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Bermuda Bowl Edition

“Advanced players know the rules. Experts know when to break the rules.” - Anonymous

The World Bridge Championships just finished spotlighting a lot of great bridge by the participants. I spent most of my time kibitzing the partnership of Justin Lall and Joe Grue . Both are creative players with excellent table feel, and I witnessed numerous examples of successful rule breaking: both by them, and their opponents. Here are some examples that show how to achieve superior results when using expert judgment to "break the rules".


Super-Light 2-Level Overcall (Justin Lall)

On this hand, Justin Lall used an extremely light two-level overcall to disrupt the opponents’ auction. After a pass by his partner and 1 opening on his right, he overcalled 2 on a balanced 7-count. Overcalling 2 over 1 on light hands is a well-known strategy, although usually not taken to the extreme seen here. The 2 overcall creates a stressful decision for an opponent holding an imperfect hand for a negative double: perhaps responder only has one four-card major, or has a shape like 5-3 in the majors but is a bit light to bid 2M directly. With the double covering all hands with one or two four-card majors, plus weak hands with five-card majors, the auction can become difficult for the opponents to find a major-suit fit. It may become even worse if the overcaller's partner raises. Opener, who is aware that responder does not always have both majors for the negative double, may also face a problem holding only one four-card major himself. He may pass and find himself missing an easy fit, or bid and find his side at an uncomfortably high level without a fit.

Justin had other strategic considerations in his favor. He was at favorable vulnerability, a common situation to take a risk in the auction. Also, his partner was a passed hand, and this partnership opens about a point lighter than most. That was important for two reasons. One was that the opponents were likely to have game values, increasing the upside to disrupting their auction. The other reason was his partner was unable to bid much unless he had a club fit. A real danger of a light 2 overcall opposite an unpassed partner is that he will bid 3NT on a strong hand without a club fit and Justin would have nowhere to go, but here that was impossible.

After the 2 overcall, the auction continued 2 by South, and Justin’s partner took advantage of his passed-hand status to make a splinter bid of 4. That put a lot of pressure on North.  With fantastic shape, he chose to cuebid 5 in support of spades. South now figured that if his partner could make a slam try, then he should accept since he held the AKQ of trumps and the Q. It is certainly possible to find fault in the N/S auction for bidding the slam off two cashing tricks, but the fact is they were put under a ton of pressure due to the light overcall. The other table was not presented with the same problem, and thus had a simple auction of 1-1-2-4 to reach the best contract.


Offshape 1NT Rebid (Frederik Nystrom)

This hand features a strategy similar to one I covered several weeks ago. I discussed ERROR: UNKNOWN ARTICLE "breakin-the-rules-light-third-seat-openers" IN INTERNAL LINK , and in particular opening 1NT light in third seat with hands that don’t have ideal shape but have a lot of playing strength. Here Frederik Nystrom opened 1, which was artificial and showed a good hand.  Over the weakness-showing 1 response he bid 1NT (17-19 balanced), despite holding only 15 HCP. What makes his decision interesting is that preemption doesn’t appear to be a consideration as he holds the highest-ranking suit and both opponents have already passed. It turned out that if he had rebid 1 the next player would have had a clear takeout double, and his opponents would have found their club partial. So Nystrom’s table feel was right on.

The 1NT rebid also helped Nystrom in the play. He declared an awful 2 contract after a transfer by his partner, and received a high diamond lead. After a second diamond to the ace, North switched to the J, covered and won by South. South next played a heart back to North’s 10. Now North didn’t know that declarer had such a powerful source of tricks in spades and perhaps thought he might be able to ruff the next diamond in his hand, so he switched to a spade in an attempt to put his partner in to draw another round of trumps. Nystrom won the AK and then led the 10. South erred by not ruffing the ten, and it was basically over. As on the last hand it is easy to blame the opponents for what occurred, but that doesn’t take away from the difficulties that Nystrom caused. The other table played 3 which made easily, so Nystrom’s efforts earned his side 6 IMPs.


Fake Splinter Bid (Joe Grue)



This deal has already been written up on BridgeWinners, but deserves further mention. After Joe Grue’s 1 overcall and his partner’s 2NT reply (showing about 12-14), Joe splintered holding Kx of the suit. First of all, why would he make a slam try at all?

Joe held 13 points, but had a nice long suit offering the potential for lots of tricks. He also held tenaces over opener in three different suits, so it was likely that his hand was more valuable than normal. He could have cuebid the opponents’ suit on the three-level and then rebid hearts on the next round, but he chose this more deceptive route instead. If a slam was bid it was going to be light on values, so it might take a certain lead to make. Mis-describing his hand might give the opponents wrong inferences that would make it difficult to find the best lead.

The splinter bid was not only chosen for deception, there was a strong constructive element as well. Joe knew his partner held at least one diamond honor for the 2NT bid.  If partner held just the ace, as here, he would upgrade his hand opposite the splinter bid. However, if he held just the Q then he would downgrade, and that’s what Joe wanted, as the queen would probably be wasted with the ace in opener’s hand. Joe’s partner actually held a nice hand with good controls and a likely source of tricks in clubs, so he jumped directly to slam over the splinter. North probably thought he had a shot to set the contract, given that he held a queen that the opponents could easily misguess. After the hand North mentioned he thought Joe might be psyching the splinter bid and led what appeared to be a safe diamond, ending all hope for the defense as the spades were discarded on the clubs. Joe’s creative rule-breaking earned his side a big swing on what appeared to be a dull hand.


Obviously there are also many cases where creative actions, such as those detailed in this article, will backfire in a big way. Still, well-reasoned deceptive actions can sometimes bring in big IMPs. I offer my congratulations to all the participants in the world championships for a great event. To the BridgeWinners community, I say don’t be afraid to do something offbeat if the situation seems right. You may end up being as successful as the best players in the world.

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