Squeezing The Dummy

Sunday, April 01, 2007

How To Read Your Opponents... Hesitations?

Bridge and poker have a lot of similarities, but they diverge wildly in rules about tempo. In poker anything goes, you can hesitate whenever you like and try to fool your opposition, but in bridge you can never purposely mislead your opponents by hesitating. However, you can take inference from the opponent's hesitations (but never from partner's). This gives you a huge advantage if you know how to filter through this information and figure out what it means.

Let's start with an easy one. The opponents bid 1-1-2(hesitation) uncontested. The opponents are intermediates. What does the opening bidder have?

He will almost always have a 3 card raise. The other possibility is something like a 4441 14 count that was thinking of jumping to 3. However, most intermediates would not think about jumping with the latter hand, and if they did think about it they would probably do it. With a hand like 3451 it would take them some time to raise since it might just be a 4-3 fit. If you are thinking of balancing, it's less likely to be right with the information you now have. It also is more likely to be right to lead a trump if the opponents get to 4.

How about this one, you open 1 and your LHO thinks for a while and passes at favorable vulnerability. What does LHO probably have?

It is very likely he has at least an opening bid with diamond length. If you end up declaring this information could be very useful. I once had a funny hand where after that start to the auction my partner responded 1, and with 6 mediocre diamonds I chose to rebid 1N. Sure enough LHO had 5 diamonds and 1N was much better than the normal 2.

The thing you have to do to figure out what type of hands your opponents have for their hesitations is ask yourself what kind of hands will have a problem. Maybe in the latter case your LHO was thinking of overcalling for instance, but at favorable vulnerability if he wanted to overcall he probably would have. All the hand types where he will have a problem are hands with long diamonds and a good hand.

The best, and most confusing, clues you will find from the tempo come from the play. It is important to remember in the play that very often the opponents will try to deceive you with their tempo even though they are not allowed to. That is fine though, we can still exploit their tendencies.

Suppose you have Qxxxx in your hand and AJT9x in dummy. You lead the queen, LHO fumbles and gives it a 2 second hesitation and plays low. You should 100 % go up with the ace. If LHO had Kx he would never be considering playing the king looking at all the high ones in dummy. He would play low smoothly with that. With xx he may be idiotic enough to think that hesitating and playing low will make us think he has the king. Don't fall for it.

Now, suppose you have xx opposite KJTx and your opponents are experienced players. You lead towards the KJTx, and LHO thinks for a noticeable amount of time and plays low. Without the ace he wouldn't think for a long time as you could call him on it, if he wanted to deceive you when he held the Q he would think for maybe 1 or 2 seconds at most. So he has the ace. Why would an experienced player think with the ace in a situation he's probably seen 1000 times? With just the ace he would play low quickly. In my experience, they always have the AQ in this scenario. They want you to know they have the ace so that you go up with the king. So play the jack and lead up again, that way you'll have 2 tricks available from the suit. Be careful though, if your opponents are very inexperienced, they may just have the ace and not know what to do.

What happens if the opponents deviate from their tempo by playing very FAST? I had an interesting scenario involving that recently. I was in 7N. In the end game I had a good heart in my hand, a losing club, and a small diamond. Dummy had the AQ of diamonds and a losing club. RHO was known to have the winning club. I led my good heart and pitched a club from dummy and RHO pitched an extremely quick diamond. Now I had to guess whether I had squeezed RHO or if the finesse was on. I judged that RHO would only pitch a diamond that fast because he had seen the squeeze coming and was scared if he pitched a diamond slowly I'd realize he must have the king. As a result, he pitched too fast to compensate. If RHO simply had 2 small diamonds he would have nothing to worry about and would pitch in his normal tempo, or even hesitate to try and mislead me. So I dropped his now stiff king and made my contract.

Another situation where they're playing fast is when they literally pull a card to play before you have called from dummy. This almost always means that they're going to follow suit and cannot beat any finesse you could take. So if you have KQTxx opposite Ax and play the ace and another one and RHO pulls their card and is about to play it before you have even played from dummy I would recommend finessing the ten.

I cannot go over every situation where a variation from normal tempo gives you information, there are simply too many of them. Don't ignore it though, try and logically figure out what their problem could be and take advantage of it!

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