The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Bridge Blog: Now with Stupefying Quiz!

Yesterday Sherry and I played in a knockout with our friends Michael and Brian. This was a three-session event at the San Jose Sectional. All three sessions were played Saturday at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 7 p.m.

Six months ago Sherry and I played in the same event with another couple. The event had a good turnout; there were 16 teams including some very good players. A three-round event needs eight teams, so the field was split into two sections by experience. This is called "bracketing". We were in the top bracket, and were knocked out in the first round.

Yesterday the field was much smaller. Only seven teams entered. Everyone was in the same event, so the matches were handicapped. We were one of the more experienced teams in the event and we gave away six or more imps each match.

Before we begin, try this quiz. Of course all problems are from the knockout and are therefore IMP scoring.

1. All vulnerable, fourth seat: Sxx HAxxxx DTxx CTxx.

LHO opens 1S. Partner doubles. RHO passes and you bid 2H. LHO rebids 2S. Partner bids 3D. RHO passes. What is your call?

2. All vulnerable, first seat: SQxx HQxx Dxx CAQTxx.

You pass. LHO opens 1 H which is passed to you. What is your call?

3. None vulnerable, third seat: SJxxx Hx DAx CQJxxxx.

Your partner opens 1N, 15-17. You bid 2C Stayman and he responds 2H. Your choices are:

  • 2N, invitational and showing four spades
  • 3C, a signoff, showing a weak hand and saying nothing about spades.

4. A play problem:







Your hand:





LHO leads the four of clubs (fourth best leads). Plan the play.

Because we were a team short of the ideal eight, the first round had a three-way and two head-to-head matches. We were in a head-to-head. Two young Chinese guys were at our table, two older men at the other table. We had little trouble with them and were up 19 at halftime. (A match consists of 24 boards; play 12 boards, compare, take a short break, then reshuffle and play the second half.) We had a handicap of 6.2 imps so we were up 12 and change.

On the first board of the second match our opponents made an error common to less experienced players. My RHO held Sxx HAxxxx Dxxx CAQx. His partner opened 1D, he bid 1H, and his partner rebid 2D. What is the correct call?

He passed, which is wrong. Partner should have six diamonds so 3N has play opposite a spade stop and reasonable diamonds. The correct bid is 3D. This hand actually has extras; take away the club queen and the raise would still be correct.

Our teammates bid 3N for an 11-imp pickup. We lost 6 and 7 imps on two other boards (I was in an embarrassing 3N down 4 vulnerable), and all the other boards were pushes or 1-imp swings. We won the second half 14-13.

We finished at 12:15 and had to return by 1. Fortunately there was a Quizno's down the street.

We came back and found that our first opponents were some middle-aged women we didn't know. The best of the other teams had been knocked out in the three-way. Our handicap again was 6 imps and change.

The first board out of the box was Problem #1 above. Sherry held this hand and passed. My hand was a crusher: S8 HK9 DAKQJ86 CAK92. 5D makes easily. I think a raise to 4D is correct, but of course I'm biased by the result. Note that if partner can bid 4H on three-card support you are very happy.

If I were playing with a more scientific partner, my first bid would be 3S, showing a running suit and around 8 tricks but lacking a spade stopper. With Sherry's hand the response would be 5C, asking partner to bid game in the long suit.

We were a little soft at our table but our teammates came through. They found a game that was missed at our table, and they bid and made 3N on a hand that we passed out! We led by 28-14, reduced to 7 and a fraction by handicap.

The second half was nervous. It started out well: I played a 2S contract well, and Sherry and I defended very well to beat 1N. This hand was remarkable because we took the last five tricks, and four of the winners were tens! But on the fourth board, Sherry had nine spades to the AKJT. She was favorable and bid 4S after 1H - P - 2C, then 5S when the auction continued 5C - P - 5H! This was doubled; I had the ace of clubs and she went -100. 5H goes down; I had ATx of clubs and was going to lead ace and a club. In spite of this I think Sherry's bid is undoubtably correct; you don't risk -650 when you know you have -100 or -300 available.

We had a good result when the opponents got pushed too high, but then we failed to compete on a partscore hand. We missed a good 6N as well. So when our teammates came back to compare I hoped they had a good card. On the nine-spade hand we lost 12; it went 1H - P - 1N forcing - 4S, and Brian sawed it off as he had no reason to believe there was a fit. But the missed slam was a good result; the opponents went down in their 5-2 diamond fit. This was win 13 (instead of lose 13 against 6N); and we won the second half 31-20.

After a nice dinner at a Cal-Mex restaurant in Willow Glen, we returned for the final. Because it was just two teams playing we were on our own time, so we agreed to return at 6:30.

Our opponents were more middle-aged ladies, this time from Monterey bay. We gave out a 9.06 handicap.

The first board of the match was Problem 2, the reopening decision. Sherry held this hand and bid 2C. I held a 5341 6-count and decided to pass before it got worse. Sherry went for -300 against a partscore.

To bid here is a bad idea for the following reasons:

  • There is no big plus coming to you if you bid. If you are making a game, partner would have bid.
  • Partner appears to have heart shortness, yet could not make a takeout double -- therefore a poor hand is likely.
  • You are 5332, which is a bad shape.
  • Your suit is bad.
  • You have Qxx in the enemy's long suit. This is a death holding.

By the way, I made the mistake a few years ago playing in the San Francisco rubber bridge club. This lesson cost me $20!

A few boards later was Problem 3. The player on our team who held this hand signed off in 3C. Partner had a maximum with Axx of clubs and 3N was making. Bidding 2N with this hand is pushy, but you do have a long suit with a side entry. (Also, partner can still have four spades.) Pushiness is good here because it can lead to a game bonus.

On our card we had this soft result and a misplayed vulnerable game. Our teammates had a bad result when Brian played 4H after an overcall on his left. He had AQ of spades in hand, and decided to drop the singleton king because otherwise LHO would have a seven count. Guess what: The bad player had made a bad bid. After 12 boards we were 20 imps in the hole; add in the handicap and we needed to pick up 30 imps to win!

It's important to be careful when you are down a lot. Against a non-expert team, you can pick up a lot of imps on reasonably hard boards. But if the boards are flat -- as they were in the second half of the morning match -- you have a problem. You can try to "swing" -- take risky or low-percentage actions -- to catch up. But you don't want to undo your teammates' good work.

Another concern is that you have to maintain focus. It's easy to blame yourself for mistakes, or to get so mad at what your teammates did. You can't let it affect your play. You have to be mentally tough to win at bridge. As Warren Zevon says

Some have the speed
And the right combinations
If you can't take the punches
It don't mean a thing

The second half started off with a bang: I held SKT9xxx HA DKxxx CAx. First seat, all white, I opened 1S. LHO bid 2S, showing five hearts and a five-card minor. RHO bid 3H. I decided I wasn't desperate enough to bid again and passed. LHO raised to game.

What would you lead? I considered a diamond as LHO's side suit appeared to be clubs. But I led the spade ten and was rewarded when dummy appeared:

SQx HKT8xxx D- CKQJT9.

Sherry won the ace and returned a low spade to my king. A third spade seemed appropriate, for the trump promotion if partner has say J9x. But I decided to cash my club first. What if Sherry had started with AJx of spades, RHO had a stiff club and pitched it on the spade? No problem, cash the club ace first. RHO ruffed and it was puking time. RHO then put the heart queen on the table. I won with the ace, led a spade, and Sherry did indeed have the jack of trumps. Down one.

Declarer had Q9x of trumps in hand and could have made: Low heart, ruff the spade with the king, heart to her nine. Of course she has no reason to guess the position.

Then we beat a 2S contract that could have been made. Boards 3 and 4 were not so good; we missed a slam on board 3 and failed to find a very tough defense to 3N (we would have had to hand lock declarer). But I didn't expect to lose any imps on these boards. On board 5 I held SJTx HAQx Dx CAQxxxx. I opened 1C and Sherry responded 1S. This sort of hand is a problem; it's worth more than a single raise but a double raise on three trumps is a no-no. I raised to 2S, which I now think is an error. Down 30 I should reverse to 2H, or just bid 3S and hope it works out.

After two passes RHO reopened with a double. Now I decided that my hand, with the AQ's over the bidder, was even better, so I bid 3C and when Sherry bid 3S, raised to game. Sherry played it carefully and we were +650.

The good results kept coming. We won the part-score battle, making 3C when their 2S was makable. Then LHO was dealt eight clubs to the AQJT; she opened 1C, Sherry jumped to 2S, RHO bid 2N. LHO raised to 3N only and was cold for seven clubs or notrump.

My favorite hand was Problem 4, the 4-3 heart fit. Repeated for your convenience:






Your hand:





LHO led a club. I won the ace, pitching a diamond, and led a spade off dummy.
RHO rose ace and played the club king. I considered ducking this and the next club
for diamond shakes. But that would mean two club losers to go with my spade and diamond loser; I would have to find RHO with Kxx of hearts.

Instead I ruffed the club. Then I cashed the two high spades. They stood up, and I knew the whole hand. RHO was 3154 and LHO was 3505. So the king of hearts was probably offside, but I had a 100% line at this point for four more tricks (assuming LHO really did have the king): I would lead a spade from hand and ruff it with the queen. Then ruff a club and exit a diamond. At some point LHO will have to ruff her partner's trick and lead a heart into the AJ.

When I led a spade LHO ruffed with the king. This was just as good; I still ruffed a club in my hand and got to score my three heart honors separately.

We were very slow to finish; it had been a long day and everyone was tired. Our opponents were slow to get out of their chairs and head for their home table; my heart was hammering and I wanted them out of there. Our teammates sat down. My friend Wayne, who had been playing in the pair event, wandered over. Brian and Michael had a solid card and we outscored the opponents 49-7 to win the event going away. It was Sherry's first knockout win, and increased her masterpoint total by one-third. It was a long, exhausting, and satisfying day.



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