Dear Xebon

It has been nearly one year since my last column and a lot has happened. There were fights and arguments, victories and losses, problems overcome and problems that led to lawsuits. There were periods of gut-wrenching lows and ones of intense highs. There was dejection. There was love. There was bankruptcy. There was glory. But I am still here, your ever-loyal Xebon, and I will continue to answer your questions as long as Rob, Phil, Michael and Steve keep asking me to. It wouldn't hurt if you dropped them a line to tell them they should...


Dear Xebon,

I've been reading about psyching recently and would be interested to know what your opinions on the subject as a whole are.

Harold (contact details supplied)

Dear Harold,

This is a subject that has caused much debate in the bridge world over the years. Some people think that psychic bids are unfair and should be banned. These people are wrong. Other people think that there are certain specific situations where a psyche might work, but otherwise they should be avoided. These people are cheats. According to the laws of bridge, your partner should be as surprised as your opponents when a psychic bid is made. Therefore, if there are only one or two situations in which a psyche could be made then partner is never going to be surprised!

The only fair way to psyche is to surprise partner when doing it, and that means psyching when partner least expects it, taking him totally by surprise! When I am considering psyching I always ask myself this important question: would I be surprised by a psyche right now? If the answer is yes then I go ahead with the bid.

The great Zia Mahmood is a role model in this area. He is famous for his psychic slam tries and has achieved many spectacular results with this tool. I'd like to think I've made my own contribution in this area, too, with the psychic game try . Take the following auction I was involved in as North:

S3 2
HA J 9 6 3
DK 6 4
CK J 8


Now many players wouldn't consider a psyche in this situation, but I realised that a psychic bid here would surprise partner — and opponents — and so didn't hesitate to try it. And the bid worked out really well: I deflected a spade lead and caused confusion in the defence, such that I went on to make nine tricks rather than the eight that the rest of the field made. At match pointed pairs getting those extra tricks is really important.

Here is another auction in which I managed to surprise partner while leading our partnership to a making contract. I sat South and held the following:

S8 3
HK Q 9 6 5
DK J 6 2
CQ 7

And the auction began with 1S from partner and a 2D overcall from right hand opponent. I realised straight away that the opponents didn't have a diamond fit, but given another bite at the cherry could easily find their club fit. Many players would simply have bid 2H here, but I realised that it was vital to put on the pressure and exclude a 3C bid. I therefore jumped pre-emptively to 3S.

Partner's Hand:

SA Q J 5 4
HA 4 3 2
D8 7
CK 4

As you can probably work out, the opponents have a nine card club fit which, thanks to my psychic jump raise of spades, they never found. To add icing to the cake, partner managed to make exactly nine tricks in spades, after quite a lot of huffing and puffing and head shaking. I think it took him a while to understand the brilliance of my bid.

So in summary: keep your psyches surprising and don't be afraid to let your creative side shine. Remember the Xebon maxim: you have to psyche sometimes!


Combining Cards

Dear Xebon,

What's the best way to play AKx opposite Q10xx for four tricks?

Chicago, IL

Hi Debbie,

While it is usually not a good idea to play in a 4-3 trump fit, these so-called Moysian fits do sometimes play well. Here you have three tricks on top and can easily make a fourth by ruffing something with the small trump in the short hand. There's an alternative, too — you can ruff twice in the long hand. This is called a Dummy Reversal but it is not recommended to try it here as you might find somebody now has more trumps than you.

Best of luck,

Keeping Focused

My dear Xebon,

I've found myself lacking in concentration at the table recently. What do you do to keep focused on the game?

Tom in Brighton

Dear Tom,

Many players swear by coffee — strong and lots of it. Others drink mineral water, chew mints and I have even heard of one person who recited the seven times table over and over again when dummy.

But for me the best way — nay the only way — of keeping concentration is to shake my head furiously, crack my knuckles and snap my cards as loudly as possible. Although (I'm told) this makes it look as though I'm having a psychiatric episode, once partner gets used to it it is only the opponents who are likely to have difficulty concentrating on the cards.


The Third Hand

Dear Xebon

On an internet newsgroup I read a discussion about third in hand openings and the idea that you can open light in this situation. How light would you open in third seat?

Jack B.

Dear Jack,

It's not really about opening with fewer high card points in third seat so much as the fact that your priorities change when partner is limited to at most 11 points. The first thing to note is that your side will not make a game unless you have 14 points or more, a fact that may result in what are at first glance some unnatural passes. Take this hand:

SJ x x x x
HK x
DA x x
CK J x

You don't want partner to lead a spade from a holding such as Kx and, as you can't reach game, there is no point in bidding at all! Obviously if partner were still un-passed, you would automatically bid with this.

Another difference between bidding opposite a passed partner is that you can afford to preempt with a much wider range of hands. Everyone knows about opening 2S with two points and/or a five card suit. But at the other end of the spectrum there are plenty of hands which you would usually open at the one level which should be opened at the two level. For example, playing a standard three weak twos system this is a fine example of a 2D opening:

SA J x x
HA J x
DK x x x x

Yes, you have quite a few points, but you want to get into the auction and push your opponents around a bit; those jacks aren't going to be useful in a diamond contract in any event, so it's really only an 11 count. Notice again that this bid can only be made if partner is a passed hand — if partner is an un-passed hand pre-empting with an outside four card major is frowned upon. I don't want people to get into trouble with their partners because they misunderstood the advice I am giving!

So in summary, yes you can open a bit light in third seat, but each hand should be judged on its merits.


Recovering from Sartre

Dear Xebon,

During an exciting evening at home, I stumbled across poorbridge.com and read that day's horoscope where your resident psychic suggests cyclizine to help with nausea. I would like to ask what your opinions are on using other anti-emetics for this purpose or whether its is solely cyclizine recommended for this task. Word on the street is ondasetron and perhaps even metaclopramide are better for anxiety induced nausea.

I thought you would be the best individual to clear up this confusion because your name begins with X.


Hello BB,

This brings back fond memories. My closest friend through my early twenties was on a variety of drugs including metaclopramide but after his D2 receptors were brought back down to normal levels I never saw him again.

I often find that in these cases it is best to treat the anxiety rather than the nausea. When I took my poor vomiting cat to the vet, the vet diagnosed him with anxiety-induced nausea and prescribed peppermint. I wasn't entirely sure why my cat was getting so anxious at his lack of peppermint, but the problem went away immediately and for another three weeks he was a picture of health. Look for what's missing in your life and you might find a non-pharmacological solution.


Taking Account

Dear Xebon,

Thank you for your application to open an investment account. We usually open all accounts on the day we receive them, however I have been unable to proceed with your application for the following reason(s):

  • We do not accept PO Boxes as valid residencies.
  • The given telephone number appears to have been disconnected.
  • Your stated next of kin must be a relative or close friend; not a household pet.
  • Your National Insurance Number is only 4 digits.
  • In order to use internet banking, you will need to provide us with your mother's maiden name — we do not believe the name you supplied can possibly be correct.
  • A photocopy of a petrol-station receipt is not a recognised form of identification.
  • Please correct these points on the application form enclosed and return it in the prepaid envelope or present it to one of our branch staff. We will be happy to process your application in two to three working days.

    Your loan application has been put on hold pending the opening of this account.

    Yours sincerely,
    Susan G Robinson
    Senior Customer Service Manager

    Dear Susan,

    Is this really an appropriate topic for a bridge column? I have replied separately as I do not feel that my response would be interesting to my readers.