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Play, Defence even Bidding for Newer Players


When you are playing in a no-trump contract, it is rarely correct to play all your aces and kings at the start unless you can see you have enough tricks to make your contract. Even then, sometimes, crafty declarers can make extra tricks by giving up a trick in what is not their longest or strongest suit, as long as it does not endanger one’s contract in doing so.

The declarer in the following deal started off on the wrong track and paid a very heavy price for doing so.

South Deals
Both Vul
A 10 5 3 2
K 8 4
A 10 6
9 5
Q 7 4
10 6 5
J 9 8 7
7 6 4
W   E
J 9 8
A Q 2
5 3
Q J 10 3 2
K 6
J 9 7 3
K Q 4 2
A K 8
West North East South
Pass 1  2  2 NT
Pass 3 NT All pass  

 The Bidding

East made a pretty minimum lead directing overcall. South showed a balanced 15-17 balanced hand, with at least one club stop. North raised to game.

West led the Club-small6 (intending to show their partner a 3 card suit by playing Club-small7 next time round) with South playing the king on East’s 10. On some days, the technique of ducking the first club might be a good idea (it is not as though this is a deal where South will make all 13 tricks.) but the winning of the first trick was not declarer’s problem here.

Thinking before playing to trick one


A quick piece of maths would tell South they had two club tricks, three maybe four in diamonds, two in spades and none for sure in hearts. That gives declarer 8 on a good day when diamonds break favourably. The key to the deal is that South has one, just one, more hold in clubs before they would have to lose three maybe four club tricks. There was no immediate danger, therefore, but even if diamonds broke as South wanted, from where could the extra trick come?

The actual play

Our South thought they would play some diamonds, small to the ace, back to the king and then the queen. Even if at that point the suit had broken 3-3, giving South four diamond tricks, the contract could no longer be made. West tried a no cost defensive play of throwing the Diamond-smallJ under the queen. South was not counting too well with West winning the fourth round of diamonds with Diamond-small9. It was now just a case of how many light South would go. Yet, even if South had now played spades instead of the fourth diamond, there was no entry to the dummy hand to enjoy a lucky break in that suit.

Good thoughts

Where you do not have enough top tricks for your contract, and sometimes where you do, you have to give up a trick to make some extra ones. Look at the spade suit here. If one defender has 4 spades headed by both missing honours or one honour and the 9, and East has Heart-smallAQ, then do not buy a Lotto ticket. It is not your lucky day! (Remember, though, playing Pairs, that the same bad break will occur at other tables too. It is not just your bad luck!)

However, reasonably often, you get a 3-3 spade break, or the QJ falls doubleton, and then by giving up one spade trick, you can make two more.

In your planning, you have to realise that the only way for certain that South can get to those spade tricks you will try to set up, is via the Diamond-smallA. So do not play that card at trick 2. Note also, that because of East's overcall, it is very likely that East holds the Heart-smallA and even the the Heart-smallQ making it unlikely that the heart suit will provide a quick ninth trick. 

How the play should have gone

Win the club and play three rounds of spades, the third won by West who continues clubs. You win, cross to the Diamond-smallA and play two more rounds of spades, throwing hearts from your hand. Now play Diamond-smallKQ but you have to lose the last three tricks to East, with Heart-smallA and two high clubs. No overtricks but a solid average score for making your contract.

Lose one trick while you can to win two extra ones.

Richard Solomon



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