Card Reading by Chris Jagger

Playing a bridge hand is all about detective work. Even before dummy goes down, we should have many clues about opponents hands, and once we see the opening lead, nearly the whole hand may unfold.

Love all
S A104
H J105
D AK42
C A62
Dealer North
S J2
H AQ43
C K1053
W        E
S K8
H K962
D 7653
S Q97653
H 87
D 109
C 974
North        East        South        West       
1d P P 1NT
P P 2s all pass

The auction has been very revealing. West has shown 11-14 points with a balanced hand, giving East 8-11 points, and, judging by his painless pass, probably not an eleven count. One would guess that neither defender has a five card heart suit - there has been plenty of chance of bidding it, either as an overcall, or transferring out of 1NT. The lead of the c3 indicates that the clubs are 4-3, although we don't know which hand has the four. The diamonds are also likely to be 4-3, as with five West would have surely preferred to let opponents play in that suit as trumps, and with as few as two he would presumably have made a take out double or overcall.

Thus far we are guessing that West has 12-14 points, East 8-10 points, the hearts are 4-4, the clubs and diamonds 4-3. Thus the spades are no worse than 3-1.

What about the actual position of the high cards? It seems likely that West holds at least one diamond honour. He doesn't have KQ or QJ of clubs, as he would not have underled them against a suit contract. He would probably lead a heart holding the AK or KQ, so those holdings are less likely too.

So far we have only seen dummy and the opening lead, and fortunately we can still find out more by playing the hand. Whilst it would be foolish to put too much faith in our analysis so far, it certainly seems as if there is no danger of any of our tricks being ruffed, so we do not need to play trumps yet. Indeed, with a certain four outside losers, we merely need to avoid losing more than one trump trick, so it would be wise to find out more information before we tackle the trump suit.

We duck the lead to the jack, and the cQ is returned. After winning the ace, we exit with a club to the nine and West's king. He switches to the dQ to the ace. We run the hJ, East playing low and West winning with the hQ. We are now in a very good position to count the hand. We know about all the club honours, and it would seem as though West has dQJ. I don't think East would duck with hAK, so it looks like West has one of those too.

By now I'm guessing that West has ?? AQxx QJx K10xx. Possibly the hearts are only KQxx, and possibly he has one fewer club or heart and an extra diamond or spade. Either way, he has at least eleven points so far, and sKJx would give him more than a fourteen count. It now seems safe to play ace and another spade for eight tricks.

The full hand was much as we anticipated. Don't tell me you'd have made the contract half an hour ago! As the cards lie, you probably would!