Welcome to Basement Bridge

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

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.