Ross Taylor

The case for upside down signals (not to be taken seriously)

Many of you will know that John Gowdy tells great stories, and when the story involves his most recent game with the great Eric Murray, you sit back to enjoy. Last week John excitedly came up to me to tell me that after more than twenty years he has finally defended a hand where it was important to be playing upside down signals. I took this to mean John and Eric play standard signals of course.

He did not give me the whole hand, nor is it necessary. The opponents bid up to 3NT, after Eric’s RHO opened a strong 2C; heard a 2D response, and a raise of his 2NT rebid to 3NT.

Eric led the ten of hearts from K109832. Dummy had a weak 5431 shape with the stiff 7 of hearts. John, sitting over the dummy, held the 64 doubleton of hearts, leaving declarer with AQJ5 of the suit.

John naturally followed suit with the heart six, as declarer won the jack. Declarer next ran off a bunch of winners, stripping all but hearts from Eric’s hand. Declarer’s hearts were down to AQ5. He exited with the heart five.

At this point, Gowdy had nothing but winners in his hand – but the six of hearts (his entry to these winners) had of course been released at trick one – when he gave his partner standard count!

Murray was down to nothing but hearts – he was forced to win the heart and return one into declarer’s AQ for trick nine and the contract!

Being the veterans they are, not a word was spoken at the time. Next day, Gowdy called Murray to apologize for squandering the heart 6 at trick one!

Murray said – “oh that’s ok, but why in god’s name did you pitch the heart 4 later?? If declarer had begun with AQJ3 or AQJ2, the heart four would have sufficed to win the second round of hearts and prevent the end play ! ” (He was right of course)

The last word went to Gowdy who said – “aha! – I only pitched the heart 4 AFTER you pitched the heart 3 Eric – I knew it was no longer possible for me to get in with the four of hearts.”

I doubt it happens very often that Eric’s partners get in the last word – perhaps there is more to the story than I have been told :0)

There’s a new kid in town

One of the newest entrants to the world of bridge blogging is Chuck Arthur – and although he has only published three entries so far, he has already attracted more comments (read -> interest) than many bloggers do over a period of months.

His last post was in the form of a Master Solvers Club (MSC) problem – and thus far has elicited 26 comments and counting, and some of that from pretty tall timber, as Edgar used to say.

If you have not already seen that post, you’ll find it here at

If you have your thoughts on the problem, go ahead, leave ’em there – chances are you won’t be alone. There have been votes for six different actions ! (Hallmark of a good problem)

All that remains is for Chuck to moderate us all to a happy conclusion – showing us the hand in question would be nice, but if he is true to Bridge World form, he may not, since the point of MSC is not so much to get it right, but rather choose the best course of action (in your opinion) for that particular problem.

Great start Chuck – keep ’em coming.

The play’s the thing

David Colbert and Mike Cafferata are playing teams in the Sarasota regional this week. Dave likes to send me hands and stories. This one caught my attention. First, because his hand was an absolute rock, and second, the full layout lends itself to a really cool line of play in 6 diamonds. Here is Dave’s hand report, verbatim.




“I had AK AKJ9 — AKQJTxx  not bad, eh?”

(Dave is Canadian, so of course, occasionally he will finish his sentences with “eh” – here it’s as commonplace as please and thank you.)

“I opened 2C and it went 2H showing 1 ace -3C-3D (stayman) -3H -4D (so he has great diamonds) and I jumped to 6 clubs. What else could I do?

I need specifically the heart queen but if Mike has it he must know to bid 7 clubs. He thought for a long while and passed. I was sure we had missed a grand from ‘the tank’ but look at what he had:

A very interesting problem

   QJx  x  ATxxxxxx  x    yes, 3-1-8-1 !

They led a spade and I won, ruffed a heart, pitched a heart on the ace and claimed. The hearts were QTxx behind me but the grand goes 2 down if they find a trump lead. This was the KO semi-final and the other table was in 6D which has no play.

6 clubs makes even on a trump lead if you guess to draw trumps and cash the high spades and exit a heart.”


(Folks – that would be a helluva play and hand to report – looking something like this…..)



Dealer: South

Vul: NS

West East
108xx 9xxx
Q10xx xxxx
Q9 KJx
xxx xx


As Dave pointed out; after declarer draws trumps and cashes his spade honours, Ace and out in hearts puts West on play. Any return will yield trick 12. A heart is into your mashed potatoes, and a diamond or a spade allows you access to the dummy for the two winners there (you only need one of them)

Bid well, defend better

Regular partners of mine know I often find situations where an unsupported honour opening lead makes sense, and in fact is necessary. Not just the routine K from Kxx, but sometimes leads like Q from Q10xx or J from J9x or whatever. The point is, you have to listen to the auction; envision the layout of the cards, and effectively play that card combination on defense the same way you might if you were declaring a hand.

Reasons vary. Perhaps you wish to lead through known strength in dummy. Perhaps you wish to retain the lead, and guage the best ensuing defense while your hand is on play. Or maybe you wish to clarify your HCP to partner very quickly in situations where you are known (by him or her) to be weak.

My friend and sometime bridge partner, David Colbert, is at the Sarasota Regional this week, playing teams with Mike Cafferata. I get a daily report from Dave – as he loves to discuss and review hands as much as I do. The following couple of paragraphs are extracted from Saturday’s email. To paraphrase would not do it justice. I like it verbatim.


“Finally, I really liked this one, maybe even a blog-worthy hand.

All red: I had QJ753 xx xx K542   in the final. It went 1C from Mike, (1D) 1S from me. (2D) 3S from Mike. (4H) 4S from me. (5D) P (P) all in tempo to me. …???

This felt bad either way. His pass is not forcing and I hate the doubletons and and and…I bid 5 spades . It went P P 6D ! and Mike doubled. All pass. And Ross, across two oceans I could hear you calling in Scottish. You KNOW what I led. You absolutely know. I made the gorgeous RT lead of the king of clubs!!!!

And dummy was xxxx Jx  KJXX   JTx 

I know partner has 4 spades so I won and continued a club. We got the first 2 tricks for +200 and 13 imps in the KO final when partners made 5D at the other table.

Mike had something like AKxx Txxx  x  AQxx and 6D makes on a spade lead or shift, not that that is tempting but the principle is the thing.”


I had a big smile when I read that story. These types of play seem to come up for me more when I play with Dave – not sure why. I will keep an eye out for them and report good ones here in the blog as they arise. Perhaps some of you will add this play to your arsenal.

This makes sense to me

Leave your bid cards on the table, Please.

The JCBL (effective 1 Nov 2007) adopted a new rule regarding bidding boxes. Namely:

The bidding cards are to be left on the table without being moved until the opening lead has been turned face up (i.e., after the leader’s partner has asked whatever questions he/she may have). Only after the opening lead has been faced are the bidding cards to be returned to the bidding box.

—Robert Geller, Chairman, JCBL Laws Commission

Stay calm and bring home your grand slam

You find yourself in a 35 HCP 7NT contract during a short swiss match against the number one seed. You are pretty sure their methods will stop them in 6NT, so the whole match likely depends on whether or not you can make this contract. Twelve top tricks and one obvious chance of a thirteenth. Are you up to the task?






It was a simple power auction to get to 7NT, one of you being a touch exuberant in placing the final contract. The opening lead is a low heart, which you win in hand as RHO follows suit.

Okay, so you have two spades, four hearts, three top diamonds, and three top clubs. That’s twelve top tricks, and the diamonds look like a real possibility for the thirteenth trick if the diamond jack falls. Can you improve your chances?

Perhaps you are not so comfortable with recognizing and executing squeezes. But would you concede to me that if one of the opponents has the guarded jack of diamonds and also four spades then they might not be able to hang onto everything as you run your winners?

Cause that’s as far as you need to take the analysis, and let the cards take care of the rest – just pay attention to the key suits as the defenders discard.

Makes sense you want to leave spades and diamonds to the end. So cash all your other winners first. You will come down to :





Now at this point, I don’t care which hand you ended up in – don’t worry about that. Everything you have done so far is very simple – cash winners.

Now all you have to do is continue to cash your winners. If diamonds are 3-3 or the jack is coming down doubleton, you have thirteen tricks.

Alas, LHO showed out on the third round of diamonds, so East still has the jack. That just leaves the spades to play.





Okay, so just play the spades out. First the ace, then the king, and you can fall off your chair when you play the two of spades at trick 13, and everyone shows out !!

Congratulations, you just bid and made 7NT on a simple squeeze against the number one seed !

The whole hand?




Vul: NS

West East
75 QJ103
10972 84
85 J643
J8642 1093


Let’s recap. You counted twelve top tricks. You thought diamonds were your best bet for the thirteenth trick. You would concede there is no rush to play the diamond suit; let’s leave that to the end.

You would agree the only other possible source of a thirteenth trick is from the spade suit – it simply cannot come from anywhere else. Again, leave those alone for now.

So you cash all your winners, leaving these two key suits till the end. At that point, play your diamonds off. If the jack pops up, we can all go home. If not, hope for a minor miracle in spades.

Now some readers may write in and say, Ross maybe you can develop a count on the opponents’ hands, and divine East is likely to hold diamond length versus West. In that case, a diamond finesse against East’s jack will also get the job done.

Yes, discovery plays and inferential counts are always a possibility when you need to locate a key card, but in this case, with no extreme distributional clues, you really don’t have enough solid information to back up a play like that here.

Just take your winners and claim your 13 imp pick up.

John Carruthers’ Roman Holiday


As mentioned yesterday, John Carruthers’ all star team had the misfortune of failing to qualify for the 2010 NEC Festival playoffs in Japan by a lousy one hundredth of a point. John promptly put pen to paper and drafted this entertaining article entitled “My Roman Holiday” which was published today in the 2010 NEC Festival Daily Bulletin. With John’s blessing, here is a reprint of his article.


A ‘Roman holiday’ is a metaphor taken from the poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage’ by George Gordon, Lord Byron, where a gladiator in ancient Rome expects to be “butcher’d to make a Roman holiday” while the audience would take pleasure from watching his suffering. The term suggests debauchery and disorder in addition to sadistic enjoyment. The Germans have a word for it as well, “schadenfreude”, to derive joy from the suffering of others. Will you empathize with me or will you feel schadenfreude? Let’s see.


My tale of woe begins in the 2000 NEC Cup at the fifth NEC Festival. With a match to go, we (Canada’s Olympiad Open team: Robert Lebi-Nader Hanna, George Mittelman-John Carruthers, with Eric Kokish performing spot duty and Drew Cannell unable to come to Japan) looked to be qualifying for the quarterfinals. We were in sixth place at 151 VP, 8 VP ahead of the ninth-place team.

We had a tough last match, losing 37-8 to Indonesia and earning only 8 VP. Two teams had moved ahead of us, but Ireland had dropped behind us with an even worse final match than ours, to leave us in eighth place, we thought. However, then the news came in that the Japanese Ladies Olympiad team had won their last match 71-1 for a blitz, moving them all the way from 18th place to a tie with us at 159 VP for the eighth and final knockout berth. Of course, based on their final match, they won the tie-breaker, which is IMP quotient: IMPs won divided by IMPs lost: 1.18 for Japan and 1.15 for Canada.

Four years later, Mittelman and I returned for the 9th NEC Cup, this time with Allan Graves and Joey Silver as our partners. This time we did qualify after scoring 88 VP out of 100 in our last four matches. We faced England in the quarterfinals, losing 97-93.5 in one of the most exciting matches with which I’ve ever been involved. The match was filled with slams, the most incredible of which was the following deal, reported by Eric Kokish in the Daily Bulletin:

Quarterfinals. Canada vs England. Board 3.


Dealer: south

Vul: east west

West East
KQJ765 A10983
void void
Q106 J98754
QJ63 K5


 Open room bidding:


West North East South
Callaghan Graves Armstrong Mittelman
 1S  2H  4H (1)  6H
 Pass  Pass  6S  Dble
 Pass  Pass  Pass  

(1) Splinter Raise


Closed Room Bidding 


West North East South
Carruthers Senior Silver Lambardi
2S Pass 3S 4H
Pass Pass 4S 5H
Pass 6H 6S Pass
Pass Dble All Pass


If we didn’t know better we’d suspect the firm of Suzuki, Omasa and Nakamura had poured sake into the dealing program, but every once in a while a layout like this is generated, providing the gladiators with untold opportunities to try to fool the lions.

That not every two-loser hand is a strong two-bid was illustrated by Mittelman, a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks who has learned through bitter experience that the opponents’ spades always outbid his suits and that a there is nothing more humiliating than opening two clubs and having to save against the opponents’ vulnerable game or slam.

Hence, a gentle one heart. Allan Graves, a classmate of Mittelman’s in the aforementioned institution, emulated his partner in trying to slow down the dangerous auction, hence a gentle two hearts. Despite the Canadians’ best efforts, Armstrong competed to six spades. Graves led a trump. Mittelman cashed the diamond ace when he won the ace of clubs, down 500.

If those results, thoroughly infused with tactics, deception and insurance, were interesting, consider the sandbagging efforts of our man Silver, who walked the dog with minimum bids until the music stopped at six spades doubled. So what’s all the excitement about?

By now I hope you can trust me to report only the truth. Here’s what happened. Brian Senior appreciated that a heart lead was not only pointless but also potentially dangerous, but couldn’t tell whether the defenders’ outside trick source was in clubs or diamonds. Hoping to know more after seeing dummy and thinking it might be important to hold the lead, Brian made the expert lead of…the king of diamonds.

Unfortunately for him, he was in no position to lead to trick two. Pablo Lambardi, who had been bestowed with that privilege, was not keen to cash the ace of clubs at the potential cost of a 300-point undertrick, and saw no pressing need to worry about dummy’s diamonds. Accordingly, he decided to exit passively with a heart to force dummy. John Carruthers was pleased to accept that force, but was even more pleased to discard one of his four clubs. The other three went on dummy’s diamonds after trumps were drawn and JC chalked up +1660. I am incapable of making up a story as good as this one; 19 IMPs to Canada.

A tourniquet! A tourniquet! My kingdom for a tourniquet.

I returned for my third NEC Cup two years later, in 2006, with yet another partner. P.O. Sundelin from Stockholm. We played with Philippe Cronier from Paris and Subhash Gupta from New Delhi. We called ourselves FISK (after France, India, Sweden and Kanada). Kanada is the Swedish spelling of Canada, and fisk is the Swedish word for fish – somehow it all fit together.

When the Swiss Team qualifying portion of the NEC Cup had ended, we were in, you guessed it, a joint tie for the eighth qualifying spot, with Team Tajima. This time, though, things were different: our IMP quotient was 1.33, Tajima’s 1.32. Additionally, we had played and beaten Tajima in our head-on match and had won six matches to their five. So, by any measure, we deserved to qualify, right? Wrong. We were penalized 1 VP for slow play, knocking us out of the knockout before we’d taken our cards out of a board!

Are you beginning to get the picture? Last year, Joey Silver and I came to the 14th NEC Cup to play with Larry Mori and Venkatrao Koneru (variously known as Colonel K from his days as a career US Air Force officer and Babu). We called ourselves JUICE this time after our current and native lands (Japan, USA, India, Canada, England). We did qualify for the knockout phase, but lost to the Chinese Venice-Cup-to-be champions by 7 IMPs when we underled an ace in the middle of a hand to declarer’s singleton king – the ace was meant to be our third trick in five diamonds for a push, but instead resulted in an 11-IMP loss to lose the match by 7.

This year I came to the 15th NEC Cup with my fourth different partner in five trips to Yokohama, Howard Weinstein from the USA, and teammates David Bakhshi and David Gold from England. Not having been able to come up with a snappy acronymic team name from our countries or our names, we called ourselves simply CANUKUSA (Canda, United Kingdom, United States of America).

We’d been lying sixth with a match to go and a draw would see us through to the knockouts. We were leading our final match 13-7 with one board to go when a poor result at both tables (on different boards) led to a 16-13 loss and only 14 Victory Points.  Have you guessed? Sure you have. This left us in a tie for eighth place with Kendrick from England, who, as you may have surmised, won the tie-breaker on IMP quotient 1.26 to 1.25. In other events, we’d have gone through as we had beaten them in our head-on match. But not here.

So, five trips to Yokohama for the NEC Festival have resulted in three tied-for-eighth-place finishes, all of which I’ve lost, and two quarterfinal losses by a total of 10.5 IMPs. Is it painful? You bet it is. Do you feel empathy or schadenfreude? Did you have a Roman holiday?

  Open Room Bidding : 

The best laid plans….

Our hero found himself in 4 spades, and dug deep to find the best line of play to overcome most adverse layouts. However, an unforeseen development gave pause to his technically sound line of play.




Here were the cards:




The bidding had been quick and practical. No one vulnerable, West opened 3 clubs in first chair.


West North East South
3 C Pass Pass Dble
Pass 4 C Pass 4 S
Pass Pass Pass  


Perhaps North, in his effort to find the best strain, overbid a tad with 4 clubs, but partner had coverage galore, and 4 spades was a sound contract.

The opening lead was the 8 of hearts, presumably from shortness. Dummy’s ten forced East’s jack, and our hero won the Ace in hand.

Assuming spades no worse than 3-1, declarer could count 5 spade tricks, the two top diamonds, and a diamond ruff. If spades were 2-2 (not so likely on the auction) then declarer could ruff two diamonds in dummy for ten tricks.

South looked a little deeper into the hand and understood the diamond ruffs were a distraction. A better line of play would be to build up a club trick for the game going trick.

South played ace of spades, and a spade to dummy’s queen, and sure enough, West showed out on the second spade. South now played a club to his king, losing, as expected, to West’s Ace. Back came a diamond. South won in hand and led another club towards dummy’s jack – fully expecting the queen to pop up. At that point, nothing would beat his contract.

However, West played the club ten on the second round of clubs, giving South pause, to say the least. Hmm, could West be 6-5 in the minors? Had East begun life with Qx of clubs? If yes, South had better duck this club completely.

Of course, our hero had not come this far just to play the club jack from dummy and go down in his now ‘cold contract’.

So he played low from the dummy, but the expectant club queen from East was in fact a small heart!

NOW came the club queen from West, and South had no answer. There was no club trick at hand, and only one diamond ruff was possible. The ironclad contract was down 1 – thanks to West’s diabolical play of the club ten, rather than his “known” queen.

The full layout was as follows: 

Dealer: East

Vul: None

West East
6 J109
8 KJ9762
J876 Q109
AQ109842 6


South had the right idea all along. Trying to ruff diamonds in the dummy would have yielded a swift down one. But West found a way to break a seemingly impregnable contract, and left South talking to himself for the next few hands. The real hero on this hand had been West all along.

2010 NEC Bridge Festival qualifying heartbreak

I picked up the following extract from the February 12 Daily Bulletin from the annual NEC Bridge Festival in Japan.

It was a heartwrenching tie breaker loss for John Carruthers and his all star team (known as CANUKUSA) consisting of John Carruthers, David Bakhshi, David Gold, and Howard Weinstein. They were eliminated by one hundredth of a point !

Friday, February 12, 2010 Editors: Rich Colker, Barry Rigal           Bulletin Number 4

ZimmermannTop Qualifier for the 2010 NEC Cup

At the end of the qualifying stage Zimmermann (Pierre Zimmermann, Fulvio Fantoni, Claudio Nunes, Cezary Balicki, Adam Zmudzinski, Franck Multon) emerged the clear leader, outscoring Lavazza (Maria Teresa Lavazza, Norberto Bocchi, Agustin Madala, Giorgio Duboin, Antonio Sementa, Guido Ferraro; Massimo Ortensi, Coach) by 9 VPs. 240 to 231.

In third place was The Netherlands (Louk Verhees, Ricco van Prooijen, Bob Drijver, Merijn Groenenboom) with 222 VPs and in fourth Oz Players (Ron Klinger, Ishmael Del’Monte, Ashley Bach, Matt Mullamphy) with 221 VPs. In fifth through seventh places were: the Bulgarian All Stars (205), South Sweden (202) and SARA (196).

CANUKUSA and Kendrick tied for eight place with 195. In one of the closest tie-breaks we’ve seen in quite some time (using the imp quotient: total imps won divided by total imps lost) Kendrick snuck though by just over one one-hundreth of a point. The complete final rankings are shown below; individual match results for the final day can be found on page 5.

NEC Cup: Final Swiss Standings (Twelve Matches)

Rank Team(#) VPs

1 Zimmermann(3) . . . . 240

2 Lavazza(2) . . . . . . . . 231

3 The Netherlands(4) . 222

4 Oz Players(5) . . . . . 221

5 Bulgarian All Stars(8) 205

6 South Sweden(12) . . 202

7 SARA(20) . . . . . . . . 196

8 Kendrick(10) . . . . . . 195

9 CANUKUSA(6) . . . . 195

10 WORLD YOUTH(44) 194

11 China Evertrust(13) . 193

12 England Ladies(9) . . 192

13 Oz Two(11) . . . . . . . 191

14 JAPAN OPEN(16) . . 189

15 TANAKA(25) . . . . . . 183

16 YAMADA(18) . . . . . . 183

17 Beauty(23) . . . . . . . . 183

18 China Women(1) . . . 181

19 Iza Yokohama(33) . . 181

20 The Latin(7) . . . . . . . 180

21 Yukinata(38) . . . . . . 180

22 TSUNAMI(19) . . . . . 179

23 GIBS(24) . . . . . . . . . 178

24 ESPERANZA(21) . . 178

25 MAKITA(27) . . . . . . . 176

26 Kitty’s(22) . . . . . . . . 175

27 SAKURAI(36) . . . . . 175

28 NANIWADA(41) . . . . 174

29 Venus(28) . . . . . . . . 174

30 NXST(32) . . . . . . . . 171

31 KAWABATA(30) . . . 170

32 Attack No. 1(40) . . . 169

33 JAPAN WOMEN(17) 168

34 LAS FLORES(34) . . 167

35 Guriguri(47) . . . . . . . 164

36 Rosewood(29) . . . . . 164

37 CAMPANULA(26) . . 163

38 Korea CACTI(14) . . . 159

39 Hong Kong(15) . . . . 158

40 AQUA(35) . . . . . . . . 158

41 WHITE DREAMS(39) 157

42 Friends(42) . . . . . . . 155

43 BANNO(31) . . . . . . . 151

44 Dolphin(46) . . . . . . . 150

45 JAPAN YOUTH(48) . 146

46 KATSUMATA(37) . . 145

47 KinKi(43) . . . . . . . . . 142

48 MY-Bridge(45) . . . . . 136

Have you ever cue bid a jack?

Turns out Dave Colbert is a closet blogger. He recently unearthed this gem he wrote a few years ago, and apparently did not publish anywhere. I asked him if he would mind if I share with you,  and here we are. The hand revolves around probing for a grand slam where the key card sought is a jack. The story ends with the bridge equivalent of a poker bad beat.

“It was the final round of a knockout in Reno, in the recently concluded Nationals.  I was playing with Keith Balcombe and the opponents were quite strong.  The effort to get here and the ubiquitous Daily Bulletins have increased my motivation and concentration levels appropriately, when this hand comes out of the pocket :

                                                xx  KQ8xx  Q   KQJ109

I open 1 heart, Keith bids 1 spade, I bid 2 clubs and he bids 2 diamonds. This is a game force. We open 4 card  majors so I bid 2 hearts to show 5. He bid  2NT and I bid 3 clubs so now he knows I’m 5-5.

So far then, the bidding has gone 


East Dave West Keith
 Pass 1 H  Pass 1S
 Pass 2C  Pass 2D
 Pass 2H  Pass 2NT
 Pass 3C  Pass   ?


Now he bids 3 hearts.  Well, he’s setting trumps but he doesn’t have much in hearts or he wouldn’t have bid 2NT. I will bid 4 clubs.  This is a cue bid showing an honor concentration (KQ here) in our system.

Now I hear 4NT from him so I show my one keycard with 5 clubs. He bids 5 diamonds, which is looking for the heart queen.  I have it and can show it by not signing off with 5 hearts.

Why not 6 clubs? This shows the heart queen and more than previously shown in clubs. It must be the Jack or even Jack-ten.  He thinks for about a minute and bids 7 hearts.

They lead a spade. Keith’s hand is splendid : 

Keith Balcombe
Dave Colbert


Are you happy? Looks like 13 tricks : 1 spade, 5 hearts, 2 diamonds and 5 clubs. And you must be in hearts in order to get back to your hand after unblocking. This is great !  This is why you play.

You win the spade, cash the AJ of hearts and… RHO shows out.  I was down with the 5-1 split.  Fate intervened. Also part of the game.  Lose 14 imps to 6NT making at the other table. You lose the match.

Are you ready to play again tomorrow?”

Thanks Dave – yes we’re ready – we live for stories like this.