Practical Play by Nico Gardener
When I was asked by an eager student what counts most in card play, I replied : to count. The lady retorted immediately : but I can count and remember things all right. I nearly always know how many aces, kings and queens are out, but I am not so hot with the knaves and further downwards.
It was no easy task to impress on her that I took her sort of counting for granted, and what I really meant was to count out suits, hands, partners’, opponents’ . . . anybodys. The principle of counting all the time embraces not only length of suits and distribution of hands, but also counting points and locating the remaining high cards in the right hands, consistent with the bidding, if any. Automatic counting is indispensable in any serious play and is the greatest single contribution to success at bridge.
Sometimes it will disclose an exact picture of the unseen hands, at other times it will only help to obtain better odds. A simple example of the latter :
| A 10 x x
A x x x
10 x x
| K J 9 x x
x x x x
West opens One Spade, North bids Two Hearts and eventually leads the king of diamonds against the final contract of Four Spades. South overtakes with the ace, continues the suit and West ruffs North’s fourth diamond, South discarding the 3 and the 10 of hearts. West finesses South for the Qxx of spades and makes his contract. No certainty, nothing particularly clever, but nevertheless the play suggests an awareness of what is going on. If all the facts of bidding and play are considered, a finesse looks superior. North has 5 hearts, 4 diamonds and 4 black cards. A singleton spade is more likely for several reasons, one of them being that a 2-2 division in the black suits in the North hand would give South 7 clubs, and he never looked like a man with a seven card suit. Only little guides, true, but enough to make the winning play more often than not.
Evidence of a more concrete nature is available in the next hand :
| K 10 x
Q 10 x
A x x
A K J x
| A J x x
Q 10 x x x
West is the declarer in Five Clubs. North, the dealer, has bid One Diamond, having passed originally.
North leads the king of diamonds. Declarer wins, draws trumps and plays a heart. North, in with the ace, cashes the queen of diamonds and the play reveals that South started with knave and another in diamonds. with two top losers west has to find the queen of spades for his contract. what are the clues ? North, who passed originally and overcalled One Diamond later, turned up with KQlOxxx and an ace. He is, therefore., hardly likely to have the queen of spades as well. A spade finesse should therefore be taken through south with a certain degree of confidence.
A good player is in the habit of counting each suit as it develops in order to form a complete picture of the unseen hands. These certainties, however, are not always available, in which case it will boil down to ” intelligent guessing.” In principle, a budding player should train himself to observe closely, to gather every little piece of information and store it all up in his memory chamber for later use. There is plenty to be gathered from the bidding, opening leads, signalling, discarding and, last but not least, from helps of a psychological nature, like signs of distress by a defender imagining himself being squeezed.
But beware of scientists and clever Dicks ! when a good player was once asked why, when it was his turn to follow, he went into a deep trance holding the 5432 of a suit, he replied quite seriously : I wondered whether to play the 2 or the 3.
The arts of counting and card reading are probably the most difficult assets to acquire, but are also the most satisfying. It is nearly as effective as looking into opponents’ hands and will cause less antagonism.
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