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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

Take advantage when the sun shines

You should take great care in the way you play any board as a declarer, watching out ahead for the dangers, doing what you can to minimise them. Yet, there are times when a touch of optimism is required, especially when Pairs is the game as those overtricks really do count.

Let’s look at the way one declarer tackled the following board. He made his contract but was left to exclaim at the end of the board how he could have made an extra trick. One extra trick? No, an extra three tricks , to be more precise.

North Deals
None Vul
K J 2
A 8 3 2
K Q 7 6 3
10 9 4 3
9 8 4 3 2
J 10
A 10
W   E
Q 8 6
J 7 5
Q 9 6 5
J 9 4
A 7 5
A K Q 10
K 7 4
8 5 2
West North East South
  1  Pass 1 
Pass 2  Pass 3 NT
All pass      


West led the Spade-small10. Declarer won in hand after playing low from dummy and played a club to the 10 and king. They exited from table with a small diamond, ducking the trick to West. Back came a low spade and declarer finessed. East won and played a third round of spades to dummy's king. Next came a heart to the ace and a club from the South hand. West took the 13th spade but declarer had the rest with top tricks in the three remaining suits.

Contract made (9 tricks) but bottom board for South. Why?

Good for two tricks...but

South was certainly wise not to finesse at trick 1. That decision, should it have to be made, could be made a round later. A losing finesse at trick 1 might be catastrophic if one defender had 5 spades. A club to trick 2 was the obvious next action…but ducking that diamond? That might be a plan had clubs broken 5-0 but South already knew they did not. Not only was it the wrong theoretical play but it gave the lead to the defender South wanted to keep off lead, West. Only West could attack spades.

So often (too often!), honour cards seem not to be where you want them. We forget the good times! South would be very unlucky on this deal not to make 9 tricks, even with two club losers, with 7 on top and a certain club trick. Even playing Teams, overtricks are worth something if you get them: in the match-point game, they can be the difference between an average plus and a bottom, as here.

The problem after trick 2

South’s issue was how to get to hand to play the second round of clubs. Playing a diamond to the king preserves the heart finesse should you in desperation need it. So, diamond to the king and a club towards dummy…and on this and many other days, all your worries will be over.

West will win to play a second spade…and you have the choice of the (losing) finesse or the more anti-percentage (but successful) Heart-smallJ falling in the first three rounds to make your 12th trick. Four clubs, four hearts and two tricks in the other two suits could bring the tongue-in-cheek comment about missing another slam.

The losers’ lament

Have you notice when a player misbids, they often hide the fact of how strong they are. “I could not have bid game” a player commented recently “as I only had a 12 count.” A quick examination of the hand record indicated 14 and still counting!

The same applied here as East turned to a bemused South who was lamenting how they could have made some over-tricks: “and how many clubs did you have?” as East tried to understand South’s line. “Two” came a soft rather sheepish reply.

Nothing above takes away from the need to be careful in a declarer’s  line of play. Especially if you are seeking those over-tricks, a touch of optimism does not go adrift as well.

Richard Solomon




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