Source: Some readers may have heard of Jeff Rubens. In his younger days he produced a bridge masterpiece called “Secrets of Winning Bridge.” Anyone who is serious about bridge must read this book. Today Jeff Rubens is, and has been for many years, the editor of Bridge World from the United States of America. The magazine, founded by Ely Culbertson, was a chronicle of the new in his day. There is one remarkable hand in the book which involves entering the bidding, for the first time, at the five or six level based upon logical deductions from the opponents’ bidding. Here is a very recent hand, from BBO, where similar thoughts apply…
10 7 5 3 7 K J 8 7 A 10 8 4
J 4 K J 8 6 3 2 4 3 J 9 6 A 8 A Q 10 9 5 9 K Q 5 3 2
K Q 9 6 2 4 A Q 10 6 5 2 7
As South, you hear 2 on your left, 4NT on your right. Despite your good hand there is no need to take action just yet. The opponents have asked about aces, so find out how many they have! West responds 5D and East bids 5 it’s up to you.
Pauline Gumby, George Cuppaidge, Robert Krochmalik, Paul Lavings
Pauline Gumby, George Cuppaidge, Robert Krochmalik, Paul Lavings
If the bidding were entirely sane, you could expect East to hold singletons in both spades and diamonds. Otherwise East could not afford to use Blackwood, facing the possibility of two quick losers in a suit. Unlike in Rubens’ book this is less likely to be so here, but one thing you do know is that partner holds an ace! It would be churlish to sell out meekly when making 5 is a real possibility, and so much more fun! As Rubens said in his book, bid 5 “and the devil take the hindmost!” On this particular hand, I sat North. I seriously contemplated doubling 2 on my cards but decided not to. I led a diamond against 5. South won and chose to defeat the contract by returning his K, although the singleton club would have worked just as well (but no better). In the wash up EW had a little gloat over the 5S they had kept us out of. For my part, I was a little disappointed that partner had not read the book. Here is a nice little double header aptitude test for both bidding and play. The ground rules are simple: you are playing with a new partner using 3-0-4-1 RKCB and virtually no other agreement. You hold:  4  A  K Q J 5 4 3  K J 7 6 3  and partner opens 1; what do you bid? First the bidding problem. Without methods, minor suit slams are very hard to bid well. Blackwood from a hand with no aces, one ace and sometimes even two aces can be very dangerous, as an unfavourable response can get you too high. As nice as it might be to set trumps and demand a cue-bid, this is not easy to do. Ingenuity is often the answer. Clearly the responding hand has huge slam potential, but the possibility of being off two or even three aces is very real indeed. Most commonly partner’s 1 will be based on a balanced hand so the hand will be playable in diamonds. The recommended immediate response is 4NT, Blackwood. A leap to 4NT over any suit bid notionally agrees that suit. (Unless another suit has been agreed already.) You hold the K so there is no danger of that card coming into partner’s ace count. If he bids 5, 5 or 5 things are easy, you pass 5 and bid 6 over the other two. If he bids 5, it’s not so easy. You are out of your depth already if he has none and a grand slam chance if he has three! This is a not uncommon RKCB problem. It would be very silly to pass, invest just a little more to find the grand slam if it is there. Bid 5, and if partner shows you three with the queen, bid seven otherwise just six, and hope that no one doubles you if the response happens to show no aces! Your version of RKCB can’t do this? Pity! Yes, John Gerber, there are indeed hands which are ideally suited to your convention. Maybe 1/-4, sequences so idle as to be almost non-existent, should be Gerber? 4 over a major is too valuable as a splinter. Do not be tempted to try “Kickback,” a Jeff Rubens creation. It is a minefield. But if the hand illustrates just one thing, it is that RKCB is a grossly overrated convention. Anyone who thinks you will always know whether partner holds 0 or 3, or 1 or 4, does not know bridge. Simple Blackwood for me thanks, with these possible provisos, the king of trumps is an ace and there must always be an agreed trump suit. You might consider bidding 1 and taking your chances thereafter but it is unlikely that any reply from partner in this unfamiliar situation is going to make your problem any easier! That is what your writer did. My man bid 1, not the bid I would myself have made, preferring 1NT. By bidding a direct 4NT, not only do you agree clubs but you leave no doubt that it is Blackwood and not quantitative. If partner rebids 1NT or one of a new suit over 1, how do you establish clubs in a forcing situation? Since the 1 bid was unlimited and suggested, to me anyway, real clubs, I continued with 6, without which bid there would have been a different play problem!
4 A K Q J 5 4 3 K J 7 6 3 J 7 5 3 K Q J 5 10 2 A 9 4
You find yourself playing 6 from East with the lead of the 5. How do you play? This is where your aptitude to bridge comes under the spotlight. And I sincerely hope all readers have no problem with this one. One thing which is as close to certain as the sun will rise tomorrow is that the Q is on your right. In abstract, it would be correct to play low and hope that the ten is on your left and that your nine will force North to play his queen. If that is the play you found, however, you have not focussed on the real problem; making the contract. One of the fundamental principles of card play is to look for the most probable distribution that will allow you to make the contract. This goal is rarely subservient to the making of overtricks and undertricks. So rarely, it is safe to say, “Never.” You will be left with no means of unblocking the heart suit and entering hand to pitch that spade! You must win the trick with dummy’s king, unblock that A and enter hand with the A. And what fun you will have when the Q turns up doubleton on your right. You make your 6 while the majority of declarers in 3NT (ugh), 5 or 5 go down.