The Open Pairs
I've just finished three days of the toughest bridge event I have ever played in, the Open Pairs at the World Series of Bridge in Orlando, Florida. I knew before we started playing that we'd need to play well but I confess I'd also imagined we'd get a few easy games. No, in a word. No easy games. Professional players, players who've been playing bridge for their countries for years and world champions. Maybe we were the ones offering easy games!
The thing that surprised me the most was how punishing the opposition were if we bid bad suits. They all seemed to know exactly when to defend and when to keep bidding to push us out of our good part-score contracts. If we ever overcalled with bad suits they'd pounce on us.
Every pair was required to carry a system card and it was also interesting to note that on the overcall section of the system card most pairs had written 'sound overcalls'. Nobody was overcalling just for the sake of bidding something.
Lesson 1. An overcall shows a good suit.
There were three sessions every day and Mehboob and I could only manage scores in the 40s for the first two sessions of day 1 before finally managing a 53% in the evening. There was some hope, after all.
Most pairs were playing 5 card majors and a 15-17 1NT opening. There were also a few pairs playing the Precision system which uses a 13-15 1NT opening and the odd 14-16 1NT. But there were also a few complicated weirdo systems, too. One of our opposition pairs bid and made a 7♠ contract against us in an auction that seemed to go on and on forever. All I could do was pass. I passed 12 times, in fact, before the bidding finally finished.
There were shorter auctions, too. Lots of 4♥ and 4♠ openings. Luckily, I had come prepared for those!
I was sitting South and I hadn't been getting many points so I was pleased to pick up a decent hand for a change. But East wasn't here to give a free ride and opened the bidding 4♥.
Just look at that East hand! 4♥. Not a timid little weak 2♥ opening or even a perfectly normal 3♥ opening but an immediate 4♥. Why? Because good players try to put the maximum amount of pressure on their opponents and opening bids of 4♥ and 4♠ are common.
Well, I have this little theory that if the opposition bid quickly to 4♥ then you just bid 4♠ yourself and hope for the best. We've talked about it a lot at in our videos and even though it might have been an embarrassing disaster I really felt I couldn't let you all down. All the support and encouragement that you've been sending has truly meant a lot so I thought of you all and decided that this was going to be one from all of us to show the world we're also here to play bridge. I bid 4♠. A vulnerable overcall at the 4 level on a 4 card suit, ignoring my solid 6 card minor. No, our 6 card minor. This was from all of us at Sky Bridge Club, not just me.
When the smoke had cleared, 4♠ made 11 tricks for a great score! 4♠ making 11 tricks for 650 beat the 620 everyone else was getting by making 12 tricks in 5♦.
Lesson 2. Trust yourself. Of course you must learn your system well but, above all, when you get that feeling just go ahead and trust yourself. Anyway, it's a game of cards and nothing bad is going to happen.
After finishing on a positive note on the first day, Mehboob and I chalked up 33% in the first session of day 2. The lowest score I have ever had in a game of bridge. Session 2 was better but still below 50%. Finally, with the help of that 4♠ overcall and a few other things going our way, we managed 63% in the evening session. Quite a roller coaster ride we were having.
Mehboob and I don't play a complicated bidding system. Yes, every now and then a hand comes along where we aren't sophisticated as we might be and sometimes we miss out on some slam or whatever but, frankly, I get bored with all that stuff. I can't say exactly why I play bridge but I do know that it's not all just about the score. There's something thrilling about making a bid or play that you know is right even if you can't explain why. I don't mean some silly game or slam you bid just because you're bored or hoping for a top score, I mean something you just know is right. In a world of computers and algorithms it's nice to be a human.
Watch Mehboob bid this hand and you'll know why I enjoy playing with him so much:
I held the South cards and opened 1♠. Mehboob wasn't strong enough to bid a new suit at the 2 level and so he responded 1NT. That 1NT response doesn't have to be balanced, it just shows 6-9 points.
East doubled and there was no way I was going to stay in 1NTX so I bid 2♣ to give Mehboob the choice of passing 2♣ or putting me back to my first suit, 2♠. East now bid 2♥. What would you do now if you were North?
Mehboob only had 6 points but with a club fit and not wanting to defend against their 2♥ contract he pushed on to 3♣. He's now described his hand well. I know he has between 6-9 points, club support and no spade fit. But he's really minimum! Just 6 points and bidding to the 3 level!
Sitting South, my hand seemed to be getting better. I now knew we had a club fit. It's only 13 high card points but I liked the club fit and void in hearts. I knew it was pushy, but I thought if Mehboob was maximum for his bidding, that is 8 or 9 points rather than 6 or 7, we might have a chance in 5♣. I bid 4♣ to invite partner to game. Look again at the North cards and decide whether you would accept the invitation.
Despite having just 6 high card points, Mehboob pushed on to 5♣. True, he had a singleton spade which would normally be worth something, but singletons in partner's suit normally aren't much help and I had opened the bidding 1♠.
5♣ made exactly 11 tricks and that was a super score for us as few pairs were getting to game.
Lesson 3. You can bid accurately without complicated systems. Our auction was 1♠, 1NT, 2♣, 3♣, 4♣, 5♣. Not complicated but a lot of nuance in each of those ♣ bids.
Like on the first two days, Mehboob and I had one good session on day three and two sessions, well, not so good. That meant we hadn't qualified for the next stage of the pairs but it was a thrill to play against so many famous and brilliant bridge players. Everyone was friendly and we had some laughs along the way. We learnt a lot, too, and I'm looking forward to sharing some more hands and thoughts over the coming weeks.
And it's not over yet! We have a few days off before the Mixed Teams, starting Monday.
I want to thank you all again for your well wishes. You make me proud to be part of Sky Bridge Club.
How do you think Mehboob knew to bid 5♣? Would you have bid 5♣? Tell us why.
woh! what a bid...how did you make it? I have tried an d failed miserably!
I bid 5c's (hints off) played to get the A/S out & club loser. Am learning lots from your explanation of the hands - thank you...…….Best wishes next week
Hi! If you weren’t from that magnificent island, I would expect all of you to be cloistering with a real estate agent! But to answer your question could it be that, from the bidding, your partner had doped out that you were void in hearts? 4 plus a probable 5 plus a certain 4 equels 13, hence you have a void. Best, Dexter
I played in 5 clubs, down one. Why didn't you bid 3 spades to 3 clubs, if partner held two cards in spades you could still comfortably make a 4 spades contract, assuming you didn't get a 5-1 spade split, unfortunately partner held a singleton spade, planting us firmly in 5 clubs.
It took me a few tries but managed 11 eventually. I had initially ended up in the wrong hand and infuriatingly not using those lovely spades. Thanks Graeme.