2010-09-11 11:49 pm

Defensive Fail

3rd, none

KT82 AK 32 K6543
QJ765 J32 54 A87


Opps cash two diamonds and exit a heart. Now what?

I slipped a spade through, cashed the other high heart, CK, C to the ace, ruffed a heart, and threw in the opp who started with SAx and a doubleton club. Making four.

The overcaller held:

Ax xxxx KQxxx Jx

Should he have won the first spade to avoid the endplay? I think so (I did lead a spade off dummy, away from the king...) but it didn't hurt to play for that small an error.

2010-07-14 05:44 pm

Monty Hall - The Last Straw

I'm used to seeing people butcher the Monty Hall problem. In fact, the only person who gets it right (besides me) is Monty Hall. He did a great interview in the New York Times a few years ago. Now a Canadian, bridge playing mathematician is bridge-blogging about it and I just can't stand it any more. So, here is a breakdown of the usual problem statement, the most common answers, and the correct answer.

BTW, this is almost entirely not about bridge. The common analogy of MH to restricted choice works well because, in a bridge setting, all the usual assumptions are met. In short, the usual answer there (finesse when you see an honor, it's about 2-1 in your favor) is correct. If that's all you're interested in, you don't need to read any further.

The Usual Setup

You go on Let's Make a Deal and Monty Hall shows you three doors.  He says there is a goat behind each of the two losing options, and some prize you want (e.g. a car) behind the other door.  He tells you to pick a door.  You pick a door and he opens a different door, revealing a goat.  Then he asks whether you'd prefer to switch to the third door, or stick with your original choice.  What do you do, and why?

The Usual Answers
  • Marilyn Vos Savant, with the world's highest recorded IQ, wrote in her Sunday column that you should switch.  She said you had one chance in three of picking correctly at first, and nothing has changed, since Monty could always show you a goat, regardless of which door you picked originally.  She was wrong.
  • A bunch of mathematicians (professors, PhD's, etc.) wrote in to say various mathy and nasty things (e.g. You haven't learned the math they dole out in eighth grade).  They believe that there are two doors remaining, and each has a different prize, so it's a straight 50-50 chance whether to switch or not.  Needless to say, they were hella wrong.

Monty Hall's Answer
  • He said that if you picked a goat, he could just let you have the goat.  If you picked a car, he could offer to let you swap.  Therefore, you shouldn't swap.  I'm not going to argue with Monty.


People make excuses for why certain answers are right, even after you demonstrate they are completely wrong.  In particular, when you point out a direct contradiction, they claim it's a linguistic issue and you know what they meant.  Fine.  Except if they said something other than what they meant, and what they said was wrong, it's fair game.  The real problem I have with this sort of imprecision is that they say one thing meaning another, then add a third thing that makes perfect, intuitive sense, given what they said, but not given what they "meant".  That leads to fuzzy thinking.  I expect better from the smartest woman in the world.  And I demand better from mathematicians.

Unstated Assumptions

In a way, Marilyn was right, given certain (false) assumptions.  The mathematicians were entirely correct, given different (false) assumptions.  Monty is awesome, obviously.  Let's look at various assumptions people have made, but not stated:

  1. Each person playing the game is always shown the goody behind a door other than the one chosen, and is always offered the opportunity to swap the first door for the third door (Note: I didn't mean the first door for the third door, I meant the prizes behind those doors, but you "knew what I meant".  Isn't that confusing?  I'll try to avoid that from now on...)
  2. Monty knows where the goats are
  3. Monty doesn't want you to win a car
  4. You want to win a car (I have to admit, I like goats, though not in that way...)
  5. You can neither hear nor smell the goats specifically enough to locate them
  6. Monty picks a door, on purpose, that hides a goat (as opposed to using some random mechanism independent of his knowledge and goals)
  7. Monty picks a door via some random mechanism, independent of his knowledge and goals.  In particular, that random mechanism is equally likely to pick either door you hadn't chosen

Marilyn assumed, without stating, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  The mathematicians (note: these are the ones who disagreed with her, not every single mathematician in the world) assumed, without stating, 7.  When pressed, they might admit that they had also assumed 1, 3, 4 and 5, but those were not necessary for their argument.  FWIW, Monty seemed to believe 2 and 3.  The fact that Marilyn made SO MANY more untested assumptions makes me lean towards the mathematicians (or, really, their argument.  I'm doing it again...), but their one assumption is so grossly unreasonable they come off looking extremely foolish.  I don't mind pointing this out, since I don't know any of their names.

The Answer

Should you switch doors?  Of course not!  If you want a car, and don't know what's behind each door, and believe that Monty doesn't want you to have a car, and believe Monty has free will, the bulk of the time he offers a swap its not in your best interest.  If, however, you grant all the assumptions of the mathematicians (or don't grant assumption #4), what you do doesn't matter.  If you grant Marilyn's reasonable (but incorrect) assumptions, you should swap.

  1. Some believe that the problem statement implies you will always be offered the option to swap.  Even when I discuss this, and THEN ask the victim to state the problem in their own words, they never, ever state this assumption (assumption number 1)
  2. When anyone offers to prove you're wrong about, essentially, anything by showing you the results of a computer simulation, you should be extremely wary.  In particular, if a mathematician offers to play a simulation game with you, and tells you to BRING MONEY, what they mean is that they'll write a computer program (or pull tickets out of a box, or flip coins, or whatever) to demonstrate the results of their unstated assumptions.  It's easy to write a simulator, in good faith, that proves your point, as long as you don't question all your assumptions
  3. That's why restricted choice is 2:1, wihtout any further (non-bridge) assumptions.  When you have ATxxxx opposite Kxx, and it goes K-x-x-quack, you always get to decide whether to finesse or play for the drop.  Monty can't make your decision for you
A Girl Named Florida

There's a bridge blog about this type of math puzzle and how it applies to different bridge situations, by the Canadian, bridge playing mathematician I mentioned earlier.  I didn't even make it to the bridge part of the blog.  Here's the relevant part.  BTW, it looks like he found this problem in a probability book (one I haven't read) so I hope this isn't too much like a game of telephone, where my version bears no resemblance to the original formulation.  The blogger writes (with my interruptions):

Suppose that a couple have produced 2 naturally conceived children. What are the chances they are both girls? We assume that at the time of conception a boy is as likely to result as a girl. The event is mathematically equivalent to tossing a coin. First we present a false argument that was common in centuries past which goes as follows. There are 3 equally probable states: 2 boys, 2 girls and a boy and a girl. The chance of producing 2 girls is 1 in 3? That is wrong because the probability of a given outcome of a series of random events is proportional to the number of ways in which that outcome could have been produced. One must take into account the birth orders, of which there are 4: boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-boy, and girl-girl. The chance of producing 2 girls is 1 in 4.

Pascal would have got it right, as would most bridge players who are asked, given that 2 finesses are to be taken, what are the chances both succeed? There are 4 equally likely possible outcomes of the play, for two of which one finesse wins and the other loses. The chance of both finesses succeeding is 1 in 4.

I could pick nits here (boys are more likely to be born than girls, coin tosses are biased and serially correlated, and birth order is irrelevant (it's a proxy for conditional probability)) but the math and conclusion are sound, and the assumptions are even stated!  Oh, the probability of two finesses succeeding is either 24% or 26% (depending on whether you finesse through the same hand both times).

Next we ask if one child is known to be a girl what are the chances the other is also a girl? It would be wrong to argue that given that one is a girl doesn’t affect the odds the other is a boy, so the chances of 2 girls should be 50%. The correct argument is that the birth order of boy-boy has been removed from consideration, so there are 3 possible sequences remaining leaving the chances of 2 girls at 1 in 3. Similarly, if we are assured that at least one finesse wins, the chance of the other also succeeding is 1 in 3.

Call me a nit picker, but this is COMPLETELY false.  Grab the nearest five year old you can, and pose the question.  You have two children.  ONE is a girl.  Then, what must the other one be?  The kid will get it right, two kids, one girl, therefore one boy.  Yes, he meant at least one is a girl, of course, but that's TOTALLY different a paragraph from now.

Next we ask, what are the chances of 2 girls given one of them is named Florida? There are those who would argue that whether the girl was named Florida, or Jane, or Laura should make no difference to the odds that their other child is a boy. Although the name Florida is unusual, there is no causal effect at work. Consider the problem statistically and imagine going through US census data looking for all parents with 2 children one of whom is named Florida. Can we expect to find that the other child is a more likely also to be a girl? It doesn’t make sense that we should.

Now my head explodes.   Here are my issues:
  1. Those who argue the name makes no difference are correct.
  2. There might be no causal effect, but he hasn't demonstrated that.  Kid named Florida gets teased, the parents don't want another girl, and so on.  Ok, maybe that's a stretch
  3. Even granted there's no CAUSATION, that doesn't mean there's no CORRELATION.  The self selected group of people who name a girl Florida might be less likely to want girls (e.g. the ratio of boys to girls among third children in China is almost 3-1, not that I assert they name any of them Florida)
  4. Remember when I complained that he said one of them was a girl?  Now he looks for families where that girl (that one girl) is named Florida).  Sound reasonable?  Try restating it correctly:  There are two children, at least one is a girl, and SHE is named Florida.  That's doesn't parse.  One is a girl and named Florida parses fine, but it isn't what he means.
  5. He assumes that two siblings can't have the same name.  That's false (see Michael Jackson's two sons, or George Foreman's five sons) but irrelevant, as it happens

Although there seems to be no causal link between the name and the probability of 2 girls, the argument doesn’t solve the Girl-Florida problem as posed. The correct solution is obtained by incorporating the information that a daughter is named Florida, condition FL, into the possible sequences of births. The possibilities are the following 4: boy- FL, FL-boy, FL-girl, and girl-FL, in half of which the other child is a girl. This corresponds to our intuitive feeling that it doesn’t matter whether the girl was named Florida, or Jane, or Laura, the chances are 50-50 the other child is also a girl. What does matter is that the naming of one child changes the odds for a second girl from 1 out of 3 to 1 out of 2.

AAAARGH!  This is the exact same INCORRECT argument he disdainfully claimed was common in centuries past.  Again, birth order has NOTHING to do with anything.  He just stated by fiat that four possibilities are equally likely, when that's not true given the selection criteria.  In practice, if you pick some normal name (e.g. Joan) there's a pretty good chance the probability of two girls will be about 50%.  That's not because anyone named the child (note, it applies equally to second children named Joan) but because of the way you select your population.  I just wish people would state their assumptions clearly.

And if you don't believe me, I'll write a simulation to prove it to you.

Bring money...
2009-10-26 06:00 pm

Playing the Big Boys and Girls

We played an eight board swiss match against four WBF ranked players (Woman Master, World Life Master, and two Grand Life Masters. Note that these aren't namby pamby titles like ACBL Life Master, since three of them have won a Rosenblum, two won a Bermuda bowl, etc.). I declared six of the eight boards, and had a GLM in my seat at the other table, so I hoped that we'd win big and I'd get a nice blog post. I think there was one IMP decided by card play (I was defending that board) and everything else happened in the bidding. I declared a slam carefully, when I might have gone down, but they weren't in slam at the other table. I lost 11 IMPs in 3N down two when my counterpart made an overtrick, but that all due to the opening lead. GLM on my left led SQ from SQTx (?) and my teammate led a club up to declarer's KJT8x, so that was a two trick difference (the overtrick was gravy). I was so annoyed when I heard their auction. I held A9 K98x Jx KJT8x, and the uncontested auction at the other table was 1D-1H, 1S-3N.

REALLY? I mean, why can't pard hold Kxxx A Axxx Axxx (slam is good), or KQxx A Axxx Axxx or Kxxx A Axxx AQxx (slam is excellent) or even KQxx A Axxx AQxx (grand is excellent. I realize pard might jump over 1H, but try getting to 7C now...).

Anyway, that was super unjust, but we still won 14/20 VPs.

BTW, in another match we had an aggressive auction to 6S:

ATxx Kx KQ98x Ax
KQJx AJTx J7 Qxx

The beer (D7) made me do it:


1N was 15-17. 3D was natural, game forcing. 4C was a control bid for spades (with both minors pard would start with 2S not 2C). 4N was rolling.

LHO led CJ and what's your line? Keep in mind she had already led from the club king against SEVEN DIAMONDS this round. I know they say to lead clubs against slams, but that's ridiculous.

Anyway, I thought about the dummy for a minute then won CA, SK, and tabled HJ. She covered and I won, drew trumps (they broke), cashed hearts pitching my club loser, and led DJ, with the DT dropping eventually.

FOR A PUSH! I don't know how they got to 6S, but they played it the other direction and got a heart lead. (N.B. Opening leads from three small worked very, very poorly all day).
2009-10-12 04:40 pm

Deep Finesse is Quite Clever

You hold AT62 Q87 KJ2 432 and open 1N (10-12) at matchpoints. The opponents bid naturally:

1N-2S-P-3D, P-P-X

Your partnership agreement is to lead trumps against doubled partscores, so you lead a small diamond. Dummy tracks KQ873 A93 864 T7 and pard wins DA, then plays another diamond and you draw a third round of trump.

Just for fun, I'll tell you that pard started with 954 J652 A7 KJ65 and deep finesse thinks you can hold them to eight tricks. What do you play to trick four and why?

I haven't run this through a double dummy analyzer, but it looks like the quickest way to set the contract is to duck a diamond to declarer's singleton jack!
2009-10-07 10:37 pm

Bid These Slams With Me (oops, gave away the show there...)

9) 3rd, favorable
ATxxxx Q9xx AKx -


1C may be as few as two cards, with a weak NT
1N was 13-15 (not a really good 15)
2D was artificial, game forcing checkback
2H showed 4H, did not deny 3S
5C was exclusion RKC (pard showed 2 without)
Now what?

I wasn't ABSOLUTELY positive pard would take 6H as a signoff, but I was almost sure. Still, I bid 6S in case pard had something like KJx AJTx Qxx Qxx, since I can afford to lose a heart finesse as long as it doesn't result in a spade ruff! Not to mention, pard might have KJx Axxx xx Axxx and RHO might have KHJTxx!

In practice, pard had Kxx AJxx xx AQxx, and I ruffed two clubs along the way (trumps were 2-2) to see if I could drop CK and make seven with HK onside long.

Timed properly, if LHO has CK you can make seven anyway:

On a trump lead draw trumps, DA, DK, ruff, CA, C ruff, lead to HJ, C ruff, run trumps for the club heart squeeze.

4) 1st, both
Qxxx AKxxxx x Kx


2N is 4+ hearts, game forcing (not my favorite treatment)
3D is a singleton or void in diamonds, with or without extras (not my favorite treatment)
3H is a punt

We play 3S here as a non-specific, non-serious slam try. 3N would be a "serious" slam try. How do you evaluate this hand? Do you want partner to cooperate in a slam auction without any extra values, even with good controls? Or do you want to back pedal with your 12 HCP?

Since SAK and a minor ace makes slam worthwhile to wonderful pretty much regardless of partner's shape, I think you should make a serious slam try. We control bid first and second round controls economically, so 4C is just right. Pard, with AK Jxxx QJ9 Axxx would sign off over a wimpy 3S try.

31) 1st, unfavorable
AKJxx x KQx QTxx


2C is game forcing
3H is a singleton or void in hearts, club support, significant extra values (3C would have shown modest extras, usually four card support)
4C is natural (I think Redwood here has negative utility, though most of the Diamond LM's I know love it)
4D over 4C would have been RKC (I'm not a Luddite, I just don't like Redwood) so 4S is a control bid for clubs, neutral about diamond control

So, what is 4N and what's your call?

Pard could have bid RKC with 4D over 3H, so the RKC boat has sailed. It's either a diamond control bid, or it's rolling, too strong to back pedal with 5C, basically demanding slam when pard has diamond control. I prefer that treatment. What are the odds pard wants to show diamond control on this auction, but can't afford to pass 5C?

Pard had Qx AJx xx AKxxxx, so we had about 16 winners after the DA lead.
2009-08-17 02:27 pm

Hand Evaluation at IMPs

1) Both, IMPs, 1st seat
Ax xxxx Axx AT9x

1C-1H, 2H-2S, ?

2S is natural (think KQxx), trying for game. I bid 4H, pard went down. What do you think?
If he had something like Kxxx Axxxx xx xx I want to be in game, red at IMPs, since it's over 37.5%, and he should be better than that. I like aces...

2) None, IMPs, 3rd
Ax ATx AJ A98xxx

Pard opens 1N (14+ to 17), opps silent. What's your plan?

We play Walsh relay, so we bid:

1N-2D, 2H-2S, 2N-3C, 3N-4N, 6C

2D was, ostensibly, a transfer to hearts. 2S forced 2N. 3C showed a single suited slam
try with 6+ clubs, but not a great suit. 3N denied interest. 4N was quantitative, asking for
any non-min (4S would have asked for a max). Pard had KQTxx KJx Qx KTx.

I got a heart lead, and led up to CT, to secure my contract. LHO had singleton CJ so I
made seven. At the other table, they bid 1S-2C, 2N-4N, 6N and got a diamond lead,
then misguessed clubs for down one.

I'd waited at least 15 years for a walsh relay auction, and it was nice to reach the right contract for the right reasons. If pard had a max with bad clubs, like KQJ KQxx KQxx xx I'd be happy staying low, though that would be a pretty deep position. I definitely didn't want to force to slam if pard had a min and no interest in clubs.
2009-07-30 03:25 pm

Meckwell Scoring IMPs

A9753 AQ7 AKT9 2
KQ4 K964 QJ6 J83

1C-(1S)-1N, P-3N

Down 1, -100, win three IMPs!

At the other table 6S went down two. Granovetter got what he deserved for overcalling 1S on JT862 82 87 QT65!

Rubber bridge at the Mayfair my butt. I wouldn't be surprised if Ira Rubin tracked him down tonight and (expletives deleted).
2009-04-24 08:43 am

How to Play Quickly

There are lots of people who play SO SLOWLY you don't know what they're thinking about. Ever. Other people think about valid bridge problems. You can take some of that offline, though. Say you know RHO has 5 spades, 3 hearts, and 2 clubs. 13-(5+3+2) = 3, so he has 3 diamonds. Easy, right? Everybody knows that. But not everybody memorizes it. If you memorize all the distributions, then you don't need to do math. If you're slow at arithmetic, that can speed up your game a lot. Next time, just say 5...3...2...THREE, without the math.

So, memorization is great. Sometimes. The problem memorization, as with anything, is overdoing it. If you memorize something that doesn't always apply (like 2nd hand low, say) you give yourself a mental block. That's a bad idea, though arguably still better than playing super slowly.

I gave myself a mental block to pitch a loser on a loser. A few months ago I built a winner and pitched my loser on the loser but I should have pitched a potential winner on the loser, then pitched my loser on the established winner. It was SUPER costly when the cards hit the 1% chance where it mattered. And my partner expressed his...discontent.

It came up again this weekend, and I got it right. Yay me, for overcoming my learning disability. BTW, I wrote up this deal using bridgebase's deal viewer. Pretty neat, huh?


2009-03-28 10:12 am

Pwning Marty Bergen

In the August, 2007 ACBL bulletin, Marty had an article about this card combination:


There's a similar one in the 2001 Encyclopedia of contract bridge (AJ9xx opposite xxxx) but that's a little different since you can't pick up KQT7 onside with the actual holding.

He says "if East-West clubs split 2-2, your play doesn't matter." That means he'll play the ace on either the first or second trick. He then says that when RHO plays the 7 he'll play the ace, because QT7 and KT7 are twice as likely as KQ7. He finishes by saying you should finesse the jack if RHO plays the T instead of the 7.

Ok, fine. Not to mention this was in the intermediate players section, and he specified that RHO is a "normal" intermediate player. Still, against an expert, is it right to play the ace? If RHO will play the T from T7 (and why wouldn't he?) you can finesse the J and then cash the ace (remember, he claimed all doubletons), but now a T from QT7 or KT7 picks up a second trick for RHO.

The encyclopedia gives different probabilities of picking up the suit for one loser, and different lines of play, based on whether RHO will falsecard the T from those three holdings. Well done, ACBL! It also gives a probability of picking up the suit when RHO will split from KQ7. That's pretty optimistic.

If you're not sure you'd find this falsecard, as RHO, at the table, just remember it the way I do: play upside down count.
2008-11-22 10:05 am

Gems from the Offal

I rarely enjoy a 4/5 place in the one session unit swiss teams, especially with a blitz in the wrong column. This time was different. I played two strip squeezes!

7) 1st, both
Jx AQxx - AKJxxxx

1C-2H-P-P, 3C-P-P-P

LHO starts by giving her partner a heart ruff, and you play 3C:

Axx T98 Txxxxx Q
Jx AQxx - AKJxxxx

RHO returns DK. Now what?

I pitched a spade, ruffed the next diamond (LHO played the ace), cashed CQ (both follow),
so I could afford to ruff a diamond high (lho pitched a heart), and draw another trump, both following. Now I can claim 10 tricks! LHO has to be 3=6=2=2, so I can cash two more trumps and he cannot afford to pitch two more hearts, coming down to KJ tight, or I can establish my hearts, so he must pitch a spade. Then SA, S ruff, small heart endplays him. I suppose, if he's classy, he'd duck the heart and say "Lucky, lucky"

14) 4th, unfavorable
AT8 xxx Kxx AQTx

1C-1H-1S-P, 1N-P-3N-P, P-P

LHO leads HK and you play 3N with:

KQ76 A9xx QJx Jx
AT8 xxx Kxx AQTx

Weird. You have 13 opposite 13, both jacks are working, two tens are working, and 3N is terrible.

I ducked the first two hearts, and won the third (RHO pitched two discouraging clubs). Shoot, no club finesse here. Now, I admit, the deal is a bit flawed. I had to use my Jedi powers to get RHO to win one of the first two rounds of diamonds, then not switch to a club. No problem. She ducked the small diamond from dummy, won the second, then cleared her (entryless) diamonds. Yay. Now four spades, one heart, two diamonds, and a lead away from CK give me nine tricks. LHO pitched a club on the third diamond, btw. It looks like LHO is 3=5=2=3 or 2=5=2=4. I don't have the entries to cash a high spade then finesse the ten, but 1=5=2=5 with a stiff SJ isn't that likely anyway. What's percentage? A priori a finesse is better than a 3-3 break, though it's better to play spade from the top if you have another entry to dummy (I didn't). Still, as the Hideous Hog said, ceteris is never parabis. Does the auction suggest LHO has a tenth high card point? Or a side four card suit?

I broke the tie by deciding not to go down two (spade finesse losing, LHO cashes hearts for down one, exits safely with a spade, and gets CK for down two). So I cashed SA, K, Q (RHO shows out, oh well) and threw LHO in with a heart. Strip squeeze for -50, but I won two IMPs!
2008-10-22 06:01 pm

Playing with someone from the club

Someone from the club asked me to play, and just a few weeks later I sat west in the unit game. Here are a few somewhat interesting deals:

2) 3rd, favorable
Q64 9754 K6 T972


This seems like a clear 1S opener, so why mess around?

P-P-1S-2D, 3D-P-?

It's absolutely clear to bid 3S if you don't want to give away the show. I passed, hoping LHO would be green enough (even though he's red) to pass. I got my wish, once again confirming that it's EXTREMELY important to wish for the right thing.

Pard got out, miraculously, down four, -200. They can make 5N. There was a 660 for north/south, and any notrump part score would have been worth 210 for them, but nobody got there. Sheesh. One stupid matchpoint for us. The best laid plans of mice...

3) RHO was running her trumps in four of a major after playing club, club, club ruff. Our clubs were 4-4, so I had to decide when to pitch my last club, so pard would know it was safe to pitch hers. I could do it early, middle, or late. I picked middle, and that was wrong. I haven't studied this theory enough. With one regular partner, I would pitch it right away, since she would go into the tank, literally, forever if I made things tough early.

22) 3rd, unfavorable
Qxxx JTxxx ATxx -


This seems like a clear 1H opener, so why mess around?

We bid, uncontested:

P-1H, 1N-2D, 4D-P

1N was not forcing. I later suggested 2S was available as a strong diamond raise.
Pard was a bit quacky for a four level bid, regardless:

AJT Qx J9xxx QJx
Qxxx JTxxx ATxx -


I found SKxx in the pocket, 3-1 diamonds with a stiff honor, and there was no trump promotion, so I scored +130, for a top.

And here's a "bridge" story you'll love.

I decided to play Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster) and put together two players to be my GNT teammates. After about 70 phone calls, I arranged for one to drive 3.5 hours to play pairs with the other, then play teams with me the following day. Spiffy.

Then I read in the unit column in the forum (not my unit, btw, so I'm probably one of three people in the world reading another unit's column) that the sectional was cancelled! Sheesh.
2008-10-10 04:55 pm


I met Les Bart at a nationals. He gave me a handout on his convention, and I'd heard good things about it, so I read a few Bridge World articles and decided to give it a try. I moved a few calls around, and here's what I play now.

a) 1S-1N is semi-forcing, so I can pass if I won't accept a balanced invite or a three card limit raise.

b) 1S-1N, 2C can be 5=3=3=2. 1S-1N, 2D promises four.

c) 1S-1N, 2C-2D asks opener to rebid as if I had a weak hand with at least six hearts. If he bids above 2H, it shows interest in game opposite that hand. If he bids 2H and I pull, different bids show different hand types (duh) and cancel the previous message.

d) 1S-1N, 2C-2H shows five hearts and another place to play (2 spades, 5 diamonds, 4 clubs or, maybe, 1=5=4=3). Opener pulls to 2S with short hearts, then responder tries another strain. 1S-1N, 2C-2H, 2S-2N shows 1=5=4=3, and wishes partner luck on finding a decent home.

e) If you have 1=4=5=3 you are in trouble. I recommend you pass 1S, even with a seven count, especially at matchpoints. I just watched some juniors land in their 5-1 spade fit, down three, and they were LUCKY because of the random pull from their 3-2 club fit! Seriously, if you're lucky pard will pass 1N, or rebid something other than 2C, or have at least four clubs. I'm not usually that lucky.

f) I prefer to play 1S-2N is game forcing, balanced. Then 1S-3C is a forcing raise, 1S-3N is a strong notrump, and 1S-1N, 2C-3N is the "Invite" with long clubs and 0-1 spade.

Here's what the bids through 3N mean. A "bid" of 2C after 1S-1N, 2C is really just a pass. Hope that's not too confusing:

Over 1SOver 1S-1N, 2COver 1S-1N, 2C-2D, 2H
2CGFTo play
2DGFMarionette to 2H
2HGFFlexibleTo play
2S3+ spades, about 7-102+ spades, about 5-72 spades, about 8-10
2N4 card game forcing raiseBalanced invite, 1-2 spades, 2-3 clubsBalanced invite, 4+ clubs
3CInvite, long clubs, 0-1 spade5+ clubs, about 8-95+ clubs, about 10-11
3DInvite, long diamonds, 0-1 spade6+ diamonds, weakInvite, long diamonds, 2 spades
3HInvite, long hearts, 0-1 spadeInvite, 6 bad hearts, 2 spadesInvite, long hearts, 2 spades
3S4 card limit raise3 card limit raise4-3-3-3, choice of games
3N13-15, flat, 3 spades6+ clubs, 0-1 spade, lots of shape, about 8-9"Invite", long clubs, 2 spades
2008-09-26 03:43 pm

Defend With Your Wife

"Defend With Your Wife"

Get it? Like the Kantar book, Defend With Your Life. But it's a defensive problem from my wife. Oh, nevermind...

She played this at the club

3rd, unknown vul
Kx Jxx xxx Q98xx


2D was Flannery, four spades, five hearts, 11-14 HCP

She doubled, led a small heart, and saw this dummy:

xxx QT9xx Jxx Ax

T1: Hx-9-K-Cx -
T2: CJ-x-x-x -
T3: Cx-x-A-Hx -
T4: DJ-x-x-x -
T5: Dx-x-A-x -
T6: DK-x-x-x -
T7: DQ-Cx-Hx-Hx |
T8: ?

I objected to the duck at trick two, since RHO, while nutty enough to bid 3C on JTxxx, might not lead the jack on the first round from that holding. Regardless, it's your play to trick eight.

BTW, it was clear that she had taken the winning action at the table.

Declarer has six tricks pointed his way, and still has CKT. If I let him score both clubs and a spade, he'll make his contract.

Pard has shown ???? AKxxx xxx x and I haven't seen any spade honors. He has 4-7 points in spades, so either Axxx, AJxx, AQxx, or AQJx. If he has SAQJx we can cash four spades and I'll get a promotion at trick 12 for down two. If he has SAQxx, I'll ruff the fourth spade (or not) for for down one. If he has SAxxx we're going -470. But what about SAJxx?

I looked up, beaming, and announced I was cashing SK, then exiting a heart regardless of pard's attitude. That forces declarer to ruff (promoting my club as our third trick) and endplaying declarer into leading up to pard's spade holding (AQ or AJ) for down one. If pard has SAQJ, we'll get down two regardless.

Wife: -470. Pard had a minimum, with SATxx.
Len: Why this problem?
Wife: I set the contract.
Len: ?
Wife: I exited a heart, he played back SQ and I won. I exited a club and he had to lead up to pard's SAT.
Len: WHY didn't he cash CK?
Jo: I don't know.
Jo: ...
Len: And you give up on down two if pard has SAQJx
Len: \/
2008-06-06 05:07 pm

Nobody plays exclusion Blackwood forcing in the team trials...

Meckwell had this auction, favorable, uncontested:

- AKQ76 T9432 Q97
AKQJ T942 K7 AK3

2N-3D, 4C-4D, 4H-4N, P

3D is a transfer, 4C a superaccept, 4N keycard excluding spades. Lose 10 IMPs.

Eric: "You passed this bid in 1985 too. When will you learn?"
2008-06-05 04:51 pm

(no subject)

Board 50) 1st, favorable, you are Bob Hamman
K763 8 7652 QT52

The opps bid 1S-2H, 2S-4C, 4S-5S, P

Pard leads HJ and dummy tables:

AJ4 KT7432 98 A


At this point dummy and you hold:

- T7432 9 -
7 - 652 QT

Dummy leads H2 and you play...?

N.B. Among other things, your convention card states:

a) We do not like to signal, period.

b) Count is not given unless it classic long suit entry situation.

So pard's playing up the line in clubs is not relevant. Also, his D4 discard is discouraging. I'm not nearly good enough to use this carding style, since I'd go wrong frequently. As it happens, Hamman pitched a small diamond, giving up trick 11 (the game going trick).

Since I'm a lousy guesser, in this position I would have pitched my trump. Declarer can overruff and cash his last trump, but I'll see pard's pitch before I have to commit myself.

Pard won't know what to do, either, since we don't give count, but at least it'll be his fault if we go wrong. As it happens, since he's down to - Q9 T J6 he can safely pitch a heart (allowing me to stew and go wrong) or a helpful diamond (that can't give away the game going trick).
2008-06-04 04:46 pm

United States Bridge Championships

With eight boards to go (of 120) in thier semifinal, Weinstein and Garner were stuck 36 IMPs. Maybe that's why Weinstein opened 1S on A9752 86 J93 AJ9. In the other room, his opps went +480, so they were about to pick up 11 IMPs. Garner tried 5H (exclusion RKC?) on KQJT86 - AK5 K643 and the rest is history.

5H went down six tricks...
2008-06-01 11:14 pm

California Capitol Open Swiss Championships

Each year our district holds one four session swiss team event, with about half the field qualifying for the second day. I only got to the regional for the last two days (having a job can be inconvenient) so this was the only event I got to play. When I saw that one of my teammates had already won two bracket I ko's, I was despondant: we were already mathematically eliminated.

Luckily, things worked out an we won. Yay.

Normally I'd describe all the heroics I went through to win the event, all by myself, against my teammates's best efforts to defeat me, but that didn't happen this year. Despite their occasional -100 in 6DX off a cashing AK, Richard and Warren brought back tons of good results. Jo and Bob (playing with each other or with me) were generally sound despite an almost complete lack of agreement between Bob and either of us. I didn't do anything special though I (and I alone, it seems) think I kept my errors fairly infrequent and low cost.

Mostly, I'd like to thank Margie, Bob's lady friend, for allowing him to keep us company.

I have two comments now:

1) On the way to Sacramento there were several electronic signs on the highway stating:

NB I-5 closed

I thought that was weird. NB is an abbreviation for the Latin Nota Bene, meaning "Note well". If you already knew that, well, you're special. I just found that out recently, and only because I correspond with an Australian lawyer. Still, isn't that weird? Who talks that way in California?

A little while later Jo suggested that, just perhaps, the sign meant that North Bound Interstate Route 5 was closed. Hmm...

2) Here's the only hand I liked from today. Maybe I'll pick out a few from yesterday, for later.

3rd, unfavorable
T Q94 AQ98 KJ986



a) 2C was a limit or better raise, forcing through, at least, 3C, if pard remembers
b) On Monday, at the club, in a similar auction, an indiscreet pass of 3SX led to -800 against our vulnerable game. No way was I passing 2SX, and 3C wasn't forcing, so I tried 3D
c) I pointed out to RHO, a good player, that, at the club, they ALWAYS double 3S to remind pard they'd doubled 2S. It's true.

On a small spade lead, play 3N at IMPs:

AQ7 T87 T3 AQT74
T Q94 AQ98 KJ986

On the auction I certainly don't want anything to do with 5C, so I'm glad we stopped in 3N, though I have my doubts about my chances. I ducked the first spade to the jack and, on the small heart return, ducked the the A. That was quite lucky. The played a heart back to the K and cleared hearts, all following. Now what?

It turns out that the pointy kings are on your left, but the DJ is on your right, doubleton. At another table, played by my partner's hand, they got a spade lead into the AQ and, on a double diamond finesse, took ten tricks.

On my auction, I was pretty sure DK was off (it was) and LHO had another heart to cash (he hadn't) so, instead, I decided to take the spade finesse, since it pretty much had to be on. Unfortunately, I didn't have a spade to lead (I'd ducked at trick one) so I just ran my clubs and, in the four card end position, LHO had to come down to Kx in each pointy suit. I through him in with SA, SQ and he led into my diamonds (that seems classier than DA, DQ and finessing the spade on the way back).

+600 on a strip squeeze. Jo pointed out, helpfully, that if I'd played SQ at trick one I could have made 10 tricks on the same double diamond finesse she observerd. I suggested that, just perhaps, DJ might have been off, and I might have gone down.

Two more comments:

Good thing about this tournament: At check-in, the Doubletree hotel gives you a hot oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie. YUM!

Bad thing about this tournament: The secion top prizes are glasses with some insignia denoting the tournament. Every year, once the sunday swiss ends, they give away any remaining glasses. By the time the four session swiss (the Marquee event) ends, there are no glasses left for the champs!

This is my third win and I've yet to score a glass!

Well, this time I felt lucky, so I grabbed one Saturday night on spec, but still...

Oh, btw, if you're interested in people who really know how to play, check out the international team trials at www.usbf.org.
2008-05-22 05:42 am


I played a two session swiss team event Saturday. Traditionally, the day before mother's day (yes, I know, this was a week late) my unit holds a two session swiss with a BBQ dinner at the split. At dinner they give out the Mini-McKenney medallions and ace of clubs certificates. What fun. When I found out they gave up on the awards ceremony (you mean I wasted my time winning hundreds of masterpoints last year?) I was crushed. I broke the bad news to the winner of the Grand Life Master category and his teammates (second in Grand Life Master, first in Emerald Life Master, and second in Diamond Life Master. So far this year, they're still first and second in Grand, first in Emerald, and now first in Diamond) he was crushed. He put on a brave face but I could tell. Those multiple world championships are little consolation. In fact, it was such a disappointment, that neither of our teams won the swiss. A team from other units (units which, no doubt, award medallions) won.

I did notice two very interesting hands in the same round. Once I was dummy, the other on opening lead. Each time dummy put down AQx, not in trump, traditionally a bad place to put AQx. Each time the suit was lead through dummy. Each time the lead was from the king, up to Jx. Maybe AQx is the perfect holding to put in dummy.

Monday night, after work, I stopped by the club for the monthly swiss teams, to pick up my wife. She was playing against another Grand Life Master (he got a medallion a different weekend) so I watched him for the last two boards. I would have watched her, don't get me wrong, but she prefers I watch anyone else.

1st, favorable
K9xxx Tx JTx Kxx


They play weak NT, so 2H shows either 15-17 balanced or a sound min with shape, with four hearts either way. GLM announced that he shouldn't trust the opps but he would, so he tried 4S, passed around to my wife, Jo, who doubled.

AJTx Kxx x JT9xx
K9xxx Tx JTx Kxx

He (correctly) pointed out that a 2S call would have promised 4S without showing extras (that sort of makes his 4S call an insult, but what can you do...) and thought about the hand. LHO continued a small heart, won in dummy, and now declarer ducked into a deep trance. He came out with a diamond off dummy and Jo played DK, declarer and opening leader followed small. She cashed CA and led another club. He won CK and cleared LHO's CQ, Jo pitching a diamond. After HQ ruffed, and S9 (no cover) to the ace (all follow small), he led SJ-x-?

1) We know LHO is either 2=4=4=3 or 1=4=5=3. He's shown HAQ and CQ and we haven't seen SQ, HJ, or DAQ. If he's 2=4=4=3 he has to have SQ and DA and at least one of the other two red pictures. If he's 1=4=5=3 he has DA and maybe the red honors. Not helpful.

2) Let's check out the IMP odds.

a) Teammates make 4H for +620

We score 1H and 1C on defense assuming my hand doesn't lead a club (it wouldn't) and pard leads a club before trumps are drawn and RHO gets a pitch on a long diamond, so to make 4H LHO must be 1=4=5=3. If GLM takes a spade finesse now, -100, wins 11 IMPs and playing for the drop, -300, wins 8 IMPs.

b) Teammates go down in 4H for -100

Spades must be 2-2, so finesse now, -300, loses 9 IMPs. Spade drop, -100, loses 5 IMPs.

c) Teammates defend 4SX (or 4S or 3S)

Unlikely, not worth worrying about. Note that GLM's teammates play a strong NT, so they are unlikely to get to 4H on a 4-4 fit with only 24 HCP, and if they do a save is wildly unlikely. With the 1=4=5=3 hand it's unlikely opps at the other table would get busy with the nine count.

d) Teammates play a heart partial

i) LHO is 1=4=5=3 for +170

Finesse now, -100, wins 2 IMPs and playing for the drop, -300, loses 4 IMPs.

ii) LHO is 2=4=4=3 for +140

Finesse now, -300, loses 4 IMPs and playing for the drop, -100, wins 1 IMP.

So, if they bid game:

LHO's shape\Spade guessFinesseDrop

and if they don't:

LHO's shape\Spade guessFinesseDrop

Declarer played for the drop, saying he didn't want to go -300 in a phantom. Fine. The IMP odds are 3:4 or 6:5, depending on the contract at the other table, so that's a pretty frail reed on which to pin your hopes.

On the other hand, would RHO play DK from a holding like Kxxx? If she has DAK, CA (she's a passed hand) the spade finesse is off. If she has DKQ, CA, and HJ she can't have SQ or she'd have opened 1N (12-14). So it comes down to:

Qxx xxxx KQxx Ax opposite x AQJx Axxxx Qxx
xx xxxx KQxxx Ax opposite Qx AQJx Axxx Qxx

She would always bid 4H with the latter hand, but would she double 4S? Unfavorable at IMPs after a forcing pass? And what of the forcing pass. Which hand is more likely for opener?
Finessing seems clear to me, and it was right at the table.

To be fair to GLM, allow me to point out:

a) LHO is unreliable, so his forcing pass may be (heavily) discounted
b) This particular GLM is unlikely to play Jo, a girl, for playing DK, in 2nd seat, from Kxxx
c) Jo held Qxx Jxxx Kxxx Ax

Nice play!
2008-05-11 10:33 pm

Another STAC and I'm...back!

Ok, I'm WAY, WAY behind on deals, so here we go:

4th, both
K85 AK874 K74 AT

Opps are silent. 1C-1H, 2C-?

We play that 2N here is a one round force, 3N is a picture jump, with 3=5=3=2, one of the top three clubs, and a quick trick in each of the other three suits. I knew pard didn't remember, so I tried 3N hoping some slam aspiration would get through anyway, and she passed with 7 Q9 A65 KQJ8752. On a spade lead to the ace I claimed 12 tricks. LHO offered that everyone would get to 6N. Sheesh.

4th, none

P-P-1N (10-12)-?

This player bid 2C Hamilton and, after a lucky not-pass from pard, the auction went:

P-(1N)-2C, 2D-4H, P

Dummy was JT53 A75 A762 J7

a) 7N is cold, so you be the judge
b) The play is quite interesting at matchpoints in hearts, since you can't unblock the diamonds before killing your side entry (hearts are 3-1). How should you play? A spade finesse? A squeeze? The real question is, would RHO psych more frequently with no high cards, or with a king or king and queen?

I haven't seen much of this subject in the literature.

4th, unfavorable
- JT Q8xxx KJT9xx


I thought it would be fun to double, and went +500 for +14 IMPs. Obviously our teammates had us covered.

4th, none
Axx KTx KJx KJT8

(1H)-P-1N, 2C-2D, 2N-3N, P

Now play it:

KTxx xxx AQTxx Q
Axx KTx KJx KJT8


LHO was 4=5=1=3, so on the run of the diamonds he had to find four pitches, successively slower until he popped out a heart. Then I led CQ for +400 and win 7 IMP.

4th, unfavorable
A AJxxx AQxxx Jx


I bid 4N and corrected 5C to 5D. Pard had something like xx Q Jxx AKQxxxx so I won the spade lead and led up to DJ. LHO ducked from KTxx and I scored 1S, 1S ruff, 1D, 2C, 2H (HK onside), 2H ruffs and trump endplayed LHO for a sweet +600. In case you hadn't noticed, 6C is cold for lose 13 IMPs. Tough to win a match when you lose 13 on your good boards.

1st, favorable
x xxxx xxx AQxxx

P-P-1S-2D, P-2N-P-3N, P-P-P

Pard led a small club (!) and dummy tracked a lot of winners with a stiff club. I returned my original fourth best club, declarer played his final club, the J, and pard went into a study! He decided my spot, the seven, was ambiguous and trusted LHO's auction so he ducked, playing me for a side entry. CJ was their tenth trick, amidst some cackling.

Long time readers already know the theme for the next deal:

1st, favorable
Qxxxx AQxx Kx Kx

1S-2S, 3H-3S, P

Pard thought 3H was a short suit game try (it wasn't) and signed off, then feared we'd missed game.

K9x KJ Txxx Qxxx
Qxxxx AQxx Kx Kx

DA was onside, so how do you play the trumps? I don't KNOW who has the ace. I don't KNOW who has the doubleton. So, I led small from dummy and won my queen. LHO, not a regular reader of this column, failed to unblock from Jx, so when I returned to dummy and led another spade, RHO hopped from ATx and BOOM I made +170. We WON THE MATCH BY ONE IMP!

Don't get carried away, it just meant 11 VPs.

Back to MPs.
4th, unfavorable
T54 AJ873 KT4 85

1N-2C, 2D-2H, P

2H showed a mild invite, pard pass, reasonably, leaving me to play 2H with:

72 K5 A763 AKQ97
T54 AJ873 KT4 85

They let me get a spade rough (trying to promote LHO's HQ9xx) but the clubs and diamonds broke, so I scored 3C, 2D, 1D ruff, HK, 1S ruff, then ruffed the good diamond low from HAJ8 in a classic endplay position, for +170 after LHO had to overruff and lead into my HAJ.

That's all for now...
2007-12-21 04:34 pm

Another STAC, Another Second Place

We played a round against a Detroiter who came to visit for the NABC, picked up a national championship, and stayed to visit his kids. I mentioned I am a University of Michigan, Ann Arbor alum, and he said I might know his kids. I asked their age (not his last name, for some reason, but it worked out to be more interesting this way) and he said 48 and 52. I told him he's a nasty old man and he grabbed my arm.

Ok, that's not so bad. He even did it as a semi-joking, friendly gesture. Still, I just saw "I Am Legend" and he looks just like the CGI vampires and it...was...creepy.

And then his partner perpetrated this:

93 AT7532 9 AK42
KQ 6 AKQJ72 JT83
1H-2D, 2H-3C, 4C-4N, 5H-6D, P

She gave the appropriate, shocked expression when he bid 5H and she knew she had to go to slam off two key cards, but he had just been lying and everyone was happy.


7) 4th, both
Q876 A873 3 A763

1D-2C-2D-X, P-2N-P-3C, 3D-P-P-?

What now? Pard doubled for -670. I didn't play him for the FOURTH trump.

12) 1st, favorable
KQ7 AJ85 AQJ9 Q9

1C-P-1H-1S, 3H-P-P-P

Pard had J62 KQT6 642 853

I think 3H is a strong enough bid with a hand like this. Deep Finesse would make eight tricks in hearts on these cards. Pard asked for a review after the D5 lead, and LHO said:

1D-P-1H-1S, 3H-P-P-P. I felt weird pointing out that I'd opened 1C, so I didn't. I'm not sure whether I'm required to disclose that, especially to my partner.

Anyway, they kicked a trick, he kicked it back, and so on until he emerged -50. Oh, the hearts were 5-0.

16) 1st, unfavorable
KJT82 Q8 5 Q7542

P-P-2H-X, P-3D-P-3S, P-P-P

We defended well for +150. Please note that dummy held 954 542 KQ32 JT3 and had NO PROBLEM passing 3S. Sigh.

18) 3rd, favorable
QJ7542 542 A 982

Pard opened 1H, opps silent. Now what? Kokish told me it's not profitable to bypass good, five card spade suits. I extrapolated to decent six baggers and tried 1S. I can always bid 2H over 1N, then tell partner it was (or was not) constructive, depending on how many tricks he took.

Of course he wouldn't BID 1N. He tried 2C and...now what? I tried 2H (it was matchpoints) and he made three.

Should I start by raising to 2H? It's easy to construct hands where that's wrong. Should I jump to 3H? Same problem.

28) 1st, favorable
4 KQ AJ83 QT9854

1C-1H, 2C-P

KT96 T732 KT54 A
4 KQ AJ83 QT9854

S2 lead, fourth best.

RHO broke diamonds, so the only question is how to play the trumps. I won the ace, got back to hand, and led the queen, catching the doubleton jack.

Yay! That's the first time I've ever had a correct play pay off. Note that guessing the doubleton king wouldn't have helped, since I'd still have to lose a trick to the Jxxx.