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Picture the original shape

Matthew Granovetter (USA/Israel)

MATTHEW GRANOVETTER and his wife Pamela, co-edit Bridge Today, one of the most respected bridge magazines in the world. Matthew has written two children's musicals as well as several bridge books. He is also bridge editor of the Jerusalem Post.

 

THIS bridge tip has to do mainly with the most difficult part of bridge: defence, though it can be applied to declarer play (and bidding) as well. Try to picture the original shape of declarer's hand as quickly as possible. (As a declarer, try to picture one of the opponents' original hands.) By forming some kind of picture early in the deal, you will be laying the groundwork for problems that lie ahead.

Not this tiresome counting business again, you say. The sad fact is you cannot get around the chore of counting high-card points, but you can eliminate the far more tedious chore of counting cards simply by picturing the shape instead. I discovered this method myself only recently. What a relief after counting cards for over twenty years!

There are only ten common shapes to remember. If you haven't memorized them through experience, if you are a beginner or intermediate, it would help to sit down and commit them to memory.

 

Balanced

Unbalanced

4-4-3-2

4-4-4-1

4-3-3-3

5-4-3-1

5-3-3-2

6-3-3-1

6-3-2-2

5-5-2-1

5-4-2-2

6-4-2-1

 

 

There are also a few rare patterns that are useful to memorize: 7-2-2-2, 7-3-2-1, 6-5-1-1, 5-4-4-0, 6-4-3-0, 5-5-3-0, 7-3-3-0, 6-5-2-0.

Every good player knows these patterns by heart backwards, forwards and inside out. If you name any three digits of a single pattern in any order, you should be able to come up with the fourth digit instantaneously without counting to thirteen.

The point is that in the middle of a hand you do not want to have to sit there and say to yourself: 'Three rounds of spades were played, partner followed once, that's four, then three, then three, equals ten, leaves two in my hand, so declarer has one, on to hearts, let's see, declarer followed twice, etc, etc.' Instead, you form a picture of a single, familiar pattern on your mind: 'Declarer was known to be balanced from his bidding: in spades, hearts and diamonds he has shown up with 4-3-2 ... ahh 4-4-3-2 shape; he has four clubs.'

 

LET'S utilize this tip in a hand. Put yourself in the West seat, defending a slam.

 

South Dealer

Q J 10 9

 

Love All

 K Q 10

 

 

 A K 10

 

 

 K 10 7

 

 

              

              N

 K 5

 

 

 7 6

 

W                         E

 Q 9 8 6 2

 

 

 Q 9 8 3

 

 

 

SOUTH   WEST   NORTH   EAST

1 1            Pass      1 ♠         Pass

1NT         Pass      6NT          All Pass  

 

1North-South play a strong no-trump, and South would open 14 whenever he had four in a balanced hand or when he had three and was 4-3-3-3 with a four-card major or 4-4-2-3 with both majors

Before you make your lead, you try to imagine the shape of declarer's hand. He has opened One Club, thus he has at least three clubs, and has rebid 1NT over One Spade. He is probably balanced with two or three spades. If he has three spades, his hand is unlikely to contain a small doubleton or he might have raised spades rather than rebid 1NT. There are only three or four balanced patterns that fit his bidding: 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2, (5-4-2-2). Nothing more to go on as far as shape; but point-wise you subtract your seven from the 40-point deck and realize that partner is likely to hold one or two jacks at the very best. Therefore you lead the suit least likely to give anything away, which is a heart.

Declarer wins in dummy and leads the queen of spades to your king. You exit with a spade and declarer wins in his hand with the ace. He leads a third spade to dummy and cashes the fourth, discarding a diamond. Next, he cashes the king of hearts and leads the ten of hearts to his jack. Partner has done nothing but follow suit.

Declarer now leads the ace of hearts. Dummy's minor suits are intact and you have Q98 in both minors. What do you pitch? What are declarer's minor-suit cards? The best way to reason what declarer now holds is to look back to the bidding and picture his original shape.

Your early 'footwork' should help you. Remember that declarer held one of these balanced patterns: 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2, (5-4-2-2). Now that he has shown up with three spades and four hearts, you can eliminate the five-card club suit. He must have started with one of the first two patterns.

If he was 4-3-3-3 shape, his original hand looked like this:

 

    ♠ A x x

   A J x x

      x x x 

♣ A x x

 

Since you started with five diamonds, the diamond shape around the table was originally 5-3-3-2, partner holding two. So you must discard a club to guard the diamond suit.

If he was 4-4-3-2 shape, his original hand looked like:

 

♠  A x x

  A J x x

  x x

♣  A x x x

 

 

wait, no, he's not likely to hold that small doubleton in diamonds (back in the bidding we analyzed he would have raised spades with an outside small doubleton). You therefore play for 4-3-3-3 shape and discard a club. There is no way to be 100% positive, but at least your play is based on a reasonable deduction. The actual 52 cards were:

 

 

South Dealer

Q J 10 9

 

 

 

Love All

 K Q 10

 

 

 

 

 A K 10

 

 

 

 

 K 10 7

 

 

 

 

              

              N

 

 

 K 5

 

 

7 4 3 2

 7 6

 

W                         E

 9 8 4 3

 Q 9 8 6 2

 

 

 J 5

 Q 9 8 3

 

 

 J 6 4

 

 

 

                S

 

 

 

 

A 8 6

 

 

 

 

 A J 5 2

 

 

 

 

 7 4 3

 

 

 

 

 A 5 2

 

 

This was a tough end-position that was made less difficult by knowing your patterns before you sat down at the table, and doing your 'mental footwork' in the bidding. Actually my BOLS bridge tip is basic to all players of all levels:  

Count the high cards, but try to picture the original shape as early as you can.

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