Sunday, April 22, 2018

Losing Trick Count 2018

Hello friends--big news! I am writing a new series of Losing Trick Count articles which will be published in the Bridge Bulletin starting in May, 2018. As many of you know, I had a series of six articles on Losing Trick Count published in the Bridge Bulletin, from December 2011 through May, 2012.

It seems like a good time for a new series of articles on the subject as I find that more and more bridge players are using this valuable tool, some have questions and there seems to be a lot of interest in the subject.

As background, when I first learned about Losing Trick Count nearly 20 years ago, it seemed too good to be true, so my partner and I decided to try  it. It is a method of hand evaluation that leads to greater accuracy, and overnight our bidding improved. Gone was the agony of trying to decide what to do. When I was uncertain about what to bid I simply counted my losers and usually came up with the right answer. I still do that today!

I considered the concept so valuable that I wanted to share my experience with other bridge players, so I wrote a booklet on the subject, using my own hands from this blog. (Losing Trick Count, Vol. I--available for sale on this site.) A fellow bridge blogger, Memphis Mojo, encouraged me to send a copy to the editor of the Bridge Bulletin which resulted in the series of articles.

At the time I wrote the booklet, I don't believe that Losing Trick Count (LTC) was very well known. The literature on the subject was dated, and players who tried to use it often did so improperly. Now, six years later, it seems to be used fairly widely, and I believe that the articles in the Bridge Bulletin are, at least in part, responsible. I then wrote a second booklet, Losing Trick Count Vol. II, also available on this site, and included the articles, along with some new material.

In the last few years I have enjoyed the opportunity to give several talks on Losing Trick Count  at North American Bridge Championships, addressed the American Bridge Teachers' Association, and bridge teachers around the country have purchased my teacher's package in order to teach it to their students.

It may be safe to say that the concept has passed the tipping point and that more players use it than not. I base this notion in part on a recent incident. A few months ago in Sausalito, California, I was at a gathering of mostly rubber bridge players. Much to my surprise, I heard the ladies at the next table talking about their losers! (And they were talking about their bridge hands--not their husbands...:-)

With so many players interested in the subject I am pleased to have the opportunity to write more articles for the Bridge Bulletin. I have collected new hands over the years and am familiar with the most common questions, such as: "Can you use LTC in deciding whether to open the bidding?" The new series of articles will address these questions and also present some new applications for Losing Trick Count.

My email address is Jennife574@aol.com and I welcome a dialogue with the readers. How do you use it? How has it helped your bridge game? What questions do you have? I will try to address any questions either in this blog or in the new series of articles.

Thanks!
See you at the table!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Counting Endplay


Here is another endplay where the bidding helped me get a count on the hand.

Playing teams, RHO opened 2, described as 11-15 HCP with either a 6-card club suit, or, if only a 5-card club suit, then a 4-card major on the side.

I held this hand so I overcalled 2NT.

Kxx
KJx
Kxx
AK10x

Partner bid 3NT which ended the auction. A club was led and I beheld the dummy.

Qxxx
A10x
Qxxxx
x

Kxx
KJx
Kxx
AK10x

If I can bring in the diamonds, I should be OK. Otherwise, the contract will take some work. I won the J with the A and started on diamonds. There were potential problems no matter how I played the diamond suit, so I started with the K from my hand. RHO won the A and returned a club which I won with the 10, pitching a spade from dummy. Now at least I have 3 club tricks. I next led a diamond from my hand and when I won the Q—disaster—RHO showed out, pitching a club. 

Now I have 3 clubs, only 1 diamond, probably 3 hearts and one spade--8 tricks--not good enough. Well at least I’m starting to get a count on the hand.

I cashed the A and led a heart to my J which held.  With nothing better to do, and to complete the process of getting a count on the hand, and perhaps also to strip RHO of his exit card, I cashed the K and RHO followed with the Q. It is looking like his initial distribution was 4-3-1-5, or possibly 3-3-1-6.

Either way I’ve got him. How do I execute the endplay to make the hand?
Here are the remaining cards.

Qxx

xxx


Kxx

x
Kx

If you're trying to learn endplays, stop here and try to figure it out.

Hint: You've got to force RHO to lead spades for you.

Answer: I first cashed the  K and then threw RHO in with a club. As he had already discarded a club, he could only cash at most one more before exiting with a spade. He led a low spade and I let it ride around to my Q. I then led a spade back toward my hand and he couldn't prevent me from scoring a second spade trick--my 9th trick! We won 10 IMPs and the match.

See you at the table!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bidding Slams With Voids

I am currently teaching a class on slam bidding. We have studied Blackwood and Gerber and defense against slams. The next class is on play of the hand at slams. I haven't yet told them that sometimes it's inconvenient or inappropriate to ask for aces and you just have to jump to slam! That is often the case when you have a void. If you ask for aces, you often won't know whether partner has an ace in your void or a useful ace!

I had two example hands tonight at the local team game. If you're playing at home you can relax and score up your game bonus, but if you're head to head with another team, you better bid your slam if you have one. If they bid it and you don't, you will suffer a big loss--often enough to lose the match. Conversely, if you bid your slam and they don't, they will be the one with the big loss and you will likely win the match!

Partner opened 1 and I responded 2 (game forcing) with this hand.

♠ Void
AKxx
Q985
♣ A9875

Now I figured he would bid 2 and I would have a bid of a problem with my rebid. But no, to my surprise, he rebid 2! As we were already in a game force I raised to 3. He now bid 3. This could be a cuebid in support of diamonds. It could show extra length in spades. He could be looking for a cuebid from me. Rather than do anything to confuse the auction, I just jumped to 6!
 
Here are the two hands:

♠ Void
AKxx
Q985
♣ A9875

♠ AK1096
QJ
A109xx
♣ x

A heart was led and he won in his hand with the Q and played the A  and another diamond and LHO won the K. Partner won the club return with the A, finished drawing trump and claimed. He only needed to ruff one spade and could pitch two spades on dummy's hearts. We won 11 IMPs (and the match) as our counterparts only bid 5

Hand 2. Very next match

I loved this hand. (No wonder--it's a 3 loser hand!) As I was admiring it, partner opened the bidding with 1! Wow! RHO bid 2 and I cuebid 3, showing a good hand with club support. LHO bid 4 and partner doubled! Next hand passed and I thought for a moment and jumped to 6!

♠ x
Void
KQJ10xx
♣ AKJxxx

I didn't want to sit for 4 doubled and Blackwood would be of no use. I needed to know WHICH ace(s) partner held, not how many.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he won the opening spade lead with the A. He drew trump and gave up the A and claimed. 

Both hands: 

♠ x
Void
KQJ10xx
♣ AKJxxx

♠ AQxx
Axxx
98
♣ Q10x

This time our good score of plus 1370 was matched at the other table and the board was a push.

As I tell my students: "Be brave. Bid your slams!"

See you at the table.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Jenn's Tips: Avoidance Play

Here is a play-of-the-hand tip for up-and-coming players.

How do you play this routine 3 notrump contract after a lead of the ♠5 to the 10 and your ♠Queen?

 72
AJ6
A742
KQ82

♠ KQ6
K1095 
K98
♣ A75

It appears that the lead is 4th best and that left hand opponent (LHO) has the ♠ Ace. After the first trick, your hands look like this: 

 7
AJ6
♦ A742
KQ82

♠ K6
K1095
K98
♣ A75

First you count your tricks.  Your sure tricks are 3 clubs, 2 diamonds, 2 hearts and 1 spade – for a total of 8. What is the best way to get your 9th trick?

Although clubs could break 3-3 for a 9th trick, the quickest and easiest way to a 9th trick is to play on hearts. Once the Queen is knocked out you will have 3 heart tricks.

How should you play your hearts? You can finesse either way and can start in either hand. Does it matter?

Absolutely! If your right hand opponent (RHO) gets in with the Q, she will return a spade through your king. Your LHO will then win all of his spade tricks and you will go down.

Whereas...if you LHO wins the Q, he will be helpless to take any tricks other than the ♠Ace and you will make your contract!

You must play the hearts so that LHO has the opportunity to win the trick if he has the Q. If he doesn't have it--fine, you will score at least 9 tricks. You must AVOID the dangerous opponent-which in this case is RHO. You must avoid letting RHO get the lead as she will cause you major problems. 

This is a classic avoidance play that comes up frequently. It also comes up in various guises, so be on the lookout. Take pains to keep the "dangerous opponent" off the lead!

See you at the table!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year


Happy New Year! I have a backlog of hands to write about. Mostly endplays—my favorites! They come in so many shapes and sizes and are always fun and satisfying to execute.

Here is an interesting one from a few weeks ago at an evening club team game. Sometimes it’s difficult to recall the exuberance that led you to bid game with sketchy values such as the following, but it undoubtedly had to do with vulnerability! 

I get a club lead at 3NT after a weak 2♠ overcall on my left and pause, as is my custom.

♠x
Q10xxx
Kxx
♣KJxx

♠AQxx
x
A10xx
♣A10xx

I don’t see a lot of  tricks, but I have been in plenty of worse contracts. I call for a low club, and to my shock, RHO discards a ! "Holy cannoli" (or something similar) I say to myself…"LHO is 6-5"! The opening lead reveals that LHO started with 5♣ and almost certainly has 6♠. This immediately gives me some ideas regarding how to play the hand. 

Let’s see…I have 4♣ tricks, 2tricks and can surely get two spades on an endplay. Hearts are hopeless; maybe something good will happen in diamonds.
I take my 4 club tricks and play the K. LHO follows with the J! A diamond to the 10 (restricted choice) wins as LHO shows out. 8 tricks--almost there. When executing an endplay you need to carefully watch the opponents’ discards so that you can strip them of exit cards as necessary.  As my plan is to throw in LHO at the appropriate time for him to give me a trick with my ♠Q, I next play a heart trick to strip him of his now known singleton .  RHO wins and, apparently reluctant to cash hearts and give my a heart trick, exits with a diamond to my ace. Now the stage is set.

These are my remaining cards. RHO has discarded a ♠ early in the hand on the run of the clubs, so I know he has only 1 left.

♠AQxx

x


I also know that LHO has only 1 ♣ and the all the rest spades in his hand, so I carefully cash the ♠A (removing any possible entry from RHO’s hand) and then exit with a low spade. LHO wins, cashes the 13th ♣  (on which I pitch my ) and ♠K, then has to lead a spade to my ♠ Q—my 9th trick!
We won imps. I love these hands that are so easy to count!

See you at the table!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Still using LTC

News Flash! I will be giving a talk on Losing Trick Count at the upcoming Fall North American Bridge Championship in San Diego. My time slot is Fri., Dec. 1 at 9:15 a.m. If you're at the nationals, stop by and say hello!

I never get tired of writing about losing trick count. Here's a hand I held recently at the club.  With no one vul., I dealt and opened 1♠.

♠AKQxx
void
Axx
♣xxxxx

LHO overcalled 2 and partner jumped to 3♠, preemptive.  RHO bid 4 and it was my bid.

Although partner has shown a weak hand, now that we have a known fit, I can confidently employ losing trick count.  This will enable me to properly evaluate my hand in order to decide what to do.

Although my hand has only 13 high card points, it is actually a fairly powerful hand distributionally, and has only 5 losers (4 1/2 adjusting for aces).   Partner will have 9 or more losers.  With 8 losers he would have invited game.   All things considered, it looks like 4♠ has a good chance of making, so I bid it.

♠J10xx
Jxxxx   
K
♣10xx

♠AKQxx
void
Axx
♣xxxxx

Curiously, the ace of clubs is led, followed by a diamond shift.  It is a good bet that the ace of clubs is singleton and the opening leader is trying for a ruff.  After winning the K, I come to my hand with a spade and pitch a club on the A.  I exit with a club, LHO showing out and RHO winning.  RHO now returns a trump and trumps are 2-2.  I cross-ruff the hand and the long club in my hand is my 10th trick (7 trumps, 2 diamonds and 1 club).

I was a bit surprised to see that plus 420 was a tie for top.  Looking into the matter, I learned that only 1/3 of the field bid 4♠.  The use of losing trick count principles should make bidding the spade game relatively easy despite having only 18 high card points between the two hands.

As Ron Smith (well known bridge pro...:-) points out in his blog regarding my losing trick count booklets: "I'm glad Jenn is doing what what she is doing. Point count has been done forever but it only works on balanced hands. When you have distributional hands, point count doesn't work. I evaluate using Losing Trick Count in almost every hand."

See you at the table!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fourth from Longest and Strongest?

By David Neuman

             A maxim dating back to the early days of contract bridge is to lead the “fourth highest” from your “longest and strongest” suit against a notrump contract.   This maxim has been under attack in recent years, most vocally by the expert and theorist Kit Woolsey.   Noting that expert practice is increasingly to shy away from leading broken four-card suits, Woolsey has theorized that such a lead is a losing tactic when trying to defeat the opponents’ 3NT contract.  

If your objective is to defeat 3NT, Woolsey advises to look for a 5-card suit.  If you see one in your hand, lead it.   If not, look for one in your partner’s hand.   Woolsey’s point is that trying to defeat three notrump by leading a broken 4-card suit is often futile.  At its worst you are handing declarer an extra trick without gain, and even where the lead is successful in establishing the suit, it is unlikely that the lead will establish enough tricks to defeat the contract.    As one example, suppose declarer’s side is wide open in the suit, so the lead enables the defenders to cash the first 4 tricks.  The defense still need another trick to defeat the contract.  So even if you had led another suit, if the contract can be defeated you will have another opportunity to run your 4-card suit.

            The following deal, taken from a qualifying round in the recent California Capital Open Swiss Teams in Sacramento, is a good illustration of this principle.    As West, I was on lead against 3NT, holding AQ94, 8742, 862, 103 (spots approximate), after the following auction:


West   North  East     South

Pass     1D        Pass     1H
Pass     2D        Pass     2NT*
Pass     3NT     (all pass)

                                    *Alerted as forcing

            Spurning the “obvious” spade lead, I led the 10 of clubs.  This was the layout:


                                                            North
                                                            62
                                                            95
                                                            AKQJ73
                                                            AJ2
                        West                                                   East
                        AQ94                                                   10753
                        8742                                                    AJ
                        862                                                      104
                        103                                                      K9765 
                                                            South
                                                            KJ8
                                                            KQ1063                      
                                                            95
                                                            Q84    

            Declarer ducked the club in dummy.  My partner, Bob Klein, won the king and, seeing no future in the club suit, shifted to the ten of spades, covered by the jack and queen.  I returned a heart to Bob’s ace.  Another spade through declarer’s K8 gave us four spade tricks to go with our club king and heart ace, to defeat the contract by two tricks.

            This resulted in a gain of 13 IMPs.  At the other table, my counterpart led the four of spades (fourth from longest and strongest!).  Jennifer was the declarer and she now had eight tricks, and had the timing to establish her ninth trick in hearts to make the contract.   The spade lead was “successful” in that it established the spade suit for the defense, but after the lead declarer had 9 tricks and made his contract. 

            One might say of the spade lead that the operation was successful, but the patient died.