Asking the right question: plan the play continued.

January 10, 2011 at 2:23 am 1 comment

About 10 years ago I edited the VBA Bulletin for a bit and thought I’d put some of the articles on this blog, this being one.

If you want to improve your bridge the most important thing you can do is to ‘ask the right questions’. During the course of the year we’ll explore what those questions are and why. To some extent it’s a horses for courses situation – there’ll be a right question in a particular situation. But what? And why?

Some questions, though,  are always right to ask as a matter of routine. Simon Hinge gave me this hand from rubber just recently.

♠ A
♥ Kxxx
♦ AKJxx
♣ Axx

♠ Qx
♥ QJxx
♦ xx
♣ QJ10xx

‘You’re in 3NT,’ he complained. ‘You win the spade and knock out the heart ace and spades are somehow blocked. But when you get back in the diamond finesse fails and so you go down in this ridiculous contract with 6H cold.’ That made my ears prick up. ‘So’, I hazarded a guess, ‘The club finesse was working’.

But in that case 3NT was cold once the spades are not cashed, since 3 club tricks is enough – they don’t even need to break.

So this is the moral of the hand: declarer didn’t ask the right question. The right question, the very first one you always must ask when dummy comes down is ‘How do I make my contract?’. In this case declarer was asking all sorts of irrelevant questions. ‘How would 6H go?’ ‘Why am I in 3NT instead of 6H.?’ Utterly irrelevant, but so tempting. We all do it from time to time, irrespective of what standard we are.

Eradicating this human weakness will do immeasurably more to improve your bridge than any amount of sweating over technical improvement. And it is really easy to work on. If the first thing you ask when dummy comes down is ‘How do I make my contact?’ everything else will follow! Extraneous questions will be banished from your head, to be resurrected, perhaps, at the scoreup.

Ok, you’ve asked the question. How should it be answered? The methodology is to keep asking those questions. This hand is hardly a perfect example to demonstrate the process, but let’s try it anyway. When you are in a suit contract the next 2 questions you ask in order are (1) How many losers have I? And (2) How many winners? In notrumps we ask the same questions, but in the other order. And on this occasion the answers are pretty depressing. We have 4 immediate winners, and at least 5 immediate losers.

Can we develop 5 winners without giving up the lead? Yes, bare king of clubs combined with the diamond finesse would do. Is there anything better than this unlikely scenario? Yes. Imagine getting to hand with a heart. If that happened all we’d need was Kx of clubs on side and we’d be gin! I’m reasonably optimistic about the possibilities of this line. If LHO wins the heart, will he know to cash the spade king dropping the queen? Not necessarily. And if RHO has the ace, will he rush up with  it to cash those spades? Sometimes opponents don’t. So that’s my approach for now. I play a heart, and it loses but although they set about spades now, they block them! Suddenly I’m back in and I’ve only lost 4 tricks.

Some hands have critical points (other than at trick one). Right now is just such a point. It’s a critical point because we have new developments, new information – a new situation. To reassess, ask something like ‘Should my plan change in this new situation?’ In order to figure that out, count our winners again: we have 1 spade, 2 diamonds, 3 hearts – 6 tricks. From the near hopelessness of the initial state of affairs, suddenly we don’t even need anything as precise as Kx of clubs on side – we only need 3 club tricks, so they can be 5-0!


Entry filed under: declarer play.

Plan the play Plan the play

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Richard09  |  January 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    What’s also funny is that the 3NT contract was probably South’s fault. I’m thinking that North was a less than stellar performer, so the bidding went 1D – 1NT (HH always gets the NT in first); 3NT – P.


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