Staying Alive

You could say of my American partner that he is “a woman’s man” in that he usually has a female partner even if he occasionally makes inappropriate remarks.  An excellent player I guess I am honoured that he partners me off and on the 10 years we’ve been playing online bridge. I have never met him face to face but witnessing his chat messages makes me suspect he is the sort that ladies might say “was not safe in taxis”.

Partnering him last week I picked up this hand with these nice red suits:

I thought of the tip “6-5 = Stay Alive”, i.e. keep on bidding! With a major and minor suit I was pleased it was my 6 card suit that was the major so I could bid it first to make things clear to partner. The other way round 5-6, when I would bid the longer minor suit first, partner might not believe I had a 5 card major too.

The auction went as follows:

We play Blackwood 1430 so North showed 1 Ace with the 5♣ bid. My hand had 4 losers and partner’s 2 level response promised 10+ points so a slam looked like a good bet.  West lead the ♠9 and I saw this was what I had to work with to make 12 tricks:

First thoughts

  1. I am definitely going to lose a club
  2. I have problems with both the K and the K
  3. Entries to table might be an issue – especially after that evil spade lead that had eliminated one immediately.

My plan, such it was, went as follows:

  • Knock out the ♣A and throw two diamond losers on the Q and J hoping the opponents have 3-3
  • Run the J hoping that the K is with East and I catch the 10 along the way
  • Hope the K doesn’t win somehow, somewhere

It sort of worked:

  • I won the lead with the ♠A and played the ♣K from the table
  • West won with the ♣A and continued with a spade which I ruffed
  • I played the A and another diamond which I ruffed on the table
  • Then I played the ♣Q on which East played the  ♣10. This was not a good sign that the ♣J would win but I decided to continue with it anyway.
  • East was indeed out and ruffed the ♣J with the 8.With no choice, I over-ruffed with the Q.

My plans to finesse the K did not look too good now the Q was gone. This was the hand at this stage:

 

Thinking “it’s alright, it’s okay I’ll live to see another day” I lead the 10 and ruffed with the 9 on the table. Wonder of wonders the K fell from West, making my Q high.

Hoping I’d be “stayin’ alive” I then lead the J from the table. So pleased to see it win the trick and nicely collect the 10 from West as well.

From then on it was easy to ruff a club in hand, play the A to pick up Easts bare K and claim the last 3 tricks with the last two trumps and the Q.

The full hand was:

Partner, who never gives praise, was moved to say “nice play”. And to a man as well. And amused when I confessed I did it with a two beer handicap. (Well it was Friday evening.) But he did not understand when I mentioned drinking a non-alcoholic beer as well “Why??? That’s like kissing your sister”. Oh dear.

I wondered but saw later it would have done East no good to cover the J. Then his remaining trump the 6 would have been smaller than my 7. And if earlier he ruffs with 6 instead of the 8 then I can safely over-ruff with the 7 and keep the Q.

 

References

  1. “Stayin’ Alive” is a dance song written and performed by the Bee Gees for the film Saturday Night Fever. It was released on 13 December 1977.

 

A Christmas Story

When the opponents make a mistake that gives you an extra trick, some describe it as a ‚present‘. Accordingly, a really big mistake would be like Christmas. This one, like the best presents, was a total surprise to declarer, although he and his partner did work hard in the bidding to deserve it. It is a true story.

Playing in a pairs tournament, North picked up this hand:

South was the dealer. He opened 1. West then doubled for takeout showing 11+ high card points and at least 3 cards in the other suits.

With a fit in hearts, 13 high card points, a singleton and only 6 losers, North knew he and partner definitely had enough to make 4. However, he decided not to rush there just yet.

Instead he made a splinter bid of 4♣. Although this bid took up bidding space, it nicely showed a singleton or void in clubs, confirmed the game, and allowed exploration for a slam should South have a strong hand. But slam seemed unlikely given West’s takeout double.

After East passed, what happened next was a shock to North. South bid 5♣!

West passed and North thought „well partner is definitely impressed with his clubs, that’s bad“.

Could 5♣ be some sort of Italian cue-bid showing first or second round control? If so then he could see they had controls in all the suits. But it was too late now for Blackwood to check for aces.

He could see his choice was to bid either 5 or 6. If partner had the AQ, A and ♣A, then even 7 would be on. More realistically partner only needed to have two aces for 6 so North opted for that. Which West then doubled confidently.

So, at the end of the auction, the bidding had gone as follows:

North felt a little sick when he saw West lead the A.

West was happy though, well wouldn’t you if you held three Aces in your hand and the opponents bid a slam? West expected to score 500 by getting declarer 2 down vulnerable doubled and to move onto the next table wondering just why opponents thought they could bid this stuff and get away unpunished.

He only had to decide which ace to lead for the second trick. Should it be the A or the ♣A? Being understandably confused by North-South’s club bids he opted for the unbid suit and lead the A.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a real Christmas present for South because he had no diamonds at all. After ruffing the A he then drew trumps and threw away all the losing clubs and the losing spade in his hand on the long and established diamond suit in dummy.

The full hand was:

Wham! North reflected that South had wholly „given his heart“ with those bids. Maybe his hand shape should be known from now on as a „George Michael“. Interesting also to see that South’s hand had only 12 high card points of which half, the club honours, were actually not used and thrown away.

West wished he had lead the ♣A instead for the second trick to get the contract down. It seemed so unfair, when he actually had more points than declarer!

South maybe unaware of his luck commented to North, „“I was willing to redouble basing on our strengths in clubs and hearts, but was not sure if you have the ♠A, which you had.“

Acknowledgements

  1. Thanks to Vsevolod Mironov who was sitting North when this hand was played and kindly shared his experience for a wider audience.
  2. „Last Christmas“ is a song by UK band Wham! with the line „..you gave me your heart“. Written by band member George Michael it was released on 3 December 1984. Although tipped to be a Christmas number 1, it lost the top spot that year to the Band Aid song „Do They Know It’s Christmas?“ that raised money for victims of the Ethiopian famine. Wham! generously donated all royalties from Last Christmas to the same charity.

 

 

Spot the Difference

Spot cards in bridge are those from the 9 down to the 2. They are rarely given as much attention as the other ones, the honour cards AKQJ10. That’s because these low cards are unlikely to be important in winning a trick. And anyway in some cases the value is irrelevant: if you’ve played three rounds of a suit and all have followed then the last one is going to be high (i.e. the top one) no matter what value it is.

But sometimes you might get an awkward question from partner “Did you watch your spot cards?” which will invariably mean that you didn’t but that you should have. See if you can spot the winning play in this hand:

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, North South landed in a 2 contract with 24 high card points in total.

The lead of the 8 through the King on the table was not good news for declarer. So he could expect no presents from the opponents today then! He ducked hoping that East did not have the Queen. Because if East was forced to play the Ace it would make his K high and set him up to finesse the 10 on the table later. All dreams though, bad luck, the East did have the Q and won the first trick with it:

East then returned the 9. Declarer played the 10 hoping now that West didn’t have the Jack. No luck again, as the Jack was played. Declarer decided to take charge of this game and won trick 2 with the Ace:

 

With only 7 spades in total he was a bit nervous about pulling trumps at this point. So, with idea of leading to the ♣Q on the table later hoping King was with West, he played the ♣2 to win with the Ace in hand first for trick 3:

 

Continuing as planned he lead a club and had his first piece of good luck when he saw West play the King to win trick 4:

Good news: the Queen on the table was now high. Bad news:  how was he to get over there to enjoy it? With the A most likely with East the K on the table didn’t look like a good entry. And with the A gone there was no other obvious entry to table left. In fact declarer never did get back to table….

West continued by playing the 5. Declarer ducked again and the Ace appeared from East as expected who won trick 5. And lead the 8

.

The K and 10 on the table were high now but, like the ♣Q could not be reached. This was getting annoying. The opponents took a diamond trick for trick 6:

West then lead another diamond for East to ruff and win trick 7. Declarer held two spot cards in his hand the 4 and 2 and, not caring much which he played, automatically played the lowest:

The opponents then played a trump, and declarer, noting that the opponents had ruffed once decided to hope that the Q would drop when he eventually played trumps. So he went up with the Ace instead of finessing the Jack to win trick 8:

These were the hands now, from declarer’s perspective. Four trumps were still held by the opponents, including the Queen and the 9. What was he to do next?

Declarer changed his plan – almost always a BAD idea. Being worried about losing a trick with his 4 he decided to ruff it on the table. When West played the 3 ever-hopeful declarer imagined East would be forced to over-ruff with the Queen! If he had thought a bit more he would have concluded that this was wishful thinking. Indeed his ♠4 was overruffed by East’s spot card the ♠8 for trick 9:

Down one so far for declarer. East then lead the 2. Declarer suspected a ruff from West so decided to ruff high-ish with the Jack. Oops, not necessary, a false alarm but anyway he won trick 10 :

Back to the original plan and in fact there was nothing else to do now for trick 11 but to play the ♠K and hope to take the Queen. Bingo! It worked:

The Queen was offside with West too so declarer was pleased he hadn’t try to finesse his Jack earlier and lose.  Finally things were going his way. His last two trumps were the only ones left in the game so he claimed tricks 12 and 13 with the ♠10 and the ♠3. That was 7 tricks in total, so the contract was down one.

Well, did you spot it?

YES – at trick 8, declarer’s spot card the 4 was actually high because the only other one out was the  3.  Declarer could have made the contract by drawing trumps then and winning with the 4.

The full hand again:

Spot the Ball is a newspaper competition where you have to guess where the ball has been erased from a photograph of a football match. In this game declarer took his eye off the ball for one moment and it cost him the game, but that’s bridge for you.

Get lucky

West needed to do all he could to get lucky the night he had this hand though there was no sign of that during the bidding.

Picking up this balanced 15 point hand:

he, playing 15-17, naturally opened 1NT.

East bid Stayman and, after West denied a 4 card major, went on to bid 3NT. North lead the 3 and this is what West saw on the table:

With a combined 26 points, and 7 tricks off the top, making 3NT should be a piece of cake.

But… there are no long suits to develop, and only one finesse opportunity – to catch the ♠Q. If that worked then he should make all spade tricks but if not then it looked like he’d have to hope for a 3-3 break in one of the minors, and there was not a good chance of that happening.

Also North had lead hearts the suit where declarer had the most weakness. As one of the philosophers Nile Rodgers, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Pharrell Williams, or Thomas Bangalter observed “All ends with the beginnings”.

Following the Rule of 7 – the number of times you should duck a suit in NT is the number of cards you have in that suit (here 5) deducted from 7, so he ducked 2 times, to the King and Jack and was anyway forced to win the third heart trick with the Ace.

First difficult decision: what to discard from table on the third heart? Not a spade since he hoped to make 4 tricks in that suit. So a diamond or club then. But which? – the suits were very similar, both 7 cards total, split 3-4 and headed by AK. What would you pick? As Clint Eastwood said “you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‚Do I feel lucky?‘ Well, do you, punk?”

In the end, maybe for the not very good reason than hoping the 9 he saw in clubs might have its legendary magic properties he discarded the 4.

OK, time to try the spades. To be on the safe side he first lead to the Ace on the table – just in case a singleton Queen was with an opponent – it would be so annoying to have that win. Then back to hand winning with the ♣A with twin objectives of being in the right place to finesse the ♠J and also to develop an eventual winner in clubs hopefully.

Time to get lucky, he lead a low spade and played the Jack on the table. It lost to the Queen. So not so lucky after all.

At this point in the game, South was on lead with these cards:

A spade did not look like a good idea and he had no hearts thanks to declarer’s double duck. Perhaps put off by the sight of the K on the table he chose to lead the ♣8, though the Jack at the top-of-a-sequence in diamonds was surely screaming for his attention.

Well part of being lucky is having an opponent make a mistake for you. West went up with the ♣K and was interested to see North dropping the Jack. That could be good news he thought, maybe North is out of clubs now and can’t be reached to cash his 2 heart winners. Or South can be end-played. Or something.

Moving on, he cashed his 2 spade tricks on the table, dropping a club from hand. Then he played a club and prayed…

He had got lucky that night after all, both the Queen and the 10 fell, as they split 3-3 – a 36% chance.

South holding just diamonds now had no option but to lead one. South won that in hand with the Ace, crossed to table with the K and won the last trick in style with ♣9. Well that was good fun.

The full hand was:

 

References

  1. BANGALTER Thomas, DEHOMEM-CHRISTO Guy-Manuel, RODGERS Nile, WILLIAMS Pharrell, “Get Lucky”, 2013. An award-winning disco song by French duo Daft Punk that was released on 19 April 2013.
  2. Dirty Harry, film released 23 December 1971, directed by Don Siegel featuring Clint Eastwood.
  3. “Love Potion No. 9”, http://bridgeclub-quodlibet.ch/?p=393632

 

Freak Out

“Le Freak” would have been a good soundtrack for this hand. To begin with it was hard to tell whether it was the players or the cards that were the cause of the freak out.  It happened when I was playing online bridge in BBO and picked up this pathetic hand:

 East
♠ 8 6 2
J 9 8 6 3
♣ 10 8
8 5 4

I was dealer and naturally passed as did my left hand opponent. Partner opened 1 which was nice but I wasn’t expecting much to happen beyond a part-score either way.  However, the bidding fireworks started when my right hand opponent made this somewhat unusual overcall:

North:  6♣

I thought either he must have 11 clubs and an Ace in a side suit, or he was insane. The latter option seemed much more likely based on my long experience of erratically minded bridge players, some of which I am proud to call my friends. So I passed waiting for partner to double for penalty, punishment and a pleasing score for us.

Left hand opponent also passed, probably as shocked as partner and I. But there were more surprises to come. My partner then bid again:

West:  6

A slam in a new suit. That’s brave, I thought. Had I encouraged partner with my Pass? Hope she doesn’t mind that I only have a Jack.  At least it was easy to know what to do when it was my turn to bid next: correct to 6 and be glad I don’t have to play it. But I never got to make that bid for now came the freakiest bid of the auction. My right hand opponent also bid again:

North:  7♣

Sure now that North had freaked out I didn’t even think of bidding 7 despite the strong signals I had got from partner’s bidding. Surely 7♣ must be a sacrifice otherwise why not bid it the first time. I decided to pass and let partner double this. My left hand opponent also passed – and so did my partner surprisingly.

Well a double would have been worse than a Pass because in fact 7♣ made.

The full hand was

 

  North
♠ A Q 5


♣ A K Q 9 7 6 5 4 3 2
 
West
♠ 3
K Q 10 5 2
A K Q 7 3 2
♣ J
  East
♠ 8 6 2
J 9 8 6 3
8 5 4
♣ 10 8
  South
♠ K J 10 9 7 4
A 7 4
J 10 9 6
 

 

Interesting. North with only one loser and 11 tricks off the top saw that 6♣ was a good bet. Though it could be that he gets frustrated by winners in hearts or diamonds in his partner’s hand that he is not able to reach.

West, my partner has 3 losers and must have thought that North’s 6♣ would make so gives me the option of sacrificing in the red suit of my choosing. This could have caused North to think we had a small slam so in he goes at the 7 level to sacrifice on his side.

South has no trumps at all but has the only card that declarer needs to make the grand slam – the ♠K. How chic.

References

  1. „Le Freak“ by the band Chic, released 21st Sept 1978

 

 

The First Cut Is The Deepest

The First Bridge Game Ever Published – Probably

What was the first full bridge game ever to appear in print? Probably this one in “Bridge Abridged, or Practical Bridge” by W. Dalton which was published in 1901 (ref 1).

It is written from declarer’s perspective so initially we only see the hands of declarer “A” and dummy ”B” :

Then, after describing the play card by card in an attractive pictorial style…

…there follows the analysis (politely termed “REMARKS”) and finally the full hands of the defenders “X” and “Y” are given:

 

First impressions: clearly bridge hand notation has improved a bit in the last 118 years! The naming of the pairs as “A and B” versus “X and Y” was carried over from books on Whist, the grandfather game that predated Contract Bridge by half a millennium. Although it does make it clear who is partnering whom – as realistically no one would expect A to be partnering Z, except for those with  perverted minds (such as those who actually like playing Precision), the disadvantage is that it misses the sequence of play – is A before Y? Is Z after B?  Are there any other players involved named C to X? Compare with the genius adoption of the cardinal points North‑South versus East-West that we have now where, for example, it is clear that there are exactly four players and East plays after North. Even if sometimes leads to irrelevant arguments about the alignment of the seats with the true North of the bridge room.

Second, the full description of the cards that seems a bit unnecessary now, such as “Queen” instead of “Q”, and the confusing abbreviations when space runs out on the page like “Knv” for “Knave” which was the term then for Jack, now J. And do we really need all those dots and commas to link a suit to its oh-so-carefully separated cards? I don’t think so.

Back then bridge was a new game. Many features were new to Whist players and must have made it an interesting alternative. These were having a dummy (hence the reminder in the book that B’s hand is Exposed) , playing with “no trumps”, doubles, redoubles, a score that depended on the trump suit or no trumps, plus extra points for slams and chicanes.

The chicane score was for making 7 or more tricks despite having the a void in trumps in a hand, a challenge that bridge players face even today through catastrophic bidding misunderstandings although they no longer get a bonus for it.

Bridge was first seen merely as a variant of Whist and around that time there were books published that actually called it Bridge Whist (refs 3, 4).  Despite the attractions of bridge, Whist did not die immediately and books continued to be published even 5 years later when bridge was dominating the scene (ref 5).

However bridge then was quite a different game to what is played today. There was no bidding, instead the dealer was always declarer and would either choose trumps or pass the decision to his partner. Doubling and redoubling could go on and on (initially indefinitely until a rule was introduced to limit it to 100 points per trick over 6 (six tricks were known as the Book) thus preventing players being bankrupted.

Scoring was different too with spades being the lowest scoring suit at 2 points per trick over book, clubs with 4 points, diamonds with 6 points and hearts with 8 points. No Trumps was still the highest scoring and by a large margin of 12 points per trick. To make a game 30 points were required. However it didn’t matter if declarer or defenders made the tricks, the scoring was the same on either side. So as is the case today making 4 hearts or 3 No Trumps was enough for game, also two games made a rubber which scored extra points.

For the fascinating story how bridge evolved, read the excellent book The Golden Age of Contract Bridge by David Daniels (ref 2). It is out of print now but easily available second‑hand from Internet sites such as AbeBooks.com.

Anyway, in current notation the hand is as follows, with South as declarer in No Trumps at any level and any vulnerability as both concepts hadn’t been invented yet. The lead was the ♥4.

North (B)
♠ J 9 8 3
10
♣ A 10 8 4
K 8 5 2 
West (Y)
♠ Q 5 4
Q J 9 7 6 4
♣ 5 3
7 6
East (Z)
♠ 10 7 6 2
A 8 5
♣ K 7 2
Q 10 3
South (A)
♠ A K
K 3 2
♣ Q J 9 6
A J 9 4

 

Nowadays, with 25 combined high card points and no 8 card major, the likely contract would be 3NT by South. Although North might have been worried about his singleton heart and South must have been alarmed too when he saw dummy.

The lead of the ♥4 from QJ9764 seems a curious choice, being neither fourth highest (which was known at the time) nor the Q from QJ9. The latter would have been my choice hoping that the 9 becomes good for example if partner leads a heart back through declarer’s 10 if he has it. However an earlier chapter of the book about “The First Lead” states that with a suit headed by QJ you should lead a small card, so this rule was being followed one assumes. It is unfortunate that it gave declarer a sure trick in hearts with the King since dummy’s singleton 10 then forced out the Ace from East.

Declarer held up the ♥K until the third round and then tried to finesse the K♣ which failed. East returned a spade which declarer won. Declarer then gave East a diamond in order to win the rest of the suit and make 9 tricks.

The point of the hand is that if declarer had won the second trick with the ♥K then when East won with the ♣K later he would still have a heart to lead back to West and they would take four tricks in hearts. An interesting point discussed in the Remarks section relates to the diamond suit, how West should not discard one at trick 8 so as to prevent a marked finesse of the Q in the East hand, and another point highlights how declarer ensures he wins the game by giving East a trick in that suit.

All in all a good hand to read about. There are 11 such hands described in the book entitled:

  • GAME I Holding up the command of your opponent’s suit
  • GAME II Illustrating the evil of the penultimate lead
  • GAME III Inference drawn from first lead
  • GAME IV Calling for a suit
  • GAME V A pretty coup which came off
  • GAME VI Doubling up to the maximum
  • GAME VII A rather light “no trump”
  • GAME VIII The only possibility of saving the game
  • GAME IX Taking the only chance of winning the game
  • GAME X Utilising a card of entry
  • GAME XI Illustrating the advantage of not opening a guarded suit up to a heart declaration

The book was rendered obsolete when Auction Bridge took over shortly before the first World War introducing the concept of bidding. However, at least for me it is a charming read all the more so for being new, after all “The First Cut is the Deepest” as Rod Stewart once sang (ref 6).

References

  1. DALTON, W. Bridge Abridged, 1901
  2. DANIELS, David. The Golden Age of Contract Bridge, 1980
  3. MELROSE, C. J. Bridge Whist Its Whys and Wherefores, 1901
  4. LEIGH, Lennard. Bridge Whist, 1902
  5. SHELBY, Annie Blanche. Standard Whist, 1906
  6. STEVENS Cat, “The First Cut is the Deepest”, 1967

 

 

 

5 Unusual Bridge Tips

Most bridge tips you see are about rules (1 to 40), the choice of bids and rebids, opening leads, or the nuances of declarer and defender play. But the ones given here are a little different and a lot simpler. One of them you can even do when you are dummy!

Here they are in no particular order:

 

1. Give the opponents a chance to misunderstand each other

Back in the late ‘90s an earnest young bridge player playing a tournament asked the opponents to explain each time they alerted their bids on their long complicated way to slam. They told him every detail truthfully: game-forcing bids, suit controls, numbers of aces, the location of the queen of trumps and more.

Actually they were delighted to give this information and for good reason. As my annoyed partner pointed out to me after the opps made their slam (yes dear reader, that naive player was me), my requests for information had allowed them to tell each other all about their hands, without the possibility of a bidding misunderstanding messing up their conversation to our benefit.

So the lesson I learnt was: “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”. Instead, ask for explanations of the alerted bids only when the bidding is over. (Think of it as the Three Pass Rule or Susten-Furka-Grimsel)

But do ask during the bidding if you really need to confirm some key information, for example if you are thinking of competing in a suit that they might be bidding conventionally.

 

2. Slow down partner, you move too fast

Ever noticed your partner as declarer failing to count trumps? Or playing the first card from the table too fast? (a popular way to make many contracts fail). What can you do about it? Reprogramming partner’s brain is not allowed in most countries, however you could try this stunt suggested by Howard Schenken:

a) When your opponent makes the opening lead you can give your partner time (and maybe even the motivation also) to count  trumps by putting them down one at a time. Slowly.

b) Take note of the card that the opponent lead and put the cards in that suit on the table last. Partner has to wait until at least then before playing the first card.

By the way if you notice your partner doing this to YOU then you might want to think about counting better and thinking longer in order to up your game.

 

3. Hide your shortness

Declarers would love to know how the suits will break. When you are a defender you can accidentally help them by revealing you have a singleton or perhaps a doubleton when you play a card from the extreme left or right of your hand.

To get around this, hide your short suits by putting them in the middle of your hand where the picture is much fuzzier. Might be a good idea to do this with your trumps too since that’s usually the most important suit for declarer.

It is of course not ethical to play a card very quickly when there is a choice of cards to play, nor slowly when you only have one in the suit. Don’t do it. Against even semi-competent opponents it will not be believed and probably the only person at the table you will fool will be your poor partner who, as usual, has enough problems of his own already.

 

4. Cover your tracks

After the game is over, don’t forget to shuffle your cards before you put them back in the tray (traveller). That way the next person to play your hand won’t get a clue what triumph (or disaster) happened when you played it.

For example picking up a hand that is already sorted into suits would give a strong indication that the deal was Passed Out previously.

 

5. Rouge ou Noir?

When you have a choice of equal suits to discard it doesn’t matter if one is black and one is red does it? Wrong. As long as humans continue to play bridge and not computers only then there is the potential for stupid mistakes, especially by a tired player.

Klinger suggests that if you discard a card of the same colour it may look like you have followed suit to declarer. He might then find your partner taking a trick later with a trump that he thought he had drawn.

On the other hand if you are in a situation where want to make sure partner notices you are out, then send a strong signal by discarding with the other colour: red on black or black on red.

Often it will make no difference, but as they say sometimes “desperate times call for desperate measures”.

 

References
1. Howard Schenken, 1973. The Education of a Bridge Player p46
2. Ron Klinger, 1995. 100 Winning Bridge Tips, Tip 100, 6th Edition p128

Love Potion No. 9

Players often don’t pay much attention to the 9 card. It’s not an honour card being even lower in the hierarchy than the 10. In defence it may be discarded for signalling purposes, either as a high card in standard signalling or as an odd card if you do it the Italian way.

Which is a pity because sometimes the 9 can be used to win tricks quite surprisingly. For example, imagine you are sitting South as declarer with the challenging task to make 3 tricks out of this weak suit:

Q 8 6 4
West East
A 9 5 2

Try playing a low card towards dummy’s .. 8! East is likely to win with 10 or the Jack. Later you enter dummy and run the Queen playing for East to hold the King. If West started with Jx or 10x then that honour will fall as well (also known as being “pinned” or even more graphically “smothered”).

The full hand might be something like this:

Q 8 6 4
10 3 K J 7
A 9 5 2

 

This technique was explained by the great Brazilian player Gabriel Chagas who termed it termed the “Intra-Finesse”.

The above example was when declarer and dummy had 8 cards in a suit. However the 9 card can also work wonders when they have just 7 cards, as in this hand

A 8 2
J 3 Q 10 7 5
K 9 6 4

Again the best line is to lead low to the 8 and let East to win with the 10. Later playing the Ace will smother West’s Jack. Finally the lead to the 9 will finesse East’s King and collect 3 tricks.

This Intra-Finesse with the 9 appeared in the Swedish Team Championships earlier this month where the contract was 6NT and this suit had to be played for one loser:

A 9 8 x x
K 10 x J x
Q x x

The books say that the best chance is to lead low towards the Queen and later play low to the Ace hoping for Kx or Kxx to be in front of it. Actually that won’t work with this hand. Instead the winning line is to play for Jx or 10x to be front of the Queen and to run the 8 or 9 to the 10. Then later to play the Queen finessing against the King and smothering the Jack/Ten at the same time.

Only one declarer, a multiple European Champion, went against the odds to play the intra-finesse (maybe due to table feel?) and made his slam.

Alert readers will have observed by now that power of the 9 depends on having the 8 as well. A way to help one to remember the potential of this might be: “Nine and Eight, Investigate

By the way it is not only declarers but defenders as well who can also make good use of the 9 card. For example there is the Surround Play you can do should you find yourself defending with this layout:

Partner

 

 
Declarer Dummy

10 x x

  You

K J 9

 

Here you should lead the Jack hoping partner has the Ace. If so, then this is what will happen:

Either the Jack wins then the Ace and the King win the next two tricks.

Or the Jack is covered by the Queen and partner takes it with the Ace. Then his return of the suit ensures that your King and 9 will win since the 10 in dummy is surrounded by your hand.

So, given the power of the 9 described above, next time you find you need a little magic at the table to make your contract or to bring a declarer down, consider taking some Love Potion No 9.

References and Acknowledgements

  1. Love Finesses, Bols Bridge Tip by Gabriel Chagas (BRZ) Part 1
    http://csbnews.org/i-love-finesses-by-gabriel-chaga-part-1/?lang=en
  2. Roland Wald, Danish grand master, commentator on Bridge Base Online Vu graph games, and Bridge teacher
  3. „Love Potion No 9“, song by Leiber and Stoller written I 1959, and performed by The Clovers, The Searchers, the Tygers of Pan Tang and others.

Liar, Liar!

Liar Liar
„Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!“ The other day, I lied to partner not once but twice in one game. It caused me some anxious moments I can tell you. This was the hand I picked up as dealer:

One’s first priority is of course to open 1NT, and at first sight this hand with 15 high card points and an acceptably even distribution looked good for that.

However, ever the pessimist, before I went ahead I had another look at my cards. My doubleton Spade Queen Jack was not good news. In the worst case they could be obliterated by the opponents Ace and King.

I did have a five card suit in Clubs as a source to develop tricks, true, but it was missing the top honours and could be hard to set up after an expected battering in Spades.

Also five of my seven high cards were Queens and Jacks which are known to be over‑valued in the points system (and so termed derisively as “Quacks” by some players).

That’s why, against my rule-abiding nature, I decided to open with 1 Club.

1. First Offence: Not opening 1NT
I accepted that that this opening may lead to me underbidding my hand, but thought “Partner knows I am a cautious type and will compensate”. Then thought “Wait a minute, I am playing funbridge on the Internet, and partner is a Robot”.
As usual partner responded with a bid I didn’t want to hear : 1 Heart.
Now what? I still didn’t want to bid 1NT, didn’t have a 4 card second suit to bid, and didn’t want to rebid my feeble Clubs either.
So I bid 2 Hearts as the least worst option.

2. Second Offence: Supporting with less than 4 cards
Thinking, OK I only have three but they do include the Ace and the Ten, so hopefully partner won’t mind. Actually also hoping partner will Pass and bring an end to this series of lies.

In football I would have been shown the red card and be walking off for an early shower by now. However this is Bridge and you have to stay to share the pain.

Partner continued mercilessly with 2NT showing a game going hand with slam interest.

Thinking I must have got the Robot overheated I decided it was time to calm it down and end the bidding by signing off in 4H.
But the Robot was only playing with me and went to 4NT. Playing Roman Key Card Blackwood my two aces obliged me to reply 5 Hearts with the faint hope that we would stop there but no, partner went on bid 6H triumphantly. Was is it with Robots these days that they behave so rowdily?

To recap the bidding went as follows (my interpretations):

1. Oh Dear
2. Oh No
3. Oh God

If I had a human partner then when I put my hand on the table I would have had some explaining to do about my short Hearts. The good news was that it was funbridge so I didn’t have make excuses. The bad news was that it was funbridge so the hands were rotated and I had to play the mess myself.

The Ace of Clubs was lead by East and I could see that I was playing this 16 point hand as declarer:

One blessing I thought after that lead, now my King of Clubs will stand up. Another blessing followed when East followed with another club on which West inexplicably played the Queen to the bare King.

This defensive error set up my clubs with a discard on which to dump my losing Spade (although as it happens the King of Spades was onside so I could have run the Queen through it, if my nerves had been strong enough).

Slam was made somewhat fortunately with combined 31 high card points and 7 trumps, thanks to us having all the trump honours and a break no worse than 4-2.
The full hands were:

As this was a funbridge challenge I could see what my challenger did. She opened 1NT and, after Stayman, her Robot partner drove her to a 6NT slam which went down 1 on a Heart lead from West. A gain of 17 IMPs to me. Truly fortune favours the wicked.

 

Talking Italian

It’s always useful to know another language. If partner and I could have been “talking Italian” with our hands in a recent tournament at Quodlibet then, although Robert De Niro might not have been waiting for us as well as for Bananarama, we would surely have avoided a big fat zero.

This was the hand, no prizes for guessing which pair bid 6 Spades and went down one:

 

I was dealer sitting East (normally my lucky seat) and bidding between me and partner went as follows with the opponents passing throughout:

1S – 2C – 4S(1) – 4NT(2) – 5C(3) – 6S(4)

  • Nice 15 point hand with only 5 losers, Spades that should be solid, and a lovely single Ace of Hearts. Partner’s 2 bid shows she has 10+ pts. I hope she has 1 or 2 Spades and game should be there. A bit hasty of me though to go straight to 4 as we will see…
  • Roman key card Blackwood 3041 where the King of trumps is the 5th “ace”
  • 3 key cards (hoping she doesn’t ask about the Queen of Spades as we hadn’t discussed this detail)
  • With 4 of the 5 key cards between us what could possibly go wrong?

The opponents wasted no time getting us down. South made the killing lead of a Diamond, which was really brave of her as it was under her King. A lead in any another suit would have allowed the slam to make as I would happily draw trumps and throw all my losing Diamonds on the Clubs and Hearts.

North played the Ace of Diamonds and I desperately tried to persuade her to switch suits by dropping my Jack. No chance, back came another Diamond to the King and the contract was down one right away.

Now if partner and I had been control-showing cue bids the Italian way (and if I had been a little more patient – always a big ask), then, with the 2/1 system our bidding would have gone as follows:

1S – 2C(1) – 3S(2) – 4C(3) – 4H(4) – 5S(5) – Pass

  • Playing “2 over 1” so game forcing
  • Jump rebid showing a strong hand and setting the game in Spades
  • In this method shows interest in slam with an Italian cue bid promising control in Clubs (i.e. Ace, King or void). These cue bids are made “up the line” i.e lowest controlled suit first, so here Clubs are mentioned before Hearts.
  • Shows my Heart control
  • As cue bids are “up the line” partner now knows Diamonds are not controlled and exits us safely at the 5 level.

So although the classic Losing Trick Count (LTC) evaluates our hands as worth 14 (!) tricks or, alternatively, the New Losing Trick Count evaluates them to be 12 tricks, there is no Diamond control so we must not be tempted to bid slam.

At least we knew enough Italian for our signalling when defending the next hand.

References

  1. „Robert De Niro’s Waiting…“, song by Bananarama released 20 February 1984 with the line “Talking Italian”.
  2. Control Bidding – the “Italian” method https://www.larryco.com/bridge-articles/control-bidding
  3. Losing Trick Count – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Losing-Trick_Count