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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

Quick Death, Slow Death or No Death at all?

We are talking bridge, of course! There’s no need to be morbid at this time of year! We are talking about another contract which made when it should have been defeated.

So, to start, we have opening lead quiz. Do not worry if you fail first time (“the quick death”) because you may get a second chance to find the right defence to leave the declarer a trick short (“the slow death.” )

As West, you hold:

Spade-small A65

Heart-small 965

Diamond-small AJ95

Club-small QT9

and hear the following bidding:

West              North               East                South

                        Pass                Pass                2Spade-small

Pass                3Spade-small                   Pass               4Spade-small

All Pass

2Spade-small promises 5 spades, less than opening strength and at least four cards in a minor suit. 3Spade-small from North is not invitational and is a slightly unusual action from a passed hand, no doubt anticipating that East would bid if they,North, passed 2Spade-small. No matter how strange 3Spade-small is, the 4Spade-small raise is even stranger since 3Spade-small was not invitational. Therefore, you can draw the inference that there is something unusual about South’s hand. So, armed with all that information,

what’s your choice of lead?

Before you see all four hands, there are no really bad leads…just two suits which do not work out. When declarer holds spades and a minor, you can anticipate leading a heart is a good idea as you lead through dummy’s implied strength. (Declarer will not hold much in hearts.) That is even true here but you lose a vital tempo and will not beat the contract. Neither will a club lead, probably the least attractive choice of lead. Any trump will administer “the quick death” while any diamond will see a slower one, as long as the suit is continued or a low trump switch found at trick 2.

If South has an unusual shape, they may need to do some ruffing in dummy. So, lead a trump….ideally a low stop South doing so. Watch.

Board 9
North Deals
E-W Vul
Q 8 4
A Q J 4 2
7 4 2
J 4
A 6 5
8 6 5
A J 9 5
Q 10 9
W   E
7 3
K 10 9 7
K Q 10 8 3
K 5
K J 10 9 2
A 8 7 6 3 2
West North East South
  Pass Pass 2 
Pass 3  Pass 4 
All pass      

 The best lead

Had North held four trumps, then there would not be much the defence could do. Yet, with only three trumps, a low trump from West gives South no chance. The lead has to be lost before a club can be ruffed. Even if it is East who wins the lead, they can exit with their remaining trump and West wins to play a third round of the suit. The defence takes a trump, a diamond and two club tricks.

It is usually not optimum to lead the trump ace at trick 1 in such a situation. A low spade allows the defenders to communicate with each other (they can in diamonds, here, but that may not always be the case.) Also, you do not get any applause from your partner when they contribute the trump king singleton under your ace at trick 1. As they say, “been there, done that!”

"Slow death"

At the table, West found the lead of theDiamond-smallA and continued diamonds. Declarer ruffed and ducked a club, needing the suit to break 3-2. A third diamond was played, reducing South’s trumps to a dangerously low level. South then played Club-smallA and a third round of clubs, ruffing in dummy with the Spade-small8. These cards remained:

Q 4
A Q J 4 2
A 6 5
8 6 5
W   E
7 3
K 10 9 7
K J 10
8 7 6

 A Christmas gift to declarer

South had to play a trump off table to the Spade-smallT. West fell from grace by winning and, afraid of giving declarer a ruff and discard, exited a heart. The ace won and the favourable trump break allowed South to draw trumps and claim.

Had West played their last diamond, South has to ruff in dummy to preserve two trumps in hand but can only get off table by ruffing a heart and then has less trumps than West. South must lose one more trick to be one down.

 If West was afraid of giving a ruff and discard, then they should have ducked one round of spades and won the second round. The fourth diamond would have had to be ruffed in the South hand leaving West with the only trump outstanding and the setting trick.

Declarers hate it when their contract fails because they run out of trumps. As defenders, we are taught early on not to give ruff and discards to the declarer. That advice is not always true as the above demonstrates.

“Quickly” (with a trump at trick 1) or “slowly”, the contract should have failed. May you find better defence in 2017 than West did in the above deal.

Richard Solomon





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