The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVII: Getting Defensive

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVII: Getting Defensive

By Ray Adams

Much has been written about the excellent declarer play of Team Porcupine members such as Nograwowiciz and Konejwicz. However, it should be noted that this group did not achieve its national reputation by play of the hand alone. Tight defense has always been a Porcupine trademark.

      Pas-Konejwicz were NS during the top auction. Pas’s four club bid was lead-directing and indicative of a willingness to play four spades. North decided to compete to four hearts which would have made against most teams and Konejwicz chose to defend.

Konejwicz led the ten of clubs, taken by Pas’s ace. Pas now switched to the queen of spades, won by declarer’s ace. North floated the ten of hearts to Pas’s ace. Pas returned the jack of spades, overtaken by Konejwicz’s king. The club return was ruffed by Pas for a nifty down one and plus 100 to Team Porcupine.

Readers should note that North could have made this contract by taking the “unnecessary” finesse in diamonds, and jettisoning the losing spade on the ace of diamonds. This would also have cut the defenders’ communications and North would actually have ended up making five on this hand!

At the other table, Kowalski chose not to bid four hearts, possibly because he would be playing the hand and not Nograwowicz. At any rate, he led the king of clubs, taken by declarer’s ace.   Nograwowicz played the four on this. Kowalski thought about this play and came to the conclusion that Nograwowicz was signaling an even number of clubs, most likely four.

When declarer led a trump, Kowalski jumped with his ace and switched to his singleton diamond. This went low, queen by Nograwowicz and small by declarer. The diamond three looked like a singleton to Nograwowicz. But where most players would have immediately cashed the ace of diamonds and returned a diamond for partner to ruff, Nograwowicz saw that this would not set the contract. Therefore he returned the seven of diamonds.

Kowalski ruffed this and since the seven looked like suit preference for hearts, returned the jack of hearts. This went to the queen, king, and ace. Now declarer could not establish a diamond trick without letting Team Porcupine in to cash a heart for down one. Thus, this hand ended with two plus 100’s for Team Porcupine as opposed to the minus 650 and minus 140 it could have been. The five imp gain instead of a possible thirteen imp loss was living proof that Team Porcupine has no need to get defensive about results like this.


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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVI: The Phantom of the Sacrifice

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVI: The Phantom of the Sacrifice

By Ray Adams

     One of the most dreaded nightmares a bridge buff can have is that of the phantom sacrifice. This occurs when a pair chooses to sacrifice against a game contract that would go down against perfectly normal defense. And few players choose to sacrifice at a high level when they are vulnerable and the opponents are not. Stanislaus Kowalski of Team Porcupine would be one of the few exceptions, especially when he knows his partner, Porczouk Nograwowicz, will be playing the hand.

    East’s two spade bid was weak and Kowalski’s 4NT bid was unusual (to say the least), showing ten cards in the minors. West had no trouble doubling, and in fact, must have been expecting a huge penalty of at least 800 points. Kowalski, on the other hand, was clearly hoping that his partner could hold the contract to down one for minus 200 versus the presumed plus 420 EW would earn for four spades making.

West led the ace of spades, ruffed in dummy. Nograwowicz saw he had no easy job in front of him and indeed, he could easily lose control of the hand and go down three or more. He decided to embark on a crossruff, trumping two diamonds in his hand and two more spades in the dummy. He next played the ace of clubs, dummy’s last trump. Declarer then ruffed a third diamond and led his last trump, hoping the suit divided 2-2 and that West would have to win the trick, as East would have had several spades to cash.

Declarer’s hopes came true when West took the king of clubs as East’s jack dropped. A very interesting end position had now been reached. Dummy remained with the king and ten of hearts plus the ace, ten and nine of diamonds. West had four hearts to the ace and the singleton king of diamonds, while East held the queen doubleton of hearts, and the king, ten, and eight of spades.

West was an excellent player and saw what was about to happen. He tried his best by leading the nine of hearts, but Nograwowicz calmly played dummy’s king and quickly cashed three more diamond tricks to make his doubled contract. This was plus 750 for Team Porcupine. At the other table, Konejwicz tried his best to make four spades, but lost a trick in each suit for down one and minus 50 for the team. Still, this was a 12 imp pickup for Team Porcupine in a match they won by 9 imps.

Since the spade game had gone down, Kowalski’s sacrifice had indeed been a phantom. But the phantom had turned into much more than an enticing apparition created by Kowalski’s mind when Nograwowicz’s sterling play brought it home.

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The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXXI: Greed Strikes Out Again

The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXXI: Greed Strikes Out Again

By Ray Adams


The last blog showed how the greed associated with doubles led to a good result for Team Porcupine. Greed also played a big role in a recent encounter between Poor Frank and  Lucky Archie.

After Poor Frank opened one diamond on this board, the bidding quickly got out of hand, especially when Lucky Archie jumped to four hearts. Poor Frank probably shouldn’t have bid five diamonds, but he was in the mood to push Lucky Archie around if possible. It all came home for Frank when Lucky Archie could not restrain himself from bidding six hearts. Poor Frank now knew he had his rival just where he wanted him and he tossed the double card on the table. When this got back to Lucky Archie, he tried seven clubs, also doubled by Frank.

The effect of the seven club bid, however, was to put North on lead, not Poor Frank. All would have been well had North led a spade, but instead North made the thoughtful lead of the king of diamonds, assuming that this would hold the lead and Poor Frank would signal North to switch to whichever suit he wanted. This was fine in theory, but when dummy ruffed the opening lead. West quickly drew trumps and ran the hearts for all thirteen tricks. This amazing result propelled Lucky Archie into the winner’s circle that fine evening.

As Poor Frank was preparing to leave the studio, he overheard Lucky Archie talking to a group of bridge buffs who were hanging on his every word.

“Well,” the Lucky One said, “I knew Poor Frank would know what to lead, so I decided to put his partner on lead and make him figure it out. That worked out super when North led a diamond instead of a spade.”

“Simply brilliant, Archie,” Poor Frank heard someone say.

Poor Frank knew that the chances of Lucky Archie having reasoned out the hand as he said he did were about as small as holding a 29 point hand two times in a row. His rival had simply gotten scared and ran like a jackrabbit in coyote country.   Frank was suddenly overcome by an irresistible wave of nausea and had to jackrabbit his own way to the restroom.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXV: Greed Strikes Out

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXV: Greed Strikes Out

By Ray Adams

A good way to increase your score in contract bridge is by doubling their contract. And this can be especially true in Swiss Team bridge, where a difference between +300 and +100 or +500 and +200 can be a significant swing. But sometimes a double can tell the opponents they are in trouble and may lead to a totally different outcome.

After East doubled Kowalski’s pre-emptive style bid for penalties, Nograwowicz ran to 5 as shown in the top auction diagram above. East also chose to double this contract. West got the defense off to a good start by cashing the ace of hearts, then the ace of clubs, continuing with a club, ruffed in dummy.

Declarer ruffed a spade with his king of diamonds, then led a trump to dummy’s ace, pleased at the drop of East’s singleton ten. He ruffed another spade with his queen of diamonds, then led a small trump to dummy’s eight, picking up the last lurking enemy trump. Now the play of the ace of spades dropped the remaining spade in the opponents’ hands, and declarer ran the spades and soon claimed +750 for Team Porcupine.

At the other table, Konejwicz was not impressed with his defensive values and thought a five heart bid was a little too unilateral a decision. So he passed, and he and Pas quietly defended North’s four spade contract. The defense took two aces and two trump tricks for a modest down one or plus 100 to Team Porcupine. This did not look like a significant swing, but when this result was added to the +750 earned at the other table, it represented a juicy 13 imp gain for Team Porcupine in a match they won by six imps.

Readers can see that had the East player at Kowalski/Nograwowicz’s table duplicated Konejwicz’s thoughtful pass, there would have been no swing. But sometimes greed must have its day, even if that day ends in disaster.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIV: The Unlikely Becomes Routine

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIV: The Unlikely Becomes Routine

By Ray Adams

Team Porcupine has always been known for turning the unlikely into the mundane. Not many pairs would bid slam with only 23 HCP between them, but this is absolutely commonplace for Kowalski and Nograwowicz.

After East opened one club, Nograwowicz pre-empted the hand to two spades. Kowalski gave this bid some thought. Since he had the top two spades, he reasoned his partner’s values must be elsewhere. He had an answer for the anticipated club lead and he figured that Nograwowicz would be able to establish his long heart suit. Thus, without further ado, he jumped to six spades. East surely must have considered a double, but with no trump winners and a lack of aces, merely passed with a somewhat melancholy shake of the head.

As expected, West led a club, taken by dummy’s ace. The ace of hearts was cashed and declarer ruffed a heart, noting the fall of West’s jack. Nograwowicz returned to dummy with a high trump and led another heart, East deceptively playing the king. Nograwowicz was not fooled by this ruse and ruffed with the jack, foiling West’s plan to overruff. Declarer now went back to dummy with the king of spades, dropping all the outstanding enemy trumps.

One more heart ruff established the suit for two additional winners. Declarer then conceded a club, won West’s diamond return with the ace, ruffed a club, and tossed his two losing diamonds on the hearts to claim this improbable slam. At the other table, the NS pair bid four spades and made five. This was a 13 imp pickup for Team Porcupine and proved decisive in a match they only won by seven imps.

Pas and Konejwicz never even commented on this remarkable slam when the team compared scores. For them, their teammates’ improbable, impossible, and unlikely bidding and play had become nothing more than humdrum and routine.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIII: Saving the Porcupine

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIII:  Saving the Porcupine

By Ray Adams

The most recent adventure of Team Porcupine saw a smart move by declarer save one of Kowalski’s incredibly optimistic bids from being relegated to the rubbish pile of bidding.

The meaning of Kowalski’s bids can be explained, but perhaps not the reasoning behind them.  The double was negative, while two hearts was an all purpose cue bid, asking Nograwowicz to further describe his hand.  When Nograwowicz simply rebid his strong spade suit, visions of slam started dancing in Kowalski’s feverish brain.  Five spades asked his partner to bid six with good trumps, and certainly, Nograwowicz had excellent spades.

Luckily, West did not find the club lead, instead choosing the ace of hearts, ruffed in dummy.  Nograwowicz saw he could actually make this contract if trumps behaved.  However, he felt compelled by the favorable lead to make a safety play in trumps to guard against a possible 4-1 split.  At trick two, he led a spade to the five, four, and West’s six.  West returned a spade, but declarer was now in control.

Nograwowicz won the spade in hand, ruffed a heart in dummy and came to hand with the ace of clubs.  He drew the remaining trumps, sluffing two clubs from dummy.  He then was able to successfully run the diamonds when they split 4-1, taking the rest of the tricks.  Plus 1430 for Team Porcupine.

When Pas and Konejwicz were defending at the other table, the opponents only reached four spades.  The opening lead was the same, but declarer ignored the possibility of a bad break and banged down the ace and king of trumps.  He was in deep trouble when East showed out on the king.  Declarer then ruffed a heart in dummy and began to run the diamonds.  Pas ruffed the second round and declarer was sunk.  The dummy was now dead and the defenders got all their club and heart tricks.  Declarer was two down for plus 200 for Team Pocupine.

This added up to a 17 imp swing for Team Porcupine.  But was the result a matter of Kowalski’s bidding genius or Nograwowicz’s talent in saving the porcupine?

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The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXX: Jack Leeder’s Eccentric Bid

Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXX:  Jack Leeder’s Eccentric Bid

By Ray Adams

Jack Leeder made an eccentric bid the other night at the local duplicate club while playing with Poor Frank.  But instead of causing Frank any trouble, it led to an incredibly good result.


After Jack’s two spade bid, Poor Frank took a shot at 3NT and Lucky Archie led the nine of clubs.  Poor Frank was shocked to see Jack’s meager and ratty four card spade suit, but said nothing as the dummy was laid down.  Poor Frank hated to give comfort to the enemy, especially when the enemy was none other than Lucky Archie.

Declarer won the club in hand and ran off three more clubs.  East and South both threw a diamond, and Lucky Archie parted with the eight of hearts.  Next came a spade to the king.  This held, and West won the subsequent spade lead with the queen.  The spade exit went to East’s ace.  East now got out with the king of diamonds to Poor Frank’s ace.

Poor Frank had been busy counting out the hand and he knew Lucky Archie had started with six hearts, three spades, three clubs, and one diamond.  He now led the two of hearts.  Lucky Archie, defending well for a change, followed with the four.  But Poor Frank was up to playing dummy’s three of hearts and endplaying his rival.  He soon claimed nine tricks in the form of two hearts, two spades, four clubs, and the ace of diamonds.

Lucky Archie was not happy.

“If you return a heart,” he yelled at East, “we can set this contract a bunch.”

“Which one would you prefer me to lead?”  East said.  “A heart-spade or a heart-diamond?   Because I wasn’t dealt a heart-heart on this hand!”

It was all Poor Frank could do to keep from laughing out loud and he knew what a delicious story this would make when he discussed the hands later with Janet.

But Lucky Archie wasn’t done yet.  “And what was that two spade bid all about?” he asked Jack Leeder.  “Four to a jack.  My dead grandmother bids better than that.”

“It may look strange to you, Archie, but trust me, I would never have done it without the three of hearts,” Jack said.

And finally, Archie was speechless.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXII: A Kowalski Transfer

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXII:  A Kowalski Transfer
By Ray Adams

Team Porcupine members are fond of a bidding eccentricity on the part of Stanislaus Kowalski that they like to call a “Kowalski Transfer.”  The following hand is a good example:


When Pas/Konejwicz were sitting EW, their opponents reached four spades in the first auction given above.  The two diamond bid was new minor forcing, asking partner for three card support of spades.  After discovering their 5-3 major suit fit, the opponents soon reached game.

Konejwicz led a diamond, ruffed in dummy.  Declarer came to hand with a club to the ace and led a small spade.  Konejwicz rose king and exited with a club, ruffed by West.  West exited with a high diamond, ruffed with dummy’s last trump, the queen.  North now came to hand with a heart ruff.  The ace of trumps drew the last two enemy trumps and declarer was soon able to claim, winning a total of four club tricks, six trumps, and the ace of hearts.  It was minus 650 for Team Porcupine.

When Kowalski/Nograwowicz were NS, the bidding took a different turn in the second auction shown above.  At his second turn, rather than look for a fit for his five card major, Kowalski chose to support his partner’s second suit.  This is the technique known to Team Porcupine as the Kowalski Transfer.  In other words, Kowalski was up to his usual tricks, transferring the play of the hand to his partner, Porczouk Nograwowicz, rather than trying to play the hand himself.  This worked wonders when Nograwowicz was able to bid the minor suit slam.

Declarer won the opening trump lead  with dummy’s ace.  He immediately saw that the hand was hopeless unless East held the king of spades and this key suit split 3-2.  Thus, he played a low spade from dummy at trick two, East rising with the king and returning a trump.  Declarer won his ten and then ruffed a small heart in dummy.

A spade to the queen allowed Nograwowicz to ruff another small heart with dummy’s last trump.  He then ruffed a diamond in hand, drew East’s last trump and played the ace of hearts.  A spade to dummy allowed him to claim the rest of the tricks.

This was a 13 imp swing for Team Porcupine and gave them just enough imps to win this important match.  Readers who love bidding gadgets may enjoy debating the merits of the two methods used on this hand:  new minor forcing vs. the Kowalski transfer.

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The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXIX: Severed by a Seven

The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXIX:  Severed by a Seven

By Ray Adams

Poor Frank and Lucky Archie were at it again at the local duplicate club just the other night.  The winner would be determined by the outcome of the following board:

After doubling Lucky Archie’s weak two bid and hearing his left-hand-opponent jump to game, Poor Frank decided that he would either have a good shot at making five hearts or else only go down one or two to get a good result.  At any rate, he knew an average result would not be good enough and that he needed a near top to win that evening’s laurels.

West led the nine of clubs, low from dummy, and time stopped as Lucky Archie fumbled with his cards.  As he tried to hold onto them, the seven of clubs fell onto the table.   Poor Frank won the queen and drew trumps.  He then played the ace of clubs, hoping to drop the doubleton king and run dummy’s long suit.  It was not to be, and although he struggled mightily, Poor Frank eventually lost one club, one spade, and three diamonds for down three and minus 500.  This was a complete zero and not only knocked Poor Frank out of contention for the number one position, but dropped him all the way down to fourth place.

As soon as the hand was over, Lucky Archie turned to his partner and said, “I’m sorry, partner, about my play at trick one.  I meant to play the king of clubs on your lead, but the damn seven jumped out of my hand and fell on the table.  Well, a played card is a played card.  What could I do?”

Poor Frank could not believe what he was hearing.  If Lucky Archie had done as he wanted, Poor Frank would have been able to run the clubs and would have finished with eleven tricks, making the doubled contract and eclipsing his rival for the honors that evening.

“You’ve got to hold onto your cards a little tighter, Archie,” Poor Frank said.

“Thanks for your concern, Frank.  I’ll try to next time.

Readers may find it of interest that this hand was actually played by Bob Wood of Naples, Florida, in the 2016 Orlando Nationals.  Bob said he had never met Lucky Archie before and hopes he never does again.



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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXI: A Coup a la Nograwowicz

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXI:  A Coup a la Nograwowicz

By Ray Adams

All followers (and critics) of Team Porcupine know of Stanislaus Kowalski’s propensity to overbid when he knows his partner, Porczouk Nograwowicz will be playing the hand.  Another example of this recently came up.


In the auction, Kowalski chose to support his partner’s spade suit with only three, even though it was quite possible Nograwowicz had no more than four.  West led the four of hearts and, many players in laying down the dummy, would have said to their partner something like, “Sorry, partner, I owe you a spade.”  But not Kowalski, who was not known for justifying his bidding.  In fact, as he spread his cards, he carefully kept his eyes turned down, avoiding seeing any reaction on Nograwowicz’s part.  Of course, Nograwowicz was so used to Kowalski’s bidding he simply regarded the dummy as though it was a gift from the Great Shuffler, and in fact, was probably pleased that Kowalski had supported him with more than two spades.

The heart lead was taken by dummy’s ace and a club went to declarer’s jack and West’s ace.  West continued the heart attack, dummy’s king winning.  Nograwowicz now made the key play of a low spade from dummy.  East felt compelled to duck and declarer’s queen won the trick.  Nograwowicz now cashed the ace and king of diamonds, sluffing the remainder of dummy’s hearts.  He then ruffed a diamond in dummy.

Dummy’s king of clubs was cashed, declarer tossing a diamond. He also threw a diamond on the subsequent lead of the queen of clubs.  West ruffed this with the lowly three of trumps.  West would have done well to lead a diamond at this point, but instead exited with the jack of hearts.  This presented East with the choice of either ruffing or tossing a club.  Eventually East discarded his last club, allowing declarer to ruff this trick low.

Nograwowicz now ruffed his last diamond with dummy’s ace.  At trick twelve, the lead was in the dummy and East had to play from the king and nine of trumps in front of declarer’s jack and six.  Nograwowicz had made this unlikely game on a coup en passant, or what Kowalski likes to call a “coup a la Nograwowicz”.

The contract of 3NT was down two at the other table, allowing Team Orange to gain 13 imps on this hand in a match they only won by 6 imps.  Team captain Stari Pas commented after the match that perhaps they had won not because of a Coup a la Nograwowicz but by a bidding Coup a la Kowalski.



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