Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 11th, 2017

My partner has criticized me in the past for leading away from a king. Do you have any cast iron rules on what combinations you should or shouldn’t lead from?

First Footer, Raleigh, N.C.

Never ever listen to anyone who advises you about not leading from certain honors. Leading or underleading unsupported aces against suits is very dangerous — but I have published deals where I thought it right. Meanwhile, leading from kings is right as often as it is wrong. I’d say beware of it ONLY when leading into a very strong hand. Simplest is to listen to the bidding and lead what feels right. The question of when to be passive and aggressive is such a hard one that no simple piece of advice will be a panacea.

My regular partnership mostly plays pairs scoring, and some Board-a-Match. It seems to me that part-score hands outnumber games and slams. If so, maybe competing accurately for partscores should be our top priority. Would it therefore make sense to build our system and agreements around a weak no-trump? Would that require major alterations to the rest of our framework?

Entry-Level, Jackson, Tenn.

I’m not convinced the weak no-trump would have a significant improvement in your ability to get in first. You lose some accuracy for the benefit of pushing the opponents to the two level. Having said that, the structural changes you need to make to the rest of your system would not be dramatic. Bear in mind you will be playing different methods than the field, though.

I recently held: ♠ K-Q-10-4,  Q-7,  —, ♣ A-Q-10-7-5-4-2 and opened one club. When my LHO overcalled one diamond my partner bid one heart, the next hand bid two diamonds, and I tried two spades, planning a rebid in clubs. I am still waiting…my partner passed, with three trumps to the jack and the club king plus the heart ace, so five clubs was cold, while two spades was a struggle. Who goofed?

Stop-gap, Penzance, England

With your distribution, it would be hard to believe the auction could end so abruptly. Had you bid anything else, you would have run a different kind of risk, one of not finding the best possible trump suit. Yes, maybe your partner should have played you for real extras in shape or high cards and gone back to three clubs.

Can you tell me why five-card majors are more in vogue than four-card majors? And under what circumstances would you introduce a four-card major as opener in first or second seat?

Litterbug, Augusta, Maine

Those who scoff at five-card majors tend to regard them as a security blanket. When you have one, it gives you a warm feeling, and your auction becomes more defined. Conversely, opening a minor without length is bad for constructive bidding. Bidding four-card majors first may be ugly, but it lets you get your blow in first. I tend to open one in first or second seat with four only with a very good suit in a balanced minimum opener. I’d plan to rebid at no-trump or pass a one no-trump response.

We missed our best spot yesterday and are trying to decide who underbid more. Opener held ♠ J-6,  A-K-J-7-5-3,  A-K-J-7-3, ♣ —, and after opening one heart and hearing a response of one spade, contented himself with two diamonds. Responder had a 4-2-3-4 shape with the spade ace, diamond queen and club jack, plus the doubleton heart 10, and passed. How do you evaluate what happened?

Petrified Forest, Wausau, Wis.

A more logical auction is for opener to jump in diamonds, then rebid the second suit over false preference to hearts. If responder bids four hearts, the auction will be over, if he cuebids four spades you should reach the diamond slam. This looks to be a good spot; it requires hearts 3-2 or a singleton heart queen.

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David WarheitJune 25th, 2017 at 11:12 am

On pet forest’s hand: 6D will make if both red suits are 3-2 (about 46%) or if D are 4-1 and H are 3-2 with the Q onside (about 9%). About the only other thing I can think of is if HQ is singleton and that defender has exactly 2D. In short, 6D is not a very good contract and finding the HQ singleton adds almost nothing to your chances.

Bobby WolffJune 25th, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Hi David,

While I agree with your percentages (multiplying 66+% by itself and then adding about 9% for the heart Q onside (as you say, about 9%) when the diamonds are 4-1 as well as the heart Q being singleton when that same hand has only 2 diamonds (very unlikely).

However, when playing against good company 50% is about enough to warrant bidding a slam (add in the very small extra chance that when one suit breaks 3-2 the other one is very slightly more likely to also break in a normal way.

For discussion sake while playing IMPs or rubber bridge this judgment should apply, but for matchpoints and being a good declarer the percentage of bidding an even money slam goes down in value since playing 4 hearts well (although not at all difficult on this collection) or the opponents being sloppy on defense (here, hard to imagine), may be worth something.

In any event, the opener has a clear rebid of jumping to 3 diamonds and after partner gives a correct false preference to 3 hearts, surely a rebid of 4 diamonds may get partner to bid 4 spades and, if so, to not then bid 6 diamonds (which partner will definitely pass) is, at least to me, much too conservative. The choice if partner merely rebids 5 diamonds could be another controversial one with pass or 6 diamonds, still both in the offing.

For those who might say that partner, if merely raising to 5 diamonds denies a spade control, I will not agree, since bridge bidding, although hopefully as accurate and scientific as possible (especially possible slams), is to me, still judgemental and contracting for 11 tricks rather than accepting 10 (4 hearts instead) should show at least something of value, plus the worthy opponents not being sure which black suit to lead favors at least a thought of the offense being bold.

Yes, the above is much said about a fairly simple theme which often occurs (in one way or another) to which, if faced with that choice, usually I go bold, meaning my experience over the many years still seems the best road to take. Maybe only illusory, but perhaps not.