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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players


Another unmakeable contract makes! It’s only a part-score but it’s 5 imps to the opposition which they really should not have got…or it would have been a lot better had their contract failed. “Could I have helped” enquired North after what appeared to have been partner’s error? You be the judge after you see what happened.

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


1NT showed 15-17. South led the Heart-small10 with declarer playing dummy’s king and North a “well, I kind of like your lead but not altogether Heart-small4”. East would rather have liked the club finesse to work but the jack went to South’s king. What now?

South bided their time and exited a passive club, won in dummy. East played a small spade to their queen and South’s king. It was a case of “now or never” and “never” happened when although South was suspicious of not seeing the Heart-small2 at trick 1, he took North’s Heart-small4 as being encouraging (low encourage) ….and switched to a low heart, thus giving East their seventh trick. Only a diamond switch works for the defence. East had three clubs and two tricks in each major.

Could North have helped partner? If North was not sure whether they liked hearts, then how could their partner be? One is not always dealt the most suitable pip cards for the message one wants to convey. South was right to be concerned about the mysterious Heart-small2 but a cunning declarer might have been hiding it from the defence.

South’s answer to the question was that North could have played Heart-smallJ at trick 1. This in itself was not conclusive since North could hold Heart-small QJ doubleton. Yet, no other holding was really possible if North liked hearts. Thus, it may well have acted as a warning not to continue hearts since North’s most likely holding would be Jx, though that would give East five hearts, a possible holding. Yet, declarer had played on clubs then spades. It might just have been enough to put South off the fateful heart continuation.

There was one other way that North might just have helped, a convention called a “Smith Peter”. Where one defender leads a suit and cannot be clear from the play at trick 1 whether their partner likes the suit, then if their partner makes an unusual play to declarer’s next suit played, and  unusual can include playing high then low with  small cards in that suit, then they like your original lead. (Such a signal is not used where the defender has to give count.) In the above hand, North would play Club-small6 followed by Club-small7 saying I did not particularly like hearts. Another way to help partner.

That play of the Heart-smallJ at trick 1 was unlikely to have hurt the defence and might just have saved South from their fatal error. That’s what one is there for, to help partner in defence. It’s nice when you can, whether defending a grand slam or just 1NT.

Richard Solomon


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