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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

“Grand” Counting.

It is amazing what you can discover about the shape of one’s opponents’ hands by simply playing out winners. It can have a significant impact on how you will play in arriving at a key decision.

When playing in a part-score, game or even a small slam, we talk about losing a trick early on “to rectify the count”. We do not have that luxury when we need all 13 tricks. We should try and delay the key decision for as long as we can and gather up whatever information along the way. Take a look at the following board, played at a recent New Zealand Congress:

Board 18
East Deals
N-S Vul
A
K 9 8 4
6
A K J 10 9 5 4
   
N
W   E
S
   
 
K Q J 6
A Q 3
A Q 3 2
7 6

 

Although East passed initially, they were able to call 2Diamond-small on their second turn to speak. However, with West passing throughout, North-South headed swiftly upwards and reached, slightly optimistically, 7NT. West led Diamond-small8  to East’s Diamond-small10 and South’s queen.

Declarer had four spade tricks, three or four in hearts and two in diamonds. Even if hearts broke favourably, South needed three in clubs, which meant dropping the queen in two rounds or taking a successful finesse.

Most declarers were in 6NT where losing a trick was not critical. However, two were in 7NT. One met a very early death by attacking clubs immediately. The other tried to make the decision less of a guess.

At trick 2, South played a club to the ace (only Club-small2 and Club-small3 appeared.. no queen!) followed by the Spade-smallA. Next came Heart-smallK followed by two more hearts to the Heart-smallA and Heart-smallQ. Both defenders followed to three rounds of hearts.

Declarer now played their three high spade winners throwing their three lowest clubs from dummy. East discarded a diamond on the fourth spade.  

Finally, when South cashed the Diamond-smallA, West played Diamond-small5 and East Diamond-small4.

So, what did South know at this point? West had started with five spades and three hearts (both confirmed) at least two diamonds and at least one club.

East had started with three cards in each major suit (confirmed) and at least one club. One would assume East held at least five diamonds to have overcalled 2Diamond-small though more likely in entering a live auction,6.

If East had only five diamonds, there was still room for them to hold a second club (if East had Club-smallQxx, the contract was doomed while the diamond lead broke up any squeeze chances). If East had 6 diamonds, their exact shape was known 3361 with a singleton club.

South might also check what the defenders lead with three small cards in a suit. Had West held 3 diamonds, could they hold a higher one? (East's Diamond-small10 at trick 1 might have been an attempt to confuse declarer as to their actual holding.)

That was now the evidence South had when they played their second club at trick 11. Dummy had a high Heart-small9 and Club-smallKJ. The odds in favour of finessing were now much greater than had declarer played clubs much earlier.

watching closely.png

Our declarer did finesse and was duly rewarded when this was the full lay-out.

Board 18
East Deals
N-S Vul
A
K 9 8 4
6
A K J 10 9 5 4
7 5 4 3 2
6 5 2
8 5
Q 8 3
 
N
W   E
S
 
10 9 8
J 10 7
K J 10 9 7 4
2
 
K Q J 6
A Q 3
A Q 3 2
7 6

 

There was no guarantee: one might argue that East might have made a weak jump overcall to 3Diamond-smallwith six diamonds rather than simply bidding 2Diamond-small over 2Club-small.

Down-side of pre-emptive bidding

There is always a possible down-side to making bids with very weak hands. Without East’s 2Diamond-small bid, West may well have led a spade from their hand. Now, South may or may not have taken the club finesse: without opposition bidding, the odds favour a 2-2 break in the suit. The initial lead told declarer a lot about the defenders’ hands and ultimately to make the right decision.

Bid them up and play them as well as you can. Count and draw what conclusions you can, as John Skipper did.

Richard Solomon

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