PART ONE

HONOUR SYSTEMS or signalling sequences

 

what

WHAT AN HONOUR SYSTEM IS

 

The lead of an unsupported honour occurs only rarely. The reason is simple:

It is much safer to lead away from an honour, and just as attacking.

So an unsupported honour is normally led only in these specific cases:

1) From a doubleton (so as not block the suit)

2) When you want to stay on lead and decide on the best defence after seeing dummy

3) When partner has bid the suit, and you want him to know about your honour.

The situation changes completely, however, when the honour you possess is part of a sequence (KQJ, QJ9, Q109, AK etc). The lead of an honour will, on balance, show a profit, as the risk of losing a trick is considerably lessened, and the chance of establishing a trick correspondingly greater. Obviously, you will be happiest leading from a full three–card sequence (AKQ, KQJ, QJ10, J109); a good lead with no risk. But sequences like that occur comparatively rarely, so often (but less willingly) you decide to make a riskier lead from an incomplete sequence (KQ10, QJ9, Q109 etc.), or even from a two–card one (AK, KQ, QJ etc). So it is clear that the following popularly accepted statement is true:

The lead of an honour implies possession of a sequence.

However, there are only six honours (AKQJ109), whereas there are considerably more sequences. This gives rise to the problem:

Which honour should be led from a given sequence?

If we chose an honour to lead at random, partner would know we probably had a sequence, but he would have no idea which one. For example, seeing the jack led, he could assume it was from KQJ, or AJ10, or J109, or QJ9.... the most likely result being that he fail to find the right defence. To avoid this any partnership must decide:

Which honour do we lead from any given sequence?

The answer to that is what an honour system consist of.

preliminary

PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS

 

Types of sequences

A sequence consist of two touching honours (AK, KQ, QJ, J10, 109) with or without a third honour. We can distinguish the following types of sequences:

 

Full sequence

AKQ  KQJ  QJ10

 

 

Broken sequence

AKJ  KQ10  QJ9

 

Short sequence

AK  KQ  QJ  J10  109

 

Interior sequence

AQJ  AJ10  KJ10       A109  K109  Q109

Obviously, there may be a number of small cards attached to any of these sequences, but this does not concern us at present. Some sequences, such as J109 or KQ9, have not been singled out, as in practice they can be treated in the same way as similar sequence, so J109 is equivalent to J10 for practical purposes, KQ9 to KQ, etc.

 

The relationship between sequences

The first three types of sequences are clearly related to each other: a full sequence changes to a broken one by replacing the lowest honour with one a step lower; to a short sequence by removing the lowest honour.

Schematically:

 

AKQ

KQJ

QJ10

Interior sequences are not clearly related to the others and form a separate group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AKJ

KQ10

 QJ9

 

 

 

 

 

 

AK

KQ

   QJ

 

Simplified Honour Systems

A short sequence is a member of a class consisting of itself and two  related sequences – broken and full (eg sequence KQ represents the class KQ KQ10 KQJ). It is often enough to know which class, rather than which   specific sequence, partner has led from. For example, to know that partner has KQ (and perhaps the J or 10) is acceptable as the presence of   the additional honour is in many cases irrelevant. Thus we can define a simplified honour system as one which distinguishes only between two types of sequences:

      Short:    AK   KQ   QJ   J10   109

      Interior: AQJ  AJ10  KJ10 A109  K109  Q109

          Full and broken sequences are equivalent to short sequences,  eg KQ10 or KQJ is treated in the same way as KQ.

 

Complete Honour Systems

This name is reserved for honour systems which distinguish between all types of sequences.

 

General assumptions

Let us make the following general assumptions:

1)     The aim of a system in defence is to transmit maximum information to partner.
 You might say that a system which gives too much information makes thing easy for declarer; this is undoubtedly true, but if you lead the wrong suit it will generally make no difference, whereas if you have led the right one it is vital that partner is aware of the true situation.

2)     A system in defence should be the same against both suit and no–trump contracts.
Obviously, you could use umpteen different systems in defence depending on the denomination of the contract, the level of the contract, the course of the auction etc; but who could remember it all? It must be better to use one system all the time. If it is a good one, all supercomplications are pointless; they may increase effectiveness by 1%, but will also increase the amount of effort needed by 100%.

3)     You are allowed to lead from any honour sequence.
It is hard to take statements like "Never lead away from a king" seriously; if, in your judgement, it is right to lead a given suit, you should lead it, even underlead an ace.

The above assumptions (especially not distinguishing between a suit contract and a no–trump contract) may seem too radical for many readers; but please finish reading the book before you make a judgement.

traditional

TRADITIONAL HONOUR SYSTEM

 

By this I mean known methods of signalling sequences: the Culbertson method, the "normal method" and the Rusinow method.

culbertson

The Culbertson method 

The lead of an honour denotes the following sequences:

 

A

=

A

 

 

K

=

AK  or  KQ

 

Q

=

QJ  or  AQJ

 

J

=

J10  or  AJ10  or  KJ10

 

10

=

109  or  K109  or  Q109

As you can see, the lead of the ace is the only one which does not show a sequence. Why?  It has already been said that an unsupported honour is sometimes led in order to stay on lead and, after seeing dummy, choose   the most appropriate continuation (often just cashing top tricks). Clearly, the best chance of doing this is to lead the highest honour – the ace.  As the sequence AK is significantly less common than an unsupported ace, the Culbertson method has its advantages: partner will only play an encouraging card if he has the king, so if he does not encourage, you know you have to switch. Also it is easier to defend speculative 3NT contracts (when you may have five top tricks to cash) and high–level  contracts.

 

Ambiguity in the Culbertson method

The occasional benefit derived from signalling an unsupported ace must, however, be weighted against the annoying ambiguity of K = AK or KQ.

In this situation:

 

xxx

 

declarer can put West to a difficult guess by ducking the king. After all,  East could not encourage as the lead may have from AK.

KD10x

 

1.  Wxx

2.  xxx

 

1.  Axx

2.  AWx

 

 

The Normal method

Dislike of the ambiguity in the Culbertson method caused it to be modified as follows:

 

A

=

AK  or  A

 

 

K

=

KQ

 

Q

=

QJ  or  AQJ

 

J

=

J10  or  AJ10  or  KJ10

 

10

=

109  or  K109  or  Q109

In practice, the ambiguity in the lead of the ace is not serious, as it is comparatively rare to lead an unsupported ace. n any case, a partnership can agree that Culbertson leads apply in certain specific circumstances.

 

The reverse method (Rusinow leads)

The problem of the unsupported ace was solved in this radical manner:

 

A

=

A

 

 

K

=

AK

 

Q

=

KQ  or  AQJ

 

J

=

QJ  or  AJ10  or  KJ10

 

10

=

J10  or  A109  or  K109  or  Q109

 

9

=

109

This method retains the Culbertson lead of the unsupported Ace, at the same time eliminating the ambiguity of K = AK or KQ.

 

Troublesome situations

These occur in all three of the traditional methods described. In the Culbertson method the most troublesome situation is obviously
K = AK or KQ.  In the normal method (and also in the Culbertson method) the following situation is very difficult:

 

 

xxx

 

On the lead of the jack, the defence can cash three tricks if the situation is as in 2, but if 1 is the case East must switch at once.

 

1.  J10x

2.  KJ10

 

Axxx

 

 

1. KQx

2. Qxx

 

And in the Reverse method:

 

 

Qxx

 

The 10 should be ducked in 1), but in 2) East should rise with the  ace. If he does not guess right, he loses a trick or a tempo (assuming a suit contract). 

 

1.  J10x

2.  K109

 

Axxx

 

 

1. Kx

2. Jx

 

In all three methods the following situation is very difficult:

 

 

Jxx

 

If, on the lead of the ten, East rises with the king, the jack will take a trick in 1), while if he ducks in 2) he may lose a trick (or at best a tempo).

 

1.  Q109

2.  A109

 

Kxxx

 

 

1. Axx

2. Qxx

 

Also in the Reverse method J = QJ or AJ10 is unclear; if partner has the king he will have to guess right.

principles

PRINCIPLES OF CONSTRUCTION

 

What is the crux of the problem?

By looking at traditional honour system we can see that none of them protect us from difficult situation, where it is hard to read partner's lead, and a wrong guess may mean the loss of a trick. the rue, we have shown only 4 difficult situations, but more exist. Also, the methods discussed so far are simplified honour systems, ie they do not distinguish between broken and full sequences.

Are we then inevitably stuck with bad methods?

We would be, if we were forced to limit ourselves to traditional methods – top of a sequence or second highest. But nobody can force us to do this!

Let us consider the crux of the whole problem. Honour sequences consist of three (or two) cards from the top six. An honour system is simply an agreement as to which card shows which sequence; so all we have to do is to assign to each of the top 6 cards (AKQJ109) one or more sequences which include it. There are many possibilities, of which we have discussed only three: Culbertson, normal, and Rusinow. There are, therefore, a lot of possibilities still open to us.

 

How many honour systems are there?

From a full sequence (AKQ, KQJ, QJ10) we can lead any card; from the remaining sequences, one of two touching honours. Thus it is to calculate that:

        The number of complete systems is 442 368 (33214)

        The number of simplified systems is 2 048 (2526)

So there really is a tremendous number of possibilities.

 

Alternatives

In either case, there are significantly more sequences (11 in a simplified system, 17 in a complete system) than the 6 cards we have at our disposal to signal them. From this it follows that we cannot avoid ambiguous situations, posing partner the dilemma: What sequence have we led from?

The important thing, then, is to eliminate the bad alternatives and leave the good ones (or at least the less bad ones). To construct an honour system,  it is necessary to examine all possible ambiguities, bearing in mind:

1) What is the chance of partner knowing which sequence we have led from ?

2) How dangerous will it be if he does not know?

 

Some examples of bad alternatives:

 

J = QJ  or  J10

10 = K109  or  J10

K = AK  or  KQ

 

J = KJ10  or  J10

10 = A109  or  109

 

 

J = QJ  or  AJ10

  9 = Q109  or  A109

 

And good ones:

 

9 = A109  or  K109

10 = Q109  or  KJ10

 

J = QJ  or  KJ10

10 = AJ10  or  Q109

roman

ROMAN LEADS AND JOURNALIST LEADS

 

In the previous chapter we outlined a basis for the construction of honour system, breaking with the old habits and stereotypes. Similar reasoning was certainly the start of the construction of Blue Club and Journalist leads. Both of these are complete honour systems (or, to be more accurate, semi–complete) and vary according to whether the contract is in a suit or no–trumps.

 

Here are the leads against no–trumps:

 

 

 

Blue Club

 

Journalist

 

A

=

AKx  or  AKxx

 

Asks for unblock or count

 

K

=

AKQ  or  AKJ  or  KQJ  or  KQ10

 

AK  or  KQ

 

Q

=

KQ  or  QJ10  or  QJ9

 

QJ  or  AQJ  or  (KQ10)

 

J

=

QJ  or  J10

 

J10

 

10

=

AJ10  or  KJ10  or  Q109

 

Interior sequence

 

9

=

109

 

109

And against suit contracts:

 

 

 

Blue Club

 

Journalist

 

A

=

AK...

 

A

 

K

=

AKQ  or  AKJ  or  KQJ  or  KQ10

 

AK

 

Q

=

KQ  or  AQJ

 

KJ  or  AQJ  or  (KQ10)

 

J

=

QJ  or  AJ10  or  KJ10

 

QJ  or  AJ10

 

10

=

J10  or  A109  or  K109  or  Q109

 

J10  or  A109   or  KJ10

 

9

=

109

 

109  or  K!09  or  Q109

Both of the above methods have grave drawbacks.

Why, for example, does the Journalist system accept the Culbertson ambiguity against no–trumps?

Why does the Blue Club lead of the King give away so much information? Surely three–cards sequences are relatively rare. And why is the lead of the 9 wasted on the uncommon sequence of 109?  I will not go into a detailed analysis of the above methods, as:

1) They are not totally complete systems

2) They vary against suits and no–trumps

(contrary to one of our initial assumptions)

altarnatives

ALTERNATIVES

 

As an example, let us analyse some ambiguous situations, where the lead of honour denotes one of two sequences.

 

Alternative 10 = Q109 or A109

The chances of resolving this ambiguity on the basis of visible cards (your own and dummy's) are small. Even if you can see the king and the jack are still in the dark. Does this matter? It may be that, in spite of not knowing partner's holding, you will know what to do. To convince ourselves of this we have to analyse all possible positions of the king and jack (9 possibilities). Then we will see that in 8 of them, you will have no trouble in making the correct decision (rise with your honour? duck? return  the suit?). The only difficult situation is this:

 

 

Jxx

 

In the alternative 1), East should duck the 10; in alternative 2) East should play the king. If he ducks, he may (in a suit contract) lose a trick, and at best a tempo.

 

1.  Q109

2.  A109

 

Kxxx

 

 

1. Axx

2. Qxx

 

Because of the possibility of this insoluble ambiguity, we can say that the alternative Q109 or A109 is definitely a bad one.

 

Alternative 10 = AJ10 or Q109

The sequence AJ10 and Q109 have only one honour in common – the 10. Thus the possibility of resolving this ambiguity on the basis of visible cards is very high: as long as any of the AQJ9 are visible, all will be clear.  The only time there will be problems is when the king is the only visible honour, or when no honour is visible. Let us analyse these instances:

 

1)

 

 

xxx

 

This ambiguity will be cleared up immediately as if declarer has holding 2) he will win with the jack, whereas with holding 1) he will play the king or queen.

 

1.  AJ10

2.  Q109

 

xxx

 

 

1. KQx

2. AKJ

 

2)

 

 

Kxxx

 

In this instance, as in the previous one, declarer's action will tell you what partner's holding is.

 

1.  AJ10

2.  Q109

 

xxx

 

 

1. Qxx

2. AJx

 

3)

 

 

xxx

 

In either case East should go up with the king, whereupon the card declarer plays will clear the position up.

 

1.  AJ10

2.  Q109

 

Kxxx

 

 

1. Qxx

2. AJx

 

So we see that the alternative 10 = AJ10 or Q109 is very good one.

 

Alternative 10 = J10 or Q109

This will be resolved immediately whenever the Q, Journalist or 9 is visible. The remaining 9 possibilities contain as many as 6 cases when  therewill be a problem. The most dangerous situation is:

 

 

Kxxx

 

In case 1) East should duck (else he loses a trick); but ducking in case 2) will cost a tempo, an (in a suit contract) maybe even a trick.

 

1.  J10x

2.  Q109

 

Axxx

 

 

1. Qx

2. Jx

 

Because of this and 5 similar situations the above alternative can be classified as very bad.

 

Comparison of alternatives

Having examined three possible alternatives, we can put them in the following order:

1.  AJ10 or Q109  – very good

2.  A109 or Q109  – bad

3.  J10 or Q109  – very bad

This can be clarified further by the  following table:

 

Alternative

Number of honours which

resolve the ambiguity

Frequency of

difficult situations

 

 

AJ10  or  Q109

4 (AQJ9)

0/3 = 0%

 

A109  or  Q109

2 (AQ)

1/9 = 11%

 

J10  or  Q109

3 (Q109)

6/9 = 67%

As you can see, this type of analysis is very time–consuming; there are 74 different alternatives in all, and for each of them 9 different cases (on average) need to be examined.

 

THE COMBINE SYSTEM OF HONOUR LEADS

 

The author has examined all possible alternatives and the result of his analysis in the Combine system of honour leads. In the author's opinion, this system is the optimum one bearing in mind the general assumption.

 

A

=

AK

 

 

K

=

KQ  or  AKJ

 

Q

=

QJ  or  KQ19

 

J

=

J10  or  QJ9  or  AQJ

 

10

=

109  or  AJ10  or  KJ10

 

9

=

A109  or  K109  or  Q109

 

Full sequences (AKQ, KQJ, QJ10) have not been included as they are treated more flexibly:

Lead the middle honour to emphasize possession of the lowest honour

Lead the highest honour when the lowest honour is likely to be irrelevant

For these reasons it may also sometimes be best to lead the top honour from a broken sequence. With a doubleton sequence (AK, KQ, QJ,...) against a suit contract it is best to lead the lower honour, implying possession of a third honour, so that partner will be more likely to return the suit, with the possibility of obtaining a ruff. The Combine system of honour leads is obviously not perfect (such a system does not exist), but compared with other systems of honour leads very few difficult situations arise; the most dangerous is the alternative 9 = A109 or Q109. Four years of playing the Combine system (from autumn 1974) have demonstrated its definite superiority over other systems in terms of clarity and information imparted.

A more detailed description of the Combine system can be found in Part 3.

 

END OF PART ONE


 

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