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 ( 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 ( 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.





Latest news and updates

The first free taster session for the autumn will be held on September 20th at 10am. The venue is the North Oxford Association in Diamond Place, Summertown. Why not come along and see what an Andrew Robson course is all about and learn more about the courses we have on offer? No previous experience required.

We had six tables in play at the first Robson In Oxford evening event last week, held in a private room at Portobello’s Grill in Summertown. 32 pre-dealt hands were available to play and we also got through a few glasses of wine. All those who attended have now received my commentary on the most interesting deals, as well as a crib sheet on the special topic we touched on (Weak Two opening bids). More about future events shortly.

The four autumn courses on offer – Beginners, Next Step, Essential and Improver – are filling up. The Book A Place page on the website has a link to the site where you can book a place. I can report that Andrew has updated and revised the Essential bridge course so there is quite a lot of new material and practice hands.

A reminder that I shall be answering questions and discussing the bidding and play after the first day of the Oxford Bridge Festival on September 18th. The venue is the Maison Francaise in Norham Road. I shall also be helping one of the groups taking part in the popular cafe bridge event on September 21st.  Why not give the cafe bridge idea a try? It involves playing bridge in five different venues dotted around the centre of Oxford. has more details.

Watch this space also for future news and some special articles and videos that will be coming soon.

More dates for your diary

This September sees the start of the second Oxford Festival of Bridge, four days of friendly bridge in and around the city, organised by the Oxfordshire Bridge Association with help from many others. There are a variety of different events being held over the course of the four days, culminating in a dinner at the main venue, St Hugh’s College. The dates are Tuesday September 18th to Friday September 21st.

I had not returned to Oxford when the first festival was organised last year, but I have agreed to lend a hand to this year’s event, and I hope that you may find an opportunity to drop by. I shall be offering expert supervision and advice for those who sign up for some of the events on the first two days of the festival, whose aim is to spread awareness of the game around the county.

Tuesday September 18th, at Maison Francaise.

Bridge Festival Day 1 There are a number of events being held at the Maison Francaise in Norham Road, starting shortly before 1pm. They include two sessions of supervised play (rubber or duplicate, with expert advice available on request), a bridge quiz and a tea break.  At 6.30pm I will be reviewing the most interesting hands that have been played during the day and taking questions.

Wednesday September 19th, at St Hugh’s College.

Bridge Festival Day 2 Starts with a seminar by a county expert at 10.30am and is followed by a morning and afternoon session of bridge. There is a choice of a duplicate event and what is called “drop-in bridge”, where you will have a chance to play a number of pre-dealt hands and win a prize if you end with the highest score on those hands. Alternatively you can opt for supervised play, with expert advice available on request, or simply enjoy a friendly game in congenial surroundings.

I have offered to supervise and offer the expert help to anyone who turns up for the”drop in” bridge. Why not come along and say hello? It will be a great opportunity to find out what bridge Andrew Robson style is all about. You can also quiz me about the autumn courses and discuss the timetabling of our supervised play sessions, where we are keen to find the most popular days for you to join our playing membership. The cost of the day’s drop-in bridge is just £6 a head.

The festival website has more details about all the events of the week, including what is planned on the other two days.  There is also a booking form. And finally a reminder that  we are holding a Chicago bridge evening on September 5th. Some of you have already signed up for that, but others are still welcome.  The first autumn courses are now also available for booking.


First evening event

To all friends of Andrew Robson Bridge

As well as a host of new courses starting in the autumn (details on the website shortly), I am delighted to announce the first of what I hope will become a regular evening diary date for Robson bridge fans. This is an opportunity to come along, play bridge in a friendly atmosphere, meet new people and learn more about the game as we like to play it, all at the same time.

The date for this first evening event (An Evening of Chicago) is September 5th 2018, kicking off at 6.45pm in Portabello’s Restaurant in South Parade, Summertown. The evening will consist of a number of different elements. They include a short opening seminar, a minimum of two hours of supervised play with 16-24 pre-dealt hands, a break for refreshments and a Q and A/review session at which I will be discussing all the hands you have played. Why not come and see if you enjoy it? Invitation here.

Don’t worry if you are confused by the reference to Chicago – it is really just a different way of scoring that speeds up the game and makes it more exciting, as well as lending itself more readily to teaching and supervised play (see here for more).  All will be explained on the evening; if you have played rubber bridge before, you will have no trouble picking up what is involved. The bidding and play are exactly as in ordinary bridge.

I am afraid that I don’t think this evening is suitable for complete beginners, but anyone else, if they are familiar with the basics of the game, or have been to a Robson course, is welcome, as are experienced players – the more, the merrier. Space means that we will be limited to a maximum of 10 tables so early booking is advised. If you don’t have a partner, we will do what we can to match you up wth someone like-minded, but only those who have booked in advance can be admitted.

Most importantly of all, I hope you will feel encouraged to come and see what a friendly, civilised evening of bridge should be like – that is what the Andrew Robson Bridge Club in London is famous for. If you are competitive-minded, you will be able to check your bidding and score against a par score for the hands that I will have worked out in advance. But if you simply want to come along and play with some like-minded people for the fun of the game, ask questions and take away hand records and notes about the hands afterwards, that is fine too. Why not bring your friends and play and learn together?

To book a place, simply follow this link. The event listing has details of the cost and an outline of the expected timetable for the evening. An early bird booking costs £20, including a free glass of wine, and later purchases £22 a head. I shall hope to see many of you there. And do look out for details of the autumn courses which will be posted any day now. Our plan is to arrange at least two weekly sessions during term times (one evening, one afternoon) at which members, whatever their standard, can come and play and learn bridge in a friendly environment. I will be talking more about this as well on September 5th, but do feel free to email me ( if you are interested.



Next steps – June update

We are now reaching the end of the first two Andrew Robson bridge courses in Oxford. The final lessons are scheduled for June 19th 2018 and that makes a good time to pause and take stock. I have hugely enjoyed the experience of teaching both the Beginners and and Essential groups for the first time and it is gratifying to hear that the teaching has been well received in both cases. Just as importantly, I have noticed a considerable improvement in knowledge and understanding of what it takes to play bridge well and in the right spirit.

Plans for the future are as follows

  • There will be a new schedule of courses to sign up for in the autumn, which I hope will be ready by the end this month, as well as one or more free taster sessions towards the end of August, designed to attract beginners and those who want to sample what the Robson method of teaching is all about. I intend to offer up to a half a dozen courses in all – including some with more advanced material – with a view to finding out whether there is sufficient interest to teach them all.


  • Of the summer I will be offering a series of topic by topic seminars for those who already know the basics of the game and want to add some more knowledge on a session by session basis. Details will go out shortly. I currently expect to offer one morning and one evening session a week.


  • We will also be organising the first play and learn sessions – where you can come along, play some pre-dealt hands (with supervision available) and then have a debrief at the end at which I will go through the hands and take questions about what could/should have happened. This should be an excellent way to meet other like-minded players and try out your new skills and deepen your knowledge in a friendly atmosphere.


  • I shall in addition be sending out a regular email to those who have signed up on the website with an instructive hand that I have either played myself or come across elsewhere. Some will be relatively straightforward and others will be a little more advanced. Either way I hope that you will enjoy them.


Finally please don’t hesitate to contact me by email if you have any queries or useful feedback. If you have enjoyed a course and want to persuade your friends to come along to the next one, please do spread the word. The more friends who sign up, the better the chances that you will soon be taking part in an enjoyable game, either at one of our sessions, or in your home.






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