Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wall

It's not often that you see a defensive action having so much logical coherence and effectiveness that it smashes declarer's play into bits and pieces.

Two weeks ago in Mamaia such a board came up. Let's study it from the Western defender's perspective.

Matchpoints, N-S vulnerable.


Bidding started with North's 1NT opening and went (EW were silent):

1NT (15-17) - 2 (transfer)
2 - 3NT
4 - all pass

East led the 3 (3rd - 5th best, with 2nd from 3-5 small cards), and dummy was displayed:


Dummy won the T and played a trump. This is where paths diverged.

Some defenders in West's seat inserted a low heart. Declarer played the J and East won the A. A club was continued, again won in dummy, and a heart came from there to West's K, declarer contributing the 9 and East the 6.
Now those defenders hoped that partner had either the A or the Q as a possible entry to deliver a club ruff, so they played a back. Alas, declarer had KQ in spades and nothing to guess, so 650 and 100% NS.

These players were hoping for declarer to hold :

♣ AQxx


♠ QJx
♣ AQxx

Are those layouts plausible? Hardly. The reason being the 3 lead almost 100% promising an honor. Not to mention that "club" that partner played back after winning the trump Ace.

That's the reasoning that another group of players made. They observed that the club East returned upon winning the A was the 2. Therefore partner had Q fourth in clubs. Also maybe partner would not play the 3 from any remaining 3 card holding, since he also should play carefully to signal a possible entry for delivering a club ruff (ergo a small club strongly suggest NO top spade honor).

All things considered, declarer is likely to hold:

♠ KQx
♣ Axxx

, when the only remaining trick is the Ace of spades. So they cashed it for 620 NS, 50%.

Then there was The Wall. The player that, when dummy played a small trump at trick 2, rose with the King!

Upon winning the trick, this player continued with his remaining club; the next trump was won by East with the A and a club ruff + the A ensured one off. -100, 100% for East-West.

The full board:

Session 1, Board 2
Dealer: E
N-S Vul
              ♠ KQ8
              ♣ A875
    ♠ A5432
    ♥ KT7
    ♦ 432
    ♣ 96
♥ A6
              ♠ 6
              ♥ 85432
              ♦ AQJ5
              ♣ KJT

Declarer could not have broken the link between the defenders by playing a spade himself before any trump play was made. West puts up the A and returns his club. Declarer comes to hand via the K and discards a club on the K. However dummy will be overruffed on the next club play from East.

What was West's logic?

Declarer most likely does not have 4 trumps since he bid a simple 2 hearts.

Declarer has at least a spade honor (no spade lead from partner), and the simplest way to get a fourth trick would be through a club ruff. But partner can only get the lead in spades or hearts. 

Declarer would probably play spades on his own missing the spade King (play spade, win club, play heart and pray; at least it wins when both heart honors are in a single hand, with split spade honors). Which means that the logical play is the heart King, with very little risk of catching a stiff heart honor from partner's hand.

What do you think of West's defence? Brilliant? Logical? Exotic? I would love to know your comments on that.

Should you want to study great books on defence and common partnership situations, here are my recommendations from Hef's Bridge Attic, an powered store. 

Killing Defence at Bridge is the profound approach to defence, Eddie Kantar teaches modern bridge defence is the alphabet of defence, Dynamic Defense the enriched best practice, while Step by Step: Planning the Defence is the integrated framework for forming a defensive skill set. Enjoy and let's discuss on these truly valuable books.

Nothing but the best,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Winners Up and Down

Some bridge positions have an inner beauty - an exotic touch that can hardly be explained to the ever-interested colleague from work, always asking "So, how was it this time, did you win anything, did anything out of the ordinary happen at that bridge tourney?".

I was in Mamaia, Romania when August ended. Under a cloudy sky, this beauty was talking a walk:

Session 4, Board 2
Dealer: E
E-W Vul
              ♠ 9832
              ♣ KJ654 
    ♠ JT654
    ♥ K42
    ♦ KT543
    ♣ -

Sitting South I opened 1NT, on which North used Stayman and elected to bid 3NT over my 2H response.

Judging that a spade lead might give away a trick, West chose to lead the 4, 4th best. The opponents were playing standard count and reverse attitude, with Lavinthal discards. 

I won the first trick with the Q , East contributing the  J. I had 10 top tricks and a chance for 11 when West has both honors (or a doubleton honor) in hearts.  I continued with a heart to the nine, won by East with the queen. The 8 came next and out went dummy's now stiff ace, with West playing the 3.

I cashed the A and paused on seeing West discard the 4.

From the fall of the cards W was marked with 5 diamonds and most likely 3 hearts and 5 spades - judging that she was unlikely to hold a doubleton heart honor EXACTLY with the 2, and that a more relevant discard than 4 could have been made holding QJT654 or QT9654 or QJ9654 in spades, while probably no spade discard would've been made holding only 4 cards.

As for the K, on top of the statistical argument for the split heart honors (75% probability), I doubted West would have made an "attacking" lead without an entry, holding 5 safer spades.

Therefore West controls diamonds, spades and hearts. So I cashed all my club winners to reach this five card ending:

              ♠ 983
    ♠ JT
    ♥ K4
    ♦ K   
    ♣ -
              ♦ 9
              ♣ -
North has played 4, I discarded the 7 and West is caught in a squeeze without the count of the criss-cross variety.

If the K is discarded (as happened at the table), a spade to hand ensures trick 11 with the 9.
If the heart is discarded, the ace of hearts is unblocked and a spade to hand makes trick 11 happen via a heart.
Finally, if the spade is thrown, the A unblocks spades and all tricks belong to N-S!

Note the presence of the 9, the extra menace against West's KT. Should you switch 9 with the 8 from East's hand, East can protect diamonds and West can safely discard K, holding declarer to 10 tricks.

3NT + 2 was 90% for N-S. Thanks@Mihaela Balint (West), Valentin Dumitru (East) and Mihnea Nedelcu (North) for helping me uncover this board, where winners up and down exist and the communication path between North and South must carefully be maintained.

Here are my favorite books on squeezes. Kelsey on Squeeze Play (Master Bridge Series) and Bridge Squeezes for Everyone have a clear and practical approach towards squeezes, and The Expert Game has a whole chapter dedicated to exotic squeezes and end positions. Bridge Lessons: Endplay and Squeeze offers a comprehensive vision on squeezes and endplays.

Other than that you can find GREAT articles and resources on squeezes at Richard Pavlicek's Website:

Looking forward to your opinions on this board.

'Till next time,

My Bridge Blog


After much inner debate I have decided to (re)launch my bridge blog.

Mission: to boldly write about bridge, both on technical topics but also on cooperation, communication, instinct, presence, ethics.

The message "Signal honors, discard taboos" stands for spotting and growing wonderful bridge while keeping an open mind. A goal this blog would be proud to achieve.

Enjoy :)