Welcome to Basement Bridge

Weekly updates from Kit Jackson offering hints and tips for the modern Bridge player. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Duplicate Pairs Scoring – 9 December 2010

I talk a lot about bidding, how to get to the best contract, how to stop the opponents finding their best spot; then how to try to make all the tricks you can in defence and as declarer so that you score best. But why? And what does that really mean, I hear you scream in unison. Ah well…here we go then:

A hand (board) will be played a number of times. You will score 2 Match Points for every pair you beat and 1 Match Point for every pair you equal. This means it doesn’t matter what the contract is. 1NT or 6NT attract the same number of Match Points depending on success or failure. They are equally important contracts – both as declarer and defenders. Let’s say a hand is played in 1NT four times. The score sheet might look like this:

NS ... EW .. Contract .. By .. N/S .. E/W .. MP .. MP
. 1 ..... 5 ....... 1NT= ...... N ..... 90 ..... ......... 3 ..... 3
. 2 ..... 6 ....... 1NT+1 .... N ..... 120 ..... ....... 6 ..... 0
. 3 ..... 7 ....... 1NT= ...... N ..... 90 ........ ...... 3 ..... 3
. 4 ..... 8 ....... 1NT-1 ..... N ............. .. 50 ..... 0 ..... 6

Pair 2 have the best N/S score by playing the hand well OR by pair 6 defending badly. Likewise pair 4 have gone to sleep OR pair 8 have defended exceptionally well.

If you substitute 6NT (NV) as the contract:

NS ... EW .. Contract .. By .. N/S .. E/W .. MP .. MP
. 1 ..... 5 ....... 6NT= ...... N ..... 990 ................ 3 ..... 3
. 2 ..... 6 ....... 6NT+1 .... N ..... 1020 .............. 6 ..... 0
. 3 ..... 7 ....... 6NT= ...... N ..... 990 ................ 3 ..... 3
. 4 ..... 8 ....... 6NT-1 ..... N ................ 50 .... . 0 ..... 6

note that the pair that make the overtrick still do best. In fact the crucial point is that the Match Point scoreline for the hand hasnt changed at all: pairs 2 & 8 still get tops!

Overtricks matter. Accurate defence matters. Single tricks one way or another matter. You need to get really stingy …

Hi ho, Silver…


Bidding Theory: The Reverse Made Clear – 1 December 2010

I get asked about “reverses” a lot. Here’s a basic definition: a reverse is a re-bid by opener in a higher ranking suit than that originally opened. 1C - 1S: 2H! In this case the heart suit is higher ranking than the original club suit first opened and is therefore a reverse.

Included in the idea is that a reverse will take you above the repeat level of the first suit bid. So, e.g., in the sequence 1C - 1H - 1S, the 1S bid may be in a higher suit but it’s not a reverse – partner can easily go back to the first suit cheaply by bidding 2C. On the other hand, where the bidding goes, say, 1S - 2H - 3C, the club suit is indeed lower ranking than the first bid spades, but to get back to spades partner will have to bid THREE spades. So this IS a reverse.

The reverse is so named because it is a bidding sequence that is the reverse of that which is expected. Normally you open one of a suit and then bid another, lower ranking suit, as a re-bid. 1H - 1S: 2C. Partner can then “give preference” without raising the level. But after you make a reverse partner will be forced to give preference to your first suit at the three level.

Because of this raise in level you shouldn’t make a reverse unless you have a minimum of 16 high card points. When you make a reverse you show 16+ points and the two suits bid will be at least 5 - 4. And it is FORCING. Responder cannot pass.

It follows (doth it not?) that with less than 16 points you cannot make a reverse. So with this hand, after the bids 1C - 1S, all you can do is bid 2C:


You must resist the temptation – go on, fight that temptation! – to re-bid 2H. If you do bid 2H you will be fibbing to partner about how strong your hand is. Partner will assume you have a hand like this:


and bid confidently to a slam that will never make because you didn’t have the hand in reality that you claimed you had during the bidding.

This is why I so frequently ask you to consider your natural re-bid BEFORE you make your opening bid.

Responder can also make a reverse, and as above it shows a better than minimum hand (ie 10+ hcp) Here’s a sequence where responder is reversing and showing a 5 - 4 hand as well:

1D - 1H
2D - 2S!

This is also forcing.

The second bid is always the one that attempts to define more accurately the shape AND the strength of your hand.

Good luck!


The Mystery Of The Missing Cue – More from the Baker Street Diaries – 18 November 2010

I had not seen Holmes for some time. I had been busy with my own affairs and he had been abroad on some investigation about global fraud and funds for hedges. I called at his rooms where he was languid as ever and regaled him with a tale of the card table.

“You see Holmes, twice my Partner opened 1H, overcalled on my right by 1S, and on both deals I was desirous of bidding 3H but for entirely different reasons. It’s all a bit of a muckle, ain’t it old boy?”

Holmes perused the two hands in question, sighing the while:

a) . xx
..... AJxx
..... Kxx
..... Kxxx

b) . xx
..... Axxxx
..... xx
..... Qxxx

“I see the quandary in which you mired yourself, Watson. With the first hand, having the required points for an invitational raise to 3H (10 -12) you made that bid, even though the opponents had intervened.

“Then when the second hand occurred you were, correctly, ready to pre-empt the opponent on your left by bidding 3H with a much weaker, more distributional hand. Had you done so your partner could only have inferred that you had hand like the first one. Did you bid 3H?”

I nodded assent that I had.

“I thought you might’ve. Partner had a rock-crusher, pushed to 6H and you went 2 down I dare say?”

I nodded again in the affirmative that he was jolly well spot right on.

“When opponents intervene, you as responder, are Snookered. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The answer is to get out your Cue when you have a good hand and leave it in its case when you don't.”

“Eh?” I snorted, “Get what out, Holmes?”

“To distinguish between a pre-emptive raise and a GOOD raise we need two different bids. If 3H is pre-emptive then what can we bid with a good hand? The answer lies in the cue; as in cue-raise. You merely bid the opponent’s suit. Now you are no longer snookered. You can bid a pre-emptive 3H with a weak hand – less than 9HCP and make a cue-raise with any 10+ HCP hand with 4 card support.”

When opponents intervene you are in a “competitive auction”. This is different from a “constructive auction” when they are silent. Therefore your aims are different. Either (1) you want to tell partner you have a good fit and 10+HCP, or (2) you want to pre-empt them out of their safety zone.

Remember, get yer retaliation in first!

Intervention over 1NT – “System On” or “System Off” ? – 10 November 2010

Congratulations to Captain Ann and the PoW team in the London Newcomers League who WON their first match of the season. Brilliant! Onwards and upwards!

Now for some bridge!

Partner Opens 1NT And Your Right Hand Opponent (RHO) Doubles Or Overcalls

STANDARD (Systems Off)

In Standard Acol it is normal to play "Systems Off" when your RHO intervenes. This means that Stayman and Transfers no longer apply and all bids are natural. ie 2C,2D,2H,2S mean what they say.

If RHO bids a suit, a Double by you is now for penalties. If RHO Doubles, a Re-Double by you means you think partner will make 1NT Doubled. This is nice and simple and everyone knows where they are.

On the other hand… if Stayman and Transfers are so great when RHO stays silent why aren’t they even better if RHO Doubles or bids?


Everything in this section is NON Standard and MUST be discussed with partner before you start playing around (!) just to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength. Otherwise fantastic mis-understandings can occur. Well, they probably will anyway but why
make it worse? Everything below is ONLY by partnership agreement! You
have been warned…

1NT - 2C - ?

Playing Systems On you might agree with partner that a Double by you is Stayman i.e. “They stole my bid: I wanted to bid 2C so I’ll Double to let you know that.” You’ll have a goodish hand and with two 4 card majors and want to compete.

Notice that you now therefore can’t double 2C for penalties. Experts believe this a very small price to pay for regaining Stayman, but you must decide for yourself.

Again in the above auction you can now keep 2D & 2H as transfers. BUT… what if it goes 1NT - 2D - ? Following the principle above a double by you is now a Transfer to Hearts, and 2H is transfer to Spades.


All this of course assumes that the 2C & 2D were natural doesn’t it? You’ll find that a lot of practised partnerships have quite complicated defences to opponents opening 1NT, most of them revolving around two suited hands. This means you have to be a bit more careful in employing Systems On.

For instance a popular defence to 1NT is to play a convention (known as Landy) where a 2C overcall shows BOTH Majors (5 -4), so there’s now no point in Doubling 2C to show the majors in your hand as you’ll want to defend against their untimely intervention.

To make matters even more interesting, other partnerships use a convention (known as Astro) where a 2C overcall of 1NT shows 5+ Hearts and a minor suit, and 2D shows 5+ Spades and a minor. There are plenty of these conventions about (Cansino, Ripstra, etc) and if you come up against them you need to discuss with partner what your bids will now mean.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Not Quite So Basic Bidding Refesher – Responding To Weak Twos - 3 Nov 2010

A contentious area. BUT... When partner makes a weak bid our job is to (1) help them obfuscate the opposition OR (2) try to find our own best spot.

(1) A pre-emptive weak 2 (or 3) bid is mostly designed to a nuisance. Partner will have about 6 - 9 points and a 6 card suit (the same as for a weak jump overcall).

Assuming you have no interest in game (less than 14 HCP), now what's important is FITS, i.e. do you have a fit for partner or not? And how good the fit is will determine the level you should bid at… not the point count.

[a small digression… A cornerstone of all modern bidding theory is the concept of “the level of the fit”. This theory, popularised by the US Masters Marty Bergen and Larry Cohen, though originated by a French player, states that in competitive auctions (i.e. where both sides are bidding) the combined fits of the trump suits will equal the number of tricks to be taken.

At its simplest and most raw interpretation this means that if you and partner have a 9 card fit you should contract to make 9 tricks; 10 card fit = 10 tricks etc. This is a VAST over-simplification of the theory but it nevertheless holds good in most competitive situations.

So… If partner makes a weak 2 noise and you hold 3-card support, you should therefore raise to the 3 level (6+3 =9) and with 4-card support raise to the 4 level (6+4=10). You most probably won’t make your contract but you will lose less than if they do make theirs. Theoretically. Most of the time. Percentage-wise …]

(2) If you have a very decent hand (18+) opposite a Weak Two you’ll either plump directly for game or slam or whatever. But sometimes you’ll want to know whether that Weak Two was based on a 6 count or a 9 count. You hold:


Partner opens a Weak Two in D, H, or S. If it’s 9, game is a distinct possibility in NT, H’s or S’s. But how can you know? Should you just guess? Scratch your nose? Smile apologetically and bid game anyway? NO NO NO NO NO. What you do is bid 2NT!

This says nothing about your hand but what it does do is ASK partner to tell you which end of the range the weak bid was made with. If the bid was minimum (6 - 7) the opener will just repeat the original suit and you can then decide what to do in the light of the rebid. But if partner holds a “good” hand for the opening bid partner must tell you this by bidding a “feature” in a side suit.


2S - 2NT

This says, “I’m maximum and I’ve got the club A or K.”

Armed with this valuable information you now bid the game.


Basic Bidding Refresher Part III – Pre-Empts – 28 Oct 2010

Most of the time you’ll open the bidding with hands of 12+ HCP. However there are some mini opening hands that can be opened one of a suit with slightly less and here we can use the “Rule of 20”, e.g:


This hand has 10 HCP. Add the number of HCP to the combined length of the two longest suits and if the answer is 20 or more – open 1 of a suit: in this case 1S, preparing to rebid 2D.

This is a way of getting weakish 2-suiters into the auction early. Aggressive bidding within fairly well-defined limits is always a good idea.

And this is also why we make “pre- empts”:

7-Card Suits


With this hand you can open 3H! You'll have a 7 card suit and 6 - 9 HCP. The idea is simply to destroy the opponents auction before they’ve even had a chance to start. Partner now knows you have rubbish and can either control the auction with a good hand or, with a fit, bid 4H – sometimes to make and sometimes not expecting to make, just to get even more in the way.

This bidding style is called “Barrage Bidding”. The opponents frequently get into the wrong game and often miss slam because you have eaten up their space.

6 Card Suits

The pre-empt idea got extended as players discovered more about bidding. In the 1950s some bright spark thought “Well, hey, if 7- card pre-empts are that good, why not 6-card pre-empts?" and so the Weak Two was born …


With this hand you open 2H! The principle is exactly the same as above.

Some of you may mourn the loss of the Acol Strong Two bid but to be honest this is an outmoded way of showing strength. Added to which the Weak Two type hand occurs far more frequently. So you will be bidding more and being more of a nuisance than before. This is a VERY Good Thing…

For the more adventurous of you, I can recommend you scour the internet for a variety of bids known as “Lucas Twos”. Then you can open 2S with a 5(!) card suit. Fun fun fun!

Next week : responding to weak openings.



Basic Bidding Refresher, Part II – Responding After a Suit Bid – 21 Oct 2010

There are 2 starting points to any possible contract: 1NT or a bid of a suit. With 1NT partner is limited to exactly 12 -14 HCP and you base your actions on that inherent knowledge. You can pass 1NT with as many as 10 HCP whereas after a 1 level suit opening that would be criminal. This is because when partner opens 1 of a suit they may have from 10 to 20 HCP and we just don’t yet know, so we struggle to keep the bidding open for at least one round. (I'll leave discussions of how to respond after weak 2 or 3 bids for another time.)

Responding with 6 - 9 HCP

The weak range:

1) Always, always, always, ALWAYS respond with 6 HCP (assuming no overcall). Always, always, always, ALWAYS show a 4 card major at the 1 level if you can.

Do NOT, repeat NOT, bid 1NT if you can bid 1H or 1S. If you bid 1NT after partner opens 1D, but you had 4 Hearts, later in the bidding, when you might need partner to know you have them, partner will never believe you. The net effect of this is to damage partnership confidence. If partner had 19 points, 6 Diamond and 4 Hearts, you're NEVER going to find the Heart game and you miss out on the lovely game /rubber bonus. More importantly, your partner will miss the bonus and will not be a happy bunny. Still inwardly cross, they will probably make a mistake on the next hand, and now the partnership is in a downward spiral. All because you didn't bid 1H when you could.

2) You can give partner a weak raise with 4 card support (1H - 2H) but if partner opens a minor suit, the above constrictions apply: even with 4 card support for a minor, show a 4 card – or better – major FIRST.

Responding with 10 - 12 HCP

The "invitational" range: i.e. you can suggest game to partner but you cannot yet insist on it.

1) Bid a 4 card major at the one level (I do go on don't I?)
2) You can bid a new suit at the 2 level. It can be 4 cards long [except!!: After 1S, 2H's promises 5 hearts]
3) You can make a “limit” raise of partner's suit (1H - 3H) with 4-card support. If partner opens a minor though, if you remember, bid a 4 card Major first…
4) There used in Old fashioned Steam Age Acol to be a bid that covered this range and it was 2NT. This bid has almost completely dropped out of usage and you should forget you ever learnt it. The reason is that modern computer based study of percentage actions has shown that it is correct to open on fairly weakish hands that would have horrified our forefathers. Consequently the best place to play may be in a suit at the 2 level. Impossible if you bid 2 NT.

Responding with 13+ HCP

The Game range

1) Make sure of game.
2) Bid a 4 card major at the 1 level if you can (again already?)
3) Er, that's it.

More next week

Basic Bidding Refresher – 14 October 2010

New players are showing up so here’s a quick summary of how we aim to bid. Commit this to memory!

“BALANCED” Hands (4333, 4432, 5332 shapes) :

  • 12 - 14: open 1NT. 15 - 16: open 1 of a suit, rebid 1NT.
  • 17 - 18: open 1 of a suit, rebid 2NT.
  • 19 - 20: open 1 of a suit, rebid 3NT. 20 -22: open 2NT. 23+: open 2C, rebid 2NT.

WEAK Hands:

  • 6 - 10, 6 card suit: open 2D, 2H, or 2S. You CANNOT make a weak 2 bid in Clubs!
  • 6 - 10, 7 card suit: open a pre-empt at the 3 level.

BIG Hands:

  • Open 2NT (balanced 20 -22) or 2C (Unbalanced 21+ OR balanced 23+)


Will open 1 of a suit. But here the key is the REBID. Sherlock is very keen on the idea that before you make your opening bid you decide what your rebid is going to be. This will depend on your
assessment of your hand. Your hand will normally fall into one of two distinct ranges: 12 - 15 and 16 - 19. With the first you can only make a minimum rebid, but with the second point range you must make some kind of forcing or jump rebid.

Here are some examples of how different rebids tell different stories. Assume partner makes a 1-level response of some kind:

  • OPEN: 1H, REBID: 2H. You show 5+ H's and 12 - 15
  • OPEN: 1H, REBID: 3H. You show 6+ H's and 16 - 19
  • OPEN: 1H, REBID: 2D. You show 5+ H's, 4+ D's and 12 - 15
  • OPEN: 1H, REBID: 3D. You show 5+ H's, 4+ D's and 16 - 19

Don’t be shy – bid your hand. I know the opposition (sometimes, even your partner) will contrive to make it difficult for you to bid exactly what you want when you want. Nevertheless, Sherlock says you should have a very good idea of – IDEALLY – what your rebid will be.

The point is that by doing this you are forced to assess the value of your hand at the beginning of the auction, not two-thirds of the way through when you might by then have forgotten why you opened in the first place!

The other key factor is to listen carefully to the bids made by partner and the opposition to see if you can gather information about where certain key cards might be and how that affects the value of your hand. Remember the value of your hand may go down as well as up – just like your investments (hollow laugh…)

Have fun


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Adventure of the Four Kings, The Final Chapter – 6 October 2010

Lovely to see you all again. Turn out has been down the last two weeks so there’s plenty of room for you to come along and mug up yer bidding! Especially the different strategies depending on Vulnerability and hand assessment. But now…

The last chapter of…
The Adventure of the Four Kings

Holmes sprawled on the sofa in a loose dressing gown. I had returned from a sojourn in Huffington Parva, whence he had despatched me to research a rare poisonous beetle. In my absence he had been cataloguing – for what purpose I know not – filmy nether garments as worn by racier elements of our dear sisterhood. Was nothing beneath his forensic thirst for knowledge?

Despite his lassitude he enquired what card question it was that so irked me. How could he know this from my demeanour? I put down the pack I was fiddling with.

“Holmes”, I ventured, “Can we ascertain with certainty the commandment pertaining to the covering of an honour with an honour?”

Holmes jerked himself awake.

I continued: “The queen of spades was led but when should I play my king of spades?"

"The principle, Watson, is that when we cover an honour with an honour we do so in the knowledge – or failing that, in the hope - that we shall by doing so promote a lowlier card of ours to its full trick taking potential. It follows does it not, dear boy, that if we cannot see such value then we should by no means cover an honour with another? That one should cover only when absolutely necessary and to our side's advantage?”

“Yes yes yes Holmes,” I blurted, glad to see he had so readily taken the bull by the horn: “but when and how can we tell which particular situation occurs? Can you shed light on this matter?”

“If the honour is led from dummy and the suit is such as QJ10 then do NOT cover the first honour. But however, if the honour is UNsupported – say, Q86 – then always cover it with alacrity.”

"Thank-you Holmes. Good weekend?” How he guffawed…

It can be fatal to cover an honour in this situation:

.......... QJ109
???? ............... Kxxx
........... A

Now the play of the king gives declarer four easy tricks when the queen is led.

However in the next situation you gain a trick by covering the queen:

.......... Q86
9xx ............... K10xx
.......... AJx

See you next week.

The Adventure of the Four Kings, Part the Third – 29 September 2010

I trod the stairs to our rooms with a heavy heart and and a quandary. I made a mistake at cards the previous night and – so far – Holmes had not mentioned this. His silences terrify me. I opened the door and there he lounged with those wide open, red rimmed, glistening eyes and permanent smile.

“Holmes,” I blurted, “I cannot possibly apologise enough for my derogatory card play yesterday evening. Can you ever forgive me?”

“Dear boy, on the contrary,” Holmes sniffed deeply, “I, for once, cannot recall a single error of cardplay. Some misfortunes in the bidding perhaps, but…” . He waved an airy hand dismissing my concerns.

“But Holmes,” I rushed to explain. “I led the king of hearts – top of a sequence – when you had specifically told me to play the bottom card in such instances.”

Holmes had a fit of giggling and loudly blew his nose before continuing.

“Don't be an ass, Watson, really,…” he countered. “You may hold a sequence of any two or three cards at any time, mayn’t you? But your position in the order of play may vary. You may only be following suit to a card led by the opposition. When we defend the correct card to play will also vary depending on our position. For instance when declarer leads a card and you FOLLOW with the Queen I know two things: (1) you do not possess the Jack. (2) You may possess the King. This is because when you FOLLOW suit you play a sequence in ASCENDING order (Jack, Queen, King, Ace...)

However, when you are LEADING the first card to the trick you play from a sequence in DESCENDING order (Ace, King, Queen etc). When you played the King I knew either you held also the Queen, or that it was singleton. I was therefore able to base my defensive strategy on sound information not guesswork. So in this instance – as you were leading and not following – you were absolutely correct to play the King of Hearts. Absolutely.…”

I blushed and moved towards him. “Yes, it is a partnership game isn’t it. Holmes?”

"Indeed, but – emphasis on Game, Watson. Now, did you bring those new needles…?”

With these holdings lead the king:

KQJ, KQ10, KQxx

This is “top of a sequence”. However, when you follow suit, play the lowest card in a sequence, thus promising the touching cards above. You may feel all this gives away too much information to declarer. It is more important to give partner information than to withhold it from declarer. If you do not tell partner what you have, partner will have to guess and partner will ALWAYS guess wrong. Take away the guess whenever you can.


The Adventure of the Four Kings, continued – 23 September 2010

Holmes was cross. Very cross. He had said nothing in the not very Hansom cab all the way back from the card game in Deptford. When we got up to our rooms he sat me down at the table, took out his loaded service revolver and fired it at the ceiling. While not unnecessarily unusual behaviour there was an extra steel in the way his eyes devoured me across the pink and yellow velvet.

“Rightio - Watson. One last chance. Tell me in detail why you led away from the king of diamonds against their Heart contract.”

I swallowed hard. “Well, er, you see Holmes, well I, er…” I chuntered on for a bit.

“Snap out of it Watson”. Holmes softly caressed the shiny gun metal.

“Aha, well, you see Holmes, I was only following a rule of cards, that like as you said, what that when a bit sort of stuck for a lead one could do no worse than lead 4th best of one's longest and strongest suit.”

I gurgled at him deeply chuffed to finally remember this pearl of wisdom.

“Yes, I said that, Watson. In relation to a defence of No Trump contracts, Watson. This was a SUIT contract, wasn’t it Watson? Watson?”

I nodded, bereft of verbal facility. He leant back and studied the hole in the ceiling.

“Let us assume that when one holds the king of a suit the other most important cards to consider are the ace and queen of that suit. Yes? But where are they? We do not know. How can we know something that is unknown to us? Therefore as we DO NOT KNOW…’ – he paused, spinning the revolver’s carriage – “we should not under any circumstances lead away from that king, as declarer might hold both the ace and the queen, might they not?”

“Thereby giving declarer a trick they did not deserve!”

“I trust Watson you will not make such a mistake again?”

I assured him in all earnestness that I would not until Hades froze. I would have gone on but at that moment Mrs Hudson appeared wearing a quizzical smile and VERY little else…

It is unwise – most of the time – to lead away from a King against a suit contract. Here’s why:

............... xx
Kxxxx ........... J10xx
............... AQ

............... Qx
Kxxxx ........... J10xx
............... Ax

You can do it if partner OPENED that suit, or against a NT trump contract (though I would always struggle not to do it for the reasons above even then.) Remember: Sherlock is right. That’s why he’s Sherlock.


Strange But True… The Baker Street Diaries – 15 September 2010

It was in the Summer of ’83 while doing research that I was lucky enough to come across lost fragments of a Conan Doyle novella : The Adventure of the Four Kings. Here’s an excerpt:

Holmes was a deuced fine card player. He excelled at partnership whist. Always he magically knew which card to play. When I marvelled at his flair for plucking out the right card, he would be incensed at my clumsy inability to see there was no magic: “Watson, don’t be a fool! Magic does not exist in my world, all is logic, plain simple ordinary logic, to which I merely apply my mind.”

“But,” I fawned, “when you held the A,Q of Clubs you declined to lead that suit, and thereby, later in the play of the hand you were able to capture the K of clubs held by the player on your right. How did you know it was there? Magical!” I sighed.

“Watson, you half brained idiot,” he commented, “I did not KNOW the King of Clubs was on my right. How could I? I am no sorcerer. But since I did not hold said card there was ever a possibility of its being on my right.”

“Yes, Holmes, but that’s only a 1 in 3 chance and 33% is no solution!!” I said, chuffed to have spotted a flaw in his statistical reasoning.

“Doh! Pass the syringe, Watson, and I will endeavour to explain. You’re right of course to point out that among four players if I do not hold a particular card it will, logically, be in one of the other three hands. This is true. So. Let us consider those three options in detail.

If the king of clubs is on my left there is nothing I can do, except keep hold of my A Q of clubs and hope that player leads a club round to my hand so that I make both A and Q when I shouldn’t.

If my partner, you dear Watson, holds the K of Clubs then we shall have three tricks in the suit between us whatever occurs.

However, if the player on my right holds the K, I must at no time, under whatever pressure, lead any of my clubs whatsoever or I will give away a trick. I must always lead something else, almost anything else, so that that player is induced to lead the club suit to me! Whereupon I will magically, as you say, make both the A and Q.”

Thereupon, the great man, sank to the sofa with his electrical violin and lost himself in the staccato rhythms of his dub-step remix Brahms quintet…

You should NEVER lead an Ace unless you also have the king. Never. You should NEVER lead a low card from a suit headed by the Ace. Never. Here’s why. It will cost you. The incredibly few times it might – just – be right to do so will far be outnumbered by the myriad times it’s wrong.

............ xxx
AQxxx ........ J10xx
............ K

Lead a low card away from the Ace and now declarer makes that King. OK, so lead the Ace?

............ xx
AQxxx ........ J10xx
............ Kx

Lead the Ace on this layout and again you give away a trick; lead low and you also give away a trick.

In both these situations you want the lead to be toward your holding in the suit. You must wait. Bide your time. Find another lead. You and partner may have bid this suit, but when partner supported you they did not promise the king. They promised four cards. Any four cards. Do not give to declarers tricks they do not deserve.

Defensive Signalling – The Suit Preference Signal - 9 September 2010

Hope you all had a great summer and good to see you all again after the holidays. OK now you’re back let’s get going…

Suit Preference

When you defend you must not sit there following suit when you have to while wondering about the price of steam cleaners. You have to DO something! You have to think. But what? Sometimes the great god of bridge will gift you the high cards to defeat the opponents iffy contract. Other times you may have between you and partner the right cards to get the contract down but too too often neither of you realise what is going on until it’s over. It’d be great if you could look at partner’s hand – or partner could see your hand – then you’d both know exactly what to do. Sadly the rules of bridge forbid this. But the rules of bridge do allow you to SIGNAL to partner in various ways your holdings in particular suits. Armed with this vital knowledge you help each other.

Take this frequent situation:

AQxx .............. you
KJ10x ............. xx
....................... Q952
....................... KJxx
....................... Qxx

The contract is 4 Spades and partner leads the Ace of Hearts. What card do you play and why? Let’s re-phrase the question slightly. What card do you want PARTNER to play next? After the HA, partner has a problem. What to lead next? Not really knowing what’s going on partner has a complete guess whether or not to lead: 1) another heart, 2) a spade 3) a diamond or 4) a club.

In this situation, remember the suit rankings. The lowest ranking suit is Clubs, then Diamonds, Hearts and Spades in that (alphabetical) order. You can use this knowledge as part of a system to communicate your like or dislike of a lead of a particular suit.

In the example above you would quite like it if partner led a diamond. Partner could lead another heart, which would be ruffed in dummy, or even lead a spade. The one thing you really really don’t want partner to do is lead a club. If they do, dummy plays the jack, you must cover with the queen and of course declarer has the ace and now no club losers. But how – logically – can you dissuade partner from the disastrous club lead at Trick 2?

Remember the suit rankings? Clubs is the LOWEST ranking suit so – logically – the LOWEST card you play would ASK for a club lead. So DON’T play your lowest heart. Instead, under the lead of the ace of hearts drop the NINE of hearts, asking for the HIGHER ranking suit between diamonds and clubs. Easy when you know how, isn’t it!

Of course, this means when you are the one on lead with the Ace of Hearts you’d better watch out what card partner plays, hadn’t you?

Making A Plan

You are declarer. The lead is faced. The dummy goes down. The bids are back in the boxes. Now what? No, no, no the answer is not “PANIC!” The answer is: make a plan. Think. Take your time. How many tricks do you need? Where are they coming from? How many losers have you got? How are you going to get rid of them? It doesn’t matter how hopeless or how marvellous the contract is – the aim is the same. To do your absolute best with cards you and your partner were dealt. So remember


See you next week!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Power Hands – What To Do With A Big One! – 1 September 2010

It’s always a pleasure to find you’re holding a big one. But what to do with it? Should you handle it gently or grab the moment? As you’re aware, I’m no shrinking violet so my advice is that if you’ve got something worth showing – get it out there!


In most systems the biggest opening bid you can make is 2 Clubs. In Acol, 2C is a game force. Only the sequence:


can be passed out below game when the 2D bidder has nil points. Otherwise game must be bid.

If you hold a balanced hand with any of these distributions: 4333, 4432 or 5332, then you need to have 23+ HCP. However if you have more distribution, 6322, 5521 then, as a result of your presumed extra playing strength, you can have a few points less than 23, but certainly a minimum would be 20 HCP.

For balanced hands in the 20 - 22 HCP range the opening bid is 2NT. You need to tell partner very clearly that a) the hand belongs to your side and that b) you are the proud possessor of half or more of the available total HCP (40).


Most of the time when you overcall you’ll have about 9 - 16 HCP and partner will respond accordingly. So how to tell partner when you have a hand better than that? The answer is to start with a Double and then bid again – assuming the opponents have left you the space
to do so!


Whatever is opened on your right, your hand is too strong to overcall 1NT (15 - 17) so the strategy is to Double and then bid NT’s (at the lowest available level) and partner will know you are 18+ and take appropriate action.



is far too good for a simple 1S overcall, so again, Double first and then introduce the spades, making it clear to partner that you have a 17+ hand with spades.

It follows that when you do Double you cannot make another bid UNLESS you have 17+ HCP as partner will assume you hold one of the big hands. This is why when you respond to a Double
you must always make a jump bid with 9+ HCP. Of course, never assume partner does have one of the big hands. Wait to be told.

We Open And They Double

Partner opens 1S and opponent on your right Doubles. What’s your strategy? Most of the time you can either ignore the double and bid naturally OR – with a fit for partner – make some appropriate pre-emptive raise. But there is another weapon you can use when you do NOT have a fit for partner but you do have 9+ HCP. It’s the very little used blue one with the two XX’s on it: RE-DOUBLE!

Now, partner knows that as a partnership you hold at least half the points between you and will know what to do.

Oh yes they will…



Plays in Single Suits – 25 August 2010

How can you play this suit for four tricks whatever happens?

A Q 10 x

K 9 x

You have between you and dummy seven cards in the suit so six are held by the opposition. If they break 3 - 3 between those two hands you just play off the A, K, Q and the little one in dummy will be good. But what if they break 4 - 2 and the jack is in the 4-card suit? What if they break 6 - 0? 5 - 1? How can you now make four tricks?

The answer is to play off the A first. If the jack drops singleton, or there’s a void you make 4 tricks (You know where the Jack is!). If not then you play low to the King. Again if the jack drops now you make four tricks. If on the other hand the player to your right shows out void, then now you can play low to the 10 and you make 4 tricks even on a 5 - 1 break. But what if all follow small to the second round?

Actually at this point – if you have no other information about the opponents likely shape from the bidding or their previous play – you should play for the drop and the 3 - 3 break. It’s all about finding the Jack. But by playing the Ace first you give yourself more chances to find it. Take those chances!!!



Don't be shy - After 1NT You Can Bid On Air (And A Long Suit!) - 25 August 2010

As I said last week when partner opens 1 of a suit you MUST respond when you have 6 or more points in case partner holds 19 HCP. However when partner opens 1NT things radically alter.

For a start, you know they won’t have 19, so the need to just bid any old thing with 6 HCP doesn’t arise. Alternatively, when partner open 1 of a suit you shouldn’t bid with less than 5HCP, but now after 1NT there are situations where you WILL bid with absolutely nothing! Bids have different meanings; you may be expected to bid with 0+ points and you may be expected to pass with as many 10 points. Weird huh? How can this be? you cry. Has the man taken leave of his senses? Well, maybe, but the point is …

Responses When Partner Opens (12 - 14)

When partner opens One of a Suit they can have a crummy 10 to a gorgeous 20 HCP. We just don’t know so we keep bidding until we do know. But when partner bids 1NT we know specifically the range promised – 12 - 14. Armed with this valuable knowledge your strategy is subtly different. Here’s a breakdown of what your responses should be and what they mean:
  • PASS Balanced – less than 10 or unbalanced with no suitable bid
  • 2C Stayman (“Have you got a 4-card major?")
  • 2D Transfer (“Bid 2H”)
  • 2H Transfer (“Bid 2S”)
  • 2S minor suit run-out (“bid 3C”)
  • 2NT 11-12 balanced (“Bid game if you have 14”)
  • 3C VG suit, slam interest
  • 3D VG suit, slam interest
Above this things get more complicated as well as being open to many differing and varied concepts and styles so, er… we’ll forget all that then!


The Rule of 25 – Bridge’s Best “Value Bet” – 18 August 2010

There are many so-called “rules” in bridge, some of which are nonsense, some of which are eminently breakable and some which are cast iron mathematical certainties. But there is one truly important rule – one rule sent to rule them all – the Rule of 25!

The Rule of 25 states that: If the combined total of a partnership’s point count is 25 or more then – assuming normal breaks and normal distribution – game should be made MOST OF THE TIME.

Therefore when you and your partner have that magical number - Bid Game! Somewhere, somehow.

The corollary of this rule is that: if you and your partner have less than 25 combined points – game is not on unless the distribution is wild. In this case you should PASS as soon as you reasonably can.

Partner opens 1NT and you hold:


What you absolutely and categorically know is that game is not on (14 + 8 = 22!) and therefore you will try to pass as soon as you can before the auction gets too high. In fact with this hand you will pass immediately. You have nothing to say and have no reason to suppose that a contract other than 1NT will score better for your side. You cannot bid 2D as that means hearts (transfer) and you definitely can’t go stayman as partner is likely to bid 2S with dire consequences. So PASS 1NT.

Alternatively you hold


You also know game is not on but this time 1NT rates to be second best to 2S, so transfer to spades and THEN pass! Remember - no 25 - no game.

The Rule of 25 is also why you must ALWAYS respond to 1 of a suit with 6 points – because partner may open One of a Suit with 19 hcp (6 + 19 = 25). It really is that simple.

Don’t forget Ned Paul’s friendly duplicate on Friday evenings – details here: http://www.ruffclub.co.uk

See you next week


Fourth Suit Forcing – Routefinding To The Best Game – 11 August 2010

There are a lot of different ways to bid game when you know unequivocally what the denomination will be. It’s less easy (and illegal) to scratch your head and say to partner – “Hey! I want to be in game but frankly I really don't know which one. Sorry!” Luckily there is a legal way of doing this. Really! And it’s Fourth Suit Forcing (FSF).

You hold:


The auction begins with partner opening 1C. You know straightaway game is on but is it 3NT, 4H or 4S or 5C? Which is the safest? Which the most high scoring? Is 3N +1 (+430) going to be better than 4H/S (+420) or will a major suit game produce an overtrick for +450? Will 3N get you +2 for +460? At some stage you will have to take control of the auction and push partner to game.

The auction proceeds:

1C - 1H
1S - ???

Does partner have five clubs and four spades? Or six clubs and five spades? Or just four of each? Or even three hearts? Maybe a diamond stopper? At this point in this auction game might be on in three of the 4 suits plus the NT game and slam can’t be too far off either. So which one will you guess to bid? And why should you stab at a silly guess when the solution is to simply bid 2D! FSF!

How FSF Works

Once three suits have been bid between you and partner it is extremely unlikely that the bid of the 4th suit can possibly be natural. Therefore it is used as a conventional (ie unnatural) bid to demand of partner that they continue to define the parameters of the hand they hold. The other
great thing about it is that it is unconditionally forcing to game, so you and partner can swap useful bits of information between you safe in the knowledge that a game – somewhere – must be reached!

So the auction goes on:

1C - 1H
1S - 2D (FSF)

Now opener’s 3rd bid should be the one that finally unlocks the clues to the Sherlock Holmes-like mystery of which game to play in:

2H = 3 card heart suit
2S = 5 card spade suit (5+ Clubs as well; i.e. you have a fit in two suits)
2NT = A diamond stopper, no 3 H’s, no 5 S’s
3C = 5+ Clubs
3D = asking for a diamond stop for 3NT

When partner makes one of these bids you will – finally – know exactly which denomination to play in. What you may not know yet is exactly at which level. OK, so game’s on but what about slam? You’d like those extra 500 or 1000 points on the score card wouldn’t you? It’d take care of any of those silly minuses that creep in. As I said earlier, FSF is “forcing to game”. This means that both of you can bid away as much as you like showing a feature here, a void there, cue-bidding merrily away because you both KNOW that whatever else happens you MUST end up in game.

See you next week!


Thursday, 30 September 2010

Hunting Big Game – Bidding With Powerful Hands – 5 August 2010

Sometimes you start a climb from the very bottom of the mountain, not knowing how far up the slippery slope you will be able to climb. Occasionally you can take advantage of technology and make your journey more certain by starting higher up – thereby ensuring you get where you want to be. In Bridge the two bids that get you started higher up the slippery slope and force the journey to the top are 2NT and 2C.

1) 2NT = balanced 20 - 22 HCP

It’s not FORCING (!) but is highly invitational and partner should consider game with as few as 3 HCP in their own hand (22 + 3 = 25!) . Stayman and Transfers can be used as over a 1 NT opening.

2) 2C = balanced 23 + OR!!! An unbalanced hand with about 20+ HCP (4 losers)

The point is these are hands that want to be in Game opposite hardly any points from partner and maybe even slam opposite a few decent key cards.

The reason you want to force to the game so much is because of the Game Bonus. At teams, duplicate and chicago bridge these are worth 300 not vulnerable and 500 vulnerable and at Rubber, if you win 2-0, you get a whopping 700!

Don’t be shy. If you’ve got something worth showing – get it out in the open light of day fast!

Responding With Big Hands

I know I know, mostly when partner opens you hold some dross and queasily end up in a ratty part-score. Just occasionally it is you as responder who holds the power house and not the opener. But what do you do then? Make some kind of jump forcing bid straight away? Bid game immediately? Hmm. Mostly not is the answer.

Usually there’s no need to get over-excited too quickly (as the actress…) The trouble is you don’t know what partner has for their opening. They may have no more than 10 HCP and a scrappy 6-card suit. That’s not their fault - it's what they were dealt and you shouldn’t berate
partner for occasionally being a tad aggressive in the auction. That’s why – even with fairly big hands – you should just make some simple natural bid. Not to deceive partner but to give them the option of making their most natural re-bid. In that way you find out what their hand is worth.

Later in the auction – after partner has made their simple natural re-bid, and given you some idea of what they actually hold – you can always keep the bidding open with a jump rebid, a reverse or by using the common Fourth Suit Forcingconvention. The only kind of hand that should make a direct jump response is a hand almost too good for game and very very interested in slam possibilities. It should contain a long strong suit of its own and a good point count, usually 16-19hcp:


Partner opens 1H and you would be perfectly within your rights to bid 2S and slam would be on opposite some opening even as awful as this:


You’ve told partner with your jump that game is certain and slam is probable which would certainly not be the case if you had some ordinary 12-hcp hand. If slam is on in those circumstances it is because partner has a good hand and it is partner who will take charge and drive forward. Save your biggest bids for truly big moments!

Forcing Bids – 29 July 2010

Occasionally I’ll mention that such and such is bid is FORCING. But what exactly am I talking about? (Do you ask yourself this too?) Well here’s a round-up of the kinds of things that I might be talking about.

With the opposition silent it goes like this:

1H - 1S
2H - ?

The first thing to notice is that the 2H bid is NOT forcing: partner CAN pass. So a quick resume is that a forcing bid is one that FORCES partner to bid again (assuming the opposition remain silent!)

Something like

1H - 1S

The 3C bid is unconditionally forcing. It cannot be passed. Even if you responded 1S on drivel, that’s your problem but you CANNOT pass.

1H - 2D

The 2NT bid is FORCING. (2D = 10+, 2NT = 15 - 19 so game is on.) Again if you responded 2D with not quite 10 HCP that is not partner's problem, it’s your problem – you still have to bid over the FORCING 2NT.

Partner opens with a Game Force bid of 2C (23+ in a balanced hand but only 20+ with an unbalanced hand!) and you hold:


You get cold feet and pass. What will you say when partner turns up with 29 HCP and Four Spades is cold? The point is that partner made a Game FORCING bid. You cannot pass. You must bid – whatever you’ve got. It’s not just about your hand but how the hands fit together in partnership. You do not bid alone your 13 cards. You bid together your 26 cards.

Just so you know, there is one auction that starts 2C that can die below game and it is this and this alone:

2C - 2D
2NT - ?

Now, with something like the hand above, you may pass. Everything else goes to game –regardless of what you hold.

In the same way, responses to 1NT are all forcing too (Again I assume the opps are silent). 2C (Stayman) 2D, 2H, (transfers) and 2S (minor suit take-out) are all forcing. When partner makes a forcing bid the option of whether you bid or not ceases to exist. Partner has taken control of the auction, so obey. If partner has it wrong that’s just tough but partnership confidence and understanding can be fatally damaged by not listening to what partner is saying.

In most auctions at some point one of you has to take control – either by passing an unsuitable hand or by forcing the auction to the correct level.

1S - 3S (10 -12, 4 card support)

It doesn’t really matter what Four Clubs actually means - it’s FORCING! It might be a void, a singleton, a real suit, a partial suit – anything. But it doesn’t matter. Partner has taken control of the auction and has made a bid that is forcing to at least game and maybe more.

You don’t need to think about what it means – you have to think about the bid that will most help your partner understand how your hand fits with theirs. Have you got the Ace of Diamonds or Hearts? (Cue bids!) Are you bare minimum (in which case sign off in 4 S)?

Listen to your partner. Remember – just like you, partner does really really like to win!

Harassing the Enemy – The “Unusual No Trump” – 22 July 2010

Today - that old favourite! Yes it’s…

The Unusual 2NT Overcall

Once the opposition attempt to start their delicate little bidding conversation at base camp it is your job to jerk them up the mountain as fast as possible before they know whether or not they’ve got enough oxygen for the climb to the summit. Of course this is risky – but no more so than anything else! (see this link! : http://basementbridge.blogspot.com/2010/07/world-of-risk-1-april-2010.html)

Let’s look at all the possible 1 of a suit openings and see what a 2NT overcall means:
  • 1C - 2NT = Hearts and Diamonds
  • 1D - 2NT = Hearts and Clubs
  • 1H - 2NT = Both minors
  • 1S - 2NT = Both minors

All these 2NT overcalls are made with a hand that is at least five cards long in each of the two suits promised and LESS than opening points (6 - 10) give or take a bit for vulnerability or whether partner has passed.

Partner now knows you are shapely (!) but weak. The possible outcomes are:

  • You steal the contract and make it
  • You steal the contract but don’t make it when they had game
  • You talk them out of game or slam
  • They bid and make what they would have done anyway.

Of these possibilities only the last one is bad so you could suppose it’s a 75% action. Well, it isn’t quite: but in general the odds are on your side PLUS you make life very difficult for them. Will they know what to do? Will they bottle out? who knows who has what? Do they have the oxygen? It is always a good idea to induce uncertainty (lack of oxygen) into their auction.


  • After an overcall of a minor suit give preference to hearts with 3-card support or more. Otherwise agree the minor suit.
  • After an overcall of a major suit bid the minor you are longest in. Responder’s forcing bid is a cue-bid of the opener's suit showing a good hand with a fit for at least one of the suits implied: 1C - 2NT - pass - 3C! Three Clubs here is forcing (probably to game, maybe slam.)

What About Spades!?

Luckily the spade suit is naturally strong enough to be bid as a natural overcall – even with a two-suiter. It is King of the Suits and beats all others in the auction. Always get yer spades in if you can!!

BTW I tend to teach that with 12-14 points and a 5332 distributional hand you should still open 1NT even if the 5-card suit is a major. The reason is that one bid says it all and partner is much better placed if the auction gets competitive. But I will come clean and say that I would open 1S with something like:


It’s maximum and if partner bids at the 2-level I’ll re-bid 2N. Not classical I know but as good as anything and slightly more honest in this dishonest world where too few bids have too much work to do.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Drawing Trumps – 15 July 2010

You’ve made it! You started the ascent from base camp with a nervous 1-level bid and now here you are at the summit in a good trump contract. Tired but happy you settle down in your mental tent to consider the opening lead and partner’s dummy. What next?

The crucial point here is to take your time. It took a lot of effort to get all the way here so now you don’t want to go ruining the moment by rushing the hand without consideration of exactly what to do.

Inevitably you will have to consider the key part of the hand which will be the perennial question : “When shall I draw trumps?” There are three answers to this question:
  1. In a minute
  2. Never
  3. Now
You may have heard often enough the refrain “Always draw trumps first!” and while this is a good guideline it does not tell the whole story. Let’s say the contract is Four Spades and the lead is a heart:

a) .... Kxx ......... AQJxx
........ x ............. Axx
....... AKxxx . .....xx
....... Qxxx ........ J10x

If you draw trumps too early you will never get rid of the two losing hearts in your hand. The reason is you need to trump them with two trumps in dummy so you must attend to that BEFORE drawing trumps.

b) .... Kxx ........ AQJxx
........ x ............ Axxx
........ Axxxx ..... x
........ Qxxx ...... J10x

Now you can’t draw trumps as you need to trump hearts in dummy as well as trumping diamonds in your hand. Here you never draw trumps as you need them all separately coming to eight spades and the two aces.

c) .... Kxx ........ AQJxx
........ xx .......... Ax
........ AKxxx .... Qxx
........ Qxx ........ J10x

Now you do draw trumps. You are not going to trump anything in dummy and you need to get rid of their trumps BEFORE you try to run the diamonds.

Just remember the old song : “It's now or never…”

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Splendid Splinter – A Convention Well Worth Learning – 8 July 2010

Another full house - lovely to see you all. When do Stayman and Transfers apply? In these four instances:

1) 1NT opening
2) 2NT opening
3) 2C - 2D - 2NT
4) 1? - 1NT (overcall 15-17)

Just so you know… And now…


When we make a bid, most of the time we can only convey one simple piece of information about our hand. We try to convey a mixture of information over a series of bids to tell partner about our point count as well as our shape: whether or not we have 5 or 6 or 7 cards in any particular suit.

1D - 1S

In this standard auction with our second bid we tell partner we have about 16 - 19 points, 5 Diamonds and 4 Clubs. But we might have 5D and 5C; we might also have 6D and 4 or 5 C but that information is yet to be communicated. The higher points are communicated by the jump to 3C; had we only had 12-15 points, we would have contented ourselves with a simple 2C.

The same is true is the responder has clubs. 1H - 2C is a regular response, at least 10hcp and 4 clubs, and 3C is agame forcing response, 16+ and possibly a lot of clubs.

Well, that takes care of clubs, whatever your strength, so interestingly that leaves higher club bids without a meaning, at least until we give them one… Enter a very useful tool – the SPLINTER bid.

I know, I know… There are times when you really really want to jab partner with a sharp pointy bit of wood but I'm afraid that is not what it means and anyway the World Bridge Federation gets a bit shirty about that sort of thing. It means this:

When you make a double jump bid in any other unbid side-suit it indicates a game-going trump fit with your partner and a singleton or void in the suit bid. Thus:

1H - 4C! (or 4D)

The 4C bidder will have at least 4hearts, wants to be at least in game and has a singleton or a void in Clubs. It’s a DOUBLE jump. As set out above, 2C is just 10+ HCP, 3C is a big hand with a very good Club suit so 4C is a bit redundant otherwise, which is why it has been pressed into
service like this. It's a really handy bid because unlike many bids it carries two pieces of information, not just one.

As well as being handy for responder, opener can also use them – like so…

1H - 1S

Now opener makes a splinter re-bid, promising 4 spades and a singleton or void diamond suit plus they want to be in at least game and could well be interested in going further down the line to one of those incredibly rewarding slams.

The only thing to remember is that splinter bids do not apply in NT auctions – a trump suit is ALWAYS agreed as the previous suit mentioned by partner. Splinters are well worth remembering as it’s great to convey so much information in one go while at the same time making life very difficult for the opponents.

If you’re interested the Italians won the European Bridge Championships at the weekend, with Poland winning the Seniors event and France the Women’s event. No, we didn’t do very well. Don’t ask…

A couple of links you might like:



A Hot Night For Bridge – The Importance of Going Plus – 1 July 2010

Bit hot down there but the bridge was steamy too, so… Welcome to the new faces lovely to see you all hope you had fun. Er, and learnt a bit too…

We had this ludicrous hand last night bit of fun, bit of fun, nudge, nudge…

S: KJ10xxx
H: -
D: AJ10xxxx
C: -

And starting on your right the bidding went:

1D! - pass - 3C - pass
6C - ????

So now what on earth do you do here? You can read as many text books as you like but none of them will tell you how to navigate in these perilous parlous difficult dangerous waters. The initial pass is probably “right” thoough 1S would not be “wrong” but you must surely bid here. The hand is a freak and there are no rules about freak hands but my rule of thumb is “just bid something!” So here, what does this hand do now? Answers on a ten pound note… ;-)

The POINT of it all: The cards are dealt. They’re in your hand. Before you even look at them – what is your aim? What are the possibilities? If you bid to a contract (at Chicago, Teams or Duplicate) you will gain anything from +70, for 1 C making, all the way up to 2980, for 7NT redoubled making. If they bid to a contract and go down you’ll get anything from +50, 1 down NV, to 7600 for 13 down redoubled and vulnerable.

Obviously – whatever you cards are – your initial plan must be to make the best score you possibly can given the 26 cards you and your partner have been dealt in this specific hand. If that fails you must then be especially careful to give away as little as possible ie WIN BIG, LOSE SMALL.

Realistically we can discount all the super massive scores because they only exist in dreamland. Though an International at last year’s World Championship did manage to go 5 off redoubled for -2800 rather cleverly. So what CAN we aim for?
  • Certainly any of the small slams should be a goal all the time. This is because they score so many points: 6N = 990 NV and 1440 VUL so you need to be alert to the possibility of a slam all the time.
  • Next up of course is the Game. 4S will get you 420 or 620. This is why sometimes you will stretch to bid the game because 3S + 1 is only 170.

Naturally when you do finally look at your hand you won’t necessarily see the 20 HCP rock crusher you’ve been fantasising about bidding all the way to slam. You may not even see your way to game after a few rounds of bidding; so slowly, gently, tired but happy, you’ll finally
settle in some measly part score and be pleased enough just to make it.

But what if the other side keep bidding? How do you improve your losing score? If they bid, vulnerable, to 4S and it makes, they will get 620. If you are not vulnerable and can go only (!) 3 down doubled they will now get just 500. At this form of scoring this is a winning strategy. (At rubber, just be a bit careful about gifting Vulnerable opponents extra points when the rubber was lost anyway!)

And the POINT of all this? Before you look at your hand - look at the vulnerability! Is it
favourable ie GREEN - RED? or dangerous RED - GREEN? Know this as you start to count the points in your hand – think about what your strategy should be in the upcoming bidding war. And your preferred aim? Well I think anything from 500 - 1000+ is always good news in my book!

The freaky hand we started with. If the opps seem to know what they are doing, you better pay your insurance premium by bidding 6S. At least you know partner doesn’t have many diamonds.

All the best


A Bit More Advanced Stuff – Roman Keycard Blackwood – 23 June 2010

Here for reference are the responses to 4NT when it’s Roman Keycard Blackwood. In RKCB the King of the agreed trump suit is counted as an Ace so there are in effect 5 (!) Aces. The responses to the 4NT ask enquiry are:
  • 5C = 0 or 3 Aces
  • 5D = 1 or 4 Aces
  • 5H = 2 or 5 Aces but no Queen of trumps
  • 5S = 2 or 5 Aces with the Queen of trumps

After partner responds 5C or 5D then the a bid of 5 of the next suit above (not the trump suit)ASKS for the Queen of trumps. The Queen is important because if you are missing an Ace you can’t afford to lose a trump trick as well so you suit better play for no losers, i.e. you need the Queen.

You show the Queen by jumping to 6 of the agreed suit or by bidding another suit which shows not only the Queen of trumps but an extra feature in the suit bid as well(King or singleton). If you don’t have the queen you “sign off” by simply bidding 5 of the trump suit.

K Q 7 6
K 7 5 4
Q 10 9 6 2

Partner opens 1S and you junp to 3S – a limit bid, 10 hcp but not mcuh quality to tee hand. [You also have seven ‘losers’ but no ace so devalue the hand a bit – 3S looks better than going game. Nonetheless partner now bids 4NT.

The bidding goes:

1S ..... - ... 3S
4NT.. - ... 5D
5H ... - ... 6H

5D = One of five “key cards”, in this case the King of Spades.
5H = “Do you have the Queen of Spades?”
6H = “Yes, I do and the King of Hearts as well”
6S = “Thanks for the info, but 6S is enough, we don’t have seven!”

Fighting Fire With Fire Pt II – More on Responding When The Opps Have Made a TakeOut Double – 23 June 2010

Last week partner opened a minor (1C or 1D) and the opponents doubled. This week Partner opens a Major (1H or 1S) and the opponents double:

When partner bids, the magical quest for slam begins. But when the opponents DOUBLE, that quest is forever lost. Well, ok, maybe 99 times out of a 100 anyway… However everything is not totally lost as game, partscore or even a juicy penalty double are all still options. Partner has opened with at least (we hope!) 12 high card points (hcp). The doubler will have – most of the time - at least 12 HCP as well, so now out of the total of 40 HCP in the pack, 24 of them have been allocated, leaving just 16 of them between you and the opponent on your left.

It is now your job to tell partner whether a) you have any points and/or b) you have a fit. Remember you have to keep the bidding alive if at all possible in case partner has opened with 20 points. This is a possibility. This is why you respond with 6 HCP. ALWAYS.

1H - X - ?

The responses aren’t that much different from when partner opens a minor. As before, all your raises of partner’s suit are pre-emptive (or stretch raises) so you show a good raise (4 cards & 10+hcp) with 2NT (Truscott). All hands with no fit and 10+ HCP go through REDOUBLE (the blue one!). Otherwise you just bid as naturally as possible.

But do remember that you MUST bid with 6 points. This means that if you can’t bid at the 2 level you'll have to bid 1NT. You’ll bid 1NT with whatever hand you have and only 6 - 9 HCP. For instance:


You can't bid 2D as that promises 9 or 10 HCP, so the only bid you have is 1NT. I know it doesn't describe your hand but it does at least tell partner you have 6 - 9 HCP which may be the most valuable information partner needs! There’s a useful motto:

Help Your Partner Win at Bridge!

(There's a book of the same title…)

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Fight Fire With Fire – How To React When Partner Opens And They Double – 18 June 2010

It’s great when partner opens the bidding and there you sit, looking at a pretty good hand. You mentally check off the possible bids, narrow it down to the right one and wait for your RHO to pass. But the beastly opponent DOESN’T PASS but DOUBLES!

Now what? Should the double affect the way you bid? Can you still make the bid you were going to? Does that bid now mean the same thing? It’s a nightmare. Yes, sometimes a double can make things difficult, sure, but there are other times when it can work out to your advantage. It can warn you where all the points are, or where certain cards are too, making your tight decisions less of a guess. So, what’s the strategy?

1) Partner opens a minor suit (C&D) and they double:
To begin with, there’s no reason why you shouldn't just “ignore the double” and bid exactly the way you would without the Double. There’s a fair possibility you have a 4 card (or better) major and if so BID IT. Before you do anything else.

With no 4 card major your options are about whether or not you have a fit and/or points, so you
can either: a) Raise partner. b) Bid 1N. c) Redouble.

a) When you raise a minor you will ALWAYS have at least 4 card support (4cs). Prefer a raise of partner’s suit in preference to either 1N or Redouble if you have a fit and no 4 card major. [OK, you can bid 1N if you have support BUT the hand is deathly flat – 3334 – and deathly weak: 6 or 7HCP].

After a double your raises are all pre-emptive. They’re called stretch raises. That is, you bid a level higher than you would have done without the intervening Double. So, partner opens
1D and your bids could be something like:
  • 2D = 3 - 5 HCP (4cs)
  • 3D = 6 - 9 HCP (4cs)
  • 4D = 6 - 9 HCP (5cs)
  • 5D = 6 - 9 HCP (6cs)

None of this is written in stone. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how you might bid and how the principle of the “stretch” raise works in practice. All you’re trying to do is get in the way of LHO and what you actually do will depend on singletons, voids and vulnerability.

OK? So now, you want to know how you raise partner with a fit, no 4 card Major, and an invitational (10 - 12 HCP) hand or one that's even better, don’t you? Fair enough. Both these hands go into one bid! which is (of course) 2NT!

The theory runs that in competitive situations 2N is a redundant bid. Unless specifically asked by partner about the viability of a NT contract your bounden duty above all else is to communicate fits if at all possible, and the loss of a natural 2N in these situations is of no consequence. (So says Mr Truscott who started all this off in the 50’s and to whom we are indebted.)

In the sequence

1D - DOUBLE (X) - 2NT

partner now knows: you do not have a 4 card major, but you do have 10+ HCP and at least a 4 card fit in D’s. If minimum, partner should sign off in 3D. If partner makes any other noise, game must be on somewhere.

Points But No Fit
Next are all the hands that don't have a fit for partner:

b) 1NT is the usual bucket bid: no 4 card Major, no 4cs in partner’s suit and 6 - 9 HCP. We-e-ell, I suppose you might have a scrappy, lousy 4 card major you’re not keen on and you’d rather just get in the way…

Now you also want to know what to do with all the other 10+ point hands I expect.


c) Most of these hands are covered by RE-DOUBLE (XX).

This says “I have 10+ points partner, we have the balance of the points, so there might be a juicy penalty if they get over ambitious as we do not ourselves have any obvious fit so far.” (Notice how only when they Double do you get this extra bid!)


Thursday, 26 August 2010

Bidding Sequences – How Your Bids Build A Picture – 2 June 2010

Hello you lot! Yes, I’m back again so no more shirking… Great to see so many new faces – Hiya! – and thanks to everyone for helping out, as five tables is a bit of a novelty. Actually I'll be away next week too as I’m forced to go to New York to see my daughter’s gig. However I shall return thereafter refreshed, eager and edgy. And so to bridge …

There are a few times when you can make a bid and that bid says it all about your hand in one go – but very few. This is because there are 52 trillion possible hands and 35 bids. The most simple descriptive bids are 1N, 2N, weak 2’s and weak 3’s, where your hand is quite defined as to points and shape. You have any hand outside these parameters –and there's quite a few trillion of them – then you’re going to have to find other ways to describe all those hands. You do this by means of …

A Sequence

Because you just can’t have one bid to describe all the hands you might have, you have to make use of a sequence of bids that tell a simple story rather like pre-historic pictograms. People ask “what does that bid mean?” Too often the answer is “it doesn't mean anything. Yet.” Just as a Pharaonic name is a cartouche comprised of different pictograms, so a bid in isolation can be meaningless until it is accompanied with a further, more explanatory bid.

When partner opens 1S (playing a natural Acol based system) all we know is that they have at least 4 Spades and somewhere between about 10 - 20 HCP. This is by and large fairly useless information. We cannot assess the joint values of our two hands until we know more exactly about the HCP and the shape opposite and so make a judgement of how our two hands fit together. Depending on our bid in response, partner may rebid 2C,2D, 2H, 2S, 2N, 3C, 3D, 3H, 3S, 3N etc etc etc. But the point is that each of these separate rebids re-defines the hand opposite more narrowly in terms of its HCP as well as its shape. The cartouche has been given extra meaning.

When partner opens (a) 1S, then rebids 2S, this is different from (b) 1S followed by a 3S rebid.

(a) Shows about 10 - 15 HCP and a 5+ card suit (the weaker the hand the longer the suit – theoretically). (b) Shows about 15 - 18 HCP and a 6+ card suit

Neither of these bids in unconditionally forcing, but the cartouche is now clearer than after the first pictogram (bid).

Similarly, 1S followed by (a) 2H or (b) 3H paint different pictures (a) shows 10 -15 with at least 5 Spades and 4 Hearts while (b) shows 16 - 20 HCP again 5 - 4 at least. Could be 5 -5, 6 - 5, 6 - 6. Hopefully this information will gleaned from the third Pictogram (bid). Note that (b) here is unconditionally forcing.

The same is true of the NT rebids after an opening bid of one of a suit:

1NT = 15 - 16
2NT = 17 - 18
3NT = 19 - 20

It follows that when you start to chisel your pictograms in the cartouche on the sandstone block you need to be aware of just what message you intend to convey before you lift the hammer. You are the dealer. What are you going to bid and rebid with the following hand? Decide before you mark the stone…


The first bid is clearly 1D. But haste ye not so fast yet to bid! What is the rebid? What is the hand value? Where are you going? Remember this is a partnership game. OK, you can carve all the cartouches you like but the true meaning of the ancient inscription can only be fully deciphered when your partner’s pictogram has also been included in the cartouche.

Consider: 2N (Game forcing) and 3D (10 - 12, 4 card support) are outside bets from partner but not impossible: with either you make sure of game and maybe sniff slam. (Ditto with 2H or 2S) However partner may most likely bid 1H, 1S, 1NT, 2C or 2D and each of these alters the value of your hand and therefore what your rebid is:

  • 1D - 1H - ? Bid 3H. VG support 15 HCP + 2/3 for the singleton
  • 1D - 1S - ? Bid 1NT. 15 - 16 HCP (Not classic, I know...)
  • 1D - 1NT - ? PASS. 2D not impossible, nor, oddly, even 2C (partner must have at least 4)
  • 1D - 2C - ? Bid 2H. After a 2 level response (10+ HCP) you just about have enough for the game forcing reverse, especially with the Qxx of clubs.
  • 1D - 2D - ? Bid 2H. 2H here shows the stopper in the suit and is a gentle nudge towards 3N or 5D if partner is max.

OK. Now you can bid. Now you have the picture in your head. Now you are prepared. Although you might like also to think about what happens if the bidding goes:

1D - (2S!) - PASS - (PASS)

(Answer: you’ll double and pray partner can pass for penalties!!!)

See you soon, now.


Weak Opening Bids – 12 May 2010

There are lots of times you want to get in the auction with weakish shapely hands. The value of this is threefold:

1) You want to suggest a lead to partner if the opposition win the auction.
2) You want to get in their way.
3) You want to let partner know what kind of hand you’ve got as soon as possible.

But just how weak can you be? Well the answer is “pretty damn weak!” OK, so we all know you have to have 12 points to open the bidding and this is fine if your hand is fairly flat. However what would you do with this?

K x x
K J x x x x x x

7 HCP. You cannot possibly be thinking of passing this endless Club suit. The opponents might have a game or slam in Spades or Hearts. You need to trash their auction – fast. Bid 5 Clubs. You won’t make it most of the time but so what? They’re never going to be in 4H or 4S now are they?

Aha! you say but what if they weren’t making game their way? Well if that's true your partner must have quite a lot and now you probably will make this dodgy 5C into the bargain. So, trebles all round, Steerpike.

That is an extreme example of pre-emptive bidding. You bid not to make your contract at all, but simply to make life as difficult as possible for the opponents. It is – simply put – getting your retaliation in first.

You can pre-empt at any level you think fit but the normal levels are 2 & 3. A 3-level pre-empt is based on a 7 card suit (possibly 6 in clubs – you'll see why) and about 5(6) - 9(10) HCP. The lower the point count the more the points should be concentrated in the suit, e.g KQxxxxx is a good pre-empt suit with no other points in the hand, but 10xxxxxx is a bad pre-empt suit.(Though it wouldn't deter some people I know....)

A 2-level pre-empt is based on a 6 card suit and again 5(6) - 9(10) HCP. Note that you cannot bid a weak 2C, as this is the big Game Force bid (Hence the 3C bid can be 6). 2-level pre-empts (weak 2's) are far more common than strong 2's and are also far more damaging.

Well, that takes in weak hands with long suits and up to about 9 HCP. But what if you've a fraction more than that? When should we open in the 9 - 11 range? And how do we value the hands?


10 HCP, flat hand - PASS!


10 HCP, shapely - 1S! Exactly the same HCP as above and this hand is just a bit too good to open 2S, but how can we tell? The answer is the Rule of 20:
  • Add your HCP.
  • Add the length of the 2 longest suits.
  • Add these 2 answers together and if the answer is 20 or more - open the bidding.
In the hand above you have 10 HCP and 6 S and 4 D so (10+6+4=20). The Rule of 20 is best applied when you have between 9 - 11 HCP. In a sense this is now pre-empting at the 1-level. You’re in the auction, you suggested a lead, and if partner can raise you a bit then you’ve made their life harder. All these are GOOD THINGS.

Have fun and get bidding!!


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Simple Signalling in Defence – 6 May 2010

Ned has pointed out that a while ago I sent an email entitled Defence Pt 1 . As yet there has been no Pt 2 so today folks … !!!

Defence Part 2:

As I’ve said before defence is the hardest part of the game. Just as bidding is about you having a cosy fireside chat with partner to get to either the best contract, or the least worst contract (!) so too defence must also be a chat where you help each other to make – hopefully – the right leads, plays or discards. But how can we do this without winking at partner or rubbing your chest when you want hearts led? The answer is that the individual cards you hold can be used to give information. This is the only legal thing you can do, but it does mean that as well as being alert to the signal you give, you must also be alert to any signal partner is giving you.

There are three different kinds of signal you can give:

1) Attitude
2) Count
3) Suit Preference

1) Attitude
This is about your attitude to the initial suit led by your partner, i.e. do you like it or not? Has partner hit on a good lead as far as you are concerned? When partner regains should the lead be continued or should partner switch to another suit?

Two further questions arise:

a) WHEN do you give an attitude signal?
b) HOW do you do it?

a) WHEN: I’ll keep it simple. There are other situations but the key one is when partner makes a lead and declarer/dummy wins the trick before you play a card. Now partner needs to know if you liked the lead. Let’s say partner leads a low spade against a NT contract,
4th best from the Q. Dummy has:

A J 7

and you hold

K 10 8 2

Dummy plays the A. What do you play? You want partner to continue the suit when on lead again so you must give a loud positive attitude. But HOW?

b) HOW: There’s a very popular and simple mantra which is “Low Likes; High Hates.”

Following this mantra you play the 2, meaning: “I like your lead, you can continue the suit when you get in again – as long as there’s nothing better to do!”

It follows that if you had held only 9 8 2 you would play the 9 to say “Sorry! Can’t help you there!”

BE CAREFUL!! THIS ONLY APPLIES IN THIS SPECIFIC SITUATION! For the rest of the time you should give COUNT…

(Editorial caution! Playing a low card to encourage partner’s lead and a high card to discourage as Kit advocates above is called “reverse attitude”. You’ve guessed it. “Standard Attitude” is the other way round – low discourages and high encourages. Most newer players play Standard Attitude ’cos that’s what they’ve been taught. It doesn’t matter as long as you and your partner are both agreed on which you are doing. The key thing is doing it all. NP)

2) Count
I've done this before so: Count signals also have a When? How? quality so here again I’ll keep it simple: WHEN declarer plays a suit you will mostly be playing smallish cards, but they can still
give your partner information. HOW?

With 8652 you play a HIGH card (8) first, then a LO card (2), so that HI-LO means you have an EVEN number of the suit. While if you have 862, play a Lo card (2) and then a Hi card (8) signalling an ODD number of cards. This will help your partner work out what declarer
has got in that suit.

3) Suit Preference
This mostly applies to suit contracts and is a way of telling partner what suit to lead if they get the lead.

Following the mantra above, when you are forced to make a discard, try to signal in a suit
with a LO card if you like that suit (LO Likes), otherwise a HI card (HI-Hates) says you do NOT like that suit. (“Reverse Attitude” again. NP)


After a number of tricks in a Heart contract you are left with:

A 9 2
8 3
Q J 9

Declarer plays a heart. What do you throw away/discard/signal with? A LO Spade (2) says you like the suit. a HI Diamond (8) says you don’t like that suit and the Club suit looks best untouched. As to what you actually play – well that depends on what’s happened so far, but at
least you can give fairly accurate information to partner about what you’ve got! This is a GOOD THING!

You’ll no doubt have noticed that all this means that nearly every card you play in defence – when you’re not actually cashing winners – is part of an information system of signals and discards, just like the system of bids and passes. It is your job as defenders to give declarer as rough a ride as possible, so watch what partner’s doing. Watch: what card did partner lead, play or discard and ask yourself “Why?”


(Hair) Raising Partner – 29 April 2010

Part I – The “Delayed Game Raise”

You yawn as you sort your hand (it’s been a long session!) and wearily shove suits into their preferred order. It’s a goodish hand, you’re Vulnerable, but what exactly to open?


1S could be right but the slight re-bid problem (1S - 2S should ideally show 6 Spades) means you flirt with the (correct) idea of 1NT. Just as you toy with that notion you get a rude awakening: LHO nudges you and a bit rudely informs you it’s your turn to bid as partner has opened. You jerk awake and look over the table to see partner has tabled 1S.

1S? Can this be right? Presumably. Remember – partner is always right even when they're wrong. But now what are you going to do? 4S flashes to the forefront of your cranium: enough
points for game and the best damn fit partner is going to see for a very long time. So you…

Hang on hang on. What is it that pesky man keeps saying? “A jump to 4S is a weak pre-emptive manoeuvre…” Thinks: you mean... something like:


Ok right. So you can’t bid 4S. Apart from anything else if partner had a really good hand, (18 - 20 HCP) that just happened to be missing the AK of trumps, and you jump to 4S there’s going to be precious little room for the partnership to investigate any even teeny-weeny possibility of a slam, which is why the bid is reserved for rubbish hands with a good fit.

It is this thought that should persuade you away from 4S. 4S will almost certainly make for 620 but wouldn’t you rather at least have a look at the possibility of 1430? It’s an awful lot more isn’t it? But tactical strategies aside – what on earth are you actually going to bid?

For a start 2S, 3S and 4S are out – as your hand is far too good for any of these “limit bids”. Likewise 1NT, 2NT and 3NT are also just not on the money. The way to think of it is that in order to know if slam is possibly making or not we need to get a better idea of just
exactly what partner’s got over there. If all partner can rebid is 2S then 4S will probably be enough, but if partner starts jumping about in second suits or NT then your hand might come as a very pleasant surprise.

Yes, yes, yes, but what do you actually bid? By now LHO is clearly considering whether really really slow bridge could have been a neat torture for a Spanish Inquisition. It is still your turn so
you do have to bid. I’m afraid all you can do is bid 2D! 2C isn’t ideal; 2H would promise 5 of them and we just dismissed about everything else. 2D does at least give partner room to rebid the opening hand and anyway you know for a certainty that whatever partner does you are going to finish up in at least 4S. So give yourself room in the bidding. Lie just a little in the interests of future harmony…

Part 2: Upgrade to a Forcing 2NT

For those of you who want a better bid than the 2D bid above, I suggest you start playing 2NT as a game force over a major, showing 4+ card support and 13+HCP.

This does mean though that you lose the old-fashioned Acol 2NT response showing 10-12 HCP, which is a vile space eating monster anyway. It does also mean you’ll have to find a 2 level minor suit bid when partner opens 1S and you hold something like:


10 - 12, only 3 card support but at least you get to be able to actually stop in 2 of a major when partner has been a bit aggressive with the opening bid.

And when you have a better hand with a similar shape you can make the “pudding raise” of 3NT showing a flat hand, 3 card support and 13 - 15 HCP.

It just keeps on getting simpler and simpler, doesn’t it?


Thursday, 5 August 2010

Hand Evaluation – The “Rules” Get Fuzzier – 22 April 2010

It’s getting to the point where the so-called “rules” you’ve all learnt are about to get fuzzier.

1NT Balanced 12-14

We open 1NT with 12 - 14 HCP. Always. Don’t we? 99 times out of a 100 – yes. BUT… you sit at the table with 13 cards in your hand, you sort them into suits and ponder the immortal question: “Is this a bidder I see before me?”

There are all sorts of marginal hands where it might be right to get in the auction even though you don’t – quite – have the time-honoured 12 HCP hand. And even if you did, what sort of 12 count is it? Are there long suits? Are there singleton honours about? Voids even?

e.g 1 ....... QJx
.............. QJx
.............. QJxx
.............. QJx

12 HCP - balanced: 1NT. Right? I'm afraid my answer goes along the lines of: “Hmm. Possibly.”

Not Vulnerable – what the heck. yeah, open it 1NT, cross your fingers and hope partner has everything else. But note that there are certain particular downsides to the hand. It’s all Queens and Jacks (Quacks). It’s flat as a pancake. It’s got 8 losers and doesn’t make the rule of 20 either. If I was Vulnerable and sitting in either the first or second position I might well decide the hand was just too dull to bother with, hope partner could open with anything, even a pre-empt or weak two, and go from there.

e.g 2 ....... QJ10
.............. QJ10
.............. QJ10x
.............. QJ10

Same HCP but marginally different with all the tens. Now I wouldn’t hesitate to open this anytime, whatever. Those 10’s are good, despite the same HCP and shape.

e.g. 3 ....... AJ10
............... Qxx
............... KJ10xx
............... xx

I know - only 11HCP! But: a good 5 card suit and a couple of 10’s make this a worthwhile shot at 1NT. If partner transfers you’ve got three cards in both majors and if the worst comes to the worst you’ve got a decent 5 card suit to run to. I know it isn’t quite a rule of 20, but you know me. I love to bid and there’s another thing: There is a slight tweaking of the point count method involved here. It is particularly important when considering borderline NT decisions and that is that you give yourself an extra HALF a point for each 10 you hold.

In a sense it’s a matter of partnership style. How aggressive are you going to be? How tolerant is partner of your aggression? Is partner solid or prone to flights of fancy? Is partner awake and sober? These are important issues, Especially the sober bit…

Marginal Opening Decisions

There’s a host of difficult hands where you don’t have 12 HCP but you should probably open the bidding. The reasons are that you get to start your conversation before they do, or else – if you later lose the auction – partner will have some idea of what might be a good lead. These hands will be mostly in the 9 - 11 HCP range and there’s a good system that will help you evaluate these hands. It’s called the Rule of 20. It applies to these weakish hands and takes account of the distributional qualities that make up for the apparent lack of points. You add your points up, then add the length of your two longest suits and if it comes to 20 – open. Like this…

e.g. 4 ....... Kxxxx
............... Qx
............... AJxxx
............... x

10 HCP. 10 cards in Spades and Diamonds. 10 + 10 = 20. So you open 1 Spade.

An extreme example might be:

e.g. 5 ........ KQxxxx
................ x
................ Axxxx
................ x

Nowadays a lot of players have in their armoury various weak 2-suited opening bids, as these kinds of hands have immense playing strength that the point count doesn’t really do justice to. But all the same this hand obeys the rule of 20, so get in there!

As usual check out the rest of the blog for previous rants…


Opening Hands – A Few Thoughts on the “Rules” – 15 April 2010

Some basic thoughts on “rules” for opening hands. As you all know I’m wary of the concept of rules in general as they have a tendency to stop people thinking things through at the table for themselves. But, that said…
  • What to do with a 4441 hand? Simple rule is: Open the suit below the singleton with a red singleton and the middle suit with a black singleton.
  • When you have a 4432 shape with both majors and 15+HCP, open 1H. If partner responds in a minor suit you will rebid NT.
  • When you hold a 4432 shape with 15+ HCP and where one of the 4-card suits is a major and the other a minor - use judgement. Personally I like to get the major suit into the auction as soon as possible. On the other hand… if one of your suits is 3578 and the other is AKJx it might tactically work out best to bid the worst suit! Now, if you declare 3NT, they might not know you’re crap in the suit you bid, and then go and lead your other suit away from their Q! This stuff happens …
  • If you have a 5332 shape with 12 - 14 HCP and where the 5 card suit is a major or a minor open 1NT. The reason is that you are either a) stuck somewhat for a good rebid and b) if partner responds 1NT the stronger hand will now be on the table, making life easier for the opponents. This is a Bad Thing.
  • If you have 5521/5530 shapes, bid the higher ranking suit first. This is so you have a sound rebid. (I might also bid the 5 card suit major even if I had a 6 card minor for the same reason!)

Big Hands

  • All hands that are at least 23+ HCP and balanced should open 2C and then rebid NT. But what if you have a hand of a few HCP less than 23 but you have an unbalanced hand with a big suit? These hands can also be opened 2C. Now the strength lies in the distribution as well as the HCP. What you don't want to happen is for your opening bid at the one level to be passed out and then find you could have made game as partner had 4HCP.
  • With a balanced 20-22HCP hand open 2NT. Sometimes you might be a bit fixed so don’t worry if the shape isn’t always as perfectly balanced as you’d like it to be (5422 say). Occasionally the “right” bid just isn’t there but you’d better say something!

    Opposite a 2NT opening bid partner should respond with as little as 3 HCP. You’re in the game zone so BE there.