Those of you who are regular readers of this column have realized how playing a bridge hand is the closest you can get to real detective work. Even before dummy goes down, we should have many clues about our opponents’ hands, and once we see the opening lead, nearly the whole hand may unfold if we are able to draw all the correct inferences. Our investigative skills should be called to action whenever the chance occurs and not simply when we are playing a high level contract. It is often the low part scores which allow much more precise card reading. 

Here is a telling example: vulnerable versus not vulnerable.

You pick up

♣ 109. 


Partner opens 1C♣ and deciding for once to be “solid”, you decide to pass. The auction continues as detailed below.

  1♣ Pass Pass
1NT Pass Pass 2
Pass Pass Pass  

West leads the 3 and this is what we can see:

♣ AK42   

W      E   

♣ 109      

The auction has been very revealing. West has shown 11-14 points with a balanced hand, giving East 8-11 points. The fact that East passed 2 out means that his count is much closer to the lower end of the range, say 8-9 points. It is reasonable to guess that spades are 4-4 since neither defender bid spades, which they would have done holding a five carder either as an overcall, or over 1NT. The lead of the 3 indicates that the diamonds are 4-3, although we don't yet know which hand has four. The clubs are also likely to be 4-3, as with five West would have surely preferred to let opponents play in that suit as trumps rather than balance with 1NT, and with as few as two he would presumably have made a take out double or overcalled.

To recap, so far we have a fairly good idea that West has 12-14 points, East 8-9 points, the spades are 4-4, the clubs and diamonds 4-3. It follows that trumps are no worse than 3-1.

What about the actual position of the high cards? It seems likely from the lead that West holds at least one club honor. He doesn't have KQ or QJ of diamonds, as he would not have underled them against a suit contract. He would probably lead a spade holding the AK or KQ, so those holdings are less likely too.

All these deductions have been made simply after seeing dummy and the opening lead. Fortunately we can still find out more as each trick unfolds, but it is important to be flexible in the conclusions we draw from our analysis as people do not always make the “normal”  bid or play. However here it certainly seems that both our opponents hold balanced hands and there is no danger of any of our tricks being ruffed as yet, so we do not need to play trumps immediately. On the contrary, with a certain four outside losers, we should avoid giving up more than one trump trick if we wish to make our contract and it is therefore vital to find out as much as we can before we tackle the trump suit.

We duck the lead to the jack, and the Q is returned. After winning the ace, we exit with a diamond to the 9 and West's K. He switches to the CxQ to the ♣A. We run the J, East playing low and West winning with the Q. We are now in a very good position to count the hand. We know about all the diamond honors, and it would seem as though West has ♣QJ. I don't think East would duck with AK, so it looks like West has one of those too.

On the basis of our deductions West is marked with:

♣ QJx    

It is possible, although unlikely, that the spades are only KQxx, and he may have one fewer diamond or heart and an extra club or heart. Either way, he has at least twelve points so far, and the K would give him a fifteen count. Let us go over to East: we know that he has a top spade, most likely the K, the K and the DxQJ: the J would give him 10 points which together with the four spades he is marked with, would have probably prompted him to balance with a double over 2. Especially holding KJx in the suit. The logical deduction is that either he does not have the J, or if he does it is of little value because he holds KJ doubleton. In both cases it seems now safe to play ace and another heart for eight tricks.

The full hand was much as we anticipated:


♠ J105   
♦ A62    
♣ AK42 


♣ QJ8  

 W       E  

♣ 7653 


♣ 109      



Don't tell me you'd have made the contract half an hour ago, without all this Sherlock Holmes stuff. Truth is, as the cards lie, you probably would.


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About the author

Migry Zur Campanile

Migry Zur Campanile was born in Bucharest, Romania. She is a bridge professional and teacher and until recently lived in Tel Aviv with her husband, bridge professional and writer Pietro C...

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