Polling You # 77, Preempts and Suit Quality, Losing Trick Count, Cover Cards

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In our continuing series on Losing Trick Count/Cover Cards and Self-Sustaining Suits/Suit Quality, we will take a look at everyone’s favorite bid, the beloved preempt.  After all, what’s not to love about making an obstructive bid with a long suit with less than an opening hand, right?   Well, like everything in our Bridge bidding arsenal there’s a time and a place for every bid under heaven.  Unfortunately, without partnership agreements and following a disciplined approach, you and your partner’s care and feeding of preemptive bids may or may not work in your favor.   So let’s see how the above mentioned tools can improve our Bridge prowess.
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Review – Losing Trick Count and Cover Cards

-         Prerequisite: 8+ card trump fit or self-sustaining suit

-         Ace-King-Queen are not losers in 3+ card suits

-         Generally, fourth card and beyond are not losers

-         LTC – CC equals losers, as 6 LTC – 3 CC = 3 losers (major suit game)

-         Extras: 5+4 trump, working Queens and Jacks, shortness

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Polling You # 76, Suit Quality, Losing Trick Count, Cover Cards

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Now that we’ve mastered the basics of Help Suit Game Tries using the benefits of Losing Trick Count and Cover Card theory, let’s hone our skills adding some more methods to our hand evaluation and bidding arsenal.  In segment 3b of Polling You #76, we will discover an additional use of LTC where we have a self-sustaining suit.

 As you’ll recall, the Help Suit Game Try is an excellent method for opener to explore game after the partnership find a trump fit (1S – 2S…  or 1H – 2H…).   So when responder shows a major suit fit with a minimum hand, opener can make a Help Suit Game Try with extras – a 6 Losing Trick Count hand.

Basics of Losing Trick Count:

1.      Prerequisite: partnership must find a 8+ card suit

2.     Considering the top three cards in a suit, Aces, Kings and non-isolated Queens are not losers

3.     Aces and voids are not losers, nor are solid top holdings like Ace-King, Ace-King-Queen…

4.     Ace-doubleton, King-doubleton, Ace-King third or a singleton counts for 1 loser

5.     Ace-third, King-third, and doubletons count 2 losers (perhaps Queen-third in an unsupported side suit)

6.     Provided the hand has entries, the maximum losers in a suit is limited to three; longer suits, including side suits longer than three cards are considered promotable tricks regardless of the honor holdings of the first three cards

Losers = 0:  A, AK, AKQ[x…], Void –
Losers = 1:  Ax, AKx[x…], KQ, Kx, KQx[x…], x
Losers = 2: Axx[x…], Kxx[x…], Qx, xx, and Qxx[x…] (actually 2.5)

Later we will make refinements to our LTC hand evaluation guide.

Losing Trick Count – High Card Point “Decoder” (estimates)

10 LTC = 3-5 HCP = Sub-Minimum = 1 Cover Card

  9 LTC = 6-9 HCP = Responder Minimum = 2 Cover Cards

  8 LTC = 10-12 HCP = Responder Medium/Invitational = 3 Cover Cards

  7 LTC = 13-15 HCP = Opener Minimum = 4 Cover Cards

  6 LTC = 16-18 HCP = Opener Maximum = 5 Cover Cards

So if opener has a 6 LTC hand and rebids again at the 3 level, responder should accept the game try with 3 Cover Cards.  And you’ll recall Cover Cards are typically  Aces and Kings.  With good trump support, count additional “covers” for: Singletons = 1, Void = 2.  We can also count “covers” for working side suit Queens and Jacks.  A fourth trump, especially without a trump honor, counts as a full cover card.

After responder’s 2H/S signoff bid, with 6 LTC opener rebids a help suit with 2+ losers, bidding “up the line” by suit rank.  With spread losers in the minors and perhaps Hearts, opener may rebid 2 Notrump with a flattish 5-3-3-2 shape.

With 2.5-3 cover cards, responder should accept openers help suit game try, particularly with useful honors or shortness in openers help suit.   But even when responder has little help in openers asking suit, with 2+ covers responder can try a “counter suit” game try (also up the line but not above agreed upon suit).   If opener finds responders counter suit helpful, now opener can rebid game.  In instances where responder holds a flat 4-3-3-3 shaped hand, with 2.5 – 3 cover cards, responder may choose to rebid 3 Notrump despite the 5-3 major suit fit.  With a flattish 5-3-3-2 hand and balanced honors, opener may accept the 3 Notrump gambit knowing responder has no ruffing power.

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Polling You # 75, Losing Trick Count and Cover Cards

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Losing Trick Count and Cover Card Evaluation
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Hand evaluation – the foundation of solid Bridge bidding and prerequisite to successfully making your contract during play.  Early in our career we are taught the value of High Card Points beginning with the 4-3-2-1 approach that focuses on one’s honor holding.  In time we learn the value of long suits, useful to develop extra tricks through promotion plays.  Conversely, when we have good trump support for partner and a short side suit, again our hand can generate extra tricks.  In this lesson we will build on the basics of hand evaluation, taking a look at “The Law of Total Tricks” and working our way up to the benefits of Losing Trick Count hand evaluation.

Aside from obstructive preempts and competing in partscore contracts, bidding is all about making contracts and knowing when to stop short, lacking values.  And to make our contracts requires accurate partnership bidding.  Sound bidding is predicated on good hand evaluation and solid partnership communication skills.  Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and sound bidding is predicated on the ability of partnership hands to make tricks.

As always, tricks made during play is based three elements: Power, Promotion, and in the case of suit contracts, Ruffing

Power: Reflecting on hand evaluation, we begin counting our High Card Points.

Promotion: Next we consider the shape of our hand, adding extras for a “good” long suit headed by top honors – a promotable trump or side suit to gain extra tricks during declarer play.

Ruffing: Side suit shortness, especially in the dummy also can help generate extra tricks provided we have enough trump to gain ruffing tricks as declarer.

Speaking of honors, presents come in several sizes:

  1. Primary honors – Aces and Kings are usually more desirable than Queens and Jacks, especially at higher level contracts.
  2. Working honors – Clustering honors in fewer suits can earn extra tricks through finessing during declarer play.
  3. Picking up a self-sustaining suit is an extra special present – everyone loves to pick up a long, strong suit that is guaranteed not to lose more than one trick… even when partner only holds a worthless singleton.  Even a semi self-sustaining suit with two losers in an unsupported suit makes a nice gift.  Shortly, we will get into more details on this concept.

While counting 1 extra point for each card beyond the first four trump works well for 5 and six card suits, with 7+ card suit and two suited hands length point valuation undervalues the worth of the hand.  Certainly a 12 card suit heading missing the Ace is worth more than 6 (K=3, Q=2, J=1) plus 8 points.  Despite its 14 point valuation, clearly we can see the hand will take 11 tricks even when partner has a bust hand.

Speaking of the more garden variety partnership fits, in Bridge we always look forward to finding a “golden fit” with partner, a major suit with 8+ combined length that usually generates at least 4 tricks in the trump suit.

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Polling You #74, Leads After Belated Penalty Double, Day 5

Lead After Partners Double

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In previous lessons we have learned that when partner doubles an artificial/conventional bid by the Right Hand Opponent it typically asks for the lead of that suit, such as requesting a Club lead in these auction:

            (1N) – P – (2C) – X…

            (1H) – (2D);
(2S) – (3C) – X…

            (2N) – (4C) – X…

We also learned that depending on partnership agreements, when Right Hand Opponent makes a cuebid of a suit bid by your partnership, it typically means “partner, please lead the suit cuebid by the opponents” (some advanced partnerships invert the meaning, passing to request the suit, doubling to requesting the lead of another suit).  Using standard partnership agreements, the double of 3 Clubs asks for a Club lead.

            1S – (X) – 2C – (2H);

            2S – (3C) – X…

Now that we’ve covered all the basic lead scenarios, let’s take a look at peculiar situations where partner makes a double after the opponents made their final contract.  Depending on the bidding context, partner’s double could have a wide range of meanings:

  1. Lead the dummy’s first bid suit, i.e., the “Lightner Double”
  2. Lead your own first bid suit (regardless of partner’s bid suit)
  3. Lead partner’s first bid suit (regardless of declarer’s Notrump balancing bid)
  4. Lead dummy’s implied suit (suggested by dummy’s conventional bid)
  5. Lead your weaker suit without useful honors (typically a major suit)
  6. Lead something else – “D. S. I.” (Do Something Intelligent!)

Whew, who would have thought that a double by partner could have so might different meanings depending on the content of the overall bidding?  But fear not, regardless whether you learn best through memorization, understanding the logic behind a given lead, or a bit of both BridgeHands will provide you to answers to find the best lead.  Of course, it helps if your partner is on the same wavelength!

1.      Lightner Double:

-         Typically requires the lead of the dummy’s first bid suit, allowing partner to quickly take tricks to set the opponents contract before they can pitch losers on side suits.

-         Generally declarer has bid to 5 or 6 level (trump or Notrump), however Lightner doubles are still on against lower level Notrump contracts (3N, perhaps 2N).

-         Excludes normal suit lead (sequence, etc.) by opening partner.

-         Excludes the lead of the trump suit.

-         May call for the lead of the suit inferred by the dummy based on aggregate auction.

-         Excludes situations when the opponents have made a high-level sacrifice and partner has made a penalty double.

 

General guide for belated doubles:

- Without a double, favor leading the suit of stronger partner

- With a belated double, generally find a different lead

- Consider whether partner could have comfortably shown support but did not do so

- Occasionally, a belated double is “for business,” seeking a normal lead and looking for a juicy penalty.   Also, the double may confirm the lead of a long minor suit requesting the partner to lead the long, strong suit – particularly when opponents are in a high level Notrump contract and partner has an outside suit entry.

Examples (In all hands, South is the declarer, North the dummy):

South  North
(1H) – (1S);
(4H) – (4N);
(5H) – (6H) – X;    Requires the lead of a Spade

North  South
(1D) – (1H);
(4N) – (5H);
(6H) – X;                   Requires the lead of a Diamond

South  North

(1H) – (2S);
(3S) – (4H);
(5C) – (6H) – X;      Requires the lead of a Spade

North  South
(3H) – (3S);
(4D) – (4N);
(5C) – (6N) – X;       Requires the lead of a Heart

 

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Polling You #73, Trump Leads, Day 4

Trump Leads in Bridge

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Finally it’s time to delve into trump leads.   Candidly, isn’t it true that deep down inside we love to make a trump lead?  For some reason there’s a thrill associated with beginning play in the opponent’s trump suit as if, “Okay, you want that suit to be trump… here you go, just try to trump this!”   Yet hopefully our more logical left brain cautions us against unilaterally following the urge. 

 In Mike Lawrence’s book “Opening Leads” he aptly pointed out, “…it’s right 20 percent of the time, it won’t matter 30 percent of the time, and leading trump will be wrong about 50 percent of the time.”  So when in doubt, we are certainly far better off NOT leading a trump.  Yet following some basic guidelines we can certainly do far better than always going one way or the other.

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Certainly the most obvious reason we might want to lead trump is to cut down on the declarer’s ruffing opportunity.   Here are some of the top scenarios where leading a trump might generate extra tricks for the defenders:

  1. You have a longer trump suit than the declarer, particularly in a minor suit.
  2. The declarer has side suit loser length and the dummy hand is short in the suit, allowing the declarer to ruff losers in an auction as:
    1H – 3H; 4H – AP
  3. The opponents have no more than 4-4 (perhaps 4-3) in the trump suit and you hold 4 or more trumps.  It is quite common when a suit splits 4-4-4-1 that several hands will have a similar 4-4-4-1 shape or some other variation of shortness in the opponents’ hands.  Especially when your partner does not have many winners to give you ruffs, your persistent trump leads reduces the declarer’s ruffing power, making the hand appear to play in a Notrump contract.
    1H – 1S; 2D – AP
    1S – 1N; 2C – AP
    1S – 1N; 2H – 2S; AP
    1C – 1H; 1S – 2C; AP
    1C – 1D; 1S – 3S; 4S – AP
  4. Both the declarer and the dummy have shortness in different side suits, allowing cross-ruffs between the hands.  The auction might be where opener has a 14-17 points (a 6 Losing Trick Count hand), making a side suit game try and responder accepts based on shortness in the side suit:
    1S – 2S; 3D – 4S; AP
  5. Making an active/aggressive lead may finesse you or your partner, especially when the declarer has shown a strong hand in the bidding phase.
  6. Based on the bidding and deducing your hand has the remaining honors (partner likely to be bust).  Leading away from an unguarded King or Queen will probably finesse your precious honors.
  7. You hold “tight” top trump honors not useful for ruffing, as King-Queen-Jack, Queen-Jack-10, etc.  However leading a trump Ace-King doubleton will certainly not gather any honors from the opponents – let them lead the suit and knock out two of honors. Ditto with a “stiff” singleton Ace.
  8. Leading another suit seems awful, such as having to otherwise lead away from unprotected Aces, suits headed by Jacks, etc.
  9. Variations of the above include situations where opponents stole the auction with weakness, your partner passed your takeout double converting it to a penalty pass with a very long trump suit.  Typical prerequisites for a penalty pass:
    a. Little chance for game
    b. Honor strength (winning tricks) over opponent’s side suit
    c. Lacking a partnership fit
    d. Suit length in RHO’s suit.  Also, “slow tricks” are often advantageous over raw primary honor strength where your side could make a Notrump game or slam.
    e. Consideration to favorable or at least neutral vulnerability, negating the opponents’ scoring advantages should a game be possible by your side.
  10. The opponents are playing in a grandslam suit contract.

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Polling You #72, Passive Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 3

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In our prior episode we progressed from the basics of opening leads against suit contracts to active and more aggressive leads in situations where we need to capture our tricks before the declarer magically makes them disappear!   In this lesson, we explore situations where we may be rewarded for making a more passive lead avoid giving away tricks deserved by our side.

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Passive Defense Situations when declarer is in a suit contract:

  1. Partner gives us clear lead direction
    1. Partner opened/overcalled a major suit (5+)
    2. Partner doubled the opponent’s artificial bid (Stayman, Transfer, cuebid)
  2. Trump lead reduces opponents ruffing ability
  3. Safe sequence lead is best (Ace from Ace-King, top of sequence, etc.)
  4. Opponents have minimal strength (partscore)
  5. Partner not likely to hold a helpful honor (bust)
  6. Declarer (Right Hand Opponent) bid strongly but not in a slam suit contract
    1. Opens 1 Notrump (15-17), rebids 2 Notrump (18-19), opens 2 NT (20-21)
    2. Opener reverses as:  1C – 1H; 2D… (17+ points)
    3. Opener strong jump shift as:  1D – 1H; 3C… (19-21 points)

As always, thoughtful defenders should attentively listen to the auction.  Even aside from the bidding, shrewd defenders monitor the opponents’ mannerisms, gestures and the like.   And when it comes to assessing the bidding and play of the hand against a suit contract, here is our short list of extras to consider when making leads:

  1. count, Count, COUNT and Think 
  2. Count points
  3. Count Distribution
  4. Count Tricks (auction level)
  5. Integrate auction inferences into partnership plan

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Polling You #71, Active Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 2

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In our last episode we explored the basics of opening leads against suit contracts.   Recall the sequence leads, basic “fourth best” (from an honor) and “top of nothing” leads work often work well against both Notrump and suit contracts – provided we are not underleading an Ace. 

In this lesson, we examine situations when making an aggressive “active” lead may help us generate extra tricks.  Recall as defenders we must pay special attention to prevent the declarer from finding extra tricks through ruffs, cross-ruffs, and side-suit promotions after the declarer pulls trump.

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Active Defense Situations:

  1. Opponent may setup a long side suit
  2. Opponent may setup ruffs/cross-ruffs, etc.
  3. Opponents are in a high-level contract (5+ level)
  4. Partnership tenaces (finesses) are in jeopardy
  5. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

While active leads have their place, here are some situations to consider when making an aggressive lead may not be wise:

  1. Partner give clear lead direction
    1. Partner opened, overcalled a major suit (thus 5+ card suit), doubled an artificial bid by the opponents
  2. Trump lead reduced opponents ruffing ability
  3. Safe sequence lead is best (as Ace from Ace-King)
  4. Opponents have minimal strength (part score contract)
  5. Partner cannot hold helpful honor
  6. Right Hand Opponent (declarer) bid strongly, but not in a slam contract
    1. Open 1 Notrump (15-17), rebid 2 Notrump (18-19), open 2 Notrump (20-21)
    2. Opener reverses as: 1C – 1H; 2D … (17+ points)
    3. Opener makes a strong jump shift as: 1D – 1H; 3C… (19+ points)

Of course, as thoughtful defenders both the opening leader and partner should be attentively listening to the auction, including mannerisms, gestures and the like made by the opponents.   At the top of our short list, leading against suit contracts includes:

  1. count, Count, COUNT and Think 
  2. Count points
  3. Count Distribution
  4. Count Tricks (auction level)
  5. Integrate auction inferences into partnership plan

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Polling You #70, Leads Against Suit Contracts, Day 1

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While many leads against Notrump follow a limited number of guidelines, leading against opponents’ suit contracts offers a far greater range of options.   Playing against a Notrump contract we typically seek to “win the race” by first promoting our long suit the declarer.   While a sequence lead might be safe, now we must pay special attention to ruffs, cross-ruffs, side-suit promotion after declarer pulls trump, as well as other factors.

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Typical Declarer Play Strategies:

  1. Pull trumps, avoid opponent ruffing
  2. Pull trumps, promote side suit, pitch losers
  3. Finesse, repeated finesses, pitch quick losers
  4. Use dummy shortness, ruff declarer losers
  5. Cross-ruff between hands, imbalanced hands

Defender Classic Suit Leads

  1. Ace from Ace-King
  2. Top of honor sequence
  3. Partner’s bid suit (High-Low, etc.)
  4. Fourth best leads (not away from an Ace)
  5. Top of nothing (passive lead)

Lead Differences:

Notrump Suits
AKxxx AKxxx
A109x A109x
Axxx Axxx
AQxxx Avoid leading suit
KQxxx KQxxx

Suit Contracts:

Honor Considerations

  1. Honor sequence suits as: KQ10x (better), KJ10x (okay)
  2. Split honors as: KQxx (especially opposite game)
  3. Multiple split honor suit as: KJxxJ10[…]
  4. Priority:  Kxxx (often best),  Qxxx (xxx better),  Jxxx (xxxx better)
  5. Top of nothing: xxxx

Polling You 70, Hand 1

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Polling You #69, Bridge Defense Day 5, More Leads Against Notrump

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Again we focus on the opening lead when opponents wind up in a Notrump contract.  However, this time the opponents may be playing in a lofty slam contract.  In this case, we may need to re-access our lead options.   Yes, against a 3 Notrump contract, leading an honor from our three card sequence and broken sequences often works wonders.  Yet as we shall see against a Notrump slam contract, in some instances your mileage may vary.   Also, while aggressive leads may work well against slam in a suit contract, such is usually not the case leading against a Notrump slam.

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Of course, as always aspiring Bridge players are still required to think.    Insightful Bridge players look far beyond looking at ones 13 cards.  Listening to the bidding is critical.  Be an inquisitive Bridge player, asking yourself questions like:

  1. What were the opponents’ bids? 
  2. How high did they go and what are their estimated combined points? 
  3. What do you know about their hand shape?
  4. How many points does that leave for your partner?
  5. Did your partner bid? (or perhaps pass an opportunity to double opponents’ artificial bid)
  6. Did the opponents auction proceed smoothly or did they hesitate, make inadvertent gestures and the like (players must never deliberately signal their partner), make inaudible noises and the like?

On our first three hands, the opponents play in 3 Notrump; the defender’s hands will be similar yet opening leads and third hand play will vary.  From there we boost the stakes with opponents in 4 Notrump, then three hands lead against 6 Notrump.   The last three hands we will add some more variables, mixing it up with the kind of hands you may see at the table.  For instance, we shall witness why leading from a fine 4 four card suit like AQxx can hurt (as opposed to a 5 card suit of AQxxx).  Okay enough talk, it’s time to step up, sit down, shuffle-deal-play…

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Polling You #68, Bridge Defense, Broken Leads, Day 4

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In this lesson, again we focus on the opening lead when the opponents work their way into a 3 Notrump contract.  As we’ve seen earlier in our Incredible Defender series when playing against Notrump contracts, sound opening leads include top of sequence leads, fourth best leads, leading partner’s bid suit, signaling count to partner, etc. 

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In this lesson, we turn our attention to leads from broken suits.  Among the most common lead opposite a Notrump contract is:

  1. Fourth best leads promising an honor – i.e., the bottom of “something.”
  2. Lead the top of a broken sequence – an honor sequence with 3 of 4, missing the third spot (as Queen from QJ9…). 
  3. Lead the top of an interior sequence – an honor sequence again with 3 of 4, missing the second spot (the Jack from KJ109…).
While we may have heard of these leads, perhaps we are not entirely convinced of their effectiveness to maximize our defensive trick taking ability.  Fair enough, few opening leads are guaranteed to work flawlessly under all conditions!   Indeed, aspiring Bridge players are still required to think.    In earlier lessons we’ve discussed inferences, pointing out the benefits of going far beyond looking at your 13 cards.  Listening to the bidding is critical.  Be an inquisitive Bridge player, asking yourself questions like:
  1. What were the opponents’ bids? 
  2. How high did they go and what are their estimated combined points? 
  3. What do you know about their hand shape?
  4. How many points does that leave for your partner?
  5. Did your partner bid? (or perhaps pass an opportunity to double opponents’ artificial bid)
  6. Did the opponents auction proceed smoothly or did they hesitate, make inadvertent gestures and the like (players must never deliberately signal their partner), make inaudible noises and the like?

On the first three hands, the opening leader West has identical cards.   So having given due diligence analyzing the bidding, you’re ready to table your opening lead from a broken sequence hoping for the best.  Okay, here we go…

 

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