Play the card you are known to hold

North Deals
Both Vul
J 9 8
9 6 5
K 10 7 5 3
J 3
10 7 4 2
J 8
J 9 8 6
9 7 5

K 6
A 7 4 3 2
A K 8 6 2

A Q 5 3
K Q 10
A Q 2
Q 10 4
 Pass1 1 NT
1 NT by South
Lead:  J

This deal is Board 13 played on June 7, 2016 at South Bend Bridge Club as part of The Common Game.


Because a direct seat 1 NT overcall shows no better than an average 18 HCP hand, this South hand with 19 HCP and few useful tens is too strong to overcall 1 NT. South should make a takeout double, followed by a jump raise of spades or (if North does not respond 1 ) bidding notrump at the cheapest level to show a balanced 19-20 HCP hand.

You don’t need a combined 25 to 26 points to be in 3 NT when you know where most of the opposing high cards are located. Armed with this knowledge and  K10xxx, North should have no hesitation in raising 2 NT to 3 NT.


West leads the  J. East considers ducking to maintain communication, but wins the  A, South dropping the  10. East shifts to a low club which is won in dummy. The  J is led and East ducks smoothly knowing the defense likely can run clubs if allowed to gain the lead, therefore declarer is on a “fishing expedition”. South decides not to finess and goes up with the  A and ends with seven tricks after finessing against West’s  J.

Should declarer have done anything differently?

Declarer should not have been scared of a losing spade finesse. The defense was not going to score more than one spade, one heart, and four clubs if the spade finesse lost. Additionally, the spade finesse on the auction is a favorite and with East appearing to have length in hearts and spades, a singleton or doubleton spade king would not be a surprise. (Note if East has a singleton spade king and you immediately start with a low spade lead from dummy, you can finesse the  9 in dummy on the second spade, resulting in four spade tricks and twelve tricks total!)

But a clear error came on the first trick which was easy to prevent. The  J lead denied the queen which is marked in declarer’s hand, therefore the  Q should be played under East’s ace. This gives East a big problem. If South has correctly played the card known to be held holding  KQ10 as in the given layout, he needs to shift to a club as occurred at the table. BUT – if partner led the  J from  J10x and declarer holds doubleton  KQ, East needs to continue hearts.

By not playing the  Q, the card known to be held, declarer drew the defense a roadmap and gave the defense no chance to go wrong. This eventually made it easy for East to shift to clubs immediately and to later duck the  J lead from dummy knowing declarer was likely in “cash out” mode and fishing for a cover of the spade honor.

Playing the card you are known to hold also occurs frequently on defense. Here is a textbook example of this principle on defense:



Pretend you are declaring 3 NT and you need four fast tricks in this suit. You finesse the jack successfully and cash the ace. West plays low and then the ten. It is now easy to lead to your king knowing the queen will drop.

What would happen if West played the queen, the card he is known to hold, on the second trick? Now you have to consider West may have started with Qx and East 10xxx, which would require you to finesse the 9-spot on the third trick.

This is why playing the card you are known to hold is so important. It often gives an opponent a losing option to consider.

Another defensive opportunity to play a card you are known to hold (or known will not cost you) is to play an honor making it appear you may now be void in a suit, causing declarer to unnecessarily ruff high to prevent a possible overruff.

Bud Hinckley