Sunday, February 18, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - January 18 - Board 4

Board 4
Both sides vulnerable

♠ K J   Q 2   A 10 7 4  ♣ K J 10 9 7  

Partner opens with one club in second seat. With my major-suit holdings, it could be right to bid notrump before partner does. Perhaps, if two notrump were forcing, I would choose it. But it isn't. And blasting three notrump is too unilateral for my taste.

I raise to two clubs, showing a limit raise or better. Partner rebids two notrump and I raise to three. RHO leads the four of hearts.


NORTH
Phillip
♠ K J
Q 2
A 10 7 4
♣ K J 10 9 7






SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q 8 5
A 8 5 3
Q 8
♣ A Q 5 4


West North East South
Robot Phillip Robot Robot
Pass 1 ♣
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT (All pass)

I have nine tricks once I knock out the spade ace. The four is the lowest outstanding heart, so hearts are four-three one way or the other. That means the opponents can't cash enough tricks to beat me when they get in. This hand is going to be about overtricks. My first chance for an overtrick is for West to hold the heart king. I rise with the queen. East covers with the king.

It appears blasting three notrump would have worked out well. Those who do that might make four, and it's hard to see anyone's doing worse than plus 600. So unless I can find an overtrick somehow, this will be a below-average result.

No shift by East does any damage, so I see nothing to gain by winning this heart trick. In general, if you can't see any reason to win a trick, you're better off ducking. Accordingly, I play the three.

East continues with the heart seven. If I duck this trick, West may win and switch to a diamond. I will have no choice but to play low. East may then win and switch to back to hearts, setting up a fifth trick for the defense before the spade ace is knocked out. So this heart I can't afford to duck. I rise with the ace. West drops the jack.

That's a good sign. If West started with jack-nine-four, the hearts are blocked and the defense will be able to cash only one heart when they get in with the spade ace.

I lead the spade five. West hops with the ace. I unblock the king to maintain flexibility (although it's hard to see how it will ever matter), and East plays the seven. West cashes the heart nine I pitch the four of diamonds from the dummy, and East follows with the six. West shifts to the spade deuce. I win with dummy's jack, and East follows with the three. This is the position, with the lead in dummy:


NORTH
Phillip
♠ --
--
A 10 7
♣ K J 10 9 7






SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q
 8
Q 8
♣ A Q 5 4

West apparently did start with jack-nine-four of hearts, and East has the ten left. I have all the tricks but one, so the count is right for a squeeze. But I don't have the entries. I have no way to get to my hand after cashing five clubs.

Maybe I can put some pressure on East anyway, though. Suppose I cash four rounds of clubs, ending in my hand. East must come down to four cards. He doesn't know I don't have four spades. So he might decide to keep two spades and a heart and come down to a stiff diamond. I then have to guess whether to play him for a stiff king or a stiff jack.

I start by leading the club seven to my ace, then the four of clubs back to dummy's nine. Both opponents follow. If East has four spades as I hope, then he is 4-4-3-2. I lead the ten of clubs, and East discards the five of diamonds. I play low from my hand, retaining the queen to win the fourth trick. West discards the three of diamonds. 

East, I hope, is now down to a doubleton diamond and a doubleton spade and must decide on the next trick which suit to unguard. I lead the jack of clubs from dummy. East throws the heart ten, and I win in my hand with the club queen.

Well! That wasn't the mistake I was expecting, but it'll do. I have the rest.


NORTH
Phillip
♠ K J
Q 2
A 10 7 4
♣ K J 10 9 7


WEST
Robot
♠ A 9 6 2
J 9 4
J 9 3 2
♣ 8 6


EAST
Robot
♠ 10 7 4 3
K 10 7 6
K 6 5
♣ 3 2


SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q 8 5
A 8 5 3
Q 8
♣ A Q 5 4

Plus 630 is worth 96%. It turns out even plus 600 is above average, since some managed to go down in three notrump or even to miss game altogether. It's not a good field. 

Did East actually have a guess in the end game? Here was the position when I led the club jack and East had to make his critical discard:


NORTH
Phillip
♠ --
--
A 10 7
♣ K J


WEST
Robot
♠ 9 6
--
J 9 2
♣ --


EAST
Robot
♠ 10 4
 10
K 6
♣ --


SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q
 8
Q 8
♣ Q

If I held a low spade instead of a low heart, East indeed had to pitch the heart ten. But that's not possible. If West held the last heart, he would have played it after cashing the nine. It must be tough playing bridge when you are unable to draw the simplest of inferences.

As I looked over the play at other tables, I saw that almost every declarer started clubs by cashing the ace and queen. That's careless. You must arrange to win the fourth round of clubs in your hand to have any chance at an overtrick. Yes, I was lucky that East made an unlikely error. But the opponents' errors do you no good unless you are poised to take advantage of them.

One declarer did find an interesting way to make an overtrick. When West led the heart four, declarer played low from dummy. There was now no way to stop him from establishing his eight of hearts. East played the ten, and declarer ducked. East continued with the king, smothering dummy's queen, and declarer ducked again, as West played the jack. Unluckily, when declarer later won the ace, felling the nine, he didn't realize that his eight was high. So he made only three anyway.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - January 18 - Board 3

Board 3
Opponents vulnerable

♠ K   A J 7 3   A K 5  ♣ K 10 9 7 2  

I deal and open with one club. Partner bids one spade.

The obvious rebid is two hearts. But I don't like reversing with robots, since the methods they play after reverses are unplayable. Should I rebid two notrump instead? Two hearts promises at least five clubs, which might make it easier to get to a club slam if that's where we belong. And, unlike two notrump, two hearts doesn't promise a doubleton spade. The nightmare hand in the robot's methods is a minimum reverse with three-card support for responder's suit. Since that's not what I have, perhaps I can survive bidding two hearts.

I bid two hearts and partner raises to three hearts, forcing. Should I cue-bid four diamonds? That should show a little better than a minimum reverse, and this hand certainly qualifies. True, both my suits are weak. I would have a better hand if my diamond king were the club queen. But I do have seven controls and a fitting card in partner's suit. That's too much for a signoff.

Opposite a real partner, I would bid four diamonds. But the tooltip says that call shows 20+ total points. If that's what partner expects, he will be disappointed with this hand. I reluctantly bid four hearts. Partner passes, and LHO leads the diamond queen.


NORTH
Robot
♠ A Q 10 9 4 3
Q 8 6 2
10 9 6
♣ --






SOUTH
Phillip
♠ K
A J 7 3
A K 5
♣ K 10 9 7 2


West North East South
Robot Robot Robot Phillip
1 ♣
Pass 1 ♠ Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 4
(All pass)

There are two ways to approach this hand. I could play for control: draw trumps and run the spades. Or I could play for a scramble: cash two spades and two diamonds and try for six trump tricks.

A method I sometimes use for analyzing a hand with lots of options is to look for a line that guarantees the contract on normal breaks. If I can find one, then I can use that as a starting point and try to improve on it. Let's assume that no one has a singleton spade or diamond and that hearts are three-two. Can I guarantee the contract under those conditions?

If I play to run spades, I'll need two dummy entries: one to ruff a spade, establishing the suit, and another to get back to dummy to run it. Let's say I win the diamond, cash the spade king, then play ace and a heart toward the queen. If the king is on my left, I'm home. I have one entry with the heart queen and a second entry with a club ruff. But if a heart to the queen loses to the king on my right, I'm down to one dummy entry. I can still run spades if the jack drops, but I'm not cold.

Can I do better by cashing the spade king and leading the heart jack? If the opponents take the king, I have my two entries. If they duck with king third, however, I have only one. A priori, this is a worse line than playing LHO for the heart king. LHO will have the heart king 50% of the time, but the king will be doubleton only 40% of the time (under my assumption of three-two trumps). It's actually a little better than 40% in practice, since sometimes a defender will make a mistake and win with king third. But neither line is close to a sure thing on normal breaks. And if hearts are four-one, my chances deteriorate quickly with either of these lines.

What happens if I play for a scramble? Say I win the diamond, ruff a club to dummy, play a spade to the king, ruff another club, play a diamond to my hand, ruff a third club, and cash the spade ace, pitching a diamond. That's seven tricks. I need three more. I'm down to this position with the lead in dummy:


NORTH
Robot
♠ Q 10 9 4
Q
10
♣ --






SOUTH
Phillip
♠ --
A J 7 3
 --
♣ K 10

I have two natural trump tricks, bringing me up to nine. Unless West led from a doubleton queen of diamonds, I can ruff a diamond for my tenth trick. If East is out of diamonds, he can complicate matters by ruffing in with the ten or nine. But if East has only two diamonds, then, under my assumption of three-two trumps, he must have at least four clubs. So I can overruff with the jack and ruff a club with the heart queen for my tenth trick.

In fact, even if my assumption of three-two trumps is wrong, I'm still OK. If East overruffs the club with the heart king, I know he began with four hearts. So if he exits with a heart, I can just duck it, letting West win his singleton and score my ace-seven at the end.

Playing for the scramble is not a sure thing under my assumptions. I still need West to have a third diamond. But, as compensation, the assumption of three-two trumps proved to be unnecessary. It's clearly a better option than playing for control, so that's the line I'll adopt.

East plays the deuce of diamonds at trick one. I win with the ace, the card I'm known to hold.

I ruff a club. West plays the four; East, the eight. Someone withheld the three. Since the opponents must have the same parity, that means someone gave false count. 

I play a spade--deuce--king--seven. I ruff another club. West plays the five; East plays the missing three.

In my walkthrough, I played a diamond to my king at this point. But I think it's better to cash a spade first, just in case something bad happens and I don't get back to dummy to cash it in time. I cash the spade ace, pitching a diamond. East plays the five; West, the eight.

I play a diamond to my king. East plays the three: West, the four. Now another club ruff. West plays the six; East, the queen.

I've reached the position above. I do have another way to score a tenth trick if I'm worried the diamond is getting overruffed. I can try to cash the spade queen. Both opponents did play up the line in spades, so perhaps spades are three-three. But I can hardly be sure of that. I see no reason to suspect West led a diamond from queen doubleton. So I'll take my chances that a diamond ruff survives.

A play a diamond. East plays the seven. I ruff, and West follows with the jack. I still have two heart tricks coming, so I've made my contract. Let's see what I can do about overtricks.

I ruff a club with the heart queen. West plays the jack: East, the ace. If the spade queen cashes, that gives me eleven tricks. It does. Now I'm down to this position.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 10 9 4
 --
 --
♣ --






SOUTH
Phillip
♠ --
A J 7
--
♣ --

I lead a spade. East ruffs with the ten. I overruff with the jack. West overruffs with the king and must lead into my ace-seven of hearts. The heart king was was my only loser. Making six.


NORTH
Robot
♠ A Q 10 9 4 3
Q 8 6 2
10 9 6
♣ --


WEST
Robot
♠ J 8 7
K 4
Q J 8 4
♣ J 6 5 4


EAST
Robot
♠ 6 5 2
10 9 5
7 3 2
♣ A Q 8 3


SOUTH
Phillip
♠ K
A J 7 3
A K 5
♣ K 10 9 7 2

Plus 480 is worth 79%. Those who rebid two notrump reached four spades, usually making only five. Expecting an eight- or nine-card spade fit, responder didn't bother to look for a four-four heart fit. That's not necessarily the right decision. The six-card suit often serves as source of discards when it's a side suit. This hand is an example of that principle. In hearts, you can discard the diamond loser on the spades. In spades, there is no way to avoid the diamond loser. Still, North's hearts are quite weak. If hearts break badly, it may be better to play in spades. So declining to look for a four-four heart fit might be the percentage decision.

Among those who chose to reverse, no one bid four diamonds over three hearts. Although one person apparently spurned the bid because he thought his hand was too good. He chose Blackwood. His partner decided, reasonably, not to show the club void, so they stopped in five. Declarer did opt for the scramble, but he mistimed the end position and made only five.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - January 18 - Board 2

Board 2
Our side vulnerable

♠ Q 9 8 2   A K 10 8   9  ♣ K Q 9 6  

RHO passes and I open with one club. Partner bids one diamond, I bid one heart, and partner bids one spade, artificial and forcing to game.

One spade denies four spades in the robots' methods. Partner must bid two spades to show a spade suit. I'm sure some players will rebid one notrump, believing that, since we can't have an eight-card spade fit, that there is no reason to bid your spade suit. That would make sense with a 4-4-2-3 pattern or even with 4-4-1-4 and a stiff diamond honor. But with a small singleton diamond it's better to bid spades so partner knows you are three-suited. If partner's diamonds are weak, we may wish to avoid notrump. In fact, if partner has a good hand with a club fit, showing my diamond shortness may enable us to bid a club slam.

The next question is how many spades to bid. Had partner responded one spade initially, I would have raised to three with my 17 support points. Why not bid three spades now to show the same hand?

Some players have a phobia about jumping in a game forcing auction. Why take up the bidding space when two spades is forcing, they say? One good reason is that the 17-19 range is awkward for opener when responder forces to game. It's strong enough that slam is possible but not strong enough to risk a bid past game. So, when your hand falls in that range, you should show it if possible. Then you can sit back and leave the rest of the auction to partner.

In short, there is nothing wrong with consuming bidding space when you are making a bid that perfectly describes your hand. In that case, the gain in keeping the auction low is illusory. Perhaps if you simply tell partner what you have, he will know what to do.

I bid three spades, and partner bids four diamonds. What's that about? Could partner have self-sufficient diamonds? No. The robots play strong jump shifts at the two level. With self-sufficient diamonds and slam interest, he would have bid two diamonds over one club. And with a minimum game force, he would be bidding three notrump now.

This should be a choice-of-games cue-bid, suggesting two places to play. I doubt the robots are that sophisticated. But one thing for sure: Partner doesn't think three notrump is the right spot. So I bid four hearts to suggest a four-three heart fit. 

Partner bids four spades. This sequence should imply that I can correct to five clubs if it looks right. I might be 4-4-0-5 after all. My spade suit is a bit weak for a four-three fit, so I'm not too happy about playing four spades.  But playing clubs a level higher doesn't look any better. And, even if it did, I doubt partner and I are on the same wavelength. I just have to pass and hope for the best.

I pass, and RHO leads the club deuce.


NORTH
Phillip
♠ Q 9 8 2
A K 10 8
9
♣ K Q 9 6






SOUTH
Robot
♠ A J 10
J 7 6
A J 8 7 6 5 3
♣ --


West North East South
Robot Phillip Robot Robot
Pass 1 ♣ Pass 1
Pass 1 Pass 1 ♠
Pass 3 ♠ Pass 4
Pass 4 Pass 4 ♠
(All pass)

With a club void and the knowledge that his diamond suit is worthless, partner made a good decision to avoid three notrump. I'm still not sure what he had in mind with four diamonds. Why not just raise three spades to four? Or, if four diamonds was intended as choice-of-games, why not respect my choice and pass four hearts?

I happy he didn't pass four hearts. Four spades looks like a better spot. I have two hearts tricks, one diamond trick, and one club trick after I ruff out East's ace. I need six trump tricks to make this. I can score three club ruffs in my hand. As long as I can ruff one diamond with my trump deuce. I can score three trump tricks in dummy. And here I thought my spades weren't good enough for a four-three fit. The nine-eight of spades turn out to be important cards.

Is making four good enough? What happens in three notrump? If you can take four spades and four hearts, a club, and a diamond, you can make four notrump. But that takes a lot of good luck. More likely three notrump makes only three or possibly even goes down. So I needn't worry about overtricks in four spades. I'll pretend I'm playing IMPs and try to maximize my chance of making this.

How might I go down? Given the lead of the club deuce, each defender should have at least three clubs, so I don't have to worry about a club's being overruffed. Someone might have a stiff diamond, but it's hard to see that I can do anything about that. Can I do anything about a stiff heart? 

If I'm lucky enough that the stiff heart is the queen, perhaps I can.  Let's say I ruff out East's club ace, then play a heart to my hand and the queen drops. I'll have four hearts tricks, so perhaps I can switch plans, playing for control. I ruff a club with the spade ace, then lead the jack of spades, overtaking with the queen if East plays low. I should be able to hold the defense to the spade king, one heart ruff, and one club trick at the end.

I play the club king from dummy. East covers with the ace, and I ruff with the spade ten. I lead the six of hearts--deuce--king--four. No stiff queen. I have to hope the second heart holds up.

I could cash the club queen, but I'm not sure what I want to pitch yet. Since I know no one has a doubleton club, cashing the queen can wait. I lead the six of clubs--four--spade jack--club seven. Now another heart. I might as well lead the jack. I don't think West will cover with king-ten in the dummy. But who knows? West plays the three on my jack. I go up with the ace, and East drops the five. I cash the club queen, pitching a heart from my hand. East play the three; West, the eight.

Here is the current position, with the lead in dummy:


NORTH
Phillip
♠ Q 9 8 2
 10 8
9
♣ 9






SOUTH
Robot
♠ A 
 --
A J 8 7 6 5 3
♣ --

I need to ruff the diamond now. I don't want to ruff something in my hand and give an opponent a chance to pitch a diamond. I play a diamond to the ace, East contributes the king, and West follows with the four. Now another diamond--ten--spade deuce--diamond deuce. I'm home. I ruff a club with the spade ace and have two trump tricks in dummy coming to me. Making four


NORTH
Phillip
♠ Q 9 8 2
A K 10 8
9
♣ K Q 9 6


WEST
Robot
♠ K 5 4
Q 3 2
Q 10 4
♣ 8 7 5 2


EAST
Robot
♠ 7 6 3
9 5 4
K 2
♣ A J 10 4 3


SOUTH
Robot
♠ A J 10
J 7 6
A J 8 7 6 5 3
♣ --

I could have made five by taking the heart finesse. But that would be dangerous and greedy. Plus 620 is worth 89%. 

No one duplicated my auction. I'm not surprised. In retrospect, I think I should have bid two spades, not three. I stand behind my earlier rant in principle. When you have a descriptive bid available, you shouldn't shy away from it just because it takes up bidding space. But there is a special consideration in this auction that I didn't think about at the time. What if partner was preparing a forcing heart raise? He no longer has a forcing bid in hearts available, so he will have to guess how many hearts to bid. Since partner might have a plan, I shouldn't get in his way. 

Still, I think either two spades or three spades is a better choice than the misdescriptive one notrump that was the most popular call. And much better than the unilateral three notrump, a frequent choice that I don't understand at all. Either of those rebids lands you in three notrump.

What happens after two spades? Partner bids two notrump, then removes your three notrump to four hearts. Two players played four hearts after this sequence. One made it and one went down two.

I understand partner can't bid three hearts over two spades, since that should show a prepared raise with four trumps. So a temporizing two notrump makes sense. But it does seem better to remove three notrump to four diamonds, offering partner a choice of majors. Apparently the robot believed he had to make the choice himself. It's interesting that on my auction partner guessed to play spades but after a two-spade bid he guessed to play hearts.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - January 18 - Board 1

Board 1
Neither side vulnerable

♠ A J 8 6 3   A K Q 3   10  ♣ J 10 4  

Partner passes, and RHO opens with one spade. That's my primary suit, so I pass. Perhaps the auction will proceed one notrump--pass--two diamonds, in which case I can double for takeout. It doesn't. LHO bids two diamonds, and RHO bids two spades.

The opponents are now in a game force. There is no reason for me to get involved. I pass, LHO bids three hearts, and RHO bids three notrump, which ends the auction.

We have four cashing tricks. There are two ways to go after a fifth.

One possibility is to try for four heart tricks. I can lead a heart honor, hoping partner holds the jack or that he holds the ten and declarer holds a singleton or doubleton jack. If dummy's diamonds are running, this is probably our only chance to beat this contract.

Another possibility is to hope dummy's diamonds are not running. If so, then declarer can't develop diamonds or spades without giving the defense a fifth trick. In this scenario, a heart lead isn't necessary and might actually hurt. If one heart trick is all declarer needs to come to nine tricks, then a heart lead may make it easy for him. A passive club lead is safer.

Which approach offers the better chance? Partner has an average of about two and a half hearts to the opponents' six and a half. The chance of finding him with the heart jack is slim. But my stiff diamond bodes well for the possibility that partner can stop the diamond suit. If I held two or three diamonds, I would certainly lead a heart honor. But, holding the stiff ten, I think a club lead offers our best chance to beat this.

This isn't IMPs, however. Beating the contract isn't our only consideration. If partner can't stop diamonds, declarer may have ten or more tricks off the top. If that's the case, we do better to cash our four tricks.

At matchpoints, a high heart has two chances to be right: (1) It could be right to cash out to hold the overtricks. (2) I could get lucky and beat it. At IMPs, I would lead the club jack. But at matchpoints, a heart looks like a better choice.

Which heart should I lead? With a robot partner it doesn't matter, since robots don't signal at trick one. But let's indulge in a fantasy for a moment and pretend that we are playing with a real partner. Which honor will elicit a meaningful signal? Specifically, which card will get partner to encourage with jack third, so I can underlead and cash five tricks?

The standard choice from ace-king-queen is the king. But if I lead the king, partner will probably think he needs the queen to encourage. What if I lead the queen? If partner holds he jack, he will know that's the card I'm looking for and will encourage. If declarer has the jack, partner won't know I've made a funny lead and will have no clue what's going on. But it doesn't matter. He has nothing in the suit, so he will discourage.

True, the queen normally asks partner to drop the jack if he holds it. You would choose the queen from KQ109x. for example. But dummy's heart length will prevent partner from doing that. This "can-I-underlead?" signal is routine when you are sitting over dummy and need to find an entry in partner's hand. You lead king from AK, queen from AKQ; or jack from AKQJ. If partner has the honor just below the one you lead, he encourages. It's rare to make this play on opening lead, since partner usually won't be able to read it. But if the auction and dummy make it clear what's going on, as it should here, it can be the only way to find out what you need to know.

I lead the heart queen and find the following dummy:


NORTH
Robot
♠ K
10 9 4 2
A K Q J 8 7 4
♣ 8


WEST
Phillip
♠ A J 8 6 3
A K Q 3
10
♣ J 10 4






West North East South
Phillip Robot Robot Robot
Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 Pass 2 ♠
Pass 3 Pass 3 NT
(All pass)

Partner can't stop diamonds, so declarer will take lots of tricks when he gets in. I need to decide whether to play partner for the heart jack and try to beat this or simply to cash out.

Partner plays the heart six; declarer, the seven. Partner should have either J65, J6, or 86. If he has J65, I can underlead now or at trick three. But if he has a doubleton, I must decide now. If he has J6 I must underlead; if he has 86, I must continue cashing. It would appear to be a fifty-fifty guess. But it isn't. Even if I knew for a fact that partner had J6, it's not clear I should underlead, since partner won't know what to return. If he returns a club, I would have done better to cash out. Since an underlead loses if partner has 86 and might lose even if he has J6, the underlead is less than 50%. My best play is to cash another heart, then underlead if partner completes an echo by playing the five.

Since I have a choice of honors to cash, I can give suit preference by cashing the ace. Now partner will know which suit to return when he wins the heart jack. I cash the heart ace. Partner plays the eight; declarer, the seven. Now I know partner began with 86, so I can cash out. 

 OK. It's time to exit our fantasy and stop pretending partner is actually signaling. My robot partner could easily hold the jack. In fact, he's a slight favorite to, since declarer holds at least three more spades than partner. Should I underlead on that basis?

I still have the issue that, if I underlead, partner won't know which suit to return, since this partner won't interpret my heart ace as suit preference. Since the underlead could lose a trick even when it's right, it looks better to cash out. I cash the heart king. Unfortunately, it's partner who holds the jack. Declarer follows with the spade deuce.

My only chance to beat his now is that declarer is void in diamonds. I cash the spade ace and exit with the jack of clubs. Declarer has the rest. Making three.


NORTH
Robot
♠ K
10 9 4 2
A K Q J 8 7 4
♣ 8


WEST
Phillip
♠ A J 8 6 3
A K Q 3
10
♣ J 10 4


EAST
Robot
♠ 7 5
J 8 6
9 6 5 2
♣ 9 7 5 3


SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q 10 9 4 2
7 5
3
♣ A K Q 6 2

Even though we can beat this with accurate defense, holding it to three is worth 71%. Two defenders did play partner for the heart jack, but it did neither of them any good. One led the heart ace, then, at trick two, continued with a low heart. East won the jack and shifted to the club nine, so declarer made four. What was East playing for with that club shift? If declarer has both black aces, he's cold. And if partner has either one, a heart return suffices. Was he greedily playing for down two, hoping his partner had ace-queen of clubs?

The other defender led a low heart at trick one! That's a play that didn't occur to me. It does have a couple of things going for it. (1) If partner has jack doubleton, he can win and return a heart, avoiding the problem of his finding the right shift. And (2) if dummy has the jack and partner has the ten, declarer is unlikely to go up. Still, if I were going to try to beat this contract with no concern about giving up overtricks, I think a club lead offers a better chance.

West must have been quite pleased with himself when his partner won with the heart jack at trick one. And quite displeased with partner when he shifted to the club nine at trick two.

What would happen opposite a reliable partner? Weirdly, I have a much harder decision at trick two. Partner will play the heart eight on my queen, and I will know he has the jack. If he has jack third, it makes no difference what I do at trick two. So let's assume he has jack doubleton. 

Should I guarantee four tricks by cashing the ace, or should I lead a heart to his jack and hold my breath? If he returns a spade, we'll beat it. If he returns a club, they'll make an overtrick. 

As we saw earlier, if I don't know whether partner has the jack or not, underleading is anti-percentage. But now I know he has the jack, so the situation is different. I have just as much to gain as to lose by underleading. So, if it's a tossup which suit partner will return, I'm on a complete guess.

At least that's true against every table where West leads a heart. But not every West will lead a heart. Some Wests will lead the club jack. Against those tables, if I underlead and get a club shift, I convert a win into a tie. But if I underlead and get a spade shift, I gain nothing. I already had the board won against those tables just by cashing out. So, if I assume it's a tossup whether partner will do the right thing, my percentage play is to cash the heart ace, winning against the tables where West led a club and tying (on average) against the tables where West led a heart.

But is it a tossup whether partner will do the right thing? Maybe not. Partner probably knows I have more spades than clubs--or at least that my expected spade length is greater than my expected club length. So if I lead to his stiff heart jack, he should return a spade, playing me for the ace I'm more likely to hold.

While some West's will lead the club jack, I doubt many will. Most defenders will see their ace-king-queen and stop thinking. So, if we trust partner, I think the underlead is the right play.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - December 1 - Board 8

Board 8
Neither side vulnerable

♠ Q J 7 6   A 10 8 3   K  ♣ A 10 6 5  

RHO opens with two diamonds, weak, in third seat. I double for takeout, and everyone passes. This is a promising development. I have a better hand for defense than for offense. I'm especially happy to be holding the diamond king, since it may prove to be an embarrassing surprise for declarer. We may score a trick we aren't entitled to if he plays partner for this card.

The right defense must be to take whatever side-suit tricks we can, then sit back and wait for our trump tricks. I want to develop spade tricks before my aces are knocked out, so I lead the spade queen.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 9 5 4
K Q J 5
8 3
♣ K 8 7 2


WEST
Phillip
♠ Q J 7 6
A 10 8 3
K
♣ A 10 6 5






West North East South
Phillip Robot Robot Robot
Pass Pass 2
Double (All pass)

Dummy and I have 23 HCP combined. Declarer has at most ten, so partner has at least seven. Partner would probably have bid a four-card major or a five-card club suit in preference to passing with only four diamonds, so he is either 3-3-4-3,  3-2-4-4, or 2-3-4-4. No. I take that back. 2-3-4-4 is unlikely, since that gives declarer four spades. 

It's even more unlikely after trick one. Partner plays the spade ten and declarer wins with the king. Partner has apparently ducked with ace third to preserve communication. We would appear to have two spade tricks, two aces, and whatever we can take in the trump suit. 

Is it possible to take another trick in the side suits? We might have a second club trick if declarer is 3-1-6-3. That gives partner four hearts, which I said he can't have. But if his diamonds are good, he might have judged to pass rather than to bid two hearts with four small. Even if that's the layout, though, declarer will just play a heart at trick two and we can't get at our second club trick fast enough. 

Even if declarer has doesn't have a singleton heart, he will probably lead a heart at trick two to reach dummy for a diamond play. No. He surprises me by leading the spade deuce. I'm not sure what he's up to, but I duck to let partner win the trick. How partner chooses to continue the defense may tell me something. Partner takes the spade ace and returns the three to my jack.

If partner is 3-2-4-4, can I give him a heart ruff? Suppose I shift to a low heart. Then, whenever I get in, I can cash both aces and play a third heart. 

A low heart shift would prove embarrassing if declarer has a singleton heart. I expected him to play a heart at trick two with a singleton. But if he has no late club loser (queen-jack third of clubs, say), he has no reason to do that. So a singleton heart is still possible.

One thing to consider: Partner doesn't appear to want a heart ruff. He could have shifted to a heart himself at trick three and chose to continue spades instead. So either he doesn't have a doubleton heart or he has one but would be ruffing with a natural trump trick. So let's forget about a heart ruff.

My goal, then, is to protect whatever trump tricks we have. The way to protect our trump tricks is to prevent declarer from reaching dummy twice. There are two scenarios where this could be important: (1) Declarer needs to lead trumps twice from dummy to finesse against partner, or (2) declarer needs to ruff himself down to partner's trump length for a possible trump coup.

If declarer is two-two in hearts and clubs, I can't prevent him from reaching dummy twice. If he's three-one or one-three, perhaps I can.

I'll start by cashing my two aces. If I continue by leading declarer's singleton, he can win that trick in dummy, then later reach dummy in the other suit. If I continue by leading his three-card suit, he can't reach dummy twice. If his three-card suit is clubs, he has only one entry. If it's hearts, partner will ruff the third round.

So which suit is more likely to be his singleton? If he has a singleton heart, he must have good clubs, else, as I've already noted, he would have led a heart at trick two to set up discards. If he has a singleton club, there is no further constraint on his hand. So a singleton club is more likely. My best defense is to cash two aces, then play a heart.

I cash the club ace. Partner plays the three; declarer, the nine. Now the heart ace. Partner plays the deuce; declarer, the seven. We've reached this position:


NORTH
Robot
♠ --
K Q J
8 3
♣ K 8 7


WEST
Phillip
♠ 7
 10 8 3
K
♣ 10 6 5


I lead the three of hearts. Six from partner; nine from declarer. Declarer plays the three of diamonds from dummy--deuce--queen--king.

I exit with a third heart. Declarer wins in dummy and pitches the club queen. Declarer was two-two in the round suits, so he always had two dummy entries. Now he leads the eight of diamond from dummy and floats it. It wins, but declarer is now trump tight. He must ruff the next trick and lead from his hand. Partner has the ace-ten of diamonds left, so declarer is down two.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 9 5 4
K Q J 5
8 3
♣ K 8 7 2


WEST
Phillip
♠ Q J 7 6
A 10 8 3
K
♣ A 10 6 5


EAST
Robot
♠ A 10 3
6 4 2
A 10 4 2
♣ J 4 3


SOUTH
Robot
♠ K 8 2
9 7
Q J 9 7 6 5
♣ Q 9

Declarer should have held this to down one by taking a first-round finesse against the diamond ten. Diamonds must be four-one, and I'm twice as likely to have a stiff ace or king as a stiff ten. Having failed to do that, finessing the diamond on the next round was an error. There is no longer anything he can do about four-one trumps. So his percentage play is to lead to the jack, hoping I had king-ten doubleton.

This is another flaw in how the robots are programmed. South "knows" East has ace-ten third of diamonds left, so he thinks it doesn't matter how he plays the diamond suit. He presumably picks a line at random. But you should never assume your play doesn't matter. If you think it does, relax your assumptions. Find some layout, even one you think is impossible, where your play does matter. If you're correct and it doesn't matter, what have you lost?

To be fair, I've been guilty of this mistake myself. Playing bridge is all about making deductions, and it can be easy to forget that something you think you know is merely a deduction. But at least we humans know it's a mistake and try to avoid it. The robots don't.

Some declarers did hold this to down one, but that was because West made it easy for them by leading the diamond king. I don't understand that lead at all. Why squander your best defensive asset? You don't expect dummy to be getting any ruffs, so what's the point of leading trumps? It must be better to hope to capture some card in declarer's hand than to cash the king at trick one and catch air. Thanks to those opening leads, plus 200 scored 96%.

I said earlier that it might be right to prevent declarer from reaching dummy twice to stop a trump coup against partner. Is there some layout where that's necessary? I didn't construct one at the time. Let's see if we can find one now. There are probably several. But one will suffice:


NORTH
Robot
♠ --
K Q J
8 3
♣ K 8 7


WEST
Phillip
♠ 7
 10 8 3
K
♣ 10 6 5


EAST
Robot
♠ --
6
Q J 9 2
♣ Q J 4


SOUTH
Robot
♠ --
9 4
A 10 7 6 5 3
♣ --

If I exit with a club, declarer wins the king, pitching a heart, ruffs a club, plays a heart to dummy, and scores another ruff. Now he exits with a low diamond to my king. His last three cards are ace-ten third of diamonds; partner's are queen-jack-nine of diamonds. With me on lead, partner can take only one more trump trick. A spade exit will lead to the same position on a different sequence of plays. But if I exit with a heart, declarer can't score two ruffs, so this end position doesn't materialize and we score three trump tricks. 

In accordance with Gargoyle Chronicles principles, I omitted this analysis in the discussion of the play, since I didn't construct this layout at the time. I was defending on general principles. As a rule, I don't like to defend on general principles. It's better to construct a layout where your contemplated play gains, since general principles can sometimes lead you astray. Here, however, there was no need, since there was no sensible alternative line to consider. Either I let declarer trump coup partner or I don't. Even if there is no holding where a coup actually works, it's hard to see how preventing the position from arising can ever hurt.

Next week I'll start a series on this week's Weekly Free Instant Tournament. If you want to compare results, be sure to play in the tournament by this Thursday, January 25. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - December 1 - Board 7

Board 7
Both sides vulnerable

♠ J 10 5   A 7 5   A K 10 6  ♣ K J 3  

I open with one notrump in first seat and everyone passes. LHO leads the four of diamonds.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 7 4 3
K J 3 2
J
♣ Q 10 9 7






SOUTH
Phillip
♠ J 10 5
A 7 5
A K 10 6
♣ K J 3


West North East South
Robot Robot Robot Phillip
1 NT
(All pass)

I have three diamond tricks, three clubs once I knock out the ace, and two hearts. Eight tricks. When the opponents take the club ace, they will have spade winners to cash. If they can cash four of them, they can hold me to eight tricks. If they can't, I can try a heart finesse for a ninth. If spades are three-three, it's possible I can set up my fourth spade for a ninth trick. But it seems unlikely I will have the tempo to do that. The opponents can probably establish a fifth trick in diamonds before the long spade is established.

I play the diamond jack from dummy and RHO covers with the queen. If I held the ace without the king, I would sometimes duck. I would almost never duck holding the king without the ace. So the ace is a more revealing card. Accordingly, I win with the king.

The three and deuce of diamonds are still out. If the lead is low, West could have anywhere from three to six diamonds.

I want the opponents to take the club ace early to give me some flexibility. Leading the club king is the likeliest way to achieve that. If LHO has ace third, he may be afraid to duck for fear his partner has jack third and I will somehow figure that out.

I lead the club king--deuce--seven--five. That didn't work. Now what? If I lead the jack to the queen, they will probably duck again. But if I lead low to the nine, East might win with an original holding of ace third for fear his partner started with jack fourth.

I play the club three--eight--nine--four of hearts.

So West started with five clubs. East is probably pitching lowest from a five-card suit, so West has a stiff heart. His most likely patterns are 4-1-3-5, 3-1-4-5, and 2-1-5-5.

I continue with a low club to my jack. East pitches the diamond deuce. West takes the ace and shifts to the nine of spades. East wins with the king, and I drop the ten, the card I'm known to hold. Here is the current position with East on lead:


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 7 4
K J 3 2
--
♣ Q






SOUTH
Phillip
♠ J 5
A 7 5
A 10 6
♣ --

If East's spade king is honest, then West has the queen. I doubt West would lead low from queen-nine doubleton or that he would squander the nine from queen-nine fourth. So if he has the queen, he must have queen-nine third. It's possible, however, that East has false carded. I haven't seen the robots play high from equals at trick one. But I have seen them do so in the middle of the hand.

West shifts to the seven of diamonds. I take the ace, and West follows with the five. The three is still out, so I'm still not sure of the diamond count.

If East did falsecard from ace-king-queen of spades, perhaps I can endplay him. I can cash the diamond ten, lead a heart to dummy's king, and cash the club queen, squeezing East out of his long spade if he started with four. This will be the position:


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8
 J 3 2
 --
♣ --




EAST
Robot
♠ A Q
Q x
--
♣ --


SOUTH
Phillip
♠ J 5
A 7
--
♣ --

Now I can toss East in with a spade.

Back to the previous diagram. East has led a diamond to my ace. I pitch a spade from dummy, then cash the diamond ten, pitching another spade. LHO follows with the eight, East with the three. Now that East has shown up with four diamonds, I know the count. West was 3-1-4-5, leaving East with 3-5-4-1. East's remaining cards are

♠ A ?   Q 10 x x   --  ♣ --  

If that spade '?' is the queen, I can lead a heart to the king and exit with a spade. Cashing the club queen in this layout would be a mistake. If West has the spade queen, the defense could then take the rest, and I would lose the heart ace.

But would East really have pitched this way with ace-king-queen of spades? He could surely see the endplay coming. Why pitch his diamond exit on the third round of clubs? He would have pitched another heart instead.

If the endplay isn't working, is there anything I can do? I don't see a legitimate line. But maybe they'll get tangled up in the end position. It's hard to see how. But the robots don't signal, and they don't draw inferences. It's easy to misdefend under those conditions. I'm fairly sure West has the spade queen. So hoping for a mistake looks like my best shot.

I lead the five of hearts--nine--king--six. Now the club queen--heart ten--diamond six--club six. Now a heart back to the ace, as East pitches his last club. If I'm right about the spade queen, this is the position.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8
 J 3
--
♣ --


WEST
Robot
♠ Q x
--
9
♣ --


EAST
Robot
♠ A x
Q
--
♣ --


SOUTH
Phillip
♠ J 5
 7
--
♣ --

If I exit with a spade, the defense can easily take the rest. A heart exit, forcing West to discard, is my only chance.

I lead the seven of hearts, and West pitches the spade six. Aha! That's promising. Now East must win the heart and underlead his spade ace.

East wins with the heart queen and cashes the spade ace, dropping his partner's queen. My spade jack scores the last trick. Making three.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 7 4 3
K J 3 2
J
♣ Q 10 9 7


WEST
Robot
♠ Q 9 6
9
9 8 5 4
♣ A 8 6 4 2


EAST
Robot
♠ A K 2
Q 10 8 6 4
Q 7 3 2
♣ 5


SOUTH
Phillip
♠ J 10 5
A 7 5
A K 10 6
♣ K J 3

Plus 150 is worth 86%. West make a foolish play in stiffing his spade queen. This is the robots' greatest weakness on defense: assuming both declarer and partner are double-dummy. Why make a play that forces partner to do the right thing when you can make a play that leaves him no losing options?

I sympathize with East's play at the end. How could his partner hold the diamond nine and not discard it? My last two cards must be a spade and a good diamond. And that spade might be the queen. There are clues that isn't the case, but I think most of the blame falls to West.

I find one of the most difficult plays in bridge is spurning a legitimate but unlikely line in hope of a defensive error. It's one thing when you can see ahead of time the error an opponent might make. It's quite another when, as here, you are just hoping they will find some way to mess up. Ultimately, it's a matter of percentages. What's more likely? That you've misread the position or that the opponents will make a mistake? Sometimes playing for the mistake is the percentage line.

My former partner Howard Chandross put it more bluntly: "A finesse is only fifty percent," he would say, "but an idiot is always an idiot."

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Free Weekly Instant Tournament - December 1 - Board 6

Board 6
Opponents vulnerable

♠ A J 10 9 2   2   K 3  ♣ A K 8 6 4  

RHO opens with one spade. Overcalling with two clubs will be a popular choice, but it's a bad idea. One reason is that the opponents may get into trouble if you stay out of their way. But a more important reason is that a two-club overcall misdescribes your hand.

When you have two suits of equal length, you bid the higher-ranking one first. The the way you "bid" a suit an opponent opens in front of you is to start with a pass. If you pass and subsequently take aggressive action, partner will know spades is your primary suit. He may even elect to play in spades, a result you can't achieve if you overcall with two clubs. This is an important consideration if the opponents play four-card majors or if the opening is in third seat. It is less important otherwise. Even so, it can't hurt to clue partner in as to what your hand looks like. If you bid two clubs, partner will never play you for a good five-card spade suit.

I pass, and LHO raises to two spades. Now would be a good time to make an aggressive take-out double, partner. No such luck. Partner and RHO both pass.

One could argue that double here should be for penalties. If you weren't willing to ask partner bid at the two level on the previous round, how could you want him to bid at the three level now? This is a sound argument in auctions where the opponents haven't found a fit. But when a suit has been bid and raised, it's less compelling. It's quite possible that you didn't double the first time not because you couldn't summon up your courage but because you were offshape. Now that the opponents have found a fit, it's likely your side has one as well and you don't want to sell out at a low level. Offshape doubles are easier to handle when you balance, because you can use advancer's two notrump as a scrambling device, an option that isn't available over a direct double.

Note that auctions such as

West North East South
1 ♠
Pass 1 NT Pass 2 ♠

or

West North East South
1 ♠
Pass 1 NT Pass 2
Pass 2 ♠ Pass Pass

are different matters. In these auctions there is no presumption of an eight-card fit. It is more dangerous to act now than it was on the previous round, so playing these doubles for take-out makes no sense. In fact, the prospect of doubling for penalties on such an auction is one of the reasons for passing with this hand on the first round.

Unfortunately, as the auction went, I can't double. All I can do is sell out and be satisfied with 100 points per undertrick. Since it's unlikely we can make a game, this will probably be a good result.

What should I lead? When you hold four trumps, it's usually right to play a forcing game, leading your long side suit to tap declarer. With five trumps, that's often the wrong approach. One factor to consider is your trump holding. With a suit like AK432, a forcing game is probably right. You are forcing declarer to ruff with natural trump tricks and promoting your own small trumps. With good spots, however, a forcing game is less appealing. Your trumps are already winners. And if you force declarer, you are allowing him to score small trumps that he might not be able to score without your assistance. 

Often with five trumps it's better to score ruffs yourself to avoid getting endplayed. Imagine, for example, you come down to a five-card end position consisting of AJ1092 of trumps while declarer comes down to king-queen third of trumps and two losers. Declarer leads one of his losers. You have to ruff partner's trick and give declarer one of his trump honors. Then declarer leads his other loser. You ruff partner's trick again and have to give declarer his other trump honor. Clearly you would have done better had you ruffed a couple of declarer's tricks rather than partner's, coming down to ace-jack-ten of trumps, then sat back and waited for your two trump tricks.

Going for ruffs can be the right defense if your side has tricks to cash off the top. You cash your top tricks, getting some ruffs in the process, then exit. Now declarer is endplayed instead of you. But on this deal partner doesn't have much, so our tricks aren't coming from top cards. Whatever side-suit tricks we have will come from running the club suit. And the only way we can run the club suit is to force declarer to lose control. So a forcing game looks right.

I've settled on a club lead. Now which club? When you play a forcing game, it is often right to lead low from your long suit. Since a forcing game is essentially an attempt to convert the play to notrump, why not lead as if you were defending notrump? But one of the reasons to lead low against notrump is either to avoid blocking the suit or to retain communication if partner is short. Here, since we know partner is void in spades, it's unlikely partner has short clubs. So it looks better to lead an honor.

I know I've spent four paragraphs settling on the lead that most players would choose in half a second. But sometimes one's first instinct is wrong. It's worth thinking about what you are trying accomplish with your opening lead.

I lead the club king and see the following dummy:


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 6 4
K 9 6 3
A 9 6
♣ 10 7 3


WEST
Phillip
♠ A J 10 9 2
2
K 3
♣ A K 8 6 4






West North East South
Phillip Robot Robot Robot
1 ♠
Pass 2 ♠ (All pass)

Partner plays the club deuce, and declarer follows with the nine. I see no reason to abandon my plan. I continue with the ace of clubs. Partner follows with the five and declarer ruffs with the three of spades. Partner has kept the queen and jack of clubs, blocking the suit. I'm not sure whether I'm happy about that or not. A club entry to his hand might prove useful in getting off a potential endplay in diamonds. But in some scenarios it might prevent me from scoring my long club. Partner might have done better to keep one high club and one low one to give us some flexibility.

Declarer leads the five of hearts to dummy's king. Partner plays the four. I expect declarer to lead a spade off dummy. When partner shows out, he will duck, letting me win the nine. What should I do then?

I don't need to decide that. Declarer surprises me by leading the ten of clubs and ruffing it with the five of spades. What's that all about? What can he have for this line to make any sense?

Declarer now leads the spade king out of his hand. I take my ace, and partner plays the eight of diamonds. The robots play this card as count, and I assume partner would pitch a heart with 0-5-4-4, so it appears he is 0-3-6-4, giving declarer 5-5-2-1. If so, this is the current position:


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 4
 9 6 3
A 9 6
♣ --


WEST
Phillip
♠ J 10 9 2
 --
K 3
♣ 8 6


EAST
Robot
♠ --
? ?
? ? ? ? ?
♣ Q


SOUTH
Robot
♠ Q 7
A ? ? ?
? ?
♣ --

I don't want declarer to score any more ruffs. I can lead the jack of spades, ruff declarer's likely heart lead, then draw the remaining trumps. Since I will still have a trump left, I can then lead a club to partner for a diamond play. If partner has the queen of diamonds or the jack-ten, this defense will hold declarer to two more tricks.

I lead the jack of spades. Partner pitches the five of diamond and declarer wins with the queen. Declarer doesn't even try to endplay me. He leads a diamond to dummy's ace. We have the rest. Down three.


NORTH
Robot
♠ 8 6 4
K 9 6 3
A 9 6
♣ 10 7 3


WEST
Phillip
♠ A J 10 9 2
2
K 3
♣ A K 8 6 4


EAST
Robot
♠ --
J 7 4
J 10 8 7 5 4
♣ Q J 5 2


SOUTH
Robot
♠ K Q 7 5 3
A Q 10 8 5
Q 2
♣ 9

Plus 300 is worth 86%.

I still don't understand declarer's line of play. Why not lead a trump toward the king when he's in dummy with the king of hearts? When partner shows out, he will change his mind about playing the king and duck. Now what do I do? Presumably I will continue the tap with a third club. That will bring declarer down to king-queen tight of spades. Declarer will play the heart ace. I will ruff and play ace and a spade, drawing declarer's trumps. This will be the position with declarer on lead. Partner might be holding a high club, or he might have pitched it and be holding four diamonds.


NORTH
Robot
♠ --
 9 6
A 9 6
♣ --


WEST
Phillip
♠ 10
 --
K 3
♣ 8 6


EAST
Robot
♠ --
J
J 10 8 (x)
♣ (Q)


SOUTH
Robot
♠ --
 Q 10 8
Q 2
♣ --

Declarer now leads the heart queen. If partner has pitched his high club, I can ruff the next heart and cash two clubs. But then I must concede the last two tricks. Down only two. If partner has held onto his high club. I must be careful. If I ruff, we get only one club trick, and declarer has the rest. Down only one. To beat it two, I must pitch a club, then ruff the next heart, so declarer has no entry to the long heart in his hand. Then I can play a club to partner for a diamond play.

What happened to those who overcalled with two clubs? LHO bid two spades, partner raised to three clubs, and RHO bid three spades, judging his five-card heart suit compensated for the missing sixth spade.

So the two-club overcallers did better than I did. Or they could have. Most of them squandered their good fortune by doubling three spades. Doubling can hardly be right. As I said earlier, partner isn't going to play you for five good spades after you overcall. He'll expect four spades. And South's three-spade bid corroborates that. With the spade void you know he has, there is no way partner will sit for this double. Your should simply pass, happy you pushed the opponents up a level.

For those of you who scoffed at the idea of a low club lead, let me point out that the double-dummy analyzer reveals that putting partner on play for a diamond switch is the only way to beat this contract legitimately. After the lead of the club king, declarer can make the hand by not touching trumps. Persistently leading hearts hold the defense to four trump tricks and one club. Of course, this is an absurd line of play unless you know trumps are five-zero. Perhaps it's just as well I didn't have a penalty double of two spades available.