Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Underleading an Ace

So when do you underlead an Ace in a trump contract? The first rule you learn is: Never!

Here are some things that could go wrong:

* An opponent could win a trick with the King he would otherwise not get.
* Even if partner has the King, this might not gain a trick.
* Partner has the King and it would gain a trick, if only he knew to put it in. He expects declarer to have the Ace and will play accordingly!
* Partner has the Queen, the King is in dummy and declarer plays small and STILL it won't work, for example:

A875 Q94

On the lead of the 5, dummy plays the 3. Now East will correctly put in the 9!

This was just a short list of horrible things waiting to happen to someone who underleads an Ace. But... as always there are exceptions.

Against a slam with a void
(1♥) 2♠ (3♥) 3♠
(4NT*) Pass (5♣ - 1 KC) Pass
(6♥) All Pass

You're on lead with:
♠ AJT743
♥ 432
♦ 8432
♣ -

Now the correct lead is the ♠3! We are likely to make exactly 1 Spade trick (declarer is not void because of Blackwood) so a ruff seems like the only possible way to beat it. We must hope partner has the King and then returns a Club to beat the contract.

Their contract will likely make and declarer has no control in the suit

The opponents bid unopposed:
1♠ - 2♥ (GF)
3♥ (extras) - 4♦ (non-serious cuebid)
4♥ - Pass

Now if you know that they would cuebid a singleton in opener's suit you may consider leading a ♠ or ♣ away from Axx. This is safer than usual since partner will know you have the Ace, but declarer will not. The lead away from ♠A loses some of its attraction if declarer can have a singleton Spade though.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Layer upon layer

You are playing your local club's mixed pair championship and get the following hand:

♠ AQ98
♥ T6
♣ K6

You open 1♦, partner respondes 1♥ and since it is always good when you are declarer you rebid 2NT which is raised to 3. The lead is the 5 of Clubs and dummy tables:

♠ J76
♥ AQJ32
♦ J7
♣ Q83

You play small from dummy and the lady on your right takes the Ace since she always does. When North shows up with ♥Kxx you can quickly claim 12 tricks for a 50% score. You don't think much about it and go on to the next hand.

A few weeks later you visit the national mixed championship. You pick up:

♠ AQ98
♥ T6
♣ K6

so you open a Diamond, partner bids 1 Heart. You rebid 2NT which is raised to 3. On the lead of ♣5 dummy shows up with:

♠ J76
♥ AQJ32
♦ J7
♣ Q83

You play small and the lady on your right who has some experience thinks about it for a while and ducks. I hate it when they do that - I will not get two ♣ now. I must play on ♥ since ♠ are too dangerous. ♥10 holds the trick. I decide to go all in since it's MP and I am a ♣ trick behind the field. 5 rounds of ♦ follow and another ♥ finesse. Wow, they are 3 - 3! That's my chance. 12 tricks are sure and on the last ♥ I have this ending:



When I play the ♥ South who still has the ♣A must discard a ♠, so she has at most one of those left. If I play the ♠ next if she has the ♠K it will show up: A showup squeeze! As this works I have 13 tricks so taking the risk of the ducked ♥ paid off. This turned out to be worth 80% of the MP.

Finally, the stage switches to the World Championships in Verona - the mixed pairs. Against a lady you don't know you pick up:

♠ AQ98
♥ T6
♣ K6

You open 1♦ and partner responds 1♥. You rebid 2NT which is raised to 3. LHO on the other side of the screen leads the ♣5 and the hand has something familiar about it. Partner has:

♠ J76
♥ AQJ32
♦ J7
♣ Q83

and the lady thinks about it for a while and... takes the Ace?! Well, that's 2 Club tricks for the good guys. After making all the tricks when LHO shows up with Kxx of ♥ you end up with 12 tricks for a 25% score. Funny, you'd think at this level they would know about ducking a trick like this. Then she says: "I had to take the Ace otherwise I would've been squeezed..." Okay, she knew!

Welcome to the World Championship :)

(Note: the Verona bulletin had this hand but against me it happened as I described it - against someone else)

Saturday, September 02, 2006


The importance of system - 1

Hi, I know it has been a long time since I posted something here but I will try to make more frequent posts now.

Recently a pair of not so experienced players in my club started to play a Strong Club system and what happened was frightening: total chaos. So how important is system really?

Let's start with the club level. Here system is completely irrelevant. Players make so many other mistakes that are not system related, not just in the play but also bidding judgement. It doesn't matter what system you play, just get those other things right first.

Let's look at an example. Partner opens 1 Heart (natural of some sort), RHO doubles and you have:

♠ QJxxxx
♥ KQJx
♦ x
♣ Jx

Does it matter if you are playing "really cool Precision", "Magic Diamond" or "Stone Age Acol"? No! The player here redoubled since he had 10+ HCP (or perhaps added some distribution points?). UNTIL you get these kinds of bids right you have no business investing much time in a brand new system. The correct answer here is not to Redouble for strength but to make a forcing raise of Hearts like 2NT Truscott, or if system allows showing some other feature at the same time like 2♠ Fit Showing Jump.

Never mind the bidding problem, but if you Redouble here no system can save you. It is true that some systems will be more fun to play than others, and some will give you good results because they apply pressure on your opponents, but what use are those good results if you are throwing out points on the other side at an even greater speed?

Monday, January 30, 2006


NT ranges 2 - the weak NTs

I know some people would be interested to know more about opening weak NTs. I think it is a winner if you treat it properly. That's a big if!

You need to be well-prepared for the part score battles that will take place. In a strong NT system, the weak NT hand type opens and then sits back to see if something good happens. The strong NT hand opens 1NT and does the same.

Not so in a weak NT system! The weak NT hand opens 1NT and when someone doubles something, the auction begins and opener is asked to participate. The strong NT hand opens 1 of a suit and is responsible for showing extra values.

The weak NT will give you some unavoidable bad scores. But also some good scores which you will avoid if you do not fulfill the big if above.

Let's look at some different ranges.

12 - 14
This is the standard weak NT. It can be played in all positions and vulnerabilities if you like. However you need to be aware that 3rd seat may be dangerous, and unfavourable vulnerability also.

If you want to play a variable NT range I suggest however you use:

11 - 13

This is my preferred variable NT range in non-dangerous situations. In situations where you think this is dangerous you can revert to 14 - 16 NT. In situations where you rate the situation as safe you can also play 10 - 13 for frequency reasons.

12 - 15
This is usually connected to Precision and I think this is a bad idea if your 1♣ opening is 16+. If it's 15+ then it's fine. The point is when playing Precision you want the balanced hand of the same point count as your unbalanced minimum 1♣ opening to open something else. If you play 16+ I think the way to go is to put some balanced hands into 1♦ and either play 14 - 16 NT or variable with 10 - 13.

10 - 12
Sorry but this one is not good in my opinion unless playing Precision, and even then probably 11 - 13 or 10 - 13 is better. Lowering your weak NT range this far is nice as frequency is concerned, but you first tell your opponents that you do NOT have this range when you don't open it, and also the balanced ranges that have to be covered in standard bidding is so large that you get into rebid problems there.

Responding to a weak NT
You can use your favorite Stayman and Transfers here. It'll be all right. However lately I've been thinking about other methods. Keri is nice but quite complicated. 2-way Stayman does not sound correct: 2♣ asks if I have a 4-card major, and 2♦ asks if I have a 4-card major. Great!

Another way is to use 2♦ as a shape relay and 2♣ for the rest. This is nice for (rare) slam auctions but forces you to open 1NT only on certain pre-determined shapes.

So what's my take on this? On my bridge systems site there is a 2-way Stayman variation where 2♦ does NOT ask for a 4-card major. Instead it asks for a 2-card major, of which partner should have at most one.

Here is the link: Weak NT response system. It is not as detailed as some other systems but easier to learn than Keri and more flexible than the 2♦ relay. More on this later.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


NT ranges 1 - the strong NTs

I'm sure you all have seen plenty of NT ranges when playing bridge. In some countries you need to announce the range as there is no real standard. However, 15 - 17 is treated as standard for a strong NT, so let's look at some alternatives.

16 - 18
I know this used to be popular and is still in many learning books. Don't play this. Don't teach your students this. Pity those who do. Why? Here's why:

If responder has 10 HCP exactly and the auction starts 1x - 1y - 1NT, he will pass since opposite most hands 2NT will be in danger or too high. However opposite most 15 counts the field is going to be in 3NT. And it will often make. The problem is that nowadays everyone opens 12 HCP and 4432. Nothing wrong with that, but the 1NT rebid of 12 - 15 is too wide to make good judgement.

14 - 16
I like this myself. This range is 50% more common than the range that "looks the same but isn't", 15 - 17. Also the 1NT rebid is now very narrow: A good 11 to 13. With 11 HCP you just pass it out in 1NT where the field is in 2NT. Or if you had 11+ opposite 11, you are in 1NT instead of a pass out.

Another advantage is that opponents have a game on a higher percentage of hands, so they might be either afraid or wrong to use their non-constructive strong NT defence like DONT, on the other hand it does not pay off yet to hit this for penalty as it is so rare.

This range also goes well with Precision. It is good to know your 1♣ opening bid does not include 16 HCP balanced hands.

With so many pluses, what are the disadvantages? Well, you have to account for more big balanced hands in other ways. Making a 2NT opener lighter also has its dangers. In the end, I still think 14 - 16 is the way to go now as strong NTs go.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Your sohl or mine?

2NT has never been a popular contract, and rightly so. In many situations it does not pay to play 2NT as natural. Not because a hand that would want to bid it is not possible, but because there are better uses. Some examples are:

1NT (2♥) 2NT
(2♥) Double (Pass) 2NT
1♣ 1♠ 2♥ 2NT

Conventions that end in "Sohl" use the transfer principle and use the extra 2NT step in these sequences as a transfer to 3♣ with several hand types. Let's take the first sequence as example. Partner opens 1NT and RHO overcalls 2♥.


2NT is a transfer to 3♣ with either a weak 1-suited hand below opponent's suit (a minor) or some strong variations. With two bids, 3NT and 3♥, and by going through 2NT or not, you can distinguish about wanting to play 3NT with or without stopper in ♥, and with or without 4-card ♠. For suits above opponent's (♠) you have possible ways to show them.


In this version by Ira Rubin all bids are transfers. The weak hands all bid the bid below the suit and then pass when partner completes the transfer. To ask only for a stopper for 3NT without 4-card major, transfer to 3NT with 3♠. Although the number of possible bids to show a suit is the same as Lebensohl, the number of sequences is larger because of more transfer bids. You can show a second suit, or show a suit and then ask for a stopper, for example.


I've actually tried a third variation: Rumpelsohl. Here 2NT shows either a strong hand with ♣ or a weak hand with a suit below that of the opponents. The other bids are as in Rubensohl. These bids have the advantage that all bids except 2NT show a good hand.

Good things: You can also invite in suits lower than opponents except ♣ (opener will decline the transfer with a useful hand), and since you show a good hand, opener can get into to the auction when opponents raise. A big winner is this sequence: 1NT (2♠) 3♦.

Bad things: You lose the sequences where you show Clubs and were planning to bid a suit below opener's after partner accepts. However partner is not barred from showing a big ♣ fit in the same way as after a Lebensohl 2NT. 1NT (2♥) 2NT (p) 3♦ = I can stand 4♣ if that is your suit!

Which should you play?

Although the number of sequences in Rumpelsohl (best imho) or Rubensohl is much richer and should be preferred in a regular partnership, the transfer nature of the bids make them more vulnerable for misunderstandings if you and your partner are not clear on which sequences to play the convention. This is why for casual partnerships I suggest you play Lebensohl.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


4- and 5-card majors

This post is a try to give an overview of natural systems with 4- and 5-card majors. Where are the advantages and disadvantages. First let me define a string of minimum opening length. This is the minimum number of cards required for the opening bids 1♠, 1♥, 1♦ and 1♣. For example Standard American would have the code "5533". As a check, these numbers should always add up to 16.

Let's start on one end of the spectrum.

English Acol - 4444
All opening bids on the 1-level promise a minimum of 4 cards. With 4M + 4m usually open the major. There is some freedom here. This system has the advantages that 1M can preempt the opponents and that 1m are well defined, however the disadvantages are that 1m are less frequent and 1M have more bidding problems, esp. after interference.

Dutch Acol - 4444
In Dutch Acol you bid 4-card suits bottom up. This may seem silly and frankly, I think it is. The biggest problem is 1♠, which is either 4♠333 or 5 cards. You want to know which variation is the actual one, especially in competition! Although the string of opening length did not change this is in fact the biggest step between systems! All the others just revolve around one or two distributions.

Swiss Acol - 5443
This is like Dutch Acol but 4M333 hands are opened 1♣. You have the advantage of 1♠ showing 5 cards but not for 1♥, which may have 4 cards if it also has 4 cards in ♠. This makes it harder to find fits in ♥ as partners have no certainty.

SEF, SAYC, 2/1 - 5533
This is like Swiss Acol only the 4♠4♥32 hands are opened with the 3-card minor. Now 1♥ promises 5 cards, making life easier for responder. This means that 1♦ is only 3 cards if 4♠4♥3♦2♣. This gives the same problems as 1♠ in Dutch Acol and 1♥ in Swiss Acol, we keep moving the problem down. Here it is again:

1♦ (2♥) ?

You have 4♦ 2♥ and want to find a bid. Your length in ♦ increases the chance that partner is short, and if he is you know that he has 4♥. So either we have a 4 - 4 fit and they probably have a fit somewhere too, OR we have only 7 cards in ♦ and the same is true for their ♥. Your guess!

Italian 2/1 - 5542
This is like SEF but hands with 4♠4♥3♦2♣ are opened with 1♣. I prefer this method by far over any of the above. Note that we have moved our problem down another step now. However, it is best faced in 1♣, the most shaded of the opening bids even before this problem. Also by opening 1♣ we are least in the way of partner when we have hands that could play in at least 2 or 3 strains.

Let me notice some trends from one side to the other:

From English Acol to 2/1, the minimum strength of auctions like 1♥ - 2♦ increases. This is no doubt caused by the opening structure. The lack of definition for the 2/1s in English Acol is a big problem, but without them you have to respond 1NT to 1M too often. With them, slam bidding becomes much harder than in 2/1. Not my cup of tea (and tea is without milk!)

The opening bid of 1♦ makes a transformation from well-defined for Acol to vague and then back to well-defined. This is the main flaw of the systems in the middle, I think.

1♣ gets to include more and more hands from up to down. I think every step (except the first which is not helpful at all) is an improvement in this case as it helps define the other opening bids more than that it hurts 1♣.

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