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January 6, 2001
Gifts from the Opponents
The Scorecard is the publication for ACBL District 16. I was asked and consented to write a regular column aimed at the 0-299 masterpoint player. I will post my columns here as they may be of benefit to the same readers that benefit from my newsletter.
Scorecard, Volume 33, No 1 - January/February 2001
Tis the season of gifts and giving. As declarer, do you accept and use the gifts that the opponents offer? Do you credit going down, while others are bringing home the contract, as bad luck? A good player realizes that bridge, is among other things, a game of asset management. Use your assets to the maximum. Require the opponents to pay the maximum price for the tricks they take. These facts are the source of many of the general principles of play and defense.
In some cases you have no choice but to recognize and accept the gift. Take the common defensive play of opening lead. On my personal scale of opening leads I rank the worst as underleading an ace without the king in an unbid suit. I rank the second worst as leading the ace without the king in an unbid suit. Yet this occurs numerous times a day in every bridge club in the United States.
Why the worst you ask? The worst because it demonstrates poor asset management.
If West underleads the A then N-S can take two spade tricks. The first trick is won
by South with the K and later the Q can be established due to favorable position.
West does no better to lead the A as this simply establishes the K and Q for N-S
more quickly. West leading spades at all is a gift for N-S. Without that help, N-S is only
due one spade trick as the A can capture one of the N-S honors. West will only take one
trick with her A, but to lead it or underlead it is just poor asset
management. A better solution would be to wait and try to capture an honor with your ace.
To do so removes an asset from N-S. You might think of West as taking a queen or king as
payment for playing the ace. What should West do? Lead another suit.
Is it always bad to lead or underlead the ace? No, it can certainly work out well. What I am saying is that is exposes you to more risk than reward. Other suit holdings are subtle and more difficult to recognize for both defender and declarer. Take the following combination:
Left to his own efforts South, as declarer, has the potential to take about 2-1/2
tricks (the A, the K, and the J about 50% of the time) using the normal play of
cashing the K and then finessing the J hoping to find West with the Q. But South
can do better if West leads the suit.
When West leads a spade, South is allowed to use this asset of the 9. This is an asset that could not be utilized previously. South plays low from dummy and will now be able to take three spade tricks unless East holds both the Q and the 10! Consider the four possibilities:
In Case (1) South will win the first trick with the 9 and take three spade tricks. In Case
(2) the 10
from East will force the K but the finesse of the J will work and South will take three
spade tricks. In Case (3) the Q falls to the K and South take three spade tricks. In Case (4)
will force the K and the finesse will fail. South will only take two spade
The net result for South , by exploiting the gift provided by West's lead, is to raise the trick taking potential from 2-1/2 tricks to 2-3/4 tricks. Not much help you say? Do not be so sure. On a hand where success depends upon three spade tricks you will make it 50% of the time if you attack spades and 75% of the time if West attacks spades (do I need to point out that you will make it 100% of the time that East attacks spades?). That translates to a large number of matchpoints or imps.
Asset management also is the basis for the general idea that it is better to lead towards honors rather than lead honors. Consider this holding:
What are your chances if you again need three spade tricks? If all you can come up with
is a 3-3 break then you are not giving yourself the best opportunity. It is true that any
3-3 break will get you three spade tricks. What other distribution would allow it? A
player that thinks about asset management would conclude that three spades could be won as
long as no spade honor was sacrificed to the A. Try leading low towards the QJ32 twice!
If West holds the singleton or doubleton A then she will have to play it without capturing
one of your spade honors. The end result is quite an increase. Just playing for a 3-3
break is about a 36% chance of success. Playing a low card twice towards North works:
Any 3-3 (36%) plus Ax with West (8%) plus singleton A with West (1%) for a total of 45%! That is a big improvement.
The basics of good asset management include; leading towards honors, trying to capture an honor card with each honor you play, recognizing opportunities provided by the opposing side that you could not utilize on your own, and bringing assets such as spot cards into play whenever the situation arises.
Remember that exploiting small advantages can mean large numbers of matchpoints or imps for you. Work to improve your asset management. Let me hear from you.