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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

THE “MISSING” HEARTS

Have you heard that defence, maybe declarer play, even bidding too, is about “counting”? Right from the time you sort your cards (are you sure you have 13?), you are counting…high card points, declarer’s points, the length of declarer’s suits. The list could continue on….

On the following deal, West had to delve very closely into the heart suit as one slip and the declarer would make his contract. This is the problem that West faced:

Board 16
West Deals
E-W Vul
A 3 2
8 6
J 10 7 4
9 7 5 2
J 8 7 5
Q J 7 2
K 9 5
10 8
 
N
W   E
S
   
West North East South
  Dummy    
Pass Pass Pass 1 
Pass 1  Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All pass  

 

South’s rebid showed 18-19 balanced and did not deny a major. North pushed on to game. West led the Heart-small2 to East’s ace and South’s Heart-small3. East returned the Heart-small5 to South’s Heart-small10 and West’s jack. What should West play at trick 3?

If the Heart-small10 is a true card, then you can play either of your hearts and force out South’s king (if they hold it), setting up your fourth heart as a defensive trick. Easy? Well, just check. Count out that heart suit. You have seen 8 of them, hold two more yourself. There are only three missing, the king, the nine and the four.

Has your partner got the king? Remember, as a defender, you return the original fourth highest card in the suit led by your partner, if you are lucky enough to have held four. So, if East has four or five to the king, they must have held AK95 (4). Yet, on your H2 lead, they played the ace…denying the king. No, the king is with South.

If you are correct to return now Heart-small7, your partner must hold the Heart-small9. Otherwise, you have given declarer an extra heart trick by leading into Heart-smallK9. If East has the Heart-small9, they must have held A954…and yet they returned the Heart-small5, original third highest! If East had held only three hearts including Heart-smallA and Heart-small9, they would return “present count”, the higher of two remaining cards. That did not happen either. You must be very suspicious about the location of the Heart-small9. It really looks like South holds it.

What then Heart-small4? If South held Heart-small4 as well as the already played Heart-small3, they could have played it on the second round, as dummy’s Heart-small8, along with the Heart-small9 which you must suspect is in declarer’s hand, makes a sequence of 3 cards, 8,9,10. There was no need for declarer to play the 10. The H4 would have done...meaning that South have later played Heart-small9 or Heart-small10 later to get a second trick in that suit.

So, take stock. Since declarer is now known to hold HK9, you must not continue the suit. As South could not have started with more than 4 hearts, you know that your partner’s original holding was A54, which ties in with the return of the Heart-small5.

So, what to exit at trick 3? A spade looks relatively safe…and this is what West did. Here are the four hands:

Board 16
West Deals
E-W Vul
A 3 2
8 6
J 10 7 4
9 7 5 2
J 8 7 5
Q J 7 2
K 9 5
10 8
 
N
W   E
S
 
10 6 4
A 5 4
Q 8 3
A 6 4 3
 
K Q 9
K 10 9 3
A 6 2
K Q J
West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 1 
Pass 1  Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All pass  

 

Declarer won the spade in hand and knocked out the Club-smallA. Back came the Heart-small4. South could not make 9 tricks. He had to lose three heart tricks along with one in each minor. Had West played back a lazy heart at trick three, South would have two heart tricks and 9 in all. Counting, counting, counting…..and care. No wonder they say defence is not easy. “They” are most definitely correct.

Richard Solomon

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