Mike’s Bridge Lesson

How do you decide whether to take a trick or hold up?

Winning is more fun than losing, but there are times when you have to bite the bullet for a moment in order to get a larger reward later.

For this discussion, your job is not to find the correct play. Your mission is to describe the reasons for it.

North
♠ A J 5 3
K J 7
Q 7
♣ A Q 9 5
South
♠ K Q 10 9 4 2
9 3
A 5
♣ J 10 4

With no one vulnerable, you open 2♠ in first seat, and your partner raises to game. East asks what the 2♠ bid means and is told that it is weak. East mulls this over for just a flicker of time and passes. West leads the 2. How do you play and — more important — why?

Here is how the play continues. You play the Q from dummy. There is a decent chance that West led from the K. East disappoints you by covering the Q with the king. Now what?

Here is what did happen. South won the trick and drew trumps, finding East with a void. South then led the ♣J for a finesse. East won the ♣K and played a diamond to West, who switched to a heart. Now you have to guess which heart to play from dummy.

Don’t bother. East is smiling, and that can mean only one thing — he has the A and Q. South is down one.

Here is the full deal. Was South supposed to go down one or is this a makeable contract?

North
♠ A J 5 3
K J 7
Q 7
♣ A Q 9 5
West
♠ 8 7 6
10 6 4 2
J 9 4 2
♣ 8 7
East
♠ —
A Q 8 5
K 10 8 6 3
♣ K 6 3 2
South
♠ K Q 10 9 4 2
9 3
A 5
♣ J 10 4

The contract is cold with any lead. Given the diamond lead, South sanely tried the Q and East covered it. No harm done as long as South does not play his ace.

When you are playing a contract, a question that you need to learn to ask is, “What can go wrong?” The need to ask this question is most important when things look easy. On this deal, you might be thinking to yourself that 4♠ does look easy. What can go wrong, however, is that if the K is over the queen and the ♣K is offside, there may be a problem in hearts.

The solution is to avoid one of the possible problems, and the way to do that is to let East have the first diamond. You can then draw trumps and set up the club suit for a heart discard later. The difference is that West cannot get in to lead a heart.

Bidding note: Look at the East hand. What would you bid if the bidding went 2♠ on your left and 4♠ on your right? In this case, you are not vulnerable, so the price of bidding won’t be too high. You probably should take some action. Double is the likely choice, and your partner will judge what to do on the assumption that your double is for takeout. This means that if you have a hand such as:

♠A K J 10   4 3   A 8 7 4 2  ♣Q J

you must pass 4♠. As long as you accept that you will have 10 times as many takeout double hands as you will penalty double hands, you will reserve the double for takeout.

Note that on the actual layout, East–West can make 3. That means down two in 5.

Here is a friendlier layout. Say you double 4♠ and your partner bids 5♣, a possible choice.

 Partner You ♠ J 7 2 — ♥ K 9 3 ♥ A Q 8 5 ♦ 7 ♦ K 10 8 6 3 ♣ A 10 8 7 5 4 ♣ K 6 3 2

If partner has the hand on the left, he will make 11 tricks for sure and may make 12 or 13. The point of this is that if you have good shape, you should consider bidding.