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  Krzysztof Martens: The concept of Limited Context.

 

 Krzysztof is a bridge player, a bridge coach and journalist.

 

  He has his own web page: Bridge University,  where you can get his books

 

http://www.martensuniversity.com

 

Defense, which includes both the opening lead and later plays, is the least liked element of the game of bridge. It is a sad fact that the status quo is currently most players make poor leads.

 

As much as we are able to tolerate, or even like, our character foibles, to admit to our own insufficiencies of intellect is contradictory to human nature. Lack of motivation to improve the quality of defense can be seen at every level of bridge development – the ability to make good leads always runs behind the skills of bidding and declarer play. The mistakes that are often made are simple and the result of laziness – a refusal to count to 40 high card points, 13 cards and 13 tricks.

 

Compared to bidding and play problems, defense problems are less clear cut, correct techniques are less obviously useful, and routine play may not help and can even be harmful to one’s results at the table.

 

The key to improving this situation is to create effective cooperation between the partners.

 

Bridge players have a tendency to generalize. Making agreements is very popular – first and foremost we play either count signals or attitude with elements of suit preference. Which method is best? Unfortunately, there’s no correct answer to this question. Before giving an answer one should explain: “better for what?” or rather “more useful to do what?”

 

 There are some factors like:

 

1)     Anticipating partner’s needs (what kind of information will he need?)

 

2)     The level and type of contract

 

3)     The skill level of the opponents

 

Anticipating partner’s needs is an unusually difficult aspect of defense. Everything depends on the context.

 

Let’s imagine that the opening lead is against a no-trump contract. Depending on the circumstances a signal by the other defender:

 

a)     encourages or discourages a continuation

 

b)    shows an odd or even number of cards in the suit

 

c)     shows suit preference in the remaining suits.

 

Obviously, a professional pair should define the situations in which the various rules above should apply.

 

Some situations are obvious.

 

Against 3NT partner leads the 10, and the dummy comes down with AKQJ.

 

Playing count or attitude signals doesn’t make any sense. It would be extremely helpful for the other defender to show preference in the remaining suits.

 

Contexere – means in Latin – “weave” or “weld.”

 

The context imposes a certain area of mutual cooperation – analysis. The difficulty is for both partners to think alike. I call this “cooperative analysis”.

 

It requires each player to make an additional analysis from partner’s point of view, taking into consideration information he has from the bidding and the play of the hand up to a particular moment.

 

On many hands the context will be very narrow.

For example:

 

Bidding

 

W        N      E      S

1      3   4  Pass

Pass    X      All pass

 

3 - shows a solid minor and asks for a stopper in hearts.

 

North having these cards:

 

J 10

x

AKQJxxx

AQJ

 

may select the lead of the king of diamonds, wanting to draw partner’s attention to the lower of the remaining two suits, that is, clubs.

 

AQ

x

AKQJxxx

J10x

 

Here he might select the lead of the ace of diamonds, showing spade values.

In this example the context is known from the bidding – the solid diamond suit.

Partner will choose a count signal or may be able to follow partner’s intentions and show suit preference.

 

The following example would not be possible for any pair except one with a very detailed set of agreements.

 

NS vulnerable

 

Bidding

 

W       N      E      S

1     3   4  Pass

Pass    X      All pass

 

A Q

6

A K Q J 10 7 4

5 4 2

 

8 7 5

A Q 8 7 2

8 2

A Q 7

      N

W           E

 

      S

J 4 2

K J 10 4  

6 3

J 10 9 8 

 

K 10 9 6 3

9 5 3

9 5

K 6 3

 

 

Lead: A, showing spade values.

 

South follows with the 9 and 5, also showing interest in spades.

 

 

 

5 4 2

6

A K Q J 10 7 4

A Q

 

A Q 7

A Q 10 8 7

8 2

8 7 5

      N

W           E

 

      S

J 10 9 8

K J 10 4  

6 3

J 4 2 

 

K 6 3

9 5 3

9 5

K 10 9 6 3

 

 

Lead: K, showing club values.

 

South follows with the 5 and 9, also showing interest in clubs.

 

The purpose of the next book in the series “The University of Defense” – “Guide Dog” is to narrow the context. This means showing the circumstances in which a discard or another play changes in meaning depending on the needs of the particular hand.

 

 Is there a discard that solves every type of problem that can be encountered on defense? The answer is ‘no’ – it is impossible beyond a certain level of complexity.

 

One model (attitude, count, suit preference) will not work on complicated hands, basically for two reasons.

First, it is difficult effectively to solve two conceptually remote lead problems using only one model. By “an effectively solution” I mean one that is correct, clear, and easy upon which to base analysis.

Second, some information in a concrete situation will not be useful and other information that the applied model doesn’t recognize will be invaluable.

As it happens there is group of hands, one that is far from small in number, on which a more sophisticated method of conveying information is necessary – substitute and complex count.

 

The purpose of the concept of Limited Context is to help us untangle the kind of problem in this example.

 

EW vulnerable

 

Bidding

 

W       N        E      S

1NT   Pass     2   X

 2   3      3   All pass 

 

 

K 10 3

6 5 2

J 10 9 4

K 8 4

 

A Q J 9

A K Q

8 2

7 5 3 2

      N

W           E

 

      S

8 4 2

J 10 8 7 4 

Q 3

A 10 9   

 

7 6 5

9 5 3

A K 7 6 5

Q J 3

 

 

Lead: J.

 

The play of honor cards by South on the first two tricks should show suit preference.

In many similar situations:

 

a)     first the king, and then the ace of diamonds suggests values in the lower of the remaining two suits. This is only a suggestion, because the defender may not have any other strength, and so he simply plays his honor cards in a natural way.

b)    winning the first trick with the ace of diamonds and then playing the king – definitely shows values in spades.

 

On this particular hand there are some special circumstances.

 

Both defenders anticipating the next stage of the defense expect a spade return to be logical. IN THIS CONTEXT an atypical play of honor cards (first the ace and then the king) is a kind of wake up call asking if it is necessary to change the seemingly obvious line of defense.

 

It means this – I’m proposing to shift to a club and not a spade. Partner (N)’s role at trick two is to reject the offer (10) or to accept it (4).

 

Bear in mind that if dummy’s spades are slightly better (or the clubs slightly worse) this inference may not be available, or not nearly so clear.

 

This narrowing down of the context of signaling is therefore one of the most important concepts to combat the complex scope of bridge problems. It assumes that there are clearly defined groups of defensive problems that are conceptually remote from each other.

 

For each such limited group of hands (the context) we create a separate model of discards (or plays). Information that is conveyed by a predefined action will change depending on the context – in reality depending on the need. Changing the background and circumstances of particular hands generate different needs, and this is the challenge I’m trying to address. We will need both members of the partnership to be on the same page if our partnership is going to defend optimally.

 

For this reason, I think it is indispensable to create a context map, or in other words, a data bank of sets of similar defensive problems in which defined actions meet the concrete (and defined) needs of partner.

 

Obviously, in your career you’re going to encounter many delicate, subtle defense problems the interpretation of which will be different for each partnership.

 

Such is the beauty and charm of bridge.