Guest Blog — By Invitation

My First Post


CNTC Semis Janicki vs Gartaganis

This is a story in two parts. A disastrous 3rd quarter, followed by a 4th quarter with enough potential for a comeback.

Part One – I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

It is funny how the downfall starts. The first slip-up of the second half came on hand #3. It was a lowly 1NT defense, but it set the tone for the quarter:





West East
T953 K76
KJ984 763
K7 T86


NS bid 1 (ambiguous) Diamond, 1S – 1NT. Note the system weakness, not allowing them to find a possible 4-4 minor-suit fit. (Our partners bid and made 2D). The 3 of Clubs was led, which was ducked to the Queen. The King of Hearts return was won by the Ace, pinning the Queen in dummy. The Diamond finesse lost, and the original 4th best Heart eight was played back. Declarer could not quite read the position, so he ducked. He could have won and played a Club to the King for his 7th trick, losing only 3H, 1D & 2C. With no more entries, West went back to Clubs, ducked around to the King. Now Declarer ran his Diamonds, and threw East in with a Club. In the 4 Card end position, Declarer is squeezed on the Ace of Clubs lead:





West East
Tx K7
J9 7



He has no good pitch.. He opted for the Spade Queen, but East did not read it and came back a Heart, setting up the 7th trick. This was a bad sign, if not a big loss.

Hand #2 was strange, and we need only look at the NS cards:







East Deals and passes. I understand this South hand was not opened at the other table, and subsequently ran into trouble handling the opponents’ Polish club sequence. IMHO, although I know some people don’t open,  I think you are better placed to open this hand. Our opponents opened 1S, heard a 2C overcall, and North made a limit-raise-or-better 3C cue bid. The opener rejected the invitation! This, too, seems to me to be a misjudgment. Give partner any hand with as little as four spades to the Ace, and any other 9 cards, and game has a play. You will lose two diamonds, and it doesn’t matter if he has 1,2,3 or 4 hearts – you must have a chance to play the suit for one loser. Place partner with the right couple of scraps and slam may have a play. In fact, he has shown a limit-raise or better, so he does not own just one high card. A six/five is a BIG hand with the high cards in the long suits, particularly if a fit is uncovered. Certainly, the hand must at least bid 3H to see how the hands mesh.

In any case, we lost a vulnerable game swing 680 to 230. 

On #6 the opponents bid to 3NT with scant values, 10 facing 12, and it can’t be beaten. On the next hand, they opened a weak NT, and found us with 1453 eleven HCP opposite 4333 thirteen, so we defended and beat it 3 vulnerable tricks, and we lost a vulnerable game. Perhaps this hand should have overcalled 2D (vulnerable, natural), over the weak NT – T, K982, KQ982, K93 ? It is not our style to balance with the other hand: A953, Q65, J54, AQ6

What would you do with: AKQTx, xx, AJ9, QJx? The opponents start a Big Club (16+) on your right, you overcall 1S, LHO passes, and partner boosts you to 4S, Red Vs White. Opener now bids 5H. I know we just bid a game, but is there any reason that pass must be forcing? Assuming it is not, what is your action?. In practice, the only real losing action is pass, which is what this hand did. Double can get 800, while 680 is yours for bidding (assuming you disdain bidding the slam on the diamond finesse through the big clubber).

As a technical point, playing standard leads, the correct spade to lead is the Queen. Partner signals encouragement holding the Jack, and you can cross over to his hand for leads through declarer.




Anyway I am more interested in talking about the approach to trying to overcome a 63 IMP deficit, and not so much in how we got there in the first place, which was through a bit of bad luck and even more poor team play.

Playing in a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament, you sometimes find yourself running low on chips. Meanwhile, the blinds and antes are increasing, and you are running out of time. You are compelled to risk your remaining stack on somewhat less than ideal tickets. We found ourselves similarly placed – Our opponents had a tall stack of our IMP’s sitting on the table in front of them, and we were running out of chances to win them back.

When I was young, I used to think you had to psyche and go wild in such dire circumstances. I’m no longer young. I will try to illustrate what I think gives you the best chances…

Here is an example of swinging in declarer’s play:






West East
Q96 543
54 KJ932
K65 97
AT843 K65


g in 3NT after the opponents have played three rounds of cubs. Declarer runs 5 Spade tricks, and then must decide which red suit finesse to take. You might take your shot at reading the carding and table action, of course. But usually, you will try the Diamond play, because if that works, you make all the rest, while the Heart finesse gives you just your contract.

When you are down 63, I think it is a good shot to try to do the opposite of what the other table would do. Here, the heart finesse was taken, and there was a game swing. (Should the other declarer also do “the opposite” of what he would normally do to try to duplicate YOUR action? Is he George Costanza from Seinfeld? He wants pushes; you want swings. This reasoning could make you dizzy; If you know his strategy and he knows yours,…).

(I heard how it was played in the other Semi, (by Darren Wolpert, I think); He tried the Jack of Diamonds early on, before running the Spades, to see if he would get a cover. Maybe he would get a hitch, although that may be harder to guage, depending on whether you share the same side of the  screen. When it was ducked smoothly, he went up Ace and later hooked the Heart. I like his play better than mine, but I was intentionally playing for a swing, so that adds a layer of intrigue.

This next one has tactical issues at both tables






West East
94 T53
KQ82 AT7
T65 982
KT87 A963


At our table, we bid 1S-1N-2N-3N and they must cash out fast to beat it. They led Club to the ace and a low club back, and found the switch to the Heart King. Declarer played the 6 to try to make their signal seem high (discouraging) but they saw through it. Would the 9 have been more convincing, perhaps portraying AJ9 ? In any case, they cashed out.

At the other table East was on lead against 4S on a similar unrevealing auction. East opted for the 9 of Diamonds, the very definition of a “passive” lead. I do not question the bridge judgment, but I do raise the MATCH judgment. Down 63 is not the time to be passive. They WANT us to be passive. Which Ace to lead ? How about underleading one of them? That does works sometimes, and you are trying to create swings in a sane manner. I think this qualifies. Or lead one, prepared to underlead the other if it looks right.

Similarly: KJ4, 952, J87, A962. Partner opens 1NT. This hand passed, I believe. I think it should bid 3NT. One table made 4 I think, and one made 2…

KQ5, KJ865, AK3, K5. 2C on your right, natural 11-15, 2NT on your right, some noise. You double, Opener rebids 3C and partner competes with 3D. This hand made the calculated conservative pass, and was plus 110. However, bid 3H and partner raises you. It is a lucky make. Isn’t that precisely what we are looking for? (I may show this hand some time: #30. It is very elegant make of 4H; Win the Spade lead, in hand, play two more rounds of spades ending in dummy, and hook the heart Jack. They win, and must play a Diamond) That is covered twice, and you exit a club for the final endplay)

742, KJ, 72, AKT863. Partner opens Flannery (Do we really need to play that?). At the table, the hand signed off in 2H, without exploring. Certainly various games loom large – 4H, 3NT, 5C. More importantly, SIX clubs has a good play with suitable hands facing. The hand must explore. And when it finds three clubs with opener, the methods should permit a slam exploration. In practice, 6C is cold. This is exactly the kind of hand we need down 63, not to hope that the hand is some horrible misfit with 2H being the limit. It’s too good a fitter for that anyway – it’s an opening bid in my book, facing an opening. Open + Open = Game.

AK92, J8, J7542, 54. Partner opens 1NT. Even this hand may just want to respond 3NT at this score of the match. Don’t invite. Don’t show them any info. Just try for a game. We need swings. I can understand 2C, intending to raise 2S to 4. With the actual layout, the only winning call is 3NT. Opening leader must be given the full chance to make the losing heart lead from AKxx as oppposed to the winning club lead from Kxxx. If you bid 2C, partner bids 2H and you negate the heart lead. But 1N-3N is hard to lead against. Did I mention, we were down 63?

Notice these are not wild flyers. I am suggesting bidding 3NT with NO EXPLORATION to help the top-flight opponents, with hands in the 24-26 HCP range and two balanced hands. This is not exactly off-the-wall bidding; it is just not scientific. And it is a little pushy. It puts us in a position to get lucky, which is what we need. We need to help luck along.

KQJ76, K5, JT9x, A6 Partner opens 1D. You bid 1S, he bids 2D. How about Blackwood ? Do you play 4H kickback ? This one is a little more pushy, but minimal exploration, minimal revelations to them. Check for controls if can be done cheaply enough. Slam depended on picking up Qxx of Diamonds onside (missing 4). Not ideal, and the lead could damage, (her, opene had Q of clubs, and opening leader had the kIng) but are we looking for some good shots, or trying to keep the loss respectable?

Late in the 3rd quarter, with no precise score but likely down a big load, this hand came up: 7, AQ8432, J965, A4. Partner opens 1S. If you are trying to be precise, you can bid 1NT, and bid a constructive 2H over his 2C. Then you can pass his 2S rebid. Of course, he may not bid 2C. This hand is an opening bid. Making a 2/1 GF with it may be a bit of an overbid due to the stiff Spade, but if you strike a fit it should help pave the way to the best game or slam. We ended up in 3NT down 3, winning 2 IMP’s against 3NT down 4. 2S was the limit

A good chunk of the possible comeback was available through better technical, analytical judgment in the bidding and play which I will not explore now. But these are my thoughts on tactical ideas.

That’s it for now.







































Cam FrenchJune 9th, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Great first entry Stephen.

Enjoyed. Love the poker chip stack analogy.

Thanks for sharing.


Sharyn ReusJune 10th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for the interesting read. Enjoyed your take on “swing action”.

John GowdyJune 10th, 2010 at 6:24 pm

My view on shooting…If every one takes shots then we have no chance. 1 pair pair plays agressive but as steady as they can. And 1 player in the 2nd partnership plays “down the middle” The 4th is on his own. Interesting much do we have to tell them. Any thoughts ?

Stephen CooperJune 10th, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Must alert any partnership agreements. But it’s a little like saying “I’m a liar – don’t believe anything I say, including this statement” – Are you required to follow that afterwards?. In most cases, they KNOW you might well be taking shots at them…Your plan has merit, but I prefer to take the oportunities as they arise. Your “aggresive” pair couldend up shut out of the exciting hands, and then where are you?

Ross TaylorJune 10th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

The poker stack analogy was very cool – at least in tournament poker, not cash game poker, since in the latter you can just dip into your wallet to build your stack. In tournament poker, when it’s gone you’re gone!

Really glad to see you spreading your wings to the blogosphere Steve – you have much to say that is worth hearing about. Good luck with this.

Linda LeeJune 11th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Your blog was fascinating from the beautiful declarer squeeze in 1NT onward.

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