Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Better Declarer Play – Suit Combinations

I decided I might write up some of my thoughts on improving my declarer play and I am hoping for lots of help and feedback.

If you are wondering why I haven’t posted recently I have had a series of unfortunate circumstances.  My computer developed a serious brain disease and went in for major surgery.  Since this resulted in wiping most of its memory I have had to do a lot of retraining.  Then I had to turn myself in for dental surgery and now I seemed to have caught Ray’s flu.  However my computer and I are doing well and should be fine soon.

I have been thinking about the value of learning how to handle some common combinations and creating an approach to making some of these choice.  Obviously there are many factors in a deal that make affect what you might do.  Still it seems worthwhile to think about the a priori odds in certain situations and not have to deduce them at the table.  I do remember a hand I played in the district final of the Open Canadian Team Championship where I had to make a decision at the table about the best way to play a particular combination.  As it turned out the way I played it didn’t work and my teammates did suggest it probably wasn’t with the odds when we discussed it over dinner.  I spent several hours later working out all the odds (I am not all that good at it) and decided that my line was fractionally better than the choice that worked.  That didn’t really bring my joy though.

Here is a simple combination.  You are playing in a slam.  You don’t have any real information about the opponents hands.  Your trump suit is



You have to play this combination for one loser.  You are missing the KJ982.  You could play A and then the Q, A and then little, small to the Q small to the 10.  Assuming RHO follows little what is the best approach?

There is no 4-1 (or 5-0) combination that you can pick up (assuming there is no trump coup) so we can zero in on the 3-2’s.  So I can’t see anyway that playing the Ace helps.  So that narrows it down to what is better the Q or the 10.  And I don’t think it matters, its just a guess.  You just don’t want to lose to the inappropriate doubleton honor offside. 

I guess the approach at the table is to start with the number of tricks I need and then work out what distribution is relevant and then pick a line that handles most of those cases, taking into consideration the quality of the opposition and whatever information I already have.  In the above case you would probably play the 10 if RHO had preempted playing him for JXX not KXX.

Let’s make it harder.  You have



Now I can pick up some of the 4-1 combinations.  It seems like the best play for four tricks is two finesses but the Official Encyclopedia did point out something.  It is better to finesse the queen first.  If you finesse the 10 and it loses to the singleton king it doesn’t help you.  But you can hold your losers to one if LHO has the singleton jack by finessing the Queen first.  It is not the best play for the most tricks but it is the best play for four tricks.

Now what I need to do is figure out which combinations I need to memorize and which ones I can work out at the table.  Any suggestions?  Bridge is not an easy game.

The encyclopedia of bridge has about 55 pages of these combinations or 656 examples. 

Here is another case.   You need the same one loser and four tricks and you have



The way I learned this is lead the Queen first and if that loses finesse the 10.  This is essentially right but the encyclopedia suggests that against weaker opponents it is better to play small to the 10 first.  The idea is that the hand with Kx in front of the queen would rise.  If this loses to the Jack then lead the Queen and finesse next.  If it loses to the King then you should finesse the 8.  (This assumes that  with KJ doubleton LHO would never falsecard.

656 examples seems like a lot but it does seem possible to memorize them.  If you did just two a day (and say two revisions to make sure you hadn’t forgotten them) you could memorize them in a year.  You could probably drop about half of them since they are similar.  Or maybe I could find the top 100 and just memorize those.

What do you think?

Of course the opponents and your intuition can change all that.

Then I remember having a holding something like this



I was in five diamonds after my partner (Irene Hodgson) and I had a bidding misunderstanding as four spades would have been best.  Irene was upset and left the table.  I had to play this suit for one loser and I knew if I blew it then we were going to lose the event, not only because it was close but because there would be black smoke at the table.  I think the textbook play is to finesse the 9 playing for Q10x onside but there was something about the way RHO seemed to twitch and it took me a millisecond to play small to the Jack.  I still don’t know why.  This fetched the stiff 10 offside and kept Irene talking to me.   

My intuition has served me better than mathematics on a number of other occasions.


Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 19th, 2009 at 8:01 am


I found the above blog fascinating as I was always intrigued by the difference between the ‘correct play’ as opposed to the ‘safety play’ — the latter, of course, being more or less geared to IMPS. Back in 1976, following the death of Charlie Solomon who taught and coached bridge to the Philadelphia Country Club set, Norman was asked by one of the clubs if he had any interest in replacing him. Of course, being a broker for Merrill-Lynch, it did not seem like the lucrative choice. The Philly clubs (about thirty of them) were the first in the country to form a Women’s Bridge League (organized by Mr. Solomon) which competed every other Tuesday from September until Mid-Spring and some had as many as six teams (accommodated by six Leagues) because there was such a disparity in ability. Since the job was up for grabs and no other real ‘expert’ had come forth, my friend (who co-owned a small bridge school) and I (who had only the benefit of Norman’s tutelage and being taken under Edgar’s wing) brazenly applied for the job. We offered a unique two-platoon system. My friend would be at the helm of the lower groups and I would work with the First and Second Teams. It was a novel idea rather than to continue their regular format — having eighty plus gals of all different levels in the same class. The idea was met with rousing acceptance and we were hired on the spot. Now what? I had never taught before so I had to come up with a lesson plan and put my money where my mouth was!

Your comments above brought to mind a Summer Series which was much needed — primarily on ‘safety plays’ (a term with which few, if any, were familiar) as well as ‘correct plays.’ I remember studying furiously the night before each lesson as I prepared the examples, because I was (at best) only a page or two ahead of my students. The girls really loved the concept — recognizing the fate of a contract (especially game or slam) at IMPS/Team Game should be their only focus and all precautions should be employed to achieve that goal.

Shortly thereafter, as luck would have it, in a crucial match one of my pairs reached a slam with the trump holding being Q10XXX opposite A9xxx (with plenty of entries). I became an instant heroine. My student recognized the combo and made the contract which went down at the other table. Becoming familiar with so many frequently seen combinations (both right play and safety play) because of that summer series, I am happy to confess, has served me well to this day!

LindaJanuary 19th, 2009 at 3:44 pm

That summer series sounds amazing. I wish I had gone. It would be easy to miss the safety play in that combination because we are all so geared to cashing the ace to get trumps out of there fast. The nice thing about this combination is that the safety play doesn’t even cost you an overtrick when compared to laying down the ace. You will only make the overtrick when the king is singleton in front of the ace and in that case when you lead low to the A9xx the king will appear and you can safely play the ace anyway. That is my kind of safety play.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 19th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Your blog brought back another vivid memory to me. When I came on the scene, I would kibitz Norman in awe of how natural all these bids and plays came to the expert mind. I recall watching him in a local Mixed Pairs — in those days not considered such a serious event. However, I soon earned status as his MP partner – attributable mostly to my marriage license and recent motherhood. He had been trapped into playing by a gutsy local woman player who would always corner him for a date — and being the gentleman he was, at the outset had a hard time declining. Later he would adopt the “Charity begins at home” routine. Everyone got the message.

Back to Norman and this pushy broad! Norman had opened 1S and jumped in his own suit (and

though she held the blank king in support, in true hand-hog fashion, insisted on playing her own suit — AQ109XX opposite a singleton). After they made it and we left the table. Norman whispered privately, “Thank heavens, she plays the hands better than she bids.” Declarer plunked the ace down, followed by the queen (gathering the doubleton jack) — though I remember musing they would have made more tricks playing in spades. Funny the things one recalls! I have another Pushy Peggy story but I will save it for my own site.

RichardJanuary 27th, 2009 at 12:39 am

There is free software that will save you some time, at least. Visit

Linda LeeMay 19th, 2009 at 10:10 am

Thanks Richard I will. I have a deal to look at right now that needs analysis!

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