Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 7th, 2019

I’m thinking of acceding to my partner’s request that we take up third-and-lowest leads since he tells me they are more helpful in counting the hand than fourth-highest. But how do we know if the lead is from a bad suit — can we play second—highest as well?

Spuds McKenzie, Atlanta, Ga.

It is absolutely impossible to use third-and-lowest leads together with second from three or four small cards. Imagine the five missing cards are Q-8-7-4-3; if you combine the two methods, the seven and four are unreadable. You can, however, lead top from three or four small in a suit you have supported, where a doubleton is not a possible holding.

I have been taught that, facing an opening bid of one no-trump, Stayman always promises invitational or better values. My new partner likes to play Stayman followed by a minimum call in any suit as weak. Which is the better way?

Follow the Money, Raleigh, N.C.

It is relatively common (and sensible) to use the sequence of Stayman followed by a rebid of two hearts over two diamonds as weak with both majors, not invitational. All other sequences after Stayman do indeed tend to promise at least invitational values. A call of two spades can be played in many different ways, though it is often as an invitational hand of sorts. Calls in the minors are typically natural and game-forcing with a four-card major on the side.

Say you were third to speak, holding ♠ Q-7-4-3,  K-8-4,  A-3, ♣ J-7-4-2. Do you have a strong opinion about whether to open this hand, and does the vulnerability matter?

Testing the Water, Salt Lake City, Utah

I would not open this hand at any vulnerability, since I really do not know that I want a club lead (or a spade lead if I open that suit). It wouldn’t take much to change my mind. Non-vulnerable, switch the diamond ace and club two, and now opening ace-jack-fourth doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. I recognize that my answer may be showing my age a little.

When my partner opened one heart, I heard a double to my right. With ♠ 10-6-2,  Q-4,  K-Q-J-5, ♣ Q-10-8-4, I thought it looked natural to bid one no-trump. Then came two hearts from my partner and two spades to my right. What should I do now?

Law-Abiding Citizen, San Francisco, Calif.

You have some extras and nothing wasted in spades, plus good trumps in context. I’d bid three hearts, expecting to make it. I don’t think game is favored our way, but you can imagine that if partner has short spades, we might come close to 10 tricks. So maybe three diamonds should be a heart raise with diamond cards, since I have already implicitly denied long diamonds at my first turn.

I note that you often attribute deals from actual play. Of the remaining deals, which are from your own imagination (or others’)?

Yellow Pager, Mexico City, Mexico

In all cases where a player or location has been specified, I’ll try to leave the spot-cards unchanged, except to eliminate unnecessary complications or duplicate solutions (sometimes called “cooks”). For others, I tend to use real deals, sometimes modified, sometimes concealing the protagonists if they have erred. The rest are creations or variations on a genuine theme. The advent of the Common Game is a boon because I get to use deals the readers may already have played, but put my own spin on them.

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ClarksburgApril 21st, 2019 at 3:18 pm

Good morning Bobby
Many local Club players are adopting losing trick count (LTC) evaluation methods. I have not, in part because all the rules and adjustments make my head spin and my eyes glaze over!
I am quite content to stick with the simpler considerations valuing long suits, honours working together in long suits, devaluing soft holdings, etc. and just let the auctions “unfold” based upon indicating “extras”, double fits etc.
Having said all that, I would like to hear your views on the pros and cons of LTC.
Also, (asking this on behalf of a friend): would LTC considerations ever influence one’s choice of opening bid?
Thanks, as always.

bobbywolffApril 21st, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

While it might appear to be patronizing to your local club players over their adopting LTC, at least to me, the difficulty in applying it, leaves me very cold in my consideration.

In fact, part of my opinion is based on the difficulty in using any method, including both point count and/or honor tricks (the two popular initial methods often chosen). way back when Culbertson and Goren were supreme.

To me the initial evaluation is only a guess (slightly educated but still quite random), but as the bidding develops (between experienced bridge combatants) the overall picture often seeps through so that mature judgment based on real holdings, both strength and length, become valuable.

However, even that circumstance needs to be carefully handled, especially for choosing the right game and even more so for accurate slam bidding.

No doubt aces are undervalued both for suit and NT play (because of the ability to win that trick or not, which more often than expected is worth more than even a together KQ).

Next, kings are IMO properly given their approximate value both as a half an honor count or three points, but queens are lucky to be worth two points or a “plus value” as Ely use to say. Then the poor jacks and 10’s, while certainly worth something but usually before that can be considered, most of the hand needs to be exposed or, of course, the inference of how they stack up, may be taken into account.

Of course, as important as the above, the distribution is likely even more important. Just consider during suit play that a singleton opposite xxx may be worth the value of two aces instead of having the same xxx (even including jacks and tens).

While not attempting to throw stones at anything (or anyone), no doubt top level bridge is more an art than an exact science and in truth, throw in a great deal of luck or otherwise we are only kidding ourselves.

The one huge advantage benefiting bridge is possibly thought about as an interloper, but nothing could be further from the truth.

That huge plus is simply the “Law of Averages” which is immutable in nature and will definitely eventually separate the real great players from the occasional challengers. When one rises to the above class, there will be no trumpets blown nor no special tributes, but the person himself, or herself will soon realize that he or she is likely there at least some of the time.

Sorry for not directly answering your direct reference, but possibly you can figure out my somewhat indifference to whatever evaluation anyone may prefer.

Good luck in explaining what my opinion happens to be and I hope, no hard feelings.