Count Signals

Count Dracula may have been a scary fellow, but Count Signals can be the defenders’ best friend, as illustrated in this week’s deal. You are West, so try looking at just the N-W hands and see if you can beat 5♠ doubled.

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You lead a high Heart, ruffed in Dummy. Then a Club is played to Declarer’s Jack. Do you win this trick? And how do propose to set the contract?

You could grab your ♣A and lead your trump. That will stop a second Heart ruff in Dummy. The danger is that, after drawing trumps, if Declarer has a second Club, she will be able to run the Clubs, pitching away all her red suit losers.

Does that mean you should duck the first Club trick? Not necessarily, that could also be fatal. Declarer’s Jack might be singleton in which case, if you duck, Declarer ruffs another Heart in Dummy, returns to hand with a Club ruff, and draws trumps. Her shape is likely to be 7=3=2=1, and she can now build her 11th trick by leading a Diamond towards Dummy.

So, the success of the defense depends upon West guessing whether Declarer started with one or two Clubs. But no guessing is required for those defenders who give count signals when Declarer leads a suit. If E-W are using this valuable tool then, on the first round of Clubs, East plays low to show an odd number (of Clubs), and high to show an even number.

On the actual deal, East plays the Two, so West knows that Declarer’s ♣J cannot be singleton and that he can safely duck that trick. After winning the ♣J, Declarer ruffs another Heart in Dummy, but can score no more than 10 tricks. If East started with ♣8742, he would play the Eight on the first round of Clubs (high to show an even number), from which West deduces that the ♣J is singleton (Jxx is possible but less likely) and that the ♣A must be grabbed and a trump returned.

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Take Four

This week you are playing E-W, and as the problem is a tough one you get four attempts to beat the contract.

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North’s bid was a Negative Double, showing the unbid suits. She usually has 4 cards in the unbid major for that bid, but was stuck for a good alternative. Anyway, South lands in 4♥, and you are on defense. Can you beat this precarious contract?

Take 1: Spades are led, Declarer ruffing the third round. The ♥8 is ducked around to East’s Queen. But East has no Spades left, and it’s easy for Declarer to win whatever is returned, draw trumps and claim the rest. Cut!

Take 2: The defense has a certain trump trick and they must make sure that it is West who wins that trick. This allows Spades to be continued, causing Declarer to lose trump control. So, when the ♥8 is led, West must hop up with the Ten, forcing Declarer to play Dummy’s King. Now a Heart to Declarer’s Ace and a low Heart to East’s Queen. Again the wrong defender has won the Heart trick. Cut!

Take 3: OK, suppose West plays his ♥T on the first round, forcing Dummy’s King, but then, on the second round, East cleverly jumps up with the Queen. No, that won’t work either, Declarer simply lets the Queen win. Cut!

Take 4: As before, West plays the ♥T, and East must do his part by dropping the ♥Q under Dummy’s King! Great defense! This guarantees that West wins the defense’s Heart trick and he is the one who can play Spades. Down one!

That would be an awfully hard defense to find at the table, don’t you think? If fact, it’s tough enough even when looking at all four hands. But a thing of beauty nonetheless, all the more so as it gave both defenders a starring role.

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We’ve Got You Surrounded

gotyousurrounded1 gotyousurrounded2Perhaps East should have tried 5♦ over 4♠, that would be a cheap sacrifice if 4♠ is making. Instead, she guesses to defend and must find a nice defensive play if she is to justify her shyness in the bidding.

You are that shy East, so try looking at only the N-E hands. West leads the ♦K, won by Declarer’s Ace. A Diamond is ruffed in Dummy, followed by a Spade to Declarer’s Ace. Then a Club to Dummy’s Jack and your Queen. What next?


At this point, you cannot play a Club or a Diamond without blowing a trick, so you must shift to a Heart. Which Heart? It seems routine to play a low Heart, but let’s stop and think. If Declarer has the ♥K it won’t matter what you do, so let’s assume that West has the King. If West has the ♥J to go along with that King then you can shift to any old Heart, again it won’t matter. So the case to worry about is the one you see looking at all four hands.


Look what happens if you shift to a low Heart. Dummy plays low, West must play the King, losing to the Ace. That’s only one Heart loser for Declarer. The required shift is the Heart Ten! Your Ten and Eight have Dummy’s Nine “surrounded” and that’s what makes the surprising shift to the Ten the winning play. The Ten is covered by the Jack, King and Ace, after which East’s Q8 sits over Dummy’s 92, providing two Heart tricks for the defense.


Surrounding plays don’t happen every day, and are easy to miss in the heat of battle. But now that you are an expert on the subject you will no doubt spot this one right away:


East’s J9 surround Dummy’s Ten and it is a shift to the Jack which is the winning play, picking up the whole suit.

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Three Degrees of Bacon

This week’s hand features an astonishing defense by West – we’ll get to the winning play by degrees.

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E-W did well not to compete to 3♠ (that contract is down one if N-S get their Diamond ruff). Instead, E-W are required to defeat South’s 3♥ contract. Will they? West’s lead is a Spade, won in Dummy.

In the first degree, you are Declarer. With that running Diamond suit you have loads of winners, but the danger is that E-W will get five tricks first. You can try for a Club ruff in Dummy, but alert defenders will switch to trumps (being sure to hold up the ♥A until the second round). Nonetheless, at Trick 2, you lead a Club hoping that something good will happen.

In the second degree, you are East, trying to thwart Declarer. Dummy’s ♠A wins the first trick, and a Club is led, won by West’s Jack. West shifts to a trump, and you have a dilemma:

–       If Declarer has the ♣A, and West the ♦A, then the winning defense is to take the ♥A immediately and play another Heart, stopping the Club ruff.

–       If Declarer has the ♦A, and West the ♣A, then the winning defense is to duck the first trump, win the next Club, cash ♥A and then a third Club.

To bring home the bacon the defense must go to the third degree. This time, you are West, trying to help East to thwart Declarer. Same start, but instead of routinely winning the ♣J at Trick 2, you do some thinking. Declarer did not play Clubs like someone holding the ♣K, so East surely has that card. In that case you can afford to squander the Ace! This brilliant stroke solves East’s dilemma, telling him what he needs to know. How many Wests would find that truly remarkable play? None that we know of!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Introducing Dr. Goodlead

This week we feature a terrific opening lead, found in real life by John Brady of Jacksonville, FL (known to some as Dr Goodlead).

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Imagine yourself as East, if you will, looking at the N-E hands. West, the good doctor, leads the Spade Ten. A strange-looking lead, don’t you think? It’s not fourth best, not top of a sequence. Has the doctor’s legendary common-sense finally deserted him?

While you are puzzling over that bizarre opening lead, Dummy plays the ♠Q and you gleefully ruff. What next, Mr East? West found a grand opening lead, and life would be even grander if only you could get back to West’s hand for a second ruff. If that is to happen, West must have ♦A or ♣A. Any clues as to which?

The opening lead is your much-needed clue. West led an unnecessarily high Spade, and is trying to tell you something. Yes, he is advertising the Ace in the higher-ranking side-suit! So, after ruffing, you shoot back a Diamond to West’s Ace and get your second Spade ruff. Down one!

Doctor G’s lead from ♠KT5432 was not without risk, but he saw no appealing alternative, and he reasonably concluded that East had no more than two Spades (due to non-support in the auction). He didn’t necessarily expect a void, but singleton was also a possibility (in which case West would later win the ♥A and give East a second-round Spade ruff).

What just happened was a Suit Preference signal, whereby, in certain situations, the play of a high card says “I have the higher-ranking suit”, vice versa with a low card. This defensive signal is a rare bird on opening lead, it usually comes later in the hand and even then only in specialized situations. Dr Goodlead gave us the caviar, we’ll have some meat-and-potatoes examples in later Bridge Bites.

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Fishing for Clues

As the play-of-the-hand develops Declarer is constantly on the look-out for the clues which will point to the right line of play. But these clues don’t always come gift-wrapped, sometimes Declarer must go fishing.

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Against 6♥, West tries a Heart lead and Declarer draws trumps in two rounds.   It’s a fine slam but not quite iron-clad. There’s a Spade to be lost, and the key to success is not to lose a Diamond. How would you play the hand, looking only at the N-S cards?

If Diamonds are 2-1 then Declarer is home free, but suppose that the suit is 3-0. Now, Declarer has a guess. If he thinks that West is more likely to hold three Diamonds then he’ll play his ♦K on the first round, later finessing against West’s Queen if East does indeed show out. Conversely, he’ll play Dummy’s ♦A first if he suspects that East might have the three Diamonds. Which do you choose?

At this point it’s a complete guess, so, before playing on Diamonds, Declarer goes fishing. He concedes a trick to the Spade Ace, and let’s say that West returns a Club. Declarer ruffs that, then cashes Spades, and reels in a whopper of a clue when East shows out on the third round! Ha! Now Declarer knows that East started with four cards in the majors, and West with eight. The odds have changed dramatically! If one of the defenders has three Diamonds it’s surely East. So Declarer plays Dummy’s ♦A on the first round, and says a silent “Yippee!” when West shows out. 12 tricks if Declarer delays the Diamond play and first looks for clues in the other suits.

A Hold-Up Play

holdupplay1 holdupplay2After N-S reached 3NT, East, figuring that his side had a profitable sacrifice, offered his partner a choice between 4♥ or 4♠. This pushed N-S to the perilous contract of 5♦, which, as you will see, Declarer is about to bungle.

Against 5♦ West leads the ♠K, won by Dummy’s Ace and trumps are drawn. Declarer can count 10 top tricks, but where is the 11th? Not the ♥K as West needs the ♥A to justify his Takeout Double. That means that a 4th Club trick is required. Are Clubs 3-3? Let’s count the hand. East bid both majors and is no doubt at least 4-4 in those suits. He also showed up with 3 Diamonds. That leaves two Clubs at most. But would East bid so much with 4=4=3=2 distribution and virtually no HCP? No, it seems more likely that East is 5=4=3=1 and, if so, Declarer must hope that East’s Club is the Jack or Ten or Nine. She cashes the ♣A and, seeing East’s Ten, prepares to take an impressively deep finesse of the Eight on the second round!

Well counted for 11 tricks except for one tiny detail. That’s right, West can also count and he inserts the Nine on the second round of Clubs. Now Declarer is locked in Dummy with no safe way back to his hand (if he plays a Spade, East will be sure to win and fire a Heart through). Down one.

Declarer’s play was flawless right up to the point where he called for Dummy’s ♠A at Trick 1. Instead, he must hold up the Ace and win the second round. That way, later in the play, he can get safely back to hand with a Spade ruff and take that second Club finesse. Yet another contract bites the dust because of hasty play at Trick 1.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

An Afternoon Nap

afternoonnap1 afternoonnap2East’s 3♠ bid was preemptive, showing a long suit (usually 7 cards) and a weak hand, its purpose being to make life difficult for the opponents. And so it does, pushing N-S into an ugly 4♥ contract which has 5 top losers.

West cashes his three Clubs and then, for want of better, shifts to a Diamond. Dummy wins that, and draws trumps. It was fortunate for Declarer that West started with no Spades, otherwise he would have been down two in a hurry. But now, if Declarer can bring home the Diamond suit, both of those Spade losers will disappear and this rotten contract will actually make! Do you play Diamonds from the top (hoping that they are 3-3 or that East has Jx)? Or do you finesse the Ten (playing West to have Jxxx)?

It may be tempting to think “East has seven Spades and West has none, therefore West is more likely to have Diamond length” But that’s only part of the picture and Declarer will count the whole hand. East started with seven Spades, two Hearts, and one Club, that much we know. This leaves three Diamonds, no more, no less! So Declarer confidently plays the Diamonds from the top and the Spade losers are thrown off. It pays to count in this game!

It also pays to stay awake. Yes, you noticed, the defense was fast asleep! East must ruff the third Club, just in case West has no Spades. Now the Spades are cashed and it is down two. And let’s also mention that West should have helped his dozing partner by leading a low Club at Trick 3. That will wake him up!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Counting the Hand

This week we start a series of hands where the key to success is counting the opponents’ distribution, in each case turning a guess into a sure thing.

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West’s 2♦ was a Weak Two, showing less than opening values and a 6-card suit. East further crowded N-S by jumping to 4♦ and South tried 4♠. The good news for E-W was that they had bounced N-S into a poor contract, the bad news was that South makes her contract if she does a little counting.

West leads the ♦A and shifts to the ♣T. East wins the Ace and returns the suit, vainly hoping that West can ruff. But Declarer’s King wins the trick, then comes the ♠A, and a second Spade won by East. Declarer wins the Club continuation in Dummy, and leads the ♥Q which East declines to cover. What next?

Three tricks have been lost and Declarer must bring in the Heart suit for no losers if she is to make her contract. She can either play a low Heart to the Ace, hoping that East has started with doubleton King … or she can lead the Jack, hoping to squash West’s doubleton Ten and set up the Nine. There’s no need to guess this one. West has six Diamonds for his 2♦ bid, and has shown up with two Spades and two Clubs. That leaves three Hearts! So, Declarer plays a low Heart from Dummy and, sure enough, the King pops out of East’s hand.

Of course, if East had known that Declarer would be so unsporting as to count out the distribution, then he would have covered the Queen with the King and given Declarer a guess for the ♥T.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Voyage of Discovery

Forgive the grandiloquent title, we are not talking here about Lewis and Clark, nor the HMS Beagle, nor even Christopher Columbus. We merely refer to Declarer’s intelligent (but hardly epic) play of the ♣K in the following deal:

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Just in case it happens to be a really useful clue, we should point out that East’s 1NT showed 15-17 HCP.

The defense cashes three Hearts, then East shifts to the ♦A followed by a low Diamond. How do you play the trump suit?

All things being equal, you would play a Spade over to the King, and then finesse the Jack on the way back. This might seem even more appealing when you remember that East opened 1NT and therefore has most of the missing HCP. But remember also that East has already shown up with ♥AKQ and ♦A. That’s 13 HCP. So you can see that if East has the ♣A that gives him 17 HCP and no room for the ♠Q … and if East does not have the ♣A then he must have the ♠Q for his 1NT opening.

What’s needed here is a so-called “discovery play” before tackling trumps. After winning the Diamond return, you play the ♣K in order to smoke out the Ace. When East shows up with that card, he’s up to his maximum quota of 17 HCP, and now it’s a certainty that West has the ♠Q. That being the case, you ruff East’s Club return and take an immediate finesse of the ♠9! The ♠K is now cashed, then back to hand with a Club ruff (fortunately there is no overruff from West). The remaining trump is extracted and it’s 8 tricks for those who did some counting and discovering!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit for more about the fascinating game of bridge.