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Play and Defend Better: for improving players


Quite often in this feature, we look how a deal has been misplayed or misdefended and examine how it should have been handled correctly. It is nice to be able to relate here the story of the excellent way an Auckland Intermediate player played a board, combining all opportunities to make her slam. The story is told by GeO Tislevoll:

"For a coach or call it trainer in bridge, it is a great pleasure when you see players who work hard to improve their bridge get results. Having trained a couple of groups in Auckland for a while, such pleasure has been given me many times lately. Both in the New Zealand Congress and other tournaments, and recently in the Gold Coast Congress, some of these improvers have done great.

Working seriously with the bridge helps. Different players have different grades of talent for the game, but even players who perhaps haven’t got the natural talent can for sure improve a lot. Some of the improvers I am training show talent too, which of course helps. One of them is Candice Doyle Smith from Auckland who is one of the fastest improvers around. Below you will find a hand she played in a training match recently, a play that you usually will find in a relatively advanced text book about bridge, or you may see it played by a top expert.

Board 5
North Deals
N-S Vul
Q 8 7 6
A 6 5 3
A K 7
4 3
K J 9 2
Q 6 5
J 10 9 8
W   E
10 8 7
10 9 8 3
Q 7 6 5 2
A K J 10 9 5
Q 4
J 4 2
4 3


After South’s opening, N/S quickly reached 6Spade-small played by Candice (South). West led the Club-smallJ.The initial analysis is:

 There are two possible losers, one in each red suit.

 There are two main chances for the contract:

  • Diamond-smallQ doubleton, a small, marginal chance that should be tried as late as possible. Note: this is not a diamond finesse! To play the Jack is wrong, a no-play, as you don’t have the 10. If you play the Jack, West will cover if she has the Queen and you will have a diamond loser anyway.
  • The Heart-smallK onside. Note: this is not a heart finesse! If the declarer leads the Heart-smallQ, it is wrong, an absolute no-play, as you don’t have the Heart-smallJ yourself or in dummy! If West has the Heart-smallK (as here), she will cover the Queen, and the declarer will have a heart loser anyway. So, the King onside means with this combination that East needs to hold the king! To get two heart tricks, you must play low from the ace towards the card you hope will give a trick, the queen. If East has the Heart-smallK and takes it, you have two heart tricks, the queen being good, and you will get one discard from the Heart-smallA later for the diamond loser.

    The extra chance

There is, however, a more advanced, third chance for the contract, a squeeze!

It was a pleasure to see Candice play this hand and finding the squeeze play after first having tried the main chance of the Heart-smallK being held by East. And she still had the other, little chance, one defender holding the doubleton Diamond-smallQ.

Before trying for that small chance, why not try to see if the squeeze will work?

This is not even the simplest of squeezes which may come automatically just by cashing winners. Candice had to do some work before reaching the squeeze ending position.

Candice Doyle.jpg
  Candice Doyle-Smith

 The Play

Candice won the Club-smallA at trick one and pulled the trumps, then cashed the second club honor. Now she tried a heart from North to the queen. This failed. West won the Heart-smallK and played another heart to the ace. Now a heart was ruffed. To do that gave no extra trick as such because one ruff in the long trump hand doesn’t, but it meant only one defender was left holding  a heart. North’s fourth heart (Heart-small6) had become a menace!

After this Candice simply played her remaining trumps. This became the text-book-like ending position before the last spade trick was played:

A K 7
Q 6 5
W   E
10 9 8 3
J 4 2


West is the only defender who has a heart. When the Spade-small9 was played, West was toast. If she pitches the Heart-smallJ, the Diamond-small7 will be thrown from North and dummy is good, the Heart-small 6  now being a winner! If West throws a diamond, the declarer discards the Heart-small6  as it has done its job. Declarer tries the diamonds. If the Diamond-smallQ was a doubleton from start, it will drop now as well. After this, as West has been forced to pitch a diamond, the Diamond-smallQ drops and the Jack becomes the twelfth trick. E/W can do nothing.

Note that West should pitch a diamond in the four-card ending, when the Spade-small 9 was played and she must come down to three cards. She can’t see the Diamond-smallJ, and perhaps East has it! If so, as long as West holds  on to her heart, East would have taken the setting trick if she had held the Diamond-smallJ.

TIP: When you feel squeezed, always hold on to what you for sure can see you must hold and give up the other suit! Partner is there to help you out…sometimes!"


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