The Extended Support Double

Zach Brescoll and I had the following defensive disaster at the club the last time we played together in what was otherwise a very good game.    See if you can do better than I did.

Playing West (the hands are rotated), with our opponents vulnerable, I picked up the following pretty collection:


Following 3 passes to me, I opened 1 (which in our system just showed 11-15 HCP with no 5-card major), South overcalled 1♠, Zach made a negative double showing 4+ hearts and North bid 2♣.  I made the obvious jump to 3 (showing 6+ diamonds and 14-15 HCP).  South passed as did my partner.  North, my right-hand-opponent bid 3♠.

What should I do know?

Obviously I’m going to bid again but what?  4 was the safe choice but did I have some other options?  In our style, I did.  A double here would show a sound opening and leave the decision to Zach as to what to do to.  I liked this option — having already showed 6+ diamonds by my 3bid, my double would give Zach the option of rebidding his hearts with 5, taking me to 4 diamonds without 5 hearts, or, if he thought we could set the contract, passing.  Defending the contract doubled with opponents vulnerable was particularly attractive so long as we could manage the set, since unless we could make 5, setting the contract at 200 a trick would be a top board.

So I doubled.  South passed.  Zach thought for an uncharacteristically long eight seconds and then passed.  So the final contract was 3♠ doubled.

Zach led the 3 and the following distressingly strong dummy came down:


I took the A and considered my options.  I counted 3 tricks only — my two Aces and a heart (presuming my partner at least had the Q).  To set the contract, I had to start by placing  Zach with at least the ♣A or A.  I was pretty sure he had one or the other, otherwise he would not have enough values for his negative double.

But that would not be enough.  That’s only 4 tricks.  I would also have to get a club ruff for our 5th trick.   How would I manage that?

Obviously, I had to get to Zach’s hand while I still had a trump.  So I shifted to the K, declarer taking the A, Zach playing the encouraging 4.  Good — Zach has the Q.  He must also have the ♣A for his negative double and so we are still in the running here.

Declarer played a low spade to the ♠K.  I took my ♠A immediately.  Here are the exposed hands after I’m in with the ♠A.


Now I was at a cross-roads.  I needed to continue in a manner that Zach would know to shift to a club when he got in.  If he shifts to a club, it is down 1 for a top.  But if he does not shift to a club, it’s a bottom board for sure.  But how could I communicate that message to him?  The hand absolutely depends on me getting this right.  Click on the link below for the answer.

Continue reading “The Extended Support Double”


Combining Your Chances

The relationship between brothers is complicated.   My parents promised me that I would be as tall as my 6′ 2″ brother, Sam.   I topped out at a runty 5′ 9″ (in the morning) and have been looking for payback ever since.  I thought I had an opportunity for some payback when Sam joined us for our Thursday lesson series on various bidding conventions.  While we typically only bid the hands, Sam, sitting South, wanted to try playing the following diamond slam:


A note on the bidding:  The topic of that day’s lesson was Lebensohl over reverses.  North’s bid of 2NT over 2♥ showed in this case a weak hand, and demanded that South relay to 3♣, at which point North would typically sign off in South’s minor.  But South “breaks” the relay with his 3 bid showing 6-4 in diamonds and hearts and a maximum reverse.  This sets up a game force. North has perfect cards for slam try. Since the relay break sets up a game force, now North raises to 4 bid as a  slam try. South is more than happy to oblige and, after checking for aces, goes to 6, trusting his partner to have values to justify a slam try after trying to sign off using a lebensohl 2 NT. 

How would you play the hand after the lead of the ♠8, East playing the ♠K (promising the ♠KQ) under the ♠A?  Diamonds are not 4-0.  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “Combining Your Chances”

Check and Double Check

I had the pleasure of playing with Jean Davis in the under-10,000 mixed Swiss team event in this year’s Summer nationals in Atlanta.  I was delighted when she accepted my offer to play in the event, and flattered when she agreed to try upside-down count/attitude signaling, my preferred defensive carding method.  (More on this in a future column).

It was  the very last hand of the last round in the evening session.  I, South,  was dealt the following so-so collection of cards:


The dealer, East on my left, passed; playing 2/1, Jean opened a club; my RHO (West) made a weak jump overcall of 2.  We eventually ended up in the ambitious contract of 4 as per the bidding shown with the dummy below.


A note on the bidding:  Even playing 2/1, a 2 over 1 bid necessitated by East’s interfering 2 IS NOT game forcing.   It should, however, still show a decent 10-count, as it forces partner to bid for at least 1 more round.  Swayed by the favorable placement of the K behind the presumed A, I decided to count my hand as a decent 10-pointer.    Similarly, since my 2 bid was not game forcing due to the overcall, Jean’s 3 was NOT forcing, or even very encouraging.  With heart support and a 14-count or a good 13-count, Jean would have bid 4 (since I would pass 3 with a minimum 2 bid) but with any lesser hand she would have made the minimum 3 bid.  My 4 bid was an overbid premised on the belief that partner’s spade honor(s) would be favorably placed behind West’s spade honors revealed by West’s 2♠ bid.

The dummy was about what I expected.  The Q was a big disappointment, however.  Had this been the ♣Q, my chances would be much better. 

On the first trick, I played low from the dummy and then unblocked my K under RHO’s A to create an entry to the dummy.  East returned a diamond; I took the Q in dummy and led a heart.  Low from East, K from me and A from West.  Back came a trump with the J falling from East.  Good:  a 2-2 heart break.  In my hand, I decided to lead towards the ♠K, trusting the ♠A to be on my left due to the 2♠ bid.  As predicted, West rose with the ♠A.  Then then made the curious lead of the ♣9.  

This looked foreboding as it appeared to be top of a doubleton, which means the protected ♣Q is on my right.  Down 1.  With nothing better to do, I delayed matters by winning with the ♣A, cashing my ♠K  and then leading a spade for a ruff back to my hand, my right hand opponent following to both spades.  

Decision time in the club suit.  I play my ♣J.  West plays the ♣2.  I have lost 3 tricks already and can’t lose a 4th.  Do I play West for 3 clubs to the ♣Q92 and assume West led the ♣9 trying to talk me out of the finesse?  Or do I rise with the ♣K, playing my RHO for a ♣Q doubleton?  What would you do if you were me?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “Check and Double Check”

Another Face of the Suit Preference Signal: Trump Suit Preference

Playing at the club this past week with my wife, Janet, I picked up the following uninspiring collection of cards:


Janet opened the bidding 1 and my right hand opponent (“RHO”) doubled.  My bid.

My mentor and partner Zach Brescoll has always advised me to respond to an opening bid with an Ace and nothing else, but there are exceptions.  One of them is when your right-hand opponent has made a take-out double.  Hearing the take-out double, you know your partner will always have a chance to bid again and so you need not stretch your values to keep the bidding open to protect your partner in the event that partner has a very strong hand.  Here, particularly, the takeout doubler is suggesting length in the majors and so neither of my two major suits look promising.  Had my RHO passed, I would have responded 1 in a heartbeat, but not now.  So I passed.

My LHO bid a quick 1♠, Janet bid 2♣, and my RHO raised to 2♠.  This ended the bidding.

Here is the bidding:


After some thought, Janet led the ♠7 — a trump.    The following dummy came down and declarer played the  ♠K.


My turn.  Time to plan a defense.  What can I figure out from the bidding, opening lead, and the dummy?

Partner opened a diamond and then freely bid 2♣, suggesting a sound opening hand with either 5-4 or 4-5 in the minor suits.  She made a passive trump lead, bringing to mind the old bridge adage — when in doubt, lead trump.  The trump lead pretty much rules out her having started with the AK or KQ, as with either honor combination she has an easy opening lead of a high diamond.  So I’m thinking she has the AQxx(x) or AJxx(x), with a high diamond honor being hidden in declarer’s hand.  She probably has the A and the ♣K — all holdings which she would be reluctant to lead away from, opting for the trump lead instead.   That would give her an opening hand.

Given her likely diamond holding, she is obviously searching for a way to get to my hand to lead a diamond through declarer’s diamond honor.  She would be delighted to learn that I have the ♣A, if I can tell her that I have it.

Is there any way to communicate my club holding to her?  Think and then click on the link below to continue.

Continue reading “Another Face of the Suit Preference Signal: Trump Suit Preference”

When No Hope Exists

Playing with Zachery Brescoll at a recent club game, I picked up the following hand (which I have modified slightly for pedagogical effect):


After my RHO passed, I had to decide what to open.  Zach and I play a strong club system, so I can’t open this 1♣.  Instead, I opened the hand 1, which shows a wide variety of opening hands without a 5 card major.

After my LHO passed, Zach responded 1♠, my RHO overcalled 2, and it was up to me.

Playing precision club, I can jump to 3♠ with this hand, which does not show 16-17 points, but rather shows a sound opening bid with shortness somewhere.  The bid has a slightly pre-emptive quality, as I expect that if partner has a very weak hand, the opponents can make something.

Over my 3♠  jump, my RHO passed and Zach bid 4♠ (Holding the hand shown below, don’t try this at home!)  With Zach playing the hand, his LHO (my RHO) led the ♣10.  Here were Zach and my hands:


Zach made 4♠.  How did he make this apparently hopeless contract?  (The protected ♣Q was on his right, behind the ♣AK).   Click the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “When No Hope Exists”

The Many Faces of the Suit Preference Signal

At this past Saturday’s game at the club, the North hand had an AVERAGE 13.02 HCP and so Peter Shwartz and I, playing East/West, had plenty of opportunities to practice our defense.  I, playing West, picked up the following hand:


The bidding proceeded as follows:


I led the obvious lead of the A and the dummy below came down:


Peter then played the  2 declarer following low.  What was Peter trying to tell me?  (We play upside-down count attitude signals).

Typically, partner’s obligation when you lead the Ace of a suit is to give an attitude signal, but there are several exceptions to this, this hand illustrating one of them:  when the dummy shows up with the protected Queen, there is typically little point in continuing the suit, since the play of the King will just promote dummy’s Queen to winning rank.  An attitude signal is useless here and so Peter’s signal defaults to the 2nd signal in the signalling hierarchy — count.  So the 2, playing upside-down count, gave EVEN count (HoLe — HIGH odd, LOW even).  But which is it?  Did Peter start with 2, 4 or 6 diamonds?

Well, it can’t be 6 since else declarer would have ruffed but did not.  2 or 4?  Sometimes this is a tricky determination to make but here it is easy.  I know from the bidding the Peter is void in hearts and so if he had only 2 diamonds, he would have been 6-5 in spades and clubs and certainly would have bid something.  Moreover, even if for some reason, he did not bid this 6-5 hand, he has no hearts and so there is no point trying to give him a ruff.  I might as well assume he has 4, not 2, diamonds.

I’m still on lead.  What do I do next?

Since Peter has 4 diamonds, declarer has another diamond and so I am at a grave risk of allowing the declarer to quickly promote the diamond Queen on the board.  It’s time to “go active” and try to promote our tricks before declarer can promote hers.   So I must shift — but to what?  Spades or clubs?

If partner has the KQJx of spades, I must knock out declarer’s spade Ace right now;  but if partner has AJ(10)x of clubs, I don’t have to act immediately as I will get back in the with the ♦K soon enough.  So a spade shift is best.  I shift to the ♠6, my middle spade, planning to play the ♠8 on the next round of the suit to show 3 of them (MUD — middle up down to show 3 without an honor in the middle of the hand).

Dummy ducks, Peter plays the ♠9 and declarer the ♠A.

Now declarer plays the inevitable 9, dummy following low and Peter playing the 5.  What do I do after winning the K?  The following cards remain between my hand and dummy:


Click the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “The Many Faces of the Suit Preference Signal”

Being a Pessimist: The Avoidance Play

Enough bidding problems for the time being.  Let’s discuss a play problem.  We have had several articles in which our readers have been presented with a shaky, even hopeless, contract, and the issue was how to play the hand to maximize your chances.  The “big idea” of those articles was that you place the cards in defenders’ hands in the most favorable manner that would give you the best change — i.e., you put on your optimist’s hat.

This article presents the opposite.  How should you plan a hand that appears to be rock-solid?

Here is a hand which illustrates the point.  How would you play the following 3NT contract after the auction shown.



West leads the ♦10.  You play the ♦Q which wins.  How many sure tricks do you have once the ♣A is driven out?

I count 8:   2 clubs; 2 diamonds; one heart and 3 spades.   You need one more.

Knowing that you have to drive out the ♣A eventually, you lead a low club from dummy to the ♣Q, which holds.

You are playing matchpoints, and so you should be prepared to take reasonable risks to maximize overtricks.

How would you play the hand going forward to maximize your chance of overtricks that does not unduly risk the contract?   Click on the MORE button below for the answer. Continue reading “Being a Pessimist: The Avoidance Play”