Hand Reading

by Chris Jagger

In the last issue we discussed card reading - using detective work during the play to work out exactly what the opponents hold. Sometimes we can work out the whole distribution before dummy even goes down - a recent example came up in the ECL match against Suffolk.

You hold sJxx hKQ dQJxx c KJxx as West. The auction proceeds:

South        West        North        East       
1d P 1s P
2d P P 2s
3c ?

Take a moment to work out everybody's hand shape here before reading on - it may not seem too obvious at first!

Opener has at least six diamonds and four clubs, whilst responder has at least four spades. What of partner? Surely to compete with two spades he must have at least six of them, and thus exactly six of them, and probably not too weak a suit.

Let us turn back to responder - we now know he has only four spades, and since he did not respond 1h, only three of them. Opener has at most three hearts, so that gives partner five of them!! The whole hand is suddenly falling into place. Opener is 0364, partner is 6-5 in the majors. Partner could well hold AKQxxx xxxxx x x, and with hearts splitting 3-3, game is going to be making!

Take a look at the actual hand:

EW Vul
S Q10xx
H 10xxx
D x
C Qxxx
Dealer South
S Jxx
D QJxx
C KJxx
W        E
S AK98xx
H AJxx
D xx
C x
S -
H xxx
D AK109xx
C A10xx

Where we went wrong in the analysis was that North did indeed respond 1s rather than 1h, presumably because of the weakness of the heart suit (though a 1h response is in fact still correct on this hand, as the important thing when responding weak is merely to attempt to find a fit). Aside from that, we got the hand pretty much right, though partner had slightly weaker spades and stronger hearts (we were of course guessing much more about the high cards than we were about the distribution). Importantly, if we had decided to bid 4s, this would be close to a make (it all depends on how good West's spade pips are, since South can cash three minor suit cards and exit in a heart). At the same time, the `obvious' double of 3c found at the table, needed a heart lead to defeat the contract (try planning the play on a trump lead).

[I held the West cards; everyone I've asked has doubled at this point, but Chris convinces me that the twin dangers of 3cX and 4s making are such that I should have bid. I think 4s penalises partner too much, but I like 3d. I'm told North held the critical s7! (JM)]