Joshua Donn
Joshua Donn

Source: BBO

This Sunday, July 15, at 1PM US Eastern Time (7PM Central European Time), we had a special 1 hour teaching session with star player BBO Star JDonn (Josh Donn). This was a declarer play lesson, with the topic being “Playing the Hand in the Bidding”. For the BBOers who were not able to attend the lecture, let’s dive into the review now.

This topic is useful in any form of bridge, but it is especially useful when playing against GIB. That is why I thought it would be good to discuss today, in anticipation of next week’s online NABC event.

There are two sides to this topic.

One side is paying attention to how the suits are breaking and how the defense is likely to go, and how that will impact the play of the hand.

The other side is the potential for deceptive bidding, most often in order to attract a particular lead. It is the deceptive aspect that is especially useful against GIB, for reasons I will get into at a later time. But first let’s talk about some hands where the bidding gives you clues as to how the play will go, and how you can use that to your advantage.

Consider this hand.


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

You hold Spade SuitKT4 Heart SuitA83 Diamond SuitAQ65 club suitK32. The dealer on your left opens 1Spade Suit, and partner overcalls a preemptive 3Heart Suit. Pass on your right, and it’s up to you.

Well the first thing to notice is that you have sufficient values to attempt a game. Partner showed seven hearts and you have three, so it makes sense to make the ten-card fit your trump suit. But consider how the play will go.

If you give partner a normal seven card suit to the KQJ, and nothing useful outside, how will you do in 4Heart Suit? Well the defense is going to lead a spade through your king. If partner has three spades, he will quickly suffer a ruff.

Meanwhile he only has eight winners, seven hearts and the ace of diamonds. While the other cards might amount to another trick, it’s wishful thinking for them to amount to two tricks, considering the missing high cards are mostly on your left.

It seems like 4Heart Suit is likely to go down.

I am sure most of you know where I am going with this. If ten tricks is difficult, can we try to make our game with only nine tricks?


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

Of course, 3NT!

Not only does that contract require a trick less, but our hand will be protected from the opening lead. Any spade, diamond, or club lead will hand us the ninth trick immediately.

Even if our opponent is clairvoyant enough to lead a heart and give nothing away, the contract has many ways to make. The most straightforward is to take two rounds of hearts, then lead a spade to the ten (or king if the opponent on your right steps up with an honor).

The opponent on your left will be swiftly endplayed into giving you the ninth trick. But even if you were to take all 7 of your hearts immediately, you could still make on any of several possible squeezes or endplays, as the one opponent has to guard too many suits.

I will show you one way the play might progress:


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

Notice west hasn’t discarded yet. If he throws a spade or a club, that ace can simply fall. If he throws a diamond, you can play any suit at all and he has to lead another suit back into you.

The important point about that hand is visualizing during the bidding how the play will go. 3NT would be a stand out bid even if partner had opened 3Heart Suit for many of the same reasons just discussed, but when it goes 1Spade Suit on your left and partner overcalls 3Heart Suit, then it becomes even more important to protect your hand. The only obstacle is thinking of the 3NT bid in the first place!

Let’s try another hand where the bidding gives you clues about how the play is likely to go.

You hold Spade SuitKJT64 Heart SuitAQ752 Diamond SuitT3 club suit9. I will give a pretty advanced auction, but I will explain what all the bids mean as we go. Then I will discuss how you can visualize the play from the bidding.


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

Partner opens 1club suit, you respond 1Spade Suit (higher suit first with 5-5), and partner bids 4Heart Suit. You play this unusual jump is a splinter bid, so partner is showing a good hand with spade support and heart shortness. You are good enough to bid 4NT Keycard Blackwood.

Partner bids 5club suit, showing 0 or 3 of the missing aces, obviously 3 in this case. You bid 5Diamond Suit, which asks partner for the queen of trumps. Partner bids 6club suit. This is a special bid that says he has the queen of trumps (or else he would have attempted to sign off in 5Spade Suit), and it also says he has the king of clubs.

Now, where do we stand?

We are already bidding 6Spade Suit, which should be a making contract. But partner might have a hand that makes 7Spade Suit easy, such as Spade SuitAQxx Heart Suitx Diamond SuitAxx club suitAKQJx. So we should at least be making a try for a grand slam.

Remember, partner doesn’t know yet we have all the keycards, as all we did was ask for the trump queen, so he will never bid a grand slam unless we invite him to do so.

So what if we were to try for a grand slam and partner signed off. What is his base – in other words, the least shape and fewest high cards he can have for his bidding thus far.

Well, he opened 1club suit, showed four spades and a singleton heart, and then several specific high cards. Partner has, at worst, Spade SuitAQxx Heart Suitx Diamond SuitAxx club suitAKxxx. While it doesn’t appear there are any losers, what are our chances of taking 13 tricks? We have five spades, a heart, a diamond, and two clubs off the top for nine. The heart finesse is a safe bet on the bidding, so we are up to ten.

The most straightforward way to make seems to be ruffing three hearts in the dummy.

Now, if the opponents lead a heart for us, this won’t be too hard.

We can do something like this. Win the king with the ace. Then ruff a heart, and take the ace and king of clubs to throw a diamond. Ace of diamonds, diamond ruff, heart ruff, diamond ruff, heart ruff with the ace. Now we can overtake the queen of trumps with the king, and as long as trumps are breaking either 2-2 or 3-1, we will be fine. But, notice the importance of the ten of spades!

If we didn’t have that card, we would need spades to be 2-2 in order to make our contract, which is not good enough for a grand slam. And the information to know that fact is there during the auction.

So we should only bid this grand slam if we hold the ten of spades.

If we don’t have that card, we should merely invite a grand slam, perhaps by making a bid like 6Diamond Suit or 6Heart Suit over partner’s 6club suit bid. Then partner can go if he has a sign of an extra trick on the side.

I hope these hands have demonstrated for you the important of playing the hand in the bidding.

The topic is a little advanced, but I thought most people would enjoy it. I am going to do another lecture a week from today. That one will be on a similar topic, but geared more toward GIB, and strategies you can use in the bidding to help your chances in the play.

Thanks everyone, I can take questions now.


Q1: If you were playing with GIB on last hand with same auction, do you think GIB would understand a 6Heart Suit or 6Diamond Suit bid like a human as try for 7Spade Suit?
A: Good question.

Now, GIB is not familiar with that treatment.

When you bid blackwood with GIB, he will tell you about the keycards and the trump queen, and you can always ask for kings, but GIB will only tell you about specific cards. He will almost never judge to just bid a grand slam.

Q2: Do you normally bid Blackwood with two quick losers in a hand?
A: It’s a fair question.

Often players are advised not to do that, but let me talk about why I think it’s right here.

First of all, partner showed quite a good hand. The 17 points I have him holding on this layout are essentially his minimum. And we know none of his points are likely to be in hearts. So the odds are extremely high he has a diamond control.

Another point is, even in the rare cases when we are lacking the diamond ace and king, how does west know that? He will probably lead his partner’s heart suit, or a trump.

But mainly the reason I do it is to simplify the auction. If I start cuebidding over 4Heart Suit, we will be on the 5 level, and never able to use blackwood again.

There are several problems with that. What if we cuebid 5club suit or 5Heart Suit (depending on style). Does partner have to bid slam with the ace or king of diamonds? But then we might reach a slam off 2 aces.

Also if we make one of those bids, we will always be guessing at the quality of the trump suit. How would you ever know p artner has the queen of spades? I am a fan of bidding blackwood whenever possible in order to simplify the auction. I don’t think cuebidding instead on this hand over 4Heart Suit is “wrong”, but that it’s clearly inferior.

Q3: Do you find that 7NT happens much more frequently on BBO than in FTF (face to face) bridge?
A: I don’t find it happens a lot in either case. But sometimes in face to face bridge, the hands are more balanced than they should be on average. That is because most people aren’t very good at shuffling the cards, The hands that are dealt on BBO are completely random and fair, even the occasional wild freak.

Q4: How important is finding the minimum partner has? seems a lot as never has maximum
A: I am not sure what is being asked, but let me see what I can say.

It’s true players tend to have minimums for their bids more often than they have maximums. The reason is that on average you have 10 points, And most bids that people play have ranges higher than that (other than preempts). So let’s say you open 1NT 15-17. You have 15 more than you have 16, and 16 more than 17, just because it tends toward 10. I hope that answers the question.

Q5: Any examples hand come to mind where deceptive bidding by human (to entice a particular lead or discourage lead of a suit) would not get GIB robot excited to bid beyond game?
A: I will leave that as my topic for next week. Please come back and see!.

Q6: Do you play an upper limit on splinters?
A: Good question.

This was a splinter by opener, so it automatically has an upper limit by not opening 2club suit to begin with. So it will never be more than about 21 points. But consider a splinter by responder, like 1Spade Suit P 4club suit.

That one should generally have an upper limit, because responder’s range is completely unlimited. So you could call that one about 12-15 points. With more, I would find another way to raise partner, perhaps Jacoby 2NT, or whatever game forcing raise I use.

Q7: Do you sometimes ignore rule of 15 for a 4th seat opening (if you can open and pass partner’s bid) in best hand MP?
A: I really want to leave the GIB specific questions for next week. But I will explain what the rule of 15 is for those who may not know.

It’s a guideline to help determine if you should open the bidding in 4th seat, or pass the hand out. The idea is that if you are short in spades, you are less likely to want to open, because the opponents may outbid you with their spade suit. So you take your high cards, and add them to your number of spades. If it’s at least 15, you open.

Remember this is only for 4th seat decisions! I am not really advocating this rule, but it’s pretty popular so you should know what it is.

Q8: How does 7Spade Suit play on the lead of Spade Suit9 from 987? do you have the required % chance for a grand?
A: It would be much harder to make on a trump lead. And quite possibly, a trump should be led.

To be blunt, it’s not simple to make hands to prove a very specific point, and I just wanted to make the point about the spade ten. But if you want to know if it can be made for sure, we can just ask GIB. GIB says it still makes! I think it might have to do with setting up the long club. Let me see.


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

And now ace of hearts and ace of diamonds and the long club. So it needed the clubs to break 4-3 (or trumps 2-2) There you go, a cold grand slam!

Q9: Am I right to say splinter with both outside aces seems is poor?
A: No I do not agree. I think outside aces are excellent to make a splinter bid. I am not sure why you would view those as a negative.

Q10: Any suggestions on safe ways to use deceptive bidding to entice a particular lead or encourage a favorable lead in bidding without GIB robot bidding a bove game?
A: Ha, I do love that question, but sorry as I said, that is next week’s lecture topic so I will give a full hour to that sort of question next week. But let’s do one more.

Q11: Would you often pass after opening on 11 or 12 (knowing that partner has less HCP than you) after invitational bid?
A: That is another GIB question! But I would say, either with or without GIB, you should probably be passing invitational bids with 11 or 12 points since that sounds like a minimum opening bid.

I am glad to see all the interest in GIB. I will devote next week’s lecture to that topic, since it is just one day before the big online NABC event.

Ok that’s all for today. Thanks everyone for coming.

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