Janet de Botton

Bridge | 15 July 2023

Geir Helgemo, widely considered to be the best player in the world, regularly gets followed around by a posse of devoted fans (myself included) who ask him questions about various points of play. ‘How do you always “guess” where every card is?’ is one that particularly interests me, as the ability to ‘read’ the cards is the major difference between the expert and the amateur. ‘It’s almost never a guess,’ says Geir as the posse gasps, ‘but rather about the absorption of clues from the auction and play to piece together the most likely lay-out.’

Take this hand:

You arrive peacefully in 2♠️, and West leads the ♥️2 to East’s Jack. The first thing an expert would do is take a minute or five to consider who’s got what. OK, where’s the Queen of Spades? West led a small Heart so he has an honour, and it must be the King. Leading from Kxxx is not the most attractive and surely he would have preferred leading from two touching honours if he had them.

We can safely put Ace and King of Diamonds in separate hands, as West would have led them if he had them, and East would have an opening hand if he had them. For the same reason, we can place at least one of the lower Club honours in the East hand, bringing his total to a minimum of nine points.

In today’s game it’s extremely rare that 12-counts are passed, especially third-in-hand at green; most Easts would be tempted to get the ball rolling with 11, sometimes even less. Putting all this together, the expert’s eye will tell him that it’s highly likely the Queen of trumps is with West. He will also, incidentally, strongly suspect that trumps are 3-2, as neither opponent has competed over 2♠️. Easy game!

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