As a player improves and rises up the 299er ranks, there are a couple of fairly crucial elements that have to be a part of your game — assuming you have that most valuable of things, a regular partner with whom you discuss system. One of the things I see going wrong at the table is with partnerships who work at mastering exotic bidding sequences but don’t pay much attention to basic defensive carding.
Let’s face it, an opening bid that qualifies for 2D Flannery (5 hearts, 4 spades, 11 to 15 HCP) is pretty rare. Let’s call it 1 in 100+ deals. Then, you have to remember that you’re not always first to speak in those situations; the auction might be at 3D by the time you get to speak, if the dealer is on your left. (I know, isn’t it annoying?) Yes, I think Flannery is a convention that’s worth knowing, useful, etc. But I see a lot of partnerships who have mastered things that happen 1 in 100+ deals and yet aren’t paying attention to defensive carding, and that occurs pretty much once in every two hands.
And I have to say here that I’ve heard all kinds of reasons from all kinds of players for using the carding methods that they do, including pulling cards from the correct suit at random (yes, seriously, I met a guy who recommended that). But there are a couple of things you can do to inform your partner that are fairly common knowledge, and make sense, It’s strange to me but it seems like many players are never told these things during their lessons, or that it’s run through quickly along with the “Table of leads” idea, and the reason for doing things this way is apparently not explained. All it takes is an agreement with your partner that this is something both of you should do, and I promise, your mutual defence will improve and you will start setting more contracts. Promise.
Here’s how one major defensive understanding works. Let’s say you have decided on a suit from which to make your opening lead, for whatever reason, and your suit is 987. You lead the 9, because you lead from the top of touching cards.
And let’s say that you’re now sitting opposite the player who led the 9, and your suit consists of QJT. You follow with the T, because you follow from the bottom of touching cards.
Here’s another way of putting it that might be more useful as a general principle.
When you lead a card, you deny the card above it and suggest the card below it.
When you follow with a card, you deny the card below it.
As to why you do this? Well, the important principle is that you’re trying to tell your partner something useful in a simple way. So it focuses your mind on trying to give information to your partner, and if you are getting better as an intermediate player, it will alert you that your partner is trying to give you information. (I see many, many players who are focused on giving the correct signals and completely ignoring their partner’s cards. That seems to miss the point.) It needs to be simple, because you need to do it every single time you are faced with the same situation. And it needs to be useful information.
The useful part is that this convention — not a “convention” in the sense of a bid like Flannery, merely an agreement between players — focuses you on precisely what your partner’s holding is. When partner leads the 9, you should be thinking, “She might have the 8 and other cards, or she might be leading from 94 doubleton.” Then you’ll be able to have logical thoughts like, “Well, if she can’t lead K from KQJ, she hasn’t got it, so I know declarer has at least one of those cards.” Or, “She’s denying the T, so declarer must have it, therefore I can’t let the 9 run around to declarer.”
And when you’re following suit properly to your partner’s lead, a similar range of deductive options is available to your partner. When she leads the 9 from 987 and you follow with the T, partner can think, “Oh, my partner doesn’t have the A, declarer must have that, but there’s a chance he has the J.” (You don’t have the A because you would have played it; “don’t finesse partner” is a good rule to follow. If you’ve got a high card, slap it down, it’s what she’s asking you to do.) And this information will inform her future decisions about how to play this particular suit.
This play convention is also useful in another range of inferential logic chains. Let’s say that you have made a limit raise in the bidding that indicates that you have 10 to 12 HCP. Your partner may be trying to figure out exactly where those 10-12 HCP are so that she can lead towards them. When she can be pretty sure that you don’t have the A of the suit we were just talking about, she can tentatively place you with other cards in other suits. You’re giving your partner information that will improve the defense, as long as you and partner are on the same wavelength.
As always, there are a couple of caveats. First, as I mentioned above, just because you lead the 9, it doesn’t guarantee the 8; sometimes people legitimately lead the 9 from 94. All I’m saying is that when you lead from a sequence, lead the top card. Similarly, when you follow with the T it doesn’t guarantee the J.
And second, the area that I see people have the most problem with is a holding like KJT95. The rule of thumb here is “lead the top of an interior sequence”, so you’d lead the J, which suggests the T and denies the Q. You’re denying the Q but you’re not saying anything about the K, right? So leading the J is correct. And your partner needs to understand that the possibility of the K is still there.
There are many more play conventions that go into good defense and good basic bridge, no matter if you play Yellow Card, 2/1, or Blue Club. What card do you lead from xxx, what card do you follow with? What do you lead from AKx — or AK tight? “Leading/following from a sequence” is a small but crucial rung on that ladder. I’ll talk about more of these play conventions in the future.
On your convention card, your lead agreements will be found in the lower left-hand corner. You’ll note that K from KQJ is a standard lead, as is Q from QJT; if you play those, you don’t have to indicate anything special, that’s the base state. Your 3rd-hand play agreements are not required to be noted.