Awol Bridge

A three-handed bridge variant by Martin Chapman .  

Background

We play a regular social bridge game but over time we suffered AWOL (absent without leave) situations.  Not wanting to breakup our regular circle we investigated alternative three player options.  We tried Skat - very good but a bit heavy for a social game.  We tried ‘Need a fourth’ by Larry Levy but after a while we got too good at discards which undermined declarer’s hand fatally.  We also tried the semi-revealed dummy options but they lack skill.  Blending the best of all these options, we created this good three player version.

Mechanics

Deal out four bridge hands as usual. Dealer is always South for duration of hand and North will always be dummy placed between East and West.  The deal rotates clockwise so West will become South on the next deal and the positions will rotate accordingly.  Separate scores are maintained for each player. Play should proceed in rounds of three deals.

Dealer now reviews own hand and has one bid at this stage ‘Open’ or ‘Closed’.  This indicates whether Dummy is revealed before West bids. It also allows South to play for a vulnerable game with the vulnerable game’s bonuses applied. Scoring uses the Chicago scoring system (see below) plus trick values.  South does not bid at this point. If South opens the dummy this just indicates that South probably has some points and may want to go for the vulnerable game bonus - this information can be valuable for East/West. Dummy always belongs to the dealer, South. If East/West outbid South, East and West will both play from hand, against South who defends with dummy as partner.

The player to dealer's left (West) now opens the bidding, immediately followed by partner (East). After East's turn to bid South has a second opportunity to open the dummy before bidding if not already opened. The bidding then continues in the usual way (South, West, East, South, West, East, South etc.). If South passed the first two opportunities to open the dummy (at the start of the auction and immediately before South's first bid), the dummy must remain closed until after West leads.

The vulnerability depends on when the dummy is exposed:

  • If South exposes the dummy at the start of the auction, only South is vulnerable.
  • If the dummy is exposed just before South's first turn to bid, neither side is vulnerable.
  • If the dummy remains concealed until after West's first lead, only East/West are vulnerable.

If the hand is passed out, the deal passes to the left, and the former West becomes South for the new deal and will partner with dummy.

If dealer + dummy win the bidding West will lead. If East/West win the bidding West will still lead but East and West will play contract from their hands. They do not play with a dummy hand. It is only South who plays with the dummy hand. If dummy is not already exposed open it will be revealed after West’s lead.

The scores are similar to those in contract bridge with Chicago scoring. The main difference is that South scores no bonus for a non-vulnerable part score, while East/West are eligible for part score bonuses irrespective of vulnerability. There are also some adjustments to slam bonuses. The penalty and bonus scores are as follows:

Undertricks 1 2 3 4 5
Undoubled Not vul. 50 100 150 200 250
Vulnerable 100 200 300 400 500
Doubled Not vul. 100 300 500 800 1100
Vulnerable 200 500 800 1100 1400
Redoubled Not vul. 200 600 1000 1600 2200
Vulnerable 400 1000 1600 2200 2800
Bonus Not vulnerable Vulnerable
Part score 50 (E/W only) 50
Game 300 500
Small slam 800 1250
Grand slam 1300 2000

Strategy

This is greatly influenced by South’s decision on when to open dummy and the bonuses available accordingly. If South opens dummy immediately, East/West can deduce that South has a goodish hand. Therefore they need to get indicative defensive and attacking bids out immediately as they are non-vulnerable, and put South under pressure if they can. If dummy has a good hand defensive information is required (strong suits, lead information) as South is likely to bid a vulnerable game. If dummy is a poor hand East/West may have the balance of points and may then be able to force South up or out of the game.

If South delays opening dummy East/West probably have the better hands so they can bid aggressively. If South does not open dummy at all they can deduce they have the better hands and view the vulnerable game bonus.

East/West need to bear in mind that South’s bid is likely to be a single overall bid as South can see dummy as well as South's hand and deduce the best game available. Therefore East/West need to exchange information early. Recommended bidding approaches are 5 card suit openings, weak 2’s (6 card suit 6-10 points), Weak no trump (flat 12-14 points), Weak 3’s (7 card suit 6- 10 points) as these give valuable distribution information and cut down South’s bidding options.

When playing from hand (East/West), trump control is vital so leading through dummy’s trump holding to partner is a good technique if available.

When playing South bear in mind that three hearts/spades when not vulnerable does not attract a part score bonus, so it is better to risk the game bid if possible or stay lower and make an overtrick, assuming that East/West’s bids have left you room to do so.