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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Tony,

My 1/4 of a trick estimate was based on live action results. I went through a full fall nationals tournament (everything matchpoints or BAM so every trick potentially mattered), and compared my at the table results to the deep finesse double-dummy results. The overall declarer advantage was around 1/4 of a trick.

Joshua,

Yes, the opening lead swing tends to be greater than 1/4 of a trick on balance. However, after the opening lead the “advantage” shifts to the defense, since it is declarer who has to guess those queens and jacks which the double-dummy engine always gets right.
Sept. 16, 2011
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Tony,

Very interesting analysis. I believe you are on the right track, and that we will be seeing more analyses like yours as our computer power gets stronger. I have some suggestions about how to improve your analysis and come up with more definitive results:

1) You don't specify the parameters on responder's hand other than saying it is a balanced 10-count. Presumably you are looking for hands which will drive to game over a 1NT opening, but will stop at 1NT (either by responding 1NT or by passing a 1NT rebid) over a 1 of a minor opening. In order to avoid complications from responder looking for other strains, I would suggest the following parameters:

a) 10 HCP
b) No 5-card major
c) No singletons or voids
d) At most 1 doubleton


2) The results would be more meaningful if converted to expected IMPs. There would be 2 sets of results – one vulnerable, one non-vulnerable. For each trial, the result would be IMP'd compared to, say, 3NT at the other table.

3) You fail to take the “declarer's advantage” into account. This is a very real thing. My studies over many hands have shown that empirically the declaring side averages about .25 tricks better than the double-dummy result (mostly because of the opening lead, of course). I think this must be included in your analysis in order to make the results realistic.

For example, on a given trial suppose the double-dummy result is 8 tricks. Incorporating the declarer's advantage, the expected realistic result would be 8 tricks 3/4 of the time and 9 tricks 1/4 of the time. So, if non-vulnerable, the expected gain from stopping at 1NT would be: +5, +5, +5, -6 = 9 IMPs over 4 trials, or 2.25 IMPs. If vulnerable, it would be: +6, +6, +6, -10 = 8 IMPs over 4 trials, or 2.0 IMPs.

Taking this approach, you could get an average IMP gain (or loss) from stopping at 1NT over your 250 trials for each of the 10 example hands. I'm sure everybody would be quite interested in the results.
Sept. 15, 2011
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In this sort of situation North could have been thinking about a lot of things. The use of 4 as RKC here is unusual, so North might have been double-checking the meaning. North might have been verifying that 1430 applies. This isn't just a question of counting keycards. Given that, North's BIT by itself doesn't signify anything or suggest any particular action.

On the other hand, South didn't have a marginal decision. South had a very clear pass of 4 given the meaning of the bids. As in most unauthorized information situations, the cards speak. Here the cards say that South had, perhaps subconsciously, taken advantage of the unauthorized information. In addition, the North hand says that South read the BIT accurately. Therefore, it is clear to roll the contract back to 4 if the slam made.

The question of how to deal with South's justification for the 6 call can be tricky. Here it is clear that the statement was likely self-serving. However, suppose instead South had said that she thought the 4 call showed 1 keycard, not being used to playing 1430. Then things could be more difficult.
Sept. 12, 2011
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Joshua,

The main cost is the inability to make a slam try in a minor at the 4-level when a minor might be in the picture. I believe that outweighs any gains from your suggestion.
Sept. 10, 2011
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Phil,

My current philosophy is:

Below 3NT, no slam tries unless a 9-card major-suit fit has been established.

Above 3NT, no choice of games Q-bids.

So yes, my philosophy has changed.
Sept. 10, 2011
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Mike,

At that point East did not know that South was about to bid 6, nor that lead consideration was the issue. Would not a 5 or 5 call over 5 be a slam try? Granted slam is unlikely the way the auction has gone, but it could still be there if East has a very distributional hand and West has the right fit. I would hate to have to work out at the table just which auctions partner might be making a slam try on and which auctions he is getting in a lead-director.
Sept. 5, 2011
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Mike,

1) I definitely agree that the 4 call doesn't create a force, and I would expect any expert partner to draw the same conclusion. However, some may be in doubt, so I thought it was worth raising the issue.

2) I admit that I am somewhat biased by playing a strong club. The danger of partner moving after getting raised is much less. He won't be making a game try on his 17-count, since he doesn't have that 17-count. The only time he will be making a move is when he has extra distribution, and if that is the case the light raise might steal the hand from the opponents.

Even playing a standard structure, my preference is to pretty much always raise. Not only does this take bidding room away from the opponents, it puts partner in the picture immediately if there is competition. I realize that my view is not mainstream among experts, and I could well be wrong.

3) When the partner of the opening leader doubles a slam in this sort of who knows who can make what auction, the double is made for at least one of these reasons:

a) To increase the penalty
b) To shut partner up and prevent him from saving.
c) To direct an unusual lead.

On the actual auction the double would be in the balancing seat, so it is not intended to shut partner up. You may well be right that it is sheer penalty and the opening leader should make his normal lead, but I would be inclined to go with the Lightner interpretation if that can make any sense. If you really are doubling to increase the penalty, usually either any lead will defeat the contract or all you can get is a 1-trick set and it isn't worth doubling. While the Lightner double is much rarer, when it occurs the swing is much greater.
Sept. 5, 2011
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When a player learns via the alert procedure that his partner thinks a bid means something different than what was intended, there are two things to look at:

1) Clearly the player making the bid received unauthorized information. Did that player make a call which might have been suggested by the unauthorized information, and if so, was there another reasonable (and less succsssful) call which might have been chosen?

2) Did the opponents receive mis-information, and, if so, was there a reasonable possibility that they might have taken a different (and more successful) action had they received the correct information.

With regard to 1), I can't imagine Peg doing anything other than passing 3NT had she not gotten the unauthorized information. From her point of view she had described her hand with the 3 transfer, and partner had chosen to play 3NT with the knowledge that she might have this sort of hand. What else but passing makes sense? In fact, not passing would be taking advantage of the unauthorized information, since it would be an attempt to describe what she really had.

With regard to 2), the question is what are the true methods of the pair. If the 3 call is, in fact, natural in the partnership agreements then there is no mis-information since the duty is to inform the opponents of the partnership agreements. However, if there is any doubt then the assumption should be that the agreements are what the bidder intended, since otherwise a pair having this sort of mixup could make the self-serving statement that the explanation (i.e. non-alert) was correct. Thus, unless the partnership could produce documentation that the 3 call was natural I would rule that there had been mis-information.

If Peg believes that she had made an error then she definitely should not say anything. It is her duty to see that the opponents get the partnership agreements, nothing more. In fact, any such statement might cause a ruling to go against here since it might induce the opponents to do the wrong thing. However, if she believes that her partner failed to alert then of course she must speak up.
Sept. 3, 2011
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Luke,

Assuming the conditions are satisfied, yes, we certainly do. For example: 1-P-2-2;? Now double of 2 by both opener and responder would be 2-card.

Sept. 1, 2011
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Adam,

What you say is correct. But it isn't a realistic play at that point. Playing West for an initial Ax of spades is not only higher percentage but it doesn't risk losing an absurd number of trump tricks when West has A76x of spades and East has the ace of clubs.
Aug. 28, 2011
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Henry,

No, I mean exactly what I said. The double shows specifically a doubleton.

Hermann,

I bid something. Anything. Perhaps 2 if the suit has good quality. Perhaps 2NT, assuming it is takeout or good-bad, depending which my partnership agreements say it is (it definitely is not natural). Perhaps 3 of a minor. The one thing I don't do is pass. We don't defend at the 2-level when I have a singleton in their suit.

Jon,

In general, partner counts his trumps and if his count gets up to 4 he passes. Obviously he can and should use some judgment. With an offensively oriented hand such as Qx xxxx xxx KQJx I would bid 2. But normally partner would pass the double with 4 hearts.

It is true that you will chalk up an occasional -470. That is part of the price of doing business. It doesn't look good on the scorecard, but the cost is at most 8 IMPs (vs. -110). Often the cost won't be nearly that great, as the alternative would have been to go for a number yourself.

The upside is more frequent and can be almost as large. Often they go down when you would have gone down for a swing of at least 4 IMPs, sometimes more. Sometimes you collect a number when they go down 2 or more. Even if they are down 1 and you would be making your part-score, you will have about broken even.

The 2-card double is simply an application of the Law of Total Tricks. When the opponents have a 7-card fit and your side has a 7 or 8-card fit, it is usually right to defend at the 2-level since the trump total is at most 15 and often 14. However, if they have an 8-card fit, it is usually right to declare in your best fit.

The big advantage from the 2-card double is that you don't over-compete when the opponents don't have the trump length they say they have. How many times have you had an opponent overcall, his partner raise, and you over-compete thinking they have an 8-card fit only to find out that the overcall was on a 4-card suit or the raise was on a doubleton. Playing the 2-card double you don't fall into this trap. For example, suppose you hold: Axx, xx, KJxx, Axxx and hear the bidding go: 1-1-2-2;? If the opponents have the 8-card spade fit they say they have it is probably right to compete to 3. Playing the 2-card double, you don't have to trust them. You can pass, confident that if partner has a doubleton spade he will make his own 2-card double. Similarly, if you have the same hand with 2 spades and 3 hearts you can make a 2-card double, and if it is right to defend partner will know it.
Aug. 28, 2011
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In order to analyze this problem, it will be necessary to make a few assumptions:

1) What will you lead? If you will always lead a top club, the double won't affect your chances of defeating the contract. However, if you decide the best lead is the 10 of clubs, then clearly you don't want to double and give the show away. I will assume a top club will always be the lead.

2) Possibility of a runout. On this auction it is unlikely the opponents will be running. Also, if they do run I don't know whether I am happy or sad about it. I will assume that this is a wash, so a runout doesn't matter.

3) Danger of a redouble. At matchpoints this is obviously irrelevant. What is worst case at IMPs? If an overtrick makes, you would lose 11 IMPs instead of 6 IMPs for just doubled. It is very rare that there will be a redouble. An opponent would have to have both extra strength and all suits stopped to redouble, and even then he might not. Since the redouble costs at most 5 extra IMPs and is very rare, I'm going to ignore it.

At matchpoints, the double is basically an even money bet against other pairs in 3NT. It is unlikely to make a difference against other contracts, and on this auction 3NT figures to be a very common contract.

At IMPs, the range figures to be from down 2 to making 4. The IMP swings are:

down 2: +5
down 1: +2
make 3: -4
make 4: -6

This indicates that you need better than even money odds to justify the double at IMPs.

What are the odds of a set? If the enemy clubs are 3-3 or worse, you always set them. If they are 4-3, you will set them 3/7 of the time. I'll estimate (just a guess, I admit) that 30% of the time they will be 3-3 or worse. Of the remaining 70% of the time when they split 4-3 you will set them 3/7 or 30%. By these estimates you will defeat the contract about 60% of the time, making the double a good bet at matchpoints. At IMPs, it looks to be a tossup.
Aug. 19, 2011
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Martin,

No, I don't play that way any more. As I remember, the idea was to describe various notrump ranges. 2NT showed balanced 16-18. 2D (ostensibly 1-suited major) followed by 2NT showed balanced 19-20, and double (ostensibly 4-card major and longer minor) followed by 2NT showed balanced 21-22. Or something like that.
Aug. 18, 2011
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Shan,

The situation you present is a very difficult problem. Suppose you had, in fact, forgotten your agreements and thought that your double of 1NT was a penalty double. If that were the case I think it is clear that you should not be permitted to bid 2NT. You would have received UI (about partner's interpretation of your call), bidding 2NT is clearly the suggested action (vs. passing) from the UI, and passing is certainly a reasonable (if not correct) action assuming you had made a penalty double and partner had bid 2.

The problem is that only you know what was in your mind. You knew what you were doing when you took the actions you did, but that would not be apparent to others. Of course if your statement that you were planning this sequence all along could be trusted then obviously what you did was okay. But this means that you would have to be believed, and we all know how players make self-serving statements. The director and/or committed should ignore these potential self-serving statements, look at the actual hands and actions taken, and from these draw the conclusion about what was going on.

In your case, I do not think it is clear from looking at your hand whether you had forgotten or were taking a planned action. Since you did receive potential UI from the alert, the default assumption should be that you did, in fact, forget. Therefore, I'm afraid that the director's ruling is correct unless you could produce some substantial evidence (other than your own potentially self-serving statement) that you had been planning the auction. This would have to be the judgment of the director or a committee.

It would be a lot nicer if there were screens, of course. Then there would be no problem doing what you did since there would be no UI and the opponents would receive the correct explanation of what your bid means – whether you choose to violate your agreements is your business. However, without screens it really is necessary to take the possibility of receiving what would appear to be UI when considering a system violation.



Aug. 18, 2011
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While I would have passed the double like everybody else, I consider it a close decision. Let's suppose you are playing 13-15 notrumps, and partner opens 1NT. Would you pass or get to 2? Of course you would get to 2. On balance, you expect hearts to take more tricks than notrump. Well, when partner doubles 1NT his most likely hand type is 13-15 balanced, and +110 for making 2 outscores +100 for making 1NT (on defense). Of course it isn't as simple as that. You have the advantage (you think) of being able to lead a heart against notrump. Also, if you take 8 tricks in notrump (on defense) your +300 outscores +140 for 9 tricks in hearts. That is why I do agree with the pass, although I consider it close. But that is not the big issue here.

When I first saw the problem, 5 conceivable bids occurred to me: Pass, 2NT, 3NT, 3, and 4. For reasons I discussed previously I quickly eliminated all but 2NT and 3NT. In my mind, while Pass, 3, and 4 are conceivable bids (as opposed to something like 3 which is not conceivable), they are not serious contenders. Thus, I do not believe South should be required to do anything but bid 2NT or 3NT, and if I were on a committee that is the way I would rule.

Of course, if in your mind 3 and/or 4 are serious contenders, then it would be correct for you to rule that South should be required to make one of these calls, as bidding 2NT or 3NT vs. 3 or 4 is certainly suggested by the UI. As they say, differences of opinions make horse races and committee rulings.
Aug. 17, 2011
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I do not agree with the authors that South is required to pluck out the action which will likely work out the worst given the unauthorized information. South's duty is to play bridge. He should make the call which would be the correct call if there had been no unauthorized information.

What does North's sequence show? It would be nice if we knew what the N-S methods vs. 1NT are, so we would know what other ways North might have available to show a spade suit. Assuming that N-S aren't playing anything special, North's sequence typically shows a 5-card spade suit and around 15-19 points.

What is there about the South hand which suggests playing in a 5-2 fit? Nothing. South has no ruffing value, and honors in two of the other suits. South should clearly bid 2NT or 3NT. 2NT shows values, since if South had nothing he would have passed. Furthermore North will play South for exactly this shape when South bids 2NT or 3NT, since South didn't raise spades, rebid his hearts, or bid a minor. Thus, if we belong in spades North will get us there.

Whether South should bid 2NT or 3NT could be debated. It looks like a close call to me. If one of these actions were clearly suggested by the unauthorized information then South should take the other action, but it isn't obvious to me which of these actions is suggested by the unauthorized information. However, 3 or 4 would simply be bad bids on South's part (without the UI), and South is not required to make a bad bid just because he received UI.

The 4NT call is completely out of line, of course. In addition, it is a pretty stupid thing to do. There isn't a director or a committee which would allow the bid to stand if it worked out well. The contract would always be rolled back to 4. So South was only giving himself the worst of it with the 4NT call.
Aug. 16, 2011
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Mike,

You are correct – the methods were not forgotten. North knew he was making a slam try.

A guideline which I have found very useful for determining whether or not to make a game try or a slam try is as follows: Give partner a perfect or near-perfect minimum. If that produces a great (not just good) play for the game or slam, then you are worth an invite. If not, forget it. It isn't worth shooting for the perfecto unless the auction is such that partner will know if he has that perfecto. The probability of getting too high (either at the 6-level or the 5-level) is greater than the probability of reaching a good slam.

If that criterion had been applied here, it would be clear that the North hand is not worth an invite.
Aug. 15, 2011
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As is often the case in these high-level decisions, the big question is whether or not the partnership is in a force. In my partnerships the 4 call creates a force, since it is a voluntary non-preemptive game bid (we don't preempt over preempts). Whether this is best or not is not important. What is important is that a partnership have clear and unambiguous rules which determine whether or not a force has been created regardless of the auction.

Since East did pass out 5, I will assume that in their partnership the 4 call did not create a force. Thus, the bad result is one of poor judgment rather than partnership confusion.

What does West know about the hand? Quite a lot. He knows North is asking South to choose, so North must be 3-3 in the red suits. That means that East has a singleton heart. If East has as much as one ace 5 isn't down off the top – it will make if East has good enough trumps and/or clubs to take care of West's small hearts. West has potentially zero defense against 5. Also, if East has really good defense against one of the red suits he would have doubled 4NT to convey that message. All these factors indicate that West has a clear 5 call.

Should East have done anything different? I don't think so. From his point of view his partner could hold something like AQJ10xxx xxx xx x. Opposite a hand such as that 5 is probably down 2, while the fate of 5 is uncertain. Thus, while selling out to 5 undoubled is unlikely to be the perfect action, it may still be the percentage action. Suppose 5 is down 2, and 5 is 50% to make. In that case saving is wrong on balance, but so is doubling.
Aug. 11, 2011
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Let's assume the contract is 6 at the other table, which is probably cold. I would start by asking how many kings partner has. This shows that I have the queen of trumps, so RHO might lead a singleton trump. Also, the response will guide my choice as follows:

If partner has zero kings, I will bid 7H. I expect that to be a favorite due to the possibility of the singleton trump lead. 6NT doesn't look right. 6NT will also be a winner if everything works, but I don't think that is percentage. I think the cost of a 4-1 club split outweighs the gain when they don't find the right lead, the hearts are bad, and the clubs split.

If partner has 1 king, I will bid 6NT. Now the chances that they will find the right lead are considerably smaller, so I am more likely to win the board instead of lose it when the hearts are bad.

If partner has 2 kings, I will bid 7NT. Now there is a real possibility of making even if the hearts don't come home (6 clubs, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 spades), as well as a chance to survive a 4-1 club split when the hearts come home.
Aug. 5, 2011
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As perceptive readers have no doubt deduced, I was in fact East on this deal. The huddle on the queen of spades wasn't hypothetical. At the table that is what happened. I did consider leading a club, but rejected it since I felt that declarer (a very competent and aware player) would have picked up on the huddle and played me for the queen. It wasn't clear whether I would be able to dodge the end-play, but I thought that returning a club was a concession. As things went declarer should have made the hand, but he surprisingly lost the thread and took the heart finesse.

I hadn't thought about the ethical considerations at the time. It was only later when I was writing up the hand that I realized that I might have had an ethical problem. In retrospect I don't believe that I did, and that I am allowed to have the information that partner huddled as long as the huddle doesn't tell me something about the hand which I don't already know. But it is an interesting question, one which I have never come across before.
Aug. 4, 2011
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