Sunday, August 6, 2017

Elementary deception

Continuing my series on common beginner mistakes, I want to talk about perhaps the most elementary case of deception, or hiding your assets, in bridge.

But, first, let's look at a hand. Matchpoints, all vulnerable, you are in fourth seat holding: K962 KQ KT7654. Partner opens 1, playing more or less standard methods, you bid 1 and partner raises to 2. What now? You have a decent 11-count with a side singleton and a double fit. I presume you aren't planning to pass. Make your plan:

  • invite game?
  • bid game?
  • invite slam?
Have you made up your mind? Is there anyone out there who's going to invite slam? It seems a stretch to me given that partner raised only to 2. But, I suppose it's possible: AQxx xx Axx Axxx. Of course, many would have already upgraded this perfect hand to 1NT, especially if non-vulnerable. If the black suits split favorably, you have twelve easy tricks. Or, if there's a stiff quack in the clubs, you might still be able to pick up the suit. But, presumably, if you were making a slam try, you would bid 4 to simultaneously establish a game-force (with slam aspirations) and to let partner know that any lower honors in diamonds would be wasted. With the perfecto sample hand given, you would bid 5 and partner should take it from there.

I'm sure you would simply raise to 4. But, suppose for a moment, that you decided to invite game. How would you go about it? I assume you would bid 3 and then pass whatever partner decided on. But, couldn't you have your cake and eat it too? Why not use the good old three-way invitation? Bid 3 and if partner bids 3 immediately (or passes) you'll play it there. If he bids 4, all well and good. But if he thinks for a bit and then bids 3 he's obviously got some sort of intermediate hand and now you can raise to 4. Sound like a plan?

No! The laws of bridge expressly forbid you to take any inference from the manner in which partner makes his bid. You must act as if you were absent from the table during the period between LHO's pass and partner's bid. To use the jargon of the rule book, that information is unauthorized. When partner's bid is 3, you must respect his decision, however much soul-searching he/she might have gone through. Remember: you didn't see (or hear) any of it.

I only bring this up because it happened in a recent club game. A pair who certainly should know better had this exact auction and, guess what, the spade bidder raised to 4, making. Yes, I called the director but, despite the fact that the opponents didn't dispute the hesitation (that's the usual defense), the director ruled that the 4 was OK because "maybe he was looking for slam". Most tables played in 4, as you'd expect, although there were a few 3 and club contracts too. We got slightly below average for holding it to ten tricks (some declarers actually managed to go down in 4♠ although I don't see how that was possible).

OK, back to the real point of this blog.

The opening lead is a small diamond (fourth best) and dummy has K9. You play the 9 and RHO wins the J. The 9 comes back. Which card do you play?

Some of you, the ones this article is aimed at, will say it doesn't matter. The one nearest my thumb. Or, worse, you will automatically play the lower honor, the queen in this case. I see this mistake all the time. You are probably expecting LHO to have the ace and, therefore, it won't make any difference. When we played this hand, declarer played the queen and it won the trick. The RHO (moi) holding A98x, now knew that his partner did not hold the king and so I was able to work out exactly which cards declarer did hold. It really didn't matter in this case. There was no defense to set the contract. But why give the opponents that information? They don't deserve it!

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