Dear Xebon

A happy and beautifully sunny June to you all. I've had a great response this month with several questions coming in. If you have anything you'd like to ask me at all, then just send an email to the address below and I'll attempt to answer them. So let's get into the questions and answers, the first few of which have a similar theme.


Hiya Xebon,

How are you coming along with this month's column? I notice we've had quite a few letters in the mail.



Hey Xebon,

We were discussing the site the other night and reckon we could do with the next column from you in the next few days if possible. How's it coming along?




We've been kinda worried about you — what's up? You don't reply to our emails or return our calls. We were hoping this month's column would be out weeks ago, but nothing has materialised. I hope there's nothing wrong!

Hi Guys, and to all my readers,

I'm sorry to have been so delayed this month. Since the first column went out on April 21st I've been completely inundated with enquiries about playing professionally. I had to turn most of them away, due to prior commitments, but decided that I couldn't really ignore the opportunity to play in the Freedom Cup in Hong Kong during the second half of May. And what an event it was! Some of the top teams in the world travelled there to play in the stunning Sup Do Hong Hotel. The wine flowed, the food was first rate and the bridge was nothing short of spectacular. Our team had a modest success, winning the third/fourth playoff but it was the experience of being in that fabulous city that will forever remain with me.

I may one day get a chance to write up some of the hands for the site (yes, poor bridge can happen even at that level), but for now please enjoy this month's column where I will try to answer some of the questions that have been sent in.


Grand Slam line

Dear Xebon,

My partner and I reached a Grand Slam in No-Trumps on the following cards:

SA 9 5
HA 6 3
DA 10 6 5
C7 5 4
SJ 10 8 2
HK J 9 7 5
C9 8 6
SK Q 7 6 4
HQ 10 8 4
DJ 9 7 3
DK Q 4 2
CA K Q J 10 3 2

When it came down to the diamonds I played the King and Queen first, just in case West had started with Jxxx, but as you can see this failed. Do you think this was too ambitious a grand slam?

Mark Wilmott,
North London

Hello Mark,

Despite there being only 27 points between the two hands, this is indeed a good grand slam and you were unlucky that the diamonds were not 3-2. However, I do feel that you ought to have made the contract. Say there was a club lead which you win in hand. You test the diamonds as before, but this time playing the DK and then the DA. Now you run off all the clubs and get to this position.

SA 9
HA 6
D10 6
SJ 10 8
HK J 9
HQ 10
DJ 9
DQ 4
C3 2

On this club, you throw a diamond and East has to relinquish control of one of the majors. You simply cash the Ace of the suit he throws, cross back to hand with a diamond and play your last club, executing a perfect double squeeze to bring home your contract.

SA 9
SJ 10

I must humbly admit that even I would have struggled to see this ending from the outset, but it always pays to reel off those long suits — often some quite exciting things can happen.

May your next grand slam be luckier!

Are you a North player or a South player?

Dear Xebon,

Both my partner and I like to sit North when playing at our local bridge club. You know, as you fill in the scores in the traveller you can see what everyone has done without having to ask every time. Should we play 'paper, scissors, stone' or cut a deck of cards to find out who gets to sit north? Or should we find some other amicable arrangement?

Andy S. Stewart

Dear Andy,

The only real solution to this deeply vexing problem is to break up the partnership and play with someone else. This problem is far more serious than any system disagreement, such as whether to play a weak or strong no-trump. Basically, your partnership is fatally flawed and will never have success at the top levels of the game — and I don't care how good the individual players in the partnership might be.

Let me explain fully the significance of the seating preferences that players have and how to build a great partnership. There are only really three seats at the bridge table for a priori partnership formation: North, South and East/West. Players who sit East/West are always flexible players who have interchangeable views. It's always safe to play two East-West players together in a partnership. It will never be a spectacular partnership, and this is the reason that when playing a club 'Mitchell' movement the North/South direction will always be stronger than the East/West direction. Simply put, the East/West pairs are too easy going to play really well.

But the above isn't true for players who sit North and South. North players are diligent leaders. They want to get all the information, input it, analyse it, and then bark out an instruction to partner (and oppo, if they will let them). South players naturally sit away from the table and simply think on an abstract level about the general picture of the board. Thus, typical bridge conversations between a 'North' and a 'South' will go like this:

N: Everyone else bid the slam!
S: I'm not really convinced that it's a good contract.
N: Well, it only requires either a 2-2 trump break or the diamond king on-side.
S: Sure, on the actual layout that's the case, but I can't envisage an auction that gives us that information. I guess we could just punt it like everyone else probably did.

And this is a truly great bridge conversation: One side gives accurate information and the other provides a philosophical bedrock that leaves the partnership feeling happy. Now let's take the same turn of events when two 'Norths' find themselves in the same situation:

N1: Everyone else bid the slam!
N2: Well they probably reversed on your 17 count and then it's easy!!
N1: No, my hand is a raggy hand — a reverse is rubbish! Your singleton club makes your hand worth another go!!!
N2: Not after you fail to show me any extra values!! If I start to make a push on hands like this, we'll be going off at the five level for no reason a lot of the time!!
N1: Well, everyone in this field found it — why is that then?!?!
N2: Correct bidding on your part will get us there: your hand is far too good for this bidding!
N1: No it's your hand that is far too good!

[Two boards of poor concentration later]

N2: Well you're bound to have all kinds of squeeze possibilities for all 12 tricks, even if I do have that holding!
N1: And on a spade lead, how will I rectify the count?!?!

And on and on it goes. The evening has been killed before it starts and the pair will be at each others throats. This, of course, is very different to the disaster that occurs when two 'Souths' play together and have a poor score by missing a slam:

S1: Oh. That's a bad one.
S2: Really? Oh well.

So you can see that the only way to win in the long run is for yourself and your current partner to get new people to play with. And not just any old player, a natural 'South'. Then you'll get better results and you'll get to fill in the scores yourself. Be pleased that you've found this out before you put too much work into this doomed partnership.

All the best,

Forcing Passes

Dear Xebon,

We had the following auction on Sunday.


(1)Good Raise to 3D

I thought my pass was forcing, but my partner clearly didn't and we got a bad score when 4S-2 was inadequate compensation for the +300s, +400s and +500s on the traveller. Can you clear up the confusion?

Arnold Fallaci,
Princeton, New Jersey

Dear Arnold,

Thank you for your email. Some readers may be a little confused by the notion of a forcing pass and it's rarely seen in today's bridge world. The idea is that instead of an opening pass showing weakness, as in traditional methods, it is used to show an opening hand (usually 13+ but numerous variants exist). This allows you to make a positive action on every single hand and thus put the oponents on the defensive. It was fairly popular in high level competition in the 80s, particularly in Scandinavia, Poland and Australia, but the regulating authorities have caught up with it and today there are few tournaments where it is permitted, thereby diminishing its following.

In the bidding given, for example, West's opening pass would show a decent opening hand and the subsequent 2NT bid has extras. Therefore it seems very cowardly for East to pass over 4S, given the strength his partner has shown. But stick with it, and I'm sure you'll get better results because it is an exciting and effective system.

Best of luck,

It's all in the name

Dear Xebin,

Please could you give us your valued opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of playing the Fishbein convention?

Danios Tetras,

Dear Danios,

I am of the humble opinion that the... hang on. What was that? Xebin?