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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

                             If at first you do not succeed, try try again.

But where? Which suit? Why?  That is a lot of questions. Do you have the answers? Oops, another question. It looks like we had better look at the problem!

 

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

 

1NT is of the 11-14 variety. The opponents conducted a Stayman auction and landed in what seems to you a fairly routine 3NT after South denied a 4-card major.

In such a situation, you can elect to lead a major as although dummy should have at least one 4 card major suit, there is no guarantee they will hold both. So, you guess to lead the major which has the more chance of producing some quick tricks, spades.  You start off with the Spade-small9, hoping that if all goes well, you can follow up with the Spade-smallJ on the second round and that your partner will reel off some tricks in that suit.

However, it seems this time that you did not strike rich. Declarer played the Spade-smallA from dummy with your partner contributing Spade-small8 (high card is discouraging) and declarer Spade-small5.

At trick 2, declarer calls for the Club-smallQ, which goes Club-small2 from your partner (showing an odd number if you give count), Club-small6 and your king. So, what now?

Sometimes, you would be happy to go passive. If that was the case here, then you would continue spades. Yet, it is not really the time for that. Forget about spades. Partner said so. Presumably, declarer has some interest in clubs. So, it looks like it is to be a red suit.

Which one? You can tell your partner has at least five hearts. They could be headed by the KJ. Assuming declarer has the Spade-smallK and Club-smallAJ and no Heart-smallK, that means they will have at least three points in diamonds…but not the AK as that would then be a 15 count.

So, which red suit?

You may wish to choose or if your guessing in such situations is as bad as is your ability to guess the right way for a 2-way finesse, then you should call for the director/problem setter, and claim that there is a third option which you have not been given. While you are contemplating what that is, take a look at the four hands:

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

 

At the table, West tried hearts allowing South to make 11 tricks, three more than he might have made.

Today you tried a heart. Tomorrow you might try a diamond…and both might be successful. Only if South had the same 11 count with the Diamond-smallK instead of the Heart-smallK would it be correct to switch to a heart. In that case, East could rise with the Diamond-smallA ( let’s assume South is 4-4 in the minors) and after cashing the three club and the four spade winners has to lead a diamond towards their hand for their 9th trick. East would have winning hearts to cash.

Really, diamonds does look a more likely bet, though there is no guarantee. If you know what to switch to, then win trick 2 and do so. Yet, what was that director call all about?

How about not winning the Club-smallQ? Why not wait a round? If declarer has only four clubs, they will repeat the finesse and you are neither better nor worse off. As on the actual hand where declarer has five clubs, you are both better and worse off. You are “better off” because by their discard, your partner will tell you which suit to switch to. Of course, you are “worse off” because the declarer will not allow you to make your Club-smallK yet. They will take 4 spade, 3 heart and 2 club tricks before the defence gets a look in. Playing Teams, the extra overtricks are not that significant. Yet, in the Pairs game, they most certainly are.

Perhaps, allowing the contract to make will not give you a good board. Scoring two overtricks will be disaster.

The moral, apart from trying the lead of the 4th highest of your longest and strongest (though there is no guarantee there that your partner will turn up with 4 honour cards in that suit every time!) is not to be in too much of a hurry to take your honour if you are uncertain of what to do next. Your partner may be able to help you make that decision correctly.

Richard Solomon

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