Welcome to Basement Bridge

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

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Dark Art of Defending 1NT - Introduction to the Landy Convention - 3 Dec. 2009

After a couple of weeks of basic bidding, here are some new ideas to sharpen your wits on over Christmas!

Defence to 1NT

When the opponent on your right opens 1NT it can be fairly annoying. Especially if you have a hand that, while not containing masses of points, nevertheless still has a demure yet shapely attractiveness.

Of course, if you do have 15 or more points, 95% of the time you’ll just Double to alert partner to the fact you’ve got a decent point count. It’s right to try to attack the 1NT opening, especially if you’re not Vulnerable. If you’ve got a decentish suit and about 8 - 14 HCP you’ll just bid the suit and hope to steal the auction or at the very least disrupt opponents’ communications. But what if you have a shapely 2 suiter? Something like:


Either of the two major suits might present a place to play, depending on partner’s holding. But you don’t want to dive in with the spade suit only to discover when dummy goes down that partner has a singleton spade but four hearts, do you?

So what can be done? Luckily there are a host of different conventions to deal with exactly this situation. They centre round the useful concept of using one bid to show two suits at the same time. Probably the simplest of these conventions is called LANDY. (You must agree with your partner before the game starts that you are playing this convention!) It goes like this in simple form:

With at least 5/4 in the majors and enough to overcall, bid 2C! The better the shape the fewer the points needed, say 8 - 15 HCP. 2C is forcing so with a limited hand responder shows his better major or, with equal length, bids 2D, inviting the overcaller to choose between the majors. With a good fit - 4 card support and 11+ points responder can start jumping around to 3H, 3S, or even 4H or 4S with a bit more and some extra shape.

Using Landy like this does mean you can no longer bid 2C naturally but hey! you win some you lose some. It’s always better to get major suits into the auction whenever you can.

Now for a bonus tip on …

Defensive Carding

When you have a sequence (KQJ etc) and you are on lead, you play the TOP card (K) This promises the card(s) below.


When you are following suit to either your partner or declarer and you are going to play a c ard from the same sequence you play the LOWEST card in the sequence. This denies the card below, and partner should be able to work out by noticing what declarer plays whether you have the card(s) above.

Simply put: Lead top, follow bottom …

(This is not how to behave at parties …)

Back to Basics - Again! - 26 Nov 2009

Here’s something a bit more basic than normal for all you beginners out there who need a reminder or two!

Safe in the vaults of the British Museum lies an ancient runic inscription, scratched in granite, which in translation reads:

12 must open
6 must respond
25 must rule them all …

At first this seemed to scholars completely cryptic, and headscratchingly obtuse, but research established it could only be ancient rules for what we know today as the game of Bridge. The first line is self-explanatory: when a bidder comes to their turn and no-one has bid before them, they may “open” the bidding. In the rune, if they have 12 or more points they MUST open. We’ll just imagine the antique penalty for not doing so, but loss of livestock cannot be excluded.

In the second line, the rune instructs opener’s partner what to do when they have 6 or more points - they MUST respond. The penalty for not doing so is lost in the mists of time, but loss of limb could well have been included.

The third line reminds us that the “holy grail”, is the magical combined point count of 25 between the two hands that will, most of the time, give us a game score of either 3NT, 4H, 4S, 5C or 5D.

It follows from this runic wisdom that all bidding makes this unceasing quest - to discover whether or not the partnership between them has 25 points or not. When the magic figure is discovered then game MUST be bid, must rule them all …

When we open the bidding we do so in the hope that we can find game with partner’s help. The game on our quest is the major suit game (4H or 4S), based on an 8 card fit between you both. If an 8 card fit doesn’t exist then we can settle on the lesser game in NT. If there are problems with NT then we can finally, reluctantly, tired but happy, fall back on the dangerous minor suit game (5C or 5D.) And if we find no grail exists - that we have less than 25 points between us - then we STOP! As soon as we can, in the safest part-score we can find. So always tell your partner how many points you have and ALWAYS bid game if you can!

You know it makes sense...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

“It’s a Thinking Game”: Good Defence Starts Before Trick 1 - 13 Nov 2009

Defence is the hardest part of the game. You sit silently through the opponent’s auction, pausing only occasionally to drop a green PASS card on the table. Your mind wanders, you start thinking about whether Toilet Duck is harmful to the environment and then proceed to put cards down on the table, following suit when you remember, as declarer racks up 11 tricks in 3NT. Then, partner has to go and spoil it all by asking you why you didn’t return a heart at trick 5? Flummoxed, you shrug and deal the next hand quickly.

This is a problem. What can you do about it?

1) Listen to the bidding carefully. If the person on your right bids two suits - say hearts and clubs - this probably shows at least 5-4 in those two suits. That means this player has another four cards in the other two suits, distributed 2-2, 3-1 or 4-0. Your job is to watch partner’s discards so you get some idea of how those cards lie, and ALSO to tell your partner your distribution so partner can also work out what’s happening.

2) Listen to the bidding carefully. If the person on your right rebids a 1NT at any stage (or 2NT or 3NT) then you and your partner know pretty exactly how many points that person has. As declarer plays high cards, mentally add up how many of these points have been shown or implied.

3) When dummy goes down - stop. Think. Plan. Count dummy’s points. Does the hand match the bidding? Does declarer look smug or scared? Add dummy’s points to your points, add in declarer’s “probable” points, subtract from 40 and the answer is how many points your partner has.

4) When dummy goes down - stop. Think. Plan. What is partner’s lead? Singleton? Doubleton? Top of a sequence? 4th best from an honour? Middle of 3 small? What is partner trying to do? How can you help? Do you need to find a new partner rapidly?

OK, so that’s trick 1. Next week all the other 12 tricks! Then we can start to look at Count, Attitude, Discards and Suit Preference Signals. I promise you, youll never have time to think about Toilet Duck again …

Negative Doubles Pt 2 - Working with Partner To Penalise Opponents - 13 Nov 2009

Having given you Pt 1. of Negative Doubles last week - here’s part 2! What do you do on the rare occasion when you DO have their suit? And you want to punish them for being over-aggressive? Say, you have this hand and hear the following auction:


1S - (2D) - ?

Now, because of negative doubles, if you try and double 2D, partner will assume - rightly - that you’ve got hearts and clubs. Now the auction is beginning to sound doomed to massive terminal mis-understandings. You'll keep trying to sign off in NT and before you know where you are you’ll be in 6NT missing the AK of hearts, partner starts blinking with rage and looks up “assassination” on the iPhone.

I expect a lot of you will think the only bid you have is 2NT, showing 11 - 12 HCP and a diamond stop or two. It’s true it would express the hand and partner can’t really complain about that can they? Can they? Hmmm. Let's say partner passes 2NT and it makes: you score 120. (70 + 50) How’s about, guys and gals, if I told you you could get a possible 500 out of this hand? Stop muttering “man’s mad ...” and have a look at this auction:

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

Yes, you PASS! their 2D bid. Then, assuming partner co-operates by making a re-opening Double, you simply PASS! again. Now you’ve converted the re-opening double into a penalty double. Three down, doubled not vulnerable is 500. Even two down vulnerable is 500 as well. (Three down is 800, but let’s not get over-excited here.)

The point to remember is to work together with partner to get the best result. Don’t try and do it all on your own. It’s a partnership game.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

No Trumps & Negative Doubles - 5 Nov. 2009

In preparation for the upcoming series of teams matches the new Princess of Wales league team faces we played a series of 4 board matches last night just to get used to the scoring and the way a match works. There then followed some of the dullest hands I have ever seen in my life so I shall not be discussing any of them. Naturally, we still had LOTS of fun …

One of the key aspects of the Acol system I teach is the range for NT openings and rebids. These are well worth memorising while decorating the loo or washing the car. (“Make those dull jobs sparkle with shiny new, improved bridge lessons …”) SO …

When you have a Balanced hand your shape will be 4333, 4432 or 5332. You will most probably at some time in the auction want to bid NT, unless a 4-4 or 5-3 major suit fit appears before then. The way to deal with these hands depends on your point count. Remember – game is on when the partnership has about 25 hcp.

12 - 14 = open 1NT
15 - 16 = open 1 of a suit and ReBid 1NT
17 - 18 = open 1 of a suit and ReBid 2NT
19 - 20 = open 1 of a suit and ReBid 3NT
21 - 22 = open 2NT
23 - 24 = open 2C and ReBid 2NT
25 + = open 2C and ReBid 3NT

With this system you can tell partner about a whole variety of differing point counts in just two bids. When you limit your hand in this way partner has a much better idea of whether game is on or not.


This hand has no intention of being in game after the sequences:

1) ... 1NT - ? ............................ (14 + 8 = 22) No game - you pass.

2) ... 1H - 1S
...... 1NT - ? ............................ (16 + 8 = 24) No game - you pass.

But after

3) ... 1H - 1S
...... 2NT - 3NT! . you are happy to give partner the raise to game. (17 + 8 = 25!)

4) ... Just remember to close the windows before you hose down the car...

Negative Doubles (pt 1)

It’s extremely unlikely you’ll want to make a penalty double of an opposition contract in the early rounds of bidding. But Double is a legitimate bid you can make at any time in a competitive auction.

Fair enough. But ... if it’s not a PENALTY double – what does it mean and when can I use it? If you have a hand like this and you get the auction below:


1C - 1S - ?

you’re a bit stuffed for a natural bid, aren’t you? 1NT is possible but you don’t actually have the spade stop it would promise your beloved partner. Nor, as you don't have 10HCP, can you bid at the 2 level with 2D. Nor even can you bid 2H, as not only do you not have 10HCP, you also don’t have the 5 card heart suit you’d be promising. But you want to bid, don’t you? The 1S overcall has annoyingly done just what it set out to do – destroy your peaceful constructive conversation.

This is where the red Double card comes into its own. When you plonk it on the baize it says: “Thanks for opening, partner and I would like to assist you in your search for a suitable contract, but as you can see the opponents have stuck a wrench in the mangle and I can’t now make a natural bid. HOWEVER – I do have some points and what is more I have the two so far unbid suits Hearts & Diamonds, so if there’s anything you can do with that information to extract the wrench, good luck! Phew!”

It’s called a negative double because you don’t have support for partner and you don't have a NT stop in the opponent’s suit either. Doubles like this carry the message “I want to compete but I’m not sure where.” Normally negative doubles apply up to 3S, but do NOT apply after 1NT has been bid, nor when you and partner have agreed a suit.

See you next week


Friday, 9 April 2010

The Weird World of Cue Bids - 29 Oct. 2009

I often get asked “So exactly what is a cue-bid?” So, here’s a little run-down of some of the more normal uses of the cue-bid with a short explanation.

To be totally honest with you there are lots of different forms of cue-bids which all have exotic names but I’m not going down that convoluted garden path. Normally when you make a bid it's:
  • (a) a suit you have, and
  • (b) is at least 4 cards long.
A cue bid is a bid in a suit that you DON'T necessarily have. Weird, huh? As we’ll see a cue bid can be in a suit you don't have any of AT ALL! Dangerous stuff, I know. So, I hear you shout “how do we know it’s a cue bid and not a real suit?” Well start with the obvious one:

Cue Bidding The Opponent's Suit (Also Known As: “Fit-Showing Cue Bids”)

When partner bids a suit, and your right hand opponent (RHO) overcalls, how can you tell partner the difference between a hand that just wants to get in the way and a hand that has some genuine support and strength?

1S - 2C - ?

1) xxxxx ..............................2) KJxx
... QJx .................................... KQx
... Kxxx .................................. Kxxx
... x ......................................... xx

On the first hand you want to raise the level of the bidding with a pre-empt so as to mess up the opponent's attack, so you bid 3S, weak but supportive. Fine. But next time you get the same auction you are lumbered with hand 2). This time you want to raise partner because you have points and support - so can you bid 3S? Ah, No. ’Fraid not. We just said that 3S was going to be used as a pre-emptive manoeuvre for hand 1), didn’t we? so how can we tell partner the difference?

You’ve seen it coming, I know you have... yes it’s a cue bid of the opponent’s suit - 3C!! Here is a situation where the opponent’s bid, far from making your life difficult, has actually increased your options: you can turn their intervention to your own benefit. In this way when they venture into the auction’s murky waters, the opponents in effect create for you a handy stepping stone that was not previously there.

This “stepping stone” principle has many uses:

“Control Asking Cue Bids”

1D - 1H - 2H?

In this auction your 2H cue-bid not only tells partner you have values (probably 10+) but also asks if partner can stop the hearts suit well enough to bid No Trumps. Now the stepping stone is practically a full-blown bridge with 2-way traffic: you just told partner something AND asked a question all in one bid. 2H could mean a number of things but it is FORCING and asks partner to explain their hand further.

Clearly, in these situations when you bid the opponent’s suit, it’s a suit in all probability you don’t have. But it’s nevertheless a bid packed with extra illumination and intent like an information super highway. It also has the added value of freeing up all the direct raises of partner’s suit (1S - ? - 2/3/4S) as annoying defensive measures designed to clog up the opponents’ exchange and force them down an information cul-de-sac.

There’s more....

“Control Showing Cue Bids”

1S -PASS - 3S - PASS

Why is partner suddenly bidding this Club suit? Has partner pulled out the wrong card? Is partner having a stroke? We’ve agreed spades. So why doesn’t partner just bid game or slam or whatever? Unless ..... it’s a cue-bid!

This time there’s no opposition bidding but now partner wants to tell you something more. A trump suit has been agreed and a new suit has been introduced below game level. What’s the message? The only reason for this bid is that partner has sights set on the possibility of a slam and is giving you information in the hope that you can reciprocate; it’s a control showing cue bid ie thpartner is saying I have “control” of the club suit, that is to say the ace of clubs. The hand could be something like

AKxxxx ................ QJxx
Ax ........................ Kxx
Kxxx .................... AJxx
A .......................... xx

Now, if you’re lucky enough to hold the ace of diamonds, you can cue-bid that as well and suddenly slam looks a pretty good prospect and the auction could go something like:

1S .............. 3S
4C ............. 4D
4H ............. 5H

4C, 4D & 4H all show first round control of the suits mentioned (i.e. aces or voids) while, as the ace has already been shown, 5H must be a second round control (ie king or singleton). So just as you can get quite specific about not only the number of points in a hand or the length of a particular suit, you can also tell partner about specific individual cards (normally only once a suit has been agreed, so be careful!)

The other basic thing to remember about all these Cue bids is that they are unconditionally forcing. That is, partner CANNOT pass. Under any circumstances. Whatever they’ve got. Whoever they are. Claiming to be of royal descent will not suffice. Remember the graffiti in the 3rd level dungeon at the Tower of London? It says it all:

Who passeth fawcing byd
soonest be sans hyd

As AJP Taylor so memorably said in his book Really Bad Mistakes by Royalty: “Without that erroneous PASS, the Queen would have lived; our Nation’s history radically altered.”

Those who yearn for more rarified stuff can look up Michaels Cue-bids, Fourth Suit Forcing cue bids, Western Cue bids, Eastern Cue bids, and that old favourite - Invisible cue bids. (I promise you these all exist!)


PoWs Downed by Putney Pirates - News Interlude

There was match bridge at the Princess of Wales last night (April 8 2010) as the PoW team in the London League Newcomers division hosted the Putney Pirates from Ned Paul's other club, Putney BC. It was a close match with Putney 4 imps up at half time, and extending this by another 8 imps in the second half.

A non-vulnerable game swing (7 imps) occured when West held 9754 2 964 KQ1042 and heard East open 2NT. West tried 3C Stayman at both tables but after a 3D response, the PoW West became worried about the apparent lack of hearts. He tried 4C and then passed partner's 4D, exactly making. The Putney West made the practical bid of 3NT, trusting that partner's 20 hcp contained a heart stop. It did and Putney wrapped up 10 tricks for a score of 430 and a 300 point swing. The final hand was a slam hand, 6S being bid in both rooms. The trumps broke 4-0 and both declarers went down 2, ending any chance of a match saving swing.

PoWs now stand at 2-3, with one match to go, in a creditable first season.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Taking On The World - First Steps - 22nd Oct 2009

I hope that sooner or later most of you will feel ready for some form of competitive bridge. This will either take the form of going to a club to play duplicate pairs, or else playing Teams matches in your own home in one of the many leagues organised by the LMBA (London Metropolitan Bridge Association - http://www.metrobridge.co.uk/).

With this in mind and after chatting to some of you about it we have entered a team into the London League Newcomer's Division. I've arbitrarily appointed John Cox as team captain and he has rounded up some others already to join in. The team can be up to 8 people so if you're interested let John know. Home matches will be hopefully played at the Princess of Wales.

A team consists of 4 people. In a match, a pair from Team A sit N/S & a pair from Team B sit E/W at one table. At the other table these positions are reversed. All the boards (hands) are then played at both tables and the difference in the scores by each team is calculated. If Team A N/S make 3S + 1 they score 170 [120 tricks and 50 bonus for the partscore]. If Team B N/S, however, bid the game and make it they score 420 (non-vulnerable) [120 for the tricks but 300 bonus because they bid and made game]. The difference is +250 to team B. And so on.

The newcomer's division is specifically designed for those who've never played any competitive bridge before, so is a great way to have some fun and learn at the same time.

In a recent Team match this hand occurred:

Board 6: Dealer: East, EW vulnerable(!)

....................... A652
....................... K9873
....................... A6
....................... K2
Q107................................ 8 43
QJ54 ............................... A6
Q1097 ............................. J432
6 ...................................... AJ974
....................... KJ9
....................... 102
....................... K85
....................... Q10853

West .... North .... East .... South
................................pass .... pass
pass ...... 1H ......... pass .... 1NT
all pass

This looks like the "right" auction at table 1 and made with an overtrick after a spade lead (+120 to N/S "A"), but at table 2 it went:

West .... North .... East .... South
................................pass .... pass
pass ...... 1H ......... 2C! .... all pass

2C (not doubled!) went 3 off for -300 to N/S "B" so on the hand "B" were 180 to the good on what looks on the face of it like a fairly uneventful hand. 2C here is a bit of a "cappucino" bid - all frothy with no substance. Vulnerable you want a double shot espresso. Actually East was lucky to "only" go down 3 for -300. It could have been more and it probably should have been doubled (-800). The North hand should nearly always re-open with a double IN CASE partner can pass it for penalties.

Compete like a shark in a sardine tin. This is a classic example of why, when we are vulnerable, we like to be better protected when we overcall, especially at the two level. 3 down NOT vulnerable is only 150 to NS who had 120 anyway in 1NT +1, not so terrible. Here vulnerability is all. Vulnerable, you are under a desert sun with no sun-block. Be careful when you venture into the glare. Take extra protection. Make your hat a big floppy one.

If you like we could have practice team matches on occasional wednesdays if you feel ready, just to get you in the swing of it all?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Responding to One of a Suit Opening - 15 Oct 2009

Partner has opened the bidding, shock, horror… Don’t panic, look at your hand! The generally accepted range for a suit opening bid of One is 12-19 high card points (hcp), a little less with nice shape, and the idea as a partnership is that you will primarily seek either an 8-card major suit fit, or, failing that, enough coverage for a No Trump contract.

You, as partner of the opener, will need a minimum of 6 hcp (high card points) to respond. But - if you do have 6HCP you MUST respond. If you have 6 hcp it is your bounden duty to respond. There is a special cordoned-off section of the Underworld reserved for people who pass with 6 hcp, so terrible that other inmates pass by with averted eyes and muffled ears.

Because we always seek a major suit fit, if partner hasn’t already bid a major suit that you like, then you can introduce one yourself. Even if you have only 6 hcp, if you have a 4 card major that you can bid at the one level - BID IT. Of whatever quality! If it's 2345, I don't care - BID IT. The reasons are that

a) partner may have AKQJ with 19 points
b) if you end up playing in 3NT the player to your left may be put off leading that suit when it would defeat the contract. Both of these are Good Things.

Of course you are not limited to having a weak hand (6-9 hcp). You might have a better hand (10-12 hcp) or a good hand (13 hcp) where you already know that together you hold the 25+ hcp needed to bid game. Here are some things you can do with each of those ranges.

6 - 9 HCP:

  • you can single raise partner's suit (4 card support)
    1H - pass - 2H
  • you can (must) bid a new suit at the one level
    1C - pass - 1(D,H,S)
  • with FIVE card support and interesting distribution, jump!
    1H - 4H (!)
    This is a pre-empt, not a slam enquiry...
  • 1NT: (any distribution at all)
    1S - 1NT
    At a pinch if 1NT looks silly because of singletons etc you can raise partner’s suit with only 3-card support

10 - 12 HCP:

  • double raise partner's suit (4 card support)
    1H - 3H
  • bid a new suit at the 1 level and wait for partner’s rebid
    1H- 1S
  • introduce a new suit, lower-ranking than partner’s, at the two level and ditto
    1H - 2(C,D)

13+ HCP:

  • Make sure you get to game any way you can. But do go gently until you find an 8+ card suit fit or settle for NT. You could just change suit as before and wait for partner’s rebid but here are some

Less Basic Ways To Respond
1) A jump in a new suit is strong and forcing. It tends to show a long, very good suit and a hand that is interested in slam:


1C - pass - 2H

2) "Splinter" bids are a good way of responding when you have enough for game, a fit and a singleton or void:


1S - pass – 4C!

4C says you have 4 spades, points for game and a club singleton. All that in one bid. Not bad eh?

3) But what about - I hear you cry - a game going hand that doesn't have a singleton? Luckily there are two things you can do. The first is the so-called pudding raise of 3NT. It only applies after a MAJOR suit opening. It shows 13- 15, THREE card support and no singleton or void. After 1H you could pudding raise to 3NT with :


4) All stronger flat hands, after majors or minors, are best shown with a jump to 2NT. This is any flattish 16+ point hand. I'm sure some of you will have learnt that this bid shows 11-12 HCP. I'm afraid I'm going to ask you to "unlearn" that, for which I apologise. Personally I think that 2NT to show only 11-12 points is a criminal waste of bidding space and frequently takes the bidding a level too high when partner has (correctly) opened a bit light. So try to remember this new version : in response to a one level opening bid, 2NT = 16+, balanced.

Tha - tha - tha - that's all folks...

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Magic of 25 Points - 8 Oct 2009

It is a probability - not a certainty - that if you and your partner have a combined point count of 25 high card points (hcp) then you can make "game". Game is either, 3NT, 4 Hearts or 4 Spades. If we are balanced we choose 3NT; if we have eight hearts or eight spades between the two hands, we choose the trump game. Game is also 5 Clubs or 5 Diamonds, but because that is 11 tricks, you'll need another 3-4 hcp or longer trumps.

The reason we like to be in game if we can is that - if you make the contract - you will receive a BONUS! Sadly this does not mean you will get a tax-free 6-figure lump sum into your offshore banking account, but merely a few hundred extra points added to your score. To be precise: 300 if you are not vulnerable and 500 if you are.

But how can we tell? I hear you cry. Well this is why you have to try to tell your partner not only what suits you like, but also what the approximate strength of your hand is. When you open 1NT partner knows you have 12 - 14 hcp. Now partner can do a quick, (or even slow), bit of mental arithmetic and will know either:

game is NOT on 10 or less
game MIGHT be on 11 - 12
game IS on 13+

The same is true when partner opens one of a suit and then re-bids 1NT. Now partner has 15 - 16 hcp and game might be on opposite 9 or 10 hcp. Likewise when partner opens one of a suit and re-bids 2NT, this shows 17 - 18 hcp and game might be on opposite 7 or 8 hcp.

You will see that if partner doesn't open 1NT, it will be the second bid that tries to give you a more accurate picture of their hand. By the time partner has made this second bid you will probably have a fair inkling of what is going on. You will have added partner's probable points to your known points. Now, with less than 25, you know game is unlikely, but with 25+ - Go for it!

The same is true of responses to the one level suit opening bid. A one level response promises anything from 6 - 19 hcp. If opener merely repeats the first-bid suit at the two level (showing a 5+ suit and 11 - 15 hcp), responder now knows that game may not be on if they hold 6 - 9 hcp. But if opener jumps a level at the second bid, (16 - 20 hcp), responder knows that game might be on with as little as 6 points!

If the first response to a one level opening bid is at the two level (10+ hcp), opener knows that game might be on with 15 hcp.

If the combined total is 25 points - go for game.
If the combined total is less than 25, stop in a sensible part-score as soon as you can.

As the above shows, it is quite possible to be accurate in the bidding and safely arrive unmolested at all sorts of different "perfect" contracts. This why, when the opposition start bidding, WE GET IN THE WAY! We overcall, we double, we jump to the three level - in short anything at all we can do by fair means or foul to mess up this cosy little fireside chat our opponents would like to indulge in - we do it. We are the terrorists in the stately home. As the crumpet warms by the fire, there we are, smashing the brittle crockery of constructive bidding to smithereens.

The bidding starts (1C)-pass-( 1D)- ?? and you hold:


You can bid 1S. You could even bid 2S as a weak jump overcall. But what's happening in hearts? partner could have bid them but didn't. So there is a strong possibility that between them the opponents have an as yet undiscovered bounty - a heart fit. Maybe enough for game, who knows? Well as yet, more importantly, they don't know either. So now is the time to get nasty and stage that palace coup. Bid 3 S!

From here on in anything might happen: you could be doubled and go down - horribly. You could actually make it. They might bid 4H and go one off. They might make 4H. On a really good day they bid and make 4H +2. They made a slam. So what? They didn't bid it! See how there are so many possible outcomes and if you think about it only one of them is bad - that you go down doubled. And even that may not be too bad if they could have made game (420) and you only went down 2 (300).

And this is what you will enjoy about duplicate - the extra parameter of the score. You've got to get that inner terrorist out …

Friday, 2 April 2010

Responding With A Minimum Hand - And Overcalling: 1 Oct 2009

Basics: Responding With A Minimum Hand

When partner opens one of a suit they promise something in the region of 12 - 20 HCP (high card points) Their second bid (a re-bid) will attempt to define more fully exactly where they stand both in terms of their overall shape and point count.

This means that you, as "responder" must keep the bidding alive with any hand worth 6 or more HCP. This is because if - as you wish, hope and pray - partner has the magical 20 HCP, then the partnership will have between both of you the even more magical 26 HCP and this should be enough to make game likely. If, on the other hand, partner has some grisly 12 count, then you will let the bidding die in a safe - you trust! - part-score you mutually arrive at.


When partner opens one NT they promise exactly 12 - 14 HCP, no more, no less. Now you as responder have a much clearer idea of what the partnership can achieve. Consequently, you know that unless you have at least 11 HCP, game will not be likely (14 + 11 = 25) So, if you have less than 11 HCP, knowing game is not on, you can pass. At the same time, you are also able to judge whether or not 1NT is a "good" contract. This will happen when you have 0 - 10 HCP (game not on) but your shape is such that you need to tell partner of your fears. Because you can't easily tell partner about an unbalanced hand with a minor suit (2C=Stayman; 2D =Transfer!), you should forget it and still pass, but if you are unbalanced with a long (5+) major suit you should first transfer (2D or 2H), then pass and trust the partnership is in a better place.

If your hand really, really is pretty dire but contains 6+ minor then you can get out of the mire by bidding 2S! this is a transfer to 3C which you can correct to 3D if that is your suit.

Not So Basic: Overcalling

When the opposition "open" the bidding, the bid you make will be an "overcall". Overcall bids have more than one function: They might:
  • Tell your partner your suit
  • Suggest a lead
  • Disrupt the opposition bidding
  • Find a sacrifice
As such, the requirements for an overcall are less than those for an opening bid. It is usually right to compete, even with pretty thin values, especially if you are Not Vulnerable. The bidding goes:

(1D)-pass-(1S)- ?? and you hold:


To bid or not to bid: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, overcalling, end them?

Your instinct should probably veer you towards overcalling but there are traps for the unwary here. It’s not just about the points – but where they are. The king of diamonds looks dead and you have no surprises in the spade suit. Suddenly the 13 count doesn’t look quite as good as it did – let’s call it 10 in reality. And it’s flat as a pancake. Added to that both opponents are as yet unlimited - ie partner could have a round zero over there and all you do by overcalling is tell the opposition exactly how to play the hand. That said, there’s nothing "wrong" with a bid of 2H (it gets in their way & suggests a lead), but, vulnerable, it looks an iffy prospect.

Now look at this:


This hand, in contrast to the one above, has exactly the same high cards but in different places. Now that king is working; the ace, too - 'connected honours' reinforce each other. The singleton gives the hand extra possibilities as well. Now an overcall of 2H looks practically mandatory at any vulnerability. Of course it could still all go alarmingly haywire, but at least this time you had better reason to get involved and you may even get a plus score:

…'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd…

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Fourth Suit Forcing - 25 September 2009

As you're all getting more efficient at the basic system (Acol, Weak No Trump, Stayman, Transfers, Blackwood, three Weak Two's, Weak Jump Overcalls) we could add in a few more wrinkles - or conventions as they're known.


There comes a time in an auction when you are lucky enough to know that game is definitely on but you're just not sure which one: 3NT, 4H or 4S, 5C or 5D. You can gamble and you might get it right if you're lucky, but on the other hand why not find out for certain? When 3 suits have been bid by you and your partner (no opposition bidding) and you judge game to be on then you can ask partner for further clarification of their hand by bidding the fourth suit.

This bid of the fourth suit says nothing about that suit and is used only as an enquiry for information. As it is game forcing you and your partner can now swap useful bits of information below game level secure in the knowledge that bidding cannot die below game level. As you can also see, this will be a useful tool when deciding whether slam might be on or not, as well as simply deciding which game to investigate.

you ..... partner
1H .......... 1S
2D .......... ??

Assuming partner knows game is likely, what information will he most need to know? Do you have a club stop for NT? Do you have 3 S? have you got 6 H? Luckily all these questions will be answered easily because now partner bids 3C! Initially this says nothing about the club suit and is a device (convention) designed to elicit further information in a relaxed and happy setting, secure in the knowledge the bidding won't unexpectedly stop.

you ..... partner
1H .......... 1S
2D .......... 3C! (FSF)

Now the bids below, by you, can carry these meanings:
- 3D = 5+ Hearts & 5 Diamonds
- 3H = 6 Hearts
- 3S = 3 Spades (partner may have 5 of them, after all)
- 3NT = Club stop

After any of the above bids partner should (!) now know what to do. If partner bids on past 3NT but below 4H - DON'T PASS! FSF is unconditionally forcing to game in any denomination and no-one can pass until then. I have it on very good authority that many unexplained ritual bronze age burials may have been the result of someone passing a forcing bid...


As we all know now, in order to respond you need at least 6 HCP (High Card Points), maybe a tad less if you have unusual shape, or a 6 card suit. There is no upper limit for suit responses. A response of 1NT to partner's opening bid shows exactly 6 - 9 HCP. and is therefore limited, as are most 1NT bids, either as an opening, response or re-bid. Sometimes we have to use a response of 1NT when we just don't have any other bid, even though the hand is not flat or balanced.

Partner opens 1 Spade and you hold:


To respond 2D would show a hand worth about 10+ points. Even though you don't like it, you have to say something, so your only bid is 1NT. Whatever you do, don't pass just because the spade suit is rubbish and you can't see where the auction is going. You MUST respond - you have 6 - 9 points and it is your bounden duty to tell partner this, however much you don't like it. After all, partner is unlimited and could have 19 HCP: 3NT might be cold and partner won't thank you for passing on a whim, however polite they struggle to be.

On the other hand, don't bid 1NT just because you have 6-9 HCP and you want to limit your hand early on. If you have room for a natural suit response - make it. Always. Whatever the suit is like. Don't worry about what partner will think - that's partner's problem. Your duty is to tell partner what you've got so they can make informed decisions. Partner can't do that if you lie, however honourable your intentions.

What about this pile of garbage?


Partner opens 1D. Of course your partners do. It's like toast butter side down, partner always has the suit you don't. But now is not the time to mentally berate partner's contrariness. Now is the time to bid in an informative, helpful and above all constructive fashion. What would partner most like to know?

Constructive bidding is primarily an exercise in finding an 8 card or better suit fit and then deciding at what level to play that fit. If no apparent fit exists you can decide that a NT contract is better at a later stage of the auction.

If you respond 1NT because you don't fancy the two 4 card major suits much, partner may never, ever know about them. Partner MIGHT hold AKQJ in one of the majors and you've just made it impossible to discover this nugget of Anglo-Saxon gold in the muddy field of bidding. There are very very few absolute rules in bridge. There are various "guidelines" to help us make sense of what fate has dealt us, but possibly the most unbreakable guideline in the book is this:

If you can respond with a 4 card major at the one level - DO SO! ALWAYS!! IN YOUR SLEEP!!!

On the hand above you respond 1H (bidding 4 card suits up the line) even if the pips are 9752. Now partner can describe their hand with a variety of choices:- 1S, 1NT, 2C, 2D, or even 2H! All of which will, probably, turn out better than you playing in 1NT. After a response of 1NT partner has very few options, but by bidding a heart you let the auction take its natural course.

If partner can jump to 4H, you will certainly have found the garnet encrusted golden cross you so richly deserve.

The Wonderful World of Scoring - 10 September 2009

I'm sure a lot of you know all this anyway but I just wanted to make it clear for everyone so we're all in the same place. I'm assuming either Duplicate or Chicago scoring. It might be an idea to have a clearer idea of just exactly what you'll score when you're in a contract, rather than being pleased - or horrified - after the event. So here's a small resume of what goes on.

You get the trick value PLUS a part-score bonus of 50; a game bonus of 300 or 500 and slam bonuses of 500 & 1000 NV and 750 & 1500 Vul.

You need to win the first six tricks before yyou score anything and after that the trick values are:
- minors (clubs & diamonds) - 20 per trick
- majors (hearts & spades) - 30 per trick
- no trumps - 40 for the first scoring trick, 30 thereafter

- 3 Clubs bid and made (nine tricks) is 110. This is composed of 60 (3x20) for tricks and 50 bonus for a successful part score.
- 2 Spades bid and made (eight tricks) is 110 - 60 (2x30) +50. An example of why we prefer Majors to Minors.
- 3NT not vulnerable making exactly (nine tricks) is 400 - 100 (40+30+30) +300 bonus for the non-vulnerable game.
- 3NT Vulnerable (same nine tricks) is 600 - 100 (40+30+30) + 500 bonus for the vulnerablel game. An example of why we take the odd risk to bid a vulnerable game - it's worth more.

You don't always succeed however. Sometimes the horrible opponents defeat you and then they score points instead of you. If you are not vulnerable they score 50 for each trick by which you fall short, while if you are vulnerable this penalty is increased to 100 points an 'undertrick'.

Sometimes the smart alec opponents smugly think in advance that they are going to defeat you and have the temerity to 'double' your contract. If you make it you score double trick points AND you get an additional 50 'for the insult'. I won't bother with all the doubled and making scores as it's not the most exciting bed-time read you'll ever have. Just know that making a doubled contract is ALWAYS good.

However when the opponents have made a wise double, the penalty scale goes up - and well, if you have been rash, the scale gets horrendous. The first undertrick is just doubled in value of the penalty but then the subsequent undertricks cost more and more. The main thing to note is that if you go down two doubled when they can make game the vulnerability is crucial. If nobody's vulnerable you lose 300. That would be a bargain as they can make 400 or 420 for their game. You have a net gain. If they are vulnerable and you are not, you lose 300 against 600/620. An even bigger net gain. (In fact now you can afford to go 3 down for 500 and still gain!). BUT if you are vulnerable and they are not and you go 2 off doubled, you will lose 500 to save 400 or 420 - a net loss. On the other and, if everyone's vulnerable then 2 down doubled for 500 is OK against their possible 600/620.

At the part score level vulnerability is again crucial. If you're doubled, vulnerable and go 1 down losing 200 to save 140, it's obviously bad business.

The rule is "Always Know the Vulnerability!"

Declarer Play - 20 Aug 2009

You will often be in contracts you and your partner bid perfectly; you're at the right level in the right denomination; but the contract fails. Have you made a mistake by being in this contract? Not at all. The fact that a particular contract fails does not mean that you should necessarily have been in a different contract. All it means is that the cards were in the wrong place at the wrong time. 'Tis unfair and unkind I know but it's the nature of the beast I'm afraid.

Most times, I can tell you what contract you SHOULD be in, but I can't possibly tell you whether that contract WILL make or not - because I don't know how the suits are split, or where the outstanding honours are. This is exactly why the game is so fascinating: nothing is certain. The likelihood of making various contracts is not cast-iron but dependent on numerous factors outside your control. All you are trying to do is make some sense of the random deals you are dealt. If 30% of the contracts you bid fail to make, this is not because you are a bad player, but because the game is only about possibilities. And if you are making 70% of your contracts, you're either very good or you're not bidding high enough!

If you play in a suit contract with an 8 card fit between you and your partner, then opponents hold 5 cards of your suit. Let's say that you can make the contract, whatever else happens, if those 5 cards split 3- 2. Well bid, well played.

But now assume those cards are split 4 - 1. Now in order to make the contract you might need certain cards to be well placed, for finesses to work, for endplays to be carried out, or failing all else, for the defenders to get it wrong and let you make it when you shouldn't. Now, well bid and even better played. OK.

What if the cards are now split 5 - 0? Ouch, I hear you proclaim. Now your contract is almost certainly doomed. You can't control the trump suit and you probably can't establish a side suit without them trumping your winners. How unkind, how unfair. But nothing has changed about the nature of you and your partner's hands, or your bidding. It's just that every now and then it will all go tits up - guaranteed. 100% certainty.

It helps to have a couple of little gadgets up your sleeve as well. Here we have the HOLD UP and the DANGER HAND. You're in 3NT (everyone's favourite contract!):



The bidding goes 1D-1S-1NT-3NT.

West leads the king of hearts. If you take this with the ace you are in serious danger of going down when you get the diamond finesse wrong and lose four or five hearts and the queen of diamonds. So you must NOT win the ace. Yet.

You can see 3 spade tricks, 1 heart, 2 diamonds and 2 clubs - 8 tricks. You need one more and that can only come from the diamond suit. You can guess to finesse the queen either way. You get lucky, you make maybe ten tricks. But if you guess wrong, you're down. So don't guess. Think.

You must HOLD UP the ace until forced to play it at the third trick. On this trick East, on your right, discards a club. This means that he had two hearts and that therefore West started with six hearts. If West gets back in you will lose three more tricks in this suit to add to the two the opponents already have. West is the DANGER HAND! You must not let West back on lead so you cannot, must not finesse the ten of diamonds.

Now there is no guess. You win the ace of hearts at Trick 3, cash the king of diamonds in the unlikely - but possible - event of the queen of diamonds being single, and play a low diamond to the jack. If it wins you're home and dry. If it loses you're still home and dry. Why? Because East hasn't got any more Hearts. Nor, on this layout, can East put his partner back on lead quickly enough to damage your contract.

There's a lot of versions of both these fairly simple ploys, so keep an eye out for them,