Countdown to Winning Bridge
Bourke (Tim) & Smith (Marc), Bird (David)
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Cover Blurb

    Did you ever notice how the bridge experts always seem to know where every card is? How their finesses always seem to succeed? How their guesses are nearly always perfect? This book won't teach you to play quite that well, but it will introduce you to some very simple techniques that the experts use on play and defense. As declarer or defender, counting the hand is the one thing that will help you the most. But how do you keep track of all those cards? This book will show you how - explaining the tricks of the trade, and helping anyone who can count to thirteen to become a much better player. Full of practical examples of how to apply the information you get from counting, this book is sure to improve your game.

Cover Blurb
  1. Why Count? – 13
  2. The Mechanics of Counting – 21
  3. Clues from the Bidding – 33
  4. Counting the Defenders' High-Card Points – 41
  5. Concentrating on the Distribution – 55
  6. Clues from the Opening Lead – 69
  7. Locating a Queen – 81
  8. Looking for a Jack – 89
  9. Guessing King-Jack Combinations – 97
  10. Using the Defenders' Cards to Get a Count – 107
  11. Bringing It All Together as Declarer – 115
  12. Signalling on Defense – 125
  13. Counting Declarer's Shape – 139
  14. Counting Declarer's Points – 151
  15. Counting Declarer's Tricks – 159
  16. Concealing Your Distribution – 167
  17. Concealing Your Honors – 177
  18. Making Declarer Decide Early – 187
  19. True or False? When to Play Honest Cards – 197

Amazon Customer Review 1
  1. The book is frustrating.
  2. It contains lots of good information, tips, and ideas, but it doesn't make it as easy as it could.
  3. It has a chapter entitled 'Why Count?', but it only covers why declarer should count (not defenders). The second half of the book covers defending, and it emphasises that you shouldn't try to count each hand (too much effort). But it doesn't itemise the key situations where counting helps, and so it doesn't help identify when you should bother. Of course, the examples give clues, but it would be nice to have a list.
  4. And the writing style is not as precise as it might be, so I find myself re-reading paragraphs.
  5. Having trawled the market for the best book on counting, I think this is it, but I feel that someone could write a better one.

Amazon Customer Review 2
  1. As a book on counting cards, the authors do a credible job. A minor complaint is that they make light of the difficulties of counting cards, sometimes in all four suits, and counting high card points in each defender's hand by writing, "Did you do anything more complicated than count to thirteen?"
  2. As a book on probabilities, the authors "fall on their sword" in Chapter 6. They consider a deal played in 3NT first by South, then by North. Of course, South gets a different lead and plays differently and gets a different result than North but the authors erroneously claim that these two independent events are somehow related by what they call the "Monty Hall Trap". Then they introduce the unhelpful idea of "biased information" which only serves to muddle their explanations of their last two examples. Amazingly, the last example, a very complicated example based on how much expertise the opponents have, is advertised as a clarification of the previous simpler example. As a final surprise, the authors conclude chapter 6 by saying that the reader should essentially ignore the results of their last two examples and instead rely on "the basic odds".
  3. I recommend that you stay away from chapter 6 and instead read the excellent discussions of bridge probabilities in "Kelsey (Hugh) & Glauert (Michael) - Bridge Odds for Practical Players".

Amazon Customer Review 3
  1. This may be the best book I've read on card placement and deduction, even better than "Lawrence (Mike) - How to read your opponents' cards: The bridge expert's way to locate missing high cards". And that’s saying a lot because "Lawrence (Mike) - How to read your opponents' cards: The bridge expert's way to locate missing high cards" is a great book.
  2. This book has many examples, and covers a wide range of inferential topics. There are sections for defenders, and how to confuse and mislead the opponents. You are really given the tools to solve a great number of hands. It’s more than just counting; it’s using that information, and thinking about what the opponents might have done.

Book Comment

Master Point Press (22 May 2001)

"Bourke (Tim) & Smith (Marc), Bird (David) - Countdown to Winning Bridge"

Source: Bourke (Tim) & Smith (Marc), Bird (David) - Countdown to Winning Bridge

Chapter Summaries
  1. Why Count? – 13
    • Always count your tricks before you play to trick one.
    • Count missing cards by watching how suits break.
    • Knowing the shape of the closed hands is an enormous advantage. Use your counting to work out one defender's shape.
    • The defender with more cards in a suit is more likely to hold a specific card in that suit.
    • The more tricks you play (and thus the more defenders' cards you see) before making a crucial decision, the more likely you are to 'guess' right.
  2. The Mechanics of Counting – 21
    • Identify which suits are important (i.e. where your extra tricks can come from).
    • Decide which suits you must count or which high cards to watch for.
    • Fix in your mind how many cards are outstanding in each of the key suits.
    • Count by keeping track of missing cards.
    • Think in terms of how the missing cards might break rather than the total number of outstanding cards.
    • Count only one of the unseen hands.
    • Once you know the shape of one unseen hand, work out the distribution of the other.
  3. Clues from the Bidding – 33
    • Always remember the bidding.
    • Take note of what an opponent's bids show.
    • Take note when an opponent fails to bid, and use this information to help you place high cards and figure out the distribution.
    • When a defender shows a distributional hand in the bidding, concentrate on discovering his exact shape early.
    • Once you can 'see' a defender's hand, mentally move around the table and consider the play from his perspective.
  4. Counting the Defenders' High-Card Points – 41
    • Remember the bidding. As defenders play honor cards, think about how many points their bidding (or lack of bidding) showed.
    • Count the points of a defender who has shown a limited hand.
    • If a defender has limited his hand in the bidding, do not play him for an honor he cannot have, even if it means taking an anti-percentage play in the suit.
    • If you need a defender to have a specific card, assume he has that card and base your play on that assumption.

  5. Concentrating on the Distribution – 55
    • Think about potential play problems during the bidding. Use the information provided by the opponents' bidding to envisage how the play is likely to go, and bid accordingly.
    • If a defender has shown two suits in the bidding, concentrate on uncovering the distribution of his short suits.
    • It is always best if the opponents lead suits in which you have tenace positions. Use your knowledge of the defenders' shapes to leave them on lead at the critical moment.
    • Delay playing the crucial suit until you have gathered all available information.
    • Avoid relying on cards to lie favorably unless that is your only chance. Counting the defenders' shapes frequently provides a better alternative.
  6. Clues from the Opening Lead – 69
    • The opening lead and play to the early tricks will often tell you how the suit that has been led is breaking. From this, you will be able to tell how many winners the defenders have in the suit.
    • When a defender leads from a dangerous holding (such as Jxx, Qxx or Axxx), ask yourself why. The reason will often be because other suits contained equally dangerous holdings.
    • Beware of the 'Monty Hall Trap'. Defenders select their lead based on the auction and their hand. Do not apply vacant spaces theory based purely on a defender having length in the suit he chose to lead (or to bid).
    • Information a defender offers voluntarily is open to interpretation. Always consider why the opponent has taken that particular action.
  7. Locating a Queen – 81
    • Delay making the crucial decision until the latest possible moment.
    • Count the defenders' shapes and assume the hand with more cards in a suit will have the queen.
    • Before playing a particular defender for the queen, make sure that doing so will solve your problem.
    • Remember the bidding. Having mentally placed a key queen in a defender's hand, check that his previous actions are consistent with your conclusions.
  8. Looking for a Jack – 89
    • Check to see if it is possible to pick up Jxxx in either defender's hand.
    • Be aware of how many entries are needed to pick up J9xx or J10xx.
    • Counting a defender's cards in the other suits will often eliminate the possibility of him having Jxxx in the key suit. You can then guard against the other defender having that holding.
    • Missing only four cards to the jack, try to eliminate the possibility of one defender being void in the suit.
    • Before committing yourself, consider how a defender would have played if he had each of the possible hands.
    • When you have a choice of jacks to find, delay the decision in the suit in which you have a two-way guess.
  9. Guessing King-Jack Combinations – 97
    • King-jack positions come in various guises.
    • Depending on which cards are hidden and which are in dummy, it may or may not be obvious to the defenders that you have a king-jack guess.
    • An early lead towards a king-jack combination in dummy will often encourage West to play the ace if he has it.
    • You should generally delay the decision in a 'guess' suit, since a count of the defenders' distribution and/or high-card points will often enable you to guess correctly.
    • If a good defender gives you a king-jack guess when one does not legitimately exist, assume that playing the king (which you would have to do without his help) is the winning play.
    • If a good defender voluntarily leads through dummy's king-jack early in the play, he is much more likely to have the ace than the queen.
  10. Using the Defenders' Cards to Get a Count – 107
    • The opening lead and early signals are usually honest and you can treat information gained from these cards as reliable.
    • If you need the defenders to tell you how a suit is breaking, do not wait to play the suit until they know enough not to signal.
    • In a long match, test the honesty of your opponents' signals at an early stage.
    • Watch your opponents' suit-preference signals to locate missing high cards.
    • Gauge the authenticity of information by considering the problem from the defender's point of view. If you decide that he cannot afford to play a deceptive card for fear that his partner will do the wrong thing, then treat the information as reliable.
  11. Bringing It All Together as Declarer – 115
    • No summary.

  12. Signalling on Defense – 125
    • The objective of signalling is to tell partner about your hand, not to tell him what to do.
    • Signals are not instructions. It is up to you to decide how to defend, based on what partner tells you about his hand.
    • Combine attitude, count and suit-preference signals depending or what information is needed.
    • Do not bother to signal information that is useless to partner. Tell him what you think he needs or wants to know.
    • If you can see the winning defense, take control. If you can avoid doing so, do not put partner in a situation where he can do the wrong thing.
    • Do not just consider what partner has done. Think about what he has not done, too.
    • When you have what appears to be a guess, consider how partner might have helped you solve the problem. If he has not made the defense clear, then assume he does not have a hand that would enable him to do so and defend accordingly.
  13. Counting Declarer's Shape – 139
    • When you have long trumps, it is often obvious to defend in a manner that forces declarer to ruff. When you have short trumps, try to view the hand from partner's perspective and work to establish trump control for him by forcing declarer.
    • When declarer has made an opening no-trump bid, you can immediately place him with one of a small number of possible shapes. You can defend on the assumption that he will not have a singleton.
    • When defending against pre-empts, be prepared to cash your tricks quickly. Use count and attitude signals to make sure you cash your tricks in the right order.
    • Work out the various hands declarer may have. If your defense only makes a difference if he has one of these hands, assume he has that hand and defend accordingly.
    • When defending against high-level sacrifices, use count and suit-preference signals to take the maximum penalty.
    • Look at the hand from both declarer's and partner's viewpoint. Try to foresee potential problems that partner may have, and defend in a way that avoids putting him under pressure.
  14. Counting Declarer's Points – 151
    • Count the points in your hand and dummy and add those that declarer has shown in the bidding. You will then have a narrow range of points for partner's hand.
    • Avoid 'no play' defenses. Do not play partner for a specific card if you cannot defeat the contract, even when he has that card.
    • If you need partner to have a specific card to beat the contract, defend on the assumption that he has it.
    • When you have most of your side's high cards, be wary of squeezes or endplays. Look for ways to put partner on lead.
  15. Counting Declarer's Tricks – 159
    • Count declarer's high-card points and distribution, and then use that information to count his tricks.
    • If you can see the winning defense, take control. Do not give partner a chance to go wrong.
    • If a count of declarer's tricks reveals that partner needs a specific card (or cards) to beat the contract, then defend on the assumption that he has the required holding.
    • Before you decide to play partner for a specific card, make sure that your defense will beat the contract if he has it.
  16. Concealing Your Distribution – 167
    • Don't show declarer your hand!
    • Don't show declarer your hand!
    • Guard the shape of your hand jealously. Avoid providing declarer with gratuitous information that he cannot obtain on his own.
    • If a count of declarer's tricks, shape and points tells you that the contract is destined to succeed, look for a way to provide declarer with a losing option by painting a false picture of your hand.
    • When discarding, do not just consider which card is the safest, but also which one gives declarer the least information.
    • Do not signal before considering who is most likely to benefit from the information.
    • Did we mention 'don't show declarer your hand'?
  17. Concealing Your Honors – 177
    • Be aware of approximately how declarer will expect the defensive high cards to be distributed based on the bidding.
    • To persuade declarer to play you for an honor you don't have, conceal a high card in another suit.
    • Play the card you are known to hold.
    • Conceal your high cards in such a way that declarer will choose a finesse that is losing rather than one that is working.
    • Defend in a way that leaves declarer with a believable alternative to the winning line of play.
    • If you can see that declarer is fated to succeed, look for any way to offer him a losing option.
  18. Making Declarer Decide Early – 187
    • Force declarer to take or refuse a finesse before he knows whether or not he needs it for his contract.
    • Force declarer to make discards before he knows what to throw.
    • Look to reduce declarer's options in the trump suit. Forcing the short trump hand to ruff is one way to achieve this objective.
  19. True or False? When to Play Honest Cards – 197
    • Signal accurately when there is a chance that partner needs the information in order to find the correct defense.
    • When you have all of the defensive assets, feel free to signal in any way you think is likely to mislead declarer.
    • When partner has all of the defensive assets, be sure your signals are accurate.
    • If you have the defense's long suit, protect your entry even if it gives declarer a chance to make a trick he could not otherwise make.
    • In obligatory false-card situations, giving declarer a losing option takes precedence over any requirement to keep partner in the picture.
    • If a count of declarer's high cards and shape tells you the contract is unbeatable by force, seek to create a realistic but false picture of the defensive hands that may lead declarer to adopt a losing line of play.
    • When you are trying to paint a false picture of your hand, you must make it a believable picture.
    • Do not show declarer your hand!

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2024
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