When Opponents Haven’t Bid

Sherlock Holmes fans will remember that in Silver Blaze the great detective drew attention to what he described as the curious episode of the dog in the night — whereupon a puzzled Watson replied that the dog had not in fact barked in the night. “That,” said Holmes, “was the curious episode.”

The same sort of logic can be applied to bridge wherein, when planning the play of a hand, you can draw just as many deductions when the opponents have remained silent as you can when they have actually entered the bidding. The deductions may be of a different order 7mdash; they tend to tell you what an opponent does not have rather than what he does have — but nevertheless, since you only have two opponents (officially, at any rate), this is good enough. Deducing that West does not have the ♣K, for instance, adds up tp precisely the same thing as deducing that East does have it.

It is relatively unusual for a player to pass up an opportunity to open the bidding when he has 12 high-card points, and practically unheard of when he has as many as 13. That simple fact is the starting point for many of declarer’s deductions. For example:

 Dlr: East North
 Vul: None ♠ K 7 6
Q 4
8 7 3
♣ K Q J 8 3
♠ Q 8 5 4 2
6 5
A K 2
♣ A 6 4
West North East South
Pass 1♠
Pass 2♣ Pass 3♣
Pass 3♠ Pass 4♠
All Pass

Let’s say West leads the 10, which is covered by the queen and king. East cashes the ace of the suit and then shifts to a diamond, which declarer wins with the ace.

In due time South can discard a losing diamond on North’s clubs, but first he has to draw trumps, holding his losses to one trick in the process. This will be possible only if either East or West holds precisely the A-x of spades.

Thus, if declarer decides to play East for A-x, he will enter dummy with a low spade towards his queen, winning as East plays low. On the next round of trumps, declarer plays a low card from each hand, and if all goes well he has an immense satisfaction of seeing East’s ace come tumbling down, On regaining the lead declarer is then able to draw West’s last trump with dummy’s king and come home with 10 tricks, tired but happy.

However, it is obvious that declarer could equally well elect to play West for the A-x of trumps, in which case the proper course would be to initiate matters by leading a low trump from the closed hand towards the king in dummy, continuing in the manner already described. The question, therefore, is which defender is more likely to hold the ♠A?

In all such situations, the chances are that you can draw some clue, however slight, from your opponent’s failure to enter the bidding. In this particular case, the deduction is conclusive: East is marked by the earlier play of the hearts with the A-K-J of that suit, and if he held the ♠A as well he would have most likely opened the bidding. Therefore, declarer should play West for the ♠A.

Many deductions are not so clear-cut as this, but nevertheless they can still enable you to improve on the mathematical odds. For example, suppose that the diagrammed hand contained the K-4 rather than the Q-4, and suppose also that West’s opening salvo was the J rather than the 10. In this case, declarer might say “East is known to hold the &heartsA-Q, and could easily have the ♠A also and still not have an opening bid. Therefore, I have no clue as to the location of the ♠A.”

That however, would be a ver unHolmes-like form of reasoning. It would be more fitting to say “east could have the ♠A and still have passed as dealer, but on the other hand if he did have it he might have opened — he might have a six card heart suit, or he might be an exponent of light opening bids, or he might also hold the , which would give him opening values. Therefore, he is less likely to hold the ♠A than West.”

This is the type f reasoning that can enable you to bring your bridge opponents to justice. The fact is that your opponents cannot do anything — they cannot even pass &mdash: without providing substantial clues to their holdings. The sleuthlike declarer makes full use of these clues in order to tilt the mathematical odds in his favor and so convert blind guesses into odds-on chances.