“If you are to amount to anything at this game, you must build up a picture of the unseen hands.”

Bob Hamman & Bobby Wolff
Bob Hamman & Bobby Wolff

Robert Hamman is a name we will see repeatedly when you read reports of the really big events. Only 25 when he was a runner-up in the 1964 Olympiad, he was a world team champion in 1970, 1971 and 1977, runner-up again in the 1972 Olympiad, and has represented North America on many occasions, with many different partners. In 1974 he won the world Pairs Olympiad, playing with Bobby Wolff. In 1979 these round faced Rod Steiger.

In the first Bols Bridge Tip Hamman went straight to the heart of things: ‘Would try to play golf or tennis blindfolded? That does not seem a very intelligent thing to do, but most players do exactly that when they play the hand at Contract Bridge.

‘If you ever to amount to anything at this game, you must build up a picture of the unseen hands. The idea is to know what the problem is before you try to solve it.’

Early writers in the bridge tips competition were allowed less space than normal later on, and Hamman gave only one deal. Expanding his account, let us look first at the North-South hands only:

South Dealer  Neither side vulnerable

Spade SuitQ 5
Heart SuitA 10 9 3 2
Diamond Suit8 4
club suit10 6 3 2
Spade Suit           
Heart Suit 
Diamond Suit 
club suit 
Spade Suit
Heart Suit
Diamond Suit
club suit 
Spade SuitA K 7 4 3 2 
Heart Suit6
Diamond SuitQ 5
club suitA Q 8 4

The Auction:

West   North    East   South  
      1Spade Suit
2Diamond Suit Pass Pass 2Spade Suit    
Pass 3Spade Suit Pass 4Spade Suit
Pass Pass Pass

North’s raise to three spades is fairly close, I would say.

West led the Heart Suit4 against Hamman’s contract of four spades.

It is instructive now to consider what you know – or need to assume – about each suit. Make a list of all the inferences that are available. Have you done that? It should read something like this:

First, spades. You haven’t been doubled, so there is a good chance that they will be 3 – 2. In any case you must assume this, because, because you are surely going to lose two diamonds and at least one club. This is typical ‘assumption’. Since the spades must be 3 – 2 if you are going to make the contract, you assume they are 3 – 2 and you build up your picture of the opposing hands on that basis.

Second, hearts. What do you make of that lead of Heart Suit4?

Could it be a singleton?

Lorne Green & Bob Hamman
Lorne Green & Bob Hamman

Hardly, because that would give East K-Q-J-8-7-5 and he would have made a bid over two diamonds (especially since, as we shall see in a moment, he surely has a diamond honour). So West is leading low from an honour, or possible two non-touching honours. He might have K-x-x or Q-x-x, something like that. Since he has bid two diamonds and we are placing him with at least two spades, he is more likely to hold three hearts than four.

Third, diamonds. There is a simple, and very common, inference to be drawn here, but it is an inference often missed. With A-K of diamonds West would surely have led this suit rather than a heart from some very not attractive holding. So A-K of diamonds are split, with East probably clutching the king.

Fourth, clubs. Until we had studied the other suits, there wasn’t much to say about the clubs situation. In fact, we have quite a lot of information. Since we are placing West with at least six diamonds, possibly seven, at least three hearts and at least two spades, he can hardly hold more than two clubs and may have only one. What about the king of clubs, a critical card? One pointer is that East is already marked with a high honour in hearts, quite possibly two honours, and with one of the top diamonds.

Bjorgvin Kristinsson, Bob Hamman, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Sharon Osberg.
Bjorgvin Kristinsson, Bob Hamman, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Sharon Osberg. Photo by Peg Kaplan

Exaggerating a trifle, Hamman remarks: ‘East’s silence would be incomprehensible with a diamond honour, at least one heart honour, and the king of clubs as well.’ There is another indication, at least as strong. West has chosen an unattractive lead in hearts, and there must be some reason why he preferred a heart to a club. Perhaps his club holding is a singleton king or K-x?

Now we are getting warm. Putting all the inferences together we have arrived at the conclusion that the best way to limit the loss in clubs to one trick is to play West for short clubs, including the king. This is what Hamman did, with good effect, as can be seen from the full deal:

Spade SuitQ 5
Heart SuitA 10 9 3 2
Diamond Suit8 4
club suit10 6 3 2
Spade Suit J 6           
Heart Suit K 5 4 
Diamond Suit A J 10 9 6 3 2
club suit K
Spade Suit 10 9 8
Heart Suit Q J 8 7
Diamond Suit K 7
club suit J 9 7 5
Spade SuitA K 7 4 3 2 
Heart Suit6
Diamond SuitQ 5
club suitA Q 8 4

Having won the first trick with the ace of hearts, the declarer played a club to the ace, dropping the singleton king. There was still a little work to do, because the next club lead had to come from dummy. South had to hope that West had only two spades. He played ace of spades and a spade to the queen, then a low club from the table.

East split his J-9-7, South played the queen, and West was unable to ruff. The last trump was drawn, and declarer’s 8 and 10 of clubs ended his account: ‘Quickly I draw the last trump and concede a club and two diamonds to make four spades. I notice only my partner is congratulating me. East is eyeing me suspiciously, and West has already slid his chair a foot back from the table.’ Before we leave this fine hand, let’s just run over the inferences again, because if you think in this way everytime you will soon be a champion:

Bob Hamman & Simon Fellus
Bob Hamman & Simon Fellus

Trumps had to be 3-2, because otherwise there would be no play for the contract. The lead of the Heart Suit4 was probably from K-x-x or Q-x-x, conceivably from K-J-x. The ace and king of diamonds were surely divided.

East was unlikely to hold the king of clubs for two reasons: with this card he might have had enough to bid over his partner’s two diamonds: the West’s awkward lead in hearts pointed to an awkward holding in clubs as well, probably K-x or king alone.

This type of card–reading is the beginning, and almost the end, of all good play.