Count it Out

Last Sunday, Tom and I hosted a defense seminar focusing on upside-down attitude. We had a wonderful, engaged group, and we covered a broad range of material about opening leads, signaling, and forming a defensive plan. I found one board that Tom created for our practice session particularly interesting. The following hand (North) ends up on lead against the auction listed below:

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Perhaps you made a light takeout double of 1, but the final contract remains – West made a help-suit-game-try (HSGT) to invite East to game, but East rejected the invitation. We lead the ♠A, showing AK, and the dummy comes down in the East:

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Clearly, East was having none of the game try, and settled in 3. We lead the ♠A and partner signals encouragement per our defensive methods. We successfully cash the ♠K, declarer following. Obeying partner’s encouraging signal, we lead a 3rd spade and  partner ruffs. Here comes the first teachable moment – when we give partner a ruff, we should give him SUIT PREFERENCE to indicate which suit he should play upon getting on lead with his ruff. Here, we have club suit preference, so we use the lowest spade (♠5) to give the ruff. Partner was paying attention, so he ruffs the spade, and plays the ♣J. Declarer plays the Q, and we win the ♣A.

What is your next play?

Continue reading “Count it Out”


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”

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”

Where’s the Ace?

No great heroics or clever tricks on these hands — just the everyday but all-important business of making inferences on defense.  And we also offer some general words of advice to all of our aspiring players.

Here are two hands that came up this past Thursday evening game.  See if you can draw the correct inferences from the bidding, the cards shown, and the cards led to come up with the proper defensive play at a critical juncture in each hand.  Assume that your partner is a competent defender.

Hand 1:  You are East.  You are defending a 2♥ contract after the auction shown below.  Partner, playing standard leads, leads the ♦3.    Dummy (North) plays the ♦2.  What do you (East) play, having the hand shown on the right?


Hand 2:  You are West.  You are defending South’s 3♥ contract having the hand and after the auction shown below.  Not really wishing to lead anything, you finally settle on the ♠Q:


The lead does not work out so well for you:  South takes the ♠K in hand (exposing your remaining spade honor to a finesse) and promptly leads the ♥Q.  Your play.

Click on the link below to see the solution to both problems.

Continue reading “Where’s the Ace?”

Mixed Signals

It is easy enough to give a defensive signal; it can be much harder to interpret one.  Try you hand at defending the following 1NT contract.  The bidding is as shown below and you, West,  lead your ♥5, with the following dummy appearing.


Dummy plays low, partner inserts the ♥10, and declarer wins the ♥J.  Declarer thinks for awhile and then plays the ♦2.  Here, there is no reason to play your king so you play the ♦8 (signalling odd count in your system), partner winning the trick with the ♦J.  Now partner cashes the ♥A, everyone following.  You hope that partner continues a heart, but that is not to be.  Instead, he shifts to the ♣6.  Declarer follows with the ♣8, you cover with the ♣9 dummy wins the trick.  Next comes a low diamond ducked by both partner and declarer to your ♦K.  You cash your ♥K, felling the ♥Q from dummy and ♥6 from declarer, partner discarding the ♠6.  Now what?

You and partner are playing upside down attitude signals and discards, so the discard of his lowest card means he likes the suit, and high spot card means he does not.  Moreover, when breaking a new suit in the middle of the hand, your partnership is playing BOSTON — Bottom Of Something;  Top of Nothing.  So the lead of his lowest card in the suit suggests he wants the suit returned; a high spot card means he does not.  Partner pays very close attention to the signals he gives you, so you can trust his signalling.

What is your next play?  Here are the cards remaining so far.  (Your side has taken 4 tricks; declarer has taken 3):


Click on the link below to see the answer. Continue reading “Mixed Signals”

An Introduction to 3rd & 5th Leads

Players who are relatively new to the game of bridge are typically taught to lead 4th best when leading from a broken honor sequence.  This has the advantage of simplicity as it standardizes the card led against both suit and no-trump contracts.

However, playing against suit contracts, 4th best leads have a serious drawback.  Let say you chose to lead a diamond having the following diamond holdings, perhaps because your partner bid the suit:

a)  ♦ K 10 2                  b)  ♦ K 10 3 2

What do you lead in each case?

In case a) you lead the ♦2 (low from a three-card suit).    In case b) you also lead the ♦2 (4th best).  No big deal, correct?

Actually, it is a very big deal — if partner wins the trick, s/he does not know whether you started with 3 or 4 diamonds, and accordingly may not know what to play next.  Should she continue diamonds when instead a shift would be better (declarer having a singleton, for instance)? or should she play a diamond back before declare can pitch his 2nd losing diamond on a high card in dummy?

To overcome this conundrum, many experienced players play so-called “3rd & 5th” opening leads when defending against suit contracts.  How this opening lead convention works is this:  when leading a low card against a suit contract, you lead your 3rd best or your 5th best.  So when holding K 10 2,  you lead the 2 [3rd best]; with holding ♦ K 10 3 2, you again lead 3rd best — the ♦3, not the ♦2.  (If you had 5 diamonds, you would lead 5th best, which would be your lowest diamond).

This style of lead typically permits partner to  tell whether you have 3 (or 5) diamonds, as opposed to 4.  If partner knows you have led your LOWEST diamond, he knows you have an odd number of diamonds, since with 2 diamonds you would have led top of a doubleton (so you have one lower diamond), and with 4 you would have led 3rd best (so again, you have 1 lower diamond).  Had you led the ♦3 from ♦K 10 3 2, and partner took the Ace, she would have noted that the ♦2 was missing after declarer follows with a card other than the ♦2, and would conclude that you probably have the ♦2, and hence you led 3rd best from a 4-card suit.  Thus, she will deduce you started with 4 diamonds and can make an appropriate defensive decision based upon this potentially important information.

Let’s see how this works in practice.  Here is a hand based upon a recent club game.  The bidding is straightforward:


Playing 3rd best and 5th best leads, West, your partner, leads the ♦4.  Dummy comes down and this is what you see as East:


Following the ♦4 lead, dummy plays low and you take your ♦A.  Declarer follows with the ♦J.   What do you play next?  Click the link below to see the solution. Continue reading “An Introduction to 3rd & 5th Leads”

3rd & 5th Leads: A Summary

Here is a brief summary of 3rd & 5th opening leads:

  • This lead convention only applies to the opening lead against a suit (not no-trump) contract.  (Against no-trump contracts, it remains best to lead 4th best)
  • If you decide to lead a low card against a suit contract in a suit partner has not bid …
    1. From a 3 card suit, lead your lowest (3rd best);
    2. From a 4 card suit, lead your 2nd lowest (3rd best)
    3. From a 5 card suit, lead your lowest (5th best)
    4. (From a doubleton, lead the top card, as usual)
    5. (From a 6 card suit [very rare], there is a split of opinion — most would advocate leading the 5th best)
  • 3rd hand interprets the lead as follows:
    1. If 3rd hand can tell (upon inspecting the opening lead,  the cards in dummy’s and his own hand and the card played by declarer on the 1st trick) that partner has led his lowest card in the suit, then partner has led from a 1, 3 or 5 card suit.
    2. If, after partner’s opening lead, there is a low card still missing, then 3rd hand deduces that partner may have that card — so partner has led from a 2, 4 (or rarely 6) card suit.
  • It is typically the case,  based upon the bidding and other easily available inferences, that 3rd hand can then figure out the exact number of cards partner  originally held in the suit.
  • Note that this opening lead tells 3rd hand nothing about partner’s honor strength in the suit led:  it only gives his/her count in the suit — either even or odd.  Holding either K­ 3 2  or  4 3 2 in a suit, partner would lead the 2 in both cases (3rd best).  The exception to this is if partner has supported a suit you have bid:   in that case, you know that partner has at least 3 cards in your suit, so,  with a 3 spot cards in your suit, she can  lead the highest spot card to show she does not have an honor; with 3 card support including an honor, she can lead her lowest card suggesting she had an honor, without misleading you about her count.