May 6th, 2013 ~ Dan Romm ~ No Comments
For this article, I am again indebted to a (rare) minor oversight in Steve Becker’s outstanding column. The hand appears in the May 4 issue of the Seattle Times and is entitled ‘An Unusual Safety Play’.
Bidding: (South) 1H – pass – 1S – pass – 4H.
Lead: Jack of clubs.
The column correctly states that you can ensure the contract by winning the Ace of clubs, leading a trump, and playing the Jack when East follows (on the actual hand, if you play a high trump you will go down). Becker’s line provides a sure trump entry to the dummy should West hold the Queen (if he doesn’t, you make because you won’t lose a trump trick), so that you can later pitch a diamond on the Queen of spades – and admittedly this safety play is the main point of his article (and an excellent one at that!). However there is a better line of play that is worth mentioning (perhaps he didn’t have enough room in his column to do so). Do you see it?
The solution is a subtle play and its advantage is not easy to spot (plays like these separate the experts from the rest of the field) – you should duck the first trick! Why? Because if you do, a good East will overtake and switch to a diamond since this would be the best chance to beat the contract; you will go down off the top if you happen to hold AK, AKJ7543, K2, 54, whereas otherwise you will again make by taking the safety play. Note that if you did hold this hand you would also duck the first trick (there is nothing to lose) in the hope that, if West has the Ace of diamonds, East will fail to overtake and switch. Now, even though with your actual hand you always make if East follows to the first heart, you will always make an overtrick (but not if you take the column’s line of play unless East has the Queen of trumps and they split 2-1) since, after winning the diamond, you have time to test the hearts by cashing the Ace. This allows you to make an overtrick whenever trumps are 2-1 no matter who has the Queen by merely pulling the last trump and leading the King of spades, and if West shows out on the Ace of hearts (as in this case) you also make an overtrick by now leading the King of spades since you can later cross to dummy with the Ace of clubs, pitch a diamond on the Queen of spades (unless West ducked the King of spades in which case you lose no spade tricks) and take the marked trump finesse. An overtrick may seem like a nit, but many a match has been lost by a single IMP!
More importantly, with your actual hand, if East overtakes and shifts you will make (instead of going down) whenever East is void in trumps because you can now lead the King of spades before the Ace of clubs is gone. Although it is true that East shouldn’t do this with a trump void if he thinks you have the hand you actually hold, but he should do it if he thinks you hold either: (a) K, AKQJ10875, K2, 54, which gives you two trump entries so you can pitch a diamond by taking a ruffing finesse against East’s Jack of spades (the percentage play when he has no hearts), no matter how many additional spades he may now hold; or (b) K2, AKQJ1085, K2, 54 (your 4H bid would be marginal, but still reasonable), which gives you one trump entry with which to set up a pitch even if East now has one more spade. In either case East has quite a dilemma and should be given the opportunity to make the wrong choice.
September 19th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ No Comments
Vulnerable at IMP’s, how do you play the following hand?
Dummy (N): Q1054, 3, A74, K8654
Declarer (S): void, AK9854, 96, J10932
Contract – five clubs
Lead – Q of D’s.
If hearts split no worse than 4-2 then by merely finessing west for the Queen of clubs you will make unless east has either (a) both the Ace and Queen of clubs or (b) the singleton Queen of clubs. But at no additional risk you can protect against case b whenever east has more than two hearts by taking the following line:
Win the Ace of diamonds, cash the Ace and King of hearts pitching a diamond and ruff a heart with the 8 of clubs (to guard against an over-ruff by East with the 7). Then,
- If the hearts split, ruff a spade and pitch dummy’s other diamond on a heart. Then win whatever is returned by whichever opponent ruffs the heart and lead the Jack of clubs (if a diamond is returned, ruff a spade to get to your hand).
- If west shows out on the third heart, ruff it (if west ruffs then over-ruff unless he ruffs with the Ace in which case you pitch a diamond and are home), ruff a spade, ruff another heart (or over-ruff or pitch as before), return to your hand by ruffing another spade and pitch dummy’s last diamond on a heart. Then win whatever is returned by whichever opponent ruffs the heart and lead the Jack of clubs (if a diamond is returned, ruff a spade to get to your hand).
September 19th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ 2 Comments
IMPs. NS Vul. N deals.
Auction: 2C – P – 2S – P – 2NT – P – 3S (sign-off) – P – P – P.
N: A73, AKJ, AKJ6, Q86
W (you): 54, Q2, Q97, AK10953
You lead the Ace of clubs, P plays the Jack and declarer plays the 4. Now what?
Solution: Your only chance is to get five tricks in the black suits so P must have the King and Queen of spades and declarer must have three clubs. If you continue with the King of clubs and give P a ruff then declarer will make since, having no hand entries, he will cash the spade Ace and drop one of P’s honors. If you discontinue clubs, again declarer will cash the spade Ace and lead a spade after which your P will have to lead a red card and declarer will again make. So, your only chance is to lead the 10 of clubs at trick two. Declarer may very well play east for the doubleton King-Jack and duck! If not, it only costs an overtrick.
August 22nd, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ 1 Comment
I authored a book entitled A Grain Of Salt (available from Amazon.com and other outlets) in which I caution people to always do their own analyses no matter how authoritative the source might be. This caveat also applies to bridge. Steve Becker’s syndicated column is routinely published in the Seattle Times. Although it is outstanding and contains many useful tips, once in a blue moon the analysis could be better. To wit, the article entitled “rescuing a lost cause” that appeared on August 3, 2012 included the following hand (both vul):
South is declarer at 4H. Opening lead – Jack of spades.
The article goes on to say that when win the opening lead in dummy and lead a trump to your Queen, west shows out. How should you proceed?
Becker’s solution is to cash the Ace and King of spades, pitching a CLUB from the dummy, cash the two remaining clubs, return to your hand with a trump, and ruff your 10♣. This protects against a doubleton club in West’s hand (almost always – the exception is given below), works on the actual layout given in the column, and is a very good line: but it is not best! Do you see how it can be improved?
Answer - Becker’s line fails if West started with 2-5-4-2 distribution (the article gives West 4-5-2-2 distribution), in which case he will pitch a club on the third spade and you will still go down. To guard against this you must cash two rounds of clubs BEFORE playing the third spade. This renders West helpless and you will score five trump tricks plus either two spades and three clubs or three spades and two clubs depending on whether or not East ruffs the third spade.
March 27th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ No Comments
North (dummy): A54, J43, KJ1098, A4
South (you): 2, 2, AQ765, KQ10543
Contract: 6♦ by South.
West leads the Ace of hearts and continues with the King, which you ruff; East follows twice. You are cold if trump are 2-1, so you test trumps by drawing one round and West shows out. Now what?
Solution: You are cold if clubs are no worse than 4-1, but if you tested trump by cashing your Ace you have made a critical error if West started with five clubs. Had you correctly led a trump to the dummy at trick three you are still cold provided you don’t now lead more trump. Merely ruff another heart, lead a spade to the Ace, ruff a spade with the Ace of trump, return to dummy by overtaking the Q of trump, draw trump and claim. Note that had you played the Ace of trump at trick three you would have squandered a necessary entry to the dummy. This again illustrates the importance of not playing hastily as declarer.
March 5th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ 2 Comments
You (South) hold A10, AJ82, AK107, K104.
West opens four hearts, P doubles, East passes and you, vul vs. non-vul, opt to bid 6NT.
West leads the King of hearts and East plays the 10.
Dummy tables K8763, 7, QJ4, AQJ5.
You win the Ace (necessary, since you have a sure spade loser). You see eleven tricks off the top and while you are thinking you cash Ace of diamonds and lead to dummy’s Queen, on which East discards a low club. Now what?
Solution – West’s four heart opening and East’s play of the heart 10 (which is clearly a singleton or he’d have played a lower one) marks West with twelve red cards. Your only chance is to develop a third spade trick while only losing one in the process. How? You can do it if and only if the Ace of spades captures an honor. If so, you can cash two more diamonds pitching the three of spades from dummy. This forces East to discard another club since he must keep three spades or else you can play the King and another spade driving out his last honor. Now cash all your clubs, pitch the ten of spades on the fourth club and lead a low spade end-playing East. Note – if you don’t pitch the ten of spades then East will duck the low spade and you will be locked in your hand with two losing hearts.
So, what is your best chance to capture an honor with your Ace of spades? Cash the club Ace and lead a spade toward your A10. If West followed to the club Ace he is void in spades and East is forced to split his spade honors or you will win the 10. If West showed out on the Ace of clubs you have a dilemma if East follows low to the spade from dummy. If you play the 10 and West’s singleton is an honor you are down immediately. East is more than a two to one favorite to hold both honors so mathematically it is best to play the 10. But bridge is also a game of psychology. Holding a spade suit headed by the QJ9 East will be tempted to split his honors. If he plays low smoothly and you know enough about him to be more than 70% certain that holding both honors he would split or at least huddle to think about splitting, you should buck the mathematical odds and play the Ace. If you are wrong, c’est la vie – that’s what makes bridge so much fun.
February 7th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ 5 Comments
Auction – S opens 2NT and arrives at 3NT, no adverse bidding.
Opening lead – 3 of spades (fourth best); east plays the J. How should you proceed?
Solution – win the spade and lead a spade! You have eight sure tricks and can get to nine if the club finesse wins or the Q of hearts is doubleton. In order to try both you must cash the AK of hearts before cashing your diamonds. If West started with AK103 of spades, the K of clubs and three or more hearts you will go down if the Q of hearts doesn’t drop (losing three spades, a heart and a club) whereas you would have made had you not cashed the AK of hearts (losing only three spades and a club). On the other hand, if west started with AK1032 of spades and the K of clubs you will go down if you don’t cash the AK of hearts even if the Q is doubleton. So, in order to decide which line to take you lead a spade at trick two. If west switches suits after winning the 10 then win his return and, if he hasn’t handed you your ninth trick, lead another spade. This will tell you how many spades west started with. If he had four, you have nine tricks even if the club finesse loses as long as you don’t cash a second heart. If he had five, pitch a heart and a club from dummy and two clubs from your hand as he cashes his remaining winners. Now cash a second heart and if the Q doesn’t drop you still have the club finesse available as a last resort.
January 26th, 2012 ~ Dan Romm ~ 3 Comments
If you pick up a strong hand you should first evaluate how strong it really is and then plan the bidding accordingly. How is this done? Think about that for a minute, it is the key to successful slam (or game) bidding. If you don’t have a mental process that you routinely use, you need one. And if you do have a process, is it the right one? Is it overly complex? Before I tell you my recommendation, let’s look at two examples:
1. You hold AQx, AQx, AKxx, AKx.
2. You hold AKxxxx, void, x, AKxxxx.
Clearly, these are strong hands. The first one is easy; you have been taught how to bid it – open 2♣ and rebid 3NT unless you play a strong club system. The second one is tougher since you don’t have a ready-made solution. You would probably open 1♠ and, with no interference (unlikely), jump shift in clubs. But then what? And, what if there is interference? Why is it advisable to bid the first one the way you have been taught? What should you do with the second one? Which hand is stronger?
There is a magic question which must be asked with all strong hands and is the most likely way to solve these problems. It has little to do with point count, controls or other considerations that you most likely use. It is simply this:
What does partner need to make slam (or game) and, if he has it, will he know it? Once you answer this question, all you need to do is plan the bidding in the most effective way to find out whether or not he has it.
In example 1, this question will lead you to the same approach, even had you not already learned it. He needs about 7 scattered HCP for slam. You don’t really care which specific cards he holds, so if you show him a balanced hand with about 26 HCP, he will know it if he has what you need.
In example 2, if P is 4-2 in the black suits with no card higher than a five then you are odds-on to make slam! (Note that if this is his hand and you hold hand 1 you may be hard-pressed to make even a one-level part score, so hand 2 is stronger by far). Furthermore with hand 2, if you are unlucky and P is 3 – 2 in the black suits you are only slightly less than even money to make slam (you merely need trumps to spit 2 -2 and the other black suit to split 3 – 2). Worse yet, he may be only 3 – 3 in the black suits and slam still has play (you need a 2-2 split in both black suits). With any of these hands, P would certainly not suspect that he is a favorite to have what you need, so exploratory bidding may be useless. Without interference I would bid 1♠ and jump shift in ♣ ’s, planning on bidding 6♣ unless you either have a clear indication from the bidding that P is likely to be at best 2 – 2 in the blacks, or if you have a way to find out which specific Ace P might hold (in which case you can probe for 7). With interference, I would merely bid 6♣ at my second turn. P will bid 7 with both Aces and reasonable support for one of your suits. He might also have the right Ace and not bid 7 or the wrong Ace and bid 7. But in the first case, you can’t find out anyway, and in the second case you will still be OK if the opening leader doesn’t lead a diamond.
With other strong hands, asking the magic question is still your best guide. Merely use whatever sequence in your arsenal is best geared to find out whether or not P has the card (or cards) you need. If you learn to routinely ask this question whenever you pick up a good hand your slam (or game) bidding should improve significantly.
December 16th, 2011 ~ Dan Romm ~ 2 Comments
The Sandwich NT has been around for quite awhile as an alternative to a takeout double immediately after opponents have bid two suits. Generally both bids are used, but the Sandwich NT shows different features than the takeout double depending upon partnership agreement – I. e, more (or less) defense, strength, distribution (at least 5-5), etc.
I propose the following version (esp. at MP’s): the ONLY difference should be that the Sandwich NT guarantees at least five of any unbid major. This allows partner to compete in a major when holding only a three card suit, which is unlikely to happen if not playing this version of Sandwich NT. In fact, the only time it will happen in current versions of Sandwich NT after the auction 1m – P – 1M is when the NT bidder happens to hold five of the other minor along with his five card major (since otherwise he will make a takeout double and partner will presume he has only a four card major); this seems to be an overly restrictive requirement.
December 16th, 2011 ~ Dan Romm ~ 5 Comments
After giving the matter considerable reflection, I am ready to respond to Adam Wildavsky’s magnanimous request for feedback (in his comment to the 8/10/10 article on my BBO bridge blog). I propose the following revisions to the process. Some may already be included, but if so they need to be enforced since they were not followed at the appeal that I attended.
1. Any alleged fact that is in dispute must be disallowed unless corroborated by the ruling director or by a MAJORITY of the people present at the incident.
Agreed, this would permit dishonesty to prevail in some cases, but this is unavoidable. In the current process dishonesty prevails far more often than it would if my suggestion is adopted since at least two people would need to be dishonest rather than one as things now stand. It would also preclude the committee from having to decide issues of integrity (for which knowing how to play bridge is not a relevant qualification).
As an aside, I notice that in the overseeing panel’s review of my case a contention of my opponent (namely that I had made an inappropriate remark or gesture that gave UI to my P) was listed as a ‘fact’ although untrue, disputed by me (vehemently) and my partner, unsubstantiated by the director or any other party, and even partially recanted by the person making the false assertion.
2. The ruling director must be present at the hearing.
This may place a hardship on the director, but should be included as part of the duties for which he is being paid.
3. Any person who is a personal acquaintance of, or has had private dealings with, any of the disputants apart from being an occasional opponent at the bridge table must recuse himself or herself from the proceedings. Failure to do so should result in disciplinary action and an automatic nullification of the hearing should subsequent facts reveal that this wasn’t done. (Due to the vehemence with which one of the committee members grilled me, I suspect that he was far from impartial.)
4. A member of the rules committee (or an equivalent authority) must attend the proceedings to give guidance and explanation as to the interpretation and application of any relevant rule.
5. Inasmuch as the appeal committee is merely a first step beyond an individual’s ruling (the director), its decision should NOT be the final one.
Any party should have the right to further review by a standing board of committee members (i.e. – the committee currently headed by Adam Wildavsky) since the initial committee is nothing more than a makeshift collection of spontaneously assembled available bridge players who must decide without the benefit of an earlier committee’s opinion. In our judicial system, an initial court’s ruling is never deemed final and is subject to judicial review for procedural and/or substantive errors.
6. One should be allowed to submit a written account in lieu of attending the hearing. Furthermore, a disputant should be permitted to leave the hearing at any time. Either action should be allowed WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
7. The burden of proof should be on the party disputing the director’s ruling. Furthermore, if one side must be regarded as the defendant and the other the plaintiff, clearly it is fairer that the one disputing the ruling be deemed the de facto defendant. (The opposite was done in my case).
8. The appeal committee should receive a special instruction to avoid the appearance of bias toward the better known player or players.
For some reason that I don’t fathom, it seems to be natural to assume the better bridge player should get the benefit of any doubt. I glean this from the many (at least eight) occasions in which others have complained to me that this was the case and the additional fact that no well-known bridge player of my acquaintance has ever been unhappy with an outcome except when it was in favor of another equally well known player. Since committee members vary from tournament to tournament it is reasonable to assume that some bias might occasionally enter the proceedings. An explicit warning, although not a guarantee, would go a long way toward dispelling the current suspicion that bias is a regular occurrence. Along the same lines, I have twice been advised by well-meaning directors against paying to appeal rulings (a mandatory$50 charge was in effect) in favor of international stars regardless of the merits of my case since I “had no chance to win.”
9. No disputant is allowed to plead his or her case to any relevant party other than the ruling director before the hearing commences. Doing so will result in automatic rejection of the appeal (if the appellant) or automatic upholding of the appeal (if the appellee). This is the equivalent of jury tampering.
10 . Any player should be allowed only a limited number of appeals (as is done in pro football), both annually and over his or her lifetime.
This would prevent an abuse of the system by those who are constantly seeking an unfair advantage by learning how to “work the process.”
11 . If the intent to appeal is not made clear to the director while the outcome of the deal is still pending then it will be disallowed.
Otherwise, double jeopardy comes into play. In my case the opponent had a fifty-fifty chance to get an excellent result, in which case no appeal would have been filed. Only after it turned out otherwise did he proceed with his complaint.
I believe these suggestions are necessary, reasonable, practical, easily implementable, and a good beginning step toward tightening up a somewhat loose process. They are conscientiously offered for your consideration and I applaud your willingness to solicit and entertain ideas from the bridge playing population at large.