy the delicious Marks & Spencers sandwiches. The team resolved to be a bit bolder in the bidding, except for the one notorious overbidder who was strongly encouraged by his team-mates to be less bold. This was following something of a bumpy patch in the morning when the opposition made 4♦x followed by 4NTx. "He bid it so fast I thought he was bluffing" was the doubler's excuse.

In the second half the bidding improved and I was pleased to see people with good six card suits opening then rebidding their suit. More importantly than the bidding, the card-play improved too. It's no exaggeration to say that the 25 or so hands we played in the tournament were as many as we have played in the rest of the year combined. As a loyal kibitzer I felt the excitement when the kids did well, and of course also felt pain inside every time someone forgot to draw trumps.

Overall, the eight novices did really well to step up and play competitive bridge for the first time, and I was very proud. As one of the organisers wrote to me afterwards: "I thought they were great ambassadors for their school and the game as well.".

And as for the final result? We did indeed finish in 5th and 6th. Here's how I remember it:

1Hutcheson's echidnas ? VPs
2Aberdeen ? VPs
3Hutcheson's dragons ? VPs
4Hutcheson's ? 39 VPs
5High School B 37 VPs
6High School A 22 VPs

Each match was scored out of 20 Victory Points (VPs), meaning an average result would be to draw each of the five games 10-10 and finish on 50 VPs. So well done to both our teams, and particularly 'B' who were close to overtaking one of the Hutcheson's teams.

Thanks to the organisers and hopefully see you again next year!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Scottish Cup Round One

Last year I watched the final of the Scottish Cup (read my report here). As I watched it I thought to myself: this looks easy, Anna and I could win this. So this year for the first time we were part of a four man team, along with John Faben and Adam Dickinson.

In the first round we drew the very tough team of Yvonne Wiseman & Alan Goodman with Anne Symons & Miro Dragic. I thought we were well out of depth but John and Adam were on good form. Here's an example of where they helped us out:


I opened the North hand 3♣. Me and Anna sometimes open a weak three in Clubs with only six cards (because we can't open it 2♣), and I especially like doing it when you have Diamonds too. It's very pre-emptive. This time it was so effective that everyone else passed. "You pre-empted me" said Anna as she put down dummy. In my eyes she has a clear 3♠ bid. Even though we play this as forcing there's really no risk as she has such good Club support that the worst that can happen is we play 4♣.

East lead a Diamond. Oh well I thought, let's try and make 3♣. West won the ♦A and returned a Spade to get a ruff, then West cashed the ♥K and went into a think. At this point I should mention that this was a 32 Board match in Edinburgh, and Anna and I had driven through from Glasgow and were anxious not to finish too late. I decided not to mess around and claimed the remaining tricks. "Unless there's a ruff", I added. Turns out there was a ruff. West showed me the ♦J that he was planning on leading and I had to concede -1. That's the first time I've ever made a bad claim. The one good news about the ruff is that it means 4♠ is beatable.

And what of the other table? They took a very different view. North passed, and John sitting East opened a weak 2♥. South overcalled 2♠ and Adam sitting West bid an immediate 6♥, apparently following the logic that he was prepared to bid 6♥ over 5♠ so he might as well bid it now. It's a perfect fit and a 17 point slam for 6♥=. Well played guys and that was 14 IMPs in.

Here's an example where both Anna and I were shy in the bidding. You can assign the blame for this disaster:


West opened 1♠ and I had a chance to overcall. We play weak jump overcalls but I decided to be prudent and pass with my rubbish Heart suit. East bid an excellent 3♠ showing a weak hand, and now Anna has a chance to make a takeout double. West bid 4♠ and we both passed again so that was that. They made 4♠= whereas on the other table East-West were pushed in to 5♠x-1. Anna and I should have found 5♥ (and actually 6♥ makes too).

Towards the end of the first half Anna got very tired. Luckily she didn't have too many decisions to make in this time. Once when she was dummy she paused before putting her dummy down, because she couldn't remember what the trump suit was. "Four Hearts" I announced to the table, and Anna was able to put her suits down in the right order.

At half time we were still in it, and just 12 IMPs down. For refreshments Miro had some sandwiches and more importantly two packets of Jaffa cakes. Anna and I had two cups of tea each, but I had insufficient change so didn't pay for them all.

For the second half we swapped tables and Anna and I played against Anne Symmons and Miro Dragic.

Our opponents sat North-South. In this hand they avoided the doomed 3NT and bid to the good spot of 5♣. The reason I'm including this hand is because it features my feeble attempt at a false card. Anne drew trumps by leading a Club from the South hand towards dummy, and I smoothly dropped the ♣Q hoping this would convince her to win the ♣K in dummy then finesse back into my ♣T. This didn't work and declarer drew trumps and even got a discard on the Spades for 5♣+1. If I had of done the normal thing and played the ♣T that might have worked better, but I expect she would still have made it. On the other table John & Adam did well to find 4♠ which also made with an overtrick.

My final featured hand is the most embarrassing of the night, but I'm going to include it anyway.


I opened an 11 point 1NT (was I on the tilt already?) and Anna raised to 3NT with a big 16 point hand. There was a 10 second pause before South passed. What is there to think about after 1NT-3NT? The only thing I could think of was that she might have been considering a double, as some people play that double of 3NT asks for a Spade lead. North did indeed lead the ♠J, and the defence were able to set up Spades, so when I took the doomed Club finesse the contract went down. I had a niggling feeling that North had made the Spade lead because of his partner's pause before passing out 3NT. I couldn't let it go and asked if they play that double asked for a Spade lead. It was a bit awkward until it was pointed out that the reason that South had paused 10 seconds before passing out 1NT-3NT was because the Stop card was on the table. After that I felt a bit foolish. Apologies again to our opponents (and Anna who thought I was an idiot).

The other reason to mention the hand is that it featured one of John & Adam's only blunders, when their defence let through 3NT (despite North also leading a Spade).

As it rolled past 11pm Anna and I kept it together well and bid a few good part scores. But was it enough? Unfortunately not. In the end we fell agonisingly short, winning the second half but losing the 32 Board match by 89 - 87 IMPs. Looking at the scorecard now there is a general pattern. We gained game swings when Adam & John made a good game that was beaten at our table, and lost game swings when Anna & I made a bodge or were too meek.

Congratulations to Yvonne, Alan, Anne and Miro. In the next round they will crush Iain Sime's team and go on to win the Scottish Cup!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Buchanan Congress Pairs 2015

It's congress season and last Saturday Anna and I were at the Buchanan. This is our home club, even though we don't play there that often, and so it was a bit embarrassing when some other members asked us where we usually play.

Last year at the congress we bombed in the qualification, then bounced back to win the consolation final (report here). This year we did our best to repeat that, by again failing to qualify for the main final.

It was a hectic start. I had ambitiously entered a running race at Pollok in the morning, while Anna went to get a big picture framed. We met at the event in separate cars. She made it on time, but I didn't, so Horst demoted us to the sit out table on the top floor. Once we got going things went rather well, give or take the odd mishap. An early highlight came when I discovered that there was tea and coffee outside the playing area, for those who missed the pre-start tea.

I like to bid a slam on the final round (ideally the final board), and got my wish here:


I have the East hand and opened 1♥. South passed and Anna splintered with 4♦ showing Heart support and short Diamonds. We recently agreed that you only splinter with weak hands, or strong hands, or any hands. I couldn't remember which, and thought Anna probably couldn't either. So even though I have an awful holding in Diamonds opposite a shortage (♦KJxx) I decided to press on anyway. I bid RKCB and Anna bid 5NT, showing a void and two keycards. This bit of the system we did remember. For Anna's benefit, it's documented here (apparently we play Exclusion Blackwood too).

Against 6♥ South cashed the ♠A and I was able to draw trumps and quickly claim.

At the end of the qualification event I figured that we had finished on at least 60%, but I must have had too many teas, got too excited and wildly over-estimated, as we only got 53%. This wasn't quite good enough, so we only qualified for the consolation final.

In the break we had an excellent lunch. Anna wrestled with the problem of how many sandwiches she could fit on her plate, both physically and following etiquette. We went for a short walk into Kelvingrove Park and then came back raring to go (but rather rather tired and not concentrating as much) for the consolation final.

The relaxed attitude paid off, and we had five 100% Boards in the session. This one was the most pleasing:


1. What would you open the North hand?

We play a weak NT and are allowed to open on 5422 shape if the doubletons are strong, as they are here. However, I've got the majors and opened 1♥, ready to rebid an awful 2♥ if I had to. This was passed round to West, who overcalled 1NT. East raised to 2NT as she wasn't sure if this showed a normal 1NT overcall or a slightly lighter one in the pass out seat (we play 12-15 here, right Anna?). West liked her Hearts and bid 3NT.

2. What would you lead as North?

I picked out the ♥9, as we play second highest from only small cards. Declarer won this in dummy, and lead a Club to her ♣K and my ♣A. Now I had a bit of a think. I really want to play Spades but it won't work if lead them from the North hand. I've got to get partner in. To make things tough for declarer, I lead my ♦7. Declarer made the very reasonable guess of putting in dummy's ♦J, which Anna sitting South was able to win.

Anna then had a think before emerging with exactly the card I wanted to see, the ♠9. Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton were in perfect harmony. She had managed to avoid leading a Heart (the suit I opened) and a Diamond (the suit I switched too) and found a Spade, and by leading the ♠9 declarer is pickled.

We ended up with three Spade tricks plus a few more, for 3NT-3, and a top. Surprisingly, despite having 25 points and all suits stopped only three tables in our event were in 3NT (and none at all in the main event final). Most played in Clubs.

On the very next board we also got 100%, as Anna loves a double fit:


East opened 1♦ and Anna sitting South passed. At favourable vulnerability she could have made a 3♣ weak jump overcall but didn't fancy it (or forgot about it). West introduced Spades and I overcalled 2♥. When it got round to me again I decided to show my Club suit, which hit the jackpot for Anna and she competed to 5♥, doubled.

East lead the ♦A then switched to a Spade. I drew trumps and played a Club. East won and had a dilemma. Should she try and cash a Diamond or a Spade? She wrongly chose to play a Diamond, which I could ruff and win all the Clubs to make 5♥x=. As 4♠ was making on every table it was played we would have got a good score even for one down.

Those were two great results. Would I get carried away? Yes indeed. A couple of boards later I had this marginal hand. Vulnerable against not, with three passes to me:

3. Would you open this? ♠A ♥J75 ♦T82 ♣KQJ632

The Rule of Fifteen says you should only open fourth in hand when your points plus number of Spades is 15 or more. This hand has 11 points and one Spade, so is a definite pass. The thinking is that the points are evenly split and since you don't have Spades the opposition do, so opening the bidding just helps them to a Spade part score. And so it proved. I recklessly opened 1♣, and after a competitive auction our opponents bid and made 3♠ for -140 and 30%. Passing the hand out would have got 60%.

Later Anna had this one, with both sides vulnerable and also fourth in hand:

4. Would you open this? ♠KQ32 ♥52 ♦8742 ♣AJ9

This one's got only 10 points, but four spades. Anna followed the rule and passed it out. This got us 55%, beating the one pair who did open and ended up overboard in 3♠-1, which shows another danger of opening light.

As the afternoon turned into evening we fell into a nice groove. It was nice and warm upstairs and a packet of Fruit Pastilles melted in my pocket. The only hiccup came when twice we were undone by the Multi 2♦. That's one to work on. In the end we finished on a decent 57.9%, which was good enough for 5th.

The consolation final winners were Iain Taylor & Andrew Symons with 61%.

In the main final the top three were:

1 Iain MacIntyre & Bobby Moore 61.67%
2 Ronald Gaffin & John Di Mambro 60.32%
3 Norman McGeagh & John Faben 59.04%

Full results from the consolation final here and main final here.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Party at St Andrews

High times at St Andrews Bridge Club in Glasgow last Friday at the annual club party. We missed the sandwiches but arrived in time for the bridge.

Here's one where I had a tricky decision, and steered my way out of it with 0% of the Matchpoints.


I have the massive North hand, 21 points. I'm ready to open 2♣ when Anna opens the bidding with a weak NT. I have a few options but decided to delicately start with Stayman. When Anna denied a Major I showed my Clubs. I thought this was probably forcing, but wasn't sure, so decided to find out, by bidding it. Anna passed. 3♣+4 was not a good score. I thought I kept a poker face as I thanked Anna for the dummy and claimed at trick one, but she informed me afterwards that I looked a bit upset.

1. So is 3♣ forcing?

Our opponents at the table thought not. They would transfer to Clubs (via 2♠) then bid Spades. But for the record Anna and I have now decided that Bidding Stayman then bidding at the three level is forcing. Also for the record, we decided two other points of system:

  • Bidding Stayman and getting a positive response you bid the other Major to set trumps (e.g. 1NT-2♣; 2♥-2♠), so a direct 4NT (e.g. 1NT-2♣; 2♥-4NT) is quantitative not Blackwood..
  • After 1NT-3♣ which is strong opener bids: 3NT - weak doubleton in Clubs, 3♥/3♠ - natural with 5 card major, anything else - cuebid agreeing Clubs (e.g. 1NT-3♣; 3♦)
After this I had a couple more 20 point hands. I've never opened a 20 point hand at the one level before, and now I did it twice:

2. What would you open these hands?

♠8 ♥AQJ3 ♦AQ98 ♣AK52

♠AJ8532 ♥AK ♦AQ3 ♣Q5

On the first I opened 1♣ (and ended in a doomed 3NT), on the second I opened 1♠ (and ended in 2♠=).

Apart from this excitement we mostly had very poor hands. Anna only got to play two all night. Here's one where we defended against Norman and John. I did two foolish things and one clever thing (not a bad ratio).


East opened a weak NT and West transferred. I decided to get active and doubled, for the lead. This was a bit risky, and I got worried when East passed really quickly. He would have bid 2♠ with three card support, but also could have redoubled to play. That could have been embarrassing, but hopefully Anna could have saved me by bidding Diamonds. As it was we defended 3NT, and following my double, Anna lead a Heart. Then I did my second foolish thing, and covered the ♥J with my ♥K, giving declarer an extra Heart trick. But now for my one clever thing - when declarer lead the ♠J I ducked with my doubleton King. Declarer finessed again and now I was able to win my ♠K, and now declarer can't get to dummy. As it is, he made 9 tricks anyway (three Spades, four Hearts, one Club and one Diamond) and so we only got 36%.

At the end of the night me and Anna crept to 50.9%. Standout winners were Trish & John Matheson (North-South) and Kerry McGee & John Gorton (East-West).

Sunday, 19 April 2015

New Melville Bridge Congress 2015

Despite living in Glasgow I've become something of a regular at this Edinburgh Congress. In 2013 me and Anna played together and thanks to a generous Novices handicap we finished 3rd overall (read my blog report here). Then in 2014 Anna was working a night shift so I paired up with John Faben and we handicapped ourselves by playing a ridiculous Culbertson system (report here).

This year I was back with Anna, and we were well prepared. For the first time that I can remember Anna agreed to look at a couple of practice hands in advance, so for any auction that required a 1NT response we were more ready than ever. We were also well prepared in arriving early, to enjoy a relaxing tea in the New Melville. The club has great facilities and was also totally full, with 58 pairs competing for the Pairs Trophy.

I started well with a series of Passes, which is a bid I often find difficult. When I finally got a good hand I showed admirable restraint:


I have the 17-point 3-loser East hand. Anna opened 1♥, and I replied 1♠. She rebid 2♥, and I was still dreaming big. I tried 3♦, which is game forcing. Anna showed her minimum with long Hearts by jumping to 4♥. At this point I still expect we have a slam, as all it needs is Anna to have a doubleton honour in one of my suits. However, I figure it will be too hard to find so ruefully pass out 4♥, and put down my monster dummy with a trump-void. What a waste. North leads a Spade and Anna soon collects 4♥+1 for 64%.

And on the other tables? You can see that 6♠ or even 6♦ make, via a lucky ruffing finesse in Hearts. However the one pair in 6♠ went down, and the several pairs in 6NT also obviously failed.

And how about John Faben & Martin Stephens? Their auction was the same as ours until East's final Pass, where John instead bid Blackwood and got a 5♠ reply. He thought about passing that but bid 6♥, which could make on a favourable lead but went down when the defence cashed their Aces.

1. Would you have bid on over 4♥?

After that excitement things settled down again. On one hand an opponent opened the bidding, and Anna started making faces to me. Finally I realised that she was gesturing towards my cup of tea. I passed it over, just as my right hand opponent invited game. Anna sipped the tea, decided she didn't like it and passed it back to me, while the opponent's bid on. We took them down two, then Anna informed me that the tea was stewed.

Then we fell away a bit. I had two big bodges. Once I forgot to cash a winner in defence, allowing it to disappear and give an overtrick. Then I played an easy 2♥ contract and was thinking to myself how we should have been in game. But I had a Diamond suit of ♦6542. I wasn't too worried about it but then found myself with no trumps left in dummy and the opponents cashing Diamonds.

So going into the last few boards we needed a bit of luck. On our last board of the day I had a 6-5 and came alive:


East opened a weak NT. Anna sitting South could have overcalled 2♦, which for us shows a six card Major, and 8-15.

2. Would you have bid as South?

Anna went for a quick pass, and West bid 3NT. I decided with it being the final hand I should push the boat out, and so I pulled out a 4♠ bid.

3. Would you have bid as North?

I figured worst case I would lose three Spades, one Heart one Diamond and one Club, and when Anna turned up with ♠Q I lost only five tricks for 4♠x-2. Even though they can comfortably make 3NT my sacrifice only got 36% of the Matchpoints. This is because lots of East-West pairs were in 5♦-1 (which supposedly can be made but nobody did). And what of John and Martin? They played 6♦-2.

At the end of the day me and Anna finished on 54.9%, good enough for 12th out of 58 pairs. Way out in front with 64% were Archie Leith and Diana Drysdale. Unfortunately, since we didn't win Anna didn't let me go to the zoo so we just drove back to Glasgow.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Glasgow League Division One: Maccabi vs Team Rowan

Our last match of the season and we finally got that famous win, clinching an 8.5-7.5 away victory against an understrength Maccabi team. It's a morale booster that has unfortunately come too late in the season, as we are already relegated. "If only we hadn't suffered all those big losses at the start of the season," a team mate suggested, "We'll know what to do next time".

In my first featured hand a tiny gap in me and Anna's bidding system was cruelly magnified to cause a missed grand slam:

Game all
S deal
♠ K Q
♥ Q J T x
♦ K x x x x x
♣ x
♠ A x
♥ A K x x
♦ A Q T
♣ A Q x x
- 2♦ - 2NT
- 3♣* - 3♥
- 4NT* - 5♥*
- 6♥* - -
- 2♦ - 2NT
- 3♦ - 4♦
- 4NT* - 5♣*
- 7♦ - -

I opened the 23 point South hand 2♣ and Anna replied 2♦, showing 5+ points. I showed a balanced hand then after Stayman showed 4 Hearts. Me and Anna have previously agreed that an artificial 3♠ from her now sets Hearts as trumps, and 4NT is quantitative. However, she didn't remember this or possibly thought I wouldn't remember this so bid 4NT as Blackwood. She was right that I wouldn't remember, as I did indeed take 4NT as Blackwood. At least we are on the same wavelength, having both forgotten our system. In response to Blackwood I have all five keycards. What do you bid with all five? You bid the same as if you had two. So I bid 5♥, showing two or five keycards and no Queen of Trumps. Anna was baffled by this. She didn't realise I was showing five keycards, couldn't believe I only had two and still had a niggling doubt that maybe I was replying to a quantitative 4NT . She settled for safe 6♥. I passed, feeling pretty confident something had gone wrong but not quite able to bid 7♥ myself.

6♥ made all 13 tricks. On the other table for Team Rowan Tom & Raymond bid and made 7♦ with the auction above. With that good score at the break we were about 2000 points up, an unprecedented postimargin

In the second half Maccabi clawed back some points. On our table our opponents Peter and Willy bid all of their available games, and you can't do more than that.

Here's one where I was faced with two tough decisions:

Love All
W deal
♠ x x x
♥ A x
♦ J x
♣ T x x x x x
♠ Q J 9 8 x x
♥ x x
♦ T x x
♣ x x
♠ T
♥ K Q J x
♦ A x x x x
♣ J x
♠ A K x
♥ x x x x
♦ K Q x
♣ A K Q

Anna had the East hand and went for a rather bold 1♦ opening. Peter Cohen sitting South has a balanced 21 count so doubled.

1. What would you now bid as West?

We hadn't discussed what 2♠ by me would have been so I decided that was too risky. I went for 1♠, which I am too light for but have six of them and some Diamond support. North stretched to bid 2♣ and South now bid 3NT.

2. What do you lead against 3NT?

I went for a safe Spade lead, which was no problem for Peter who quickly wrapped up nine tricks. The killing lead is of course a Heart, which kills the entry to dummy before he can unblock the Clubs. That would have been a tremendous lead on this layout.

At the end of the second half we nervously waited for the final table to finish. When the scores were all in we had retained a tiny margin for a famous win!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Glasgow League Division One: St. Mungo vs Team Rowan

Team Rowan have enjoyed a strong second half to the season. We've had some promising results, even though we've still not actually won a game. Last Tuesday we had another shot at glory against the strong St. Mungo team from the Glasgow Bridge Centre. It was another close match, and another narrow loss.

Me and Anna had quite a good game against Les and Shirith. My two featured boards are both about ethics. In this first one, I was accidentally unethical by taking a long time to play a singleton. I was thinking about the whole hand and didn't realise until afterwards how misleading it was for me to take two minutes to play my only remaining Club from hand. Fortunately it didn't matter, as my long pause actually guided the defence and they took my down in a contract I could have made. This was the full deal and auction:

EW Vul
W deal
♠ 6 2
♥ K Q 9 4
♦ K T 2
♣ K 8 7 5
♠ K T 8 4
♥ T 5 2
♦ 7 6
♣ A T 9 6
♠ Q 9 5
♥ A J 6
♦ 9 8 4 3
♣ J 4 3
♠ A J 7 3
♥ 8 7 3
♦ A Q J 5
♣ Q 2

I opened a 12-14 1NT and Anna went via Stayman then invited with 2NT. I had a maximum so bid the game. I;m in trouble on a Spade lead, but since I'd bid them West lead the ♣T. I won this with the ♣Q then lead a Heart, losing to the ♥A. East then returned the ♣J, and that's when I went into my long think, before playing my now singleton ♣2 from hand and also ducking in dummy. If I had of won this trick in dummy I could have actually made the contract, via two Clubs, two Hearts, one Spade and four Diamonds. I could still have made it if the defence continued Clubs, but because East thought I had another Club in hand he switched to a Spade, beating the contract. It was poetic justice for play both poor and unethical.

"You took a long time to play that singleton ♣2" East said afterwards, and I apologised.

At the half way mark the team was only a few hundred points behind. With everything to play for we all had a lemon tea and sat down for the second half.

Things started badly when I conservatively underbid to miss a slam (very unusual). We had a serious of good results, then on the very last deal I faced this ethical dilemma:

None Vul
N deal
♠ J T
♥ J 9
♦ K Q 7 6 5
♣ Q 8 6 2
♠ Q 9 8 3 2
♥ 3
♦ J 8 4 2
♣ 7 5 3
♠ A 6 5
♥ T 8 4 2
♦ A T 9 3
♣ J 9
♠ K 7 4
♥ A K Q 7 6 5
♦ -
♣ A K T 4

I opened 2♣ and Anna replied 2♦, showing 5+ points. I showed my Hearts and Anna jumped to a natural but rather pessimistic 3NT. Undeterred, I pressed on with 4♣. It was the end of a long night and Anna didn't fancy raising Clubs either so bid 4♦, which was some sort of generic cue bid without actually knowing what trumps are. We have quite a lot of those sort of bids in our slam auctions, and at some point should really sort out what our bids mean after 3NT.

At this point, most of the other tables had finished, and were milling around near us. While I was thinking about Anna's 4♦ bid I distinctly overheard someone saying "6♥ makes, because the Ace of Spades is onside". It seemed pretty clear they were talking about this hand. The person I overheard was from the opposition team, if that has any bearing. I asked the group to talk elsewhere, but as they walked away I heard someone else (from our team this time) saying that opener only had 19 points. Surely they were talking about this hand too?

I now strongly suspected slam would make, through some very unauthorised information. I'm not sure what I would have bid otherwise, but knowing what I now did I bid a simple 4♥, leaving it up to Anna. I've probably bid enough anyway. Anna passed, West lead a Spade, the Ace of Spades was indeed onside and I made 12 tricks for 4♥+2.

In the end we lost by 600 points, a decent result against another strong team. Of course if me and Anna had of bid 6♥ (or 6♣) the match would have been won.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Glasgow League Division One: Team Rowan vs St Andrews

Without actually winning a game, things have been looking up for Team Rowan. We are still bottom of the league, with eight losses out of eight, but we scored a (moral) victory last Tuesday with a narrow loss to a very good St. Andrews Team.

Me and Anna were on Table 4 as usual, and as usual it also seemed we were playing against the pair with the most exotic methods. They were Gints from Latvia and Billy. Despite not being a regular partnership, they were playing a few gadgets. A couple of times they had a misunderstanding and we were misinformed, but it didn't really make any difference.

In the first half they narrowly had the better of us, thanks mostly to two slam hands. On the first I was third-in-hand but vulnerable with a six card Spade suit to the Ten. I decided to open a Weak Two, and when Anna raised me to 3♠ I got a bit worried that I might get doubled. But the opponents soon weighed in and got to 6♦, which Gints made comfortably. He actually had the ♠AKQ! Luckily Tom & Raymond bid the slam for our team at another table (without any opposition bidding). On the other slam hand I put Anna in a speculative 6♥ which requires precise play to keep all the entries; she worked it all out except for the one extra entry needed to get back to hand to draw trumps and went two down in a contract we probably shouldn't have been in.

However, at the break we were only 40 points down. Could this be another famous draw, or even a debut victory for Team Rowan?

In the second half me and Anna did a lot better, and most of the boards were good boards for us. The best was this vulnerable Grand Slam:

♠ K Q x x x
♥ J x x
♦ 9 x
♣ A x x

♠ A x
♥ A K x
♦ A K Q J 8
♣ K Q J

I had the monster South hand and drove us up to 7♦. This came home when Diamonds were 4-2, but we should really have been in 7NT, which has chances even if you are unlucky and the Diamonds are 5-1. We have 37 points between us but surprisingly were the only one of four tables to bid and make a Grand Slam on the hand.

Another good board for us was this curiosity, where oddly East's decision to open light actually stopped his side getting to game:

All vul
W deal
♠ J x x
♥ x x
♦ T x x
♣ Q x x x x
♠ K Q x x x
♥ K T x x x x
♦ J x
♣ -
♠ x x
♥ A Q J x
♦ K x x x
♣ x x x
♠ A x x
♥ x
♦ A Q x x
♣ A K J x x

West has a big hand but decided to begin with a Pass. This came round to East who opened light with 1♣, playing five card Majors. I was South with 18 points and a fine Club stop, so doubled planning to bid 1NT later. West bid 1♠ over the double, and when it came back round I duly bid 1NT. West now bid 3♥ to try and convey his shape. East has got excellent Heart support, but has also opened with a flat 10 count, so passed. 3♥ made 11 tricks when declarer was able to establish the Spades. I suspect that if East passes then after South opens West will overcall (perhaps with Michaels) and East-West will get to 4♥, possibly even doubled by South.

Although me and Anna had a roaring second half it wasn't enough, and Team Rowan lost by 500 points overall for a respectable 7-9 loss.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Glasgow League Division One: Team Rowan vs Kenmure

Team Rowan had another tough match this Tuesday at the Glasgow Bridge Centre against Kenmure. I'd been watching the experts at the weekend in the Scottish Cup Final (see report here) so felt confident I'd be on excellent form.

However, at the half way stage we were 2000 points down, as has been the story all season. Tonight I'd been bidding boldly to put Anna in a few thin games, which I think is the right thing to do at aggregate, except for the fact that none of them made and we kept going one off for -100. Here's one where Anna had no chance:

All vul
W deal
♠ J 9 7 4 2
♥ 5 3 2
♦ 5
♣ A 9 6 4
♠ Q 6 5 3
♥ J T 7
♦ A Q 4
♣ K Q 5
♠ A T 8
♥ K
♦ J T 7 6 3 2
♣ T 8 2
♠ K
♥ A Q 9 8 6 4
♦ K 9 8
♣ J 7 3

The opponents opened and raised Spades, playing four card Majors. Anna weighed in with 3♥, which shows a good suit and good hand just like she has. I have a good dummy for Hearts and couldn't resist topping her up to 4♥. But my dummy wasn't as suitable as I thought and the game had no chance. Anna managed to steal a trick with the ♠K but still went one off.

At the break Team Captain Jill reassured us that we could easily recoup our 2000 point deficit - it was only 500 points per table. We didn't have to wait long before me and Anna generated a 2000 point swing on our table alone. Unfortunately, the swing was in the wrong direction:

EW Vul
W deal
♠ K 9 4 3
♥ 4
♦ K J 6
♣ Q 9 8 6 5
♠ -
♥ A J T 7 6 5 2
♦ T 8 5
♣ K J 4
♠ Q J T 8 7 6 2
♥ K Q 9 8 3
♦ 3
♣ -
♠ A 5
♥ -
♦ A Q 8 7 4 2
♣ A T 7 3 2

West dealt and opened 3♥, which I passed (in the same position on another table Trish Matheson from our team doubled as North). East bid 4♥, which was either extremely conservative or extremely shrewd. Anna paused for a long time over this, and with my singleton Heart I was willing her to bid. In retrospect it would have been so much better if we had of just let the opponents play in 4♥, like they wanted. Anna came up with 5♦, which I passed. Another option from Anna would have been 4NT showing minors, but it wouldn't make much difference here. I passed 5♦ and East, with his monster Heart support, came back in with 5♥. Anna looked at her three Aces and doubled. I removed the double from 5♥ to 6♦, and was delighted when East bid again with 6♥, doubled and passed out.

We'd pushed them up two levels and doubled, this should be profitable I thought. I led my trump, and declarer was able to cross-ruff, set up the Spades and make a vulnerable 6♥x+1 for 1860. If I lead (and continue) Diamonds that stops the overtrick, and actually means declarer has to play quite carefully to make it, not drawing trumps but playing a complete cross-ruff.

This was a freak deal, so I didn't feel too bad. I remember a hand at the Scottish Cup Final where his opponents bid up to 6♥ and Les Steel paused before passing it out. I asked if he was considering a sacrifice, but he said no, he was thinking about double, and if the opponents then made it that would mean it was a wild deal and would just be one of those things.

However, our result was not replicated at any other tables. Where our team-mates also had the North-South cards Trish and Christine were allowed to play 5♦, and where Team Rowan sat East-West they either defended 6♣ (off one on a Spade lead and ruff) or played 6♥ down one, presumably on a trump lead. So overall the board was a big loss for our team, thanks to us.

After this hand I was possibly on the tilt, and bid up to a very bad slam. I had the big South hand below, and overbid to 6♦. Here's the hands, I'm withholding the auction. As you can see, dummy was not very helpful:

♠ Q 9 7
♥ J 8 7 6 2
♦ 4
♣ A K T 7

♠ K 8 3 2
♥ K 4 3
♦ A K Q J T 7
♣ -

6♦, had no chance, and went two off. At one point in the auction Anna (North) bid 3NT to play, and delighted afterwards in telling me that it was the only making game contract. She'd bid it, and I'd ignored her and bid on. "Trust your partner" she said.

However, after this, things picked up. We stayed alert in defence and took down a couple of games, then I played an awkward 4♠. I made it via a clever Morton's Fork:

♣ Q 8 6 5
♣ A T 7 4 &dclubs; J 2
♣ K 9 3

I lead a low Club up towards dummy. If West took their ♣A I would have just one Club loser, but if they ducked it (as they did) I could then discard both my losing Clubs in hand on some spare winners in dummy. After the game made Anna instinctively scored it up as off one, because we'd gone down in every other contract, and had to be reminded that I'd actually made this one.

Then for the final hand I again had a go at slam, and this time found a much more suitable dummy:

♠ K 2
♥ K 4 2
♦ J 8 2
♣ A T 9 6 5

♠ A Q 9 7 4 3
♥ A 3
♦ A Q 5
♣ K 4

West lead a Diamond around to my ♦Q, and when Spades split I had 12 top tricks. I now think correct technique is to test Clubs before drawing trumps, so you have enough entries to set up Clubs if they are 4-2 and Spades are 4-1 so you have a trump loser. I didn't do that though, just eagerly drew trumps. However, to finish with a flourish I did still make an overtrick with a mostly deliberate Heart-Club squeeze against West. This was satisfying, even if it did make Anna slightly nervous as dummy wondering why I hadn't claimed yet.

As far as I know the other tables played this hand in 4♠, so that was a gain for Team Rowan.

At the end of the match the news from the other tables was all good, and we had clawed back nearly all of our deficit for a famous 40 point loss. That means the points from the match are split 8-8, a famous draw for Team Rowan!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Scottish Cup Final

I was part of the team at the Glasgow Bridge Centre that hosted the Scottish Cup Final this Sunday. The format was two teams of four competing over four segments each of 16 boards. The match was played behind screens, which I've not experienced before.

The favourites and eventual winners were team SHORT consisting of Brian Short, Dave Walker Les Steel and John Matheson. The runners up were team KANE with Danny Kane, Helen Kane, Cliff Gillis and Alistair MacDonald.

The first section was very low scoring, then after the break SHORT started amassing IMPs and never looked back.They seemed to profit from better defence on a lot of part score boards plus a few game swings due to superior play. Their losses were mostly limited to when team KANE hit the jackpot with an ambitious bid.

This was an interesting board from the 3rd segment:

Closed Room
Kane DSteelMacDonaldMatheson
-1♠ -
1NT-3NT -
4♥-- -
Open Room
WalkerGillisShortKane H
-1♠ -
2♣*-2♦* -
2♥-4♥ -
- -

In the Closed Room East opened 1♠ and West made the disciplined reply of 1NT. East has the points for game so bid 3NT. I thought that might end the auction, as it wouldn't be the first or second time that Kane-MacDonald had played 3NT with a big major fit, but West pulled to 4♥. Les Steel as North lead the ♣4, which in their system is either his 3rd or 5th highest Club (or shortage). Declarer thought for a while, couldn't face going down on trick one, and played the ♣A. When both Spade honours were offside he had to lose three more tricks and go down one.

In the Open Room after the same opening bid West replied 2♣, which for them I think shows one of three things, one of which is weak Hearts, and when East found out it was Hearts he raised to game. This time, playing 4th highest leads, North lead the ♣3. At this point the Closed Room had all finished their match, and along with me, were gathered around a monitor waiting to see what declarer Dave Walker would do. "He ought to get it right" said his team-mate Les Steel "He really ought to get this right.". After a long pause he did get it right, and finessed the ♣Q. He then took a slightly risky line playing for an overtrick which drew disapproving comments from Matheson and Steel, but it worked out fine and making 4♥ was worth 13 IMPs. This gave Team SHORT a 50 IMP lead going into the last segment and virtually sealed the match.

1. Would you finesse the Clubs at trick one?

In the final section there was one soaring highlight for Team KANE, a doubled grand slam!

Closed Room
Kane HSteelGillisMatheson
-2♥- 3♥
-5♣*- 6♥
- - -
Open Room
WalkerMacDonaldShortKane D
x - --

In the Closed Room when the hands were dealt commentator Liz McGowan said on Vugraph "Back with the slams. Kane needs these to produce some action." Iain Sime described the bidding: "3♥ forcing, 4♣ mild slam try". As the cuebidding continued Liz said: "One great Scottish Bridge tradition is to ensure in a slam auction that partner has to make the last guess. That way it's never your fault.". Finally Matheson took the plunge and bid 6♥. East lead the obvious ♦Q and declarer wrapped up 13 tricks. Afterwards, John Matheson said that he had that Board marked as a likely gain for his team, as they'd bid and made a slam which if off two tricks if East finds a Spade lead.

2. Against 6♥, if East leads a low Spade is it clear for West to play the ♠J?

On the other table the auction was shorter. Commentator Paul Gipson immediately picked up on the significance of the 1♠ bid: "Nice try by Danny Kane, more difficult for Short to lead a Spade now." Danny Kane then took a gamble at 6♥, and I was delighted to see MacDonald top him up to seven. I think that whenever partner makes a surprise jump to slam you should always top him up if possible, and although I'd never met Alistair MacDonald before he'd clearly heard of Hamilton's Rule, as I'd like it to be known, and bid an excellent 7♥. At least, excellent as far as the neutral is concerned. It's a precarious contract.

Before the bid Gipson said: "if MacDonald bids 7♥, will Walker double?". When Walker did double, he queried: "Does double ask for a Spade, or show a void?". Short presumably wasn't sure either, so lead a Diamond (same as closed room), and MacDonald nocholantly wrapped up all 13 tricks, for 7♥x= and 13 IMPs. Afterwards, Short and Walker stayed relatively calm.

3. What would you lead after the double?

In the end Team SHORT ran out comfortable winners by 163 IMPs to 93. Congratulations to them, and thanks to the Glasgow Bridge Center for hosting the event.