HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

Life in Chiang Mai

Let's Go To The Movies


Bridge in Paradise

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

High maintenance bodies

As we get older, there are many physical changes that occur. I was reminded of this by one of the wags at the informal Gentlemen’s Club I attend on Saturday mornings, who said, “You know you’re getting old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes - and you’re barefoot!”
Yes, as your body’s skin gets older, it starts to show it. It becomes less elastic, folds start to form everywhere, it gets thinner and tears easily, and small bruises form just below the top layer. Women try and counteract this aging process with all kinds of creams, but quite frankly, I think they are wasting their (husbands?) money. You can rub ‘moisturizing’ cream into the skin as much as you like, it will remain impervious to water (otherwise you would get waterlogged having a shower, wouldn’t you). No, ‘moisturizers’ work as well as ‘vanishing’ cream dies when rubbed into the pregnant single girl’s swelling belly. A remedy tried many times and failed just as often.
Unfortunately, as we get older, this body of ours tends to become a very high maintenance item. Unless we have medically planned for our future, we (that’s you), will find that it becomes an expensive item.
Take for example, your weight. Eating is fun and pleasurable, but too much of the good thing and you become overweight. When you are 30 or 40 you can joke about the beer belly, but when you are 50 and 60 and you have become diabetic and your arteries are blocked, you are in for some expensive medications for the rest of your life, some life saving cardiac surgery and you may even need to have your lower leg amputated, so throw in the price of a wheelchair into the final package.
Another item that we watch changing as we get older is our blood pressure. The old adage used to be that your blood pressure should be your own age plus 100. Like many old adages, that was total nonsense too. A 60 year old man should not ignore a BP (systolic) of 160. The cardiologists and the kidney specialists will tell you that you should maintain your BP at around 125/70 for all your life if you don’t want to have cardiac and renal problems as you get on in years.
One other aging factor that we should look out for is cancer. We know the majority of cancers develop as we get older. Should you wait for them to come, and then try to stop the progression? Stopping the cancer with expensive surgery and even more expensive chemotherapy, or stop putting ourselves ‘at risk’ in our younger years? This ‘at risk’ behavior means smoking, of course. Not just for lung cancer, but for all cancers. The expensive habit of a lifetime becomes a very expensive end of your lifetime. Why do it? It makes no sense at all. There is no ‘justification’, I’m sorry.
Unfortunately, our bodies are very much like our cars. If you look after your transport, have it regularly serviced, replace the bits that are wearing out before they totally fail and then damage the rest of the car, then your vehicle will last for many years and give very close to ‘as new’ performance for as long as you keep it. The costs involved in that preventive maintenance are very low compared to having to replace major parts.
Using that analogy on your body, if you look after it, it can also give you good service. Preventive maintenance by having regular check-ups makes sense. Look for the warning signs and correct the problems. You can even screen for ‘cancer markers’ such as alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP), Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), Prostate specific antigen (PSA), Pap smears and colonoscopies. If you are a young woman you can even immunize against Human Papilloma Virus.
However, some of the main items are easy to monitor such as weight (your own bathroom scales will give you ‘free’ readings) and Blood Pressure monitoring can be done at the Bangkok Hospital Pattaya’s check-up booth on the first floor of the Royal Garden Plaza (and that’s also free).
Isn’t it time you gave your body the once-over?


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

Dear Hillary,
Here’s a different question for you this week. I haven’t been ripped off, lost gold chains or motorbikes, haven’t thrown parties in the village that everyone attends, including the village buffaloes (though I think sometimes that the families look upon us as the buffaloes, while the daughters look at us as the ATMs). It’s nothing like that, it’s a question about car hire. I hope you can steer me in the right direction. My (current) girl wants to go upcountry again and tells me that her cousin has a car I can rent, and how he will give us (me) a good deal. How do I tell if it is a good deal or not?
Harry the Hire

Dear Harry the Hire,
I wish every question was as easy to answer as yours, Petal. There is only one really important factor in hiring in Thailand, and that is that the vehicle has to be fully insured - as a rental car. Some people will tell you that the vehicle has insurance, but it is only for the owner as the driver. There are also problems with damages to other cars, third party property and so on, as well as damage/death cover. Most of these small hirers will also want to keep your passport as security. At your own risk, my Petal!
While the cousin might have a fairly new vehicle, you need to unscramble the insurance queries, which can be hard when your negotiator is his cousin! Who may also be getting a backhander for her trouble! There is only one safe way, and that is to rent from a large reputable firm that can show and explain their insurance policy. There are the international majors and some local ones. Your expat clubs can advise on who they are. Don’t hire from somebody’s relative, or from the side of the road.

Dear Hillary,
My wife’s mother is coming down from the up-country village, to spend a few days with us. I have not seen her since we got married and I was wondering what I should call her? “Mum” sounds pretty silly to me, as I am older than she is. What do you suggest I should call her to be polite? I really don’t want to offend. Another problem is she doesn’t speak English and my Thai is almost non-existent.

Dear In-law,
This is the easiest one I’ve had all year, Petal. You ask your wife! Like all Thai wives, she will know what is best. About everything! Relax. Really all that will be expected is that you give her a wai and take it from there.

Dear Hillary,
You seem to have the answers for most things, so I hope you can help, as you have your feet on the ground in Thailand, while I am in the US. This may find this a strange request, but I am a retired American interested in Buddhism and wondered if it would be possible that on my next holiday to Thailand I could join a monastery. I would only have two weeks but imagine that in that time I could at least get the basics of Buddhism. Is this possible? I don’t mind where in Thailand that I would go as I am interested in the study, not the geography or tourism side. I have always been impressed watching the orange robes going along the streets with their begging bowls in the mornings.

Dear Herbert,
There is no such thing as “strange requests” in Hillary’s letter box these days! I think I’ve seen them all. Now, to yours. If you want to understand the basics of Buddhism, you have to start long before you get on the plane to come to Thailand. You are certainly not going to pick it up in two weeks in a Thai speaking monastery, unless you have perfect Thai. To begin with, have you looked to see if there is a Buddhist temple in your region in the US? Discussions with the monks there will assist you in your quest. Monks in America can generally all speak English, while in the temples here, they naturally speak Thai and you would be lucky to find someone fluent in your language.
I would recommend that you get the following books before going much further, “Buddhism Explained” (ISBN 974-7047-28-4) by Khantipalo Bhikkhu, “Phra Farang, An English Monk in Thailand”, by Phra Peter Pannapadipo, (ISBN 974-202-019-1) and “The Good Life. A guide to Buddhism for the Westerner” by Gerald Roscoe, (ISBN 974-8206-56-4). Read these before ordering the saffron robes, Petal.

Dear Hillary,
So you got another of those stupid letters from the Mistersingha person. Why do you keep printing them? The only person who is impressed with them is himself. I can see he is a nuisance to you, so just don’t print and he’ll stop. Or do you need him to fill the space?
Sam the spaceman

Dear Sam the spaceman,
Yes, Sam, there are some days that there is a little space to be filled and Mistersingha does it nicely. There are, however, many of his epistles that don’t make it to the printed page, don’t worry. Hillary can take care of herself, but your kind thoughts are appreciated. I’ll let you know if I need a ‘contract’ taken out.

Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

Differences between sharp and soft

Two common words in photography are ‘sharp’ and ‘soft’, and photographically speaking there is an enormous difference between them. Those terms are the ones reserved for describing whether the final image is well focused. We speak about ‘sharp’ focus and ‘soft’ focus and everyone knows what is meant.
While ‘soft’ focus is not all that difficult to end up with, and you can buy after-market filters to do this, ‘sharp’ focus is a lot more difficult to attain, so I thought it might be worthwhile looking at what you have to do to get pin-sharp photographs.
Forgetting all about Auto-Focus (AF) problems and camera shake for the moment, the deciding factor on whether or not you get sharp pictures will depend upon the quality of the optics in the lenses you use. Unfortunately quality costs money - like most consumer items. “You get what you pay for” works in photography just the same as it does anywhere else!
I came across this fundamental truth when I was becoming despondent with the sharpness of my final prints many years ago. Even putting the camera on a tripod had not helped. Asking around in my photographer acquaintances led to my being loaned a very battered and well used journalist’s Nikon FM2N, with Nikon lens.
I took the “old” camera away and shot a roll of film. Off to the darkroom and guess what? Every one as sharp as a tack. I had learned an important lesson and went out and purchased some second hand Nikon equipment, and have never regretted it since. In fact, old FM2N Nikons were still part of my camera equipment till very recently.
So what was the difference? Well, the end result will always rely on super sharp optics in the lens department. If they are not spot on, neither will your photos be spot on. The actual exposures are close enough for just about any camera these days with the latitude in the films being so wide, so the other differences now will come down to ease of use, or user friendliness. Simple mechanical cameras, like the FM2, have simple operations too. These new electronic cameras with their “menus” and other operations I do not consider to be as user friendly. It is easier to push a lever, surely. However, perhaps it might just be that I am resistant to change!
The important lesson from all that is that to get good results you need a camera that has good optics. There are plenty on the market these days, and although the Nikon brand may be my favorite, there are other manufacturers which have equally as good quality glass at the front. Unfortunately, the results from these great cameras can become poor if you put a cheap “after market” lens on it. Good lenses are expensive, but the end result is always worth it.
Having mentioned AF problems earlier, a few words on this again. While AF is now almost 100 percent universal, it still is not 100 percent foolproof. One of the reasons for this is quite simple. The camera’s magic eye doesn’t know exactly what subject(s) you want to be in focus and picked the wrong one! The focussing area for the AF system is a small circle or square in the middle of the viewfinder, so if you are taking a picture of two people two metres away, the camera may just focus on the trees in the far distance that it can see between your two subjects. Those trees are two km away, so you get back a print with the background sharp and the two people in the foreground as soft fuzzy blobs. The fix is to focus on one person, use the ‘focus lock’ and recompose the picture.
Finally - camera shake. Cameras are supposed to be operated with two hands, not one. The practice of holding the camera in one hand and raising one, two and three fingers on the other can only lead to camera shake. Don’t do it. If you must tell your subjects that you are about to trip the shutter, do it by saying the words “one, two, three” - not by waving your fingers in the air.

Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

Does your pilot have a parachute?

For many investors 2008 was a year they would like to forget in a hurry. But with 2009 bringing continuing uncertainty in the banking and investment sectors, those with hard-earned savings in funds which have had their value decimated are wondering, “Should I bail out? And where is my parachute?”

Falling value of investment 1929-1932

It is one of the ironies of our times that when we see the world in what could be the deepest recession in recorded history, the investment marketing industry seems to be booming.
Ironic, but perhaps not so surprising.
If the lifetime savings you invested in what appeared to be ‘blue chip’ solid investment funds now seem to be far less likely to support you through your retirement, then seeking advice on how to handle this makes sense.
But there are clear signs that this recession has a different quality to many others we have experienced before. This is the reality that world economists, bankers, politicians and ordinary people are all struggling to come to grips with.
If your portfolio has been hammered by the markets in the last six months, what should you do? Does it make sense to wait it out? Surely the market will correct itself?
How do you repair your portfolio?
In our opinion, waiting it out and doing nothing could be possibly the worst option you could follow.
Last year, funds which retained their discipline in maintaining a truly balanced and diversified portfolio, and actively managed their positions, avoided much of the losses suffered by others and significantly outperformed the market indexes. Active portfolio and asset management does not mean the investor should throw away a long term investment strategy. But the best strategy is to remain diversified and balanced, while retaining the flexibility to move actively within this framework.
So just how do you repair your portfolio?
The first step is to look honestly at how you got to this position. Did you receive the right advice? Did you understand the nature of the investments and the risks attached to these? Are you satisfied with how your advisor and funds have performed?
Then research the commentators and analysts who saw the turn coming and consequently dodged the bullets. People like Marc Faber of the ‘Doom, Boom & Gloom Report’, ‘Black Swan’ author Nassim Taleb, NYU Professor, Nouriel Roubini, and the portfolio managers we use, Martin Gray and Scott Campbell.
Next, take a look at your portfolio as if you have never seen it before. Forget past performance and ask yourself, “If I was starting out today with a clean sheet, would I buy equities? Is it a good time to buy commodities? Bonds? Are there more compelling opportunities in venture capital?”
Selling at a loss may feel like admitting to a mistake, but we don’t know a problem that got better by ignoring it. There’s no shame in admitting you may have made a mistake in your past choices. In our experience, people who acknowledge mistakes are far less likely to repeat them.
One of the most successful portfolio managers in Asia, Martin Gray said it all in a recent interview.
“You have to be prepared to admit that you made a mistake and get out… the themes that I am following are on a 1-3 year basis. Some may be shorter term than that, but I am not a trader. At the same time, we’re not wedded to any particular benchmark or asset allocation model or sector. I roam where I can get the best return for the fund.”
Certainly in the past it has paid to admit your mistakes - when stock markets have fallen for one year, they have tended to experience multi year falls. Since the inception of the S&P Index there has only been one major (i.e. in excess of 20%) single year correction - 1937. Every other major calendar year drop has been part of a protracted sequence. If 2008 turns out to be a single year correction, it would be the largest ever recorded. Historic precedent for this situation indicates 3 more years of pain and the losses of 2008 may be less than half way down to the bottom.
No one can control the economic world we live in, but you can control how you respond to it, and make investment decisions that are relevant to the changes currently underway.
There is no doubt that the change we are experiencing at the moment brings with it opportunities for optimizing returns. The trick is to be brave enough and flexible enough to think beyond your past decisions, and perhaps beyond your past advisors, to take positions which reflect the new realities of the market.
This is why we favour active portfolio repair in 2009!

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on [email protected]

Life in Chiang Mai: by Mark Whitman

Ships, I see no ships

And the audacious wonder and ambition of Benjamin B.

Is Thailand in general and Chiang Mai in particular intent on social, political and economic suicide? I ask this, having learned enough over the years about the Thai psyche and culture to know that any answer is likely to be an oblique one. One does not state the obvious – toujours la politesse and all that. Are you hungry? Nit noi. How’s business? Not too bad. How’s your mother? Getting better.
But even I have to say that a fuller response is needed to the suggestion that the Thai economy is not in trouble. The Nation this week boasted a headline stating: ‘BOT says there will be no depression in Thailand’. There we have it folks, the opinion from THE Bank that all is well. Despite the long term ‘optimism’ that, at best, the worst is still to come in the U.S.A. (and therefore in the rest of the world), Thailand will ride the storm.
I know that tourism accounts for little over 6 per cent of national income, but please, BOT, don’t peddle your notion to the owners of empty hotels. Listen to them at the recent SKÅL dinner in Chiang Mai instead. Don’t express your opinion to laid-off workers or exporters facing a huge drop in orders. Rather, face up to the facts for a change, as the new Prime Minister seems to be doing, despite the opposition he receives.
I have a relative who predicted – anticipated – the global downturn months before the so-called economists. She saw what the bankers refused to acknowledge and, when told that the Armada was close, she had seen it long before on the horizon. Ignoring the present crisis in Thailand will not make it go away. For once Thailand has to forget mai pen rai and attempt a solution, which can only come from unity. Divisiveness is no long an option.
Meanwhile up here in the ‘Rose of the North,’ it seems we also prefer to ignore the obvious: the smell of burning and the stench of rancid opinions. Even when tourists and residents are exiting because of the grey smog which hides the mountains and the national and international press is full of negative stories about the halting of the gay pride event, complacency seems the order of the day. Want a further fall in tumbling numbers of visitors and a collapse in the city’s credibility? No problem, just stoke the fires in the hills and fan the hatred which will isolate us from the rest of the Kingdom. There really is no room for complacency or arrogance from any sector of the administration or any political group.
The fires need dampening, the exhausts of the red busses need cleaning, plans for public transport need to be in place and restrictions on cars need to be placed (odd numbers on odd days, even on even dates?). The same goes for restrictions on ad hoc demonstrations. Feeble gestures such as spraying water into the air near the moat or bridges are risible, just as deploying a few police at strategic points to deal with protestors was also inadequate. Faced with a moral and economic crisis, which is what faces Thailand now, there is simply no option other than an acceptance of the situation, rather than the archetypal response of hoping that an unpleasant truth need not be acknowledged and that it may just disappear on its own.
Like all movie enthusiasts and critics, I sometimes disagree with the views of others – including my colleague on the newspaper. He is often rather kinder to films than I would be, (Defiance and Australia are two recent cases). So when I read him being uncharacteristically harsh about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I felt more than a need to disagree. Rather, the necessity to ‘right’ a wrong and leap to the defense of one of the most ambitious and extraordinary works to emerge out of Hollywood in decades.
Please note that I am choosing my words with care. I do not claim that Fincher’s is a movie masterpiece. It has its longeurs. Its ambition exceeds its reach, partly thanks to the screenplay rather than the direction. It is a technical marvel, rather than a profound work of art. But with it, its director has moved up to the heady realms inhabited by Paul Thomas Anderson and very few other Hollywood film makers, those whose work transcends the banal mechanics of theatrical adaptations and the all too obvious but modest talents of people like Danny Boyle.
Benjamin Button is that rarest of movies in that it dares to confront the very things which we find uncomfortable and in them finds a perverse beauty and humanity. The premise, adapted and updated from a fine short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is of a baby born as an octogenarian and working his way backwards towards death, during the period from the final day of World War 1 to the onset of Hurricane Katrina. There is no space here to detail the complexity of the ‘story’ on which hangs so many themes.
Above all it deals with the inevitably of death, in a profoundly moving way (if you have tears prepare to shed them five minutes before the end of the movie – I defy a compassionate viewer not to). It also confronts the whole notion of impermanence, the transitory nature of our existence. It is about love and beauty, hatred and ugliness, illness and old age, tenderness and familial ties. The film is a painterly one and a work of considerable poetic imagination and is prepared to be leisurely, almost meandering, in its exposition. That it is stunning to look at and often to listen to has been widely accepted. That the photography, art direction and make up are works of wizardry goes without question. Many films can boast such qualities. What Fincher and most members of his cast achieve is a flight of imagination that dazzles us. So much cinema today is earthbound, even when it crashes around in helicopters and space. Not since There Will Be Blood and some of the best works by Coppola has a director contributed moments of such genuine passion and originality to the Hollywood screen. See it on the big screen and you won’t regret it.

Let's Go To The Movies: : Mark Gernpy

Now playing in Chiang Mai
Revolutionary Road:
US/ UK, Drama/ Romance – A brilliant 2-character drama set in the 50’s with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes.  In other words, just brilliant!  I loved it.  However, it’s done about a badly as it possibly could at the box office here in Thailand – probably because it’s mostly talk and no “action.”  But what great talk!  Between two superb actors at the top of their form, together again for the first time since their legendary performances as the Titanic’s doomed lovers.  It’s a real pleasure to watch them interact on the screen in this story of a couple who live America’s dream suburban life, and find that it’s truly a nightmare that’s destroying everything about themselves they once held dear.  I highly recommend this film, and urge you to see it quickly before it disappears.  Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity.  Generally favorable reviews.
US Action/ Sci-Fi – On the opposite end of the scale from the above, this is full-bodied Sci-Fi escapism that should satisfy your cravings for both action and Norse mythology in one fell swoop.  Mixed or average reviews.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li:
Canada/ India/ US/ Japan, Action/ Sci-Fi – From the popular series of “Street Fighter” video games.  Undercover Interpol agent and female fighter Chun-Li seeks justice for her murdered father.  Some location shooting in Bangkok.
US/ Germany, Drama/ History/ Thriller/ War – This has a really very good script; it’s intelligent, makes sense, the dialogue is terse and expressive, the plotting is very solid, and it’s tense and exciting.  One of the better scripts in recent memory, about the near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers in 1944, starring a restrained and excellent Tom Cruise.  A well-crafted, thinking-person’s action movie.  It is also a project that takes its research seriously, and has gone to great lengths to insure the accuracy of what is portrayed.  Wherever possible, they used the original locations.  For many reasons, I think it’s a movie to be seen.  Highly recommended.  Mixed or average reviews.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
US Drama/ Fantasy/ Romance – Received Oscars for best art direction – the sense of time and place, and the attention to the details of the period settings were mind-boggling; for best makeup – which indeed was wizardry; and for best achievement in visual effects – richly deserved.  Very much worth seeing for these marvels of filmmaking art.  Generally favorable reviews.
US Action/ Thriller. The deadly world of “psychic espionage” where artificially enhanced paranormal operatives have the ability to move objects with their minds, see the future, create new realities, and kill without ever touching their victims.  Extraordinarily convoluted and confusing, but very stylish and with great visual design. Generally negative reviews.
Confessions of a Shopaholic:
US Comedy. The most ill-timed and appallingly insulting movie in recent memory as the economy continues to swallow up livelihoods, homes, and hope – and this ditz shops!
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans:
US Action/ Fantasy/ Horror – I thought this quite good of its kind, and for the most part an amusing and enjoyable foray into a mythic medieval world.  Rated R in the US for bloody violence and some sexuality. Mixed or average reviews.
Scheduled for Mar 5
US Animation/ Comedy/ Family – John Travolta voices Bolt, a canine TV star convinced of his superpowers who sets out on a cross-country journey to find his owner.  Generally favorable reviews.
US/ UK/ Canada – Action/ Drama/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society.  Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language.  Early reviews: Generally favorable.
Best in Time: 
Thai Romance/ Drama – Romantic drama centers on a young vet who struggles to forget his first love, but when he meets her again years later she doesn’t seem to remember him at all.  A love story by the director of Iron Ladies and Metrosexual.
Power Kids: 
Thai Action/ Comedy – Five ass-kicking kids fight it out with a terrorist attempting to seize control of a hospital.
In Limbo
Slumdog Millionaire
: US/UK Crime/ Drama/ Romance – The Oscar best picture and best director – and six other “best” awards.  At the present time not to be shown in Chiang Mai; playing at only one cinema in the whole of Thailand!  The Apex in Bangkok.  But we can hope!
Other Oscar films we won’t see:
Milk, Doubt, The Wrestler, The Reader, Frost/Nixon. I urge you to write the movie chains some messages!  Go to their websites: For Vista: and click on the comment link at the bottom of the item about Slumdog Millionaire.  For Major Cineplex go to and navigate to “Contact Us.”


Grow your own Pineapples

There is a famous painting showing Charles the 2nd of England being presented with the first ever pineapple grown in that country by the proud and humble gardener kneeling before him. The problem of staving off the winter cold had been solved by growing the pineapple’s crown in a simple glasshouse heated by rotting compost in an adjacent but connected pot!
Did you know that the crown of every pineapple is a complete plant in itself which will grow roots if you cut it off and place it in water or damp soil? This process is easy here in Chiang Mai, where we don’t have to ward off the cold.
What attractive plants they are, too, making a handsome rosette or well-armed leaves with saw-like edges. Take care not to damage the leaves as they grow longer, and not to be damaged yourself by their sharp defences! Plant them in a pot which can be placed well out of harm’s way, or in a border surrounded by creeping ground-cover plants. This will stop you having to weed around your pineapple plants. A painful experience!
This plant makes a handsome ‘full-stop’ at the end of a border, or are great in pairs at the beginning of a pathway or walkway, or even in pots at the base of a stairway.
They will collect rainwater at the base of their leaves and in the centre of the plant, where a flower stem will eventually emerge. This produces a decorative pineapple, making the plant’s appearance highly ornamental. Also, some varieties have leaves which turn an attractive orange-brown colour.
You may have room to grow one on your window-sill or balcony – at least while it is still small, as the plant loves full sun.

Tip of the Week
Troubled by mosquitoes? Check that you don’t have a bronchaid plant nearby, with its water stored in its centre. Hence these varieties’ common mane of ‘vase plant’ as they harbour mosquito nymphs!

Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

The last two columns have been examples of when is it right to lead a trump as the opening lead. The number one good reason for leading a trump is to cut down dummy’s ruffing power when dummy is short in one of declarer’s long suits. Another good reason is when your side holds long high trumps in one of the defender’s hands. A third good reason to consider leading a trump is when the other side is sacrificing. The reason is the same as number one: declarer is probably counting on ruffing in dummy to reduce losses. Leading a trump obviously does not work if both dummy and declarer have long trump suits, because then it is impossible to pull dummy’s trumps. So, it is only a good lead when you think from the bidding that dummy has comparatively few trumps. Take this example, with South dealing and only E-W vulnerable:

East                   South                 West            North
                            3C                       Dbl                5C
Dbl                      All pass                                  

The full deal is shown below:
                            S: 862
                            H: A10863
                            D: 43C: 862          
S: AJ75                                             S: KQ109
H: QJ75                                             H: K92D: AJ5
D: KQ107                                          D: AJ5
C: 4                                                  C: K53
                            S: 43
                            H: 4
                            D: 9862
                            C: AQJ1097 

E-W can make four spades, and would score 620 if N-S had not sacrificed. Getting N-S down three doubled for 500 points is not enough. The defence must get them down four, for 800 points, to make a profit. At Table 1, West makes the “obvious” lead of the diamond king and then switches to a trump after seeing dummy. Declarer will win and lead another diamond. Assume East wins and leads another trump (nothing is better at this stage). Declarer takes eight tricks – six clubs, the ace of hearts and a diamond ruff. Down only three, for a profitable non-vulnerable sacrifice by N-S.
At Table 2, West listens to the bidding and knows from the 3C bid that South has the length in trumps. He hopes that North’s trumps are much shorter, so he leads his singleton. Declarer wins and leads diamonds to try for a ruff on board. Each time East wins the trick and leads back another trump. Declarer never gets a ruff on board and can only take seven tricks. The trump opening lead causes the contract to go down four doubled, for 800 points and a nice profit for East-West. Please send me your interesting hands at: [email protected]