Here's the original question that inspired this one: It was about whether West should lead a short major instead of a long, weak minor when the opponents failed to find a fit using Stayman. A number of people weighed in with both statistical and experiential analysis of why the long weak suit was (somewhat) better. That result doesn't surprise me.

Even so, does it make sense to lead the spade one or two times out of ten in order to confuse declarers that are accustomed to West's leading long suits? Meaning that a declarer might be led to "finesse" into the East hand or make other misplays? Plus the fact that doubt is then cast on his ability to read West's hand in general.

Making the occasional "suboptimal" play is a staple of poker for "bluffing purposes." (If you are bluffing, you are making an inferior play and hoping to "get away" with it. And if you are "caught," your opponents can't be sure that you are playing "honestly" next time.) Is there anything that stands in the way of doing this in bridge?


2 Answers 2


When you bluff declarer, you are also bluffing your partner.

If you have never had the experience of playing with a partner who usually knows all your cards at trick 3 (or would, assuming you played correctly and opponents bid sensibly), I guess all I can say is that you're missing out.

Normally, you play with your partner much more than you play against any particular declarer, so bluffing causes your partner to misguess much more than it will cause declarer to misguess.

Of course, if declarer is a better player than your partner, then by all means go ahead.

There is also a second problem, which is that if you have any tells (including just playing more slowly because you're thinking about it) that you are bluffing, partner might pick up on them, and that causes partner ethical problems. They will be ethically constrained to play as if your play was an honest play, and possibly even go out of the way to do so.

Let's go back to the hand you linked as an example. If you lead the 6 of spades, then partner would probably assume you either did not have 5 diamonds or you lacked an entry. (If you lead the 4, except in Poland where it is standard to lead low from small doubletons, partner will miscount the hand altogether.) This could easily mean that partner won't lead a heart to you at trick 8 because he or she believes declarer has the ace of hearts (since, at that point, he or she already has count of the diamonds). That is almost as likely to blow a trick (or two!) as failing to set up diamonds. (Of course, partner is only going to misread the hand if declarer started with 15 points rather than 17, so that it is actually possible for declarer to have the A with you having the Q instead.)

In the long run, of course, this just means partner doesn't believe you'll make the best (or agreed upon) play, and he or she will start defending more randomly. If your partner can't make the kind of read I just described, then it matters a lot less (especially if declarer can and so will actually be fooled).


Poker is not a team game; Bridge is. For this reason it is essential that your plays be reliable at all times when partner has any decisions to be made, potentially or actually. The loss in partnership confidence from not adhering to this maxim is far more devastating than any small gain from mixing up your signals like this.

All too often on Defence the Defenders' knowledge is shared asymmetrically through most of the play. In these cases each Defender needs to trust that, if the situation remains unclear, at a minimum Partner's carding can be trusted to be an accurate guide to decision making. Your suggested strategy confounds this fundamental tenet of partnership confidence.

Further, there are complicating ethical questions about the mechanics of playing such a strategy ethically, Partner and opponents are not only both entitled to knowledge of the carding agreement in place, but Partner must be capable of fully explaining it's nuances, frequency, and constraints to the opponents at the table. Any failure to meet these ethical obligations is an ethics violation subject to the most sever penalties.

If you want to know how top players really bluff you could do worse than to look up a few stories by Randy (Racoon) Bennett

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    So we're supposed to make the statistically best move at all times if we can? Wow! You make me feel bad for playing an inferior move, not knowing that it is inferior.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 27, 2015 at 14:41

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