This blog provides supplementary thoughts and ideas to the site. If you haven't seen the main site, there is a lot there including the Martel and Rodwell interviews, photos, and articles. This blog is focused on advancing bridge theory by discussing the application of new ideas. All original content is copyright 2009 Glen Ashton.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Style is NOT alertable in today's ACBL

It'll be, better than before, yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

-- Fleetwood Mac

There's an interesting thread at Judy Kay-Wolff's blog, titled "ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR (but not BRIDGE)":

I've disagreed with Judy, who has argued that you have to alert if the opponents might otherwise assume something. Here is my latest comment on the subject:

Here are some examples of style not having to be alerted in today's ACBL:

1) Your opponent opens 1H in first seat with 5432 of hearts - they play four card majors, suit quality not important - 1H here is not alertable
2) Your opponent opens 1C which promises 5 or longer clubs - 1C here is not alertable
3) Your opponent opens a weak two with only 5 in the major, 4 in the other major (opening does not promise the other major) - 2H here is not alertable
4) Your opponent passes S KQJ9xx H --- D 432 C 5432, even though they play weak twos (passing since holding a void) - pass here is not alertable
5) Your opponent bids 2NT over their partner's weak two - in their methods this bid shows exactly a game invite in opener's suit - 2NT here is not alertable
6) Your opponent passes, and then overcalls your 1C bid with 1NT to show the majors - 1NT here is not alertable.
7) Your opponent responds 1S to 1C with 5432 of spades and seven solid diamonds - 1S here is not alertable.
8) Your opponent opens 1S, and over their partner's 1NT response, bids 2C, showing 2+Cs - 2C here is not alertable.

You may wish that one or more of these would be alertable, but yesterday's ACBL is gone.

The reason for this change was twofold:
- if you force the alerting of style, you end up with far too many alerts;
- if you make alerting necessary when a style is not close to standard, you have to define standard first, which varies depending on location and skill levels.

Style differences are not "secret pacts", but just agreements to play natural, or almost natural bids not the way you may play them. They are secret to you only if you choose to assume everybody plays one way only and decide not to ask.

Now let's look at the negative inference from support doubles, using the example auction 1C-P-1S-2H;-P (our 1C opening and 1S response, and a 2H overcall).

Today's ACBL is clear: pass, a natural call, is not alertable. If instead you want to play pass is alertable, denying 3Ss, do you then:
- force partnerships to alert if pass 95% denies 3Ss (using an optional support double approach)?
- force partnerships to alert if pass 90% denies 3Ss (not using support doubles, but usually raises to 2S or higher with 3Ss)?
- force partnerships to alert if pass 85% denies 3Ss, using 2S to show 3Ss not 3-3-3-4, or 4Ss flat)?

Yesterday's ACBL guidelines were a mess generating a proliferation of alerts. In today's ACBL if they alert, there's something you need to be aware of.

Since style is generally not alertable, how do you find out what your opponents are doing or not doing? Three ways:
1) Review the convention cards of your opponents;
2) Ask at your turn to bid;
3) Ask at the end of the auction, at the appropriate time.

If you haven't looked at the convention card of the opponents, do not assume your style is their style just because there are no alerts.

-- Please post any comments on this at Judy's blog --
Battle against the best

On Wednesday night we were up against the leading team in the IMP league. They fielded three national champs, and their fourth player had recently finished second in a big NABC event, playing with one of our teammates.

It was a rock 'n roll first half and we were up 11 at the break. I switched the ipod to avant garde jazz in the second half, and that was a mistake.

We had these two hands, not vulnerable vs. vulnerable:

After RHO passed, I opened 1D, LHO bid 1H, and Karen bid 2D. We don't play preemptive jumps in the minors, and this showed 5 to 10 points and 4 or longer diamonds. RHO bid 2S, and this was the auction so far: P-1D-1H-2D;-2S-?. With a shapely hand and 3 defensive tricks I wanted to suggest going to 5D, but not insist on it, so I bid 4D. LHO ended the auction with 4H, and Karen naturally led a diamond instead of a spade (the spade lead sets up a later overruff with the heart queen), and we only took two hearts and the spade ace to lose 11 IMPs. At the other table RHO opened 1S, my hand overcalled 2D and it became clear to take the cheap sacrifice in 5D.

A part score swing against us and a few IMPs lost left us down 10 when this hand came up:

The auction was 1C-1H;-2H-4H and I got a diamond lead to the queen and ace, and RHO returned a club. I ran this to LHO's queen and dummy's king. I played a heart to the queen, winning, a diamond to the king, and another small heart from dummy, RHO showing out. LHO took the heart ten with the king and returned a heart, dummy's eight winning. Now I played a club to the ace, LHO dropping the club jack, and a spade to the jack winning. This was the position, where I needed all but one of the tricks:

I continued with the spade ace, LHO playing the spade queen, and then a spade to the nine, losing to the ten, and LHO returned a fatal trump.

Sorry, the avant garde jazz distracted me for a second, and that's not what really happened. In the position above, I ruffed a club with the heart ace. LHO discarded the spade queen on this, and now when I led a spade up, LHO ruffed in with his last trump. I countered this by unblocking the spade ace on his ruff, and then trumped the diamond return, and took two spades to make my contract, for a push.

The other team gave little away in the second half, and we had to be consoled by being the opponents to have a lost by the least in the seven matches so far for the leading team.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Half Rite

In ACBL General Convention Chart events (most events) you can employ a half transfer method over your 1C opening:

1D: transfer to Hs
1H: any game force, 1S is now waiting, asks responder to describe game force
1NT: 6-10 balanced, no 4cM
2C: 4+Cs, no 4cM, up to game invite values, may have longer Ds, balanced only if game invite
2D: 6+Ds, no other 4+ suit, less than a game invite
2NT: game invite, balanced with 4/5 Ds
3D: 6+Ds, no other 4+ suit, game invite
Rest: as you currently play it, but 1S natural response is non-forcing

If you want to use the one and only transfer for spades:
1D: transfer to Ss
1H: natural
1S: any game force without a five card major
Rest: as above

After 1C-2C showing 4+Cs, no 4cM, may have longer Ds, balanced only if game invite:

2D: balanced hand with fewer than 4Cs, less than 15, non-forcing
2H: asks for further description, 2S shows unbalanced minimum and 2NT then re-asks
2S: game try in Cs
2NT: 18-19 balanced
3C: to play unless responder is maximum and shapely

If you use 1D as a transfer to spades, you can find heart fits nicely. If you use 1D as a transfer to hearts, you have the nice sequence 1C-1H(any GF);-1S(waiting)-1NT to show a natural game force. When using the 1D as a transfer to hearts, sequences like 1C-1S(natural);-2C-2H are natural and non-forcing, since 1H would be the response with game forcing values. Thus the 1D as a transfer to hearts still allows for most heart fits to be found after the 1S natural response, even without using Reverse Flannery By Responder (i.e. a jump shift over the 1C opening to show 5+Ss, 4+Hs).

Costs to using the half transfer method include giving the opponents new ways into the auction; however the 1C-2D and 1C-3D responses block the opponents far better than the standard 1C-1D response. Likewise 1C-2C is better for obstruction than the standard choices when holding 4Cs and 5+Ds.

Using 1D as a transfer to hearts, 1C-1S is natural and non-forcing, but only should be passed with exactly 3Ss and 11-12 points, since if opener holds extra points and/or 4Ss passing 1S would risk missing a nice game.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Audrey Grant points

Karen and I use what we call "Audrey Grant points" or "length points", which simply is to take the high card points, and then add a point for every card in a suit longer than 4. In a practice match last night, a Mr. Audrey Grant hand had a couple of these length points.

Now I should note Mr. Audrey Grant hates to be called that. Would you call Brad Pitt, Mr. Jolie? No, not proper etiquette, which brings to mind Audrey Grant's best non-bridge book: Ex Etiquette, or in other terms, "how to be nice to your Xs" (Y U SOB etc.). One day I hope this book is given a bridge version: Ex-Partner Etiquette and SOB Redoubles.

The Audrey Grant squad have a great site at:

This link will take you right to their articles section, and if you click on TWO-OVER-ONE at the left, you will get a series of articles by Eric Rodwell. One of Eric's articles is the "Principle of Fast Arrival", where he notes:

One advantage of going directly to game without make any 'extra' bids is that it gives less information to the opponents. They may not get off to the best opening lead, and they may have difficulty finding the best defense thereafter. There is also the preemptive factor. Jumping right to game makes it tougher for the opponents to come into the auction with an overcall or double.
In an Argentina-Canada practice match last night, the Argentina jumped right to 4H on the West hand:







This had 10 red tricks.

At the other table, David Lindop was West. For a brief bio on him, see the Better Bridge team at:

This bio actually understates Lindop's vast contribution to bridge education. His "technical support for the Better Bridge product line" includes developing thousands of example hands for bridge teaching, and verifying the technical accuracy of everything taught to the students in "books, TV shows, lectures and the magazine". Thus, I think 'Mr. Audrey Grant' is a great complement, but just so you know, he hates it, and you can use it to needle him at the bridge table, which is necessary to have any hope of winning a match against him.

Lindop did not use fast arrival at the table, since other contracts than 4H might be possible, including slam in hearts and/or diamonds. Instead he responded 1H, and this allowed North-South into the auction:







5H was down 1, and 12 IMPs to Argentina. Thanks to their 24 IMPs fast start, Canada still had the match win (I think Argentina forgot to needle Lindop). This hand shows how a "one step" fast arrival can deliver IMPs.

Mr. Karen Ashton has been trying out a compromise method on these hands. Over 1D, a jump to 3H shows 6+Hs, game force but not much extras, and can be playing value including "Audrey Grant points" to make up the strength for the game force. Now opener still has a little room to investigate, and can suggest 3NT as a possible spot.

On the hand above, a 3H jump is high enough to keep North out of the bidding, and 4H is quickly reached. Where it is nice is in this sequence: 1D-P-3H-Double;-P-any-?. Now responder can make a forcing pass, or can bid to further describe. On the very fast arrival sequence 1D-P-4H-Double;-P-any-? responder does not have that forcing pass. I don't believe one should jump to 4H if it could often result in you having the last guess - for example if it goes, 1D-P-4H-4S;-P-P-?, if you are now guessing whether to pass, double, or bid 5H, you should not have bid 4H in the first place. For Mr. Karen Ashton, if it goes 1D-P-3H-4S;-P-P-?, I know Karen did not have a penalty or "stop bidding please" double of 4S, and thus the etiquette of the auction is much more agreeable.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Two Steps

Yesterday Karen and I played in the ACBL-wide International Fund game, and when I got home I wanted to blog about it. Then I realized other time zones might not have yet played the boards, so I left the blog until another month.

Frank Stewart provided the hand analyses in the post-game hand-out. When I had the opportunity to play a little bit with Frank on Okbridge, I found that he was both a super player and a world class gentleman - one of the nicest bridge players ever. Frank took the "call me stodgy" side of the engaging debate on aggressive balancing actions in December's ACBL Bulletin (Larry Cohen took the "Call me competitive" side), and you might imagine how Frank had to refrain from gentleman comment when I took the "Call me silly" side in our Okbridge bidding. (Btw speaking of engaging debaters, our oldest daughter will be married next spring)

On board 15, Frank notes that North has a "good 2NT opening":


Frank says "if North-South are held to +600, East-West will get a top".

However the clubs around here don't give up tops that easily. At our table, Karen led a spade, won by the queen. Declarer tried the diamond queen next, Karen covered, and now declarer took 9 tricks and gave us the rest: but -600 was not a top for us.

At one table North-South played 1NT. Was this a East-West top? Frankly, no, since it was still a plus for North-South.

At another table, North-South played 3NT, but by South. If you play 2NT as 21-22, and a short club opening (1C could be 2+ clubs), you could bid 1C-1NT;-3NT. West led a top diamond, covered by Q, K, A, eliminated clubs, and then took a losing spade finesse. Now declarer had no entry for a heart finesse and ended down one. Top board? Frankly no.

At another table, North South zoomed to 6NT, using zoom-zoom bidding. This was down more than one, and East-West got that hard to get top.

On board 1, I didn't like Karen's two step bidding:


After 1C-P-1S, I doubled to get the red suits in. North supported spades with 2S, and now Karen bid 3H, assuming I'm not a good hand since the opponents are both bidding. This would be +140 for us, a great score. However South now bids 3S with the long spade hand, and this would be making 140, a great score for them. Now Karen bids 4H, down, but better than them playing in 3S. If 4H is doubled and the club ruff found, NS get a good score, but with a pure spade hand, South can't resist bidding 4S, and ends up down. We didn't double 4S, but should have, since pushing them into 4S making would be a terrible score.

Both sides here used two-steps: bidding 3 of a major first to play, then getting pushed to four of the major. It is better to avoid two-steps when possible, since it first sends the message to the opponents "we think we can just make 3", and then when you bid four it gives the opponents chances to double.

Here Karen's hand is rich in the red suits, and should just bid 4H after I double - if 4H is not making, 3S for the opponents likely is. Likewise South can bid 4S at the second turn to bid, trying to disguise if this is based on shape, or points, or both.

Having told Karen I don't like two step bidding, I promptly used a three step on board 21 here:


The bidding started 1D-X-P-2S. My 2S showed 6-10 length points and 5+ spades. With just 4S I either bid 1S if less than 11 length points, or I cuebid with 11+ length points. This style of responding to takeout doubles is designed to accentuate shape instead of points.

Now North doubled as takeout with values, Karen passed, South bid 2C, and I quickly bid 2S again, completing a two step. North doubled 2S once more, Karen passed, South bid 3C, and I should have passed, already having done a two-step. Instead I three-stepped with 3S and was in down territory. However by the serendipity of having allowed South to bid clubs twice, North competed to 4C and we got a great score from stepping out. Frank missed this particular auction in his hand analysis, but that can happen when experts assume bidding will fit within reason, instead of being just another adventure at the club.