BridgeCast on RealBridge - Counting and Card Placement


My BridgeCast has four daily instructional channels, Beginner, Improver, Intermediate & Advanced. Each day, subscribers will receive an online video in which I talk about an interesting Bridge hand. It's something we hope you may enjoy with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Counting and Card Placement

I hope you enjoyed playing four of my deals featuring Counting and Card Placement. I have run through deal three in the video above and all of the deals are analysed in the notes below. These deals were taken from my "Counting and Card Placement" book, part of my Bridge Lesson series of books.

Deal one

Some years ago a drink company sponsored bridge tips. Mine was this, ‘If a preemptor leads his suit, play him for a singleton trump’.

The most common shape for a (three-level) preemptor is 7321 (about four times as common as 7222). He’ll presumably lead his singleton – unless it’s in trumps.

Exercise: Make 4  after West opens  3 then leads  A and another.

K J 5 4
K 5
7 6 5
A 10 8 6
Q 8
A 4 2
10 9 7 2

Win  K and, playing West for a singleton spade, cash  K. Assuming West follows low, continue with  J, playing East for  Q97x. Say East covers  J with  Q. You win  A as West discards. You cross to  A, lead  4 to ( 7 and)  8, cash  10 felling  9 and run minor-suit winners. Game made.

On our main deal (below) North’s  Q opening lead tells you a huge amount. Within the spade suit, he would not lead from  A, so East has  A; and moreover with North having seven spades, South’s  A is bare. Further, North chose to lead a spade rather than the singleton that most hands with seven-card suits contain: he probably has a singleton trump.

The first move is to play dummy’s  4, expecting South’s  A to ‘beat air’. It duly does and South follows with  AK then a hopeful  Q. You ruff and must negotiate trumps for no loser.

Board 1
North Deals
None Vul
Q J 10 9 8 7 3
10 4
10 6 4
6 5 2
A K 9 7 5
8 6 3
J 7
K 4
J 4 2
8 5 3 2
Q 10 8 6
9 7 5 2
A K Q 9
3 1Dbl2Pass
4 PassPassPass
  1. Weak hand (err yes) with a decent seven-card suit.
  2. Take-out, but (very) marginal. East is asking partner to bid at the four-level holding a weak notrump hand without four cards in the other major. Dubious – but at least partner will have a good idea of the opposing hands from the bidding.
4  by West
Lead:  Q

Playing North for a singleton heart, the best way to broach the suit is to cross to dummy and run  J. This will be successful unless West’s singleton is  Q: ie four times out of five.

You lead to  A and advance  J. South covers with  Q and you win  K, North following with  3. You cross to K and lead  2, covering South’s  6 with  7, as expected North discarding. You cross to  Q, lead  4 to  8 and  9, cash  A felling  10, then cross to  K to dump  6 on  J. 10 tricks and game made.

Deal two

Declarers become overly focussed on counting losers, rather than winners, when planning a trump contract. However a tally of your quick and slow losers can help, for if you have too many losers, evasive action may be required. Plan the play in 4  on Q lead:

Q J 8 4 2
Q 3
A 4 2
J 6 3
K 10 5 3
K J 2
K 5 3
K Q 2

It seems like you have 10 easily-to-be-established winners: four spades, two hearts, two diamonds and two clubs. The problem is that unless you are careful, you will have four losers (effectively, you will take the tenth and last of your winners at trick 14!).

Say you beat  Q with  K and lead a spade. No good. The opponents will win  A and lead a second diamond. You’ll win  A, draw trumps and lead, say a heart. They’ll win  A, cash their third-round diamond winner, plus  A: down one.

You have to lose the three aces, but must avoid losing the third diamond. This can be discarded on a heart, but you must set up the discard quickly – leading a spade loses a vital tempo. You must lead the heart at trick two. There’s a final wrinkle. If you win  Q with  K and lead  2 to  Q, E-W can duck, win the second heart, lead a second diamond and you have no way back to hand to cash the third heart and dump  4.

You must win trick one with  A – and that will mean you have to plan the play before playing an autopilot low diamond from dummy. At trick two lead  Q. Let E-W win  A (or duck), for you win their diamond return with  K and cash  KJ dumping dummy’s  4. Only now do you play spades.

Board 2
East Deals
N-S Vul
9 4 2
A J 9 7 3 2
Q 3
J 8 5
8 5
8 7 4 2
A J 9 3
K Q 10 7
K 4
K 9 6 5
8 5 4
A 6 3
Q 10 6
A J 10
10 7 6 2
Pass1 Pass2 
Pass2 Pass4 1
  1.  Q106 is worth more than two points, and  AJ10 worth more than five.
4  by North
Lead:  K

You duck West’s  K lead, but East encourages with  8 (holding the equal  J) and West continues with  7. You win  A and count a certain  A loser and possible losers via  K,  K and the third spade.

To hold yourself to three losers, you need the diamond finesse to work. But if it does, you can afford to lose to  K. The correct line is to lead  Q (to tempt East to cover), but then to win  A and lead  Q, winning (phew) then  3 to  J. You dump  9 on  A and can force out  K then  A. 10 tricks, losing  K, K and  A.

Deal three

Lets consider

Q 7 5 3
A J 10 9 8 6 4

Although the odds narrowly favour the drop ( A, to hope for a 1-1 split), you should cross to dummy to lead  Q. East might (erroneously) cover with  K from  K2. Say East doesn’t cover  Q, but...

(a) East plays low in a split-second, far quicker than normal tempo, what can be termed ‘the shotgun’.

(b) East finds his cards are a bit sticky and he struggles to play his card normally.


(c) East looks around the room, asks if there are any biscuits, comments on the weather. He doesn’t look interested.

Question: Who do you think has  K in those three scenarios?
Answer: I would guess that East holds  K in all three cases.
(a). The Shotgun. East is ready for the card; he doesn’t want to give anything away; he doesn’t want to flinch; if anything he is too ready. Bang! His  2 hits the table almost before  Q is led. If he had a singleton  2, would he really be so pent up.
(b). The Sticky Card. East is nervous. He is perspiring; his cards get sticky. Need I say more?
(c). The Overly Bored Card. If East had a singleton  2, he’d be sitting normally. East is feigning lack of interest with  K2 and overdoing it (ethically dubious, by the way, although not as bad as pretending to think with a singleton – which is absolutely banned).

Board 3
South Deals
E-W Vul
A K 8
A K 7 3
Q 6 5 3
Q 10 6 4 2
10 6 4 2
K Q 6 3
J 9
Q J 9 5
10 8 5 4 2
K 7
7 5 3
9 7
A J 10 9 8 4 2
Pass6 PassPass
6  by South
Lead:  K

You win West’s  K lead with  A and, although the odds slightly favour dropping  K, lead  Q in the hope East will cover, or play a shotgun, or play a sticky card, or play an overly bored card. Say East plays low in tempo (well done East – but covering with  K is clearly wrong with declarer having advertised seven clubs, leaving West with a void).

You rise with  A – and curse when West discards. All is not lost. You cross to  AK dumping  9, ruff  3, cross to  K, ruff  7, cross to  A, ruff  J and now exit with  J. East wins  K, but has only diamonds left. You ruff in one hand, dump the spade loser from the other and claim your slam. Great recovery!

Deal four

The key to bridge is shape, or pattern (same meaning). Each suit has a shape round the table. Each hand has a shape. They are the same shapes: four numbers adding up to 13 eg 4333, 4441, 5431, 6322 etc. As in ‘the club suit is 5422 round the table’ or ‘East is 4432’. Become as familiarised with these shapes as possible. The top ten shapes, starting with the most common, are 4432, 5332, 5431, 5422, 4333, 6322, 6421, 6331, 5521, 4441.

Really, what you are trying to do, is fill in a 4 x 4 matrix

Naturally, you’ll know eight of those boxes. As South (declarer), you’ll know your shape and dummy’s (North) so can mentally fill in the two left hand columns. All that remains is to mentally fill in the two right-hand columns. As soon as you know eg the number of diamonds in West’s hand, you can easily work out the number of (say) diamonds in East’s (the total must add to 13. As soon as you know the number of hearts, diamonds and clubs in West’s hand, you know how many spades he must hold.

Thinking ‘shape’ will be most productive when much is already known about the missing shapes. Take this deal.

Board 4
West Deals
Both Vul
J 8 7
K Q J 10 4
10 9 5
6 3 2
4 3
K Q 10 3 2
A K Q 6 2
A 8 7
10 8 5
A 5
4 3
9 5
9 7 6 2
J 9 8 7 6
Pass1 1 Pass
2 3 4 Pass
4  by East
Lead:  9

South leads  9 v your 4 . You win  A and cash  AKQ, North following three times and South discarding ( 2) on the third. You cleverly continue with  62, in case an opponent unwisely discards a club, but none is forthcoming. How do you now tackle clubs?

After cashing  A (both following) and leading towards dummy, the a priori odds may favour playing a high club, hoping  J falls under  KQ and so promote  10. But to do so here would be folly. Think about North’s shape. He advertised 5 -4 in the bidding (1 -then-3). He followed to three rounds of spades. Ergo – he is 3 -5  -4  -1 . You confidently finesse  10 (key play), North discarding (as you knew he would), then cash  KQ, dumping two red-suit losers. Ten tricks and game made.