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GAINING AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE ON DEFENSE

Tim DeLaney frequently helped me by proofreading nearly all of my Hand of the Month articles. He will be greatly missed as my friend and frequent bridge partner.

West Deals
E-W Vul
Q 9 6
K Q 9 4
K Q 10 9 4
2
J 5 3
A 8 7
3
A Q J 8 5 3
N
W E
S
West North East South
1  Dbl Pass 4 
All pass      
4  by South
Lead:  3

The deal above is based on Board 16 from the December 20, 2014 Saturday Holiday party at South Bend Bridge Club.

Auction

North has the option to overcall 1  or make a takeout double. Since takeout doubles don't require four cards in the unbid majors (three cards are acceptable, but no less), the takeout double is a reasonable choice. After doubling with this minimum, North leaves everything to partner. Additionally, North must not bid diamonds next, lest partner will think he holds a huge hand that was too strong to overcall 1 .

South could have made a 2  cuebid to ask North for a four-card major, so there is a mild inference South has at least five hearts.

Defense

You are West and lead your singleton  3 to the 9, partner's jack, and declarer's ace. He continues with the  J and you win the ace as partner plays the deuce. What do you lead to trick 3?

You are playing matchpoints, but let's pretend you are using imp scoring where defeating the contract is your main goal and giving up an unnecessary overtrick will not matter much. What is your best chance to set the heart game?

If you can put partner on lead with either the  A or the  K, he can give you a diamond ruff to set the contract. But which black suit should you try? The auction tells you he cannot hold both of those cards (otherwise declarer could not force to game) and he might hold neither of them if the  K is his only high honor card in his hand.

When partner is not able to help you make a decision (his  2 is likely the only heart in his hand so you can't even consider that play to be a fancy suit preference signal), it is generally better to play partner for a king rather than an ace, since you know he has a fairly weak hand. Therefore, your best chance to set the heart game is to underlead your clubs to partner's hypothetical king so you can ruff a diamond to set the contract.

Note if declarer has five hearts and the  K, he will score at least 11 total tricks (four hearts, five diamonds, and one club) and 12 tricks if he also holds the  A. In both cases, the defense could have cashed aces to hold it to one trick less.

If playing imp scoring, did you make an error by risking underleading your clubs?

No. But you made a critical error before you ever reached this trick 3 decision. What if you DUCKED the first trump and took the second trump? Now partner may be able to make a revealing discard to show or deny a club king possible entry. After a discouraging club signal, that will stop you from making the unfortunate low club switch and you will try a spade instead.

Here is the full deal:

West Deals
E-W Vul
Q 9 6
K Q 9 4
K Q 10 9 4
2
J 5 3
A 8 7
3
A Q J 8 5 3
N
W E
S
A 10 8 7 4
2
J 8 6 2
9 7 6
K 2
J 10 6 5 3
A 7 5
K 10 4
4  by South
Lead:  3

If you take the second trump lead and watch partner's signal closely (an encouraging high spade), you'll switch to spades and set the contract if he has the  A. If his spades are headed by the  K10, then you prevent declarer from making an overtrick, which is very important at matchpoints.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

1. Ducking an ace to allow partner to give you a helpful signal is an important tool. It also occurs during notrump contracts when you hold the ace of dummy's long suit, even if dummy has a sure side entry. Sometimes it is unclear after the first trick if you should continue leading the opening led suit or to try a different suit when you next gain the lead. Partner's first discard is often a vital clue to help you when you win your ace.

2. If it appears partner's opening lead is a singleton, your plays should try as much as possible to tell partner where a possible entry is located in your hand.

TIPS FOR ADVANCED PLAYERS

East can tell the  3 is a singleton lead if the partnership would not lead low from  753 by looking at all the spot cards.

If you are East and dummy plays the  9, should you NORMALLY play the  J? Absolutely not! There is no reason at all to play the  J to help your side gain a diamond trick on defense. You might even convince declarer that it is YOU with the diamond singleton and that partner led a diamond away from the  J.

Because of this, if you DO play the  J when you and partner both know you normally should NOT play the  J, there is good reason to take that play as a suit preference signal for spades in preference to clubs. Yes, this is very subtle and partner may not pick up on the inference, but if you are convinced declarer does not hold the singleton  A, it cannot cost you to play the  J on opening lead and hope partner takes the correct inference!

Sometimes you are dealt Ax of trumps instead of Axx and then you cannot afford to duck the first trump and need to glean as much information as you can from partner up to that point!

Bud Hinckley
budh9534@gmail.com

     
 
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