Tuesday, 9 November 2010
The last chapter of…
The Adventure of the Four Kings
Holmes sprawled on the sofa in a loose dressing gown. I had returned from a sojourn in Huffington Parva, whence he had despatched me to research a rare poisonous beetle. In my absence he had been cataloguing – for what purpose I know not – filmy nether garments as worn by racier elements of our dear sisterhood. Was nothing beneath his forensic thirst for knowledge?
Despite his lassitude he enquired what card question it was that so irked me. How could he know this from my demeanour? I put down the pack I was fiddling with.
“Holmes”, I ventured, “Can we ascertain with certainty the commandment pertaining to the covering of an honour with an honour?”
Holmes jerked himself awake.
I continued: “The queen of spades was led but when should I play my king of spades?"
"The principle, Watson, is that when we cover an honour with an honour we do so in the knowledge – or failing that, in the hope - that we shall by doing so promote a lowlier card of ours to its full trick taking potential. It follows does it not, dear boy, that if we cannot see such value then we should by no means cover an honour with another? That one should cover only when absolutely necessary and to our side's advantage?”
“Yes yes yes Holmes,” I blurted, glad to see he had so readily taken the bull by the horn: “but when and how can we tell which particular situation occurs? Can you shed light on this matter?”
“If the honour is led from dummy and the suit is such as QJ10 then do NOT cover the first honour. But however, if the honour is UNsupported – say, Q86 – then always cover it with alacrity.”
"Thank-you Holmes. Good weekend?” How he guffawed…
It can be fatal to cover an honour in this situation:
???? ............... Kxxx
Now the play of the king gives declarer four easy tricks when the queen is led.
However in the next situation you gain a trick by covering the queen:
9xx ............... K10xx
See you next week.
I trod the stairs to our rooms with a heavy heart and and a quandary. I made a mistake at cards the previous night and – so far – Holmes had not mentioned this. His silences terrify me. I opened the door and there he lounged with those wide open, red rimmed, glistening eyes and permanent smile.
“Holmes,” I blurted, “I cannot possibly apologise enough for my derogatory card play yesterday evening. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Dear boy, on the contrary,” Holmes sniffed deeply, “I, for once, cannot recall a single error of cardplay. Some misfortunes in the bidding perhaps, but…” . He waved an airy hand dismissing my concerns.
“But Holmes,” I rushed to explain. “I led the king of hearts – top of a sequence – when you had specifically told me to play the bottom card in such instances.”
Holmes had a fit of giggling and loudly blew his nose before continuing.
“Don't be an ass, Watson, really,…” he countered. “You may hold a sequence of any two or three cards at any time, mayn’t you? But your position in the order of play may vary. You may only be following suit to a card led by the opposition. When we defend the correct card to play will also vary depending on our position. For instance when declarer leads a card and you FOLLOW with the Queen I know two things: (1) you do not possess the Jack. (2) You may possess the King. This is because when you FOLLOW suit you play a sequence in ASCENDING order (Jack, Queen, King, Ace...)
However, when you are LEADING the first card to the trick you play from a sequence in DESCENDING order (Ace, King, Queen etc). When you played the King I knew either you held also the Queen, or that it was singleton. I was therefore able to base my defensive strategy on sound information not guesswork. So in this instance – as you were leading and not following – you were absolutely correct to play the King of Hearts. Absolutely.…”
I blushed and moved towards him. “Yes, it is a partnership game isn’t it. Holmes?”
"Indeed, but – emphasis on Game, Watson. Now, did you bring those new needles…?”
With these holdings lead the king:
KQJ, KQ10, KQxx
This is “top of a sequence”. However, when you follow suit, play the lowest card in a sequence, thus promising the touching cards above. You may feel all this gives away too much information to declarer. It is more important to give partner information than to withhold it from declarer. If you do not tell partner what you have, partner will have to guess and partner will ALWAYS guess wrong. Take away the guess whenever you can.
Holmes was cross. Very cross. He had said nothing in the not very Hansom cab all the way back from the card game in Deptford. When we got up to our rooms he sat me down at the table, took out his loaded service revolver and fired it at the ceiling. While not unnecessarily unusual behaviour there was an extra steel in the way his eyes devoured me across the pink and yellow velvet.
“Rightio - Watson. One last chance. Tell me in detail why you led away from the king of diamonds against their Heart contract.”
I swallowed hard. “Well, er, you see Holmes, well I, er…” I chuntered on for a bit.
“Snap out of it Watson”. Holmes softly caressed the shiny gun metal.
“Aha, well, you see Holmes, I was only following a rule of cards, that like as you said, what that when a bit sort of stuck for a lead one could do no worse than lead 4th best of one's longest and strongest suit.”
I gurgled at him deeply chuffed to finally remember this pearl of wisdom.
“Yes, I said that, Watson. In relation to a defence of No Trump contracts, Watson. This was a SUIT contract, wasn’t it Watson? Watson?”
I nodded, bereft of verbal facility. He leant back and studied the hole in the ceiling.
“Let us assume that when one holds the king of a suit the other most important cards to consider are the ace and queen of that suit. Yes? But where are they? We do not know. How can we know something that is unknown to us? Therefore as we DO NOT KNOW…’ – he paused, spinning the revolver’s carriage – “we should not under any circumstances lead away from that king, as declarer might hold both the ace and the queen, might they not?”
“Thereby giving declarer a trick they did not deserve!”
“I trust Watson you will not make such a mistake again?”
I assured him in all earnestness that I would not until Hades froze. I would have gone on but at that moment Mrs Hudson appeared wearing a quizzical smile and VERY little else…
It is unwise – most of the time – to lead away from a King against a suit contract. Here’s why:
Kxxxx ........... J10xx
Kxxxx ........... J10xx
You can do it if partner OPENED that suit, or against a NT trump contract (though I would always struggle not to do it for the reasons above even then.) Remember: Sherlock is right. That’s why he’s Sherlock.
Holmes was a deuced fine card player. He excelled at partnership whist. Always he magically knew which card to play. When I marvelled at his flair for plucking out the right card, he would be incensed at my clumsy inability to see there was no magic: “Watson, don’t be a fool! Magic does not exist in my world, all is logic, plain simple ordinary logic, to which I merely apply my mind.”
“But,” I fawned, “when you held the A,Q of Clubs you declined to lead that suit, and thereby, later in the play of the hand you were able to capture the K of clubs held by the player on your right. How did you know it was there? Magical!” I sighed.
“Watson, you half brained idiot,” he commented, “I did not KNOW the King of Clubs was on my right. How could I? I am no sorcerer. But since I did not hold said card there was ever a possibility of its being on my right.”
“Yes, Holmes, but that’s only a 1 in 3 chance and 33% is no solution!!” I said, chuffed to have spotted a flaw in his statistical reasoning.
“Doh! Pass the syringe, Watson, and I will endeavour to explain. You’re right of course to point out that among four players if I do not hold a particular card it will, logically, be in one of the other three hands. This is true. So. Let us consider those three options in detail.
If the king of clubs is on my left there is nothing I can do, except keep hold of my A Q of clubs and hope that player leads a club round to my hand so that I make both A and Q when I shouldn’t.
If my partner, you dear Watson, holds the K of Clubs then we shall have three tricks in the suit between us whatever occurs.
However, if the player on my right holds the K, I must at no time, under whatever pressure, lead any of my clubs whatsoever or I will give away a trick. I must always lead something else, almost anything else, so that that player is induced to lead the club suit to me! Whereupon I will magically, as you say, make both the A and Q.”
Thereupon, the great man, sank to the sofa with his electrical violin and lost himself in the staccato rhythms of his dub-step remix Brahms quintet…
You should NEVER lead an Ace unless you also have the king. Never. You should NEVER lead a low card from a suit headed by the Ace. Never. Here’s why. It will cost you. The incredibly few times it might – just – be right to do so will far be outnumbered by the myriad times it’s wrong.
AQxxx ........ J10xx
Lead a low card away from the Ace and now declarer makes that King. OK, so lead the Ace?
AQxxx ........ J10xx
Lead the Ace on this layout and again you give away a trick; lead low and you also give away a trick.
In both these situations you want the lead to be toward your holding in the suit. You must wait. Bide your time. Find another lead. You and partner may have bid this suit, but when partner supported you they did not promise the king. They promised four cards. Any four cards. Do not give to declarers tricks they do not deserve.
When you defend you must not sit there following suit when you have to while wondering about the price of steam cleaners. You have to DO something! You have to think. But what? Sometimes the great god of bridge will gift you the high cards to defeat the opponents iffy contract. Other times you may have between you and partner the right cards to get the contract down but too too often neither of you realise what is going on until it’s over. It’d be great if you could look at partner’s hand – or partner could see your hand – then you’d both know exactly what to do. Sadly the rules of bridge forbid this. But the rules of bridge do allow you to SIGNAL to partner in various ways your holdings in particular suits. Armed with this vital knowledge you help each other.
Take this frequent situation:
AQxx .............. you
KJ10x ............. xx
The contract is 4 Spades and partner leads the Ace of Hearts. What card do you play and why? Let’s re-phrase the question slightly. What card do you want PARTNER to play next? After the HA, partner has a problem. What to lead next? Not really knowing what’s going on partner has a complete guess whether or not to lead: 1) another heart, 2) a spade 3) a diamond or 4) a club.
In this situation, remember the suit rankings. The lowest ranking suit is Clubs, then Diamonds, Hearts and Spades in that (alphabetical) order. You can use this knowledge as part of a system to communicate your like or dislike of a lead of a particular suit.
In the example above you would quite like it if partner led a diamond. Partner could lead another heart, which would be ruffed in dummy, or even lead a spade. The one thing you really really don’t want partner to do is lead a club. If they do, dummy plays the jack, you must cover with the queen and of course declarer has the ace and now no club losers. But how – logically – can you dissuade partner from the disastrous club lead at Trick 2?
Remember the suit rankings? Clubs is the LOWEST ranking suit so – logically – the LOWEST card you play would ASK for a club lead. So DON’T play your lowest heart. Instead, under the lead of the ace of hearts drop the NINE of hearts, asking for the HIGHER ranking suit between diamonds and clubs. Easy when you know how, isn’t it!
Of course, this means when you are the one on lead with the Ace of Hearts you’d better watch out what card partner plays, hadn’t you?
Making A Plan
You are declarer. The lead is faced. The dummy goes down. The bids are back in the boxes. Now what? No, no, no the answer is not “PANIC!” The answer is: make a plan. Think. Take your time. How many tricks do you need? Where are they coming from? How many losers have you got? How are you going to get rid of them? It doesn’t matter how hopeless or how marvellous the contract is – the aim is the same. To do your absolute best with cards you and your partner were dealt. So remember
NO PLAN - NO CHANCE!
See you next week!