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”


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”

The Italian Intrafinesse

Ciao a tutti da Italia!

I am here in Italy, on the island of Sardegna (Sardinia, in English), in Cagliari, a   beautiful city found on this island not well-known to most Americans.   Bridge is very popular in Italy; Cagliari, a city the size of Charlotte, has 3 active bridge clubs.  Of course, I wanted to try the game while I was here.

I did not know anyone, so I got in touch with the President of one of the clubs, a Mr. Giancarlo Garbati, about finding me a partner.  Mr. Garbati did me the honor of agreeing to play with me the first evening I could play.  Mr. Garbati emailed me a convention card and so I boned up on multi 2♦ openings and overcalls and other conventions while not widely played in the United States, are popular in Europe.  Of course, I wanted to acquit myself  well by playing competently with Mr. Garbati my first session there to enhance my ability to find a partner on some later day.

I happened to have plenty of opportunity that day, as there were many challenging hands in respect to bidding, play and defense.  The following was my second hand out of the box (East-West vulnerable):


As South, I opened 1♠, West overcalled 2♥, my partner bid 2♠, and East competed to 3♥.  My best bid now?

With my American partners, I would not have bid 3♠ with my very nice hand.  3♠ by me would have shown no game interest.  Instead, I would have made a so-called “maximal” double of 3♥.  This is played by many experienced players as a general game try.  I did not do that here as I had no idea how Mr. Garbati would take the bid. So, I just gambled and bid of 4♠.

When this bid was passed out, West led the ♥A and the following dummy came down:


It is easy to that I have a sure loser in hearts, one in clubs and possibly two diamond losers — one too many.

After winning the 1st trick, West shifted to ♣9 (clearly a doubleton at most), won by East with the ♣A.  East continued a low club, I played my ♣K and West thankfully followed.  I cashed the ♠A, everyone following.  These are the cards remaining after 4 rounds:


Looking at the diamonds it appears that the only way to avoid a 2nd diamond loser is to go to the dummy and lead low to the ♦Q, hoping that the King is on my right.   If this is indeed the lies of the cards, no matter whether East plays the King immediately, or ducks and allows my Queen to win, the defenders can win no more than 1 trick in the suit.

But where is the diamond King?  And if it is West’s hand, is there any way that I can play the suit to avoid two diamond losers?  How would you play the hand?  Click the link below to see the solution. Continue reading “The Italian Intrafinesse”

Count, Count, Count!

The key to being a successful bridge player is to be able to count the entire hand (high cards; distribution; and tricks), making appropriate inferences from the bidding and the play.  Try your hand at counting on this board that was played at a recent club game.  You are South trying to make 3 spades after the auction and bidding shown:


By way of explanation, West’s jump to 3♣ was alerted as a weak, preemptive bid.  Your partner’s cue-bid of 3♦ showed a limit raise or better in spades.  West leads the diamond ♦3.  Your play.

Your first decision is what to play from the dummy.  Counting losers, you see that you potentially could lose a spade trick, 2 heart tricks 2 diamonds tricks and a club trick — two tricks too many.  You would like to eventually promote a winning diamond in the dummy for a heart discard.  The best way to do this is to play low on the 1st trick, hoping that your right-hand opponent (East) is missing the ♦J.  If East is missing the ♦J, he will unlikely play the ♦9 from ♦AK9(xx) for fear that you, the declarer, have the ♦J and will win an easy trick with it.  This play costs nothing if East has the Jack, and is the only realistic hope of eventually promoting a diamond winner assuming proper defensive play.

So you call low from the dummy.  Sure enough, East rises with the ♦K and switches to the ♣9.  Now what?

There is no reason to play the ♣Q (the King is obviously on your left) so you play low.  West plays the encouraging ♣8.

Since you are doomed to lose a club trick anyway, you decide to duck this trick to impair defender’s communications.  The ♣9 wins.  On the next lead of the ♣2, you are forced to take the trick on the Board with the ♣A.  Here are the cards played so far:


What next?

At this point this hand is an open book — you can figure out the defenders’ exact distribution and the placement of nearly all the high cards.  Try doing this now.  If counting is a skill you are still developing, sketch your thoughts first on a piece of paper, revising and adjusting them as you think the hand through..  When you have finished figuring out the distribution and high card placement, go ahead and plan the rest of the play.  Click the More button after you have counted the hand and think you know what to do. Continue reading “Count, Count, Count!”

“Gotta Start Bidding Those Grands, Pard!”

I could have titled this article “The Art of Playing a Hopeless Contract — Part 3” but I decided on the above more optimistic title.

Playing the 2nd qualifying session of the Silidor Pairs in the Spring Nationals in Philadelphia, I picked up the following hand.


My right-hand opponent opened the bidding with a pass.  Opponents are vulnerable; we are not.   What do I do with this hand?

While this hand is well short of high card points typically deemed necessary for an opening bid, it does have several attractive features — a heart suit with great intermediates; a void; and 3 possible suits to choose from.  Particularly given the favorable vulnerability, I did not hesitate to open this 1♥.

The next player passed.  My partner, Zach Brescoll, bid a semi-forcing 1NT which shows 6 to 12 high card points, and typically denies 3-card heart support.  My right-hand opponent then came in with a bid of (you guessed it) 2♠.   What would you bid if you were me now?

First-time low level doubles should almost always be deemed take-out doubles and so if I am going to bid anything, a take-out double is my best choice.  Normally, such a double should show at least a sound opening bid.  Does this hand qualify?  Probably not but given the void in the opponent’s suit, the certainty of having a fit in the minors (partner’s 1NT bid denied having 3 hearts or 4 spades, so we must have a minor suit fit), I am going to venture a bid and hope things work out okay.  So I made a take-out double.

My left-hand opponent raised to 3♠.  I will now show you Zach’s hand:


Zach then bid once more.  Can you guess Zach’s next bid?  Here are your choices:

A.  4♣               B.    4♦       C.   4NT
E.  5♣               F.    5♦        G.  5NT

If you guessed 5NT, you picked the winner!  Sudden jumps to 5NT like this are now typically played among experienced players as a so-called “pick-a-slam” bid.   It asks your partner to choose a preferred slam on the 6-level.  Whether Zach had the values to justify such an action I will leave it to you to decide — obviously, everyone at the table was shocked that a player who did not think his hand good enough for a forcing bid of some sort suddenly decided to commit the partnership to a small slam.

Having better clubs than diamonds, I bid 6♣.  I breathed a sign of relief when Zach passed.  Here are our hands and the bidding:


West, not surprisingly, led the ♠Q.  Is there play for the contract?  And if so, what is the best way to play the hand?   Click “more” to see the answer. Continue reading ““Gotta Start Bidding Those Grands, Pard!””

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”