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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.

North
spade.gif (842 bytes)Q32
West East
spade.gif (842 bytes)A9876 spade.gif (842 bytes)J10
South
spade.gif (842 bytes)K54

If West underleads the spade.gif (842 bytes)A then N-S can take two spade tricks. The first trick is won by South with the spade.gif (842 bytes)K and later the spade.gif (842 bytes)Q can be established due to favorable position. West does no better to lead the spade.gif (842 bytes)A as this simply establishes the spade.gif (842 bytes)K and spade.gif (842 bytes)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 spade.gif (842 bytes)A can capture one of the N-S honors. West will only take one trick with her spade.gif (842 bytes)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:

North
spade.gif (842 bytes)AJ2
West East
spade.gif (842 bytes)??? spade.gif (842 bytes)???
South
spade.gif (842 bytes)K93

Left to his own efforts South, as declarer, has the potential to take about 2-1/2 tricks (the spade.gif (842 bytes)A, the spade.gif (842 bytes)K, and the spade.gif (842 bytes)J about 50% of the time) using the normal play of cashing the spade.gif (842 bytes)K and then finessing the spade.gif (842 bytes)J hoping to find West with the spade.gif (842 bytes)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 spade.gif (842 bytes)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 spade.gif (842 bytes)Q and the spade.gif (842 bytes)10! Consider the four possibilities:

North
spade.gif (842 bytes)AJ2
West East
(1)spade.gif (842 bytes)Q10x spade.gif (842 bytes)xxx(x)
(2)spade.gif (842 bytes)Qxx spade.gif (842 bytes)10xx(x)
(3)spade.gif (842 bytes)10xx spade.gif (842 bytes)Qxx(x)
(4)spade.gif (842 bytes)xxx spade.gif (842 bytes)Q10x(x)
South
spade.gif (842 bytes)K93

In Case (1) South will win the first trick with the spade.gif (842 bytes)9 and take three spade tricks. In Case (2) the spade.gif (842 bytes)10 from East will force the spade.gif (842 bytes)K but the finesse of the spade.gif (842 bytes)J will work and South will take three spade tricks. In Case (3) the spade.gif (842 bytes)Q falls to the spade.gif (842 bytes)K and South take three spade tricks. In Case (4) the spade.gif (842 bytes)10 will force the spade.gif (842 bytes)K and the finesse will fail. South will only take two spade tricks.

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:

North
spade.gif (842 bytes)QJ32
West East
spade.gif (842 bytes)??? spade.gif (842 bytes)???
South
spade.gif (842 bytes)K54

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 spade.gif (842 bytes)A. Try leading low towards the spade.gif (842 bytes)QJ32 twice! If West holds the singleton or doubleton spade.gif (842 bytes)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 spade.gif (842 bytes)Ax with West (8%) plus singleton spade.gif (842 bytes)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.

Thanks!
Gary King

2001 The Bridge Companion. All rights reserved.