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