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:

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.23.06 AM 1

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.23.33 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 6.23.14 AM

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”