Monday, November 21, 2011

Planning the Play at the Outset

Today's hand deals with planning at the outset. Here's your hand, sitting West:


Here's the auction:

West          North         East  South
                                  P       P
4H             Dbl             P       P
Opening lead: Ace of Spades

The dummy comes down and here are your two hands:

West                   East
3                      652
QJT98654          A32
A7                    Q54
A3                   9842

Before you play you must analyze your cards. How are you going to make this hand? It looks as if you must lose four tricks, one Spade, one Diamond, and one Club. And since South sat for the double, she probably has the King of trump. There's no way to finesse it, so you have to lose that, too. How can you make it?

The answer is that you must play North for the King of Diamonds, and you must set it up before drawing trump. Why? Two reasons. You have to lose a Club and you need to keep the Ace before you set up a way to get rid of your three of clubs. The second reason is that if you lead to the Ace of Hearts immediately, you have no entry to the board, which is where you are hoping to get a trick if you can set up the Queen of Diamonds.

So you trump the second spade in your hand and lead immediately to your Queen of diamonds on the board. If South has the King, which is unlikely since North doubled, showing the good hand, you are toast. But if North goes up and takes the King, no matter what North leads back, you can make the hand. If he leads a Club, you take the Ace, take the Ace of Diamonds in your hand. Lead to the Ace of Hearts. Play the Queen of Diamonds and sluff your three of Clubs. You lose the King of Hearts, but you only lost three tricks, making four, doubled.

Here's the four hand layout:


West                           East
3                              652
QJT98654                  A32
A7                            Q54
A3                           9842


I'll close with a bidding commentary. When a player opens 4 hearts, a double by an opponent is for takeout. If a player opens 4 Spades, a double is penalty. If an opponent wants to make a takeout bid over a 4 Spade opener, he bids 4 NT. That asks partner to bid her longest suit. Here, after the hand was played, South asked me if she was correct to sit for the double and I explained her partner was asking her to bid. What should she have bid? Although a double often asks for the longest suit, it also generally implies four cards in the unbid major, so I would bid 4 Spades with her hand, even though she has 5 Clubs. If Partner doesn't have 4 spades, she will correct to her long suit. Here, NS is cold for 4 Spades. Actually they can make an overtrick, losing only the two minor suit Aces if they play the Diamonds correctly.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Managing transportation when playing No Trump

Playing and defending no trump is the most challenging part of bridge. It requires planning and doing things that are sometimes counter-intuitive. Here's today's hand:

 Dealer: East


South   West    North   East
P          1S        P          2H
P          2N        P          3N
P          P          P

Opening lead: 3C

First the bidding: When East reverses (bidding a higher ranking suit at the two level than the suit with which you opened the bidding at the one level; a "reverse" promises at least 17 HCP and is forcing for one round) by bidding two Hearts after her one Diamond opener, West is forced to bid again, so chooses the weakest response possible, considering that he has the unbid suit, Clubs, stopped. East likes her hand and raises to game.

Superficially, it looks like you can take three spade tricks, two or three diamonds, and a heart or two, plus one Club. But closer inspection shows that this is all dependent on transportation. You have to get rid of the Ace of Spades on the board before you take your King and Queen in your hand. Plus you have to take two diamond finesses for this to work. But your hand is woefully weak and the singleton Ace of Spades doesn't help transportation since your only real entries are spades. How are you going to get to your hand enough times to accomplish all this?

You take the first trick in your hand with the Club Jack. Then you take your first diamond finesse. If the honors are split, you can take three diamonds. When South wins the Queen of diamonds, she returns a spade to the board's singleton Ace. You now have to play South for the Ace and Jack of Hearts to get back to your hand. So you lead the Heart 6 to your Ten. South takes her Jack. Recognizing the transportation problems and wanting to keep the lead on the board, South takes her Ace of Hearts, figuring she'd then put the lead  back on the board (that would leave the KQ of Hearts on the board) and you'd be stuck with no way to get to your hand to take your two spades and the second diamond finesse.

Here is the key to the hand. You discard your King of Hearts on her Ace, so when she leads another heart, you are able to take the trick in your hand with your Heart Ten. Since you discarded your King from the board, you have the eight to play from the board to take the trick with the Ten in your hand (if you had discarded the eight on her lead of the Ace, you are left with just the King and the Queen on the board and you're blocked from returning the lead to your hand). That allows you to take the two spade tricks in your hand and the second diamond finesse, which works, and the King falls when you play the Ace, the diamonds splitting favorably, giving you your three diamond tricks. So you end up taking three spades, three diamonds, two hearts and a club, making three. If you do not discard your king of hearts on her Ace, the hand can't make, assuming a reasonable defense.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Think and Plan Before You Play

Today's deal shows two thinking plays outside of the box, one of which allows Declarer to make what appears to be a doomed contract, and the other of which allows a courageous, savvy defender to still beat the contract regardless of what Declarer does.

                        ♠ J62
                        ♥ A832
                        ♦ QJ8
                        ♣ 632

West                                        East
♠ Q9873                                  ♠ A54
♥ J976                                     ♥ QT5
♦ T2                                         ♦ 964
♣ 75                                        ♣ AT98

                        ♠ KT
                        ♥ K4
                        ♦ AK753
                        ♣ KQJ4

South               West                North               East
1D                   P                      1H                   P
2N                   P                      3N                   P
P                      P                                             

Opening Lead 7S.

Offhand, this looks hopeless. East wins the first Spade with her Ace and returns the 5. South takes the second spade trick with his King and can only see eight sure tricks, including the Spade he just took, before East gets in with her Ace of Clubs and returns a spade, which allows West to take her three Spade tricks and the contract is down 1.

But careful playing can make the contract, assuming West doesn't make an heroic play. When West leads the 7 of Spades and East plays the Ace, South must discard his King. His now bare Ten and the Jack doubleton on the board stop the suit. When East returns the 5, South is not forced to take the trick since he no longer has the King, so he plays his Ten. If West takes the Queen, Dummy's Jack  stops the suit on West's next Spade lead. But  the important part of this play is that by requiring three Spade tricks at the outset, when East gets in with her Ace of Clubs she no longer has a Spade to return to West and South makes the contract with a possible overtrick.

In order to defeat the contract, West must decline the second trick and allow Declarer to win the trick with his Spade Ten. That leaves East with one Spade to return to West's Queen when she takes her Ace of Clubs. But how many Wests will be courageous enough to decline the second trick?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More on Opening Leads When Defending Against No Trump

Here are two hands you hold from two different auctions. You are on lead in each hand. What do you lead?

Here's the auction for Hand 1:

S                      W                    N         E
1N                   P                      3N       P
P                      P                                             

Hand 1
♠ 83
♥ J96532
♦ AK4
♣ 75

Here's the auction for Hand 2:

S                      W                    N         E
                        P                      1D       P
1S                    P                      1N       P
3N                   P                      P          P

Hand 2
♠ Q63
♥ AK7
♦ T7
♣ 87653

These are two hands played by my partner or me recently. In the first, I eschewed the heart 5 lead. While it's true we might get lucky and my partner might have the Ace, King, or Queen of Hearts, and opponents might not be able to run nine tricks before I set up the Hearts, that's a long shot. The best lead here is the Ace and King of Diamonds and a low diamond. In the actual hand, my partner had Queen fifth of diamonds, we took the first five tricks and were the only pair to set the contract.

In the second, my partner led a Club and opponents ran off 11 tricks before my partner got her Ace and King of Hearts. Here, as in Hand 1, the lead should be the Ace and King of Hearts and the low Heart. In the actual hand, I held the Queen, Jack, and three hearts and we would take the first five tricks. Here's the actual hand:


I gave this problem to many people at all levels. None chose the winning lead of the Ace and the King followed by the remaining card in the suit.

Whenever you find yourself on lead defending 3 No Trump and you hold AKx with nothing else in your hand to try to set up and your partner hasn't bid, you should lead out the Ace and King and the little card. This has three desirable effects. First, you get two tricks you might not get if opponents can run the other suits, which is likely. Second, you might catch partner with the Queen and more cards in the suit, especially if it's an unbid suit, a fit you'll never find if you don't make the right opening lead. Third, if partner has 5 small cards in the suit, you will set up two tricks for her if she ever gets in by getting rid of all the other cards in the suit with your three leads.

If you lead the small card, you block the suit for your partner if you get in and win your Ace and King; you can't get back to her. While this should be obvious, if your partner has actually bid the suit, your leading the Ace, King, little will unblock the suit for her.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Choosing a suit and card to lead when defending no trump

In  a previous article I wrote the rules for choosing which suit to lead when defending no trump and partner doubles. Recently a hand arose that exemplified something very important that I did not mention in that column, something that applies with or without a double by partner. Here's your hand as dealer:

♠ KT83
♥ T9
♦ Q5
♣ AQJ64

The auction:

You     LHO    Pard     RHO
1C       P          1D       P
1N       P          P          Dbl
P          2H       P          2N
P          P          P

As a preliminary that has nothing to do with the point of this article, your first rebid should be 1S, not 1NT, but that's the way this hand was bid, so that's the way I'm writing about it.

Question: What do you lead? I was your partner in this deal. I haven't supported your suit, Clubs; I bid diamonds. I did not double the 2N contract, which might suggest a lead (although it would be pretty ambiguous; would a double ask for her suit or mine, or would it just say "I think we can defeat this contract; I'm not suggesting a lead?"). But with this hand it does not matter what your partner might suggest as a lead. Even if partner doubles for a different lead, you have only one lead. This brings up the first basic rule in defending no trump. All the other rules are subservient to this. No matter what partner has done, if you have a better lead than what partner suggests in your own hand, lead it.

Here are all four hands:

                        ♠ QJ95
                        ♥ J54
                        ♦ KJ93
                        ♣ KT

West (Me)                              East
♠ 2                                           ♠ KT83
♥ A863                                    ♥ T9
♦ A7642                                  ♦ Q5
♣ 952                                      ♣ AQJ64

                        ♠ A764
                        ♥ KQ72
                        ♦ T8
                        ♣ 873

Unfortunately, my partner thought she should lead my suit, so she led the Diamond Queen. Her lead had the deleterious consequence of me returning a diamond when I got in since I had no idea of her Club holding. She could have four little clubs with her points elsewhere. Then it's too late for the Clubs because Declarer's three diamonds set up. 

It doesn't matter what I hold here in determining what to lead. If she leads the Club Queen, Declarer must take the King. When I get in with one of my Aces, I then know to shoot back a Club and Declarer is history. We get four club tricks and my two aces, minimum, for down one. Plus, her KT of spades is well situated for another trick for down 2. Dreaming further, Declarer might mis-guess the Diamond Queen since I bid Diamonds for down 3.

Here are the rules for leading against no trump. The card you should lead is in bold face:

AKJX              AQJx
AJT9               AT9x

Here are the reasons. If you lead, for example, the Jack from AJT9 and declarer takes the king or queen in his hand and the other isn't on the board, when partner gets in she will lead your suit back through the remaining honor in declarer's hand and you have a very good chance of taking three (or four if you have a five card suit) tricks unless declarer started with four cards in the suit.

If you are leading the Queen from KQT9, partner must drop the jack if she has it. Why? Because a savvy declarer who has AJx will hold up on your queen lead and if you continue, will take two tricks. So partner must drop the jack if she has it if you lead the queen on opening lead. That allows you to continue leading the suit without worrying about giving declarer an extra trick. In fact, with most of these leads, if you have an honor, you should play it on her lead, for the same reason. It sets up the rest of her hand and allows her to continue the suit if Declarer ducks.

Another thing to remember about these leads is that if partner leads the Queen and you have the Jack, you know what she's got. Similarly, if she leads the King and you have the Queen, you know that she should be holding AKJx. In both cases, you can freely play your honor on her lead without concern that you're giving up a trick. If, however, partner leads the Ace and you have the Queen, don't drop it because she should be denying AKJ.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trust Your Partner and Fourth Seat Openings

There is no reason to preempt in fourth seat. The purpose of a preempt is to keep opponents out of the bidding or to keep them from finding a contract. If you are in fourth seat and everyone has passed, you know that opponents have 22 HCP or less and probably don't have a game, so there's no reason to bid with a sub-opening hand. To do so just invites opponents to search for a part score contract they can make.

As a result of this, a two level opening in fourth seat is available for a descriptive bid if you have an opening hand. I use it to show 12+ points with a six card suit. So if I have 12+ points with a five card or less suit, I just open at the one level. But if I have a six card suit with an opening hand or better, I open at the two level. This has two positive effects:

1. It more adequately describes your hand to partner and allows you to proceed bidding without having to rebid your suit to show six cards; and
2. It hinders opponents from entering the bidding to find any contract they might have because the level is just too high to start exploratory bidding. 

With that as a preamble, here's a hand we held recently:

My partner played our system and opened 2D, although I must say that it's puzzling why North did not preempt with 2 Spades in third seat, but that was the subject of my last column; when your opponents make a mistake, take advantage of it, and we did. There is a feeling that you should not preempt if you have an outside four card major. But in this situation, North, in third seat, must preempt with 2 Spades, holding six Spades and three of the top five honors. He should forget his four little hearts, especially in third seat. If North preempts with 2S, it would make our finding 3NT extremely difficult, if not impossible.

I felt my partner probably had a pretty good hand, 15-16 HCP; I had no reason for that other than instinct. I did know that she had an opening hand with six diamonds, so I immediately thought we had a shot at 3NT since I had three diamonds to an honor. My Heart bid showed a good five card suit. Since I already knew she had at least six diamonds, she was free to bid 3 Clubs to show a Club stopper. That's all I wanted to know. When she had my unstopped suit, I bid 3NT, expecting a Spade lead into my King doubleton.

Alas, my partner started thinking, never a good sign. Finally she pulled out the five diamond card, turning a cold top into an average minus. Whenever something like this happens, I know it's going to be disastrous in terms of competition, and it was. If we play 3NT we get the cold top and win. As it was, we finished a close second.

If you want a good partnership, you must trust your partner. I know her hand and I bid 3NT, which tells her that I have a stopper in Spades, the unbid suit. By bidding 3C, she's telling me she has a stopper in Clubs and is inviting me to bid 3NT if I have a stopper in Spades. After inviting the 3NT bid, she cannot then second guess me. On top of that, she had eight diamonds, not six! She knew, or should know, I had three to an honor, so she knew we had eight cold tricks just in diamonds. She had the AK of Clubs. I bid Hearts and told her I had Spades stopped. There is no reason in the world for her to override my judgment and pull it to five diamonds. She must trust me. She started out fine by bidding 2 diamonds and then telling me about her Club stopper. Why bid Clubs if she's not understanding my search for 3NT? Up until then, she was perfect. But then she chickened out, fearful of her Heart void, even though I bid Hearts and she knew Hearts would not be a problem.

Her bid is injurious for another reason. I have Spades stopped only if the lead comes from my LHO. If she's playing the hand, a Spade lead, which is what she got, means that she will lose two Spades right off the bat, since a lead through my King doubleton is a killer. To avoid losing two Spades, I must be playing the hand with the opening lead coming from my LHO into my King doubleton.

The only way 3NT played by me can be beaten here is if North, my LHO, leads a Heart and South takes it with her Ace and switches to the Queen of Spades. Then they will take the first seven tricks. Given North's hand, however, that is extremely unlikely. A Spade switch is also unlikely since North never bid Spades and South would be looking at a Heart void on the board. So a Heart lead would be heroic and so would a Spade switch. In this hand, North has a clear lead of the Jack of Spades, especially since I bid Hearts.

But let's get back to trusting your partner. There is really no upside to doing what my partner did. What if she were right? OK, she was right. But what if she is wrong, which she was? Then there are two extremely deleterious results:

1. A very poor result, greatly affecting your competitive position in the game; and, worse,
2. A very upset partner.

Of those two, number 2 is far worse than number 1. Not only will partner be upset, but it will affect his confidence in you for the foreseeable future.
Think, also, about this. If you pass and trust your partner and partner is wrong, your partner cannot be upset with you. You will have the righteous path. So from just selfish point of view you are far better passing than making a unilateral bid that could result in the righteous fury of someone with whom you want to continue playing. Isn't it better to trust partner than to risk being wrong with all the downsides that entails? I think so.

Here, she had already described her hand to me. If her response to my 2H bid was to just rebid her diamonds, I'll either pass or bid four Diamonds (probably pass since she hasn't shown anything extra). But when she bid 3C, showing extras and interest in playing 3NT and then I bid 3NT, she can't override my judgment because I know more about her hand than she knows about mine. When I bid 3NT I should be promising three diamonds and a Spade stopper, which is what I had.

Everybody else was in either 5D or 6D (one pair, doubled, down 2), except the people who barely beat us out to be first overall; they were in 3D making six (the only way that could happen is if South leads her Ace of Hearts, which East can ruff and sluff her two spades on the KQ of Hearts, losing only a Club; never lead an Ace on opening lead unless you have the King or it's a singleton). We were the only ones who found the best 3NT contract. Too bad we didn't play it.

One of President Reagan's great quotations is "Trust but verify." In bridge it's just "trust." No verification is needed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Give Your Opponents the Opportunity to Make a Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. Even National Champions renege or lead out of turn, or miscount trump, or make any other of a myriad of errors. In fact, a couple of decades ago I paid to play with a pro. I was a good enough player at the time that he asked me why I was paying him to play with me. I told him I was tired of my partners making silly mistakes and just wanted to play with someone I could trust to not make those mistakes.

Early in the game we were in an auction in which the opponents went into Blackwood and my RHO responded 5 Diamonds, giving me the opportunity to double for a lead, since I had the AK of Diamonds. They ended up in 6 No Trump with my RHO declarer. I doubled, figuring that with me on lead and with two sure tricks in my hand they were going to have a hard time making the contract. When the auction was completed, my partner, the pro, immediately led a Club, thereby violating at least three rules. He didn't ask if it was his lead, he led out of turn, and he didn't lead my suit. So much for counting on a pro to make no mistakes. I never paid anyone to play with me again.

If a pro could make dumb mistakes like that in a Tournament, then you should realize that ordinary players make even more mistakes than experts. Sometimes you are in an unmakeable contract. The only way you can make it is for your opponents to misdefend or make a mistake. You should realize this and give them a chance to make that mistake. Here's a good example from a hand in a recent game:

Dealer: North, both sides vulnerable


Opening Lead: Ace of Spades

I'm sitting West. Looking at the dummy I'm almost certainly going to lose the two Aces and another Heart. So I pull trump, ending in Dummy and lead the Jack of Hearts. Queen, King, Void. Now I know that East is sitting in a tenace position with her Ace-Nine surrounding Dummy's Ten. As defined in my 16-page Glossary in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bridge, the most complete Glossary of bridge terms ever published and all by itself worth the price of the book, a "tenace position" is when "there is only one card outstanding remaining between a holding of two cards." In this situation, the only card remaining outstanding between her Ace and Nine is dummy's Ten because the King, Queen, and Jack have already been played.
How can I avoid losing two Hearts? The answer is that with good, or just adequate, defense, I can't. So the only thing to do now is to give her the opportunity to make a mistake. If I lead from my hand to the Ten, she'll take it with her Ace and then her Nine will be the highest remaining Heart and she'll take that trick eventually since I will still have a Heart to lose in both dummy and my hand, even if she doesn't realize it's good. So in order to give her the best opportunity to mess up, I have to lead from the board to my unseen hand.
The first thing I do is to draw her attention away from the Heart trick that has just been played that got rid of the King, Queen, and Jack of Hearts. So I lead the Ace and King of Diamonds and ruff a Diamond, leaving me on the board with the following position (North's holding is irrelevant):

I'm hoping she is inattentive enough to not realize that her Ace and Nine are both good tricks with the Ten on the board. I lead the board's Two to my Eight. If she plays her Nine she'll win the trick and I'll lose the two Heart tricks. But if she forgets that all the cards between her Nine and her Ace have already been played except the Board's Ten that I led away from, she might think that I'm going to win the trick in my hand if she doesn't take it with her Ace.

She doesn't even hesitate, going up and taking the Ace. That leaves my Ten on the board as my 11th trick. I gave her a chance to make a mistake and she made it. The result was that we got a top Board. Several pairs bid and made Four Spades. One was down one in Four Spades. One played Five Hearts our way down three. We were the only pair in Clubs.

The moral is, never give up. If it looks hopeless but there's a chance that opponents will misplay, give them that chance.