Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Bridge - part 2

Part one of this series was published over a year ago. I don't recall if I had a sequel in mind at the time, but here is a totally new sequel. The key mantra, which every fan of the increasingly inappropriately named Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy (there are five parts), is of course DON'T PANIC!

Nowhere in bridge does this exhortation have more relevance than in defending a doubled part-score. When you're in this situation, two things are absolutely essential:
  • you must have confidence that you are in the right spot and that the contract is going down (usually at the part-score level, you only need the contract to go down one but sometimes, when the opponents are not vulnerable, you actually need them to go down two);
  • you must not panic.
I hope my partner from the following hand will forgive me for bringing this up. But it seems to me that both of us to some extent panicked on this hand which swung the entire matchpoints against us.

I have annotated some thoughts after the first trick. But basically, West knows almost exactly what my hand is  this is one of the hidden benefits of the cooperative double [there will be more hidden benefits in the next blog]. I don't have four spades (I would have raised to three) but I have stuff in the minors (and, based on the lead, the SK). In addition, East could have the DK, CQ, or a high heart, perhaps two of these. It's possible that declarer has a singleton in a minor, although the double would be somewhat questionable with a five-card suit on the side. One thing about playing doubled contracts at matchpoints is that it is much more like playing IMPs or Rubber bridge. You know precisely the number of tricks needed. In this case, exactly five. These will be two spades, the two minor suit aces, and either the DK or a high heart. Can any of these go away? Not the trump obviously, not the spade. A minor suit ace could disappear conceivably but if it's the club, there's not much we can do from our side. No, the only danger is losing a diamond trick if we have one.

Cashing out is not always as easy as it might be. If at this point, the DA is laid down and, in response to an encouraging signal, a small one continued, East may assume a doubleton diamond. Better perhaps is a low diamond, although there's a small chance that declarer will score a stiff K! I think the best approach is to play DA and a spade. Partner will not assume a doubleton diamond and will probably cash the DK and switch to a club (the ace will be the setting trick so there will be no need to play low). However, West continued a spade (not fatal but essentially wasting a tempo). I won the K and now had to switch to a minor suit, although I suppose another spade would not have been fatal either. If partner had the DA, why had he not played it at trick 2? Probably he had AQ of clubs, although that would leave him only a 10-count (possible for a third-seat opener I suppose). I led a small club and here is where the exhortation DON'T PANIC comes in. Trust me to have an honor in clubs and put in the T. This would automatically hold declarer to six hearts, and two black suit queens. But partner went up with the ace. Now, the tempo is critical  we are actually behind schedule in cashing our tricks and given time, declarer can get off a diamond. So now it is essential to start the DA. As you can see, this didn't happen so we went from +200 (a top) to -730 (a bottom).

This sort of thing has been the unfortunate result in many hands. I like to get those 200s so tend to make aggressive doubles. Against a doubled part-score contract, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that letting them make will be a bottom. So there is never any danger of making an even worse error that gives away an overtrick. You'd suffer the same bottom. So, always assume that the contract will go down with relatively normal play: building and cashing tricks. Trust that partner has his bid, because if he hasn't and they make overtricks, it can't get any worse.


  1. In the midgame, should East be leading a higher club than his lowest club of the 5? I would take the lead of the low club as encouraging a club return ... thus probably from the Q (hopefully, from the perspective of West, Q95, so that a club return through declarer's Jxx develops a third round club winner for the defense).

    Had East returned a higher club spot, and West not held the CAQ, then I would expect West to return a diamond ... exactly what East wants, without regard to whether North or West holds the DA.

  2. You make an excellent point, Jeff. That would indeed have been better partnership defense. Since I (East) was expecting/hoping partner to have CAQ(x), the J would have been a no-cost play.

  3. A (much smaller) quibble.

    I think the best club for East to return is the C9 and not the CJ. The defense that I would play for as East is for partner to win the CQ, return a diamond through declarer's ace to my DK, and then return to clubs to partner's CA for our fifth trick.

    That doesn't quite happen to be the layout, but partner will likely win the C9 with the CA, cash the DA and lead a diamond to my DK, and so we get a different five tricks.

    The possible problem with the CJ lead by East is that, when East holds CAQx and thinks that East has the Jxx/Jx, West might allow the CJ to win and then proceed to try to cash two more rounds of clubs, possibly establishing the CK for a key diamond pitch.

    As I view the defense from the perspective of East, East wants his partner to win a trick and then return a diamond. Seems to me the clearest way to accomplish that objective is to lead the C9 at Trick 3. (This does risk West thinking that East is leading the C9 from a doubleton, [meaning declarer could be 3=6=0=4], in which case West's trying to cash the DA in order to receive an attitude signal would be pretty unsuccessful.)