Saturday, 21 April 2018

Dealing with 4-1 trumps

I think being a good bridge player means having played enough that you are familiar with all sorts of things that might happen at the table, so you can deal with them automatically and don't have to think too much.

Last night I played at the St Andrew Bridge Club with John Faben. Twice I was declarer in a routine contract that was suddenly in jeopardy when trumps didn't split nicely. I didn't cope well. Here's the first:


I upgraded the 19-point East hand to open 2NT. We don't play together often and our system is based entirely around bidding Puppet Stayman whenever possible, so John duly bid 3♣ which asksfor a five card major. I didn't have one, so he then bid the major he didn't have and I bid game.

I got a friendly lead of ♦A and another Diamond. Looking at dummy I thought I would now make 11 or 12 tricks depending on the Club guess. I started drawing trumps. On the second round South showed out, so I now know that North has a trump trick. I played one more round of trumps, leaving North with just the winning ♥J. I then set about Clubs, cashing the ♣A then leading the ♣J to finesse South.

Then, and only then, did I stop to think. If this Club finesse lost, then North could draw my remaining trumps and win all the Diamonds. Although I thought South more likely to have the ♣Q, I could have safe guarded my contract by finessing the other way, as if South won the ♣Q she couldn't draw my trumps. Even better than that, I should have started on Clubs after only two rounds of trumps. That way if the Club finesse lost no return would hurt me - and if playing Clubs early somehow lead to a Club ruff North would only be ruffing with a natural trump trick.

At the table I had to make a decision. I could put all of my eggs into one basket, carry on with the finesse of ♣Q against South and make 11 tricks if it worked, or back down and try something else. I backed down. I tried the ♣K from dummy (might drop the ♣Q), then sticking with the idea that North had the ♣Q took a Spade finesse, which if successful would also have lead me to ten tricks.

My Spade finesse failed, South cashed the ♣Q she wasn't supposed to have and with a trump trick still to lose I was down one in a 29 point game.

On the very next hand I had a chance to redeem myself, when trumps also split 4-1. Had I learned my lesson? Sadly not.


I opened the East hand 1♣ and when partner showed Spades via a double we soon got to game.

South helpfully cashed her ♥A and continued Hearts. It looks like my only other loser is the ♠A, so as before I set about drawing trumps. North ducked the first two rounds. At this point I should simply play a third round of trumps. If North takes the Ace now I can win any return, draw trumps and I'm home. If he ducks again, leaving himself the bare ♠A, I also just start taking my winners and let him get his one trick at any point.

But I had another plan - a foolish one. I ruffed a Heart in dummy, then played a round of Spades. North won his Ace and suddenly it dawned on me. If he makes me ruff now (by playing a Heart) I'm out of trumps and he still has one left. Now there is not in fact any danger here, as we've had three rounds of Hearts already so he doesn't have any, but I still feel I messed up as I didn't see that coming.

In the event North returned his final trump and I claimed the rest for 4♠+1.

So what have I learned? I'm not sure, but next time when the trumps split 4-1 I'll play side suits early, and avoid ruffing so I can keep trump control.

The rest of the evening had some highs and lows. At one point we bid to a rather dicey 7♠ (most other tables were in 4♠) which is makeable but went one off. Perhaps John will detail his rue about that on his blog. Towards the end of the evening I got very tired, and at one point when I knew I had the setting trick against 6♣ just focused on following suit and not revoking to give the contract away.

I hope to play again soon.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Friendly vs Hutcheson's

Yesterday I took twelve pupils from the HSOG bridge club on the train across town to face Hutcheson's Grammar School. This was the return match of the friendly we played last year. They beat us comfortably last time, but this time we prevailed. In the top match they narrowly beat us, and it was also close on the novices match, but a mismatch on the second match led to a comfortable win overall.

The match was very well organised, with just the right amount of boards (not many) and a decent break in between them for some sandwiches.

It was interesting watching the different standards. For example, on one hand I watched on the top table our pair bid to a solid 4♠ gaining when the other table stopped in an overly conservative 3♠+1. In 4♠ our declarer confidently won the opening lead, drew trumps, unblocked a suit, crossed to dummy, discarded a loser then took a losing finesse and claimed ten tricks.

On the third table things were much more unpredictable. My new players had moments of inspiration where they made thoughtful plays (e.g. overtaking a winner to get to dummy), but then also did inexplicable things (discarding an Ace). At one point I suffered the sensation that must be common to many bridge teachers of watching a new player set up a winner, thinking "he's done that well" only to see him neglect the winner as he hasn't realised it was high.

Our bridge club is much less developed than the Hutcheson's equivalent, and in the bidding the pupils rely more on instinct than counting points. I hope to introduce more accurate bidding and, more importantly, more thoughtful declarer play and defence in the future.

The IMP scoring (and in fact, any scoring), was new to several of them. The two boards below demonstrate it in action:

Board 20
All Vul

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

Looking at all four hands you would expect East-West to reach a contract in Hearts, and indeed that is what mostly happened. With his solid-looking Hearts West might get overboard, but the hand is flat and the defence have three Club winners along with a Spade, Diamond, and even a trump in North, so 7 tricks looks about right. In reality between 6 and 9 tricks were made when playing in Hearts. Two Wests instead played in NT.

In our match Tables 1 & 2 were paired, as were Tables 3 & 4, and Tables 5 & 6. The table below showed exactly what happened at each table, with all scores from our perspective:

Table 1 Table 2
Jonny & Julianna Amelie & Samthana
1♥ W = 2NT W =
Scores +80 -120
Net score -40
Net IMPs -2 to HSOG
Table 3 Table 4
Louis & KevinMichael & Harry
1NT W -1 4♥x W -4
-100 +1100
+14 to HSOG
Table 5 Table 6
Maxwell & Alex Robert & James
4♥ E -2 3♥ W =
-200 -140
-8 to HSOG

On Tables 1 and 2 our team made 1♥= on Table 1 for +80, but conceded 2NT= on Table 2 for -120. This lead to a 40 point loss overall on that board for that match, which translates to a 2 IMP loss (IMP lookup table here: In the next match we conceded 100 on Table 3 going off in 1NT but gained spectacularly on Table 4 when our North decided he was worth a double of 4♥, and took it four off for 1100. The net 1000 point advantage lead to a 14 IMP gain. In the final match we lost points on both tables leading to an 8 IMP loss. So overall, across the whole match, that was a 4 IMP gain (all down to the big penalty on Table 4).

The next hand had a greater variety of contracts:

Board 21
NS Vul

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

Table 1 Table 2
Jonny & Julianna Amelie & Samthana
4♥ S -3 4♠ E =
Scores +300 -420
Net score -120
Net IMPs -3 to HSOG
Table 3 Table 4
Louis & KevinMichael & Harry
3♠E= 4♥ S -3
+140 -300
-4 to HSOG
Table 5 Table 6
Maxwell & Alex Robert & James
4♠ E -1 1NT E -1
-50 +50
0 to HSOG

Looking at all the hands East-West have a game in Spades, but that was bid only once. On the table I watched East played in NT, and although the defence got off to the best start in Hearts they somehow let declarer take a trick. But rather than go after the Spades, declarer then went for the short-term gain of cashing all her winners and finally finished minus one.

The table below shows the final results from the different matches (again from our perspective):

Match 1 Match 2 Match 3
First half-13+21+7
Second half+1+27+1
Total-12+48+8HSOG win by 44 IMPs

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Frischmann Junior Pairs

I took nine pupils on the bus to Edinburgh to compete in the National Junior Pairs. Since this event is partly used to select the Scotland Junior team, and Junior goes up to under-26 in bridge, there was a high standard. In fact I'd say there were two competitions, one between the more experienced players to see who would finish top, and one between the more junior juniors to be the best of the rest.

My juniors stepped up to the occasion well, and coped with playing in a more formal setting well. The only time when when standards slipped was when a table consisted of our of our pairs against another one of our pairs. "You're all crazy!" observed a neutral.

With matchpoint scoring, few tables and varying quality there was a large degree of randomness in the scores, and more than ever if you got a good positive score you almost certainly got a good result. Here's a couple of example boards:

It's an interesting board as it's not clear what the final contract might be, and in fact the four tables all went quite differently. Once East-West made a part-score in Hearts, once South went one off in 2♦x. The bigger scores came when South overcalled in 1NT (off four) and when North-South played 3♠x (also off four).

This board belongs to East-West. The one North declarer only managed seven tricks in 3♥ (I'm not sure how this is possible!), which was costly as at two other tables East-West went down in 5♣, and West also made 1NT. I was impressed by one auction:


South made the obvious 1♠ opening bid and West overcalled 2♣. We've not yet discussed doubling first with big hands, but I think many would still overcall the West hand 2♣. North made a bold raise to 2♥, he ought to know this requires ten points but his intention is certainly right. South found a good Heart raise (more effective than bidding 2♠) and West, undeterred, ploughed on with 4♣. East paused for a while then found a reasonable 5♣ raise.

North lead a Spade (partner's suit) which declarer won and drew trumps. She then finessed with a Diamond to the Ten, which South grabbed and cashed two Hearts, for one off. Good bidding, play and defence.

Overall the event was handsomely won by Glen Falconer & Damien Murray with an impressive 73.40%.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


Zia Mahmood says in his book Bridge, My Way that if your partner is an underbidder you shouldn't try and compensate for her by overbidding, and likewise if your partner tends to overbid you shouldn't compensate for that either. I think the idea is that although trying to account for your partner's bidding might get you a better result on the particular hand you do it on, they'll then keep on bidding that way. Instead, bid normally, and let them get to the wrong contract a few times then they'll correct their ways.

Anna is relatively timid, and I was guilty of trying to compensate for her in a hand last week. Even though I had opened 1NT so she knew our combined strength much better than me I still took matters into my own hands and doubled the final contract, when it should have been her. In a sense I was right to double, as it went two off, but next time I'll try and pass.

No one vul
S deal
♠ A T 9 8 x
♥ x x x x
♦ Q T x
♣ x
♠ x
♥ A Q x x
♦ K x x
♣ A Q J 8 x
♠ Q J 7 x x
♥ T x
♦ J 9 x x x
♣ T x
♠ K x
♥ K J 9 8
♦ A x
♣ K x x x x

I opened the South hand with a maximum 1NT. Playing natural methods, West overcalled 2♣ and North made a weak take-out to 2♠. This was passed round to West who doubled for takeout. East was tempted by a Pass (2♠x probably goes one off, losing two Spades, two Hearts, a Diamond and a Club but might make if West is on lead a lot) but finally went for 3♦, which West recklessly converted to 3♦, hoping that it was her partner who held all of the outstanding points.

As it was, North had two vital high cards, which combined with the 1NT opening in South should have been enough for a double. Unless, of course, North believed that West had a long Club suit, and was hoping to make 3NT based on that. When it came round to me as South I knew that the Clubs weren't running so risked a double.

North lead the ♠T, covered in dummy. I presumed West had the singleton Ace and ducked, letting dummy's ♠Q hold the trick. Declarer took a successful Heart finesse then played on Diamonds, leading low from hand. North popped up with the ♦Q and lead a Spade to my ♠K, and I was then able to set up two Heart tricks for the defence, to go with one Spade (as North never got her ♠A), two Diamonds and the ♣K at the end. Six tricks for the defence meant 3NTx-2.

Declarer does better to play on Diamonds straightaway, and although short of dummy entries may just be able to stumble home with a Spade, two Hearts, three Diamonds and three Clubs. Without those Heart tricks it's not clear where the defence's tricks are coming from, and they could be limited to two Spades and two Diamonds.