Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When attitude is known

It's customary when signaling to show attitude when we lead a suit.  If they lead a suit, our attitude is assumed to be bad and we skip to showing count.  If both attitude and count are known, or if bridge logic says that neither of these is important (e.g. a singleton in dummy), we skip to suit preference.

So much is reasonably standard.  Some people like to show count even on the opening lead, others on the opening lead if dummy presents a certain number of cards in the suit, etc.

In this blog entry, I would like to propose a variation: when attitude is already known from the auction, we give count on the first trick.  It's a method I've been playing for a while with one of my partners.

How does it operate?  When is attitude already known?  The premise is that when we get to show a good suit during the auction, our attitude is considered known (and good).  What constitutes showing a good suit?
  • an overcall;
  • a rebid of a suit;
  • a "free" bid in a suit (when pass would be a valid alternative) [according to my principle of "stuff"];
  • a lead-directing double of an opponent's artificial bid;
Thus, if we are not obliged to try to win the trick, for instance when partner leads a high card, or we cannot beat the dummy, our carding shows count, not attitude (when attitude is known from the auction).

Here's why it works: in all of the cases given, we have suggested length and strength in the suit.  Because of the length, the suit will not be standing up for very many tricks.  But how many tricks?  That's why count is so important.  Fie, I hear you say, sometimes I make bad overcalls.  Well, that may be true, but assuming partner is going to lead your suit anyway, the damage, if any, will already be done.  Much of the time the play to the first trick will clarify the position.  Yes, it's possible that a tempo or even a trick may be lost when partner gets in and, assuming good attitude (because you weren't able to discourage at trick one because of the obligation to show count), leads the suit a second time.  But for that to cost, four conditions must be met:
  1. you have to have made a questionable bid during the auction;
  2. you must have been in a position to signal at trick one (i.e. you were not trying to win the trick);
  3. declarer/dummy must have sufficient cards in the suit for it to make a difference;
  4. it must not be obvious from dummy's holding what's going on in the suit.
The chance of all these happening at the same time is actually quite small.

The same idea applies when the bidder is the one leading the suit.  On opening lead, it is normal to show count in any case so there's really no difference there.  But during the hand, it's common to make attitude leads of new suits.  Again, it's better to show count when we are leading our own "good" suit.

Note that this scheme may also apply (according to partnership agreement) when partner is leading his own known-to-be-good suit: our carding should show count if we can't win the trick.

As always, comments welcome.

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