Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 27th, 2012

I'm never sure whether the best strategy is one that yields the best percentage, or one that gives the defenders a chance to err. For example, with Q-10-x in dummy facing A-9-8-x in hand, how should I play the suit?

Tall Order, Richmond, Va.

The percentage line (which gives you a 76 percent chance of success) is to run the queen, then the 10 — or vice versa. But the best practical line is to lead low to the 10, and if it loses to the jack, run the queen. You give your LHO a chance to betray possession of the king, and that turns my line (which in theory has a 7 percent chance) into one with a far greater chance of success.

With no one vulnerable, would you overcall in third seat holding ♠ J-5-4,  K-Q-9-5-4,  3-2, ♣ J-6-4 after your partner has passed and your RHO has bid one diamond? At the table I passed, and my partner did not find the heart lead that would have defeated three no-trump.

By the Book, Eau Claire, Wis.

I think that the hand you quote is NOT worth an overcall. I'd be more tempted to overcall one spade over a minor or even one heart over one club, but, as it is, the overcall takes up no space from the opponents. While I appreciate that I'm not really answering your question, I would overcall with as little extra as a black queen. Even the heart jack instead of a small heart would really tempt me to act when nonvulnerable.

You've mentioned the concept of a mixed raise from time to time. Please explain the concept. Do mixed raises still apply when overcaller is a passed hand?

The Raiser's Edge, Greenville, S.C.

A mixed raise is a jump cue-bid in the opponents' suit facing an overcall. They apply even when the overcaller or the player making the call is a passed hand. The name comes from the fact that the high cards are those associated with a single raise, but the shape is that of a pre-emptive raise. The range is 6-9 or so, and should not vary too much either by position or vulnerability.

Playing rubber bridge with both sides vulnerable, I dealt myself ♠ K-7-4,  5-4-2,  A-J-9-4-3, ♣ K-2, and passed. My LHO also passed, and my partner bid four spades. Was I wrong to enter the auction now? I eventually bid Blackwood, and we played five spades when missing two aces. The contract hinged on a club finesse and went down one. (My partner had 8-2-0-3 shape with eight semisolid spades and the heart king.)

Diving into Hot Water, Springfield, Mass.

I think the result you achieved was not surprising. If you aren't good enough to open, then you can't really have enough to look for slam facing a hand that opens with a pre-empt and does not explore for slam. I'd have more sympathy if you had opened and then got too high for that reason.

When looking for a missing queen, should you play for the queen to lie over the jack? For instance, with a suit such as A-J-x facing K-10-8-x-x, how should you play?

Queen-Spotter, Houston, Texas

From a purely percentage perspective, playing the ace and running the jack picks up the singleton queen (as opposed to the first-round finesse) and also allows you to guard against a four-card suit to the Q-9 over the jack, so it is the right play. When in doubt, I finesse into the opponent I like more. That is as logical as any other approach.

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jim2June 10th, 2012 at 10:50 am

The first hand question (from “Tall Order”) was presumably seeking the best play for three tricks and one loser.

Obviously the combined holdings will always yield two tricks and, also obviously, leading away from the ace always concedes at least one trick.

Needing only not to lose a trick, one appears to have a choice of cashing the ace (hoping for a singleton king on the left) or leading the queen (hoping for a singleton jack on the right).

Needing four tricks, however, I think one must lead the queen, as a singleton king will always leave the jack as a fourth round winner.

David WarheitJune 10th, 2012 at 10:56 am

On Tall Order’s question, I laboriously did the math, and the correct theoretical percentage for leading small to the queen-ten is 75%, not 7%, which I am sure was a typo. These means, of course, that this line only requires west to slip up slightly more than 1 of the remaining 25% to be superior to the play of leading the queen first. There are possibilities, however, for west to fake out declarer, for example by hesitating before playing the king from king-jack fourth, so perhaps your suggested line should only be tried against certain opponents.

bobby wolffJune 10th, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

You are, of course correct in the additional goal of hitting the jackpot with no losers at all. The column answer only addressed holding the opponents to one trick.

bobby wolffJune 10th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Hi David,

I think (hope) that the 7% referred to, had to deal with only the extra percentage added by giving the opponents a chance to give away the king by rising, when he might not have, if he realized both the declarer’s holding and his goal.

I am sorry for not making the column communication more clear by adding the word, “additional”, before chance in the last sentence.

Jeff HJune 11th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Regarding Queen-Spotters question, the old “rule” about playing for the Queen over the Jack comes from the observation that in rubber bridge, where all the cards played to a trick are together, it is often the case that before shuffling, the Queen and Jack are often together in the deck. If the shuffling is not thourough, they often remain together and when dealt the Queen often lies over the Jack for that reason.

In duplicate, especially with computer dealt hands, this is not the case. Even if manually shuffled, the QJ pairing in the unshuffled deck is far less likely.

bobby wolffJune 11th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi Jeff H,

Of course, I’ve heard about the QJ shuffling fantasy which I was told was started by Barry Crane.

My guess is, since bridge is such a different type of competition, many are looking for clear rules in order to follow something, rather than the more likely scenario of “take a guess”.

I happen to agree with those who claim that by the time either a defender, or probably more likely a declarer, gets ready to make his choice, he will likely have gleaned at least some information, whether it is from a dog who barks or does not (bidding), from the opening lead, from a discard or possible signal (real or imagined), or from just a tell tale tempo variation, the percentage of then getting it right will have increased to at least some degree.

If anyone can offer something better, he will definitely have a valuable scoop.