The Monday morning seminar is on the topic of bidding big hands. It covers when and when not to open Two Clubs and how to develop the bidding from there. The next three weeks after that will cover the Losing Trick Count, the Jacoby Two No Trump convention and splinters, all popular subjects that will help with your game and slam bidding. The list of topics is updated regularly. You can sign up for all these dates on Eventbrite, or if that proves tricky (as sometimes happens) email me and pay by bank transfer. The seminars start at 9.30am and run till 11.30.
Tuesday will feature our regular morning of social bridge, starting at 9.30am, and again the way to book a place is via Eventbrite. We aim to have a minimum of four tables and this week we will be looking for a couple of newcomers to add to our regulars. The breakout rooms are working smoothly on Zoom. Please email me if you would like to join us this week. There is a cutoff point for booking a place on Monday evenings so I can allocate the players to tables.
On Monday afternoons I have committed to play with a regular partner of mine in the Andrew Robson 18-board duplicate game for the next few weeks. I will record some short videos about a couple of the hands each week and have arranged to discuss them with at least one pair from our group who are taking on the challenge of playing in the same event. As I said last week, there is always a greater random element in the pairs game and so this is a great chance to outscore the best players from Andrew’s London club (extra kudos if you manage to score more than me!).
The Advanced Defence course finished last week and I am happy to say that some of those who were on the course have said they want to do it again. For the time being I am continuing with private one-table coaching sessions during the week (currently doing 12 in all) but I am thinking of how best to offer new courses as well, with a beginners or recently started course one of the priorities. If you have any specific requests let me know and I will build up a waiting list.
It is another glorious sunny day – not perhaps the best for sitting indoors to play bridge – but there is more cold weather coming and it looks like it is going to be some time before the lockdown restrictions are materially eased. How nice to have developed a weekly routine in which some of the hours can be filled with the best card game every invented!
The seminar I am running this Monday is about the single hardest decision you have to make at the bridge table – which is the right card to lead at trick one? Without a sight of dummy, you only have the bidding and your own cards to guide your choice. On some estimates the fate of as many as 50% of all contracts are determined by which card you lead at the first trick.
I shall be discussing the options and explaining how your thinking should be guided in the two-hour seminar, starting at 9.30am. (To add to the problem, there are or course different answers for No Trump and trump contracts). You can book a place by following this link, but let me know by email if Eventbrite rejects you (as it seems to do with a small minority). I have updated the list of future topics on the seminar page on this website; look out for some popular bidding conventions coming up.
The “online Wytham” session will be going ahead as normal on Tuesday, starting at 9.30am (link here – ignore any suggestions on Eventbrite that the start time is 9.45am). Nearly all our regulars will be there but we do usually have room for one or two more, so please advise me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to be considered. I try to sort out the tables on Monday evening, so there is a cut-off for entries at that time, but occasionally I will send out an SOS for reinforcements to fill the last table.
All the 11 different coaching sessions will be continuing this week and I am trying to fit in a couple more. What this means unfortunately is that I am having to be a little stricter about start and finishing times. I appreciate there are many distractions, but if you can log in on BBO and join the Zoom call just before the start time it will ensure that we squeeze in as many hands as possible. Each group is different but they are all a lot of fun to teach – thank you for making them so.
For those of you who are interested in playing online duplicates, Andrew Robson’s club in London is now running four tournaments a day on Bridge Base Online. Subject to other commitments, I am planning to play in the 18-board 2.15 game on Monday afternoons myself and happy to take questions about the hands afterwards if you are also taking part. There is a considerable random element involved in duplicate pairs, so even the experts don’t always come out on top, and this is a good chance to try and outscore the best players and secure some bragging rights!
With another hat on I am involved in a small group organised by the Oxfordshire Bridge Association which is tasked with promoting tournament bridge in the county. They are planning some tournaments for early stage bridge players in the coming weeks. Most of you I know prefer the friendly social games that we have always run, but I shall give more details in due course for those who might want to try it out.
I will do a separate post about the answers to the two bridge hand questions I posted last week. I gather, finally, that there is a mention of a bridge player I know well in Andrew Robson’s latest Country Life column (though I have not seen it). Those of very advanced years may recall my grandfather Frank Davis, who wrote the salesroom column in Country Life for more than 20 years and was still busy writing the week he died, aged 98.
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.
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.