Bridge rules can become like ‘dogmas’ – something that is so entrenched in a player’s mind, it is considered incontrovertibly true. We often hear bridge players speaking about specific rules they have about bidding and card play. Some rules are so entrenched in the player’s psyche that the rule is followed religiously without pause for thought about logical alternatives from the information available.
These ‘rules’ include such axioms as never pre-empt without honours in the pre-emptive suit, never lead a trump, never lead an unsupported honour, always lead fourth best against notrumps, and so on. There is no doubt that many of these rules have a lot of merit and have been developed as the percentage approach based on years of experience and I am not suggesting that the rules developed from years of experience should be ignored. It is good to have rules and agreements to guide our bidding, defence and card-play, as these agreements help to get us to the best contracts (mostly) and to make the correct defence or give a meaningful signal. But these rules need to be tempered with judgement based on the evidence available at the table, rather than blindly followed without consideration of logical alternatives.
The ‘rule’ which came to mind for this article is ‘I always lead an Ace if I have one’ when defending against a slam. This rule was followed by almost every table on this next board where I became declarer in 6H. I also wanted to write up this hand because how often does one get dealt a 10-card suit? It was certainly my first, and consequently our systems don’t necessarily lend themselves to effectively bidding the ‘one-in-15-year’ hands.
Dealer: NORTH / Vulnerable: ALL
1 – 2/1 Game Force
You know when you pick up a wild hand that partner is going to hold the other suits. Sure enough I heard the one spade opening bid by partner, and I set up a game force with 2H. Partner’s 3D was less than exciting for me and without the methods for proper exploration, I jumped to 6H and worried that we might be missing a grand until East paused before passing. Uh-oh I thought – something weird is going to happen here.
West led their Ace (a rule believer?) even though the bidding suggested the AD was unlikely to disappear and the queen of clubs could be a logical alternative. East played the QD to indicate a spade switch and must have been smiling internally at the thought of defeating the slam. After ruffing the lead, I ruffed a club in dummy and pitched my two losers to wrap up 13 tricks.
This next board features another ‘rule’ that many players adhere to. This rule states that you cannot pre-empt with a 4-card major on the side, usually only applying in first and second seat. This may be a good rule and there are many top players who adhere to it. However, if you follow this rule, the downside is that you might miss the opportunity to describe your hand later.
Dealer: EAST / Vulnerable: EW
1 – 4+ Spades & 6+HCP
2 – 3 Spades
3 – Exclusion Keycard
4 – 2 Keycards; no Queen
At our table, my partner passed the first time, and then perhaps put off by my pass and the vulnerability neglected to come into the bidding with 2D on the second round and allowed the opponents to reach slam in spades without interference.
At the other table the very experienced Andrew Mill also opted to pass the first time, but holding such nice diamonds and a shapely hand bid 2D on the second round of bidding and put our team-mates off pushing on to slam.
Following your rules won’t always work in your favour. On this particular hand, given the vulnerability it might have been reasonable to consider the difficulty in entering the auction later and ignoring the ‘don’t pre-empt with a 4-card major on the side’ opening the hand 3D might have prevented the opponents from freely bidding to their slam and flattened the board.
We have all adopted ‘rules’ about how to bid and play over our bridge lives based on what has worked for us in the past and what our partner’s prefer. However sometimes we need to take a step back and consider whether those rules should be challenged. In the meantime, I hope I don’t have to wait another 15 years for my next 10-card suit!
© First published in Australian Bridge: December 2021