Bridge Problems

The Art of Playing a Hopeless Contract: A Deception

Here is a hand played at a recent Thursday night club game.  You are dealt this pretty hand.


What is our opening bid?

While it is now permitted to open 1NT or 2NT with a singleton honor, it is not clear that a Jack should qualify.  So you decide to open 1♦ intending to make a strong jump shift in clubs on your rebid.  You are unlikely to make game if your partner can’t scrape up a bid of some sort, and so you are not too worried about getting a bad board if the hand is  passed out.

Following your 1♦ opening, your LHO preempts 3♣.  Partner and RHO pass.  Your bid?

Well, clubs are well stopped and you do have 21 high card points.   Partner could easily have enough high cards for 3NT or 5♦ to be a laydown and not have a bid over 3♣.  The chance that partner has at least a little something in hearts is very good, and so you take a gamble and bid 3NT, ending the auction.

As expected, West leads the ♣K and partner tables the dummy.  It is not the dummy of your dreams:


Your partner in fact has a little something in hearts, but not enough of something it seems.  It looks pretty hopeless even with the gorgeous diamond Jack.  It appears that you have 8 top tricks (5 diamonds, 2 spades and a club) and no real prospects for a 9th trick.  There is a serious risk that defenders can cash 3 heart tricks if they get in.   Is there a way to play the board to take 9 tricks?

Continue reading “The Art of Playing a Hopeless Contract: A Deception”


The “Double” Garbage Stayman Convention Wins the Board

Recently at the Charlotte Bridge club, Julie had the pleasure of playing against her co-proprietor, Tom, and boyfriend, Zach Brescoll. It was an eventful 3-board round complete with a 22-count on one board, and a 4♠ contract warranting an entire car ride’s worth of discussion on the way home. But perhaps the most interesting board was a measly part-score with  Julie holding the following hand:


Tom, sitting South, opened a strong 1NT. Julie, sitting West, quietly passed, willing to defend with such a good hand sitting over the 1NT opener.   Zach, as North, made  what you will later see was a clever bid Stayman bid of 2♣.  Following East’s pass, Tom bid 2♠.   The bidding came back to Julie at 2♠ and while she is tempted to bid, she eyed the vulnerability warily, and passed. She was nearly certain this contract was going down given her great hand and that trumps were not splitting for declarer.   Everyone else passed and so 2♠ became the contract.

Zach’s bid of 2♣ followed by the pass of Tom’s 2♠ bid was the so-called “garbage Stayman convention, showing a weak hand with both majors.   It is a risky bid because Tom may not have had a 4 card major, but this time he did.

It was now Julie’s lead.  Before reading on, try to re-create in your own mind Julie’s thinking:  What was her defensive plan and what did she lead?

Continue reading “The “Double” Garbage Stayman Convention Wins the Board”

The Screaming Suit Preference Signal

Here is an interesting defensive problem from a recent game at the club.  You are North defending against a contract of 5♥ after your partner overcalled 2♦ over a 1♥ opening. The full bidding, your hand and dummy, is shown below:


Your RHO’s cuebid of diamonds showed support for opener’s hearts.  Holding 4 good diamonds, an outside ace, and a singleton heart, you raised partner’s suit.  You and your partner are vulnerable — the opponents are not.

Your partner leads the club Ace following East’s 5 heart sign-off.

What do you think partner has?  What do you think declarer has and what do you play on partner’s lead?  Form your defensive plan.  Think before continuing.

Continue reading “The Screaming Suit Preference Signal”

The Rule of 11

The Rule of 11 is an invaluable tool for placing cards in the opponents’ hands after a 4th best lead vs. a no-trump contract.  It is a “must-learn” for any aspiring player.  The Rule of 11 works like this:
1.  Note the rank of the card that was led.
2.  If the lead appears to be the typical “4th best” lead against no-trump, subtract the rank from 11.
3.  The resulting number is how many higher cards there are in that suit besides the ones in opening leader’s hand.
4.  Count how many higher ranking cards you can see in that suit in both your hand and in dummy.
5.  The remaining number of cards is in the 4th (typically declarer’s) hand.

This rule is useful as both declarer and on defense. For instance, suppose you are declaring 3NT and left-hand-opponent (LHO) leads the ♦4. Subtract the 4 from 11 and get 7 – there are 7 cards higher than the 4 in the hands of dummy, you and your right-hand opponent (RHO). Check your hand and dummy – if you can see 7 cards in diamonds higher than the 4, then RHO has no diamond higher than the 4.  You can cover with the 5 in dummy and expect to take the trick!

We will discuss declarer play more in the near future. Today, we will practice the Rule of 11 in context of defense: this is knowing what card to play as 3rd hand when partner makes an opening lead of 4th best against a NT contract. Look at the following hands: You are sitting south. West opens 1NT (15-17) and East bids Stayman or jumps to 3NT. You can generally assume partner will lead 4th best on an auction like this, when not many suits have been bid. Look at partner’s lead, use the Rule of 11, and figure out how many cards higher than partner are in declarer’s hand. Then figure out which card to play as a result.

Rule_of_11_01 Problem #1:  Partner leads the diamond 5

— How many ♦ cards higher than the 5 are there outside of partner’s hand?
— How many of those can we see in our hand and dummy?
— How many ♦ cards higher than the 5 are with declarer?
— Which ♦ card should we play if declarer plays the 2 or 8 from dummy?

Continue reading “The Rule of 11”

The Art of Playing a Hopeless Contract

Here is a hand from the Charlotte Regional that illustrates some points about playing what appears to be a hopeless contract.   You are South, holding the hand shown below.

South to play after the lead of the spade 8

You regret your overcall of 2♥ over 1♠.  When you made your overcall, you knew that it was very risky making a  vulnerable overcall with a 5 card suit on the two level opposite a passing partner, but you do have a pretty good suit and a full opener.   Too bad.  Had you simply passed, East would have struggled to make 1 spade.    And your partner might have trusted you to have a good hand for such a risky overcall and bid 2NT with his bad 10 count, but it appears your partner wanted you to be the one to suffer playing a terrible, possibly hopeless, contract.

That is all water under the bridge.  West, of course, leads the ♠8.  It appears that you have at least 7 losers (1 spade, 2 [or even 3] hearts, and possibly 4 clubs) for down 2 or 3 and a terrible board for sure.  How would you play this miserable hand?  Think before proceeding.

Continue reading “The Art of Playing a Hopeless Contract”

Opening leads: What to lead holding AKxx(x) against a Game-Level No-Trump Contract

This article will discuss what is the best lead against a game-level no-trump contract holding AKxx or AKxxx.   As an introduction to this topic, consider hand 2 from the Wednesday evening pairs games from this past Charlotte Regional.

You are West holding the following hand:


The bidding goes …


What is your lead?

Continue reading “Opening leads: What to lead holding AKxx(x) against a Game-Level No-Trump Contract”

An Aspiring Player Learns a Tough Lesson

Tom filled in at a recent Thursday night game to play with a new player who needed a partner, and found himself playing against a pair of aspiring players, both with a bright future in the game.  On the first board of the round, one of his opponents, who we shall refer to as “AP” (not her real initials), learned a tough lesson.  The contract she played as East was 4♠ and these were the hands after the opening lead (the bidding is also shown):


Tom was North and had made the sketchy opening bid of 1♣.  After Tom’s partner’s lead of the ♣10, Tom played his ♣A and returned the ♣9.  His play of the 9 (intended as suit preference for hearts if his partner was ruffing) was not wise — it let declarer know that his partner had led from a club doubleton in a situation where his partner can never get a second club ruff due to the strong trumps in the dummy.  (Had his partner had the ♣9, her natural lead would be the ♣10 from 10-9-(x-x), so no strong distributional clue would been available from the lead unless Tom gives the situation away by returning the 9.)  AP played the King.  Then she played the ♥Q, which Tom took.  Tom’s diamond shift resulted in a losing finesse to his partner’s queen.  Tom’s partner returned a diamond.  After cashing one rounds of trump, the heart king and a heart ruff back to hand, AP (East) found herself on lead in the following position.


She then cashed her trump queen and discovered the bad trump break.  From here AP lost her way and ended up down 1.

How would you have played the hand after discovering this rude trump break?  Think before continuing. Continue reading “An Aspiring Player Learns a Tough Lesson”