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:

180630_Suit_Pref_West_Only

The bidding proceeded as follows:

180630_Suit_Pref_Bidding

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

180630_Suit_Pref_Dummy

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:

180630_Suit_Pref_Aft_4

Click the link below to see the answer.

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

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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?

180517_7_Opening_Leader_Only

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:

180517_8_3rd_Hand_Only

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.

Signal_Interpret_West_North

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):

Signal_Interpret_Trick_7

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:

3rd_5th_Bidding

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

3rd_5th_NE

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.

 

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.

QJxx_on_Defense

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”

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:

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 2.36.49 PM

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 2.36.59 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 2.37.27 PM

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”