When not to lead your partner’s suit

PHILADELPHIA – My partner Christine Matus and I really wanted to sit in accident-caused traffic jams both ways on the Schuylkill Expressway Saturday – NOT! – and we had two choices to achieve that goal: We could have gone to watch the Philadelphia Flyers lose the opening game of their season to the Pittsburgh Penguins, or we could play bridge at Raffles.

It appears we made the right decision by choosing the Raffles alternative, because at least our appearance at the Raffles game netted us something positive – a third-place overall finish (1st in both the B and C categories ) with a 53% game that earned both of us another .48 MasterPoints, even though the gigantic traffic jam on the way back almost made us late for a dinner engagement.

We played all the North-South pairs that included several luminaries of the local bridge scene and had very positive results against one of them (Donna Morgan) – although we did get outplayed by another one (Jane Segal).

We also had very positive scores in the round against two Directors, Wendy, who was directing Saturday’s game, and Rhoda, who also often directs at Raffles. We got close to a top (6.5 points out of possible 8 or about 81%) when I overplayed a 1 No-Trump contract and made two overtricks instead of the one overtrick to which they should have been able to limit me according to the hand records distributed later.

There is a valuable lesson in the board, which I can use for a column. Wendy’s opening lead was in the suit her partner had bid, which seemed like a logical lead. But in this case it was the wrong lead, so the board will give me a theme for a column – when NOT to lead your partner’s suit.

I really played the board as West, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around I will become South and assume the role of Smug Sam. Christine will become North and assume the role of Sam’s partner, Shy Shem. Director Wendy will play West and will become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, who made the wrong lead. Her partner Rhoda, who bore no blame for her team’s disaster, is Flo’s partner Loyal Larry as East.

The hand

West Dealer; East-West vulnerable

Q 4 3
J 10 5
A J 8 2
A Q 10
West East
K 10 8 6 5 J 7 2
2 A K 9 8 6
Q 10 5 3 K 9
5 3 2 J 8 6
A 9
Q 7 4 3
7 6 4
K 9 7 4

The bidding

West North East South
Pass 1 1 1 No-Trump
All pass

Opening lead: 2

How Flustered Flo played it

Overtricks may not matter much in four-person Swiss team or knockout events, but they can make all the difference in pairs games, and every self-respecting bridge player should and will try to get the overtrick where possible to grab the top spot on a board.

It is equally important for defensive players to prevent their opponents from getting that possible overtrick. Flustered Flo wasn’t quite up to that task when she came up against her nemesis Smug Sam on the diagrammed deal in a recent club game.

Flo sat West and she didn’t have much to support her partner Loyal Larry’s One Heart overcall bid, so she passed when Sam bid a No-Trump. But she thought she could at least help her partner out by leading her suit, so she led her only Heart.

Larry took the Ace and continued with the King and exited with a small Spade to Flo’s King. Flo led another Spade to Sam’s Ace, and then Sam attacked the Clubs, taking dummy’s top two Clubs and coming to his hand to run the rest of the Club suit.

Sam took dummy’s good Jack of Hearts and Ace of Diamonds and exited with a low Diamond to Larry’s King, which forced Larry to lead another Heart to Sam’s Queen. Sam led a Diamond to Flo’s Queen and Flo had to give Sam his ninth trick with the Spade Queen. Sam has two Spades, two Hearts, four Clubs, and the Diamond Ace.

“Maybe it’ll be a good board for us,” Flo said hopefully. “At least they didn’t bid the Game.”

“There’s no way we can bid Game on that hand,” Sam replied. “We have only 23 points between us, and there’s no way we should have made nine tricks. You should hold us to eight tricks all day long.”

“But what did we do wrong?” Flo asked. “Where can we get an extra trick?”

“You made the wrong lead, Flo,” Sam replied.

“But I just led my partner’s suit,” Flo replied defensively. “She bid Hearts and I led a Heart – what else should I have done.”

“You should think if perhaps there is a better lead instead of just pulling out the Heart as a knee-jerk reaction,” said Sam.

“Why shouldn’t I lead a Heart and what should I lead instead?” Flo asked.

“You have to listen to what I bid – and to which I didn’t bid,” Sam explained. “Of course it’s meant as information for my partner, but you can use the information as well. I bid a No-Trump immediately after your partner’s One Heart overcall. I was saying two things. One: I had a Heart stopper. And Two: I did not have four Spades.

“Therefore,” Sam continued, “if you lead a Heart, you just help me set up my Heart stopper sitting behind your partner. But you have a good five-card Spade suit and neither I nor my partner have much in Spades. So you should lead the Spade 6.”

“And we can hold you to 8 tricks if we do that?” Flo asked.

“Easy,” Sam replied. “I take your opening Spade lead with the Queen’s dummy, run my Clubs, but then when I try to set up my Heart tricks and lead a Heart to your partner’s Ace, He leads the Spade Jack to drive out my Ace, and when he gets back in with his second high Heart, he has a Spade left to give you three Spade tricks. So you get two Hearts and three Spades.”

“And I thought,” Flo said, “I was just following the rule by leading my partner’s suit.”

“The first rule of bridge is to think,” Sam said, rather unkindly, “not to blindly follow rules.”

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