Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

Continuing with the theme of having fun this season, I was playing a game of social bridge with my wife, Leslie, our son, David, and his wife Cassi. Cassi and I were partners. David and Cassi are relatively new to bridge, but they both know most of the popular bridge conventions. David is a very disciplined engineer with a solid math background and a very conventional (no pun intended) bridge player, just like his mother. For the most part, he knows, understands, and follows all the rules. Cassi, on the other hand, like me, stretches the rules and takes unconventional (though well thought out) risks from time to time.

So, Cassi picks up this hand:
♠ Q 10 4 3
♥ K 9 3 2
♦ J 6 5 3
♣ 8

I open 1 No Trump. Now Cassi knows full well she needs 8 points or more to bid the Stayman Convention … but she only has 6. But, being Cassi, she says to herself … what could go wrong if I bid 2♣? If my partner has 4 Spades, great. If he has 4 Hearts, also great. If either of these is true, he will bid at the 2 level and I will PASS.

But, what if he doesn’t have a 4-card major? Well, he is obligated to bid 2♦ … also great. If he doesn’t have a 4 card major, he is likely to have Diamonds. He cannot PASS, so I cannot be left in a terrible 2♣ contract. So, Cassi, without realizing it, re-invents the Garbage Stayman bid. I happen to have 4♥, so I bid 2♥ and Cassie PASSES.

I gave Cassi one of my infamous facial expressions, suggesting that she must have made an error. She knows that I have, on the average, 16 points and she must have at least 8, so I’m about to reprimand her for not bidding at least 2 NT or 3♥ to see if there is a game possiibility when she puts down her hand.

When I see the hand, instead of reprimanding her, I congratulate her on using the Garbage Stayman convention which, by the way, she never heard of.

So, let’s review this convention.

Your partner opens 1 No Trump and the opponent Passes. If you hold 4♠, 4♥, 4♦, and 1♣ or alternatively, 4♠, 4♥ and 5♦ and have 7 points or less, you bid 2♣.

Generally speaking, holding a singleton or a void, you will be better off in a suit contract rather than No Trump.Whatever your partner bids next, you PASS. It’s a rare occurrence, but does pop up from time to time.

Let’s look at a couple hands that might be suitable for this convention.


Never use this convention if you have 5♠ or 5♥ since a transfer bid will usually turn out better.

Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

Find the Mistake
Last month I promised you we would have some fun this season. To that end, I am using some ideas which come from a book given to me by my good friend, Clara Sinrich of Turnberry. This book, Bridge Hands for the Connoisseur, has some very interesting hands, but because of copyright laws, I can’t reproduce them exactly. I can, however, discuss concepts suggested by the hands. By the way, the book was written in 1947, but the concepts are just as valid today as they were then.

One of the chapters is called “Find the Mistakes.” Here’s a hand, not the hand from the book, but a hand with similar attributes.

South is the dealer. East/West is Vulnerable.

♠ 7
♥ K Q J 10
♦ A K 8 4 3 2
♣ 8 5

♠ A J 6
♥ 5
♦ J 10 9 7
♣ Q J 9 6 2
♠ K 10 9 5 2
♥ 8 6 4 2
♦ Q
♣ K 10 7
♠Q 8 4 3
♥ A 9 7 3
♦ 6 5
♣ A 4 3

The bidding goes as follows:


West leads the♣Q. South wins and draws 2 rounds of trump. On the second round, West plays a club. Declarer then tries♦A winning and then a safety play of a low diamond. West wins and now plays♣, forcing declarer to trump. This leaves declarer without a second entry to his established diamonds, so he must go down. What did the declarer do wrong???????

South should not touch the trump at all. He needs to play♦A and then the♦K. When East trumps, he leaves himself with only 3 trump. No matter what East does, Declarer can now trump 2 more diamonds, establishing the remaining 2 diamonds for spade discards. Do you see how this works?

When East trumps, he will take his good club and give his partner a spade trick. What can West do at this point? His best play is to make Declarer trump by leading either a club or a spade. In either case, declarer trumps and plays a diamond. He trumps the diamond and plays a heart to his Ace reducing both himself and East to 2 trumps each. He then trumps another diamond forcing West to give up his last diamond. Finally, he draws both of East’s trumps with his 2 top trump and discards his remaining spades on the good diamonds.

Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

The Play Of the Hand Unblocking
Three ways to get extra tricks are called “Hold-Ups,” “Unblocking,” and “Ducking.” Last month we talked about Hold- Ups. This month we will discuss Unblocking. Next time, we will get into Ducking.

Unblocking is all about being in the right place at the right time. As Declarer you want to be able to take all the tricks you are entitled to without getting stuck in the wrong hand. Let’s take a simple, but familiar, situation to begin with. Disregarding the rest of the hand, lets assume you have the following in clubs:

♣ K Q J 3
Your Hand
♣ A 7

You must play the A first and then the 7 or you will be stuck in your hand with no way to get the rest of the Clubs. This type of Unblocking should also used in the following situation:

♣ A K J 4
Your Hand
♣ Q 6

In most situations where you have a solid or nearly solid suit divided between you and the Dummy, it is critical to plan the play so that you exhaust the hand with the shorter number of cards before getting to the hand with the longer number of cards in that suit.

Another interesting use of Unblocking is when you have a singleton honor Let’s look at the following hand:

♠ 10 3
♥ A 8 2
♦ 7 5
♣ A K Q 9 5 2

♠ K Q J 7 6 2
♥ 7 3
♦ Q J 10
♣ 8 7
♠ 9 8 5
♥ K 9 6 4
♦ 9 8
♣ 10 6 4 3
Your Hand
♠ A 4
♥ Q J 10 5
♦ A K 6 4 3 2
♣ J

You are playing 3 No Trump. West opens the K of spades. You can duck, but it wont make any difference if you or don’t. If you do, he will simply play the Q next and you will have to take it with your Ace.

You now have to decide if you want to establish the clubs or the diamonds. You have 8 diamonds and only 7 clubs. But, the clubs, if properly planned, can give you 6 tricks. The diamonds at best can only give you 5. Look again at the Diamonds. You must give up one diamond to establish the rest. Because you have 8 there are 5 outstanding all of which are higher than yours, after you take the A and the K. When you give up that diamond, the opponents will take their spades and you will go down. So, we need to establish all the clubs.

Immediately, you must play the J of clubs. Now, how do we get to the rest of the clubs. Well, the A of Hearts looks like a good entry … but look at all those heart tricks you can get of the K is onside. Well, if you’re an optimist, you can finesse the K of hearts by playing the Q and letting it ride. As it happens, East will win the K and start in on the spades and down you go. Or, like me, if you are Unlucky Louie, you take the Ace and play down all the clubs and make your contract. This assures the contract but is not always the winning board.

Another “Unblocking” technique is unblocking by discarding. Let’s look at the following situation. Assume you have no other entries in the Dummy except those in this suit:

A K 8 6 4 2

J 5
Q 7
Your Hand
10 9 3

You must be careful to start off by playing the 10 and not the 3. You might need it later to get to the Dummy. The 10 is covered by the J and you win with the Ace. East, of course, plays the 7. Now you play the K and the Q falls. You must be careful to discard the 9 or you will stuck in your hand with no way to get back to the Dummy.

Do not be a careless player. Don’t get caught in the wrong hand at the wrong time. Unblock!

Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

The Play of the Hand Hold Ups
As we discussed last month, the key to success in Bridge is making a Plan. First we need to count the top winners and then plan a way to get the rest that we need before the opponents get what they need. Three ways to get additional tricks (or avoid losers) which are not so obvious are called “Hold Ups”, “Unblocking”, and “Ducking”. This month we will discuss Hold Ups.

Hold Up simply means just that. When you see the possibility of losing too many tricks before you have a chance to develop your own tricks, you might want to consider holding up. There are times to hold up and times not to. We can examine each here. Let’s look at an example.

♦ 8 5

♦ K W 9 4 2
♦ J 10 7
♦ A 6 3

You are South, the Declarer, in 3 NT. You have plenty of tricks in the other 3 suits, but you must first get rid of the opponents ♥A.

West leads the 4, fourth from his longest and strongest suit. The rule of 11 tells you that his partner has 3 higher than the 4. This is important, because now you know the partner has at least 3 Diamonds and you must “Hold Up” twice. So, if you take your Ace right away, whoever has the missing Ace will play Diamonds and the opponents will get 4 diamonds and the Ace of hearts and defeat the contract.

Well, there are 2 ways to prevent that from happening. One is to pray that the diamonds are divided 4-4 and the opponents will only get 3 diamond tricks and their♥A. The other is to hold up and hope that the opponent with the Ace has no more diamonds to return to his partner.

Holding up in this situation has no disadvantages. If the diamonds are divided 4 and 4, the opponent with the Ace will have a diamond left to return to this partner, but they can only take 3 diamond tricks and you can still make 3 NT. If the opponent with 5 diamonds also has the Ace in question, there is nothing you can do and you will go down … but so will everyone else playing this hand. Holding up gives you a 50/50 chance, you do not have if you take your Ace right away.

With that said, let’s now talk about situations where the “Hold Up” should not be employed.

1. When it is apparent that the partner of the opener has more of the suit than you do.

2. When it is apparent that the partner of the declarer will never get the lead.

3. When holding up can do more damage than good. Let’s look at an example:

♠ J 2
♥ 10 7
♦ A 10 3
♣ K Q J 9 8 3

♠ Q 9 7 3
♥ 9 8 6 2
♦ 8 7 6 5
♣ 7
♠ K 10 6 4
♥ J 5 3
♦ K Q J 9
♣ A 5
♠ A 8 5
♥ A K Q 4
♦ 4 2
♣ 10 6 4 2

South is the declarer at 3 NT. West leads the ♠3. North plays the J and East plays K. By the rule of 11, East has 4 Spades higher than the 3. So, East must have 4 and West must have 4. Therefore, there is no danger of an opponent having 5 and no reason for the hold up. Also in this situation you want to get in quickly, so you can establish your clubs before the opponents establish their diamonds.

Finally, you should not hold up when winning the trick might develop an additional trick in that suit. For example:

♥ 10 2
♥  A J 8

Whatever West leads, North plays the 2 and East must play the Q or the K, if he has one of them. It would be foolish to hold up and take only one trick when you can take the Ace and later the J. The 10 in the North hand will force out the other honor and the Jack will take a subsequent trick.

Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

By far, the best book ever written on this subject is called, “The Play of the Hand at Bridge” by Louis Watson. The first edition was published in 1934 and is as useful today as it was then. Because bidding styles have changed dramatically over the years, some of his bidding examples are somewhat outdated, but having arrived at the proper contract, his play of the hand is still fundamentally the best way to go. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to play or improve their bridge.

In Chapter VII, Watson lays down 5 principles of success in playing bridge. His first principle is to make a plan. If you are the declarer, do not play a single card after the opening lead until you have studied the Dummy and formulated a plan to fulfill your contract. Many beginning students of the game will take Aces and Kings and then sit back and wonder what to do next. Better players will try to develop tricks which are not so obvious by forcing out the opponents Aces and Kings, so they can make their smaller cards good. Conceding tricks early in the hand will often lead to the development of tricks taken by smaller cards.

Lets look at an example: the contract is 3 No Trump. The opponents have been silent (they Passed at every opportunity) and you are the Declarer:


♠ K 7 5 4
♥ Q 10 2
♦ Q 5
♣ K 6 4 3

♠ J 8 3
♥ 9 3
♦ A 9 6 4
♣ J 10 8 5
♠ Q 9 6
♥ A J 8 5 4
♦ 7 3
♣ Q 9 7
♠ A 10 2
♥ K 7 6
♦ K J 10 8 2
♣ A 2

So, the first question is … How many tricks do I need to fulfill my contract? Answer 9. Next question How many top tricks do I have? Answer 4. So, where will I get the rest? There are 4 potential tricks in the Diamond suit after we drive out the Ace and one in the Heart suit once we drive out the Ace. But we have to do this before the opponents get 5 tricks. So let’s make a plan.

Let’s assume the opponent leads the ♦4 which is 4th from his longest and strongest suit. You play the Q from Dummy and play another diamond to try to get rid of the Ace. Whether he takes the Ace or not doesn’t matter, because you will keep playing high Diamonds until he does.

After he takes the ♦A what will he do next … probably play the ♣J. You take your K and now you must get rid of the ♥A. You play small to the ♥Q and whether or not the opponent takes his A, you have your 9 tricks.

You can see how important it is to get rid of the Aces in the opponents hand before you start taking all your tricks in the other suits. If, after getting rid of the ♦A, you start taking your other tricks, the opponents will develop winners in the other suits and then when you try to cash the ♥K, they will take the A and the other tricks they have established. You will be left with only 8 tricks instead of the 9 you need to fulfill your contract.

Now, let’s assume that West leads his fourth club, the ♣7. An important question here is did West start with 5 clubs or 4 clubs? If West started with 5, we must be careful not to let him in twice. If he started with 4, it doesn’t much matter.

If West started with 5 clubs and both missing Aces we are doomed. However, in all likelihood, if he had 2 Aces and 5 clubs he probably would have entered the bidding at some point … but he didn’t. So we need to assume that, at worst, the Aces are divided. So the worst case scenario is that West has 5 clubs and one Ace. We need to get rid of the Ace that West holds so he cannot get in to play the rest of his clubs.

We can take the ♣A and play the diamonds. If West has the ♦A, he can take it and play another club. We can take the ♣K and play a Heart with some assurance that East has the A, but either he has no more clubs to return or does have one and West can only take 2 club tricks (a total of 4 clubs). In either case we can make our 9 tricks and fulfill our contract.

What if East has the ♦A and West has the ♥A? In that situation it is vital that we give up a club and not take our ♣A right away. Again, if East only has 2 clubs, then when we take the Ace, East is out of clubs and cannot get to West except with the Heart Ace which is fine with us because we still have control of the clubs.

I know this sounds very complicated, but you can see that the planning at the beginning is very important. You must plan the hand before you play a single card. If you just start playing your winners, you will not make your contract.

Bridge – Try It, You’ll Like It

Defense … Choosing the card when returning partner’s suit

As we have discussed before, it is very important to return partner’s opening lead. However, the choice of which card to return is not always obvious. Let’s look at a hand.

♠ A K 6 4
♥ 4
♦ J 7 6 4
♣ A 5 3 2

♠ 10 5 3
♥ K 10 7 6 2
♦ K 8 3
♣ Q J
♠ Q 7 2
♥ Q 8 5 3
♦ 10 9 2
♣ 10 9 6
♠J 9 8
♥ A J 9
♦ A Q 5
♣ K 8 4 7

Let’s say the opponents wind up in 3 No Trump. Your partner opens the 6♥. You, of course, play the Q and Declarer wins with the A. Using the Rule of 11 ( you, of course, remember that rule from a previous article) … Right? … declarer can see that a hold-up will do him no good. Declarer plays the J♠  and plays low in Dummy so you win with the Q. What do you do next? Of course, you return your partners suit. Now, the card you play is very important. If you lead the 8, Declarer will play the 9 and partner will win with the 10. So partner now knows that the Declarer has the Jack. If you had the J, you would have played it. The question now is does the declarer have the J alone or does he have 2. If the J is alone, he can play his K and run all his hearts to set the contract. But, if the J is accompanied by a lower heart, he had to get back to you so you can lead another heart through South.

The key here is let your partner know how many you have, so he can figure out how many the declarer has. How do we do that? Since you originally held 4 Hearts, the proper play is to return the 3, not the 8. Declarer will still play the 9 and partner will still win with the 10, but partner now knows that you started with 4, so he can lay down the K and the J will fall. Whoever said Bridge was an easy game?

But, interestingly enough, there’s more here. So partner knows you started with 4, but how many did partner start with? If he started with 4 also, it doesn’t matter which of you has the lead … but if he has 5 and you have 4, you must play so that he gets his last heart.

Partner has played his 6, and then his 10, and will now play his K. What will you play? You have played the Q and the 3, so you have to choose which of the 8 or 5 you will play next. If you play the 5, partner will win with the 7, but then your 8 will be the highest Heart and you will not be able to get back to partner. You must play the 8 first on the K, so that you can return the 5 to Partner’s 7. Then he will win and be able to cash his last Heart the deuce. In this example it was important to play the correct Heart in every instance to achieve the maximum result.

Another interesting point in this example is how did partner know that you started with exactly 4 Hearts when you played the 3? If declarer had the 5 or the 8, he would have played it instead of the 9. Also it’s possible that you only had 2 Hearts. But, if that were the case, the declarer would have to hold 5 and he would have opened a Heart.

There are many clues that allow partner to read your return correctly. But, you must play the right card and pay attention to what your partner plays. Also, the bidding auction will reveal clues, if you’re alert enough to remember them.