Professor Silver

Conventional Wisdom

I suffer from convention envy. Let me explain. My partner Peter Hambly and I play Acol. Acol, the way we play it, is a natural bidding system with few conventions, most of which I usually forget during an auction. There are limits to even Peter’s patience and he, defensively, refuses to add new conventions to our meager collection. Recently, we were playing the open pairs at Caledon and Peter opened, first in hand with 1 club, almost certainly a 4-card suit when you play a weak NT system. RHO bid 2 clubs and I, belatedly, looked at my hand. I held:

♠  —

  K x

  A K Q J 10

♣  K J 10 9 x x

Two clubs was Michaels showing the majors, we don’t play it, and I was stuck. If Peter held two non-spade aces, we were on for a grand slam. It was then I thought enviously of Ray Lee’s favourite convention, Exclusion Blackwood. How handy it would be if I could jump to four spades and ask Peter to count his non-spade aces and tell me how many he had. But, however nice my hand was, I didn’t think it would play well in a spade contract. The weakness of any convention is that both partners must play it at the same time. So, I recalled Percy Sheardown’s advice and decided “To bid what I thought I could make,” 6 clubs! That became the final contract. RHO led the ace of hearts, shifted to a diamond and Peter claimed.

Luckily, we couldn’t make a grand off a cashable ace, but I began to think that perhaps we should have a method of making an informed choice. However, the next hand gave me second thoughts. After three passes Peter opened a 12-14 weak notrump and I held:                

♠  Q J

  K 10 8 5

  A 10 7 4

♣  x x x

Another popular convention we don’t play after a NT opening is negative doubles so I was able to make a penalty double and collect +800 against our potential part score. Score one for the natural bidders.

But I like opponents who play lots of complicated conventions. Later that afternoon I held:

♠  x x

  x x x x

  A K Q x

♣  J x x

My left hand opponent opened 1 spade, Peter passed and RHO bid 3 diamonds, which turned out to be a Bergen spade raise. I doubled (penalty in our primitive system). Opener lept to four spades and Peter dutifully led a diamond. Diamonds were 3-3 so I cashed three tricks and then led the thirteenth diamond promoting Peter’s doubleton queen of trumps. One down for a terrific score as Peter had a natural heart lead from QJ109 which would enable declarer to draw trumps and pitch a diamond on dummy’s club suit.

Notwithstanding these results, I think I should learn some modern conventions like Ripstra or Landy. The world is moving and Peter and I should move with it. Perhaps its time to change to the Roth-Stone system?

Stolen Hearts

It is a truth universally acknowledged, in the bridge world, that the heart suit belongs to Professor Silver. Of course I cannot prevent opponents from bidding the heart suit. But what I can do is discourage the practice. Therefore, I try especially hard to defeat any heart contract that is bid against me. Recently, at a local sectional open pairs, a couple arrived at my table and had the temerity to bid back-to-back 4 heart games They wont do that again. The first was the most interesting, and the most fun. I held:


S     H   D  C   
A     10  J   8   
Q     9   4   7   
8      7       5   
2      6      


The bidding began with LHO opening 1. Peter (my partner) passed and RHO bid 1. Peter and I play natural overcalls so I could have bid 2 to play, but I reluctantly passed to await developments. Opener raised his partner to 4 and everyone passed. Now I had to lead. 
Naturally I led the ace of spades! The dummy was not as good as you would expect on the bidding,


S    H    D    C   
K    A    8    A   
9    K    6    K   
6    Q         9   
4    2

Declarer played the 4, Peter the 2 and declarer 6. I paused to reflect. Peter’s deuce was count so he had 3. Declarer then had only two spades. Normally I would follow with the queen of spades to smother declarers jack if she held it. But dummy’s nine would be quickly set up since Peter held only 3 (If he held 5 declarer would have ruffed my ace and I wouldn’t have this problem). So I continued with the 8. Not unexpectedly, declarer won with the king playing the jack from her hand after Peter followed with a small spot. She cashed the A and then played a diamond, winning the king as Peter and I followed low. She reentered the dummy with a heart as Peter discarded the Q.  Once again she led a diamond and Peter won the ace as declarer played low and I dropped the Jack. Peter led the 10 and declarer studied it for a few minutes. Finally, she ruffed with the jack of hearts and looked surprised when I followed suit.

She then played the high ten of diamonds which I ruffed with the nine of hearts. Declarer decided to throw a loser on a loser and discarded dummy’s small club. Big mistake. I continued with the ten of hearts which forced her to win with dummy’s Q while she contributed her now singleton trump 9. Her diamonds were established but she couldn’t get to her hand to cash them. She cashed dummy’s winners and finally conceded one down when I won the Q at trick thirteen.

Of course she had simply given up. All she had to do was overruff my heart nine and and when I failed to overruff, she could lead her high diamond and it wouldn’t matter what I did. If I ruffed high she, she would discard her club loser. If I discarded she crosses to the K, draws one heart with dummy’s king and plays until I take my heart winner. She would have lost I spade, 1 diamond and 1 heart!


The second auction was similar. I held:


S    H    D    C   
A    10   X    9   
K    9     X   
Q    X   
X    X   


I opened with a weak 2 bid (I know, but I consider weak 2 bids as lead directing and since I preferred a spade lead over a heart lead, I psyched and denied holding four hearts). This was passed to RHO who doubled and her partner bid 3 raised to four by RHO.   Peter led the 10 which I overtook. I contemplated the dummy for a few seconds.


S    H    D    C   
X    A    K    A   
X    Q    Q    K   
      J     J    J   
      2         10   

Not very promising for the defense but I persevered. I cashed the Q and Peter completed the echo showing a doubleton spade. Knowing that declarer had another spade I continued with the A as declarer followed suit, reasoning that Peter may have a singleton heart, perhaps the seven or eight which would uppercut dummy and give us another trick (we were playing matchpoints after all.) To my astonishment and delight, he produced the king which declarer foolishly overruffed with the ace. Now I had two trump tricks coming and four hearts was one down, again. I commiserated with declarer over the unlikely 4-1 trump split and refrained from pointing out if he had discarded a club instead of playing the A, four hearts would have made, losing only 2 spades and a heart. Of course declarer had held the ace of diamonds and the queen of clubs.

Perhaps I have been mistaken in my attitude towards heart bidders? Much better they hack away at hopeless heart contracts. I seem to get more pluses defending four heart contracts than I do playing them. 

David Silver

Don’t play with strangers

As anyone who has read The Naked Bridge Player knows, I am a big fan of online bridge, especially Bridgebase. However, I am usually playing with strangers. There shouldn’t be many problems as everyone playing SAYC should have standard treatments to guide them in ambiguous situations. However, it is obvious that a "standard" response or bid is one that you play with your regular partner. Last week I was playing with one of the multitude of experts from the Bosphorus, region and the bidding proceeded on my left, 1 S, dbl redouble and I held:


S 4 3

H j8xxx

d.10 x

C 9875 

Of course I, of all bridge players, could not bypass a five card heart suit so I trotted it out. Both LHO and my partner passed and RHO lept to 3nt. After two passes my partner doubled and I was on lead. But what to lead?

My understanding of standard is that the double calls for the suit I bid! I am still bleeding from a similar episode with the late Donald Cowan who enquired why i would lead one of the opponents suits?  I toyed with the four of spades and then with the 10 of diamonds. But I finally led my fourth best heart assuming partner held four hearts with two (or three?) top honours. Ten tricks, and many Turkish messages later I saw my partner’s hand.

S AKJ109 7

H. xx

D Axx

C J10

My expert partner had made a penalty double of 1 spade which I was supposed to leave in I guess and had made a "standard" lead directing double.

The next hand was played with a new partner who unfortunately for me, spoke English.

I opened a strong notrump, LHO overcalled 2 spades and my partner bid 3nt and RHO passed. "Lebensohl" ? I typed in and he replied "yes".  Well my understanding is that "slow arrival" promises a stopper and "fast arrival" denies. Since I was looking at small spade doubleton, I pulled to my only four card suit, diamonds. This was raised to 6 diamonds (mercifully undoubled) and I played the slam with four to the QJ opposite 3 little. But dummy also held AQx of spades and eleven high card points. After my polite enquiry, partner explained that the standard Lebensohl responses were the reverse of what I was playing. Seems all experts play slow denies so the partnership can bail out at the three level instead of the four level.

So now I annoy everone at the table by asking questions of every bid that is not clearcut (to me anyway).


Happy virtual bridge and be careful of strangers.


I will be joining you next week with thrilling exploits using Bridge the Silver Way. I am just sending my greetings now while learning how to use Windows Live Writer.

Happy bridging

David (Professor) Silver