Friday, 24 November 2017

The Finesse in Bridge

Finessing is a way of making a trick with an honour card that would be a certain loser if it was led.

Suppose you are playing as South and you have the following cards in the suit you want to finesse.

Is it possible to win a trick with the King?

If the King is led it will always lose regardless of which opponent holds it. Remember, bridge is played clockwise, so both East and West will play after North - and play the ace on the king if the hold it.

Can you prevent this from happening?

What will happen if instead of leading the King you return to the South hand and lead a low card? Can the Kind win now?

You have a 50-50 chance that the King could win. If the King is in West's hand you can make a trick with it.  If it is in East's hand then the King will lose. 

An Example of Finessing

Here's that hand again

This time you are going to lead a low card from hand and see what card West plays:

  • If W plays the Ace, you can play the low card from dummy, knowing that the King will win next time the suit is played.  
  • If W doesn't play the Ace you play K. If W also holds the Ace, then your King will win the trick.   If the Ace is with East then there is nothing you can do, as E will play the Ace after you have played King.
Finessing Summed Up
Lead a low card towards the honour you are aiming to make.  50% of the time this will win. 

Leading the honour card will always fail.

You can increase your chances of making the finesse by studying the bidding and the play.  If, for example, East opened the bidding and West passed, then you know that W didn't have enough points to respond to East's opening bid.  How many points has W shown before you start finessing?  Would holding the Ace mean that W actually had enough points to respond?  If this is the case, then West's failure to respond to the opening bid would place the Ace with East and your finesse will fail.

Marked Finesse

Unlike a regular finesse, which may fail, a marked finesse is guaranteed to win.

What is a marked finesse?

With a marked finesse we know which opponent has the remaining card(s). 

How can we know?  Because one opponent has already discarded and so is out of cards in the suit.

An Example

Suppose you have the following cards in the suit you are finessing:

Is it possible to make all 4 tricks?  (We are assuming trumps have been drawn or this is a NT contract so that the opponent who has shown out can't trump you.)

If the cards break 3-2 between East and West, you will make 4 tricks and no finessing will be needed.  The same is true if the cards break 4-1 with one opponent holding the Jack as a singleton.

But the singleton might not be the Jack, or the cards might be breaking 5-0.  Now what should you do?

This is the Marked Finesse is used

As an example, supposed you've played one round of the suit, in which W played 9.  You decide to play a second round, but this time W discards.  This means that the outstanding J and 7 must be with West.

Using the Marked Finesse

Just as with a regular finesse you lead low towards the honour you are hoping to make. 

Look at the cards.  You have already played 2 rounds of the suit, so the King and Ace have gone.  If you now lead the Q, East will play the 7, keeping the J to win if the suit is played again.

However, if you cross over to dummy (you did make sure you'd preserved an entry to dummy so you could play the finesse, didn't you???), then you can lead a low card, knowing that East has the J and 7.

Once you've led your low card, one of two things will happen:
  • East plays 7.  You can win with 8, knowing your Q will win next time.  Y
  • East plays J.  You win with the Q and your 8 will win the next round.  y
Now that you know what finessing means, you can head over to No Fear Bridge where you will find lots of hands where you can practice the technique along with tutorials to help reinforce what you've learnt.

Acol bridge players join HERE for your trial membership (no financial details taken unless you decide to continue)
American Standard bridge players join HERE for your trial membership.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Gerber Bidding Convention

The Gerber Bidding Convention

Most bridge players know about using the Blackwood bidding convention if you are considering bidding for a slam. 

Once you know you have enough points to bid for a slam bid and have decided which suit you will bid, you might need to know how many aces or kings partner has.  To do this you bid 4NT to ask partner how many aces they hold and 5NT to ask how many kings.

This works because 4NT isn't a natural bid UNLESS it is in response to an opening bid of 1NT or 2NT, in which case it is in invitational bid with a special meaning.  It tells partner that you have a narrow range of points that would achieve the points needed for a slam IF they have the maximum number of points for their NT bid - and asking them to bid 6NT if they do.

But suppose you need to know the number of aces or kings held by partner after their opening NT bid?  You can't bid 4NT as they will assume your bid is invitational and bid on points.

This is where you use the Gerber convention.

In response to an opening bid of 1 or 2NT  you use a bid of 4 Clubs to ask for Aces and 5 Clubs to ask for kings.

Partner's responses are the same as those used in for Blackwood.

In response to 4 Clubs:

  • 4 Diamonds = No aces or four aces
  • 4 Hearts = One ace
  • 4 Spades = Two aces
  • 4 NT = Three aces
In response to 5 Clubs:

  • 5 Diamonds = No aces or four aces
  • 5 Hearts = One ace
  • 5 Spades = Two aces
  • 5 NT = Three aces
If you'd like to practice using these conventions, join No Fear Bridge for your two week trial membership (no obligation, no financial details taken)
Acol bridge players join HERE.
American Standard players join HERE.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Improve Your Health - Play Bridge

Yes, it's true, there really are benefits to your health if you are a bridge player. It's even been the subject of research by Berkeley University.

There has been a long running debate about whether or not bridge counts as a sport and in June 2017 it seemed that the European Courts of Justice might rule that it is.  This wasn't to be as in Oct 2017 the Court ruled that although bridge "involves logic, memory and planning, and may constitute an activity beneficial to the mental and physical health of regular participants”, they clarified this by adding "“The court concludes that an activity such as duplicate bridge, which is characterised by a physical element that appears to be negligible, is not covered by the concept of ‘sport’”"

You can read more in the Guardian newspaper HERE.

Although the European Court has denied that bridge is a sport they have acknowledged that it has benefits to both mental and physical health - something that many bridge players will long have realised.

I mentioned above that bridge had been the subject of a study by Berkeley University. This study was carried out in 2000 by Professor Marian Diamond who showed that playing bridge boosts the immune system. 

How can playing bridge boost your immune system?  It seems that this is an effect of the concentration required whilst playing which stimulates the brain and so boosts the immune system.

Professor Diamond asked 12 ladies in their 70s and 80s to take part in the study. He started by taking blood samples and then asked the ladies to play bridge for an hour and a half.  At the end of this time he retested their blood.

Two thirds of these ladies showed an increase in the levels of T cells in their bodies - the cells used to fight infection.

There is a common saying "use it or lose it".  As we get older this saying applies very much to keeping the brain active and healthy.  People live longer and want their brains to remain active and alert.  Playing bridge is the perfect way of keeping your brain active and maintaining your ability to concentrate and focus.

As well as these physical benefits there are social benefits to playing bridge.  If you play bridge you will always be able to find a local bridge club or like minded people to enjoy a game of bridge with.  You will enjoy an active social life, meeting new people and making new friends.  Very important if you are getting older, but equally important for younger people as well.

Even if you are unable to leave your house, you can join online bridge rooms where you can play bridge against real people.  The internet is a huge benefit to anyone with an illness or disability, allowing you to make friends, chat and interact with people that you would otherwise never meet.

So what are you waiting for?  Join No Fear Bridge and learn or improve your bridge play today.  It can help improve or maintain your physical and mental health.

Join No Fear Bridge UK HERE (UK, Ireland and NZ players)

Join No Fear Bridge US HERE.

(Disclaimer, I'm not a doctor - so please do your own research before relying on any of the information here.  If you feel you may have a mental illness or disability, always consult your doctor.)

Thursday, 31 August 2017

How to Use Statistics to Improve Your Game Play

Millions of people enjoy playing bridge and millions of players understand the basic rules of the game. They practice and play every day. Many reach a certain level of expertise and then plateau. Their game stops improving.

What's responsible for this plateau? For many the answer is statistics. Or to be more accurate, a lack of understanding or knowledge of how to use statistics when you are playing.
What do statistics have to do with playing bridge, I hear you ask? The answer is "a lot". They can be, and often are, the barrier to becoming a better bridge player.

Let's assume, for example, that you are declarer. Once the opponents have made their opening lead dummy's hand is exposed for all to see. You know which cards you hold and which cards dummy holds.

Now assume that you are playing a trump contract. Dummy holds 5 cards in trumps and you hold 4, a total of 9 cards. That means that your opponents hold 4 trump cards between them.
You need to plan your play. Depending on which cards you hold in trumps you may need to try and work out how the trumps are split between the opponents. A 4-0 split may mean the game plays very differently from the way it would play if there was a 2-2 split.

You can't know for certain how the cards split in any given situation, but you can use statistics to give you a better chance. Then you can play for the most likely scenario - the percentage play. This won't always work, but over a number of games it will give you the better chance of winning more games.

As you might imagine, there are a lot of statistics associated with playing bridge. The best players will have memorised and will use all of them. Those of us who are more modest, home or club players will just remember a few - the ones that we think will be most useful to us and that we will be able to understand use.

So, back to our trump split. While we are planning our play it may seem to us that a 4-0 trump split between the opponents will need us to play differently from a 2-2 split, or a 3-1 split. We can't know how they split and we might not be able to plan for all 3 scenarios. So which should we choose as the most likely?

Statistics tell us that the probability of a 4-0 split is 10%. However, the provability of a 2-2 split is 40% and the probability of a 3-1 split is 50%. It probably doesn't make sense to plan for a 4-0 split - although if it becomes obvious early on that the cards split that way, you will want to rethink your plan.

In a scenario where a 4-0 split could have a major effect on the number of tricks you win, you may feel that you want to test the split early on in the game by drawing a round of trumps (or whichever suit is of concern). If one of the opponents shows out in the first round, then you know you are up against a 4-0 split and can replan your play.

If testing the split isn't possible, then you will probably want to make the percentage play and hope your approach pays off.

If there are 5 cards missing from a suit, the percentage chances change. The probability of a 5-0 split is just 4% (and the opponents may have helped you work out if that is likely to be the case by bidding that suit). The probability of a 4-1 split is 28%, but the probability of a 3-2 split is 68%. You will probably want to make your initial plan on the assumption of a 3-2 split.

Planning your play is an essential skill, and knowing some basic statistics will help you plan. But bridge is a dynamic game and you need to be prepared to rethink your plan if the opponents wrong foot you, or the statistics don't work in your favor.

You can find all the bridge statistics and percentages that you need to help you become a better player by joining No Fear Bridge UK or No Fear Bridge US - the perfect site for beginning and improving bridge players, where you can practice and learn online at your own pace. What are you waiting for??

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


If you are playing contract bridge you will find that in 50% of the hands your partnership is vulnerable.  This isn't a reflection on your skill as a player, it is a bridge convention.

Tell Me About Duplicate Bridge Vulnerability?

Vulnerability is a convention that affects the scoring at the end of each game.  When a partnership is vulnerable there are positive and/or negative effects on the score.  If you bid for and make your contract, then the bonus you receive increases.  You also receive a greater bonus for bidding and making a small slam or  grand slam.

If you fail to make your contract when  your partnership is vulnerable then the penalty for losing increases.

Conversely a pair will lose extra points if they fail to make a contract when vulnerable.

In duplicate bridge, which partnership(s) is vulnerable is predetermined by the director when the boards are dealt.  The vulnerability will rotate and there are four combinations.

Both sides can be vulnerable.  Neither side can be vulnerable. E/W can be vulnerable.  N/S can be vulnerable.

Bridge vulnerability
Rotating vulnerability in contract bridge
Here is an example of how vulnerability may rotate around the 16 boards usually dealt at a contract bridge club. (This picture is courtesy of Leigh Harding who runs No Fear Bridge)

Whether or not you are vulnerable may affect how you bid.  Mostly the bidding will proceed as normal, especially in an uncontested auction, but there may be situations when you think twice about your bid.

For example: Be mindful that if you fail to achieve your contract when vulnerable the other partnership will gain extra point.

Remember that the other side will gain extra points if they are vulnerable.  There may be situations where you feel  you should outbid them when otherwise you wouldn't if you believe that the your penalty for losing would be less than their bonus if they won the contract whilst vulnerable.

If you'd like to learn more about vulnerability and how it effects scoring, head over to No Fear Bridge.  The vulnerability handout is in the membership area and you can join for a two week free trial  (There is no obligation and no forced continuity. No credit card or other financial details are required unless you decide to become a full member.  You can also read how being vulnerable might affect your bidding strategy.

Potential UK/Ireland/NZ members can sigh up  HERE
Potential US and Rest of the World members sign up HERE

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Playing Card Holder Can Help If You Have A Disability

Many bridge players belong to the older generation.  It's a fun way of meeting friends whilst keeping your brain active.

Many people decide to move when they retire.  It's an opportunity to move to that country town or seaside location that you've always fancied.  The downside can be that you leave behind family and friends and find that you don't know anyone in your new location.  If you play bridge you can a good opportunity to meet new friends.  Most towns have a bridge club and if you move into a retirement complex you might find a bridge group on site.  You will quickly find new friends and might find yourself in demand as a bridge partner.

One downside of increasing age can be stiffness in your hands, arms or shoulders which might make holding your hand of cards more difficult.  Many people have a chronic illness or disability that weakens their hands or makes holding cards difficult.  A neurological problem might cause shaky hands and a broken wrist or elbow could mean you temporarily unable to use a hand.

None of these issues need stop you from playing bridge so long as you are able to attend  in person.  This is where a playing card can help.  You don't have to hold your cards and you only need one hand to sort them and place them in the holder.  Simply place the cards in the holder and remove them one at a time as you want to play them.  You might find a curved holder helps you keep your cards private from the other players.

There are a few different types of holders, so take a look and see which one would suit you best.  Some hold the cards in a fan shape and many are plastic or wooden racks into which you slot the cards.  Some are straight and some curved.

Your illness, injury or disability doesn't have to be a barrier that stops you taking part in the game you love. Why not take this opportunity to learn to play bridge or improve your bridge bidding and playing skills at No Fear Bridge UK or No Fear Bridge US.

The Rule of 7

The Rule of 7 is an interesting and little known rule. Why am I writing about a rule that no-one has heard of? Because someone requested that I write about it.

I had to do some research because, I have to be honest, I'd never heard of it. It seems there may be a good reason for that: yes, it exists but hardly anyone uses it.

It's quite a simple rule and easy to learn and implement. Probably no-one uses it because there are other ways of achieving the same outcome.

What is the Rule of 7?
It is used in one situation only - when the contract is 3NT.

It is used by Declarer after the opposing partnership have made their lead. Do you want to win the trick, assuming that you can, or would it be better to lose the trick intentionally? If it is better to lose (duck or hold up) once, how many times should declarer do so, before playing a winning card?

The Rule of 7 is one of way of deciding this. It's simple. Declarer adds up the number of cards in the suit held in both their own hand and Dummy's hand and deducts the total from 7. The answer is the number of times that they should deliberately lose the trick.

The rule is usually used if you hold the Ace as your only stopper in the suit, although it would work if you hold the King and the opposition play the Ace in the first round.

It seems this rule was developed independently by two different bridge players. Robert Berthe from France, who is also the author of several books on bridge, and Gerald Fox from California. I'm not sure if two people developing the same rule shows that there was a need for it, or whether it shows that they were finding a way of putting into words a concept that many players use without realising.

Do Others Need To Know If I'm Using It?
The short answer is "yes".

If you decide to use the rule when you are playing, make sure that your partner is aware of it and also uses it. If you are playing in a club or tournament, then you should speak to the director to find out if it is alertable. If you are asked to fill in a convention card, then include the fact that you will be using the Rule of 7.
This is a fairly simple rule to learn and one that is probably most helpful for beginning and improving players. If you'd like to learn more about playing the game of bridge, and practice and learn online, go to No Fear Bridge