Combining Your Chances

The relationship between brothers is complicated.   My parents promised me that I would be as tall as my 6′ 2″ brother, Sam.   I topped out at a runty 5′ 9″ (in the morning) and have been looking for payback ever since.  I thought I had an opportunity for some payback when Sam joined us for our Thursday lesson series on various bidding conventions.  While we typically only bid the hands, Sam, sitting South, wanted to try playing the following diamond slam:


A note on the bidding:  The topic of that day’s lesson was Lebensohl over reverses.  North’s bid of 2NT over 2♥ showed in this case a weak hand, and demanded that South relay to 3♣, at which point North would typically sign off in South’s minor.  But South “breaks” the relay with his 3 bid showing 6-4 in diamonds and hearts and a maximum reverse.  This sets up a game force. North has perfect cards for slam try. Since the relay break sets up a game force, now North raises to 4 bid as a  slam try. South is more than happy to oblige and, after checking for aces, goes to 6, trusting his partner to have values to justify a slam try after trying to sign off using a lebensohl 2 NT. 

How would you play the hand after the lead of the ♠8, East playing the ♠K (promising the ♠KQ) under the ♠A?  Diamonds are not 4-0.  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “Combining Your Chances”


Check and Double Check

I had the pleasure of playing with Jean Davis in the under-10,000 mixed Swiss team event in this year’s Summer nationals in Atlanta.  I was delighted when she accepted my offer to play in the event, and flattered when she agreed to try upside-down count/attitude signaling, my preferred defensive carding method.  (More on this in a future column).

It was  the very last hand of the last round in the evening session.  I, South,  was dealt the following so-so collection of cards:


The dealer, East on my left, passed; playing 2/1, Jean opened a club; my RHO (West) made a weak jump overcall of 2.  We eventually ended up in the ambitious contract of 4 as per the bidding shown with the dummy below.


A note on the bidding:  Even playing 2/1, a 2 over 1 bid necessitated by East’s interfering 2 IS NOT game forcing.   It should, however, still show a decent 10-count, as it forces partner to bid for at least 1 more round.  Swayed by the favorable placement of the K behind the presumed A, I decided to count my hand as a decent 10-pointer.    Similarly, since my 2 bid was not game forcing due to the overcall, Jean’s 3 was NOT forcing, or even very encouraging.  With heart support and a 14-count or a good 13-count, Jean would have bid 4 (since I would pass 3 with a minimum 2 bid) but with any lesser hand she would have made the minimum 3 bid.  My 4 bid was an overbid premised on the belief that partner’s spade honor(s) would be favorably placed behind West’s spade honors revealed by West’s 2♠ bid.

The dummy was about what I expected.  The Q was a big disappointment, however.  Had this been the ♣Q, my chances would be much better. 

On the first trick, I played low from the dummy and then unblocked my K under RHO’s A to create an entry to the dummy.  East returned a diamond; I took the Q in dummy and led a heart.  Low from East, K from me and A from West.  Back came a trump with the J falling from East.  Good:  a 2-2 heart break.  In my hand, I decided to lead towards the ♠K, trusting the ♠A to be on my left due to the 2♠ bid.  As predicted, West rose with the ♠A.  Then then made the curious lead of the ♣9.  

This looked foreboding as it appeared to be top of a doubleton, which means the protected ♣Q is on my right.  Down 1.  With nothing better to do, I delayed matters by winning with the ♣A, cashing my ♠K  and then leading a spade for a ruff back to my hand, my right hand opponent following to both spades.  

Decision time in the club suit.  I play my ♣J.  West plays the ♣2.  I have lost 3 tricks already and can’t lose a 4th.  Do I play West for 3 clubs to the ♣Q92 and assume West led the ♣9 trying to talk me out of the finesse?  Or do I rise with the ♣K, playing my RHO for a ♣Q doubleton?  What would you do if you were me?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “Check and Double Check”

When No Hope Exists

Playing with Zachery Brescoll at a recent club game, I picked up the following hand (which I have modified slightly for pedagogical effect):


After my RHO passed, I had to decide what to open.  Zach and I play a strong club system, so I can’t open this 1♣.  Instead, I opened the hand 1, which shows a wide variety of opening hands without a 5 card major.

After my LHO passed, Zach responded 1♠, my RHO overcalled 2, and it was up to me.

Playing precision club, I can jump to 3♠ with this hand, which does not show 16-17 points, but rather shows a sound opening bid with shortness somewhere.  The bid has a slightly pre-emptive quality, as I expect that if partner has a very weak hand, the opponents can make something.

Over my 3♠  jump, my RHO passed and Zach bid 4♠ (Holding the hand shown below, don’t try this at home!)  With Zach playing the hand, his LHO (my RHO) led the ♣10.  Here were Zach and my hands:


Zach made 4♠.  How did he make this apparently hopeless contract?  (The protected ♣Q was on his right, behind the ♣AK).   Click the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “When No Hope Exists”

Being a Pessimist: The Avoidance Play

Enough bidding problems for the time being.  Let’s discuss a play problem.  We have had several articles in which our readers have been presented with a shaky, even hopeless, contract, and the issue was how to play the hand to maximize your chances.  The “big idea” of those articles was that you place the cards in defenders’ hands in the most favorable manner that would give you the best change — i.e., you put on your optimist’s hat.

This article presents the opposite.  How should you plan a hand that appears to be rock-solid?

Here is a hand which illustrates the point.  How would you play the following 3NT contract after the auction shown.



West leads the ♦10.  You play the ♦Q which wins.  How many sure tricks do you have once the ♣A is driven out?

I count 8:   2 clubs; 2 diamonds; one heart and 3 spades.   You need one more.

Knowing that you have to drive out the ♣A eventually, you lead a low club from dummy to the ♣Q, which holds.

You are playing matchpoints, and so you should be prepared to take reasonable risks to maximize overtricks.

How would you play the hand going forward to maximize your chance of overtricks that does not unduly risk the contract?   Click on the MORE button below for the answer. Continue reading “Being a Pessimist: The Avoidance Play”

Discovery Plays: Finding the Honor

Last week we discussed the importance of improving your inference-making skills at the bridge table on defense.  We invite you to challenge your inference-making skills again this week, but this time as the declarer.

Here are two hands from a recent Saturday game at the club.  For each hand, you are West.  How would you play the following 4 contract after the bidding and opening lead shown?  On North’s lead of the ♣K, South plays the ♣5, discouraging.



Unless you are extremely lucky in spades, you must find the Q to make the hand.  How do you proceed?

For the 2nd hand, you are playing 3♠ after the following auction and opening lead.  Opponents open a convenient minor, with a club opening promising at least 3 clubs.


North leads the ♣2.  South wins with the ♣A and returns a low club.  You take your ♣K, North following low.  You play the  ♠K,  North the ♠2 while South takes the ♠A.  South returns the 8.  You try the Q, but it loses to the King.  North then plays the ♥J.    These are the cards remaining when you take the K in hand:


What do you do next?  You have lost 3 tricks already and must also lose a club.   You must pick up the ♠J to make the hand.

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

Continue reading “Discovery Plays: Finding the Honor”

The Operation was a Success, but the Patient Died

A few weeks ago I was on my way out of the bridge club around 12:30pm after a morning commitment there. A couple of afternoon players were caught in some wicked traffic, so I stuck around to fill in for a board or two until they arrived.

I end up with Tom Snyder (also filling in) and Janet Case as my opponents for the first board of the session. Having no agreements whatsoever with my partner, I was hoping for a ho-hum hand, without much headache. Of course, the bridge Gods were not amenable, and I sort my cards into the following hand:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.54.27 PM

To my surprise, my partner (North) opens 1♣ in first chair! Tom Synder on my right overcalls 1. I decide to start with 1♠, unsure what I’d do later. Janet Case raises to 2 on my left, and partner surprises me again with a 2♠ bid! Tom Terrific competes to 3 on my right, and I decided that my hand is worth bidding 3♠, but no more. I buy the contract there. To recap:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.58.45 PM

Janet leads the 4 on my left and I am left with this pair of hands:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.40 PM.png

I sit for a minute, trying to wade through the mud and figure out the right line of play. I ultimately decide to ruff dummy’s diamonds in my hand. The alternative would be to pull trumps and try to set up my clubs, but it’s unlikely I’ll have an entry to the club suit after all of that is said and done. So, I ruff the first diamond in hand, play a heart to dummy, and ruff another diamond. I play another heart to dummy, and ruff that last pesky diamond.

I reach the following position:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.12.48 PM

Now seems like a good time to pull trumps, with dummy looking better and better. So, I play the ♠Q out of my hand, West plays small, I play small from dummy, and East wins the ♠A. He now plays the ♣J, I cover, and West wins the ♣A. She now plays the J, which I attempt to win with the Q in dummy, but to my dismay, East ruffs it! He now plays a club, and I win that in my hand. Here is the position:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.16.49 PM

I have lost 3 tricks (♣A, ♠A, and small spade used to ruff) and the opponents are still getting a heart. The opponents have 2 more trumps. I cannot afford to lose any spade tricks, but I am unfortunately stuck in my hand, and have to get to dummy. I play a small ♣ and West plays the ♣T – Which spade do you play?

Continue reading “The Operation was a Success, but the Patient Died”

An Italian Elopement

In Italy, they call it “fuga d’amore” (flight of love); in the United States, an “elopement”, but in any event, I extended the offer to each of my three daughters ($5,000 and a ladder to be precise), but none of them would take me up on it.   In bridge, it means something else.

I am in the Ichnos bridge club in Cagliari, Italy playing with the club president, Giancarlo Garbati, desperately trying to make a good impression so one of these Italian bridge sharks might want to play with me in the future.   I am dealt the following hand, neither side vulnerable:


My Right Hand Opponent (“RHO”) opens 1♣.  In the States, I might overcall 1♠ with my opening hand and a good 4-card major non-vulnerable.  But I do not want to press my luck in a foreign country and so I pass.   My LHO bids a heart, partner passes, and my RHO bids 1♠; I pass, RHO bids a no-trump, then two passes to me.

I ask my RHO in my broken italian the minimum number of clubs that the opening club bidder might have and am told 2.    The devil makes me do it — I bid 2♣, a horrible bid on any continent.  This is passed out without a double.  My LHO leads the ♠9 and the following dummy comes down:


Playing the first part of this hand is pretty much forced so I don’t have to think too far ahead.  The lead of the ♠9 is an obvious doubleton:  My RHO’s 2nd bid was 1♠ — he must have exactly 4 spades since with 5 he would have opened a spade and with 3 he would have never have bid spades at all.  So my LHO has done me the kind favor of establishing 3 spade tricks in my hand once East takes his Ace, which he does.  However, I’m going to have to draw West’s trumps before enjoying those spades or else spades will be ruffed.  So I must draw some trumps first.

West takes the ♠A, me unblocking the Queen, and returns a spade.  I win on the board with the ♠J and take the club finesse, winning.  I cash the ♣A and then the play the ♣5, hoping West started with ♣10xx and would have to take the trick.  That works out.  West wins ♣10, cashes the ♦A, East following small, and plays the ♥8.  Here are the cards remaining:


Now I am at a crossroads.  How do you have proceed if you were playing this hand?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Continue reading “An Italian Elopement”