Lessons Learnt

Recently I played a couple of games with an extremely nice person and afterwards shared some lessons learnt. Since they were intended as constructive criticism based on my observations, I thought they might be of interest to a wider audience.

These are some concepts which I feel are not esoteric or difficult to remember, but for someone who is not aware of them, could be used to improve their game, both in terms of results and enjoyment. While, like most things in bridge, there is no such thing as always and never, these guidelines apply almost all the time.

Don’t be fooled by the times not following these guidelines may have got a good result by misleading the opposition. We tend to remember those rare victories and forget the many times it has cost or, at best, broken even.

If you find there is a lot that is new to you, try learning and applying these concepts one at a time.


In all my writings, when I say “he”, I usually mean “he or she”.

Defending

Under-leading Aces

Against a suit contract, it is generally poor practice to under-lead an Ace.

Reason: Surprisingly often, this gives declarer a trick he could not have made without your lead. Occasionally, declarer even makes a singleton King and you never make your Ace because declarer can trump subsequent leads of the suit (or he has K-x but can get a discard on one of dummy’s suits for the remaining small card).

This does not apply in Notrump contracts, where declarer cannot trump subsequent leads of the suit and where long-suit tricks can beat a contract. That is, while declarer may occasionally make a trick with a King he might not otherwise have done, even then you may have established the suit and be able to take extra tricks when your side gets the lead.

Leading a Singleton Trump

It is rarely right to lead a singleton trump. There are more exceptions than for the previous guideline, but don’t worry about them.

Reason: Many, many times, this takes away declarer’s guess in how to play the trump suit. If you have a singleton, partner may well have Q-x-x. Declarer may, or may not, get this right on his own, but you’ve solved the guess. I’ve even held J-9-x-x and lost my virtually guaranteed trump trick when partner led his singleton trump.

First Discard Encouraging

Do not play that your first discard in a suit says “I like the suit I’m discarding”.

Reason: It is just a poor signalling agreement. Among other things, sometimes you cannot afford to make a discard in the suit you would like partner to lead (example: K-Q-x sitting over Dummy’s A-x-x)

Many pairs at our local clubs play Roman Discards (also called “Odd-Even Discards”), but I do not care for them for a number of reasons. One of which is that most non-expert players who play them, give away a huge amount of Unauthorized Information because they cannot control their tempo when they do not have an appropriate card to signal with or for the second reason… A second reason is that there is no neutral discard — every first discard sends a specific message.

Solution: Play “Attitude Discards”. If your Attitude signals on partner’s lead are Upside-Down Attitude (“Low-Likes; High-Hates”), then… if you can afford to discard a low card in the suit you would like partner to lead, then discard your lowest card in that suit (this is equivalent to first discard encouraging). However, if you cannot, then discard a high-ish card in another suit (being careful not discard a valuable card!).

It’s easy to remember and works just fine. For what it is worth, this is exactly what I play with my long-time Toronto partner (for over 40 years) and I also play this in a just-established a partnership.

Cash Your Winners

Do not cash high cards just for the sake of cashing them.

Reason: You need to think about the consequences of cashing (or attempting to cash) them.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you cash them immediately or not, but when it does matter, it is often critical.

Solution: I suggest going through the following thought processes — bridge is a “Thinking Person’s Game”. When I get a bad result, it is often because I failed to stop and think about the hand.

  • If I don’t cash this winner (or winners), can declarer get rid of his losers in the suit? If you can see that declarer will be able to discard some (or all) of his losers on an established suit in dummy, then you definitely need to cash your winner(s).
  • If I do cash my winner(s), will that establish a trick(s) for declarer on which he can discard? If it does, you should consider attempting to establish a trick(s) in an outside suit. Consider your winner to be a stopper.

Ruff and Discard

Other things being equal, do not voluntarily give declarer a ruff and discard. Since the exceptions require counting (HCP and declarer’s distribution), you might want to consider this guideline as “Never give declarer a ruff and discard”.

Reason: Here’s an example of the sort of thing I mean and how the ruff-and-discard is a gift to declarer:

N
North
Axx
 
S
South
Kxx

Suppose declarer has A-x-x opposite K-x-x in a side-suit and has no discards available — clearly, he has a loser in that suit. But suppose you are on lead and lead a suit in which both dummy and declarer are void — now declarer can discard a small card in the suit from one hand, while ruffing in the other and now has no losers in the A-x-x opposite K-x-x suit. It’s magic. Declarer’s loser has gone up in a puff of smoke!

Declarer Play

Pull Trumps

Other things being equal, pull trumps at the earliest opportunity.

Reason: If you don’t, opponents may ruff one of your winners. In the worst case, they get to cross-ruff — you can probably remember this happening.

You may need to delay pulling trumps for a number of reasons, but always have a reason why you are going to delay pulling trumps. If you cannot think of a convincing reason to delay pulling trumps, pull trumps. Here’s how to remember this: Think, if I don’t pull trumps and lose tricks unnecessarily, what am I going to tell my partner if he asks, “Why didn’t you pull trumps?”

Trumping in the Hand with Long Trumps

Without a good reason do not voluntarily take ruffs in the hand with the long trumps (usually your hand as declarer, but possibly dummy after a Notrump auction and a transfer).

Reason: It doesn’t gain any tricks and, especially if trumps split badly, you may lose control of the hand. You may even get over-ruffed.

Unnecessary Ruffs

If you

  1. have a long suit that you can run,
  2. can pull trumps and
  3. can discard your losers on the long suit;

do not attempt to take ruffs anywhere — just pull trumps and then run your long suit.

Reason: You have the tricks, but if you try to ruff some other side suit, you may end up with communications problems or you may weaken your trump holding by ruffing with high trump. You may even get over-ruffed!

Cross-Ruff

If you have an established cross-ruff, always cash your side-suit winners before embarking on the cross-ruff.

Reason: As you cross-ruff, you will be using up your trumps. Assuming the opponents cannot over-ruff (best case), they will instead discard losers in the side-suit in which you have winner(s). Then later, when you try to cash them, they can ruff.

The fun part of a cross-ruff is that after cashing your winners in the side suit(s) and starting the cross-ruff you can watch the opponents discarding high cards as you ruff and when you run out of trumps, they end up having to ruff each other’s winners — don’t spoil your fun by failing to cash your side-suit winners early.

Bidding

Take Preference

There are exceptions, but in general, when partner bids two suits, he wants you to choose one of them. Do not fail to take a preference simply because you need to raise the level of the contract to do so. When you express a preference for the second suit, you should have a genuine fit (or real intolerance for the first).

Reason: Partner should have at least as many cards in his first suit as in his second, usually more (he might even have 6 in the first suit and only 4 in the second).

Playing in Your Long Suit

This is a similar theme to the above. When

    1. you have opened at the one-level in a 6-card suit, especially a good one,
    2. the auction gets competitive (there’s an over-call),
    3. your partner bids a suit, and
    4. you have a singleton or void in partner’s suit,

rebid your suit.

Reason: The first thing is that partner’s bid is generally forcing (assuming you have no sophisticated agreements that say it isn’t) and he does not expect to be passed in his bid. The second thing is that if your suit is a minor, partner may have quite good support for it. Passing partner’s bid with a singleton or void probably means the opponents have more trump than your side does. Also, partner is going to have to draw trump by leading his suit. Unless he has a great suit, he’s going to lose a lot of trump tricks.

Do Not Rescue Partner

This is a beginner mistake, but it seems many of the players at our local clubs are making it. It drives me crazy! What do I mean by “rescuing partner”? I mean bidding without values just because you are short in the suit partner has bid. Note: This is not the same as Taking a Preference.

Reason: More often than not, you are simply jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Discussion: This needs some examples to fully understand. In all the following examples, assume your partner made the heart bid and you have a singleton or void:

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Pass
?
 

Your hand holds a Queen (or even two Queens). Do not rescue partner. If you bid, you are showing values and you don’t have them. If it is appropriate to rescue partner, you will get another chance (if 1 is Passed-Out, then how bad can it be?). And under no circumstances bid 1NT!

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Dbl
?
 

This is the same as the previous example. In general, if you hand is weak, do not bid just because it is short in hearts. Suppose the auction continues as follows:

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Dbl
Pass
Pass
?
 
 
 

North made a Take-Out Double and his partner passed it, turning it into a Penalty Double. Now partner may know he is in trouble. If he wants out, he can Redouble (or he may have a second, good suit of his own he can bid). So, you see there is an escape route if partner wants to take it. [Aside: This Redouble is called an “S.O.S. Redouble”.]

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
2
Dbl
?
 

This is much like the previous examples, but this time partner has shown a one-suited, weak-ish hand (assuming you play Weak 2-Bids). Now you should have even less desire to bid a new suit with a weak hand. Unless you have the values or shape to do something, just Pass.

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
2
Dbl
?

This is the same as the previous example.

Let me repeat: Do not rescue partner (unless he asks to be rescued).

Bidding Freely

If partner has made a call, for example a Take-Out Double, and the intervening opponent makes a bid, you are “off the hook” — you do not need to make a bid as partner will get another chance. You should only bid if you have something to show and, with one exception, that means you have some values.

Reason: If you bid, you are showing something (values, support, whatever your bid should show) and partner will be expecting it. So don’t make a “free bid”, just for the sake of hearing your own voice.

Discussion: The above may sound vague, so here are some examples. Please note the reasoning — they are all common sense. For the most part, they don’t involve any special agreements.

(a) You open 1NT and the auction proceeds:

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
Pass
2
Dbl
?
 
 
 

So, partner has bid 2 (a transfer to hearts). At this point, too many players rebid 2, regardless of their hand — they want to be a good partner and reason that partner asked them to bid 2, so they should always do this. This is absolutely wrong (that’s what this guideline is about).

Partner has shown a 5-card or longer heart suit. The Double means your partner will get another chance to bid. You should Pass unless you have something to tell him. That something should be that you hold 3 or 4 hearts (3 hearts means you have at least an 8-card fit). If you only have 2 hearts (you must hold at least 2 because you promised you had no singleton when you opened 1NT), just Pass and let partner decide how to proceed.

[Aside: You might want to ask what the Double shows. It probably just shows diamonds, but if you end up declaring or defending, you should want to know what it means and you are entitled to the knowledge.]

Suppose you have a doubleton heart and Pass and the auction continues

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
Pass
2
Dbl
Pass
Pass
?
 

Now it helps to have some agreements, but if partner bids 2 it presumably just indicates a desire to play in 2. My preference would be for a Redouble to ask you to bid 2 (what else would you want it to mean?). Presumably 2NT and 3NT retain their meanings (so a 5-card heart suit and either invitational or game-forcing values).

Similar to the preceding, the auction goes:

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
Pass
2
2
?
 
 
 

This may look the same as the previous examples, but it is not. If you bid hearts, you need to bid 3. Bidding it with only 3 hearts is dangerous. Your partner may have a weak hand and have been intending to pass 2. So you need some extra protection to bid 3 — bidding 3 should promise a 4-card fit for partner’s hearts. That means you have at least a 9-card fit and that offers some protection at the 3-level, even if partner is weak.

Suppose one of the opponents opens the bidding, your partner makes a Take-Out Double and the other opponent bids.

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Dbl
2
?
 
 
 

Partner has made a Take-Out Double, but the opponent has bid. It is probably just an obstructive call, but do not bid if you don’t have any values. Don’t, for example, bid 2 just because you have 5 hearts. You need some values. I’d suggest about 10+ HCP (or equivalent “points” if your hand has some shape).

As in the previous examples, partner will get another chance. If he has a good enough hand, he can bid a long suit of his own (if that is what he was intending to do anyway) or make another Take-Out Double — if he does, now you can bid that 5-card heart suit!.

Partner makes a Take-Out Double and the intervening opponent Redoubles.

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Dbl
RDbl
?

First, check if the opponents have any funny agreements about the Redouble. If they are vague or waffle, assume the Redouble shows 10+ HCP (and if, after the hand is over, it turns out they had any other agreement and you feel you were damaged, call the Director and ask for protection).

We are now in a slightly different kind of situation. Unless something fishy is going on, you probably hold, at most, a couple of scattered Queens and Jacks. Think about it: Opener shows about 12+ HCP, partner shows about 12+ HCP and the other opponent shows about 10+ HCP. 12 + 12 + 10 = 34 HCP — at a minimum.

Your partner (unless they are a bit thick) also knows this. Potentially, your side is in a great deal of trouble.

So, what do you know? If you Pass, your partner must guess what to do (assuming the opening bidder isn’t silly enough to bid — if he does, he has given you a helping hand out of the fire). So you you need to help partner out.

If you have a 5-card or longer suit, by all means bid it. Partner has promised at least 3-card support (it’s almost impossible for him to hold a strong-enough hand to have doubled with the intention of rebidding his own suit and in any case, he can still do that). So you will be on at least an 8-card fit and it might even be a 9-card fit.

If you don’t have a 5-card suit, then most of the time you should just Pass. However, if partner Doubled a 1 or 1 opener, he is almost bound to have 4 cards in the other Major (many partnerships insist on this!). So if you have 4-cards in the other Major, bid it. In this case, if you Pass, partner will know his best bet is to pick a minor suit.

Hanging Partner

Do not hang partner for competing.

Reason: Bridge, particularly matchpoint pairs, is a bidder’s game. Letting the opponents play peacefully in a low-level part-score is, in general, not winning bridge. If your partner competes, especially when he’s in the Pass-Out position, and the opponents bid one more — do not raise your partner. That is hanging him. Even if the opponents don’t double the contract, it may be down too many to be a good save… and even worse, often that little push your partner gave them to get the auction up one more level, would have been enough to mean they would have gone down 1 and you would have had a plus score.

1 thought on “Lessons Learnt”

  1. Thanks so much for your "Lessons Learnt" . I found it very informative, especially the information on Discards. I think your suggestion is a wonderful one. I was never happy with Odd/Even.
    Thanks again.
    Barbara

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