Bridge Problems

A Nifty Defensive Convention

Here is a nifty defensive convention that I recently taught in my defense class that, as irony would have it, popped up in a recent over-under game at the club.

I am sitting East (well, actually I was sitting in the “Over” position in the North hand, but I rotated the hands for ease of viewing).  We are vulnerable; opponents are not.   The opponents reach 2♥ after the following unrevealing auction.


Partner led the ♦A and the weak dummy to my right came down.  After dummy follows, what should I play? Continue reading “A Nifty Defensive Convention”


A Note on Strong 2♣ Openings

A strong 2♣ opening is something I have a lot of opinions about — some popular, others less so. A mentor I greatly respect taught me to generally not open a strong 2♣ with an unbalanced two-suited hand, or “freak” hand, unless it is absolutely necessary.  Many people play that opening 2♣ and rebidding anything other than 2NT is GAME-FORCING — often times, 22-counts (as fun as they are) are not really strong enough to make game with no help from partner. Thus, try to restrict the 2♣ opening to balanced, or semi-balanced hands, unless you have fancy tools and tricks to describe unbalanced hands thereafter.

The other logic behind this is that we have preempted ourselves by opening at the 2-level, and have not described one lick of our hand with our first bid. Well, this is fine and dandy if our next bid is a clear, concise 2NT, showing 22-24 balanced. However, consider the following hand. What would you open?

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To see what Julie recommends (and Tom agrees) for a “plan of action” with this hand, and the logic behind it, click on continue reading tag below. Continue reading “A Note on Strong 2♣ Openings”

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Ball

I always warn my daughters that, when skiing, to be particularly careful the last run of the day, as that is when they are the most tired and most likely to not pay attention, fall, and injure themselves.  The same advice could be given at the bridge table in reference to the last board of a long round.

Playing with Julie Arbit, Zach Brescoll and my daughter Allison at the Orlando regional in a Bracket 1 Knockout, I  was dealt this pretty hand for the last hand of the 1st session.


We are down 22 imps at the half, perhaps in part due to my lack of sleep the night before, but had done well so far in the 2nd half.  If we did well in this last board, I felt we had a chance to save the match.

Julie, to my delight, opened 1♣, my right hand opponent (RHO) made a weak jump bid of 2♦; I made a negative double, my left hand opponent (LHO) jump to 5♦ and Julie doubled.

Being sleep-deprived, I did not see Julie’s double card.  When the bidding came back around to me, I bid 5NT (demanding that my partner pick a slam).  Julie bid 6♥ and I corrected to 6NT, ending the auction.


My LHO led the ♥9 and this is what I saw:


I perked up.  Not bad!  If I can make this hand, we might win the match.  Time to plan.  Let’s see, we have only 9 tricks of the top  (3 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, and 2 clubs), assuming that the marked diamond finesse is right.  I’ll have to bring the entire club suit home and either 3 hearts or 4 spades to make 12 tricks.  So the 1st order of business is to find the club Queen.

I covered the 9 with the 10, East covering with the J and I took the Ace.

I asked East what West leads from an empty tripleton and he said top of nothing.  So I counted West for no more than 3 hearts, which means that East has at least 3 hearts also.  East, having at least 9 cards in the red suits (6 diamonds for the 2♦ preempt) and only 4 in the blacks, is heavy favorite NOT to hold the ♣Q.  So I led the J.  West thought quite a while and covered with the Q, covered with the A, East discarding a small club.

Next, I took the marked diamond finesse which won.  Now, how to play the clubs?  I had two options — play for the 3-3 split, or finesse the 8, hoping West had the 9.  I decided the 2nd was best given West’s long hesitation and East’s known length in diamonds.  And so I finessed the 8, East showing out.  Phew!

From here I played too fast, and ended up down 1.  Can you do better?  Here is the play so far:


Continue reading “Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Ball”

Matchpoint Teamwork

If you have ever played a bridge team game, you will know that playing matchpoints and playing IMPS are two entirely different beasts. Many players consider it a different game entirely. There are endless arguments about whether MP or IMP scoring is a more “pure” form of bridge, and further, which is more fun! Personally, I prefer IMPs, but I imagine the bridge world is split about 50-50. Regardless of all that, we are relegated to matchpoint bridge at the club, and so this lesson is about Taking Our Tricks on defense.

Consider the following hand, and accompanying auction:

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Here we are on lead after a simple auction by East/West. Generally, leading from small doubletons at matchpoints is not winning bridge, so a lead is out. Beyond that, we don’t want to solve the trump suit for declarer by leading a .  Particularly with a touching KQ and the ♣10 to boot, we have a pretty clear ♣ lead, and we can be confident that most other Souths will lead the same thing, which is good.

Once we lead the ♣K, the following dummy appears on our left:

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Sometimes, declarers don’t want to take their Aces right away, for one reason or another. So, the ♣K hold Trick 1, partner following with the 2 (playing standard carding), and you are again on lead at  trick 2…..What is your next lead? (Click on “read more” to continue)

Continue reading “Matchpoint Teamwork”

Third Hand High — Or Not

“Third hand, high as you can …” is a defensive adage learned by all beginning players.   While generally true, these words of wisdom should never substitute for careful thought.  There are many situations where third hand should not play high.   Before making a decision whether to “go big”, the defender needs to ask herself  questions such as:  “will playing high be useful in promoting tricks for the defense?”  “If I have the choice of winning the trick or ducking, is it better to win or to duck?”

See how you do on this quiz about third hand play.

1 Hand1_NE Following the auction shown on the left your partner leads the diamond 4.  After declarer covers in dummy with the 7, which diamond do you play from your hand? (Your partner never leads away from an Ace against a suit contract)

2 Hand2_NE Against this 3NT contract, partner leads the spade 5.   Dummy, holding ♠Q4 originally, plays the 4.  Your turn.

3 Hand3_NE Another 3NT contract.  Partner leads the spade 6. Dummy plays the 3. Which card do you play?

4 Hand4_NE Another 3NT contract.

What do you play when partner leads the ♠5 and a competent declarer plays low from dummy?

This hand looks like hand 2.  Is it?

5 Hand5_NE You play that an opening lead of partner’s lowest card in the suit promises either 3 or 5 of the suit  (so-called 3rd and 5th leads).  Declarer plays the ♦10 on the lead of the ♦4.  Your play.

The answers follow.

Continue reading “Third Hand High — Or Not”

The Key to a Successful Defense: the Defensive Plan

All bridge players know that defense is the most difficult part of the game.  Defenders are advised to make, as early as possible, a “defensive plan” as to how they intend to set the contract or limit declarer to the minimum number of tricks.  This is by no means easy.  To form a defensive plan, the defender must first try to count declarer’s (and partner’s) points, distribution and tricks before forming a plan.  The opening leader must do so with very little information — the bidding and his own hand.  When dummy comes down and the play proceeds, the plan may be followed, modified or abandoned, but there should always be a plan.

See how well you can defend against the following 3NT contract that was reached at a recent common game.  Playing 2/1 with vulnerability unfavorable, your partner,  sitting East, opens up a natural 1♦ bid.  RHO passes.  You have the following paltry collection:


Your bid?

Yes, you partner could have a 3-card diamond suit and 4 cards in spades, but if you bid 1♠ here, partner must bid again absent a bid by your LHO, and you are likely to get too high.   It is rare for distributional hands to be passed out a low level, so you pass, hoping LHO will bid and so you can maybe bid a spade later.

LHO bids a heart, partner passes, and RHO quickly jumps to 3NT, followed by 4 passes.

Form your plan.  First count declarer’s dummy’s and partner’s high card points, placing as many of the high card cards as you can.  Then, count as much of the other players’ distribution as possible.  Try — even on the opening lead — to get a rough count of the tricks declarer can take.  Proceed to make your plan, and, then, and only then, decide on your opening lead.  Think carefully before proceeding.  Here is a review of the bidding:


Continue reading “The Key to a Successful Defense: the Defensive Plan”

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”