High-low is the best road on defense

September 15, 1974

Mental fumbles do not appear in baseball box scores, nor are they registered on the crime sheet in bridge. Nonetheless, a moment's indecision at the table may convey a lot of information, which is folly if it helps your opponent and unethical if it helps your partner. All expert players therefore school themselves to adopt a deliberate pace, allowing an extra tick of time for each play, to avoid revealing more about their hands than is indicated by the card that is played to the trick. As in poker, the rule is: let the cards speak for themselves.

For instance, suppose you have made an opening lead of the king from ace-king in a long suit, and when dummy comes down you can account for all but three of the missing cards in that suit. After your partner and the declarer follow, the question arises as to which player has the remaining card. Regrettably, the answer is often all too obvious when your partner ponders, even if briefly, which of his cards to play. To help work such things out while at the same time avoiding a breach of ethics, it is a good idea to agree that you will always play the higher card when holding exactly two, with only the doubleton queen as an exception. The automatic high-low principle was one of the many facets of this deal from a rubber bridge game.

West's preemptive four-heart opening forced South to bid diamonds at the five level—a shaky limb—and East's ensuing penalty double might have collected a bundle against a slightly different hand.

The opening lead of the ace of hearts could have placed East in an awkward situation, but the standard of ethics in this game was as high as the standard of play. Playing the automatic high-low, East unhesitatingly produced the 4 of hearts, and after South followed with the 3-spot West judged from the bidding that his partner was more likely to hold the missing 2. Had West continued hearts, declarer would have had no trouble. The king of hearts would have provided an extra entry to dummy as well as a parking place for a spade, and after successfully finessing against the diamond king and drawing trumps, declarer could then have returned to dummy via the king of spades to lead up to his king of clubs and make his contract.

However, when West shifted to the 10 of spades at the second trick, South had to plan to do all of his work with only one entry to dummy. Take time out here and decide how you would have played to make the doubled game.

Declarer put up dummy's king of spades at trick two and cashed the king of hearts, discarding his low club! The seeming folly of unguarding the club king was essential to making the contract.

Dummy's jack of diamonds held the next trick, as East refused to cover, and a repeat finesse was followed by a parade of South's remaining diamonds. On the last diamond, declarer blanked dummy's jack of clubs, retaining the jack-5 of spades and forcing East to choose a losing discard from the queen-8 of spades or the ace-queen of clubs. If East sluffed a spade, declarer, who still held the ace-6, could cash two tricks in that suit, while if East discarded his queen of clubs, declarer could throw him in with the ace to force him to lead a spade away from his queen-8 and thus yield two spade tricks.

East realized that his only hope was that his partner held the king of clubs, so he discarded the ace. It was a good try, but South produced the missing king and cashed the ace of spades to make his game and win the rubber.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[Jack of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

WEST

[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[10 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[3 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

EAST

[Queen of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[4 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

WEST

4 [Heart]
PASS
PASS

NORTH

PASS
PASS
PASS

EAST

PASS
DBL.

SOUTH

5 [Diamond]
PASS

Opening lead: ace of hearts

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)