HOW NOT TO LOSE TOP TRICKS ON DEFENSE
On Board 14 from the Friday 9/27/13 SBBC game, South declared either 3♥ or 4♥
seven times and twice East-West declared 3♠. Against the heart contracts, the
East-West defenders could have cashed the ace and king of both spades and
diamonds - and yet all seven declarers scored at least ten tricks.
Some potential solutions for the defense are discussed first, followed by
comments on the given auction and other possible auctions.
|♠ ||9 7 5|
|♥ ||10 4 3|
|♦ ||8 7|
|♣ ||A K Q 9 6|
|♠ ||A K Q 3|
|♥ ||9 8 5|
|♦ ||K 5 2|
|♣ ||10 4 3||
|♠ ||J 10 6 2|
|♥ ||J 2|
|♦ ||A 10 9 4 3|
|♣ ||8 2|
|♠ ||8 4|
|♥ ||A K Q 7 6|
|♦ ||Q J 6|
|♣ ||J 7 5|
| || ||Pass||1♥|
For the East-West pairs defending 4♥, not cashing the defense's four top
tricks meant earning one matchpoint instead of a cold top if the heart game had
been set. It appears there was not a shift to diamonds after the first or
second spade was cashed.
How could the East-West defenders signal to ensure holding declarer to nine
tricks by cashing their four tricks before declarer could gain the lead?
When West leads the ♠A, East can play the ♠2 as a discouraging signal. This
discouraging signal implies a tolerance for a shift to a different suit, and
with the club suit threatening in dummy, diamonds is the "obvious shift" suit,
dummy's short and weak suit. West will be tempted to shift to a diamond after
cashing as many spades as possible, but may be concerned his diamond shift from
♦K52 may be into declarer's ♦AQ.
How good should East's diamonds be to discourage spades and imply he can stand
a shift to that suit? Usually, the discouraging signal implies possession of
at least one of the top two unseen honors (♦A or ♦K because there are no
diamond honors in dummy) in the obvious shift suit, although having the third
highest unseen honor (the ♦Q) might be good enough if there is a very
threatening suit in dummy and a shift from partner's hypothetical ♦K is
Perhaps the above sounds complicated, but here is an easy way to summarize this
principle. If you can tell your partner may be tempted to shift to another
suit and you have a useful high honor in that suit, it will usually be right
to make a discouraging signal on partner's opening lead.
At trick 2, West leads the ♠K and East holding a remaining ♠J106 plays the
♠6 as his lowest remaining spade showing count (an odd number of spades).
Since all the lower spades have either been played or can be seen by West, he
is certain the ♠6 is East's lowest remaining spade and East started with four
spades. Since no more spades can be cashed and East implied a high card in the
diamond suit with his initial discouraging signal, West shifts to his lowest
diamond at trick 3 and East wins his ♦A. East leads a diamond back for two
reasons: (1) he knows a third spade will be ruffed by declarer and (2) West
shifted to a LOW diamond, implying desire for a diamond return.
There are other methods that will also solve this potential problem. On the
♠A opening lead, East can play the ♠J, promising the ♠10. West can lead his
low spade at trick 2 and when declarer surprisingly fails to ruff the ♠10, it
will be clear to East to shift to diamonds. From West's perspective, this
defense may be necessary on some deals where declarer's diamond suit is headed
by the ♦AQ.
A third method is to play the opening lead convention of leading the ace
asking for attitude and leading the king asking for count whenever it's
reasonably possible the lead is from a suit headed by the ace and king. If
using this opening lead convention, West can lead the ♠K and East plays the
♠J to show an even number of spades (which must be a four-card suit for the
spade raise). When West cashes the second spade, East can play his ♠10 as a
suit preference signal strongly encouraging a diamond shift.
The auction given occurred at my table, but there are several possible
reasonable auctions. Note that West overcalled on a 4-card suit which is
acceptable because (1) the overcall is at the one-level, (2) the suit is very
good, and (3) the hand is reasonably strong. The disadvantage to overcalling
is possibly finding partner with a doubleton spade and a long minor that
couldn't reasonably be bid after an overcall but could be after a takeout
West also could have made a takeout double of the opening bid as he holds at
least three cards in all the unbid suits. (West would like shorter hearts for
the takeout double, but he has no wasted heart honors and four cards in the
unbid major which are both plusses.)
A third possibility is for West to pass the opening bid, but either doubling
1♥ or overcalling 1♠ is recommended.
After the overcall, North had the option of bidding his clubs or immediately
showing an invitational heart raise with a 2♠ cuebid or 3♥ jump if played as
invitational. Although it usually is best to show the heart support
immediately, North bid 2♣ due to the excellent quality clubs and his heart
support having no high honor. The danger in North bidding 2♣ was seeing East
bid 3♠ before North could show partner his heart support, causing North to
guess whether to bid 4♥ hoping partner held better than a bare minimum opening
On the given auction after the spade overcall and 2♣ response, East has
several options. He could (1) raise to 2♠, (2) raise to 3♠ if played as a
weak bid, or (3) bid 2♦ and later bid 2♠ or 3♠. This last choice allows a
lead directing diamond bid with the spade support, but could backfire if South
jams the bidding with a 4♥ bid and is passed back to East when he hasn't yet
shown his spade support.
An immediate 3♠ raise when played as a weak bid promises four-card or longer
trump support. Not only does this often make life difficult for the opponents,
but it may make any later defense easier for partner knowing the raise was not
on three-card support.
Points To Remember
1. When partner leads a high honor on opening lead and he will be tempted to
shift to another suit, if you hold a high honor in that suit, it usually will
be correct to make a discouraging signal, no matter what your holding is in the
opening led suit.
2. It is usually best during the auction to immediately show trump support for
partner's major. If you decide, however, to bid another suit and delay showing
your trump support, it likely is because your own suit is very strong. Realize
there is a danger the opponents may raise the bidding to a high level, putting
yourself in a potentially awkward position if you have not yet shown trump
support for partner!