Dr. Donna Lombardini, CEO GABT    



G S Jade Barrett, Founding President TBS

 PO Box 1040,  Elk Point, SD 57025


Learning Curve - G S Jade Barrett

The Adventure       Signals        To Raise or Not to Raise     GIGO        Doubles        To Save or Not to Save 
The Adventure  Every weekend is a celebration of bridge somewhere in the USA. There are tournaments of every size and type, with competitors to match. The contests take place in schools and auditoriums, hotels and church halls, the one common thread being the love of the game and the thrill of the match. Each event is special in its own way, every victor proud of their accomplishment. Many of us settle for the reward of playing well, even when we fail to finish first, and that reward is by no means meek.
The game is both easy and hard in particular and occasionally peculiar ways. We often make things harder by trying to do too much. In the mid 1950s Edgar Kaplan sat down with Norman Kay's wife, Judy. They were competing for the National Mixed Pairs title, and Edgar said that if Judy followed three rules, that they would have an excellent opportunity to enjoy their game.
"Raise my suit. Lead my suit. Return my suit." Edgar said.
They won.
If only playing in the club could be so simple.

I was playing with one of my regular partners when I decided it would be better to make a lead-directing bid, rather than immediately support him. So I introduced a new suit at the four level and was profoundly disappointed to suddenly be declaring 4D holding the AQJ of diamonds opposite his three small. In this particular instance we obtained an excellent result when it turned out that the opponents were stiff for 4H. Had I just raised spades, we would have had a good result as well, but then my partner would have declared.
Sometimes we just cannot prevent ourselves from experimenting. Just this once we will try opening a notrump with a singleton, or reversing with a lighter hand. Maybe we open 2C with nine solid hearts and out. Or make the very light overcall or take-out double.

And it happens everywhere. In all the venues, in all the events, someone is trying something. That is one of the joys of the game. There is great space in the bridge world for creativity, and no perfect system or style exists. People are constantly inventing and reinventing the wheel and that is the part of the game that intrigues us so much. Each one of us is on a journey of discovery every time we play. Wherever we are, whomever we are playing against, all of us explore the game and its possibilities. Somewhere someone is succeeding right now, despite his or her best efforts.           

Enjoy the adventure.

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Signals  The number of the spot is not what makes the signal valuable, it is what the spot represents. The order in which cards are played is the signal. Sometimes we have to wait to see what partner is saying.
Partner leads the club 5 against a notrump contract. Dummy puts down the T8 doubleton. Holding the K42 of clubs, and utilizing the rule of eleven you are able to determine that Partner has lead 4th best, but just how many clubs did partner start with? Declarer captures your King with the Ace and loses a trick to your partner. The 3 of clubs is placed on the table and you now know that Partner began the defense with 5 clubs. Now how does Partner know how many clubs you have? When playing standard carding, you can now signal hi-low to indicate how many clubs you still have. This is called "current count". This allows partner a very good chance to determine the number of clubs between you and the Declarer.
You are defending another 3N contract (they seem to be getting all the cards this week), and this time you hold A65 of hearts behind Dummy's KQJT3. Declarer leads the 4 and partner follows with the 2. You may now ascertain that the Declarer started with only 2 hearts.
If Partner played the 7 the first time, you now have to wait and see what Partner's second heart is. Only then will you know if it is right to win the Ace on the second or the third round. If Partner's second heart is smaller than the 7, Partner has an even number of hearts (Hi-Low equals even). If Partner's second heart is larger than the 7, Partner has an odd number (Low-Hi equals odd).
Watching for Partner's cards is the first step. Remember, you cannot read what you did not see.

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To Raise or Not to Raise  To raise, or not to raise; that is the question.
So your partner elected to open 1H and here you sit with an ugly hand that contains just enough values to take an action. The last time you made a simple raise partner leapt to a non-making game down two (the fact that you supported 1S to 2S on three small and a five count might have had something to do with the unsuccessful nature of the contract); the time before that, you passed 1S holding three spades and an outside king and partner made five (well, that time you also had a small doubleton that turned out to be useful). You are now certain that this particular partner will shake every time they open a major.  Well done. (After playing with me for half a session for my wife decided that we were going to be bidding a lot of thin games for the rest of our lives. She suggested that I needed to improve my declarer play substantially if we were to have any success at all).

One of the first things I say to a new partner is that I only freely raise when I will not be sick if they bid again. By that I mean that I will not raise just because I have a fit and a smattering of values, but when I have "support points". I count support points only when I have a fit for partner and I count them this way:  

  1. 1 point for every trump over three (four trumps = 1, five = 2),
  2. 1 for a doubleton, 2 for a singleton and 3 for a void,
  3. -1 for a hand that is 4 - 3 - 3 - 3,
  4. -1 for a hand that has no A or K. 

This evaluation allows you to make a distinction between a good raise (8-10), a bad raise (5-7), and no raise (0-4). Here are a few examples:
1) QT3 JT52 A54 972 Partner opens 1H: 7 HCP + 1 - 1 = 7 a minimum raise (notice that if partner opened 1S your hand decreases by 1 due to the lack of a fourth trump).
2) T7532 8 KJ54 753 Partner's 1S opener now makes your hand worth 8 SP (4HCP + 2 + 2), a good simple raise.
3) 8753 T4 Q32 JT73 Even after Partner opens 1S, this hand only marginally improves: 3 + 1 + 1 = 5. This is a bad raise if you are not vulnerable and no raise if you are.
4) K2 A43 6432 8764 You have 8 SP (7 + 1), a good raise.
5) J543 975 6432 74 Even if Partner opens 1S, this hand only counts to 3 (1 + 1 + 1), allowing you to pass comfortably raise.
The importance for determining which raise you have arises when partner makes a game try, it helps prepare you for your next decision. For those of you who play 1N Forcing responses to 1 of a major, you have the additional benefit of bidding 1N with a bad raise, and leave all your simple raises for the good raise.

Now if we can only do something about your overbidding partner…                                    

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GIGO  The quality of your partner's bidding decisions is directly related to the quality of the information you provide. If you decide to open your 14 HCP as a 15-17 NT, then expect your partner to act as if you have a 15-17 NT. Your agreement is to open a weak two only with a six-card suit, and your partner will drive you to game or slam based on that six bagger. Just this once, however, you elected to open 2H with a very good five-card suit. Down 1. Or worse, your partner decides to make that good save, only you don't exactly have the hand partner expects. Down 4 or 5 or 6. You have certainly observed one partner get upset when the other player makes an “anti-system bid”. Many times that aggressive action was based on faulty information, and the person who misstated their hand or values is the one doing the complaining. For some reason, we always think that our partner should work out that we are just kidding this time.
Old time computer programmers have a term for this kind of problem solving.
GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is the surest way to destroy a good partnership. Adherence to your partnership agreements builds confidence and strength in both of your games. If your partners suggest that they are never sure what to do in a given situation, those are the situations that you need to discuss. If your partner does not handle random preempts or weak twos well, have a specific agreement regarding the nature of these bids. If your leads are confusing partner, clarify them by selecting a specific style (3rd and low, 3rd and 5th, 4th, attitude – whatever works for both of you) and stick with it for the most part.
The more comfortable that you can make your partners, the more successful your collective efforts will be. Bridge is a very interesting game; there is no need to make it more so. Consistently bidding and carding the same way may make the game dull upon occasion, but the thrill of victory will be yours all the more.       

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Doubles  Why bid when you can double?  Despite its many advantages, the double is often misused and misunderstood. Not surprising when you consider how many different doubles there are: Take-out, Penalty, Negative, Support, 1 Suit Takeout, 2 fast losers, Action, Responsive, Snapdragon, Maximal, Negative Slam Double, Non-support, Lead Denying, Lead Encouraging, Optional, DOPI, Value, Roth-Stone, ELCD (Equal Level Conversion Double, now there's a mouthful), Balancing and that's just the common usage ones. Maybe you should just bid, after all.
I panic whenever my sister Connie doubles, and while I am sure that she knows what she means, I rarely have a clue. A few years ago we had the following auction: 1H - X - 1S - P. I felt pretty good at this point, considering I held xxx xxx xxxx KJx and was now off the hook. The auction continued 2H - X - 2S - and I was able to breathe and P again. Now LHO passed and Connie doubled a third time. While my RHO passed, I was left to contemplate my fate.
The first Double was clearly takeout, the second one was takeout, too. The third double made me nervous. Could it be takeout as well? If she had started with 5-5 in the minors she would have used the unusual NT (I knew this because we had just spent a half-hour or so discussing that device before the start of the game and this was our first board of the evening), so I was sure that she did not have that type of hand. I was left to presume that she held something like 4-2-3-4 and 19 or so HCP, or maybe 3-1-5-4 with 17 or more. In either event I had to bite the bullet and bid. In these circumstances I bid my length and hope for the best. I placed 3D on the table in as confident a manner as I could possibly employ, only to have my sister raise me to four. After agonizing for several minutes I elected to bid game (hey, if I went down it wasn't my fault she bid so much and if I made it, I would be responsible for bidding it brilliantly) and was relieved to have no one double. The opening lead was made and Connie put down AKQ 2 KQJT5 AQ63, only 21 of the finest. After I sheepishly claimed making 5, my sister asked me if she had bid her hand accurately and I allowed how she may have shown all of her cards. I asked her what she thought she had said during the auction and she translated.
Double #1: Please bid your best suit, partner.
Double #2: Bid your best suit.
Double #3: Bid the damn suit now!
I asked what she would have done if she were faced with a fourth opportunity to double and she said that she would want to double, but would have had to pass. I suggested that she would be utilizing admirable restraint. "Not really", she said. "My bidding box only has three red cards, and I don't think it’s fair that yours has five."
I had not had the chance to grab the remaining ones, yet.            

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To Save or Not to Save  We had been waiting for the situation to occur all game. Partner opened 1S and the next hand bid 2S showing hearts and an undisclosed minor. You have 12 HCP and a 4-card spade fit so you elect to cuebid 3H. Your left hand opponent now jumps to 5H and there are two passes back to you. Here it is, another five-level decision.

One of the most difficult aspects of the game is the competitive auction, and the five-level is the hardest of the hard. What are the considerations that make up a good five-level decision?  

  1. Do we have a probable plus?
  2. Do the opponents have a definite minus?
  3. How strong are the opponents?
  4. How strong is the field we are playing in? 
  5. Are we - with a reasonable degree of certainty - making a game
  6. Was the game we bid very aggressive?
  7. Are we sure of the size of our fit?
  8. Are the opponents saving?

Occasionally we are driven to bid because the opponents have told us that they believe our side has a slam. More often, however, the opponents save prematurely, not realizing that our fit is not as good as they think it is. Sometimes we have already taken an optimistic view and they are providing us a safe option by allowing us the opportunity to double them. We have all experienced the phantom save upon occasion, and sometimes we go minus 800 against 680, because no one found the slam.
Players with less experience are more likely to save poorly. This is not an issue about the quality of their game nearly so much as their lack of experience. Also weaker players playing stronger opponents tend to save more often, as they lack confidence in their defense. The save is also an exciting action, and players that are less disciplined are vulnerable to yielding to the temptation to save.
If we are playing in a weak field, then any minus score is likely to matchpoint poorly. Playing in a regional in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico recently, my partnership found an excellent vulnerable 4S save, scoring -200 against the sure -620. We were the proud recipients of 1 matchpoint. Had we defended 4H, we would have received only 1/2 a matchpoint, as only two pairs out of the thirteen who played the board bid a game. Had we been playing in a North American Bridge Championship event, we would have received about 40-45% of the matchpoints, since that is a much stronger field and therefore more pairs would have bid the close game.
In general, declaring at the five-level is bad business. The five-level decision is so difficult that the phrase "the five-level belongs to the opponents" has been indelibly etched in the experienced bridge player's mind. My first bridge mug read "Jesus Saves…but only when he is not vulnerable." That does not mean that you should avoid the action all together, just make sure you include your instincts in the decision process. Your gut will often tell you when to bid.

Maybe that's why so many bridge players have such a wide expanse.  

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