Preemption and Lightner Doubles (Mark Oettinger)

Here’s an interesting hand from the Burlington Bridge Club on Friday morning, August 18, 2017.  The facts have been “augmented” a bit, in the interest of illustrating some of the principles involved, but the cards are exact.





    107                                             43

    10754                                          ---

    QJ6                                            109853

    A643                                          KJ9752





North/South are vulnerable; East/West are not.  North is dealer, and opens 1 Heart.  East, an unnamed player of Icelandic origin, known for his “active” bidding style, bids an “unusual” 2 Notrump, showing the “2 lowest (unbid) suits,” in this case, Clubs and Diamonds.  What do you think of this bid?  Only 4 high card points?  The vulnerability is ideal, he has 11 cards in his two suits, and he has a void in opener’s Hearts.  On balance (in my view), it’s clearly right.  

South now bids 3 Spades.  What should West do?  The minor suit fit is huge, almost certainly a minimum of 9 Clubs and 8 Diamonds.  Plus, West has no high cards in either major suit, almost guaranteeing that North/South have game...quite possibly slam.  Yes, it’s just possible that East has a strong hand, and that the opponents don’t have a game, but this seems quite unlikely, since Unusual Notrump hands are usually weak in terms of high card points.  But in that case, perhaps we have game!  Should West pass?  Maybe they won’t bid their game.  Or should West raise to 4 Clubs?  Should he raise immediately to 5 Clubs?  Some would argue for raising immediately to 6 Clubs, but that strikes me as being a little dramatic.  I chose the conservative (cowardly?) 4 Club option, fully planning to bid 5 Clubs if North/South compete to game.  North does raise to 4 Spades, and when it comes back to me, I raise to 5 Clubs.

This should be a “Forcing Pass” situation for North.  North/South have “bid game on power,” and the opponents (East/West) are sacrificing.  East/West should therefore not be allowed to play undoubled.  Is it conceivable that East/West could make 5 Clubs?  Yes, but this will happen very rarely, and when it does, 5 Clubs Doubled making is unlikely to produce a matchpoint score that is much worse than 5 Clubs Undoubled making.  What’s more important is for North/South to try and exact a penalty that is greater than the value of their presumed, hoping for +800 (Down 4) rather than +620 (or +650 or +680), the value of North/South’s vulnerable game.

In accordance with “forcing pass principles,” North (in the direct seat) either Passes to show extra playing strength (beyond what he has already shown), or Doubles to show a more defensive hand.  North chose to Double (after all, one of his two Ace-King combinations is in one of East’s suits), but South, with more offense than he has had the chance to communicate thus far in the auction, persists to 5 Spades...where the auction dies.  Here’s the complete auction:

N        E        S        W

1H     2N     3S        4C

4S       P       P         5C

X        P      5S         P

P         P

I chose to lead the Queen of Diamonds, and North/South have “15” tricks, making 7.  Had I led the Ace of Clubs, East would have signalled dramatically with the King Clubs, requesting a Heart shift.  A Club continuation is obviously pointless given dummy’s singleton, so the standard “attitude” signal to my opening lead becomes “suit preference.”  The King of Clubs therefore calls for a shift to the higher non-trump suit...Hearts, 5 making exactly and a likely decent MP score for the defense.

What if North/South actually had actually gotten to 6 Spades?  Two of the session’s 6 tables did.  Now East has an interesting option.  He can Double for an “unusual” lead.  This is called a Lightner Double, developed in 1929, and named (by Eli Culbertson, who did not favor its use, and who therefore anecdotally chose not to name it after himself) after its inventor, Theodore Lightner (1893-1981).  “Unusual” in the context of this auction would clearly not be a minor suit or a trump...but would be a low Heart.  That produces a ruff, followed by a a Club return (the lower of the remaining non-trump suits), and a second Heart ruff...down two.  Nice defense!

Neither of the pairs defending 6 Spades found the Lightner defense.  One pair played 6 Hearts, which cannot be beaten.  The other two tables played 4 Hearts and 5 Hearts.  Five of the six tables made 6.  Apparently, I was the only opening leader not to start with the Ace of Clubs, and no one found the lead of the Ace of Clubs followed by the Heart switch for a ruff.  Even so, we still got 3 matchpoints out of 5, for preventing the North/South from reaching slam.  Was it us, or was it them?  Regardless, kudos to East for his courageous use of the Unusual Notrump!  Note that “par” on the hand is 7 Clubs Doubled Down 5 for -1100...if the defense can find the following defense:  Diamond, Diamond, Diamond Ruff, Spade, Spade.

This last point raises yet another interesting issue that arises in “cash-out situations.”  Most players show “attitude” when following to Partner’s opening lead.  Some well-practiced partnerships modify this by agreeing to show “count in cash-out situations.”  Some define this further by giving count when defending “suit contracts of 5 Clubs or higher.”  Playing at Honors Bridge Club in New York City, I once faced my opening lead.  It was the Ace of Spades (from Ace/King) against a 5 Diamond contract.  My partner was asked by Declarer, a renowned expert, about our “carding” agreements.  Partner replied, “We give count when following to Partner’s opening lead in cash-out situations in suit contracts of 5 Clubs and higher.”  Without missing a beat, Declarer responded, “How do you know it’s a cash-out situation?”  That’s a very interesting point, and in our next issue, we will delve more deeply into a possible answer.  Here’s a preview.

It is often the opening leader (as opposed to opening leader’s partner) who knows that “it’s a cash-out situation.”  In that case, the opening leader wants “count,” not the usual “attitude” signal in reaction to the opening lead.  Can you have your cake and eat it too?  Maybe.  Try this...when leading from Ace-King, the lead of the Ace asks for “attitude,” and the lead of the King asks for “count.”  My first reaction to this idea was that it would create more confusion than it would afford help, but after playing it for a while, I am convinced of the overwhelming value of this “non-standard” agreement.  More on this subject in later issues, and see also related further discussion in my article below on “Leads & Defensive Carding,” and in Phil Sharpsteen’s article entitled “Do you lead Ace or King from Ace/King?