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Don't be impulsive - consider the alternatives

Phillip Alder 


Born in 1951, PHILLIP ALDER was a promising young British player until he emigrated to the USA in the mid-1980s. In England he was the editor of BRIDGE Magazine from 19805 and when in the USA he stuck with bridge journalism and is now one of the most widely read bridge columnists in that country. Away from the bridge table his interests include sport, wine, travel, cats, the West End theatre and the stories of P G Wodehouse.

It is often written and said that bridge and chess have close ties. It is true that many of us first learned chess and later gravitated towards bridge. But in the playing of the two games there are several obvious differences. In chess, the positions of all the pieces are always known. In bridge, only some of the cards are visible to each player. In chess, the number of possible moves increases dramatically as the game unfolds, and just worrying about the sensible ones and their ensuing variations is a formidable task. In bridge, the number of possible bids and plays is more limited. However, it is true in both games that if you do not think of the best move, bid or play, you will not make it.

Assume this is the first round of spades; how many possible plays do you have?

Dummy      

♠ A 2

♠ Q led

                          You

                     ♠ K3

 

The first two are easy: you could win in dummy with the ace or in hand with the king. But that is only half the answer. You can also win in dummy with the ace and unblock the king from hand, or you can let your left-hand opponent win the trick with the queen! It is true that these last two plays tend to arise in double-dummy problems rather than in real life at the table, but if either were the winning play and you did not consider it, how could you get it right?

I run some bridge classes and the biggest problem from which I see average players suffering is their propensity for making the 'obvious' play; the first thing that comes into their minds. I spend a long time trying to make them consider the alternatives.

Here is a hand I set to a relatively advanced group, from a lesson about fit-showing jumps by a passed hand.

  North Dealer 3 2    

 

Game All

 A J 6 5 4

 

 

 

 

 Q 10 9 8

 

 

 

 

 A 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

         

 

 

W                          E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

A 4

 

 

 

 

 K 3 2

 

 

 

 

 A K J 7 6 5 4 3

 

 

 

 

----

 

 

                            

W

N

E

S

 

Pass

Pass

1

Pass

2♠

Pass

4NT

Pass

5

Pass

7

   Pass

Pass

Pass

 

 

The bidding is a little rustic, but not totally unreasonable. North's jump to Two Hearts is fit-showing, indicating a maximum pass with hearts and diamonds. South's final shot is based on the expectation that North will have most of his goodies in his two suits.

Every declarer won the opening king of spades lead in hand, crossed to dummy with a diamond and discarded their spade loser on the ace of clubs. Finally, they turned their attention to the hearts and this was the full deal:

 

  North Dealer 3 2    

 

Game All

 A J 6 5 4

 

 

 

 

 Q 10 9 8

 

 

 

 

 A 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

K Q J 10     9 8 7 6 5

 7

 

W                          E

 Q 10 9 8

 2

 

 

 ---

 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

 

 

 K Q J 10

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

 A 4

 

 

 

 

 K 3 2

 

 

 

 

 A K J 7 6 5 4 3

 

 

 

 

 ---

 

 

                           

'Could you avoid a heart loser, Phillip?' 'Yes.'

'How?'

'By playing the suit differently.'

'But East had queen-ten to four.'

'True, but I'd cash the king of hearts, cross to the ace of hearts and ruff a heart.'

'You'd revoke.'

'Ha, ha! No, I would not.'

Now the penny drops at some tables. I explain that discarding a heart on the ace of clubs and then establishing the hearts, using dummy's trumps as entries, allows a late discard for that pesky spade loser.

 

THIS theme crops up in the bidding as well. A good player failed to find the winning action here by not thinking about all the possibilities.

It is a team game and only the opponents are vulnerable. Sitting West, you hold:

 

10

 10 6 2

 A K 9 7 2

 10 9 5 4

The bidding starts like this:

W

N

E

S

 

 

 

3

Pass

Pass

Dbl

Pass

?

 

 

 

What would be your choice?

Partner will be assuming you have some six or seven points, so you are not worth a jump to Five Diamonds. Realizing this, at time the player concerned bid a quiet Four Diamonds. It worked out reasonably, but he did not consider the alternatives. If he had, he would have thought about passing. And if you do analyse that for a moment, you soon realize what a good idea it is. You have two possible tricks of your own, and partner rates to have spade strength opposite your singleton. Even if partner has made a light balancing double, you will still probably defeat Three Hearts and you are unlikely to be making a game.

 

This was the full deal:

  South Dealer 7 5  4 2    

 

N-S Game

 3

 

 

 

 

 Q 8 4 3

 

 

 

 

 J 7 6 3

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

10      A Q J 9 8

 10 6 2

 

W                          E

 A 5

 A K 9 7 2

 

 

 J 6 5

 10 9 5 3

 

 

 A K Q

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

 K 6 3

 

 

 

 

 K Q J 9 8 7 4

 

 

 

 

 10

 

 

 

 

 8 2

 

 

                           

Three Hearts doubled costs a cool 1100. West leads a top diamond and switches to the ten of spades. East wins with the ace and returns the eight, West ruffing declarer's king. East regains the lead in clubs and cashes his two black-suit tricks before continuing spades. Declarer can ruff the fourth round high and lead a top trump, but East wins with the ace and plays another spade, promoting the ten of hearts as the eighth defensive trick.

At the time, the auction went as follows:

W

N

E

S

 

 

 

3

Pass

Pass

Dbl

Pass

4

Pass

4♠

Pass

5♣

Pass

5

Pass

  Pass

Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the second round, West hoped his partner did not have a strong one-suiter in spades and continued the hunt for a minor-suit fit.

Against Five Diamonds, North led the three of hearts, an obvious singleton. Declarer put up dummy's ace of hearts and considered his

alternatives in the trump suit. To cross to the ace and lead low back towards the jack risked losing to a doubleton queen in the South hand. So West decided to cash both top honours and, if North proved to have two trump tricks, to take the ruffing spade finesse in an effort to get rid of the heart losers.

South's having the singleton ten of diamonds was good news, and allowed West to drive out the queen. Declarer won North's club exit in the dummy and took the ruffing spade finesse to guarantee his contract. When it won he ended with an overtrick, but +420 was a scant return compared with the 1100 that was there for the taking if West had taken care to consider the alternatives in the auction.

FINALLY, a defensive hand:

  West Dealer A K J 10    

 

N-S Game

 Q J

 

 

 

 

 A K Q 8

 

 

 

 

 6 4 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

      7 6 2

 

 

W                          E

 5

 

 

 

 J  9 7 4 3

 

 

 

 10 8 7 3

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           

W

N

E

S

1

Dbl

Pass

1♠

2

2♠

Pass

3

Pass

4♠

All

Pass

 

You might not like North's bidding, but that is what he did at the time.

West leads the king of hearts and continues with the ace. Which card should East play?

This sort of problem is much easier on paper. At the table, most players would calmly discard a diamond (or a club) without really giving the matter much thought. However, if you have trained yourself to consider the alternatives, you will pause. You need four tricks to defeat Four Spades: where will they come from?

There are two heart tricks in the bag, but nothing in sight in diamonds and spades. That leaves clubs, and there is a need to expedite matters as declarer might be able to get a discard or two on dummy's diamonds.

If you give the matter some thought, you will realize that the correct defence is to ruff partner's ace of hearts and return a club. This was the full deal:

 

  West Dealer A K J 10    

 

N-S Game

 Q J

 

 

 

 

 A K Q 8

 

 

 

 

 6 4 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

      7 6 2

 A K 10 9 4 3

 

W                          E

 5

 10 8 6

 

 

 J  9 7 4 3

 A Q 9

 

 

 10 8 7 3

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

 Q 9 8 5 3

 

 

 

 

 8 7 6 2

 

 

 

 

 2

 

 

 

 

 K J 5

 

 

                            This play was found at the table by the late, great Helen Sobel.

 


 My BOLS bridge tip is:-Do not make the `obvious' play
without thinking:
consider the alternatives.

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