Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Historic Hand

This deal is historic (for me at least) as it's the first one ever to feature my wife, mother and daughter. A Hamilton family special.

The cards did not live up to the occasion and were not very exciting:

No one vul
N deal
♠ Q J x x
♥ x x x
♦ K x x
♣ A x x
♠ A 5 x
♥ K Q x x
♦ J x x x
♣ J x
♠ T x x
♥ x x x
♦ Q T x x
♣ x x x
♠ K 9 x
♥ A J T
♦ A x
♣ K Q T x x

South opened 1♣ and when North responded 1♠ made a rebid of 1NT, showing 15-17. With 10 points North raised straight to 3NT.

West was on lead, and found the bold choice of the ♠5. This could have worked well, playing through dummy's suit, but actually here it gives declarer an immediate ninth trick in Spades. Nothing else works any better though, and declarer always makes 3NT.

It should be noted at this point that West just had just had her 1st birthday, and was sitting on her Daddy's knee. Many of her cards were held upside down, or on the floor, and after the game she could be found under the table tossing cards around randomly and playing with Hippo.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

National Pairs (not)-Qualifying

Last Wednesday at the Buchanan Phil and I attempted to build on our 38.5% of the previous week and qualify for the National Pairs Final. The good news is that we did 10% better, the bad news that we didn't quite make the 50% required to get to the next round.

We were within a board of qualifying, and it could have been any of many. There were some wild hands, wild bidding and wild defence.

Looking for a nice calm start I picked up the hand below.

♠ AQJT842 ♥ AK9542 ♦ - ♣ -

I couldn't believe it when I started sorting my cards and realised they were all Spades and Hearts. I went for a cautious 1♠ opening, reasoning that surely it won't get passed out, and this way I've a better chance of getting doubled at the end.


When Phil gave false preference to Spades at the four level I thought about jumping to 6♠, figuring I'm probably going to lose one Spade and can ruff out the Hearts. Looking back, I wish I had bid the slam. When am I even going to get a hand like that again?

As it is, I underplayed the hand as well as underbidding it. After a Club lead I decided to ruff a Heart, but for no good reason played the ♥A and ♥K before taking a ruff. This got over-ruffed, as did the next Heart, so even though I dropped the singleton ♠K I lost two Heart tricks for 4♠+1. This turned out to be slightly above average when only one pair bid and made the slam, and a couple had a horrible time in 6NT.

The standard was high, and I didn't mind when our borderline contracts got beaten by good defence. But it did mean we got a succession of rather poor scores. Our defence was not so tight, and one declarer embarrassed us by collecting four tricks from this suit:

♣ A Q 7 4
♣ K 6 5 3 ♣ T 8 2
♣ J 9

So I was slightly on the tilt when I made a very poor two-level overcall on the hand below:


The opponents landed in 3NT, a decent contract with South's seven running Clubs. But Phil doubled it, right in theory as we beat 3NT so long as he leads a Diamond. In practice though, they removed to 4♥, which is very hard to beat (and we couldn't do it). Conceding 4♥= was worth 19%.

I persisted with dodgy overcalls, and it paid off on this one:


After North opens 1♥ it's the perfect time to pre-empt, with favourable vulnerability and partner having passed. I bid a bold 3♣. Phil thought about removing this to 3♦ but I think rightly passed, and I was left to play it. It did not go well, and after a brief discussion about whether the defence had made eight or nine tricks we agreed 3♣-4. However, while playing the hand it become clear to me the opponents could make a lot of tricks in Spades, and so we scored 85% for the board.

In another wild hand I opened 2NT and Phil leapt to 6♣, which made all 13 tricks. There were higher scoring slams, so we got a slightly above average 56%. Our best slam was one we bid and made off two cashing Aces. This sounds like poor bidding, but I think actually we knew what we were doing. Judge for yourself:


I decided not to open the East hand, reasoning I could always get in to the auction later. When Phil doubled 1♣ for takeout I jumped to 4♠. Phil saw the potential of his Diamond suit, and well placed ♣K, and bid Blackwood. This is a bit risky with a void, as I could well have the useless ♥A (and indeed I did), but he reasoned that on the expected Heart lead he could ruff it then throw away Hearts on the long Diamonds, as indeed turned out to be the case. An interesting strategy from South might have been to Cash the trump Ace to see dummy, then on seeing there was no Club void cashing the ♣A.

Going in to the final round against John Di Mambro and Ronald Gaffin we needed something special to qualify. The first board was a good one, as I made 4♥+2 for another 100% board. A little feature of interest came at the end of that hand. With no outside entries to dummy I played on the Spade suit, with the lead in my hand as South.

♠ A J T 5
♠ Q 8 7 ♠ K 9 2
♠ 6 4 3

I lead low and finessed the ♠T. When this lost to East I won the return and finessed the ♠J, making three Spade tricks when this finesse won and the suit split 3-3, and I thought "that's lucky". Then it was pointed out that actually West can thwart me by going up with the ♠Q on the first round. If I win this East holds up the ♠K and I get cut off from dummy and only get two Spade tricks. And if I let the ♠Q win I also end up losing two Spade tricks.

In the end it didn't matter as they qualified anyway and we didn't, finishing on 48% and just outside the top five. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Matchpoint warm up

In preparation for attempting to qualify in the National Pairs next week, Phil and I played the match point evening at the Buchanan.

Things started very well, when I doubled a Blackwood response of 5♦ leading Phil to find a winning Diamond lead against 6♣ which let us take the first two tricks and defeat a slam that would normally make. A pleasing instance of partnership co-operation in defence. Then two boards later we were the only table to bid and make 7♥ after a very unconvincing auction. But these few highs were wiped out by all the little boards that make the difference in match points. It was a high standard, much higher than us, and after those initial highs we plummeted to finish bottom with 38.5%.

As bridge players like to do, I have rationalised our bad score into boards where the opponents were particularly successful against us, and boards where I had to admit we brought it on ourselves. In the first category were a couple where they bid a game (e.g. 3♣-5♣), we sat there and defended accurately (taking the maximum possible of two tricks), but got a bottom as other tables were not in the same making game. Nothing you can do about that.

Another example is the deal below, where our opponents were the only ones to bid 4♠, after Phil opened the South hand with a Weak Two.


It's probably an overbid by East with his Hearts sitting badly, but worked well here with the Club fit and ten tricks were easy.

That one I expected to be a bad score, ,ore frustrating was the board below. I took a bit of a risk and thought it had paid of handsomely with a good result, until I looked at the Bridgemate and saw we'd got another bottom score.


After Phil opened the South hand 1♦, I responded 1♠, reasoning that with my Diamond fit we'd always end up somewhere good. This turned out to be the case as Phil rebid 2♦, and made it for +90. But every other table had East-West going down one in 4♥, for +100 to East-West. It's a cruel game.

Last time Phil and I played together (see here) it was aggregate, and we thought afterwards that we should have bid a few more thin games. Six months later playing match points, we adopted that strategy, and played some very dicey contracts, that all went down. The deal below was the height of our folly:


The auction is fine up to 2♠, but then I should really pass. We might have a game, but it's very unlikely, and 2♠ could well be high enough, if partner has only a doubleton Spade and weak hand (as here). But I chose to invite anyway. And Phil, perhaps overestimating my playing ability, chose to accept with his 5 point hand and tried 3NT based on his long Clubs. But we couldn't play 3NT with 20 points between us so settled in 4♠. The one advantage of bad bidding is that it's hard to defend, and we managed nine tricks, but would much rather have had them in 2♠+1 than 4♠-1.

We were playing a simple Acol system with three Weak Twos, and I think it worked well. The only confusion was in defence, when we weren't sure what counted as enough to encourage, and I ended up eagerly continuing a suit that Phil didn't really want. Of course we'll fix all that up though and come storming back for the National Pairs.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Aggregate at St Andrew

Having not played for a while I've a few games coming up. Tonight was a practice match with John Faben at St Andrew, practice for him as he has a match in the National League tonight. We were therefore playing the system that he'll be using, which was unfamiliar to both of us. 5 card majors, 14-16 NT and 2/1 game forcing, and plenty of other things I highlighted on the Convention Card (Ghestem, Drury, Bergen Raises, DONT).

As tends to always happen, not much of it came up, but I was ready when it did. On the third board I had a two-suited hand, and was determined to get the right bid. Playing Ghestem you can bid all the different two suiters. Here's the options when the opponents have opened 1♣:

2NTThe lower two remaining suits (Diamonds and Hearts)
A cuebid (2♣) The lowest and highest remaining suits (Diamonds and Spades)
A jump in s minor (2♦) The other two suits (Hearts and Spades)

I was dealt Diamonds and Spades. South had just asked me a friendly question, but I had to say "hold on" and think for a bit about my bid first, before correctly choosing 2♣. I was delighted when John alerted this as Diamonds and Spades. This was the full deal:


John then raised me to 3♦, but we were outbid and the opponents stopped in a good spot of 4♣, making with an overtrick. I might have tried 3NT as North, which fails when the Clubs don't split.

There were only three tables at the event, mostly made up of Raymond's and students from his class. It was a friendly atmosphere and no one was too worried about the scores. But one pair afterwards were delighted when they bid and made a slam no one else did. This was our auction to 6♠:


John opened 1♠ and a replied 2NT with a game forcing raise in Spades. After that the bidding was mostly natural, as we trundled towards 6♠ (I tried to stop in 4♠ but John kept going). It was a good contract, but doomed when the defence accurately found the Diamond singleton lead and return. In aggregate scoring this was expensive, 6♠-1 when the other tables were making 6♠ or 4♠.

But never mind the points, my personal highlight was when I did something clever when against a 1NT contract. As a defender I was cashing my long Clubs and had enough to get the defence up to six tricks, leaving one card left for everybody. I was fairly sure that my partner had winners in both the Majors, but was worried that when he got down to the final card he wouldn't know which winner to keep. So rather than cashing my last Club winner (and giving John a long pause and awkward discard) I played a Heart across to partner at Trick 12, and John was able to cash the last two tricks. I've thought of doing this before but not been bold enough to do it.

Overall it was a fun night at the Club, and I hope John is now ready for the National League tonight!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

School Teams Match

My Secondary School bridge club has about eight keen first and second year pupils (aged 11-13), so the last two lunch times I've arranged a mini teams-match, where each table plays four boards. That might not sound like very much, but in just 45 minutes with children eating lunch it's quite an achievement

During the matches I've started doing the scoring live on a big whiteboard, without waiting until both tables have played each board. This means that if, for example, they can see that the other table made 1NT+3 they can hen go for 3NT themselves. This is of course slightly unfair, but I did this as I wanted them to really think about the effect of the game bonus, and was fed up of overhearing people say that they had "beaten" another pair because they got a positive score against them, like 2♥+2.

The board below was an exciting one. I substituted as South, and after a lively auction supported Spades so North ended up declaring 4♠. East said: "I think I've pushed them too high" and lead a Club (it may be makeable on a Heart lead).

Declarer ended up making just six trump tricks and the Ace of Clubs, for 4♠-3. The reason he only made six trump tricks is because he tried to ruff a club back to hand, which East over-ruffed. This was indeed a good result for East-West, as surprisingly they can't make a game.

Below is a photo from one table. It was non-uniform day, though someone always forgets...

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Double Trouble

I've not played much competitive bridge lately, but the school year has began so here's a hand from my school bridge club, where I got schooled.

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

Put yourself in South's seat. You deal and open 1♥, which partner raises to 2♥. That's good news, and is all you need to hear. East now comes in with 3♣ so you show your second suit with 3♦. By the time it comes back it's at the five level, but with a big trump fit and void in Clubs you have no problem bidding 5♥. This gets doubled.

The defence begins by trying to cash a Club, which you ruff. You draw trumps in two rounds (West had a void), then start on Diamonds. West wins the Ace and switches to Spades, East taking the ♠A. You have now lost two tricks and need the rest. East returns a Spade into your ♠KJ but you don't dare finesse, so play the ♠K.

At this point declarer played another round of trumps, then looked at his losing Spade and announced "I think I might be down one." He could see no way to get rid of the Spade loser in each hand. Then his friendly bridge teacher (sitting East and having made a very poor double) suggested he play a couple of Diamonds. Sure enough the ♦J won, away went one Spade in dummy, then the final Diamond was also by this stage a winner, so away went the last Spade in dummy. Declarer ruffed his losing Spade and claimed 5♥x. West couldn't understand why he wasn't getting a trick with his ♠Q.

It was a great teaching moment. The idea of making losers disappear is sophisticated and I think you need to see it happen to believe it.

I didn't mind that I'd doubled another making contract.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Blyth Valley Bridge Club #2

This week Anna and I were on our Summer Holidays in Suffolk. We were also here for Easter holidays, and in fact that was the last time that the two of us played together at a bridge club. On Tuesday we returned to Blyth Valley Bridge Club, and were greeted again by the friendly locals. Several people recognised us, and I was impressed that the scorer Ron knew that we'd come first last time we were there (read my report here).

We weren't at all worried about the results, just happy to be out and about playing bridge together. Perhaps because of this relaxed attitude we did quite well, and even the boards where we could have done better still seemed to get a good result. For example, on one I raised Anna's 2♠ to 3♠ just in case she might want to bid game. She didn't, and went one off in 3♠, but this was still an OK score as others were going off in 4♠.

Twice we got a top score for making 4♥+2, which shows the benefit of not bidding a risky slam; making 6♥ would have got us no more matchpoints. For example this deal, with no one vulnerable:

♠ A x
♥ J x x x
♦ T x x x x
♣ x x
♠ x x
♥ A K Q x x
♣ K Q J x x x
1♦ 1♥

East opened 1♦ and Anna has a tough decision as South. Other possible bids are double (strong hand), 2♣ (longest suit), 2NT (showing Clubs and a Major). Instead she decided to show her good five card major with 1♥. When I showed a bit of support she went straight to 4♥, and played there. On the expected Diamond lead she could draw trumps and lose just the one trick in Clubs.

What helped our relaxation was that the baby (being looked after by Nana) was doing OK. I got more or less hourly updates, and had to excuse myself to look at my phone between rounds. A trial run earlier in the week had not gone well, so to demonstrate the little monster really was OK I was sent a photo message of her smiling.

In general we all played quite briskly. One exception was where I was very slow on this deal:

♠ A Q x x x
♥ x x
♦ x x
♣ Q T x x
♠ K T x
♥ A T x x x
♦ K J x
♣ A x
- - 1♥

Two questions:
1: What would you have bid as North on the second round?
2: How would you play 3NT on the lead of the ♥K?

Anna was faced with the bidding decision, and decided to stretch a bit and double, which showed 10+ points.

I therefore played the hand in 3NT. On the ♥K lead I figured that West had a lot of Hearts (and Diamonds) so the Spades were probably not going to be breaking. I wanted to finesse East, but didn't have any entries to do that. So I ducked the ♥K, and ♥Q, and West now reluctantly lead a Spade for me. That now gave me five Spade tricks along with two Aces, up to seven tricks. I didn't want to cash all my Spades in dummy yet as didn't know what to discard, so played another Heart for West to win and be endplayed. She cashed the ♦A and played another Diamond round to my ♦KJ giving me my eight and ninth tricks.

At the break I went to check with the babysitters, while four teas and four biscuits were collected. After I got back I was left with the last one, but it was a Honeycomb Club so I wasn't too disappointed.

In the second half I lost my concentration a bit, and at one point Anna sat down at a new table as East, and I sat down North. We still played fairly well though, and sometimes managed to steal the odd trick for a good score. I can only think of one time I definitely bodged, when the trump suit looked like this:

♠ K 7 4
♠ Q J 8 ♠ A
♠ T 9 6 5 4 2

South was declarer with Spades trumps. He lead up a small Spade, and I eagerly played the ♠J, which went to the King and Ace. Clearly I should have played low, then (if declarer still played the King) we would have got three trump tricks.

Here's a photo when I asked everyone to show me their cards so I could write about it on the blog (then decided not to include that hand):

At the end we left promptly to go and see how the baby was, walking through the village of Walberswick and getting a little ferry in the rain.

It was another very enjoyable afternoon at a friendly Club.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Scottish Schools Bridge Championship

Last year I took two teams of four to this event (see here); this year I was delighted to add a Primary 7 team who had previously done well at the Glasgow Minibridge Championship (see here).

Following their recent domination of the event it made sense for it to be hosted by Hutcheson's Grammar school, and John Di Mambro did a great job converting a lecture theatre into a ten table room. He even threw in a hot lunch, and we had Horst Kopleck directing the event. Around the room the atmosphere was great, as the kids were competitive while also being friendly.

My teams have now been playing for nearly two years, and I noticed a definite improvement since last year, both in cardplay and in the bidding where we were much more focused on the game bonus. I was particularly impressed that after each board the pupils were able to reflect on what might have been. For example, after making 1NT+5 someone asked me "Should we have bid 6NT"? (No, but you should have bid 3NT). Someone else said to me afterwards they thought that "Shape was more important than points" and next time they had a void they were going to bid game.

The main error was the same as with all beginners; a temptation to win all your Aces and Kings without trying to bid extra tricks, especially when you are feeling the pressure. Kids hate the idea of deliberately losing a trick.

My Senior team of 16 year olds have a lot of potential, but unfortunately for the last few months haven't played much bridge due to the distraction of their National 5 (GCSE) exams getting in the way. I was a bit worried when I asked someone on the train how many points you need for a game, and he replied "All of them, at least 9000", then when pressed admitted he didn't know what a game was. I was therefore extremely surprised when I went to watch at their table. One of them opened 1♣ and when the other replied 1♦ this was alerted as showing Hearts! "Do you play transfers?" asked the bewildered opposition. The advanced bidding systerm was not a success, as they finished in 4♣-4 and was quietly dropped after lunch.

I've only taught very limited bidding, with12-14 1NT and the rest natural, but it normally got to the right contract. We only struggled with strong hands, where my advice is simply to bid game in one go. At one point today one player overcalled 1♦ with 20 points (we've no other way to bid it), which was passed out and resulted in four overtricks. "I had 20 points!" said the overcaller, "next time you should bid more!". "Next time you'll have a different partner" was the reply.

Slam biding is also still to come. As far as I could see no one in the room got there on this board, although they all played it for 13 tricks.

I like to think Anna and I would have bid at least 6♥, and 7♥ is possible with some special bidding agreements.

When they read out the top three I was surprised our S1/S2 team of girls had finished third (our of ten), and even more surprised the P7 team second. All of the kids did well, coping with playing 24 boards and learning a lot.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Buchanan Congress Pairs 2016

This is the third year in a row I've entered this event. In the last two years, with Anna, we narrowly failed to qualify for the final, and I narrowly failed to arrive on time (report here). This year I was playing with John Faben, who in previous years had done very well playing with Norman McGeagh, finishing 2nd overall and 1st overall.

Things started well when we both arrived thirty minutes before the start time, to fill out our System Cards. The main point of interest is that we play Puppet Stayman in all situations when it's appropriate, and many when it's not. Therefore, in the section on the bidding card for General System, I'd just written Puppet Stayman, which I regretted when somebody picked up our card and asked what system we play. It was like the time in the University Championships when my partner Jake and I wrote Post-Prandial Slump on our System Card, and an opponent asked what it was and when it applies (after lunch).

With the Puppet Stayman agreed the rest of the system fell into place. John made me agree that "2NT in competition is never natural" which is perhaps a good idea, but since we hadn't agreed what it was (only that it wasn't natural) this caused some confusion during the day, when 2NT bids were alerted, asked about, then explained only as "not natural".

On the very first board, at favourable vulnerability, I was dealer with this rotten 11 point hand:

♠ K ♥ 92 ♦ KJ86 ♣ A97643

I opened 1♣, and regretted it 30 seconds later when John leaped to 6NT, doubled and off two. But on the very next board he played a quiet 2♦ with two unexpected overtricks for a top score, so in the strange world of Matchpoints we broke even on the round.

We bid Puppet Stayman wherever possible, and scored a triumph here:


John opened the South hand 1NT (12-14, may contain a singleton) and I had the weak North hand. I bid 2♣ which asks for a 5-card Major. I knew that if John had one, ideally Spades, we'd be in at least a 5-2 fit, which is no worse than a transfer, and if he didn't have a five card Major we'd play in 2♦, as happened here.

2♦ went well as with the perfect layout of trumps declarer lost just one Diamond, two Spades and two Clubs. It scored 80%, just losing to the couple of North-South pairs making made more tricks than they should have in 1NT.

John was declarer most of the time, which suited me fine. The first time I was declarer I overbid my strong hand, trusted my ♥Kx was a stoppper and ended up in a dicey 3NT. My stopper was not a stopper and it went four off vulnerable. This turned out to be a reasonable score when we realised they could make 4♥ there way, on limited points. We were all a bit surprised when we saw the traveller for that one.

The hand I regret the most is one where we got 60% and bid a Grand Slam. My bidding is somewhat embarrassing here but I'll show it anyway:

-7♠- -

I had the nice North hand and when John reached for the Stop card I expected him to be bidding a weak 2♦. Instead out came 2♣! West wasted no time bidding 4♥, an excellent bid. My ♥A is a massive card and I thought about just bidding 7NT, but I was keenly aware that John might only have 16 points and a very distributional hand following his comments on my previous post here. So I bid a very confusing 5♥. John did what he could to make sense of this and bid 6♦, then I threw him again by bidding 6♥. He got that I was looking for another suit and bid 6♠ which I raised to 7♠.

7♠ made when the trumps were 3-1 (it can go down if they are 4-0) but of course 7NT makes too. The 4♥ bid helped me know that John had virtually all of the missing high cards (as West has at least ♥KQ) but still worried that John could have a hand like he does but missing the ♦Q or ♦J, in which case 7♠ makes and 7NT goes down.

Of the 14 North-South pairs 3 were in 7NT, 2 in 7♠ and the rest in small slam (and one in 5♦).

With the top half of the pairs qualifying for the final we knew it was going to be close. We finished on 52%, but that was only good enough for the top runner-up spot, and a place in the Consolation Final. Worse than that, in the final round before the break the pair we were playing defended incredibly slowly (and accurately) so we were last in the queue for lunch. We had some sandwiches then went to Kelvingrove park to look at the hands.

The top qualifiers were John Di Mambro and Ronald Gaffin with 62%.

In the Consolation Final we had a few good results, but also seemed to get a lot of things wrong. Once I opened 2♥ with a poor suit and John had a void. I lost five trump tricks and went two off. The hand below shows a notable bodge:

4♠--- -

This time North opened a weak 2♥ before me and I had the 20 point East hand. I considered a light 3NT or a heavy 2NT but decided for a double. When it came back to me in 3♥ I doubled again, and this time John bid 3♠. I should be able to tell he's got a very weak hand as he would have voluntarily bid 3♠ the round before if at all possible. But I bid 3NT anyway, and he wisely corrected to 4♠, which still went two off. I've read somewhere that novice players tend to overvalue good hands and undervalue weak hands; that was certainly me here.

4♠-2 was worth 17%, as John outplayed the pair in 4♠-3.

Looking at the hands now maybe I can blame John for not bidding 4♣ over 3NT, which certainly would have worked here.

In general I was guilty of not bidding directly enough, and we both made mistakes in the play, such as playing to give partner a ruff even though you know he has no trumps. This is only marginally better than playing to get a ruff yourself when you have no trumps. We did manage to generate a few positive swings, such as when John supported my Spades (at the four level) with ♠84 which lead to the opponent reaching a hopeless 6♥.

My final featured hand is a seemingly routine 3NT, played by South.

John was on lead and found the normal Club lead, which gives declarer time to set up the Hearts and after a Club finesse come to nine tricks. However, whenever 3NT was played by North it went down, as East found a Diamond lead. This seems reasonable enough, and it's just a swing based on luck of who is declarer. But the hand record shows that 3NT makes on any lead. How do you make 3NT on a Diamond lead? It looks like the defence have four Diamonds and a Heart.

The answer, which I worked out while walking home, is that declarer must play Diamonds herself. The defence do get their four Diamond tricks but West is squeezed so much that if she wants to keep her Heart guard she has to give up an extra tricks in Spades and Clubs, letting declarer get to nine tricks with only two from Hearts.

Overall, I estimated we got 55%, which turned out to be accurate. We were the East-West pair due to sit out on the final round, so went home early, after waiting for the Tournament Director to inform of us a ruling from earlier. The top pair in the Consolation Final were Kathleen Craig and Bob Innes with 62%. In the main final, the top three were:

1Horst Kopleck & Ricky Finlason 68%
2Jim McMenemy & Paul Maiolani 65%
3Iain Taylor & Andrew Symons 58%

So, curiously, after his success of the last two years John was unable to repeat that when playing with me. I can only think that's because he played a lot worse this time :)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Danny misses out

Last Monday Anna went to play at Buchanan Bridge Club with Heather, while I dutifully stayed at home with the baby. Afterwards Anna brought home a copy of the hand records "so Danny could point out what I did wrong".

As I looked pored over the scores, one immediately stood out. I've never seen a hand before where declarer took zero tricks!

Anna had the monster South hand. She said that she considered opening 2♣, but the hand isn't strong enough (I think you're supposed to have 16+ HCP). The other option is 1♠, which is very unlikely to be passed out, but you'd be upset if that did happen when you've ten top tricks. She opened 4♠, which is a wide ranging, though not normally this strong. West overcalled 4NT, showing minors (for us it's any two-suiter). North was very disciplined and passed, but so did East! I guess she thought that since 4♠ could be weak the 4NT was natural. When it got back round to Anna she of course passed 4NT too, expecting to make loads of Spades tricks.

In fact, North lead out nine top Hearts, then found the Club switch so Anna took the last four. None for declarer. 4NT-10, vulnerable, was a great score for the defence. However, as you can imagine, this deal produced a wide variety of scores and +1000 was not the top score. One pair (Norman) go to 7♥, which made when East didn't know what to lead. Everyone playing in Spades made 11 tricks as West was able to cash two Diamonds.

Overall, Anna and Heather did very well, finishing 2nd out of 12 pairs. But with careful scrutiny I did manage to find one hand where they could have done better. How would you play 3NT here, when East leads a top Club?

You have eight top tricks, and are looking for a ninth, without letting East back in. After winning the third Club declarer made the natural play of a Heart finesse, leading up to the ♥J. When that lost West played a top Spade, which declarer won and now it's crunch time. You've already lost three tricks (two Clubs and a Heart) and if you finesse Hearts again by leading the ♥9 and that loses to West that's four tricks lost already, with the ♠Q still to come. So declarer played Hearts from the top, hoping they were 3-3 or the ten dropped, and when that failed she was doomed.

In fact, a better line after winning the ♣A is to play on Spades immediately. You finesse twice, and even if it loses twice (as it does here) you have still set up an extra Spade winner, which along with your eight top tricks gives you the contract. This is aggregate scoring, so no prizes for overtricks. The only thing that could go wrong with this line is if East has both the missing top Spades (which is unlikely since she didn't overcall 2♣) in which case you can decide to switch back to taking the Heart finesse.

So a missed opportunity. I like to think if I was playing we would have made this contract, and kept all of the other good results so came 1st overall (I'm assuming of course I wouldn't add any bodges, which is unlikely).

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Chicago at Home

This week Anna and I hosted two other members of our Glasgow League team for an evening of bridge. Anna and I played only one match for the team this year (and played it poorly) but have kept in touch as we secured our place in the second division.

We played Chicago scoring. On most of the hands the contracts were low and the number of tricks taken by declarer was even lower, but there were a few high points. In fact, there were more slams bid than games.

Early on we had a misunderstanding which didn't get resolved to the six level, when Anna finally converted my 6♣ bid to 6♦ and I realised she actually had Diamond support. I'd mistaken her earlier jump-raise as a splinter, but as she pointed out after the hand "you don't splinter in partner's suit". Heather and David agreed. As it happened my dodgy slam still made, on a finesse, for a lucky gain for the home team.

Since our guests weren't drinking tea Anna and I had extra to compensate, and we were both enjoying our third mugs when we blundered into another slam:

No Vul
E deal
♠ K Q x
♥ Q T x x
♦ J T x x
♣ A x
♠ x x x x
♥ J x x
♦ J x x
♣ K x x
♠ A x x x
♥ x x x
♦ K Q x x x
♣ x
♠ x x
♥ A K J
♦ A
♣ K Q T x x x x

Anna opened the strong South hand 1♣, natural, and I replied 1♦ (with a weak hand I would have replied 1♥). Anna now jumped to 3♣, which is technically not forcing but I'm unlikely to pass. I bid a heavy 3NT, and was glad when Anna reached for another bid. I was expecting 4♣ or 4NT, and was surprised to see 4♥. Seeing as I had underbid so far, and never shown my Hearts, I seized on this second opportunity and immediately plonked down 6♥.

Then Anna explained to the opponents that her 4♥ bid wasn't natural, it was a control showing bid, presumably agreeing Clubs with herself. Her 4♥ bid could have been just a singleton or void, but as it happened she had a very strong control in Hearts.

West cashed the ♠A then switched to a Diamond which Anna won. I then watched with increasing relief as she played the ♥A, ♥K and then the ♥J. Just for good measure the Hearts also split, so she could claim after one round of Clubs.

This was another lucky escape. 6♣ also makes, as does 6NT.

On the final hand I had one more bash at the six level, our third auction to slam without using Blackwood at all. Controls weren't the problem here, just tricks. I've rotated the deal so declarer (me) is South

All Vul
S deal
♠ A T x
♥ A T x
♦ K Q 9 8 7
♣ T x
♠ x x x x x
♥ K x x x
♦ T x x
♣ x
♠ K J
♥ Q x
♦ A J x x x
♣ 8 x x x
♠ Q x x
♥ J 8 x x
♦ -
♣ A K Q J 9 x

I opened the South hand 1♣, without having decided yet what to rebid. Anna responded 1♦ and I considered 3♣ (not enough points) or a bold 3NT (not enough tricks). I stalled with 1♥, then when Anna bid 3NT overcompensated by leaping to 6♣. Anna is at the lower end of her range for this bid (13-18), and has lots of wasted points in Diamond opposite my void (I could have seen that coming) but the slam still has some play.

West lead a small Spade, and I played low. If this ran round to my Queen I'd have a decent chance of setting up Diamonds for one loser. Unfortunately East won his ♠K, and so I needed the rest.

I have two Spade tricks, six Clubs and one Heart, meaning I need three tricks from the Diamond suit. My plan was to lead a low one from dummy, and if East had the ♦A (but not the ♦J) he might be tempted to play it to try and take the setting trick. That didn't work as East just played the ♦J, which I ruffed. I was fixated on trying to drop the ♦A so crossed to dummy again and ruffed another Diamond; no luck. In fact once the ♦J is gone a better line (which works here) is to try and drop the ♦T in three rounds, by leading a high Diamond on the second round. This also requires the ♦A onside, which it is, so would have been glorious.

Overall Anna and I had the run of the cards, and bid to some interesting contracts. Surprisingly, given that it's her who hasn't played much for six months it was me who bodged in the bidding a couple of times, but I made up for that with some excellent defence and home made chocolate biscuits.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Blyth Valley Bridge Club

During our week's holiday in Southwold we managed not just one but two trips to a local Bridge Club, a triumph with a small baby to look after. Our second trip was to Walberswick, where a good turnout of nine tables met in the Town Hall. This time we were extremely prompt, and had plenty of time at the start for some chat, mostly grumbling about the Parish Council and commenting on what a glorious sunny day it was.

Today was a return to traditional duplicate, meaning Anna and I would be playing together. Our system was mostly the same as the local standard, except for they played Strong Twos whereas we play Weak Twos, and weak jump overcalls.

Early on I made a bodge, when defending a 1NT contract and Anna lead the ♠J and I had the ♠KQ2. I fumbled around a little while then decided to overtake, which ended up costing an overtrick, which could be costly at Matchpoints. Then we had a bidding misunderstanding, staying out of game with 27 points. I said to Anna "Why didn't you raise if you were maximum?" and she said "Yes I know stop going on about it" but after that things picked up and we got a series of good results.

Here's one where we could have done better, but I'm not quite sure how we could have bid it differently:

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

I opened the South hand 1♠ and Anna replied 2♣, then East weighed in with 2♥. This didn't bother me too much as after partner's 2/1 I was planning to make a game forcing bid anyway. Anna raised my 3♦ to 4♦, which is probably forcing though we hadn't agreed it, so I raised to game anyway.

When dummy came down I was glad we had avoided 3NT, but saw straight away that 5♦ would likely depend on the Club finesse, which would likely fail, as indeed happened. In fact by the time it came to take the Club finesse I was so convinced it would lose (as East must have points for the overcall) I actually played the ♣A, which didn't work either. 4♠ is the place to be, but not sure how you get there.

At the break I volunteered to get the tea, and had a Gold Bar. Anna had a Mint Club.

After the break there was a brief hiatus when we all realised that with nine tables there was no need for the East-Wests to skip, so we moved back one table. Anna and I had shaken off the cobwebs now and were scoring well. In defence I drew declarer's trumps to beat 1♠ by three tricks, vulnerable. Buoyed by this I made a terrible 4♥ overcall at favourable vulnerablitiy with ♠x ♥ KJ98xxx ♦ Kx ♣xxx and hit partner with a weak hand with no Hearts at all. Four off undoubled wasn't too bad, but Anna quietly advised that next time 3♥ would be enough.

Although it covers no one in glory this was probably the most interesting deal

EW Vul
N deal
♠ x x
♥ A K Q x
♦ A Q J
♣ A J x x
♠ x x
♥ x x
♦ T x x x
♣ T x x x x
♠ A K Q J T x
♥ J x x x
♦ x
♣ Q J
♠ x x x
♥ T x x
♦ K x x x x
♣ x x

Anna opened the big North hand 2♣. East overcalled 2♠ which I think is a good idea, as it's always good to interfere with the opponent's strong auctions. Anna and I hadn't discussed interference to 2♣ so I just passed with my weak hand. For the record, we have now agreed that responder's bids are 'natural' including a double for penalties, so my bid was correct by that logic too. Anna doubled as takeout, and I showed my Diamonds. She then astonished everyone by passing, having made a game forcing opening. But looking at the North hand she knows that no game is likely, so it's a reasonable bid. East then pondered for a bit before bidding 3♠, which is madness vulnerable when the opponents are happy to play in a part score. I should have doubled this as South to make life easy for partner - I have a relatively good hand in defence with three trumps and a King - but felt sure she'd double anyway so passed. To my surprise, she bid 4♦, passed out.

The defence begain with two Spades and after another Spade I had to ruff high in dummy, so ended up losing a trump trick too. Those were my only losers though so 4♦ made. Considering that North-South don't have any obvious game that might have been an OK result, but not nearly as good as beating 3♠x by at least two tricks (three on a trump lead).

My final featured hand showcases some surprisingly accurate bidding.

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

The Australian gentleman sitting West opened 1♦ and Anna with the big North hand overcalled 1♥. East bid 1♠ and I passed. West now decided to rebid 3♦, which I think makes sense. Anna pondered for a bit then bid 3♥. I was still not going to raise her and 3♥ was about to be passed out, until West came back with 4♦. When this came round to me I thought about doubling, as I know Anna has a really strong hand (she now looks at the vulnerability on nearly every board) and I have a singleton in her suit (good for defence) and an Ace, but on the other hand West is advertising a lot of Diamonds.

Against 4♦ Anna lead a top Heart, then paused. Declarer has eight top tricks, plus a certain ninth in Clubs, so any false move could give the tenth trick and give away the contract. On another layout a low Heart for me to ruff might promote a trump trick, but here Anna went for her singleton ♣J. Declarer played low from dummy and I thought about overtaking this to give a ruff, but decided it wasn't necessary (and could backfire if partner had a doubleton Club) so played low, and eventually came to two Club tricks anyway. With careful defence we beat the contract by one.

If East-West somehow get to 3NT it needs very careful defence to beat it. Again there are eight top tricks and if the defence are too aggressive they could set up a Heart for dummy, or if they are too passive declarer can get a ninth trick in Clubs. The only winning defence is for North to start with Spades, so the defence get two Spades, two Hearts and a Club.

After 21 boards there was a vote as to whether we should play one more round. Everyone voted yes, except Anna I who had a babysitter waiting (Nana and Grandpa), so we played three more boards. On the first our opponent went down not drawing trumps in a cold contract; unlucky that the side-suits had split 6-1 and 5-1, allowing Anna and I to take a flurry of ruffs for 4♥-2, where drawing trumps lets him make 4♥+2, as his wife pointed out to him.

As the club has no website we may never get the result, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon in some fine company.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Southwold Bridge Club

Last week Anna and I were on holiday for a week in Suffolk. We'd previously visited the Sole Bay Bridge Club in Southwold, but that meets in the evenings so isn't possible any more; with a baby we need more careful planning. So while the grandparents looked after the little one we went to the afternoon game at Southwold Bridge Club. We were a bit apprehensive as it was to be Rubber Bridge which we'd never played before, but when we turned up it was in fact a Bridge Drive with random deals and Chicago scoring (which we'd also not played before).

We arrived five minutes late, but thankfully there was a half-table already so we were welcome to make up the numbers. As I was informed, "when it says 2pm most people get here by quarter two". Within four hands we found ourselves 1700 points down, as our opponents quickly bid three games then we went off in a hopeless vulnerable game.

It took a little while to get used to all of the shuffling and cutting that comes with not playing duplicate, and it was strange to think that each deal would be played only once. Our bridge instincts were fairly good though, and I'm not sure there was much we could have done to avoid that bad start. Then we moved round the room changing partners each round, and things picked up. In fact the worst round for both Anna and I was when we were partnered each other.

Here's a nice little deal from when we were opponents.

No Vul
S deal
♠ A K x
♥ Q x x x
♦ x x x
♣ x x x
♠ J x x
♥ x
♦ K J T x x x
♣ K J x
♠ x x x x
♥ K T 8 x
♦ x
♣ A x x x x
♠ Q x x
♥ A J 9 x
♦ A Q x
♣ Q T 9

Playing a Weak NT and four-card majors, I opened the South hand 1♥. North made a modest raise of 2♥, which I passed. Although we have 24 points between us and an eight card fit we have two flat hands, so we've done well to stop at the two level.

West lead th ♦J, which gave me an extra trick. Surely the contract is in the bag now? I crossed to dummy with a Spade, and lead the ♥Q, covered by the King and Ace. In order to lose no Heart tricks I now have a choice of either playing the ♥J to drop the ♥T or crossing to dummy again for a finesse. I played the ♥J, which didn't work out well. I can still make the contract easily by continuing with trumps, but I was foolishly thinking about trying to make maximum tricks so decided to 'eliminate Diamonds' and cashed the ♦A. This got ruffed, and the defence still had a 2nd Heart trick to come, along with another Diamond and three Clubs. Somehow, I had gone down.

Playing in an individual tournament like this was a novelty for me, and a slightly different challenge. Whereas some people sat down with a flood of questions about agreements, I decided to say nothing and play it cool, as did most of my partners. This actually worked fine, and we didn't have any misunderstandings. It's actually quite nice having virtually no agreements. I was also able to bid fairly quickly, as I resigned myself to making awkward decisions quickly, as this deal shows:

No Vul
S deal
♠ x x
♥ 7
♦ Q T 9 x x x x x
♣ A K
♠ Q x x x
♥ A x
♦ K x
♣ J x x x x
♠ J x x x
♥ T 9 x x
♦ J x
♣ Q x x
♠ A K x
♥ K Q J x x x
♦ A
♣ x x x

South opened a traditional Strong Two. I had the freakish North hand, and needed to come up with a reply. I'm not too familiar with the proper responses to Strong Twos, but thought that bidding Diamonds couldn't be far off. North rebid 3♥, and I had a choice of games to bid. I was worried about too many trump losers in Diamonds so just bid 4♥, passed out. South made eleven tricks by drawing trumps (losing two tricks), then setting up the Diamonds.

The club was very friendly, and they were fully supportive of us leaving the kid behind (especially the men). By the end of the evening I had recovered to above zero points, but was a long way off the 4,000 points required for winning. There were also some random 'spot prizes' from the Compere Doug for happening to be opposite the piano, but we didn't win those either. However, we did have a lovely afternoon away from our baby.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Back at the Buchanan

After a six month break last night I was back at the Buchanan club, playing with Phil Moon. His hiatus was longer than mine, at ten years or so. In the build up to playing together I had printed out the comprehensive Acol System that Anna and I play, and Phil had gamely agreed to accept it wholesale. However, in the bar beforehand we made a few drastic cuts, and I vowed to bid pragmatically at all times.

On the very first hand Phil invited me to 6NT and I declined then made 12 tricks, which set the tone for the evening. At aggregate scoring this proved expensive. However, overall our bidding system held up well and our declarer play and defence was good too. Here's one where the worst hand at the table ended up being declarer:


After two passes North opened 1NT. I'm pretty sure they were playing "Weak NT and Reverse [Benji]" like nearly everyone else at the Club but North opened 1NT anyway. I had a big hand so doubled. South redoubled, I think as part of Helvic showing a five card suit. I'm not sure which five card suit she planned to show. When North duly bid 2♣ in response and I doubled again Phil described this as "I think he wants me to bid" so bid 2♥. I was braced for him to bid 2♠ (I would have passed) but when he hit my good Heart suit I risked a raise to 3♥, which was swiftly passed.

3♥ is tricky with no immediate entries to hand, but only has three top losers, two in Diamonds, one in Hearts. After a Club lead from North declarer won the ♣AK then shrewdly lead the ♣J, and when South failed to cover he discarded a Diamond. North trumped it, took one Diamond and then tried for a second Diamond which Phil was able to ruff. Ruffing Diamonds is a much better way to get to hand than ruffing Clubs. He then played a Heart up to dummy, losing to the ♥A, and was later able to draw trumps and lose no more tricks for 3♥+1. This was a fine score, as other declarers in Hearts made between 7 and 9 tricks.and North-South make 3♠. It was not quite a top though, as one North-South pair overbid to 5♦, doubled and off three.

This hand was the peak of our defence:


Phil lead the ♣J which declarer won, then curiously lead a small Club from table. I won this with the ♣8, and considered immediately leading another Club for partner to overruff declarer. However, we needed six tricks in defence so I went for a more ambitious Diamond, which hit the jackpot when partner won the ♦Q, ♦A then gave me a ruff. I now played a top Club ruffed by declarer and overruffed by West. That was five tricks for the defence already. Phil now made the winning play of another Diamond, giving declarer a ruff and discard. I ruffed this high which promoted another trump trick for him, and along with his ♠K that was 2♥-2. Declarer ended up losing three trump tricks overall (a Diamond ruff, Club ruff and the ♥T), but if she draws trumps immediately she loses only one.

Our score of +100 beat those who passed out the hand, but lost to the East-West pair who managed to make 3♣x.

Now here's three hands where we were too meek and missed out on 3NT. Would you have got to game?


I took the low road and passed 2♣. If I bid 2♦ we maybe get to 4♥ or 3NT. Three of Eleven pairs got to game (4♥).


Not sure who could bid more here. 2♦ made ten tricks. The one East-West pair in 3NT went down four (but it makes if you guess Diamonds).


With a good 9 points opposite 15+ I would have bid 3NT as West on the second round, but when I showed the hand to Anna she agreed with West's 2NT bid. Seven out of Eleven pairs made 3NT (and one made 2♣xx).

We finished a respectable 5th out of 11, a great comeback for Phil and I look forward to playing again. Next time we'll be more aggressive.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

No Fear Bridge at St Andrew

Today I went with four school pupils to Raymond's No Fear tournament at St Andrew Bridge Club. This is a tournament for beginners, with a mix of experienced players to help out. It's the first time that pupils in the school bridge club have played against adults.

There was some initial consternation when they were presented with scorecards, which to the uninitiated have a baffling array of options. We got over that and paired up, with me joining the S4 (age 15) pupil. On the very first board we had a mix-up, resulting in a highly unusual six overtricks:

♠ K 8
♥ K J T
♦ A K 4 3
♣ K 7 4 2
♠ A J 7 4
♥ A Q 9 7 4
♦ 5
♣ A Q 3
1♦ - 1♥

With 17 points my partner opened 1♦, and with 17 points I replied 1♥. To my surprise, this was passed out. At this point I could have said something, but held my tongue and played the hand. There are 12 top tricks (2+5+2+3) the only question is how to make the 13th. You could play for Clubs 3-3 or the Spade finesse, but instead I drew just two rounds of trumps then ruffed a Spade high, which works as long as Spades are 5-2 or better. It was a small victory though, as 1♥+6 was unlikely to be a good score.

After the hand Raymond suggested that we should have stopped the bidding and corrected North's Pass. However, I think we were correct to play the hand. Of course it gives a silly result and North-South get a very poor score, but that doesn't really matter. This was a vivid and memorable lesson in the perils of underbidding, and straight after the hand my partner was keen to know which bids were forcing. I said that "new suits are forcing, but bidding NT, supporting partner or rebidding your own suit are not. Also if the opponents interfere or partner is a Passed hand you don't need to bid again." Although that extremely condensed list would overwhelm most people she was used to my teaching style and I think took most of it in. We even managed to introduce Weak Twos, then later on when I made a dicey 2♠ overcall she asked why I hadn't just opened 2♠.

The other adults were delighted that the kids were there, and I was delighted that someone collectively referred to me and the pupils as being in the same generation.

Here's one we defended nicely:

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

West opened 1♣ and my partner made a rather bold 1♦ overcall. I responded 1♠ and West redbid 1NT, showing 15-17. Of course this 1NT rebid should have shown 18-19 as partner was unable to respond; the 15-17 1NT rebid is only if your partner has 6+. I nearly came back in with 2♠ but I'm glad I passed.

The spotlight was now on North. She led a Spade, and I was thankful. Declarer won and lead a Heart, putting the spotlight back on partner, who once again found the best play of a second Spade. Although declarer was also able to win this when I got back in with ♥A I was able to rattle off four Spade tricks, which was a very visual demonstration of the benefit of playing a long suit in NT to establish it, even if it means losing a couple of tricks first. With the Clubs well placed we actually took ten tricks in defence, leaving declarer to suffer in 1NT-4.

My partner and I were not the top North-South pair, but one of our pupils was part of the top East-West pair. I defended one hand with her at the end, and she seemed to be paying no attention at all then suddenly claimed the last three tricks in defence, showing an excellent appreciation of which cards to keep and which ones had gone.

I enjoyed being declarer a few times myself as I've not played for six months (since the baby, pictured at the end of this post). I think the pupils enjoyed playing in a proper event, albeit a very relaxed one. And by the end of course they'd all mastered the score sheets, and were filling in the Opening Leads long after I'd stopped bothering.

I hope to go back in a few weeks with some other pupils, as they do seem to bring a lot of joy to the club. And from my experience they love the thrill of a competition (just like me). It's always tense wondering what's going to happen, and hoping for a good result. And the younger they get into it the better they'll be.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Scottish Schools Minibridge Tournament - Glasgow Division

After last years's Scottish Schools Championship (see here) I was now keen to see the Minibridge version. I was originally just going to go as an adult helper, but found that the four youngest members of the school bridge club (who are primary age and therefore qualify) were keen for a day out. I spent a couple of lunchtimes with them getting the basics, then on the train journey across to St Andrew Bridge Club made sure they knew about the difference between choosing a part score or game contract.

The event was well attended, with 12 teams of four. There are similar events in Dundee and Inverness, and once they are complete we'll have an overall winner for Scotland.

Each of the six rounds consisted of two board matches against another team. This was an appropriate amount of boards to play in the day, and I also approve of taking lunch 2/3 of the way through the day, and I know my team approved of the large amount of squash and biscuits.

After only playing for a few months I was delighted the team stepped up well, and were not out of place. I think that playing in a competitive match in a proper bridge club gave them a lot more focus. I've never really been a fan of minibridge but seeing the kids agonise over the pros and cons of going for a game it suddenly made sense, as they are getting lots of good practice in planning their dummy play.

The High School of Glasgow in action against a pair from the winning Hutcheson's team.

The hands were carefully chosen so that game was nearly always possible, but often required careful play. I often saw the classic mistakes of novice players: focusing too much on taking winners now rather than building tricks. Sometimes in a 3NT contract declarer would cash his seven winners, then pause as he didn't know what to do, before reluctantly playing something and the defence get the final six tricks. But then of course you have to remember these are young children learning the game, and they are learning it fast.

I noticed improvement from my team during the day, and there was a eureka moment of sorts on the final hand where needing one more trick declarer recognised he had the ♦QJT, so deliberately lost two tricks, establishing his ♦Q as the key trick.

Going into the final round, we were joint third, but lost heavily after some high-quality play from the Hutcheson's A declarer:

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

By the rules of minibridge West is declarer, as he has the most points in the partnership with more points. With only 22 combined many would settle for partscore (e.g. 1♥) but this West immediately chose 4♥. Was he adding points for the void, or maybe counting losers? Was he using the fact that he knew the ♣A was onside (as everyone announces their points)? It was an inspired decision, as when I came back from getting a cup of tea he had ten tricks, which produced a healthy swing when our declarer made the unwise choice of attempting 5♣. So overall we had to settle for fifth.

Overall I think all the children had a really good day, and this has further increased their enthusiasm for bridge. Here are final standings, as best I remember:

1 Hutcheson's Alpha
2 Troon
3 Hutcheson's A
4 ?Belhaven

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

School Pairs Tournament

A couple of weeks ago we had our first Pairs Tournament to determine the top pair in the school (of those that were present). Because we only meet during lunchtime I stretched it over two days and was flexible with who played which boards. I used deals which had already been played at the Buchanan Club and compared each result with the average for pairs sitting in that direction, which meant it didn't matter if only one pair in my tournament played a board.

Of course it was better when several pairs played the same board, and I was pleased to see the kids informally comparing outcomes on the same board. For example:

On both tables North-South went overboard. First Amelie played 2NT-3, then Jack played 3NT-3. Jack felt he had done better than the other declarer, by making more tricks, but I had to explain that he got the same score. When Anna and I played this hand at the Buchanan we sat East-West and got a good score for defeating 3♦x by two tricks.

On the first table Sophia sitting East bid and made an excellent 4♠. When Anna and I played it we sat East-West and also made 4♠. It's actually unbeatable as long as the defence don't find an unlikely Club ruff. How Sophia and Amelie got to 4♠ I don't know, but I imagine there was some competitive bidding. It was certainly competitive at the other table, as South got to 5♥, doubled and redoubled. This went four off, for a massive score of 2200 to Amy and Ewan in defence.

However, I'm pleased to say that enough hands were played that this giant penalty didn't determine the overall score, and it was the pair that made four game contracts (two of them doubled) that came out on top:

After half-term I'll have another go at organising a more formal pairs tournament when everyone is able to play. I think the pupils enjoy the extra pressure, and it forces them to speed up too.

Best hand ever

At my school bridge club last week somebody dealt themselves this hand. My first thought was that she'd rigged the deck, but I don't think that's possible because I shuffled and gave her the pack of cards to deal, which she did while I stood beside her writing something on the board.

What I was writing on the board was point ranges for opening bids. I didn't cover opening 36 point hands. In the end she settled for a 6NT opening bid and played there. This was the full deal and auction:

♠ A K Q
♥ A K Q
♦ A K Q
♣ A K Q 2
♠ 6 4
♥ J 5 4
♦ 7 5 3 2
♣ T 5 4

I was the dummy and did not have the vital ♣J (and my ♥J is useless) and Clubs only produced three tricks, so declarer claimed her twelve top tricks for 6NT=. I like it when they claim early, as it shows they are aware of what is required for the contract and know how many winners they have.

I hope that the pupils will not be expecting another hand like this, as it could take many lifetimes. It's very rare to have above 20 points, as the table below shows (adapted from RP Bridge).

230.1% (1 in 1000)
290.00066% (1 in 150,000)
350.00000009827% (1 in 1 billion)
360.00000000945% (1 in 10 billion)
370.00000000063% (1 in 1600 million)

Since the probabilities fall off so quickly you're in fact more likely to get a hand of 21 points than any hand with more than 21 points. Or to put it another way, more than half of 21+ point hands have exactly 21 points.

And what about that massive 36 point hand? The probability of getting one of those is a staggering 1 in 10 billion. That's more than the number of people on Earth. So the probability of getting a 36 point hand is less than the likelihood of lining up everybody in the World randomly and you happening to be at the front. Or, alternatively, if you deal yourself one hand a second night and day it would take on average about 300 years before you saw one this good. If you deal yourself a more modest thirty hands a day it will take about a million years.

My best ever hand was a balanced 29 count. The bidding went like this:


1: 23+
2: Weak or waiting
3: Showing 29-30 (on the logic that 2NT rebid is 23-24, 3NT rebid 25-26, 4NT rebid 27-28, 5NT rebid 29-30)
4: Actually had about 10 points and six good clubs

7NT made with about 18 top tricks. What's your best ever hand?