Welcome to Basement Bridge

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

Thursday, 6 December 2012


As you know, after an opening of 1NT you should use the conventional responses of 2C (Stayman) or 2D & 2H  (Transfers). But which one? And when? To keep it simple:
1)   With only 4 card Majors use 2C - Stayman.
2)   With 5+ card Majors use 2D/2H - Transfers.
It really is that simple. You will either follow these bids up with a PASS (10 or less HCP), or an invitational 2NT (11-12, 5 card Major), an invitational 3 Major (10 - 12, 6+ card Major) or the game bids of 3NT (13  - 17 5cM) or 4 Major (13 - 17 6+cM). With 18+ you should be slamming. This structure is fairly immutable and needs to become second nature.
The responding hands that tend to be problematic are those that have 5 - 4 in the majors and are weak (less than 10). Now what? If you Stayman (2C) and  partner comes back 2D (they always bloody do!) what then? What do 2H or 2S mean? Even worse is when you have a GOOD hand, 5-4 in the Majors, you bid 2C and hear 2D. Now what does 3H or 3S mean? To be fair, there are complex agreements that cover these hands but they're not really necessary. What you do is with game-ish hands you transfer into the 5 c suit and then bid the other one. But what do you do with a dog like this?

When partner opens 1NT they will (mostly!) have either 2, 3 or 4 H's. Three possibilities. Two of which give you the longed for 8 card fit. So you have a 66% chance of being OK when you transfer. In Bridge terms this is almost perfect. Yes, sometimes partner will have 2 H's and 4 S's. This probability is about 10%. Not worth considering. So with the above example ALWAYS transfer into the 5 card Major and then PASS. Don't think about it - do it. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

It is a principle of faith for me that I will always open 1NT with ALL 5332 shape hands with 12-14 HCP. Even if that 5 card suit is a Major. Every time. I would urge you all to do the same. Every time. With one tiny exception: if your major suit looks like this -  AKQJ10, you can open it and re-bid it. But do let me know when you get this 12 - 14HCP, 5332 hand. It is phenomenally rare. 2%? of 60 trillion? Nah, you do the math...


Eeyore was beside himself with rage. Not that you'd have noticed. He stood silently alone in the sun-dappled clearing, his head droopt, his tail slightly swishing. It was this swishing that alerted a passing Christopher Robin to the fact Eeyore was disconsolate. After the usual pleasantries, the boy enquired of the donkey the reason for his anger.
"Everybody was in 4S making 10 tricks. Only I, Christopher Robin, I, Eeyore, made 11 tricks!"
"But Eeyore that's brilliant! How clever of you!"
"Yes, I found a rare inverted Double Squeeze operated at trick 11, after they failed to attack dummy's entry to the Menace at trick 3." Eeyore intoned morosely.
"Really?" said Christopher Robin, seriously none the wiser. "But didn't that overtrick give you a Top?"
"It would have done, it would have done." Agreed the donkey solemnly. "Were it not for one vital fact you have overlooked Christopher Robin."
The boy scratched his head. "And, er, what was that?"
Eeyore fixed Christopher Robin with a baleful glare - "We were only in 2 Spades!!!" The boy sank to the ground, crossed his legs and said comfortingly: "Ok, tell me what happened."
"I opened 1NT, Owl transferred with 2H, I bid 2S and then he passed, quite reasonably, with this:

I had 14 HCP and 4S with him, no wasted H values and the game is cold for 10 tricks. What did we do wrong?"
"Well, nothing really, I suppose. But there is something to be considered. When - and ONLY when - you, as the NT bidder have 14HCP and 4 card support, instead of lamely bidding 2S, you can BREAK THE TRANSFER by bidding 3S! Now partner can re-value their hand in the light of this important information and bid on if it's right to do so."
"But what if partner has a pile of rubbish and was only transferring to get out of 1NT? Aren't we now too high?"
"Possibly. But rest assured that if partner does have rubbish, then the opponents have something on; and, whatever it is, they're going to find it mighty difficult to either double you or suddenly bid a minor at the 4 level out of nowhere. Yes, maybe 5 times out of a 100 it'll go Paridiae up, but that's nothing."
"Well, very interesting. I must remember that in future. Oh, and - Christopher Robin - thanks for pointing out it was all my fault. I do feel sooo much better now. When you start in the depths of despair how good to plummet further. Do you know a tall cliff nearby? Maybe I could toss myself off..."


"Now then, chaps, listen up!" Said Captain Mainwaring to his eager squad. "This afternoon we shall have Hand Evaluation. This is how we work out how good our hands are."
"There's nothing wrong with my hands, so they tell me..."
"That's quite enough smut Walker. We're here to discuss the finer points of the Game of Bridge, not your pathetic fumblings behind the bus stop."
"How do you know about that, Sir?"
"I have my spies Pike. I have my spies. Anyway, where were we?"
"Behind the bus stop, I think Sir."
"Wilson! Pay attention. All of you. Now, there are three main parameters for the evaluation of what we hold in our hands: 1) High Card Points (HCP) 2) Suit Length 3) Suit shortage. All three can carry equal weight when we make our decisions. When you first pick up a hand you are inclined to add up the HCP and see whether or not they add up to 12 or more so you can open the bidding. Alternatively whether or not they add up to 6 or more so you can support partner if they open the bidding. But just as important is the length of the suits you hold:
This hand is worth only 10 HCP so you might PASS. But this would be to ignore the value of the extra Spades. You have a 6 card suit, so you should add 1 point extra for each card more than 4 in a suit. So, in this case, you can add an extra 2 DISTRIBUTION points(DP). Now you have a total 12 points (10HCP + 2 DP) and should open 1S."
"But what", said Godfrey, "Should I do about my shortage?"
"Get it seen by a Doctor mate..."
"Walker! That's quite enough out of you. A perfectly reasonable question, Godfrey. After an 8 card fit has been found between the two hands they should both start to add extra SHORTAGE points (SP). But be careful because what you add depends on whether you open or respond. As responder you should calculate VOID = 5, SINGLETON = 3, DOUBLETON = 1. But if you are the Opener you should add fewer: V = 3, S = 2, D = 1.
Remember, you must adjust the evaluation of your hand as the auction proceeds to allow for these extra points. And as it proceeds, your hands will be going up and down.."
"I thought you said we'd had enough smut..."


Spock jumped as the Klingon warrior banged his fist on the blue plasti-form table.
"You tell me to compete; to be aggressive; to overcall with thin values; now suddenly you get all cautious and tell me NOT to overcall with this hand. What's the truth?"
Spock considered the hand under scrutiny on the integrated Bridge visi-display:
"So, you were Vulnerable, they were not, RHO opened 1S, you overcalled 2D, LHO made a negative Double, both partner and RHO passed and you went for -800?"
The Klingon snarled his assent. "At least everybody else did the same with my hand - with different results, I admit."
Spock considered the hand carefully. "There are three main reasons why you should overcall. 1) To obstruct. 2) To steal. 3) To suggest a lead."
"I understand all that." said the Klingon firmly. "What I don't get is why it was so wrong this time."
"Consider first the Vulnerability. This is crucial. They were Not Vul but you were. Even 1 down doubled is -200. Overcalls at the 1 level can be made on thin values - especially when Not Vul. However the 2 level is hugely different. When you go into battle you first make sure you have the weapons and armour you need, with your phaser set to 'KILL', don't you?"
"Oh yes." murmured the Klingon.
"So why would you go into battle with this deeply useless scrappy awful little Diamond suit? You don't want partner to lead it and you neither obstruct nor steal. In fact, you stick you head up and get it blown away. Why? Because you were not enough armoured. When you overcall VULNERABLE at the 2 level you need a much better suit - AKxxxx perhaps, and/or a better hand. The hand above is barely, at the very outside, worth an opening 1NT, 3rd in hand, Not Vulnerable. On a good day...  Also to consider is the hand shape - 5332. This a NT shape. If you can't overcall in NT's (15+) then it is almost always right to pass with these hands. At whatever Vulnerability. I might - just about - allow it if the hand looked like this with high cards concentrated in the long suit..."
The Klingon looked thoughtful. "So. If I want to overcall at the 2 level - and we are Vulnerable - I better really, really, really mean it?"
"In the long run, to be precise, the odds favour a 6 card suit with 2 of the top 3 honours."


"You see, men" said Capt Mainwaring firmly to the assembled platoon, "when you make a bid, partner can infer that you have such and such, depending on your bid."
"Such as such as what?" asked Pike.
"Such as whatever you bid, stupid boy."
"Such as what have I bid?"
The Captain paused while untold vile and disgusting epithets fought in his mind to be heard. When he had controlled himself he again took breath...
""Are you alright Captain," asked Private Godfrey, "Only you went a bit red then."
"I'm fine thank you Godfrey. Now where was I?"
"You were about to tell Pike what he'd jolly well bid." Said Lance Corporal Jones
"But I haven't bid anything yet. That's the whole point," said Pike smugly.
"It was," said the Captain in a voice of pure cold steel, "An hypothetical bid..."
"I don't think we've heard about them!" said Private Frazer.
"Perhaps if the Captain could just continue...?"
"Good idea, Wilson. I shall do just that. Now, chaps, if you open 1C or 1D and partner responds 1NT you will know, or can positively infer, that they have exactly 6 - 9 HCP. No more, no less. But there is also a Negative Inference that you are entitled to draw: to wit - that they also do NOT hold a 4 card or better Major suit. There is therefore no earthly point trying to find a 4-4 major suit fit later in the auction as you already know this to be an impossibility. Which is the reason why if you, as responder, DO hold a 4 card major then you MUST bid it, otherwise partner will not be able to evaluate the hand properly. It also follows that when partner opens 1 of a suit (ie does not open 1NT!) you can make the reasonable Negative Inference that they do not have a balanced 12 - 14 count. Just be sure your inferences are appropriate to your holding!"
"Blimey!" said Walker, "I met a land-girl the other night and she was like that: negative to what I was holding!"


When partner opens 1NT and RHO bids a suit you may just want to play in a 6 card minor at the 3 level. The only problem is that if you bid 3 of a minor directly it is FORCING. So what's to do? The secret is to use 2NT as an intermediate bid (sometimes known as a "puppet"). This warns partner you have no interest in game. Partner MUST first bid 3C (like a transfer) which you can then either pass or CORRECT to your suit. Partner should then Pass.
This is the basis of the LEBENSOHL convention. It is a system for dealing with intervention after 1NT when you have no interest in Game. It follows then that you can use direct 3 level bids to force partner to bid on.
This is only part of the system, but you should be aware of it as it is very common in club bridge. It also has other uses which are far more complex and should only be used in a practised partnership!
There are also other situations where 2NT no longer has its normal meaning. This is because in competitive auctions, 2NT is rarely a useful bid, as the key is usually to locate a sensible suit fit, and if you have a 2NT (10 - 12 balanced) hand you should probably be doubling for penalties. For instance, after a weak 2 opening, there is a difference between
2S (weak) - X - Pass - 3H


2S (weak) - X - Pass - 2NT
Pass - 3C  -  Pass - 3H

The second sequence shows no interest in Game (0 - 8), while the first is a decent (ish) hand and suit. The reason is that the Weak 2 has deprived your side of bidding space. If the opening bids had been 1S - X - Pass, you have room to show a good hand (9+) by jumping to 3? and bidding 2? with anything else (0-8).
This kind of differentiation makes life much easier for partner to make further, correct, decisions later in the auction. And it is of course our prime duty to keep partner well informed and very happy. We cannot play Bridge alone, so we must communicate accurately if partner is to succeed. For partner's success is also our success.



Monster Mash

We had this  - very rare - monster the other day at the Gazette in Balham:


Feast your eyes because you won't see this kind of hand very often. However, you well might, and you should have some idea of how to deal with it. You'll probably find nothing in textbooks, so here goes...
At the table (Both Vul) it was opened 6C! Perfectly reasonable: one loser, 12 top tricks in Clubs.... But the auction then went...
6C - 6S - P - P
7C - P  - 7S - X!
7SX  duly went off 3 for 800 a fabulous save as 7C actually makes (partner having the Q D's!), which would have been 2140! Even 7 off doubled (2000) would have been good for them. So how can we improve on this measly +800?
Looking at the hand again we can see that despite 6 C being cold it only has 17 HCP, thereby disproving that all slams need to have a combined 32+ count! It follows that there are another 23 points dotted around the other three hands. It is also true that if you have a 10 card suit, your opponents may well both have fairly silly hands themselves. They are therefore almost certainly going to join in the bidding themselves. Opening 6C - while perfectly reasonable - does let a rather massive lioness out of the bag. You could try opening 2C - on the grounds that Game is a certainty (!) but they will still be getting into the auction somewhere if they have any blood in their veins. So - what's to do? How can we improve this outcome?
As I said, you only actually have 17 points plus 2 voids. So where are the other points and suits? If partner has them we could get to a possible 7NT. If the opponents have them we don't really want to disclose our full potential too early, do we? What about opening 1C? Will that be passed out? Extremely unlikely. The bidding will come back to you. They WILL be bidding. You will get another chance. By then you should have some idea of what's going on. Plus your softly softly approach opens up the possibility to, as they say, catchee monkey. Take a look at the back of the 7C card. Making is 2140. Doubled and making it's 2330. Redoubled and making it's 2660. Any of these are miles better than 800. Your strategy should be to bid as if YOU are sacrificing against THEM!
1C - 1S - X - 4S
5C - 5S - P - P
Almost whatever happens now is to your advantage. They pass, you get 1370. They double, you get 1540. (DON'T Redouble!) Most of the time - I venture to suggest - they'll bid again - 6S. Now is the time to hold your nerve. Bid 7C. They might be making 6S. Who can tell? More importantly, you might make 7C. Now - hopefully - you have them. You have sprung the trap. Good opposition may well now bid 7S, and you are back to square one. But there's always the chance you will now be doubled. Still do NOT re-double. It will be impossible for them to visualise that you have such an extraordinary and incredibly rare hand. But if you re-Double you make it a certainty they will bid to 7S because you just told them to. Just make the doubled Grand Slam and quietly write in the score.
This method of bidding weird hands is known as Creeping. It is a standard ploy to get the opponents to feel they have pushed you too far. Instead, you are just where you always wanted to be.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


"As I've said before," said Spock, "killing partner is not necessary or helpful. And it ruins the baize..."
"But, but, but.. " said the very large Klingon, dropping his partner, "Twice he didn't continue the suit he led at trick one. We coulda had them down twice. That is not acceptable on my planet. He needs to know my attitude to failure, know what I'm saying?"
"I think he'd rather know your attitude to the suit led, wouldn't he?"
"Huh? Are you implying it's all my fault?"
"Yes that's right I am indeed. You could have an agreement that the card played by opening leader's partner, when not forced to play high, can be an ATTITUDE signal. ie whether or not you want partner to continue that suit when they can. Say partner leads QS against 3NT and you hold 109653 in the suit. If Dummy (or Declarer)  wins the trick, now your card can be attitude showing. The 9 will encourage partner to continue the suit later, and the 3 will be discouraging. Now partner knows what to do. Simple huh?"
"Hmm maybe. But what if you only have one valuable high card to play to encourage with? That's a problem, no?"
"It is indeed. Very well spotted. This is why a lot of players actually play what's called REVERSE ATTITUDE. ie a LOW  card is encouraging, the high one discouraging (Hi hate, Lo like...) In the previous example the 3 would be encouraging. You will of course have to watch every single card partner plays, now won't you? Working out what Declarer has; where's their weakness? In fact, do this anyway: all the time. Otherwise you're only playing half the game."

Thursday, 12 July 2012


I don't see" said Dag the Romulan, "what difference it makes knowing how many of a suit your partner holds. I want to know where their Aces are!"
Spock chuckled to himself. "But what if partner holds no Aces?"
"Then I wanna know about Kings, Queens, whatever. It's all about the big cards anyway."
"Not at all!" countered Spock firmly. "On the contrary there are a lot of situations where you need to know how many of a suit partner has, simply so you can work out how many cards DECLARER has in a particular suit. Think about it. You're defending a slam and at trick 12, you have so far won one trick and need another one to defeat the contract. You now hold  QD and QH, both of which you know to be winners. Declarer leads a Club. Which Queen do you discard? Is it a guess? Do you toss a coin? Is one suit prettier than the other? How on earth can we know?"
"It's always a guess in those situations," said the Romulan. "50 - 50."
"No, " said Spock, "In fact if you play properly with your partner it is NEVER a guess. Why? Because partner should show you the length in each of their suits so it is known to you exactly what Declarer's distribution is, so you know exactly which Q to keep and so defeat the contract. Letting slams slide through is always a disaster."
"How can partner tell me all that without kickin' me under the table? That's ridiculous."
"Very simply. When you follow suit, both of you should always play a High card followed by a Low card to show an even number in a suit. This is called a Peter. Now if you know partner has 2 or 4 in a particular suit, you can see how many you and dummy hold so you can soon tell how many Declarer is likely to hold by subtracting that number from 13."
"What if they hold an Odd number - 3 or 5, say?"
"Then you don't Peter. You play the cards from Low to High instead."

It's a good idea to train yourself to do this all the time - in every suit. So it naturally becomes a habit to count out Declarer's shape. Then you'll never have to guess again which Q to keep!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Three weeks out from Arcturus V, Spock was mentoring the Enterprise Team for the Intergalactic Pairs Championships. His message was simple:
"Let us not think of defence: let us think of attack. Attack is the best form of defence.  In any battle in military history the side with greater teamwork will triumph. You must work together with partner - not alone in magnificent but ultimately doomed isolation.
When we lose an auction one of the opponents becomes Declarer. We must not then subside into a world of dreary defence. We must, in concert with partner, ATTACK the declarer. We have one small advantage. We only have to take care of our own hand; Declarer has to work simultaneously with both his side's hands."
" 'Ang on, 'ang on, 'ang on," interrupted a cockney character who only appears in the background of Episode 6 (Mudd's Women)  " 'Ow come, guvnor, it's easier for us who can only see one 'and? I'd ravver see two anyday, know what I mean?"
"But you can see two hands. You have the advantage that you can see one of the Declaring sides hands. The declarer, on the other hand, can see neither of your defensive - sorry, attacking - hands. Therefore you and your partner can communicate in subtle underhand ways. You can pass information, like secret policemen, about what you hold in each suit so you may thwart Declarer."
"I s'pose, " chirped the cockney, "that'd be the Thwart Police, eh?"
"An interesting example of Earth humour. However, my intention is to enlighten you on the Three Paths of Signalling. And these three Paths are: Count: Attitude and Suit Preference. With these three weapons we can wreak havoc against the citadel of The Contract.
That's all for now. I shall be taking a break in the Holo-Deck, but on my return I will endeavour to show you how to walk the Three Paths of Signalling.
Live Long and Prosper!"

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


"So tell me," said Alice surveying the wreckage of the tea party, "When should a King cover a Queen?"
"As often as possible!" guffawed the Mad Hatter.
"Don't be so rude!" squawked Alice.
"Relax. Have some more of the Herbal Tea," smiled the dozy Dormouse.
"No, I'm sorry, I'm absolutely serious." said Alice seriously.
"Never a truer word.." said the Hatter.
"The thing is, one always says one should always cover an Honour with an Honour, when that Honour is led from one's right. But is that always so? Aren't there any times at all when it could be wrong to do so?" asked Alice.
The Hatter, the Dormouse and the March Hare looked at each other quizzically, raised a forefinger to their lips and looking skyward all said: " Hmmm."
"Hmmm what then? What Hmmm? What's with the quizzical hmmming?"
"You see, "said the March Hare lugubriously, "It all depends."
"That's right, so right," said the Hatter. "Everything always depends on everything else, don't you know?"
"There's no earthly point in stomping off like that, Alice dear." Said the Hare. "I will attempt to explain. If declarer has Qxx in dummy and plays the Q you definitely should play your K. The idea is to promote a lower card in your partner's hand - such as the 10 or J. If however dummy's suit is QJxx you should - in general - not cover the Q but wait until the J is played and then cover that. i.e. cover the second honour in a sequence. On top of that you need to be beware of what Declarer's shape might be. A trap for the unwary is this one:
Dummy has QJ10x and the Q is led. You hold Kxxx. If you can see the possibility that Declarer may hold either Ax or A singleton then you should NEVER cover at all!"
"Just what I said," said the Hatter. "It all depends! Maybe I could sell you a Thinking Hat, Alice, dear?"

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Tigger was jumping up and down. He was VERY excited. The other three players - Owl, Rabbit and Pooh held down the table to stop it being thrown over. All that had happened so far was that Tigger's partner, Rabbit, had opened 1C. This was not normally something to get quite so excited about but Tigger was prone to such emotional outbursts due to over attentive parenting in early life. When the tumult subsided, Pooh passed with the superior insouciance he reserved for really really bad hands. Then an over-excited Tigger bid STOP 2S! Owl peered over his half-moon spectacles and said: "Good hand, eh?" Tigger was about to start jumping up and down again when Rabbit curtly interrupted: "Unauthorised question. Unnecessary information. Disregard." Owl passed with a barely concealed smile playing round his pointy little beak. The auction progressed in haphazard fashion until it became clear to all that Rabbit was void in Spades, who tried to salvage the situation by bidding 6NT. Owl Doubled rather too quickly, but the contract was 3 down Doubled for -800.
"You see," said Owl, "about all Tigger and Rabbit can actually make is 3NT. Your response of 2S was a strong hand (17+) with slam interest. Yet as you can see, the partnership was nowhere near the slam zone."
"But, but, but," stammered a much quieter Tigger,  "I had 15 points and 5 spades. Game was on and, well, maybe slam, but I had to tell partner I was strong straight away, didn't I?"
"No, not really, not at all. If you had had a VERY good six card suit and 17+ HCP then maybe, but even then that may not be the best way for the auction to proceed. As it was Rabbit had no Spades while I - your respectful opponent - had SIX of them."
"But I didn't know that!" wailed Tigger.
"Precisely." said Rabbit. "You had no idea what my hand was. You careered off into the unknown before finding out what my hand was like from my natural re-bid. You cut out an entire two levels of bidding, so it was almost impossible for us to have a constructive auction. What's wrong with 1S? It's forcing - I can't pass - and you also then get to hear my rebid before judging which game - or possible slam - to aim for. There really is no need to go jumping about just because Game is on!"

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


The vagaries of scoring, I hear you call. What does it mean? How does it work? And why? And why should we worry about it?
Why? Because - nothing else matters! Fits, contracts, slams, part-scores, sacrifices - everything is subject to the SCORE.
We sacrifice when we are Not Vul against Vul, because if we go 3 down doubled we lose 500 against their 600+ Game score This is equivalent to a plus of 100.
If we are Vul against NV and we go 3 down doubled we lose 800 against their 400+ game score. BAAAAD. A minus of 400.
Tactics tactics tactics.
Playing Rubber Bridge you are Game and 60 and you pick up this:


There are 2 passes to you. What do you bid? 1D, rebidding 2NT is the classic "book" bid. But look at the score. You only need 40! That's 1NT. So bid it. Yes bid 1NT at that score. At teams or Duplicate it would be a simply terrible bid (because Game might be on), But at Game and 60 it's a great bid. Close out the rubber. Slam is a distant paradise to be ignored at all costs. The bid is determined by the score. Not your hand.


A Heart is opened on your right. You're playing Duplicate. What do you bid? The book might say 1NT (showing 15 - 17 and a H stop) But how does Vulnerability affect your strategy?  Consider if they are Vul and you are not, then the best you might make is 3NT for 400. However, what if you PASS, and then partner re-opens with a Double? Now if they go 2 off you make 500! Bit of a pipe dream maybe. But it happens. On the other hand swap the Vulnerability and everything else changes as well. Now if you pass and partner doubles, they go 2 off for only 300, whereas you might make 600 in 3NT. The score again determines how you bid; what your strategy might be. Honestly, the only thing that really, really, really matters is - THE SCORE!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Dodgy 3NT

Dear Marge,
Please may I take advantage of your agony column to solve an embarrassing personal problem?  My partner and I disagree about whether it is ever possible to respond 3NT with less than 13 HCP after partner opens 1NT. Please help as I am at my wit's end. Also, should one have sex on a first date?   Confused of Caerphilly.

Dear Confused of Caerphilly,
Please be assured this is a familiar problem and nothing to be ashamed of. It depends on whether or not you expect to make your contract most of the time. Partnership confidence is based on this common assumption. So from that point of view my answer is NO. However things really aren't quite that simple, as you might expect. There may be tight situations in a Teams Match where you might decide it could possibly be a good idea to raise to 3N with as little as 11 HCP, just in case it makes. This action is well below 50% but, if it makes, you might get a winning game swing from the hand. On the other hand if it doesn't make you're going to need an understanding and sophisticated partner who realises what you were attempting and why.
Alternatively, you might hold a weakish hand, 9 - 10, but with a good six card minor (AKJxxx) and precious little else. Now a "psyche" to 3N might pay good dividends if you get lucky and 9 tricks roll in. But again partner will need to understand the perfectly reasonable logic. My advice is: don't try this with new partners. Build confidence with them first and then, maybe later, introduce these more advanced ideas gently in casual conversation.
There is (at least) one other situation when a Bid of 3N is called for when you are obviously under-strength:
After 1N - Pass - ??? Do you try to take out into your 7 card minor at the three level and hope to make it? Do you pass and hope partner makes sneaky overtricks? Or bid 3N on the off-chance of it making? The answer is in the hand. Ask yourself: (1) "where are all the other points and all those major suits?" Answer: on your left. (2) "Are they itching to bid them?" Answer: yes. (3) "How can you make life as difficult as possible for them?" Answer: bid 3NT. You could also try 5D, which would have the same effect, but does not leave open the opportunity for them to guess wrong about which major to be in, and for partner then to promptly double them. Also if you don't steal 3N, you can always rather sheepishly bid 5D later, wait for them to Double you, then pray you make it!
As regards the other problem - what are you doing on Friday?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


But Jeeves, Old Man, you really make the most frightful hoo-hah over nothing.  We bid to 5 Clubs and, thanks to some rum nifty card play by yours truly at the death, we even made a jolly old over trick, what?”

“Ah well you see Sir, it’s really not quite as simple as that.  Is it?”

“Isn’t it?  Does the Wooster brain miss something?”

“Quite possibly, Sir.  Let us peruse the score.  5 Clubs plus 1, Vulnerable, makes 620. Did Sir happen to see the traveller for the board at all?”

“Crikey, no. Really dull.”

“It makes, however, interesting reading. We obtained a complete bottom on the board.”

“Zero? Big fat zero? All my hard work and snazzy declarer play availeth nought?”

“Everyone else was in 3NT sir, you see. If they had all been held to 9 tricks they would indeed have done worse than us with only 600. But in fact everyone made at least one overtrick for plus 630, and some even made two for 660. So 620 – however admirably played, did indeed availeth nought, as you so accurately put it.”

“That’s really not fair. I make 12 tricks and get a lower score than those who only made 10! That’s outrageous. I am speechless.”

“If only sir. It is to do with the value of the first trick at NT, which is 40,  while subsequent tricks are 30. Even major suit tricks are only worth 30 each, while a minor suit trick is worth only a paltry 20. As you see sir this will heavily affect the score line It will also therefore heavily affect the contract one should strive to be in. Obviously, it is the better scoring contract we should always aim at. Not the safest.”

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Defend Or Die

“Watson! Over here,” said master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. His eyes burned with unnatural fire. I edged to the table and saw him peruse thirteen cards spread on rich maroon velvet:

6 4 2
10 9 5 3
Q 3
J 7 5 2

“Familiar, Watson?”
“Erm, er, yes, er, sort of. Yes.” I blustered.
“A hand held by you only yesterday at Madame Fifi’s.”
“Just so. A fine evening, by the way…”
“Possibly. The opponents edged to 3NT. I led a small Diamond, you played the Q, Declarer winning the Ace. Do you recall further events?”
“Indeed I do Holmes…”
“No, Watson – about this hand. Concentrate.”
“Ah. As I now recall, Declarer rattled off winners and actually made 6NT in the end, a pretty bad score for us. A deeply boring little hand I’d say. What’s the purpose of it?”
“The purpose is that, yes, indeed we did attain a bad score, but it was eminently avoidable. Consider the facts: you have a hand of almost no trick-taking potential whatsoever. But this does NOT mean, my dearest friend, you can allow yourself to be diverted from the task in hand; which is: – to make certain Declarer makes only those tricks to which he is, by chance of the deal, entitled to. And no more”
“But Holmes,” I protested feebly, “What was I to do?”
“What you had to do was think, man, think! If you do not hold many cards – where are the other points, eh? Tell me that.”
“They might have been underbid…”
“Do not – ever – take the opposition for fools. No, Watson, if you have not the points then logically I have the outstanding high cards. I therefore am the one of us who is under pressure. I need help. All the assistance I can get so as to determine which of my cards I may dispense with as required. In order to do this I need YOU to carefully and accurately inform me of your various holdings in each suit. They may be of no interest to you, but they are of profound importance to me, and I, Watson am your beloved partner.”
“Oh, I say.”
“You randomly played the lowest card from each suit according to whim and fancy, therefore denying me any small chance of gleaning such information about your hand as I needed. Had you played small from an odd number of cards and Hi-Lo from an even number, I would have been able to imagine the shape of declarer’s hand and so know what not to discard, thereby saving a trick and many Match Points. On top of that, you discarded a low Club at some point, thereby enabling Declarer to make his lowly 10 of Clubs for the 12th trick. Lazy, Watson. Deeply lazy. Just because your hand is bad does not entitle you to park your brain in the stables. We are a partnership. You must do your work in conjunction with mine. Two needless overtricks were frittered away and an average score became a complete and total bottom!”
“Talking of bottoms….”

Thursday, 10 May 2012


"Trouble is, Sir," said Private Pike, "when I'm Declarer and dummy goes down I panic."
"What you need," said Captain Mainwaring, "is a Plan. I recommend CATSUP."
"My mother told me not to drink, Sir!"
"Stupid boy, it's mnemonic."
"That's easy for you to say, Sir."
"Not with these teeth it isn't. Now listen up: here's how it goes:
1) CONTRACT. Write it down. I've lost count of the times chaps say "what's the contract?" Keep a scorecard. It starts a mental routine and "locks" the contract into your neural pathways. 
2)  AUCTION. What was it, and what can we learn from it?
3)  THANK-you partner. Always say this. Always look happy to see dummy. Always compliment partner on their bidding. Always fool the opposition.
(If opponents huff and puff you take too long - ignore them. They are rude, selfish and deliberately trying to hurry you into error. Thoroughly unethical. No-one in the higher echelons of the game would dream of doing this.)
4) STUDY the hands together. How each suit links from dummy to hand. How many losers? How many winners? By what ploys can the contract be made? Decide. Act. Now you have a plan. You have focus. We can still get it wrong. But at least we tried.
5) UNDERSTAND how you might play the hand based on knowledge you have gleaned or percentage possibilities.
6) PLAY decisively. Wrong or right - go for it.
Remember CATSUP:     Contract, Auction, Thanks, Study, Understand, Play."
"Captain Mainwaring, Sir, my mother says a gin is better."
"Thought you didn't drink, Pike?"
"No, Sir. Always Get Into No Trumps..."
"Possibly, Pike, possibly..."

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


"If you don't mind me saying so, Sir, it might be a good idea to try to make a plan when you're defending."
"D'ya think so, Jeeves?"
"Indeed I do, sir, indeed I do. Per example this hand from the Club Duplicate."
"When was that Jeeves?"
"Last night, Sir... If you can still recall...?"
"Oh yah, rather, Jeeves old fruit."
"As I recall, you held this hand and correctly opened a Weak 2 Diamonds:


The bidding proceeded:
2D       -     2S -   PASS  -  3C

I  led the 9D. This was Dummy:


You played the A, K  and a third diamond, declarer winning with the Q. Declarer took a losing S finesse into my hand, but alas I had no more D's and so was end-played with Declarer making a costly over-trick as a result."
"Dashed bad luck, eh, Jeevesy?"
"If I might suggest, sir -  there need be no element of luck in these matters at all. After a smidgin of thought."
"How so? Surely..."
"It's an open book, sir. First I did not support your D's therefore I most probably do not posses 3 of them. Therefore I must hold either 0, 1 or 2 of them. If I hold 0 or 1 there is precious little to be done. However if I hold 2 of them, as is likely on the lead, then declarer must surely hold Q10x. Consider the possibility of ducking at trick one. Then when Declarer takes his losing S finesse I still have a second D with which to maintain communication with your hand. I lead it, you NOW cash the A,K  and hey presto cash 3 more D's and declarer is now TWO off. Instead of plus 1!"
"Dashed clever. I say. Gosh. Now why didn't I think of a plan like that?"

Friday, 20 April 2012

Responding 1NT to Overcalls

"Sometimes, Watson, you can be a parcel of street dirt."
Holmes was being at his steeliest as he dissected a small - but I maintain, quite understandable - bidding error on my part.
"It's merely a question of thinking. This is what - sometimes - you just do not do. Calm, clear, rational though would lead you to the correct answer, even if you did not already know it."
"But, Holmes..." I squirmed, "you overcalled and I had 6 - 9 points, no fit, so responded 1NT! What can possibly be wrong there?"
"Almost everything" sighed the master. "And it is out of your own mouth that you are condemned. Consider: you said - correctly - that I overcalled, did you not?
"Er, ye - es..."
"Precisely. I overcalled! I did not OPEN. Therefore you cannot assume I hold "Opening" points, can you? However, you can assume that I hold, perhaps, at least as many as 3 points less than a normal opening bid. Therefore it is perfectly logical - is it not - that a response of 1NT to an overcall must of necessity contain at least 3 points MORE than the same response to an opening bid?"
"Do you mean to say that in response to an overcall, the bid of 1NT shows 9 - 12 HCP?"
"Indeed so, Watson. Indeed so. Perfectly logical, I would say..."

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Bridge is a listening game. One of the most important skills you need is the ability to listen. To listen to partner. To listen to the opposition. To hear what is said. Sometimes - crucially - to listen to and hear what is NOT said.
When you open the bidding with 1 of a suit and both your left hand opponent and your partner PASS, the one thing you know for certain is that partner does not have 6 HCP and will most probably not have any kind of fit with your suit. Even with 4 or 5 HCP points partner might well decide to give you a weak raise with 4 card support, just to get in the opponent's way. Now when your RHO bids you should get out of the way and pass with most flattish hands like this


Now you should look to take your chances in defence of whatever contract opponents land in. They now have the advantage because they also know your partner is very weak and should play you for the outstanding high cards. On the other hand if your hand is distributional you should bid again with something like:


Fewer points but better shape. 
Again, if you have a competitive auction where both sides are bidding but one opponent is particularly pushy it's probably because they are very short in your suit. The corollary therefore is that the other opponent is marked with the length in your trump suit and you should plan the play of the hand accordingly.
Similarly if an opponent is very quiet even though his partner is bidding in a competitive auction, you should deduce that they have no fit in their suit and so the side suits will probably break badly for you if you become declarer.
It's also true that if both opponents bid against you in a pre-emptive fashion and you hold 4 of their suit, partner will almost certainly be void in that suit, with a possible singleton at most. This should influence your high level decisions towards bidding on in a tight corner.
There are lots of little inferences around during the auction. Listen to them. Make use of them. Do NOT, whatever you do, decide that as you don't have much in your hand you can just go to sleep. If you do, you will lose endless match-points as a defender. Always concentrate on the auction - even with a Yarborough.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


"You have to make a choice Mr Bond," said Scaramanga. "Will your Doubles be penalty or take-out?"
"Nnnngh," said Bond, bound and gagged as he was.
"So, let us decide once and for all. Let us say that (1) a double of an opening bid of one of a suit is for take-out and that (2) a double of 1NT is for penalty, yes?
"Nnnngh," said Bond again.
"Exactly." said Scaramanga. "Now the onus is on partner to know how to respond in each different case, no?"
"Nnnngh," said Bond again.
"Right. When partner Doubles one of a suit (Take Out) - they want you to bid whatever your hand may be. But when they double 1NT (Penalty) they want you to bid with a poor hand but PASS! with a good hand! Isn't that strange?"
Nnnngh, said Bond again, rather unoriginally.
"You see - it's those juicy penalties you can extract. Especially if declarer is Vulnerable. Even 1 down doubled and Vulnerable is 200; while 2 down is 500! On the other hand, the problem arises if you double them and they actually make their 1NT doubled and Vulnerable. Now you give away 180, or even 380 if they make an overtrick. This is why you have to decide what to do with very weak hands when partner doubles 1NT."
"But surely - " said Bond leaping free from his Bondage - "it's a simple maths question! If partner doubles they have 15+ HCP, so if you have 5 or more you have the balance of the points and should leave the double in! So what if they make it. You have to be tough and unafraid, isn't that so - Scaremonger?"

Last week I saw leaving 1NT doubled in netted +1400.  5 down doubled and vulnerable. So you might like to consider what the 1NT bidder's partner can do to rescue the situation...

Thursday, 22 March 2012


"There are situations," said Spock, "where you may want to make exactly the same bid, but each time you want that bid to have different meanings."
"But this cannot be possible," said the Romulan, "It is , as you would say - illogical."
"Precisely so. But let us look at a possible scenario. Partner deals and opens 1NT (12 - 14) and the opponent on your right (RHO) makes an overcall of 2S. (5+ Spades. Less than 15 HCP). you hold this:"


"You want to be in game," said Spock, "but which one? So what do you bid?
"Um, 3N, 4H or 5C all look possible contracts," said the Romulan. "So I must bid a game forcing 3C and see what partner does."
"Exactly so. But what if you hold a hand like this?"


"Now" said Spock, "You do NOT want to be in game. On the other hand you don't want to sell out to a measly 2S do you?"
"No way Jose!" thundered the Romulan. "So I bid a non-forcing 3C..... Er, uh-oh. Molto Problemo, huh?"
"Oh yes indeed. How is partner supposed to be able tell when you bid 3C that it's either (1) forcing to game, or (2) just a mild competitive bid with no further ambition?
The Romulan frowned. "I hope partner is psychic? Or maybe I cough when I am weak?"
"That is called cheating and I hope you never consider such a thing. Also, partner is never psychic and can be guaranteed to get it wrong. However there is a little wrinkle that can iron out these situations.  What you can do is use the bid of 2NT as a TRANSFER to Clubs when you are weak, and a direct bid of 3C when you are strong. This leaves you with DOUBLE for the invitational hand that would have bid 2NT without the overcall. Be aware that this is NON - standard and must be agreed with partner before the game commences."

You can use this with any suit, but make sure you discuss it beforehand!


0 - 9 with a 4+ card fit:

Inspector Mainwaring  was teaching the platoon bridge for the annual match against the ARP.
"Now look here, men. This a very big thing I am going to put in front of you - Wilson - take that man's name."
"But you know his name."
"Yes of course I know his name, what I meant was - oh never mind. Now pay attention. Partner opens one of a suit, but the dastardly swine on your right makes an overcall. What's the drill, Corporal?"
"Don't panic!"
"Absolutely correct. We will: number 1: look at our hand. Number 2: evaluate said hand. Number 3 make requisite bid according to instructions. What're you doing Pike?"
"Looking for my instructions, Sir."
"Well you won't find them in there, will he Wilson?"
"Ah but you see, Sir , he just might.."
"Stupid boy. This lesson is about what to do when partner opens, RHO overcalls and we have support but a weakness."
"How weak is weak? You see I've got a weakness..."
"I don't think we need to know that  Godfrey. Anyway, weak is anything less than 10 points. The general principle is to make life as difficult as possible for the opposition. So we set a trap; a minefield. What do we do Walker?"
"Bugger about a bit Sir."
"Exactly so - Oh I say.. Quieten down now men. This is serious stuff. Righty-ho - partner opens 1S, opponent overcalls 2H and we hold this motley collection:
What do we do? No no no. 2S won't win us any match points. And no, nor will 3S. No, the answer here is to bid 4S! They'll jolly well find it jolly hard to bid 4H now won't they eh?"
"They don't like it up 'em do they Sir?"
"That's the ticket, men. When you're weak with a fit, bid like a tiger, stiffen the sinews etc and all that malarkey. Remember - weak hands pre-empt!"

Saturday, 10 March 2012


Responding with 10 - 12, 4 card fits:

"Responding to partner's opening is not always a straightforward issue" said Bond James Bond.
"And how, James, would you like me to respond to you?" pouted the delectable Ritzi Cream. "Don't you want always for me to respond in the same way?" she breathed breathlessly.
"Not at all, no way. It depends what happens between us. Especially if there's a good fit..."
"Oh James..."
"You see, when partner opens there are three things that can happen before responder gets to bid."
"Three things? But does that matter?"
"Oh yes. Indeed it does my little angel. When partner opens there is an opponent on your right who will get to bid before you do. And that Right Hand Opponent (RHO) will possibly do one of three things: they will Pass, Double or Overcall. And what you as responder will do is dependent on RHO's action. Take this hand where you have a good fit for partner:

"Partner opens 1 H. Depending on what RHO does you can make 3 different bids. If they Pass you will bid 3H (10 - 12, 4 card support - the Limit Raise.) If they Double you will bid 2NT (the Limit Raise after a double!)) and if they overcall you will cue-bid their suit (10+, 4 card support). The same hand: three different bids depending on which of the three things RHO bids."
"You mean... it's not just what's in your hand," sighed Ritzi, "but what the opposition do as well?"
"Perfectly right, shweetheart..."

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Mr Brown was regretting the punishment meted out to William. Having eaten the prize pork pie his mother baked for the WI, William's punishment was to make up a 4 for bridge instead of playing with the Outlaws. He responded by surreptitiously underbidding his hand at every opportunity. William knew this infuriated his father, as it does every bridge player. During the tea break Mr Brown took his recalcitrant son aside.
"Yes that's me."
"Will you listen?"
"I have a choice?"
"Stop it! Now, when you are dealt a hand at bridge your first instinct should be for you and partner to bid - and make - a Game."
"Oh Right. Why's that then, father?"
"The reason is a game attracts a bonus score of  of 300 or 500. All you have to do is make 3NT, 4H, 4S, 5C or 5D. The toughest games to make are 5C and 5D (11 tricks) so most of the time you try to constrict yourself to 3NT (9 tricks) or 4 of a major (10 tricks)"
"Oh I seee.  You want the bonus?
"Yes William I do."
"Isn't that a bit greedy? It's not really fair goin roun biddin and makin games all the time. Shouldn we jus bid a bit an play a bit?"
"Bridge, William, is a competitive game. The idea is to outscore the opponents as often as possible. To beat them. To win. The best way to do that is to bid the games you can make.  Occasionally it gets even better than that and you bid (and make) a slam. Occasionally it gets worse and all you can make is a part score. But Game is your primary goal. It follows therefore that when you and partner start to have a bidding conversation your initial notion is simply to try to discover whether or not you can in fact make one of these game contracts. That is your ambition between you. Slowly you gather together the pieces of the intellectual jigsaw and there comes a point when one of you - it is usually only one of you - knows for certain that game is or is not on. Whichever one of you that is must make now THE DECISION. You must, William, become more decisive. Bid up. Bid the games. Is that clear?"
"Oh yes father. Very clear..."
For the rest of the afternoon William resolutely bid slams as often as possible. When they failed William remarked "I thought you wanted the bonus father..."

Thursday, 23 February 2012


When you learn the game of bridge the emphasis is on bidding suits you genuinely hold. This will tell partner (beloved partner) useful, constructive information about your hand so they may then make (you hope!) the correct decisions.
As you slowly progress you will begin to realise that some bids have been set aside for other specific purposes. They do not actually mean what they appear to say. These bids are known as "Conventional" bids.
One of the most useful of these bids is the opening bid of 2 Clubs. It says nothing about the Club suit itself at all: either its quality or its length. The meaning assigned to it is that you have a hand that is super massively powerful.
If you add together all the values in the pack for Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks you will find the total is exactly 40 points. Experience has shown that - most of the time - if your partnership has a combined total of 25 points, then some kind of Game contract should make. It follows, therefore, that if you hold yourself, in your own hand, more than half of those possible points - 20+ - then you are in an incredibly strong position. Partner needs very little for you as a pair to be bidding Game. But how do we inform partner of our collective great good fortune? Across the world in nearly all systems it has been decreed the bid assigned to impart this delicious information is 2 Clubs. This is the "Standard" bid that says: "I am super massive - keep bidding!" This forces partner to bid even if they hold less than the normal 6 points required to respond to an opening bid. They MUST bid!
The general requirements are that a balanced, No Trump kind of hand should hold at least 23 of those wonderful points. This hand should open 2C!
But not all powerful hands are so flat. There are other more distributional hands that even though they have fewer points, are just as strong. These hands need a minimum of about 20 points:
Partner will need only have any of the Kings (3 points) for game to make on most layouts. If you open 1S you will most probably miss that game. So force partner to bid - open 2C!
You need to be in game whenever possible because of the bonus. In all forms of the game - Rubber, Teams or Duplicate - those bonuses are what it's all about. Bid those games.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


What if, what if what if???? A question I get asked a lot. usually when I suggest a bid and it's reason, but the questioner gets cold feet about my bold suggestion. Yes indeed what if? Moreover, what if we stopped worrying about the bad breaks and all the things that can go so terribly wrong? What if we used that spare "worrying" brain power instead to concentrate on what matters? You see, nothing will EVER be always right. Occasionally it will all go tits up.  So?


You deal yourself this hand and naturally open 1C with glee and optimism in every pore. Things get immeasurably better as partner has this hand


Oh yes! 7N is cold! how great! Yeah. But "what if..." this great hand is on your left instead? Now you could well struggle to make even your original 1C contract. So does this "mean" that it was therefore "wrong" to open 1C? Or that we should only bid when partner has the "right" hand? How on earth can we know?
The answer is that - most of the time - 99.9% - the reality will be somewhere between the two extreme possibilities: that partner has a hand that will help you make a Grand Slam, OR that your left hand opponent is going to slaughter the living daylights  out of you. The crucial point is to realise that there is NOTHING you can do about this. Fate will deal what fate will deal. You open 1C because that is your bid, not because it will turn out right on every deal, but because you MUST tell partner what you have. Every single time I bid 3NT I have absolutely no certainty that the contract will either A) make or B) be the best contract. I don't know how the "what ifs" are placed around the defenders' hands. Know what? I don't care. If I think, to the best of my available knowledge, that 3NT is the best thing to bid then I will just do it. I will be wrong or right. If I'm right - well and good. If I'm wrong I will fight and pray the defence gets it wrong and I get away with being "wrong". Otherwise shrug and move on. My plan is to be "right" about 60% of the time. Not EVERY time. This is not humanly possible. Like the man said: Treat success and failure... exactly the same. Remember: it isn't always your fault!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


When you and partner freely exchange bids without opposition interference, you can be said to have a CONSTRUCTIVE auction. However when one side starts overcalling you are now into the crazy world of the DESTRUCTIVE auction. They overcall to destroy your auction, to suggest leads or to steal away what may rightfully be yours. This is when you need to access your inner Dalek and EXTERMINATE! Fits in suits often count for more than mere HCP so be on the look out for these situations.
At the recent pan- galactic tournament on Arcturus V the hotly contested final was between Humanoids and Daleks. This hand arose with the match all square.  N & S (vul) were the Humanoids, S dealt:
AKxxx  1098542
Q                       xx
Kxxx                 xxxx
Axx                   10

The tough auction went:
1H - 1S - 2S! - 5S
2S by North was a good raise (10+) and a 4+ fit.  Despite his zero count the Dalek East imagined his species cry of "EXTERMINATE" and went through the roof with his bid of 5S but this induced the catastrophic error by S of 6H which went 2 off after the efficient defence of AC, club ruff and a Diamond return. -200. At the other table with the Daleks sitting N- S the auction was a gentler affair but with a sting in the tail:
1H - 1S - 2S! - 4S
5H - X -   Passed out
Bemused by his partner's pass of the double, West now made a series of Humanoid defensive errors and led the AS, ruffed by the Dalek South, who drew trumps and led a club. Winning his A the Humanoid West compounded his errors by leading a low Diamond, won by the Q on the table so the Dalek South could claim his doubled vulnerable contract PLUS ONE and score +1050 which the Daleks gleefully added to the 200 won at the other table for a total of +1250. The humanoids caved in and duly lost the rest of the match by a heavy margin. After the match the Daleks discussed the hand:
"Why you make lunatic bid of 5S? Could be disastrous. Right this time, lucky......"
"Had to do desperate thing. Never know. If they bid 6H's and make, I will  congratulate warmly then terminate me in nearest Nova. But I don't think so..."

5S is a "pressure bid." Pressure induces mistakes. A destructive auction can go either way. Make sure it's your way...

Have fun