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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

Keeping Partner “Sweet”.

You lead partner’s suit and you wish you had not. You do not lead partner’s suit and wish you had! Do you know the feeling? Been there, done that, I am sure. Watch the following:


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


South decided that the declarer sounded too confident after the above  sequence to try the heart lead. They tried a low spade which went around to declarer’s Spade-smallT. East could now count to 8 tricks in their somewhat over-ambitious contract (‘‘I liked my 10’s” said East at the end of the play.) East set about looking to diamonds for the ninth trick and played their singleton to dummy’s Diamond-small9 and North’s ace.

“Time for my suit” thought North and tried Heart-smallQ. East won, crossed to the Club-smallA and played Diamond-smallQ. South won and continued with Heart-smallK and another heart..but declarer now had their nine tricks.

What went wrong for the defence?

There were two issues, one being the opening lead, to which we will return. However, while it was possible that East held Heart-smallKxx requiring North to switch to hearts, the two defenders appeared to be on different wave-lengths. A second spade from North would have finished off declarer with South still holding the Diamond-smallK and three winning hearts.

However, whatever one thinks of North’s vulnerable overcall, there is a place for such a weak overcall playing Pairs… a lead directional call. That South chose to ignore it was strange. With honour third in the suit, you really need a good reason not to lead the suit. Blame partner if the suit they overcalled was so bad that the heart lead worked out badly.

After the initial heart lead,

What would have happened? The bidding and lead of the Heart-small2 suggested hearts were breaking 5-3 and that North held probably two of the honours. Therefore, East may as well win the opening lead and play a diamond. If South ducks, North’s ace scores. A second heart goes to South’s Heart-small8 and the Heart-smallK is cashed. Thus, 3NT makes because South has only spades and diamonds left when in with the Diamond-smallK. North had to find the spade switch when in with the Diamond-smallA, not so easy but possible.

Had South taken the first diamond with their king, they must play an immediate heart to North’s jack, also requiring North to find the spade switch.

So, in some respects, South’s opening lead was theoretically wrong (why not lead a heart?) but practically correct, as long as their partner played back the same suit they had led. It is doubtful that East-West would have reached 3NT had North not overcalled. Yet, without the overcall, South would have led their own suit and the game would have been beaten more easily.

There are times when not leading partner’s suit against 3NT will be correct but with with Kxx or Qxx, it must generally be the right thing to do.

Richard Solomon

 This feature will return after the National Congress, on October 8th.

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