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DEFENSIVE SIGNALS ON OPENING LEAD
WHAT TO PLAY WITH ALL SMALL CARDS ON AN ACE LEAD

Assuming standard defensive carding, if partner's opening lead is an ace (or king) from a suit like AKxxx, then playing low discourages a continuation and playing high encourages a continuation.

Less commonly known is choosing to play your second highest spot card (planning on playing the high spot card next so partner doesn't think he can give you a third round ruff) if (1) you feel it's important for partner to cash a second trick in the suit or (2) you have no help in a suit to which partner might want to shift.

East Deals
None Vul
K 9 8 6 4 3
J 4 2
9 8
K 5
A K 8 6 3
K 10 7 4 3 2
J 4
N
W E
S
West North East South
    Pass 1
21 4 Pass Pass
Pass      
  1. Michaels (at least 5-5 with hearts and an unknown minor)
4 by South
Trick Lead 2nd 3rd 4th
1. W A 2 7 5
2. W ?      

The diagram above is from Board 8 of the May 14, 2014 ACBL International Fund Game played at SBBC. Although some players would have bid 5 in the balance, many allowed 4 to be the final contract and we will focus on beating 4. You lead the A with partner playing the 7 and declarer the 5. What should you lead to trick 2?

The first two tricks are often vital to the defense and you need to glean as much information from the auction and the cards you just saw played.

Here is the information that will help you decide what to lead to trick 2:

1. Looking carefully at the heart spots, you see the 7 is partner's lowest heart (all smaller hearts are visible).

2. You realize the 7 is unlikely to be a singleton since partner with at least ten minor suit cards would often bid 4NT to ask you to bid your minor. Therefore, partner holds either 1097 or Q7.

3. You notice the J is in dummy so partner might choose to play the Q with Q7 (the Q usually is a singleton or shows the J). So partner's most likely heart holding is 1097.

4. You realize partner has no more than three hearts, so a second heart trick will cash - declarer won't be ruffing the second heart.

5. You realize if you cash the K, the Q is likely to drop out of declarer's hand and the J in dummy will be able to pitch one of declarer's losers.

6. IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE! You realize if partner holds 1097 he has played his lowest heart (discouraging) which implies he has help in one or both minors - especially diamonds if partner knows your minor. Partner often can tell which minor you hold. If partner could not stand you making a dangerous minor suit shift, he should play the 9 (appears encouraging at the moment) and when you cash the K, he will play the 10 so you will know he can't ruff the third heart.

7. If partner holds Qxx and declarer holds Ax, you must shift to a low diamond NOW before the J discards declarer's diamond loser.

8. If partner has the AQ behind dummy's K, you will have time later to lead a club.

So what should you lead to trick 2? Because partner's lowest heart encourages a shift, you lead a diamond, hoping to set up a diamond trick before the J becomes a discard for one of declarer's diamond losers. As can be seen in the diagram below, the diamond shift at trick 2 was vital to set 4. Partner should play the 9, planning on following with the 10, with a hand that cannot stand you making a dangerous shift.

East Deals
None Vul
K 9 8 6 4 3
J 4 2
9 8
K 5
A K 8 6 3
K 10 7 4 3 2
J 4
N
W E
S
Q 7
10 9 7
Q J 5
A 9 8 6 3
A J 10 5 2
Q 5
A 6
Q 10 7 2
West North East South
    Pass 1
2 Pass Pass Pass
4 by South

If you had shifted to a diamond at trick 2, you would have been the only one to set the spade game.

Points To Remember

1. Holding a poor hand with three or more small cards in a suit which partner leads an honor from a likely sequence, it is often correct to play a middle card to make it look encouraging, later playing a higher card, to prevent partner from making a costly dangerous shift.

2. If you are an opening leader with a good hand and can tell partner holds a poor hand, realize if a high spot card is played on your honor lead, it may be only to stop you from making a dangerous shift.

3. Watch those spot cards! A spot card that initially looks high can still be low if you've seen all of the lower spots.

Bud Hinckley
budh9534@gmail.com

     
 
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