Given the level of interest in playing online bridge, I have updated the page about the options for online play and lessons we are offering from Monday onwards. These include a number of regular supervised play sessions, plus details of the lessons that are continuing, and the opportunity to book a time for a smaller group session with your chosen friends and partners (either continuous supervision or an hour-long review session at the end). For the first time we are offering you the chance to organise supervised play or small group sessions in the afternoon and evening, subject to them fitting in with my schedule. Follow the link to the online bridge page for more details.
Category Archives: Play sessions
One of the very few good things to say about the current coronavirus epidemic is that there are now many more online bridge sites than there used to be, and most are much more sophisticated than they once were. A good many of you have expressed interest in online lessons and supervised play now that all face to face dates in our calendar have had to be suspended.
As far as lessons are concerned, if you are interested in taking part in these, I would like to suggest that as a first step you should sign up to become a member of Bridge Base Online. It is free to join and all you have to do is create a username and password. BBO, as it is known for short, is the most advanced of all online bridge sites and has recently been undergoing modernisation. It is the one that all professional players use and the one I use too.
The drawback with it is that the robots it uses and most of the players you can play with at an online table use American bidding methods, which are different from the ones most people play and teach over here. Those methods typically involve a strong No Trump and you need five cards to open the bidding in a major suit, whereas in the UK we play four-card majors and a weak No Trump.
However for teaching purposes that does not matter as the teacher can control everything that happens at the table. What I would like to suggest is that once you have become a member you send me your username so I can set up tables where only those I invite can play. That way it will be possible to create a suitable teaching environment and also, I believe (though have not yet had confirmed), replicate something that is in principle similar to our Tuesday sessions with multiple tables.
I will provide more details shortly when I have fully explored the possibilities. In addition to teaching on BBO, I will also be creating a number of teaching videos and webinars to explore particular topics. The first necessary step however, if you do want to keep learning during our enforced absence, is for you to send me your usernames (to email@example.com) so I can add them to the teaching/supervised play database. I look forward to hearing from all of you.
Given the latest advice from the Government, it is inevitable that our regular bridge sessions will soon have to be postponed until the epidemic is properly contained. Thanks to those of you who have already told me that they no longer feel able to come to classes or play and learn sessions. I fully understand and support your decision. I was already planning on suspending most of our events even before the latest announcements. This is the BBC News analysis as of 4.30pm today (link here) – Sunday March 15th.
While the Health Secretary says that it is not yet the right time to urge anyone over 70 or those with health issues to self-isolate, that decision will be coming shortly. The peak of the epidemic is not currently expected to occur for around 10 weeks. It seems inevitable however that most people, whether or not they are in the highest risk category, will decide to take matters into their own hands sooner rather than later to try and minimise the risk of infection.
Bridge events as we organise them currently are particularly risky as sources of infection, given the use of playing cards and bidding boxes. We can minimise that risk to some extent by dispensing with boards that move round the room, replacing them with packs of cards that are not used at any other table and are thrown away at the end of each session, and also by stopping using bidding boxes. However there is no way to enable social distancing, which requires people to stay six feet away from each other, or to eliminate the risk of transmission through the atmosphere.
The English Bridge Union has today cancelled all its national events over the next few months and issued new guidance to bridge clubs that do decide to stay open, urging members who are vulnerable to stay away, and clubs that are still open to consider carefully whether their arrangements are still appropriate. Some of us already know somebody who has been infected and it is inevitable that the number of cases is going to continue to grow rapidly for a few weeks.
In these circumstances, I am proposing the following. The seminar tomorrow (on overcalling and the Unassuming Cue Bid) is going ahead, but the series will not continue after that until further notice. I have asked those who have indicated interest in attending to let me know if they are coming or not tomorrow.
The Tuesday play and learn session and Thursday morning refresher course will also not continue after this week, and will this week only operate on the basis set out above – no bidding boxes and no boards travelling around the room. I have created a new Doodle poll for the Tuesday Wytham session to replace the existing one. You can find it here. I would be grateful if you could complete it. I will be contacting those who have been coming to the Thursday refresher course directly with a similar message.
While sessions are suspended, I will be offering the option of online lessons and also a regular online tournament as well. If you are interested in either of those options, please let me know – playing online may not always be as much fun as playing in a social setting, but this could be a chance to work on your game so as to come back even better and stronger than before when the virus threat has subsided. If you unfortunately find yourself among those who have to self-isolate, this may also be one good way to while away the time.
There is, finally, the possibility of holding smaller private group lessons as well, in particular cases where everyone involved is not in the primary risk category, understands and is happy with the risks and suitable playing conditions can be created. For the moment I am monitoring developments closely and will only offer that on demand and in the light of prevailing medical advice.
I very much hope that those of you who have been regular or occasional participants in any of the classes or play and learn sessions will let me know what your thoughts are on all the above. I shall provide further updates on the website and by email so that we do not lose touch. If you have not already signed up to receive emails from this website, it would be very helpful if you could do so now, by adding your email in the box to the right of the page.
This is obviously a very difficult set of circumstances, particularly so as the lessons and sessions we run have been growing in popularity and I know how many of you have been enjoying the chance to play and learn with our convivial and growing group of participants. However it is obvious that we must do everything we can to minimise the risk of infection over the next few trying weeks and protect those who are at risk. I hope that we will all be back at the bridge table sooner rather than later.
Thank you finally for all your emails and messages. Please keep them coming!
Monday 2nd March
Next Level seminars – every Monday morning
This week: Fourth Suit Forcing, the must have bidding convention
North Oxford Association, Summertown, Oxford, 9.45am to 11.45am
Follow this link to let us know you are coming
Tuesday 3rd March
Supervised play and learn
Wytham Village Hall, 9.30am to 12.30pm
Our regular Tuesday morning session
Follow this link to let us know you are coming
Thursday 5th March
Wytham Village Hall, 9.45 to 11.45am
Maximum four tables; sorted by ability
Expert tuition at the table
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about spaces
Lessons 5 to 8 will be scheduled shortly
Tuesday 13th January
Play and learn: Wytham Village Hall, 9.30am to 12.30pm
Thursday 16th January
Refresher course: Wytham Village Hall, 9.45 to 11.45am
Friday 17th January
Next Step course: Wytham Village Hall 9.30 to 12.45pm
If you have expressed interest in one of the two courses, but have not seen an email from me in the last few days, please check your spam folder or contact me on email@example.com.
This is the schedule for all the bridge courses and play sessions we are running this autumn. I have added booking forms for the courses, on both the autumn course page and also on a new booking forms page. The weeks ahead now look like this.
(am) Improver course, in Summertown, starting September 23rd
(am) Bridge at Wytham Village Hall, every week starting 9.30am-9.45am
(pm) Advanced Play (four half day sessions, starting on October 16th)
(am) Essential course, in Summertown, starting September 26th
(mid-am) Refresher course, in Oxford, starting September 26th
(pm) Bridge in Charlbury, at the Corner House, from 1.30pm
(am) Beginners course (four half day sessions, provisional timing)
I am thinking of adding a second play and learn session either on Friday mornings or Wednesday evenings, at a venue to be determined. If you would be interested in this please let me know so I can judge whether there is sufficient demand to make it work. I am also planing to run a short course on the 2/1 bidding system for those who play duplicate regularly.
Look forward to seeing you soon. Jonathan.
The play and learn session tomorrow will not be at The Trout, as usual, but instead at the Jacobs Inn, a few hundred yards away in Wolvercote village. There is parking there too and a fair deal of space – lighter and less cramped than the room at The Trout we had last week. Kick off as normal is formally at 9.45, finishing at 12.30 or so, but if you get there earlier and want to start playing a few randomly dealt hands that is fine too. I shall be there from 9.30. Sorry for the change in venue, but we are in peak tourist season, with the end of the University term thrown in as well. Here is a link to the new venue.
As promised we are ready to try some additional times and venues for our play and learn sessions. The popular morning sessions at The Trout will continue, starting at 10am every Tuesday. On the morning of Friday March 8th we will be holding our first trial morning session in the Terrace Room at Islip Village Hall, starting at 10am. This is one of the best venues that I have come across, spacious, comfortable and well-appointed, and ideally suited to playing bridge. It is just a couple of minutes drive from the A34 north of Oxford, and also accessible from the ring road. There is plenty of free parking. Postcode OX5 2TH.
We are offering a three hour play session with supervision available from myself and Annabel on a series of pre-dealt hands (hand records available at the end). As the Tuesday morning sessions have shown, these play and learn sessions combine an element of real life competition with the chance to meet new people and practise what you know or have learnt so far in a friendly atmosphere.
As with the Tuesday sessions, the simplest way to book a place is to make a bank transfer quoting Islip March 8th as a reference. Alternatively send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com) declaring your intention to play and we will provide the bank details by return. All sessions cost £15 and refreshments will be available. While it is possible to turn up unannounced, we will try – but cannot absolutely guarantee – to find you a table.
We now have two new Doodle polls running for you to indicate which dates in March you might be able to make, one for The Trout on Tuesday mornings and the second for Islip on a Friday morning. These polls don’t commit you to play, of course, but are helpful for planning purposes. Once the current crop of teaching courses has ended, we may be able to work in opportunities to play on other days of the week as well, including our first duplicate sessions.
These are the links:
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).
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.
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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.