Category Archives: Bridge tales

Bridge tales: a rare penalty double

All the hands we have played at the play and learn sessions at The Trout are pre-dealt and therefore randomly generated by computer. That makes it all the more surprising that this week we had two hands which both provided an opportunity for the defence to double a one-level contract for penalties and then defeat it. This is a rare event in bridge.

This was the first hand (reproduced using the excellent Bridge Solver software).

Trout hand 1 !2th Feb 2019

The dealer was East and the normal opening bid here is 1 Diamond (1D), preparing to rebid 1NT/2NT over any positive response from partner, showing a balanced hand of 15-16 High Card Points. This opening bid naturally was a bit of a shock to South, with his seven diamonds headed by a strong sequence. The golden rule to apply when an opponent bids your best suit is simply to suppress your surprise and pass in good tempo, as if nothing unusual was going on.

West also passed and now the onus switches to North.  The North hand just qualifies for a takeout double, which ideally shows support for the other three suits and a shortage in the opening bidder’s suit. (In some cases it may also be the only way to kick off the bidding with a strong hand that has no other obvious bid). In either event it is not a penalty double. As a general rule any low level double when your partner has not made a positive bid (that is, something other than a pass) should be treated as a takeout rather than a penalty double.

But while North expects his partner to respond to the takeout double by bidding a suit, there will be some occasions when he/she is more than happy to convert the double into a penalty double. The way to do that is simply to pass. That should only happen, as in this case, when the partner of the doubler has a particularly long and strong holding in the doubled suit and can be confident of making most of the tricks in trumps.

Beginners in bridge often find this kind of thinking counter-intuitive; “this is our suit” they tend to say “so why aren’t we trying to play the hand instead of the opponents?” The answer to that is that the objective of the game is to score more points than the opponents. It is not just to bid and make contracts. Doubling and defeating an unmakeable contract is often the simplest and most lucrative way to make a good score.

So on this hand East will be lucky to come to more than 2 or 3 tricks if left to play in 1D doubled. If that is what happens the penalty accusing to North/South will be +800 (four down doubled, not vulnerable) or even +1100 (five down doubled, not vulnerable). At the same time the only game contract that North/South can hope to make is 5D – 11 tricks in the opponents’ suit! – which would be worth +400 points. That is only half the reward for roughly twice the effort – an unattractive bargain. The moral is: if there is a big penalty on offer, take it!

Here is the second hand on the same theme that came up shortly afterwards.

Trout hand 2 12th Feb 2019

The bidding here, with both sides vulnerable, started with West as dealer. With 5-5 in the major suits, the correct opening bid is 1S, planning to rebid in hearts. North has a perfect takeout double with 16 High Card Points and a void in spades. When this comes round to South, the calculation has to be that defeating 1S is more likely than making game, so a pass is called for. True, North South may well have a fit in diamonds, but game in diamonds is unlikely and the penalty from defeating 1S is likely to be greater than the value of the game, even if it can be made.

Note however that in order to be sure of defeating a One-level contract like this the trumps you hold will need to be at least as good as the six cards headed by a strong sequence shown here. If you only something like KJ953 in the suit that has been doubled, experience shows that the declarer will do much better than you think. One reason is that the A and Q will usually be in declarer’s hand, “sitting over” your King and Jack, thereby reducing the chances of those cards making tricks.

On this hand, with perfect knowledge of where all the opposing cards are located, North South can defeat 1S by three tricks to score +800 (three down, doubled, vulnerable). In practice two down double (+500) is probably a more likely score. Note that there is no game contract that can be made by North South on best defence, although on the day at The Trout North was allowed to make 3 No Trumps at one table.

Points to remember:

  1. If no suit has been agreed with your partner, low level doubles are usually for takeout, suggesting playing in anything but the opponent’s bid suit
  2. As the partner of the doubler however, do consider passing and turning the double in to a penalty double when you have a very long and strong holding in that suit
  3. Racking up a large penalty score by doubling and defeating a contract bid by the opponents is definitely winning bridge, especially when they are vulnerable.

It is worth noting however that on the second hand, East West will have a much better chance of escaping trouble if they can find their way to play in hearts rather than spades – they can actually make eight tricks with hearts as trumps. How to rescue yourself from a One-level doubled contract will be the subject of a different, later note.

 

 

Bridge tales: a bold sacrifice

January 2nd 2019

It is always a pleasure to play bridge with the very best experts, as I am able to do from time to time. Last week I played in the EBU’s annual End of Year festival in London with Robert Sheehan, one of the most technically proficient of all the great players of the last few decades and a stalwart of the England bridge team for many years from the 1970s onwards. On this hand from the Open Pairs event he benefited from a daring manoeuvre with what was by far the worst hand at the table.

This was the deal, with NS (our side) not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents. These are often the best conditions in which to attempt tactical manouevres. In duplicate events of this kind, your score is determined solely by how many other pairs playing the same cards you are able to outscore. Every trick and overtrick therefore is crucial. Unlike in rubber bridge, you can bid and make a small slam but still score nothing if everyone else with your hand has bid and made a grand slam.

EBU 7S down 1

D = the dealer. V = vulnerable. NV = not vulnerable.

Robert was sitting South with a miserable zero points. As dealer I opened a pre-emptive 4H, following the old “rule of 2 and 3”. This suggests that when considering a pre-emptive call to make life difficult for the opponents, a good guideline for determining the level of your pre-empt is to assume that you can afford to go down two down doubled if vulnerable (-500) and three down doubled (-500) if not. This five-loser hand more than qualifies; some might open 1H as a result.

As it was East overcalled with 4S and Robert pitched in with 5H, “raising to the level of the fit” (11 trumps = bid up to the 5 level). Now East, Espen Erichsen, an experienced professional who had won another event at the EBU festival just the previous day, jumped to 6S. With at best half a defensive trick I passed as North and now Robert bid on to 7H. He later added “I know one is not meant to do this”, What he meant was that normally, if you are going to make a sacrifice bid, you are best served doing so at the first opportunity, giving the opposition as little room as possible to decide what to do.

Here however, with his miserable hand, a void in trumps and no reason to expect more than one trick (at most) from his partner, he was taking advantage of the favourable vulnerability to put more pressure on the opponents. As 6S, a vulnerable major suit slam, rated to score 1430 or 1460, he knew that we could afford to go at least six down doubled (-1400) and still make a profit. The risk of course was that EW would bid on to 7S which if it made would have been worth 2210, comfortably beating all those who bid up to the 6 level and stayed there.

Knowing the odds just as well, all Espen could do was grimace and guess which of the two courses – doubling or bidding on the 7S would produce the best score. Eventually he bid 7S, acknowledging once he had done so that thanks to Robert’s bold bid it was a guess. Robert led the 10C and when the dummy went down, it looked at first as if Espen had made the right call. On normal distributions there seemed to be 13 top tricks by means of six spades, five clubs and two red suit Aces.

Declarer certainly thought so and put his cards down to claim all 13 tricks, but Robert was having none of it, pointing out that the clubs were not breaking and even if declarer drew trumps and took two discards on his winning club tricks there would still be a diamond loser at the end. (I am sure that the risk of bad breaks was one reason why he took the risk of bidding on to 7H). So 7S was one down for an excellent score for us, helping us to an eventual fourth place finish (out of 68 pairs).

A review of what had happened at the other tables showed that nine other EW pairs had been pushed into bidding 7S, all but one also going down (best not to enquire how it was made). Eight others were allowed to play in 7H doubled and the remainder included several stopping tamely in 5S. 7S-1 earned an 89% score on the board while 7Hx down three tricks was still worth an above average 56%. Allowing EW to play in 6S would have scored just 13%.

One other technical point (for the very keen) may be worth making. Once the declarer discovers that the clubs are not breaking, he should play off all his cards in spades and hearts. If his left hand opponent turns out to have both the five clubs and the KQ of diamonds, he will be squeezed and the grand slam will still make. It is not at all likely but when a contract looks doomed, it is still worth trying for an improbable outcome, just in case this is your day.

Bridge tales recount hands that I have come across or played myself recently and which I think contain an important instructional point or two. If you spot an error in the analysis, which sometimes happens, despite my best efforts, please let me know…..Some hands are difficult, others of more interest to early stage learners.