Only one hand today. You are North and have to play 6 Spades with these cards, after this bidding (you can't see the last few bids, but North replied to the key-card ask with 5 Hearts, showing 2 KC without the Queen, and South bid 6 Spades):
You are playing against our own experts, Miguel Villas-Boas in East and Diego Brenner in West. The lead was the 9 of clubs, upon which West played the Queen.
This setup is how Diego Brenner presented the hand to me. First of all, what is going on in the club suit? Is East really leading from small cards in declarer's first bid suit? These guys are tricky and East can easily have led from the King. I ask Diego about this, and he gives me a frank "it looks like East has led from the King". At the table these feelings count for a lot.
In any case the technical line appears to be cashing 2 top spades and, if nothing strange happens, trying to guess diamonds. If the Queen of trumps drops, the hand becomes a laydown.
So I cash the 2 spades and East shows out.
Now I have to decide how to play the diamonds. This 4-1 split makes it harder for me to win the contract through a ruffing finesse in diamonds; if East covers with the hypothetical King, I ruff in dummy and run hearts (after pitching dummy's club in the 3rd diamond), but this will require West to follow suit to at least 3 hearts If West has 2 hearts only. I will end up with: 4 trumps in hand (overruffing/pitching as West ruffs hearts with a low/high trump), 2 ruffs in dummy, 2 hearts, 2 Aces, and a diamond honor = 11 tricks.
I could try to slip past East's diamond King by playing the Ace and Jack for this finesse, but these guys are too good to fall for that. If it were the only chance, I`d surely try it, but as the cards stand now the straight diamond finesse (low to the Queen) looks like the best bet. That's my announcement, and I get lucky when the full cards are:
At the other table, East leads a diamond against Marcelo Branco in the same contract, so this is a big swing for our experts.
(Updated Jan 20, 2020 - Diego Brenner pointed out a winning line for the 2nd hand, even after the best defense)
I am not playing in the Trials this year, having moved to the US last July. But I am still following the results closely, and I ask my colleagues there for interesting hands. These are their first two hands.
Diego Brenner gave me the following play problem in 6 Hearts from North, with the Ten of diamonds lead:
My best shot is to establish diamonds in dummy, pitching the club loser in the spades. I'll need to avoid losing a trump and favorable diamonds. There are extra chances (such as a singleton club Queen), but it is important not to risk the main chances while pursuing unlikely positions.
In any case we should begin with a spade. West wins the Ace and leads the 6 of hearts. You cover with the 7, and West follows with the 2.
You will always go down if trumps are 4-1, so this trick is a bit of a trap. You need to keep on ruffing diamonds. So I said I would win in dummy, ruff a diamond, and if nothing weird happened, lead a club to dummy (picking up a singleton Queen), ruff the 3rd diamond, and draw trumps, pitching one or two losers from dummy on the spades first (depending on whether diamonds are established or not).
The Queen of diamonds shows up in the 2nd round of the suit, and so the hand makes easily:
Everything was so favorable (even the club Queen falls doubleton, in front of the AK!), that any sensible line wins the contract. One interesting variation is if, on West's trump lead, East plays the Jack. You should probably follow the same line, since trumps 4-1 are very hard to handle. Win in dummy, ruff a diamond, etc.
Marcelo Branco gave me this one:
South has a very tough bidding problem in the first round, after partner's (Gabriel Chagas) natural weak-two opening... Branco picked the right choice when he bid 3 Spades (many players passed), and now he was at the helm in 4 Spades. The lead was the 4 of clubs. East won with the King, and played the Jack of hearts.
When I was given the problem, I figured that the best chance was to establish diamonds, with some extra chances on the side (the hand might become a crossruff). The plan I announced to Marcelo was to win with the Ace, play Ace of diamonds, diamond ruff, and then play a club, pitching a heart. East would win and, if he had the heart King all along, he would be a bit stuck for a return. (Note that I would not be able to make this club play if the heart finesse lost). He would probably play back a club, or perhaps a trump, both of them being good for me. (If he played a heart and my Queen lost to the King, there was nothing I could do anyway).
I was rewarded by the actual lie of the cards:
Once the diamond King shows up at the 2nd round of the suit, the hand becomes easy.
Marcelo tried the finesse. It is always hard to eschew a finesse. Hard to second-guess such a great declarer, who was at the table. In any case if Marcos Thoma had played a club back he would have to play the cards in the right order (check Diego Brenner's comment below!) to make the contract. When he instead played a 2nd heart, Marcelo was able to make the hand without breaking a sweat.
So far my armchair playing has been OK... but these players have a knack for finding difficult problems. We will post other interesting hands as they come along.
Opener's 2nd bid #2 - rebidding his suit, bidding 2NT, or raising partner's suit
These bids are also unlimited (though the 2NT bid is a special case), continuing the description of opener's hand while establishing the foundation for the choice of games or for slam bidding. Let us take each possibility in turn.
1. Rebid of own suit
The rebid of opener's own suit can have any strength, and does not guarantee 6 cards in the suit. It is, indeed, the "default bid" whenever a hand does not fit any other bid. Some examples of minimum and maximum hands after the auction 1 Spade - 2 Clubs:
Again, if you feel that 2 Spades is not enough with the 2nd hand, your instincts are in the right place. But there is no better bid. A jump to 3 Spades -- which will be discussed in the next article -- would require a better suit. There is no doubt you would have a lot of catching up to do once the bidding starts 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - 2 Spades, since partner will -- initially! -- picture you with something closer to the 1st hand We will discuss how to deal with that in a later article.
What are the kinds of hands that rebid opener's suit with only 5 cards? It depends on responder's suit. The auction 1 Spade - 2 Clubs leaves space for opener to rebid any red suit at the 2-level; the auction 1 Spade - 2 Hearts preempts the minor suits, which must now be shown at the 3-level. Bidding at the 3-level requires extras -- either in distribution or in high cards -- and so opener may be stuck with a rebid in his own suit with a hand like the following one, after 1 Spade - 2 Hearts:
This is a mild example. You could be forced to bid 2 Spades with a minimum 5-5! (It is a disgusting notion, and I try very hard to show the second suit, but some hands are so weak that I cannot bring myself to do it).
What this all means is that the more space you have to bid new suits, the less likely it is that you will have a hidden suit when you rebid your own suit. 1 Spade - 2 Clubs is the best auction in that family: opener is denying 4+ diamonds or hearts, and so will only have 5 spades if his hand is inadequate for a 2NT rebid, to be reviewed shortly. On the other hand, 1 Spade - 2 Hearts is an auction in which the rebid is quite vague, and it will probably have only 5 cards more often than not, considering how 5-4 hands are so common. I haven't done the research to establish this, but you should take this rebid with a grain of salt anyway.
2. The 2NT rebid
Here we have one of those bidding areas in which more than one style is popular and playable. Let me present each one in order:
2.1. 2NT shows extras
In this style, 2NT shows at least a good 14+ hand (i.e., 2NT is one of the bids which require a non-minimum, just as all other 3-level new suit non-jump bids). With a hand weaker than that, you rebid your own suit, the default bid.
Note some corollaries of this style:
2.2. 2NT shows a minimum (12-15)
This gives better definition to the opener's rebid of his own suit (since it takes the balanced 12-15, with adequate stoppers, out of it). It is still not a guarantee of a 6-card suit there, since some hands will be quite inadequate for a 2NT rebid (imagine AKJxx xxx xxx KJ, 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - ?). But it increases the odds of catching those 6 cards.
The corollaries are:
I honestly don't have any strong opinion on which is the best style. I have played both, effectively. Pick the one with which you feel most comfortable. If I had to make a guess about how an unknown partner would interpret it, I would go with the first option (2NT shows extras), but you should not have to guess. Discuss it with your partner!
3. A simple raise of partner's suit
This is unlimited, but the parameters change noticeably depending on whether partner`s suit is a minor or hearts (the only major suit that can be shown as a 2/1 response). Raising a minor suit shows extras (14+), and 4 cards in the suit, for two reasons: game in a minor requires more power, and responder can (and often will) have only 4 cards for his natural 2/1 response in a minor.
On the other hand, responder always shows 5+ cards when he responds 2 Hearts over 1 Spade, and so opener may raise with 3. Also, opener may be minimum (and even subminimum!) with this raise, since raising a major suit takes precedence over any fine-tuning of strength.
These are examples of minimum / maximum raises of a minor:
Note that these auctions are often tricky. You should not pass (with the 2nd hand) when partner bids 3NT over your raise, but change one of your Aces (or even both of them) to Kings and the issue becomes less clear. That's the trouble with minor suits -- you have to take a chance (of bypassing the best contract, which is often 3NT) when deciding whether to explore a slam.
The major suits are different in that you are not so interested in 3NT if you have found a fit there. (Though 3NT is often better than 4 of a Major...). This is why we raise hearts freely over the auction 1 Spade - 2 Hearts. Your hand can be like one of these, or anything in-between:
It is easy to foresee difficulties if the same bid can have hands of such different playing power. We use some tools to help with slam bidding (Serious/Non-Serious 3NT, splinters rather than a direct raise, etc. All will be discussed at later articles.), but this is an area in which judgment will always be rewarded, and rote bidding can be harshly punished.
In the next article in this series (to be published next Monday, Jan 20th), we will finish the exploratory look at opener's first rebid.
Opener's rebids #1 - new suit at the 2-level
You opened 1 of a Major, and your partner responded with a new suit at the 2-level. The auction is forcing to game (or at least to a rebid by responder, if you prefer the style that allows for the one-suited invitational exception. More on that in the next article). This means that there is no need to jump with strength. Jumps are therefore defined to show specific hands.
The general principle governing the entire structure is that hands without a clear direction bid slowly. This means two things:
So, after 1 Spade - 2 Clubs, you should bid 2 Diamonds with both of these hands:
If you are thinking that you may never catch up if you bid only 2 Diamonds with the 2nd hand, all I can say is that your instincts are in the right place! You should be yearning to show your enormous playing strength (particularly after partner shows a nice hand with 2 Clubs). But the hand is too complicated for you to jump around. You can end up playing a contract in spades, diamonds, or clubs (or perhaps notrump if partner insists on it after you show your diamonds, i.e., if he has good heart stoppers); and you can stop in game only (which is admittedly very unlikely), or in a slam, or in a grand slam. To explore all of these possibilities properly, you should take advantage of the entire bidding space available.
Note that you will have to take control of the auction later. Partner will never play you for a hand this strong. One of the most common pitfalls of 2/1 bidding is that a player believes that, because the auction is forced to game, he should just go through the motions (of suit establishment and cuebidding) and then the final contract will be reached almost automatically. That is not correct. When the hand is in the slam zone, one or both players must take the plunge and go beyond the game-level. The second hand above is far too strong to not invite slam (very strongly).
(Actually I think I overshot when imagining that hand. I can't really picture myself stopping short of slam once partner shows clubs and a game-forcing hand).
The most difficult hands for the 2/1 style are the in-between hands. When you have, say, one less King than hand 2 above, you often have to take a chance at the 5-level to explore slam possibilities. But that's a subject for future articles. For now, the point is that a non-jump rebid in a new suit is unlimited in strength.
It is also unlimited in distribution. 2 Diamonds shows at least 5-4 in spades and diamonds, but it can go all the way to a 7-6 hand (you won't see those very often). More realistically, it can be bid with 6-4, 5-5, 6-5, and often with 7-4 (although in this last case rebidding spades will also be attractive in many situations).
So far all I've been discussing here is "standard and best". There is one case of the non-jump rebid in a new suit at the 2-level which has no "standard" interpretation, and which must therefore be discussed with your partner. I mean, of course, the 2 Spades rebid by a 1 Heart opener: the auction 1 Heart - 2 of a minor - 2 Spades.
There are two main schools in play here. Either this shows extra values (roughly 14+; a hand which will accept a one-suited game invitation if that is allowed in your structure), or it may be bid with any minimum. The core of the problem is how to bid a minimum 4-5 hand:
I have seen hands like this result in lost imps at a very high level, due to a lack of discussion between partners as to how to deal with them. Should this hand bid 2 Spades after 1 Heart - 2 Clubs, or should it be content to bid 2 Hearts? Let us look at the pros and cons of each approach.
Style #1 - 2 Spades is a reverse (showing extra values)
Pro: gives more definition to a 2 Spade rebid, which may come in handy if responder is interested in slam.
Con: Makes it necessary for responder to bid 2 Spades over 2 Hearts whenever he has 4 cards there, else the fit will be lost. 2 Spades may not be the most natural bid (imagine something like Q9xx x AJ9 KQJxx -- he would like to show a strong preference for NT now, rather than suggest a spade contract), but this is the trap that must be avoided if you are playing this style. Someone has to bid spades when that is the best strain!
Style #2 - 2 Spades is not a reverse (may be bid with a minimum)
Pro: releases responder to bid more naturally with 54 in the blacks (or even 44 in the blacks, which should often start with 2 Clubs with game forcing values -- a subject for a later article).
Con: may make it harder for responder to sort out opener's strength, when he is interested in high contracts.
I prefer to build the system so as to make it easier for us to reach the best game. Choice of games is more often important than slam bidding. (Though it must be noted that slam bidding is a very close second issue in that hierarchy). So, my recommendation is that you should play Style #2. But whatever is your choice, discuss it with your partner! Both of you must be in the same page here, and without clear discussion of this issue, there will be bad results, guaranteed.
Style #2 will be assumed when we discuss responder's 2nd bid.
In the next article, other non-jump rebids by opener: the rebid of the major suit, the raise of partner's suit, and 2NT.
This series will present the foundation and further developments of the most popular system of natural bidding, called "2/1 Game Forcing", or "2/1" as a shorthand. We will explore the reasoning behind the system, and discuss situations in which there is more than one obviously superior approach. In fact, there will be 3 categories of agreements that will be presented here:
This series has no end in sight. I don't know how many articles will be written. If there is enough interest, we can even get into more space-age approaches (such as 2 Clubs artificial over 1 Major opening, and Gazzilli). But for now we will begin at the beginning, from the ground up.
Why play 2/1?
2/1, as the most popular natural style, replaced what is nowadays called "Goren" (after the player who most popularized that style), or "Standard American". Online, it is easy to find people claiming to play SAYC, which stands for "Standard American Yellow Card". If you have learned bridge before, say, the 2000's, the odds are that you have learned to bid in that style, and was only later presented to 2/1.
The replacement is understandable. 2/1 produces better results. And it is even easier to play! It is not a panacea; we will see some soft spots in the system. But it is superior to SAYC, and it is important to understand why.
2/1 better conforms to a bidding principle, which is, determine as early as possible if the combined strength of the hands are enough to produce game. The idea behind that principle is that the main goal of any bidding system (in the unimpeded auction... contested auctions are a different animal, which will be discussed later) is to reach as many makeable games as possible. Incidentally, this is why we focus on looking for a major suit -- because game is easier to make there than in a minor. If all suits had the same worth, bidding systems would suffer an enormous overhaul.
SAYC would respond with a 2/1 (e.g. 2 Clubs over a 1 Heart opening) with hands in the 10+ range, i.e., in the invitational-plus category. It makes for a better description of invitational hands (which often have to respond with a forcing NT in the 2/1 system). But it also means that the partnership is still unaware of whether the hands should bid game. Then, if opener made a minimum but forcing rebid (a new suit, traditionally), the partnership was still in the dark. And then someone had to jump in order to announce game-forcing strength. This wasted space and was prone to accidents.
2/1 is simpler. If you bid at the 2-level over a 1-Major opening, you are indicating game forcing values. (There is a popular style that includes one exception -- invitational one-suited hands. We'll discuss it in a later article. For now, let us assume GF values). This means that nobody needs to jump. And so the partnership has plenty of space to focus on the next two goals of bidding (once GF strength is established), answering the following questions:
Let us look at a typical hand to check the superiority of 2/1 over the SAYC:
14 high card points opposite 13. Everyone would like to be in game with these cards. But the best game (4 Hearts) requires careful exploration. In a Standard American context, the auction would begin (with West being dealer) with 1 Spade - 2 Clubs - 2 Hearts. Now, East would like to indicate a stopper in diamonds, while also leaving open the door for further exploration. He is not sure of the best contract. There is one snag, though: 2NT would not be forcing! It would typically show a hand with something like 11 points and 1=3=4=5 distribution. It might also be 2=3=4=4. It would be the last way to warn opener that the hand might not make a game.
So, East would have a real problem here. And it would probably be solved by a 3NT bid. (3 Clubs would also not be forcing). East might try a piece of delicate bidding by essaying 3 Diamonds, and it would work well in this situation, but this would make it quite hard for him to show a 5-6 in the minors, in another hand. Any way you slice it, it is worse for the partnership if East has to bid a non-suit or jump to game, crowding the bidding.
How much simpler is their auction in a 2/1 context. East bids a comfortable 2NT, since the auction is already forced to game, and the whole 3-level is available for exploration. West rebids his hearts, showing 5 cards there, and East, with 3-card support and only one diamond stopper, has an easy 4 Hearts bid.
This was a choice of games hand, but it is easy to see that the pursuit of slam will also be hindered if players have to jump, or bid non-suits, in order to announce the strength to force to game.
By giving priority to that bidding principle -- the partnership must know, as early as possible, whether they are looking for only a part-score or whether they have the strength to try game -- 2/1 has reached its current popularity.
In the next article, we will take a look at opener's rebids in the 2/1 context.
The great Pietro Berlusconi had a great talent for concocting difficult and beautiful hands. One of his hands will be our first hand of 2020.
You opened 1 Club because that is what you do with your balanced hands (1 Diamond is unbalanced), and so you are at the helm at 6 Clubs. West, somewhat surprisingly, led the Queen of Hearts. When you decide to draw trumps, you will follow the odds in the trump suit (since West showed a long spade suit) and start by cashing dummy's honor, guarding against a void in West -- and that is what you find. East has Qxx of clubs.
Take it from there.
The answer has been published.
In any given bridge hand, the likelihood that the opening lead will be the most important card played is very high. More contracts are won (or lost) on the opening lead than on any other card. You will never be able to reach your highest bridge aspirations if you do not devote some study to the improvement of your opening leads. While defense is said to be the hardest part of bridge, the opening lead is the hardest part of the defense.
But this does not mean that the opening lead is a matter of chance. Quite the opposite: the expert makes the "killing lead" more often than the average player. There are some principles that help the expert when they are picking the opening lead, which can be employed profitably by all players. Above all, we must pay attention to the auction before leading.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the expert and the average player in this department is that the expert chooses his lead taking the bidding into account, while the average player looks for the "table of opening leads" (AK, KQ, singletons, etc.) and picks his lead according to that table. There is nothing wrong with that -- the expert, other things being equal, also follows this routine. The problem is that the other things are very seldom equal!
Let us examine a simple example of this idea:
After this bidding, if you gave this hand to a panel of experts, the heart lead would be close to unanimous. The bidding did not give us any clue to pick between spades and hearts, and the heart suit is safer (thanks to that 9). If the opponents have A10x in the dummy and Kxx in hand, both leads are bad, giving up a trick that declarer would not make by himself; but if these cards are inverted, the 9 of Hearts is still guarding your Jack.
A slight modification already produces a startling effect:
With the same auction, you would probably see some controversy in this second hand. Some experts would lead diamonds (the best suit), for the same reasons presented above, but many others would lead hearts. Why? Because the red suits are not equivalent in this auction, unlike the major suits of the previous example. If dummy had 5 hearts, he would almost always bid the suit (by a transfer). If there were 4 hearts there, he would often have explored the possibility of a 4-4 fit (through the use of Stayman). In other words, the 1NT-3NT auction, in most cases, denies 4+ cards in a major (in dummy). And these inferences are not applicable to the diamond suit -- dummy can have 4, 5, or even 6 cards there.
We see here how the inferences from the bidding -- including not only the bids that were made, but also the bids that were not made -- can influence the choice of opening lead. If the red suits were identical (either with or without the 9), you would see a very clear majority of experts leading hearts, for objective reasons. In our actual example, with diamonds a bit stronger, the opening lead is not so clearcut.
(It is worth pointing out that top partnerships are aware, and have been for many years, of this inferences from the bidding when they are responding to 1NT, and thus avoid Stayman, or even using a transfer, in hands that "look a lot like NT". The more "automatic" is the investigation of a possible major suit fit from dummy in the opponents' partnership, the more indicated is the major suit lead against an auction such as 1NT-3NT).
Let us take a look at how this can impact the decision of great players in a real hand. In 1979, the Reisinger ended in a tie, and there was a tie-breaker round of 12 boards between the two leading teams. On the 5th hand of this tie-breaker, the East players had to lead against 3NT from:
What is your lead?
You already know that the question is incomplete. You have to ask what was the bidding! At one table, the auction went like this: 1NT by RHO, you passed, 2 Diamonds (Forcing Stayman, not a transfer) from LHO, pass from partner, 2NT from RHO, denying a 4-card major suit (are you thinking about your lead?), you passed, 3NT from dummy, all passed.
And now, what is your lead? Dummy showed some interest in the major suits (else he would have just bid 3NT directly). Declarer doesn't have a major suit of 4+cards. Dummy had the entire 3-level to investigate a possible problem in 3NT, but decided against it. So, dummy is not really concerned about opener having a low doubleton, or three small cards, in a major.
Taking all of these clues in, Bobby Levin led from his strongest suit, a low club.
Let us go to the other room now. The auction there went like this: 1NT from RHO, you passed, 2 Hearts (transfer) from LHO, partner passed, 2 Spades from RHO, you passed, 3NT from LHO, all passed. Ira Rubin had these cards. From his viewpoint, dummy probably did not have 4 hearts (he would have preferred Stayman with 54 in the majors). Declarer may have 4 hearts, but he may also have 4 diamonds, or 4 clubs, and it is rather more likely that he will have 5 (or more!) clubs or diamonds, than hearts. In other words, by the pure "count of cards in each suit", it is more likely that hearts are the combined longest suit for the defense. And so he led a small heart.
This was the full hand:
Note how both leaders were correct in the inferences available in each auction. Nevertheless, one of them hit on the killing heart lead, while the other lost a trick in the opening lead. As usual, the opening lead was the most important card.
Let us now end this article with the analysis of a brilliant lead, from Gabriel Chagas, which decided a South American championship against Venezuela, some 40 years ago. Chagas had something like the following hand, and this was the auction:
Chagas reasoned as follows: Declarer clearly has a spade stopper, or two. Dummy is hoping to make the contract by running clubs. And North's club holding is ominous for the defense. The odds that the clubs will run (or perhaps that partner has a stiff honor which will be soon revealed -- something like KJ10xxx and Ax with the opponents) must be huge.
This means that, for the spade lead to be the best, partner must have a spade honor and a club stopper; if he does not have that club stopper, declarer will probably be able to run 9 tricks before the defense can do anything else, even if the spade suit is established in the opening lead. The entry in hearts will be too late to break the contract.
On the other hand, the opponents did not try to find a heart fit. Support doubles were not in vogue back then, so dummy would probably make an effort to reveal 3 cards in hearts, whether by supporting directly at his second bid, or, almost certainly, by bidding 3 Hearts over 2NT. That means that the hearts are most likely 4-2 (or perhaps even 4-1) with the opponents. So, there is a fair chance that partner has a good holding in hearts; but, more crucially, even if the heart lead is not so good for the defense, if partner has that winning case for the spade lead (a spade honor and a club stopper), North can still switch to spades after leading the heart Ace! Depending on the sight of dummy and on the card that his partner (P.P. Assumpção) would play, he could decide how to direct the defense.
Look at it in this way: the heart lead would only be disastrous if the heart King were the 9th trick in a hand where partner has a spade honor and a club stopper, but in which declarer no longer needed to establish clubs after that heart lead. Try to concoct such a hand. It is not easy.
The hand has a happy ending for us, Brazilians, for this was the entire hand:
Chagas had read the hand perfectly, and the defense cashed 4 hearts and 1 spade. The spade lead does not give up the hand -- Assumpção could switch to hearts. Would you? With Jx of hearts in dummy, K108x in your hand, and declarer having bid hearts? Is it not more likely that your partner will have the club stopper (the Ace), in which case you have to continue the spade attack, rather than breaching a new suit (bid by declarer, to boot)? Congratulations to Chagas for making partner's life easy with a great lead (which might have worked in different scenarios -- e.g., Kxx K10xxx xxxx x with partner, and a singleton Jack of hearts in dummy),
The bottom line: before making the opening lead, make an effort to visualize, as much as possible, the opponents' distribution and your partner's. Every auction is full of clues! And don't forget to do this while the auction is taking place -- otherwise your lead will take a long time to show up at the table (and remember that declarer is paying attention too... taking too long for a lead is a clue for him as well).