The denoument to the opening lead….

April 1, 2009 at 8:25 am 24 comments

Wednesday 1 April.
This is the first of two posts today.

s xx
h1 Q9
d1 AJ98x
c A10xx

RHO deals and opens 2NT 20-22 and now a puppet Stayman sequences puts you on lead to 4S – a 4-4 fit. Along the way dummy cues 1st or 2nd in clubs, declarer in hearts.

I was given the hand by Phil Markey and sent the following reply:

‘ I look and say CA. I think and say hmmm. I suppose I’m expected to lead a trump here. But then again, what are the chances of my partner getting in to lead the third round? But I still go CA. Have a blown it already or do I get a chance to look at dummy and blow it at trick 2?’

He wrote back: ‘Dummy tracked with

s J10xx
h1 x
d1 Kxx
c KJ10xx

Pard discards a heart on your ace of clubs…nice lead.’

Phil, of course, had done the same thing. That didn’t surprise me in the least as I wrote back to him to say that it was just a famous Italian hand, which he’d seen before, in something I’d written if not lots of other places too. He said he couldn’t recall the hand. My sense was, even if that were so, it didn’t mean it hadn’t governed his decision.

Still, what amazes me about this hand is that although most, if not all, of the people who have written in to give answers to this problem, have seen the ‘original’ – highly memorable – hand, it was not brought to mind for any of them. I really expected answers like ‘Easy ace of clubs, just like the Italians’.

Most interestingly, I gave it to Ben Thompson, who said: ‘DA, planning to cash partner’s K shortly afterwards. Seems like one of them with D control should have kicked, therefore they don’t have it. If we were cashing 3 diamonds, I expect I can get back in with CA to give partner a ruff anyway, so I don’t think the nifty low diamond lead is called for.’

Now how fascinating is that. Why? Because I knew that Ben had had this hand a long time ago – maybe 10, maybe 15 years ago?? – and been written up for leading the ace of clubs. When I put this to Ben he wrote back: ‘I remember the Italian hand. Pretty sure it’s in Forquet’s book. Fantastic lead, well ahead of its time in thinking about the whole hand. You’re right, I did do it. Might have been a VCC from 15 years ago. I’m completely disorganised about keeping hands and articles, so big challenge to find it!’

Sorry, I’m not going to trawl through a decade of two of The Melbourne Age looking either.

But the original is readily to hand.

1968 World Championship Final









On lead to 4s Kaplan led his singleton heart, while Pabis-Ticci began with the ace of clubs.

It was one of those hands. To some, of course, it proved the Italians were cheating, to others that the Italians were light years better than the Americans.

The basic principle in favour of the club lead in this case is that it is most flexible. It is more likely to get you two ruffs if that is how the contract is to be beaten, than your longer suit. It is more likely to give you a deep winner, again because it is your shorter suit. It permits a shift to hearts if that is likely to be correct.

Obviously the two hands are not identical and you all are welcome to argue til the end of time about the minutiae of what might make the two hands different, but nonetheless the point I hope is made about memory.

I don’t know what that makes the ultimate conclusion about this ‘experiment’ if it can be called that. Has everybody at a subconscious level remembered the original hand and still concluded in many cases that an alternative should be chosen this time? Or has everybody genuinely forgotten the original hand at all levels of consciousness and therefore treated the presented hand yesterday as a new problem for which there was no data available?

If anybody has thoughts on this, please do leave a comment.


Entry filed under: defence, thoughts on bridge. Tags: , , , .

What do you lead? Your bid.

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Gill  |  April 2, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I’m the same as Andrew Webb (twins?) – I remembered the Italian hand, recalled their bidding 1S – 2H – 2S – 3S – 4S made leading an ace obvious, but I forgot that this case (with the cue bids and thus slam tries) made leading an ace correct too.

    Amazingly, Ron Klinger in his Herald bridge column a few months ago had an altogether different but almost identical hand where Ron recommended the ace lead from Axxx over Axxxx, apparently without realising any similarity to the Italian hand.

  • 2. Jonathan  |  April 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    What’s going on here? We’re all agreed partner is more likely to hold a stiff diamond than a stiff club (unless dummy’s club bid was a suit, when Cathy misinformed us). Given that, if they hold 7diamonds, are the CA leaders playing dummy for a 5card diamond suit, or opener for 4252 (when we have a promotion chance anyway)? If Ds are 43 obviously we get two ruffs.

    Having led DA, we have the 2nd shot of C Qx with partner, but
    the reverse doesn’t hold.

    I really am surprised CA is such a popular choice. The auction is critical, and it’s a distraction to compare with other famous hands. Only if 4C was naturalish would I consider CA lead.

  • 3. jill  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    speaking as a non expert who never heard of the Famous Hand above, i agree with the go-fo- the-jugular lead in this imps format. but since both partners stayed out of slam due to a diamond problem, implying no shortage on either side in D, and because the club cue could either be the K of club with clubs, or shortage in C, and since the club cue also seems to be seeking help in D, i cant see why leading the A of clubs is a priori more logical than leading the A of D.

  • 4. andrew webb  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I recognised the 5D 4C (no idea of the pips) aspect as being the same as the famous Italian hand, but since the auction was completely different, I didn’t assume there was any relevance. in fact, I thought one possibility for the North club cue was a singleton (and it is) which significantly alters the likelihood for leading the club.

    As I recall, Pabis-Ticci was either experimenting, or not willing to share his reasoning when asked about the lead.

    I remember running a sim of the PT hand when I had some dealing software – the club Ace was not often the best lead.

    Personally I think CPT got lucky, and basing a defensive strategy on this would be roughly equivalent to wearing your lucky scoring underpants to the pub on Saturday night.

    • 5. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm

      It’s interesting, isn’t it, that I’ve only noticed 3 cases over the years and they have all been successful – I guess I wouldn’t notice the failures. Not that I’ve been on the path for them, they happen to have come my way.

  • 6. phil markey  |  April 1, 2009 at 10:42 am

    i dont recall seeing the “italian” hand before – however i am open to the suggestiuon that it was floating around my subconscious

    at the table it seemed clear that nearly all the time the contract can be beaten its going to go ace ruff ace ruff

    so i was leading an ace before the auction had finished – i lead the ace of clubs within a few seconds of the auction being finished

    it went through my mind that a-priori a diamond was more likely to find partners shortage cause i had more of those but i also recognised that was scant reasoning and shouldnt therefore be over weighed if there were other reasons – my other reason at the time was that i knew dummy had not much for his slam try but that he was a solid citizen – seemed then that he would have shape and that the marginally more likely second suit was clubs given his cue-bid

    my subsequent reflections are that i might of just gotten lucky leading a club rather than a diamond – but – the scoreboard test clearly applies so i ended my deliberations

    i think that if your good at bridge then its because you continue to learn the game – the corollary being if you stop learning the game it passes you by and you quickly become bad at it – same for lots of good games

    the process of learning to me feels a bit like digesting and analysing new information and once on top of it that information gets stored for future reference – but – that future reference is not done at a conscious level – it just happens the same way a computer just knows what 4,589 divided by 7 is without thinking

    i came to the last conclusion a while ago when i agreed to run a beginners class for david lusk – i was teaching around 12 middle aged woman who had never played bridge before or for some of them any sort of card game from the ground up – that was a great challenge – eventually i got to card play and one day i had to explain to them what a finesse was

    i remember confidently standing in front of my whiteboard to draw some diagrams and go through what a finesse was – but – when i started explaining nonsense came out – i didnt know what a finesse was anymore – or at least not in any way that was intelligble to another human being who didnt know what a finesse was

    so i think the broad idea you put forward is right cathy – ie that when your making decisions a large body of subconscious information is the primary force that goes into making those decisions – the more you learn the bigger and better the body of subconscious information is

  • 7. sartaj  |  April 1, 2009 at 9:18 am

    I consciously remembered the Italian hand when i saw the lead problem. But i hadnt in the past derived any lessons from Pabis-Ticci’s lead.

    If something, over the last few years, i’ve tried to cut down on so called “thoughful” leads. And try to go along with the regular, “boring” card.

    • 8. phil markey  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:05 am

      “If something, over the last few years, i’ve tried to cut down on so called “thoughful” leads. And try to go along with the regular, “boring” card.”

      i understand this view – when on lead to 3nt i know that i always start by thinking “fourth best from my longest and strongest”

      to some extent this view springs from what is called FPS in the poker forums i write and read in – fancy play syndrome – we have all convinced ourselves at one time or another that doing something spectacular was required and we have done it to discover that actually the boring thing was best – kind of like the ability to know that the spectacular might be right bias’s our view of whether the spectacular is the best shot

      but i’m not happy to think about it that way – ie that my thought is i must be careful not to commit FPS – that seems like the opposite bias to me – i want to remain open to doing the “fancy” because sometimes the “fancy” is the right lead to make with all the information available to you

      its got to be the same ruthless and honest weighing and measuring that you do without realising it for every bridge decision – not something based on a rule of thumb because you know your susceptable to things like FPS

      personally i think thinking is the problem – the subconscious rules

      • 9. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:43 am

        Aint that the truth about being suspicious of the fancy. Was it 2000 NOT, something like that, I was playing the final against the Italians (with Phil in the other room). I racall playing a 2 level partscore where I got to a point where I thought it was even money between a finesse and a squeeze. I ended up coming down on the side of the finesse for no reason other than general suspicion of the fancy. Go for simple, all things being even. So, I played the finesse, went down, squeeze makes it and now I was playing a team that probably thought I wasn’t even good enough to take the right play and I’d deprived myself of squeezing the Italians, which had to be more fun than the finesse. So, very true, Phil, distrust the distrust of the fancy comes in handy….

      • 10. andrew webb  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm

        I think there’s more to avoiding fancy leads than just FPS – you have 12/13’th of the hand remaining to demonstrate your expertise.

        I agree that you shouldn’t not make a reasoned lead because of a rule called “no FPS” though. You do need to be a little ruthless is assessing the cost of your fancy leads when they go wrong though.

        Although I think the brain makes a lot of decisions without consciousness being involved, I also think that when fatigue/stress sets in, this is the time the unconsidered and the wishfully thought start to conflate and you start taking plays because you “know” they’re right, when actually your brain is just too fucked up to bother working it out for you.

        There may be some interesting analogies with sport – massive drilling from an early age makes good sportsmen, because they don’t need to make conscious decisions, and all that drilling means that the unconscious decisions are very reliable. The neurological basis for this is myelin, which reinforces neural pathways so they are more reliable. The role of myelin is a relatively recent discovery.

        I think you need massive conscious technique, unless you have played enough to build those myelin pathways tough enough to withstand the chemical maelstrom of stress & fatigue.

  • 11. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 1, 2009 at 9:15 am

    The auction I’ve seen published is the one I described. I believe the hand was published in “Case for the Defence” (or perhaps “Winning Bridge) by Victor Mollo. I agree that Kaplan had some justification to lead a club in the auction you described. I think that Pabis Ticci’s lead, however, in the auction you described is weird, as he needs partner to hold a club singleton for it to work, whereas a diamond singleton is more likely.

    • 12. sartaj  |  April 1, 2009 at 10:36 am

      I’m very sure that i have seen two completely different auctions, in two different books, for this hand. Both refer to the names of the players.
      Wonder what the world championship book says though ?

      • 13. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:44 am

        The world championship book gives it as I give it here (as I also give it in my book).

    • 14. Ben Thompson  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:24 am

      The smart part of Pabis-Ticci’s CA lead for me is that he was thinking beyond trick 2. Yes, a diamond shortage is more likely, but which shortage is more likely to be useful? One ruff won’t shoot the contract.

      Assuming ruffs are the path to success, in which of your suits are you more likely to be able to collect the second ruff? The one in which you yourself are shorter – ie clubs.

      I think it’s easier to lead CA in a blind auction where you don’t have much information to suggest side length/shortage in the opponents’ hands.

      • 15. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:56 am

        Who says a second ruff is necessary? As I mentioned earlier, the American auction is totally different to the new one, which is only a game forcing auction. Partner could have a deep heart trick, or the J8x in spades could be worth a trick – see the actual hand.

        Therefore, the CA lead seems very anti-percentage so, maybe, the Americans have a point if it happens all the time.

    • 16. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:22 pm

      The point, however, Khokan, is not that partner is more likely to have a singleton club, but that two club ruffs are more likely than 2 diamond ruffs, as Ben points out in these comments somewhere.

      Mollo, p. 219 of the book in question gives only a hand ‘based’ on the 1968 opening lead, with a different auction altogether: 1S 3S-4S.

      • 17. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:35 pm

        No, the point is finding the percentage defence. Of course, two club ruffs are more likely than two diamond ruffs, given your relative suit lengths. However, the chance finding a singleton club in partner’s hand on a non-informative sequence, such as the one you described, is very low. As I said earlier, one ruff may be enough to beat the hand, as seems likely on the invitational sequence that you’ve described. To me, the heart lead is a standout on the bidding sequence given, as it only needs for partner to HA or DA, whereas the other leads need much more to work.

      • 18. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 1, 2009 at 1:49 pm

        With regard to the sequence, the commentary from Victor Mollo that I read was that Pabis Ticci led the CA on the basis of the sequence I described (ie the 2C rebid was the salient point) – you’re looking at a different book/hand.

        • 19. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 10:13 pm

          I wonder if you could give me the page number Khokan, as I have looked up the book you mentioned, found the hand, and it is as I said….in any case, not particularly relevant since we are presumably going to assume that we can rely on the world championship book.

          • 20. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 2, 2009 at 3:19 am

            I don’t have the book at the moment – my Dad has it. Next time I visit him, I’ll try and find the book/page number.

            With reference to the Blue Team hand, The more I think about it, the more I find the idea of looking to give partner a ruff when he figures to hold 1-2 trumps a long shot – two ruffs even more so!!

            For those that think that leading the club ace is cost-free, on the basis that you can always switch to a heart, how about the following, or similar, layout (I grant that you might still need to defend carefully after a heart lead)?



      • 21. Ben Thompson  |  April 1, 2009 at 3:19 pm

        I’ve just done some very rough (ruff?) calculations by reference to the odds of how a suit breaks in the other 3 hands given your length.

        If ruffs are the only way for Pabis-Ticci to beat it:
        * D ruffs will beat it ~11.7% of the time
        * C ruffs will beat it ~12.2% of the time
        Legend (but only just and check the caveats)

        Big caveat – I haven’t made any adjustment to the odds to allow for the known spade & heart lengths. On balance, this will affect the size of the odds but the relativity should be more or less right.

        Smaller caveat – this is a ruffs-only consideration. Which A lead are you more likely to survive if leading something else (maybe the other A) was better? I don’t think there’s a provable point of view; the true answer is probably that there isn’t much in it.

        Small technical point – I allowed for situations where you don’t get 2 straight ruffs, but you do get one ruff plus an overruff/promote.

      • 22. Ben Thompson  |  April 1, 2009 at 3:25 pm

        Oops. Not so legendary. Just rechecked my calcs. C ruffs will only beat it ~8.5% of the time.

        Well, still legendary. But legendary Italian flair rather than legendary instant odds assessment under the spotlight.

  • 23. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Pabis Ticci led the CA was because the auction went 1H-1S, 2C – 3S, 4S. Therefore, he concluded that partner was likely to be shorter in clubs than diamonds. There is no such inference available on the new deal, so it’s difficult to draw parallels between the two hands, especially when the current auction suggests that LHO was looking for a slam – the American auction indicated game forcing intent, only. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with deep winners on the new deal (ie the diamond lead blowing a trick in the suit) if the opponents are truly in a slam-going auction.

    I treated the new hand as a problem for which no data was available, mainly because similarities with the Italian hand are vague at best.

    • 24. cathychua  |  April 1, 2009 at 9:03 am

      Khokan, That is incorrect. In the room in which Kaplan was on lead there was a clear inference that if anything partner was short in clubs because the auction went 1S 2H-2S 3C-3D 3S-4S. Yet he led a heart.

      When Pabis-Ticci was on lead the auction went 1S 2H-2S 3S-4S.


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