Common Errors and How to Avoid Them by Brent Manley

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Among the newer players I have encountered, I have noticed a couple of bad habits.

By Ana Roth
On 25 January, 2016 At 16:22

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Failing to Discuss and Use Defensive Signals, Part 1

I play occasionally at the main bridge club in Memphis. It’s the largest club in the city in terms of attendance, although the games aren’t nearly as big as when I started playing about 40 years ago. Among the newer players I have encountered, I have noticed a couple of bad habits.

The first is that many are wont to make so-called “off-shape” takeout doubles with minimum values – that is, takeout doubles with approximately opening-bid values but without at least three-card support for the unbid suits. They land on their feet occasionally, but it’s losing strategy to press one’s luck in these situations. If I comment, they invariably say, “But I had 13 points!”

The other bad habit can be identified as an action of omission. They don’t signal on defence. Signals, of course, come in two varieties: count and attitude. When signalling count, high-low indicates an even number of cards in the suit being played. Low-high indicates an odd number.

Attitude signals are divided into “like it” and “don’t like it.” Say partner leads an ace against a suit contract (ace from A-K) and you see low cards in that suit in dummy. With a holding of 8-7-2 in that suit, you would play the 2. Playing low – the 2 – means your attitude about the continuation of that suit is negative.

On the other hand, if your holding in the suit partner is leading is K-9-4-3-2, your attitude is positive about a continuation. If partner is leading the ace from a doubleton, you can win the king on the second round and give partner a ruff.

Say partner leads a low card against a suit contract and dummy comes down with the A-8-2 in that suit. You hold K-10-7-4 in the suit. Declarer plays the ace and you follow with the 10, indicating that if partner gets in first, he can safely play the suit again. If your holding were 7-6-5-3, you would play the 3 under dummy’s ace to show you have nothing good in that suit.

If declarer is pulling trumps and you are out after the first round, your first discard should usually come from a suit in which you have some strength, provided you have the right cards for such a discard. For example, dummy might have K-5 in a side suit. If your holding is A-Q-9-4 in that suit, discard the 9 to let partner know he should shift to that suit should he get in first.

Alert! Important point coming! If signalling from your strong suit might be at the cost of a trick – say, from A-QJ-9 when dummy has K-10 doubleton against a notrump contract – it would certainly be better to throw a low card from a weak suit to show no interest. In that way, partner might find the killing switch by a process of elimination based on your discards.

Good partnership defence can be very fulfilling, especially when you and your partner are in tune and drawing the correct inferences from what’s going on at the table. Bidding also requires being in tune as partners, but I have always found the defensive part of the game to be more rewarding.

to be continued…Part II: When to give count and when not to.

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