Jeff Lehman

Just sitting around …

In our last club game, we earned 7 tops of 11 out of 24 boards.  So, we must have done something spectacular, right?

Well, no.  We mostly just sat around and watched our opponents misdeclare or overbid (six of the seven tops were on defense).  And that seems, in my experience, to be the normal anatomy of tops: wait for the opponents to make errors and then capitalize upon them.  Is there any skill involved?  Mostly luck, I think, but maybe a little skill enters in three different ways:  (1) compete aggressively enough to cause your opponents to make “guesses”; (2) know when “enough is enough”, and don’t make a further move after you have forced the opponents to make a “guess”; and (3) don’t perseverate over the inevitable bad result but instead focus on the long run.

A categorization of the tops:

  • Opponents misdeclared: Boards 2, 6 (where a poor opening lead by our side made the correct declarer play clearer than normal), 26 (pure luck here: opponents bid a reasonable slam, a better opening lead would have led to a legitimate set, while the lead made at the table allowed declarer to make, but a preemptive call by our side caused declarer to [reasonably] misguess the lie of the trump suit and go down “illegitimately”)
  • Opponents overbid: Boards 7 (where our preemptive bidding might have contributed), 8, and 16.
  • Opponents misdefended: Board 15 (a defender switched to a suit that enabled a game to make).

Typical was this hand:

Dealer: W

Vul: EW





















West North East South
2 2♠! P 3♠!
P P Dbl All pass

NS seemed to have been on the same wavelength: North overbid and South underbid.  I did not catch a tempo issue, and so apparently their auction was based upon past style rather than unauthorized table action.  Len Aberbach as East showed good bidding judgment to double: his hand had all the elements of a successful defense, misfit for partner, fast tricks, control of trump suit.  I suspect he was disappointed, in fact, to see the K in dummy.

East led 9, won by dummy’s A.  Desperate for tricks, declarer ran the Q to East’s K (our first trick).  East returned the 8, declarer sluffed a red card, and West matched his partner’s color and rank by ruffing with the 8 (our second trick).  With another useful trump card available, West went for the cross-ruff by leading back the J.  East overruffed declarer’s 9 with the Q (our third trick) and returned another club.  The club was ruffed by the 6 and overruffed by the J (our fourth trick).  West returned the Q and East overruffed dummy’s T with the A for our fifth trick, four of them with trumps.  East cashed the A and +300 was our score.  Most common score our direction was 2, down one for -100.

This is a pretty mundane hand, but I know a few folks who would refrain from opening 2because of the possibility of missing a better fit in diamonds.  My approach is not to look too severely for reasons not to preempt, but instead look for reasons to cause the opponents to make guesses by preempting often.  Entering the auction here (which is nearly automatic; I am not suggesting that opening 2is especially aggressive) worked well for my side, but sometimes entering an auction will backfire.  On another board during this session, I overcalled a 1 opening by my RHO in second chair with 1, at favorable vulnerability, with J9743 KJT4 K9 Q9.  Eventually my LHO declared 3NT.  Partner made the obvious lead of the Q from Q6 and found the spade suit around the table K82, my J9743, and AT5.  The T was declarer’s ninth trick and we earned a near-zero.  Will that stop me from overcalling the next time on a similar bad five card suit?  No, it won’t.  I think that in the long run introducing the five card spade suit will allow us to win boards by effectively competing; the experience of producing this bad result by inducing partner to lead the Q is something I can remember but not something that I will react to precipitously.


RobinMay 3rd, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I agree with your comment that earning tops generally requires the opponents to do something bad, while conversely bottoms are generally earned by ourselves. Bridge is thus a game of mistakes primarily. There aren’t enough squeezes and endplays in the world to make a big difference, especially when we play in such a competitive unit.

Personally, I don’t like that 1S overcall. I might overcall with J9743 Q9 K9 KJT4 probably because at least I’d be denying them 1H. But with your hand, you don’t want a spade lead, you have no hope of game and you don’t cause them any problems in the auction. I might bid 2S on your actual hand if I was feeling a little frisky.

Jeff LehmanMay 7th, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Good point, Robin that 1S overcall is more attractive with rounded suits swapped. But there can still be a significant benefit any time partner has a 2S raise, For example, assume that partner has something like KQx, xxx, xxxx, AJx opposite my J9xxx, KJTx, K9, Q9. Opponents may have a nice club fit that they can reach by way of 1D-1NT-2C start if my hand does not intervene. But after 1S overcall and 2S raise, seems more likely that my side will buy the hand at 2S, our eight-card fit, rather than defend against 2C, their eight-card fit. As usual, it is much safer to enter the auction early than late. And harder to defend than to declare.

Somewhat a matter of temperament, I suppose, but my tendency is not to worry too much about tipping partner to a bad lead (although that is exactly what happened on this hand, of course). Still takes a parlay of partner being on lead and the spade lead giving away a trick for that to work out badly. Meanwhile, I would prefer to focus on the potentially positive effect of competing in the master suit. I would disagree with the premise that the 1S overcall “[w]on’t cause them any problems in the auction.”

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