Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 1st, 2014

In a deal you analyzed, the key suit was ♠ A-K-J-3-2 in dummy opposite a small doubleton, with no side-entry to the long suit. The suggested line for four tricks was to duck the first spade, then play the ace and king. This wins on all 3-3 breaks as well as picking up a doubleton queen, and you indicate that this is the best line. How does that compare with ducking the first trick, then finessing the jack on the second round?

Plan B, Newark, Calif.

Your line loses to all distributions with the spade queen over the jack. It also takes only three tricks when there are five or six cards to the queen onside. That comes to winning chances of about 42 percent. I believe my proposed line works out at just over 50 percent.

How would you respond in the following auction? I was dealt ♠ 9-4-3,  K-10-3,  K-10-9-3, ♣ Q-9-2, and heard my RHO open three hearts with neither side vulnerable. This was passed around to my partner, who doubled. What do you think of the options of passing, bidding four diamonds, and responding three no-trump?

Chase, Little Rock, Ark.

Both passing and bidding three no-trump could work out beautifully on the right day — but both are significant gambles. Equally, a bid of four diamonds leaves our side in no man's land: We could be too high or not high enough. Put me down as a gambler in three no-trump. However, with a side-suit doubleton, my heart 10 might make me think more seriously about passing.

What are the merits of using the response of one no-trump to one club as 8-10 points rather than more wide-ranging? What are the drawbacks to this approach? Do they outweigh the positives?

Balancing Act, Winston-Salem, N.C.

The merits of the strong one-no-trump response have decreased recently, since nowadays opener rarely has a semibalanced hand in the 15-17 range. (You might already have opened one no-trump!). Thus, opener tends to have either too little to bid again, or so much that he knows it is right to bid again whatever the range of the response. Also it is not attractive to have to distort hands in the 6-7 range by inventing a one-diamond response, so I am not a fan of this method.

What precisely is a Lightner double? And does it apply only to doubles of slams?

Tony the Tiger, Atlanta, Ga.

Theodore Lightner devised the idea that a double of a slam by the hand not on lead should call for an unusual lead — typically either with a void or two tricks in dummy's first-bid suit. These days, the idea that a hand that has bid or overcalled can call for a different lead with a double of a game is also becoming more prevalent — especially against no-trump games.

In an unopposed sequence, my partner opened one club and I held ♠ Q-7-5-3,  3,  A-10-9-5-3, ♣ A-J-4. Since I thought I had an opening hand, I reversed, initially responding one diamond rather than one spade. My partner bid one no-trump, and I saw my plan through by bidding two spades, then raised my partner's three-spade bid to four. Alas, my partner thought I had five spades and had raised me with three trumps, so we suffered a defeat. But was I wrong in my general plan?

Sinking Fast, Pueblo, Colo.

Your call was quite reasonable, since you certainly had something like an opening bid. Make the club jack the 10 and I would bid one spade. On your actual auction, your partner would typically bid two no-trump with only three spades here. But of course she can raise diamonds or emphasize good clubs or hearts if she has a skewed honor structure.

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Iain ClimieJune 15th, 2014 at 10:48 am

Hi Bobby,

The query about Lightner Slam doubles reminded me of the most spectacular case of a convention misfiring I’ve ever seen. In a county team of 12 match around 1982, the dealer (at adverse vulnerability) held Kxxxx AKJ9xxx x x, the next hand (where I sat) held None None AKQ10xxx AK108xx, opener’s partner held AQJxxxx Q xxx xx and the minor two-suiter’s partner held 10 108xxxx xx QJxx. The hand caused utter mayhem, although par is 7S X going two off against a making 7 of a minor. We were allowerd to play in 7C X after the auction started 1H – 2H (accidentally showing spades and clubs – I’d been to a great party the night before and carelessly assumed it was just a game force) Pass (Dbl is sane) 3C pass 7C (I’m not allowed to use the info that I should have spades, clearly, but would bit the grand anyway) Dbl (presumably on the basis that I’ve got 150 honours in spades from another pack?) and partner was not tested in the play. Other results included 7D undoubled (after the last part of the auction had gone 6D Dbl Pass Pass, the minor hand rescued(?) himself and a stunned next hand somehow passed), 7D xx and 7D X making, plus one case of the par sacrifice.

The funniest result was where the minor two suiter decided to have a safe plus score (admittedly only 200) off 6S X, being worried about losing clubs given the insane distribution. His partner was on lead with those 6 hearts to the 10 and correctly surmised that his partner was void of dummy’s first bid suit. Minus 1660!



jim2June 15th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Another way to approach the Plan B question would be to look at the relative gains/losses of the two lines. The Plan B line gains when Q-fourth is onside (East holding Qxxx). The column line gains when Q is offside doubleton or tripleton (West holding Qx or Qxx)

There are West 5 Qx holdings and 10 East Qxxxx holdings. However, there are also 10 East Qxx holdings.

Thus, the column gains in 15 cases over Plan B, while Plan B gains in just 10.

And my head is starting to hurt.

jim2June 15th, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The second answer (to Chase) confused me with the last sentence:

“However, with a side-suit doubleton, my heart 10 might make me think more seriously about passing.”

With side suit doubleton, presumably that card would be either:

– a fourth spade, making a spade response attractive as partner has essentially promised four or will at least be quite prepared for that response
– a fourth heart, making the pass even more propitious
– a fifth club or diamond, making the 4-level response somewhat more palatable

So, where did the column answer envision that card(s) to go?

David WarheitJune 15th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Re Plan B” Your suggested line works (i.e., makes 4 tricks) whenever W has Qxx, Qx, xxx or xxxx. B’s line works whenever W has Qxxx, Qxx or Qx. Note that both lines work whenever W has Qxx or Qx. Eliminating those possibilities, your line works if W has xxx or xxxx. This amounts to about 18% + 16% or 34%. B’s line works if W has Qxxx or 16%, making your line much better than you give it credit for. Do I have all of this right?

David WarheitJune 15th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Iain: You’ve given dealer 14 cards. He only held 6 hearts, not 7.

David WarheitJune 15th, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Jim2: with regard to your comment on Chase, the new card could be a 5th D all right, but only a 4th club. If it is a club, then I would think passing partner’s double would be best. As to your comment on Plan B: as you can probably tell by my comment, my head is hurting, too!

Iain ClimieJune 15th, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Hi David,

Thanks, spot on as ever! I didn’t even have that morning after feeling as an excuse this time.


jim2June 15th, 2014 at 2:07 pm

David –

I was only “moving” minor suit cards to get the doubleton. You moved a spade, I guess, to get to 2-3-4-4.

I should own stock in ibu companies.

Bobby WolffJune 15th, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2 & David,

Since I do not think I could add much, if anything, in value to the overall discussion of Iain’s real life spectacular hand, by adding a comment which needed to be said what hasn’t already, I will turn my attention to discussing potential progress with Lightner doubles (LD).

Yes, LD’s are now (and have been, among the elite players for some time) being used with, for opening lead purposes, in doubling close games (often 3NT) in order to get partner to choose a different opening lead with the idea of, without it, perhaps a significantly lesser chance to defeat them, making its use vital in creating a positive swing rather than lay back, do nothing and accept a poor result (perhaps in duplicate not a zero, but close) and at IMPs a big IMP loss instead of creating a likely last ditch opportunity to turn an upcoming poor result into a large pickup.

Consider holding the following hand and with both sides vulnerable you as East hold, s. 10xxxxx, h. AJ97x, d. x, c.x and (with both sides vulnerable) hear partner pass, RHO open 1 heart whereupon you overcall 1 spade (not everyone’s choice, but going quietly will not qualify you for playing the role of Chief Braveheart (CB) in the next Cowboys vs. Indians movie either). 2 clubs by LHO, 2 diamonds by partner, pass by RHO, a confident 2 spades by you (to possibly ward off the bogey man), 3NT on your left, passed back to you. A double by you should now induce a heart lead and did, since it really can’t be either a spade (normally expected) or a diamond (your vulnerable 2 spades runout should preclude that) leaving by bridge logic a heart lead, the common sense suggestion which could only be accomplished by your taking that very aggressive action.

I could then give to you what then occurred (no redouble, but at the very least a MUCH better chance of defeating the contract) since your partner held: s. x, h. 8x, d. AJ10xxx, c. J10xx and starting with a heart seriously changed your defensive chances from zero to pretty good, which, after all, is the purpose of what LD’s are supposed to do. And remember there was a misfit both ways, although the declaring side held 29 HCP’s it still was a difficult 3NT make, but that is not my story, but rather the purpose of modern LD’s in action with the bridge playing roosters in the chicken yard.