Welcome to Basement Bridge

Weekly updates from Kit Jackson offering hints and tips for the modern Bridge player. Enjoy!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Opening Leads – 17 March 2010

There’s no question defence is the hardest part of the game to get right. It helps a lot if the lead gets you off on the right foot. Rest assured no-one ever gets it right all the time. The basic idea is that you either: (a) try to establish tricks for your side or (b) try not to give away tricks to declarer.

As in all contracts if your partner has bid a suit it will most often be right to lead that suit. If partner hasn’t bid then you must decide from a combination of your own hand and the opposition bidding which SUIT will either be the best attacking lead OR the safest lead. First you decide which suit to lead. Then you must lead the “right” card from that suit, so that partner has a chance to work out what to do later in the play.

There are many other styles of leading, but below is a quick run down of what are known as Standard Leads. These Standard Leads tell you which card to lead once you have decided which suit.

  • top of a sequence or a broken sequence – K Q J 10; K Q 10 9; Q J 10 5; etc
  • top of an internal sequence – A J 10 x x; K J 10 9
  • fourth highest from a good suit without a 3-card sequence – Q 10 7 6 2. Note though that with some combinations, e.g. K Q 7 6 3, there is variation depending whether the lead is against NTs or a trump contract – see below for more guidance.
  • lowest from three to an honour – K 8 2
  • top of a doubleton – 8 5
  • MUD (middle, up, down) from three small cards – 9 6 3. Then play the top card (9) on the next round.
  • second highest from four small cards – 10 8 6 3. Then play your original fourth highest card on the next round.

Let’s look at the difference I mentioned when leading against Suit or NT contracts:

K Q 7 6 3

Against a suit contract lead the K but against a NT contract lead the 6. You want fast tricks in a suit contract, but slow tricks when defending NTs. KQ at least guarantees one trick against a suit contract when you have driven out ace but after that declarer will most probably be trumping. Against NT however you are aiming to win the 4th and 5th rounds with your long cards. Note that when you lead top of a sequence against NT contracts you will normally have three cards in the sequence, broken or otherwise – see (a) above. Lacking three, you will need help from partner so lead a small one and on a good day partner will be right there. Even if partner can’t help immediately at least you will have left your teammate with a card in your suit so they can renew the attack if they get the lead.

Sadly none of this Standard Lead wisdom helps you decide which actual suit to lead. All you can do is listen to the bidding and avoid leading their suits. Obviously you can’t do this if they bid everything (!) If declarer on your right has bid a suit and in that suit you hold: K x x x then it’s probably wrong to lead it, even if it’s your only 4 card suit. If there’s no obvious lead, then work backwards by deciding which suits you probably can’t lead and then lead the suit left!

Be warned: nothing works all the time. That is why Bridge is the fascinating game it is. In everything you do there is an element of risk and chance. The idea is simply to do the best you can with cards you have and the information given to you by the bidding.

Have fun!


Stayman With a Weak Hand – 11 March 2010

There seems to be an idea floating about that you need a certain number of points to respond with Stayman (or Transfers) to an opening 1NT by partner. I do not wish to denigrate any other
teachers/mentors you may have had but believe me – this is not true.

Let’s say partner opens 1NT (will they never stop bidding?) and you hold this collection:


There is no game, so you should you pass? No you’ll be much better playing with a trump suit. You could of course bid 2D, transfer to hearts, but why back one horse in a race when you can back two? Weak hands like this with 5-4 in the major suits are fine for Stayman. You bid 2C and if partner has either four hearts or four spades you will reach a playable spot. Partner bids either of these two suits and you just pass. Partner of course may not have read the script and lacking a 4-card major bids a wooden 2D. Don’t they always? Still, no big problem, we just bid 2H anyway. We are no worse off than if we had transferred to hearts in the first place, but along the way we had a look for a spade fit. Partner just passes 2H and that’s where we play.

What about this? This is real garbage:


Surely you can’t let partner suffer in 1NT. If you do PASS, about 999 times out of 1,000 Left Hand Opponent (LHO) will bid something. LHO may bid a suit, but much more likely will double. Partner will mostly pass (though they could bid a 5 carder on their own) RHO passes and then what? Which suit do you rescue to? You surely can’t PASS. How much easier it would have been if you'd bid 2C BEFORE LHO had chance to say anything.

Apart from paving the way for a safer contract for yourselves you now seriously muddy the water for LHO. Opponents of course may not know you’re bidding Garbage Stayman; it sounds the same as ordinary Stayman (doh, that’s because it is!). But after 1NT PASS - 2C - PASS 2H PASS PASS what does LHO’s double mean? Have the opponents discussed it? Is it penalty or Take-out? RHO might bid 3D and run into a mis-fit. Seriously good news.

The moral is that even though you may have zero points, it will sometimes be incumbent upon you to bid. Just because you don’t have many HCP doesn’t relieve you of your partnership duties. One of those duties is to think; and keep thinking how you can manoeuvre yourselves into the best, or even more probably, the least worst option for your side.

Using Stayman with weak hands comes with a warning thoough. Be very careful: in reply to Stayman partner will bid one of 3 options : 2D, 2H, 2S, depending on their hand. If any of these responses could cause embarassment then save Stayman for another day.


Yes, you have a nice 4-card suit but what happens if instead of hearts partner bids 2S? Oops, all you can do is suddenly remember a vital engagement in Rotherham.

Opener Stays Calm!

The corollary of all this bidding Stayman with a weak hand is that the 1NT trump bidder must not get over-excited just because partner bids.

Friday, 18 June 2010

More On Defence – The Count Signal – 3 March 2010

The defenders, as well as being able to tell partner their attitude to the suit led or which of the other suits they like, can also so tell each other how many cards of a particular suit they hold. When you add that up with the cards in dummy and your own hand you can tell exactly how many cards in a suit declarer has. THIS INFORMATION IS GOLD DUST.

The classic example is:
  • Dummy holds KQJxx of a suit and you hold Axx of the same suit. There are no other entries to the table for declarer to enjoy and they need four tricks from the suit to make their contract. When do you take the ace?

    Obviously that all depends on how many of the suit declarer holds. If they have two, you take the ace on the second round and the suit is isolated for ever. If declarer, however has three of them, you have to wait until the third round of the suit before cracking down the ace. But which is it? Is there a law of guesswork involved. When’s Shrove Tuesday? Have you got enough onions? You could always peer round declarer’s hand and have a look at it but, oddly, this is not encouraged. Or legal.

    So let’s see how it’s done without guessing. You can see eight cards of the suit (5+3) so there are five left between partner and declarer (13-8 = 5). These cards will split 5 - 0, 4 - 1 or 3 - 2. If declarer has 4 or 5 of them there is nothing you can do. If declarer has 0 or 1, then again you can’t get it wrong. So the 3 - 2 split is the key one. Does declarer have 3 or 2? You could always ask, but all my years of experience have led me to believe you will NEVER get an answer. Other than a pithy rude one. Luckily, none of this matters as the answer is that you don’t need to ask declarer as your partner will tell you. Your partner – loving, kind, beautiful, considerate partner – will be giving you the count of their suits on every card declarer plays, no matter whether or not they have any idea if this information will be useful to you or not. You will, naturally in response to partner’s beneficence be doing exactly the same thing so that they can work out what to keep, what to chuck, what to duck, what to play. Aha yes. But HOW?

    The answer is monumentally simple. If, when declarer plays a suit where partner cannot win the trick, and partner holds an ODD number of cards in that suit they will start with a LOW card and then play a HIGH card. If they have an EVEN number they will play a HIGH card, then a LOW card. SO....

    1) Declarer plays a card from his hand to dummy and partner plays the 2. This instantly telles you that partner has one, three or five cards in the suit. Declarer has one so it’s one or three. Declarer returns to hand and plays a second card of the suit on which partner plays the 7. Declarer has now played two cards, partner has played two cards but has indicated three! So now you can take your Ace secure in the knowledge that declarer has no more of the suit as they only had two, and when declarer regains the lead, they will not be able to access the remaining cards in dummy.

    2) Declarer plays a card from his hand to dummy and partner plays the 9. They have one, two or four cards in the suit. Declarer returns to hand and plays a second card of the suit on which partner plays the 5. Now you must NOT take your Ace. Partner has an even number of the suit: two or four. It cannot be four as declarer has a second one (i.e. the suit is not 4 - 1). Therefore declarer has 3! If you take your Ace declarer will be able to get to the now unisolated suit and play off all the established winners, making a contract that should have gone down. So you simply wait until declarer plays the third card in the suit and take that. And then on the 3rd round of the suit partner gives you a Suit Preference signal and you know what to lead back!!! (You know you do…)

This is why you should give count signals all the time. You have no idea – initially – what partner has. Nor they what you have. So tell each other. Work together. All the time. Every card. Until it is utterly second nature to count partner’s hand and at the same time declarer’s hand.

This is the key to playing well. Even if you don’t fully count the hands, then try to spot the key suit or suits and just count them.

“Hi - Lo Even Carding, every time you play now baby,
I see your cards are telling everything I need…
…So it’s obvious.”

Sung to the chorus of this ditty…



Monday, 14 June 2010

Signals – Co-operating To Thwart Declarer – 24 Feb 2010

I get asked a lot about defensive leads, signalling and discards. Rather than give you all a list of do’s and don’ts I’m actually going to have a look at what the defence is really trying to do; how they can do it together and try to thwart the dastardly declarer.


As you all know there are various mantras about leads: 4th best, MUD, top of a sequence etc etc. These are merely guidelines about which card of a suit to play. What they don’t do is tell you which suit to lead. The suit you lead will depend on one or all of at least four parameters.

  1. The hand you have.
  2. Whether you defend a Suit or a NT contract.
  3. The opposition bidding.
  4. Your side’s bidding.

Let’s take an example:


Against a NT contract you might lead the 4th best Spade, trying to establish the suit. Against a suit contract you might lead the singleton Heart, looking to get a ruff from partner. If partner has bid Diamonds you might lead the QD. If opponents bid S,H,& D then settle sheepishly in 3NT you might decide partner has the C’s and lead the CK. Then again, if the contract is 1NT - as opposed to 3NT - you might think that a spade lead could give away the 7th trick and
therefore lead a low D.

Any of these might be right on any given deal but the important thing is to be clear about what your thinking is; what your aim is.

Sometimes you will want to make an attacking lead – you can see how the contract might go down. Other times you’ve no idea if the contract can go off or not, so now your aim is not to give declarer cheap tricks that are not deserved, so you want a passive lead.

What all this really means is that the card you lead will depend on the suit you lead which will depend on your CAREFUL attention to the bidding. A classic example is this kind of hand:


You and your partner pass throughout while the opponents have this auction:

1S - 2D - 3D - 4S.

Superficially it looks as if the contract might make, losing only the two aces and the king of trumps. What do you lead? On the basis that against a suit contract you must never, ever, nevernevernever lead away from an unsupported ace (OR KING!) you might lead a heart (the middle one - MUD). In this case you’d be wrong because you didn’t pay close enough attention to the bidding.

Let’s take a step back. What do you know about the opponents hands? What therefore do you categorically know about your partner’s hand? Opponents have bid and supported diamonds. They therefore – most probably – have an 8-card diamond fit as well as the spade fit. Do you see? If they have an 8-card fit in diamonds and you have four of them as well, (making 12) then your partner can only have at most one diamond.

So, lead the ace of diamonds, give your partner a ruff, partner leads back a club to you, and you give partner another diamond ruff, sit back and wait for the king of spades to make and the contract is 2 off!!


Well defended. BUT ..... how did partner know to lead back a club and not a heart? Let’s say you had this diamond suit: A952. You play the Ace, Then you play the 2. Why? When partner takes the first ruff the only thing they need to know is how to get back to your hand so you can give them another ruff. Work together. So your lead at Trick 2 must be a Suit Preference signal, helping partner work out what to lead back to you. The 2 is the LOWEST card you have, so you are asking for the LOWER suit back (ex cluding the suit you are leading and the trump suit. In this case the lower suit you are asking for is CLUBS.

If your other ace had not been the ace of clubs but instead the ace of hearts (the higher of the two possible suits) then you would have led the C9 – the higher card asking for the higher suit.

The point is that it doesn’t matter what the correct card to lead is if you haven’t listened carefully to the bidding and worked out what the right suit is in the first place. It won’t always be as simple as this, but the principles remain the same. It is your job to help partner build a mental picture of declarer’s hand so partner can have an idea of which is the right card/suit to play.

Next week it’s my old favourite the COUNT signal.


Photo Interlude – ‘Banksy’ at the Princess of Wales

This week at the Princess of Wales, a new mural, allegedly by Banksy, appeared in the garden at the Princess of Wales [street address 22 Chalcot Road, Camden, NW1 8LL]. The pub was broken into Tuesday and the mural appeared overnight. Bridge players in the weekly bridge game held at the pub on Wednesdays were among the first to see the new artwork.

Click picture for full image. Photo by Chris Bates.