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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players


We love to bid and make nice slams. We love to make a difficult contract. We love to catch the opponents with a penalty double. All three statements seem true though the last has a proviso…that we beat the contract. Why did the defence fail to beat this doubled contract?

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


"Who's afraid of the strong no-trump?"Not many, these days.

The strong no-trump carries a bit more weight (literally!) than its weak relation. So, when South made a reasonable overcall of the 15-17 1NT, showing spades and a minor suit, and East re-opened with a take-out double, West decided to “go for the money”. With many pairs playing 2NT as a Lebensohl bid (i.e. asking partner to bid 3Club-small), West had nothing particularly attractive to bid. The defence had 22-24 hcp. In good Kiwi terminology, “she’ll be right.”

“She” was not. West led the Heart-small7 to South’s ace. South led Club-smallA and a second club with the intention of ruffing some losers in that suit in dummy. East won the second round to lead the Spade-small8. South did not know the lie of the trump suit and ensured one ruff by playing the ace.

After one club ruff, South ruffed a heart, played a diamond to the ace and ruffed another heart. That was 7 tricks in and with Spade-smallQ10 still in hand was able to score one more trump trick to make their doubled contract. What went wrong from the defence’s point of view? How could the contract have been beaten?

The answer lies with West’s hand, with West’s shape. Passing 2Spade-smallx was a risk. Their side had the majority of the high- card points. Only an unusual shape in either declarer’s or dummy’s hand would allow the contract to make.

Trump is best

West should have led a trump. It was not as though West needed to use their trumps for ruffing. Although on some days, an attacking side-suit lead, like a heart here, might shorten declarer’s trumps to an uncomfortable level, the danger of ruffing value in dummy is a real one for the side with the majority of the high-card points. South need only have five spades, leaving room for two in dummy.

An initial trump lead, followed by a second one from East (declarer has no other option but to concede a club) gives the defence, 3 club, 2 diamond and a trump trick…down 1.

There are specific situations where leading a trump is a good idea. One is when the defending side has the majority of the high-card points with dummy potentially providing a source of tricks with ruffs. That was the case here. Would you have led a trump?

Richard Solomon

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