Update on play sessions

We held the first of what will become our regular weekly play sessions at The Trout on Tuesday this week and it turned out to be both popular and, I believe from the immediate feedback, a great success. The cold weather was a bit of a negative when the roaring log fire went out without anybody immediately noticing (too absorbed in their cards perhaps?), but that is something we can readily fix on future occasions.

The next Tuesday morning sessions, which starts next Tuesday (February 5th) at 10am, has attracted even more potential interest than the first one, so I am expecting an even bigger turnout. It is not too late to book a place however – the more the merrier. I will only be totting up the final numbers on Sunday evening, so do please put your name down before then if you would like to come.

If you have a regular partner to bring they will be very welcome, and if you are on your own we should be able to fit you in provided only that we have produce a final number count 24 hours in advance. With the help of my colleague Annabel we can cope with most combinations, but the one really difficult one is if we have a multiple of four plus one turning up; in that case (and that case alone), we will have to ask one person to sit out on for just one hand in the course of the morning. I don’t think that sitting out for one hand in a three hour session should be a major hardship, but it is only fair to advise you that it is a possibility in that one particular case.

As this week, next Tuesday’s session will allow you to play a number of pre-dealt hands under supervision. I bring 32 such hands to each session and from now on they will be carefully selected to make sure that the most interesting ones are divided equally between the two sides of each table. That means everyone will get a chance to declare a number of contracts, while also being able to practise their defence the rest of the time. (There were at least six potential slam hands this week, incidentally, even though the deals were randomly generated).

We will typically aim to get through between a half and two thirds of those 32 pre-dealt hands in the three hours available. It is up to each table to decide how long they want to spend reviewing the hand they have just played.  Annabel and I are both on hand to answer queries and offer advice as and when required. Experience suggests that you cannot fail to improve by practising the bidding and play tips you have picked up in lessons or your earlier bridge life. It was also hugely encouraging to see the friendly spirit in which all the hands were played – definitely part of the Robson bridge experience – and I heard a lot of spirited and amicable chat as well.

The success of the Tuesday morning session should ensure that it becomes a regular weekly event. Support for the other two options I canvassed (Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings) means that they too may be able to start quite soon. I am keeping open the Doodle poll for all three sessions – the link to the poll is here – and hope that you will be encouraged to sign up for one or more of those if you think that is of interest to you. When the teaching term ends in March, I also hope to offer alternative days of the week for play sessions. A number of you who cannot come to a weekday event have expressed interest in a half or full day weekend session and that will also be scheduled shortly.

There is a good chance that the first Friday morning session will start running next week or the week after. Please watch this space for further confirmation. I can only apologise to those who have expressed interest for a session that has not yet taken place. I can assure you that a wider choice of sessions will be happening as soon as the timetable and numbers allow. In the meantime I look forward to seeing you as many of you as possible next Tuesday morning at The Trout.

If you want to book a place for a Tuesday morning session at The Trout the simplest way is to sign up on the Doodle poll and send an email (to bridge@arb-oxf.uk) to let us know that you are definitely coming, and – if you are bringing others – who they are. You will then need to book your place by transferring £15 to the ARB Oxford bank account, giving the venue and date as the reference (e.g. Trout 5th Feb for next Tuesday’s event).  We much prefer that to taking cash on the day, although we can do that as well if there is no alternative. I can send the bank details to anyone who asks me for them or does not yet have them.


PS It is always helpful if you can add your contact phone number to any email so that I can add that to our database of interested players. It makes it easier to find out where your interests lie – and for me to schedule things – if we have the option of calling you directly.

Bridge at The Trout

Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent poll to assess your interest in play and learn sessions. I am happy to confirm that the first two of these sessions will be held at The Trout in Godstow on Tuesday January 29th and February 5th, both starting at 10 am. All those who have already expressed an interest have been notified and will be asked shortly to confirm their availability.

The Tuesday morning option has proved to be the most popular and so we will start with those. The other two options I have canvassed – Wednesday evenings at The Trout and Friday mornings in Woodstock – have also attracted support, though not to quite the same extent, and I will be following up on those shortly.


It is not too late to express your interest in a range of dates over the next month at these two venues. This is the link to The Trout poll and this is the link to the Woodstock poll. The first two play and learn sessions are also live on the Eventbrite website, although it will save you a couple of pounds to email me your intention to take part by emailing me directly (bridge@arb-oxf.uk) and paying by direct bank transfer. There is plenty of parking at both venues.

I am confident that these sessions can become a regular weekly event for all those who want to put what they know (or have learnt) about bridge into practice in a friendly and co-operative environment with like-minded enthusiasts.  This is how Andrew’s club in London started and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. We are on the way to creating what I hope will be a similar success here in Oxford….

Play session poll

I have now created the links which I hope you will use to indicate your interest in a potentially regular play session with other followers of Andrew Robson Bridge in Oxford. The link for sessions at The Trout on Tuesday mornings and/or Wednesday evenings in Godstow is here: and that for Woodstock on Friday mornings is here. Please indicate any or all of these which you would be interested in joining and we can judge where the most interest lies. I will send out more formal invitations once I have seen the responses. Any other comments welcome. Many thanks.

New Year plans

I am busy putting the final touches to the schedule for the coming three months. For logistical reasons I have had to make changes to the timing and venue of some courses. The Essential course begins as scheduled on Monday January 21st at 9.45am. The starting time for the Improver course on Thursdays (starting on January 24th at the North Oxford Association) is being brought forward by an hour and a half to 10.00am. The Next Step course on Thursdays is being rescheduled. I will be contacting anyone affected by these changes directly in a separate email.

In response to demand I am also adding the Improver Plus course which will  take place on Tuesday afternoons, starting at 2.30 pm. There has also been interest in a course devoted entirely to defence and one devoted to conventions suitable for duplicate competition. If you would also be interested in either of these please let me know and I will see when and how these might be organised.

After further investigation of suitable venues, I am proposing to hold the first play and learn session of 2019 on Tuesday January 29th in the agreeable surroundings of The Trout at Godstow. As most of you will now, this is a well-known pub beside the river in North Oxford, featured in episodes of Inspector Morse, readily accessible from both the A34 (via Wytham) and the northern ring road (from the Wolvercote roundabout). There is plenty of parking.

The plan is for the session to start promptly at 10am and run until lunchtime when a buffet lunch will be available for those who want to stay. It will feature a series of pre-dealt boards that can be played and scored, with a chance to call for help during play, and to ask questions about specific hands at the end. Hand records will be available to study once the session has ended and you will have a chance, but only if you so wish, to compare your results against those who played the hands when they were originally played (in a  competition). I will also provide a bridge tip and refresher note for the day.

This way I hope these sessions will appeal to both those with a competitive urge and those who primarily value the social and learning aspects of this great game. There will be an opportunity to play against different opponents during the course of the morning, but if you simply want to come with your own group of four, simply to practise and learn, that too we can cater for. Tea and coffee will be available and there will be a modest charge for the buffet lunch if you choose to stay for that.

To gauge demand I will be sending out a “Doodle poll” shortly to find out which of the available dates over the next month you might in principle be keen to join – fill in as many of the dates as you like and if you have a partner add them as well (let me have their names and emails so I can add them to the poll). The two options currently available at The Trout are Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings, and I will also include Friday mornings at the St Hugh’s Centre in Woodstock. Dates and venues will be finalised once I have had a chance to review the results. My hope is that there will be at least one regular session every week from February onwards.

A Doodle poll is a simple online method of sampling demand for a range of different dates and options. You simply have to click on the link provided in the email and register which of the various dates you would be interested in attending (feel free to pick more than one). I am looking forward to hearing your views. I will send out a separate poll in due course to try and narrow down how many of you are specifically interested in duplicate sessions.

I do hope that as many as you as possible will come to one of these sessions once the poll is completed. The regular weekly sessions will evolve as I find out more precisely where the most demand is. They provide an opportunity to meet all the others who like the sound of Robson bridge. In the meantime I would like to wish you a Happy New Year and hope that all your bids and finesses continue to prosper.


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.


Spring course schedule

Spring courses

The schedule for the spring courses has now been published. We have two courses scheduled for Monday mornings (Beginners and Essential) and two for Thursdays mornings (Next Step and Improver). The list of courses can be found by following this link. Please note that, in order to manage numbers, only those who have booked in advance can be admitted; refunds for individual sessions are possible if notified before the course starts.

If anyone is interested in other courses (including advanced play and bidding, or conventions galore), please contact me directly. Meanwhile, if you are a beginner, or not sure what might be best for you, why not book a place at a free taster session? There will be a free taster session on Thursday January 17th at the North Oxford Association in Summertown, North Oxford (link here) and some other dates as well.

Supervised play sessions

There is a supervised play session on Tuesday afternoon next week at North Oxford Golf Club, between 2pm and 5pm. You can sign up for the session by following this link. From January we are considering offering three regular play session options, on Wednesday afternoons (at North Oxford Golf Club), Thursday evenings (in Woodstock) and Friday mornings/afternoons (also in Woodstock). How many of these go ahead will depend on demand so it would be very helpful if you could let me know (bridge@arb-oxf.uk) which of these you might be likely to attend. We will put up the final options on the website before Christmas. Each session will run for up to three hours.

Spring courses timetable

Spring courses

The schedule for the spring courses has now been published. We have two courses scheduled for Monday mornings (Beginners and Improver) and two for Thursdays mornings (Essential and Next Step). The list of courses can be found by following this link (https://arb-oxf.uk/schedule/). Please note that only those who have booked in advance can be admitted. If anyone is interested in other courses (including advanced play and bidding, or conventions) please contact me directly. Meanwhile, if you are a beginner, or not sure what might be best for you, why not book a place at one of our free taster sessions?

Play and learn events

The good news is that there are now nearly 150 followers of Andrew Robson Bridge in Oxford. The experimental Chicago evening on September proved to be popular and I am proposing to hold a regular weekly play and learn sessions from January. In order to reach as many of you as possible, we are initially offering three different options. Whether we can fulfil all of them will depend on how many of you have an interest in this kind of event, so do please email me with those in which you would have an interest, and let me know your preferences.

The options will be:

Wednesday afternoons (2pm to 5pm) at North Oxford Golf Club.

Thursday evenings (6.45pm to 9.45pm) at the St Hugh’s Centre in Woodstock.

Friday mornings (10pm to 1pm) at the St Hugh’s Centre in Woodstock, or possibly at The Perch in Binsey.

My strong belief is that playing bridge in the right company and the right spirit is not only enjoyable in its own right, but also the best way to make new friends and learn and improve. You can come along either with a favourite partner or on your own; with some notice we should be able to make up enough tables to accommodate you.

Email contact

It has also been brought to my attention that some of you who I thought were on the email list may not have been receiving notifications from the website. In some cases that may be because the emails have been misdirected into your spam or junk folder. It may be worth checking to make sure that you are not missing out.  I shall also be checking the reliability of the website’s distribution system and sending out a separate email to all those on our database, inviting them to sign up if they have not already done so. You may therefore see this message twice.

Happy bridging to you all.





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