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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word”

“I had my 10 high card points. I held two aces. Why shouldn’t I overcall?” muttered East after the opposition’s game contract slithered home. East was not finished yet, either.

 “You had a perfectly good suit of your own to lead, headed by QJT. Why did you not lead that from the start? Then, I would not have had the problem to decide whether you had a led a singleton.”

We had better look at the four hands very soon though perhaps, firstly, we should recommend East improved their table manner by some 500%! Who would ever want to play with a partner like that even if what they said was correct…and we will see a fair chunk of what East said is open to criticism!

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


There was nothing particularly wrong the North-South bidding. With a 3-2 trump break, West might survive West a heart ruff on the third round of the suit…and even if they did, on a good day, the CQ would fall in two rounds. This was not such a good day though most declarers were gifted their contract.

What, though, of East’s 2 level overcall, from a passed hand? Yes, 10 hcp and yes, two aces, but so many potential losers…and if one of the opponents had a heart stack, then maybe 1100 territory! That was not the case here but since East was playable in three suits, why not double 1NT? East-West might have (and did have) a good minor suit contract. Maybe West might mention that to East when they are prepared to listen!

The actual defence

What, though, of the defence? West led Heart-smallJ which went to East’s ace…and East then tried a second heart, hoping West would ruff. That was not the case and it allowed a grateful declarer an entry to dummy. North overtook their Heart-smallQ with Heart-smallK and led Club-smallJ. That held. Next came a spade to the king and West’s ace….to be followed by Diamond-smallQ, ruffed by South.

South still had to lose a second trump trick but West was powerless leaving South to enjoy the club suit with the queen falling on the third round. 4Spade-small bid and made.

The "real" post mortem

Did West really “sin”? The biggest criticism one could level at West was that they had two trump tricks anyway and did not need to gain a second trump trick by way of a ruff. As such, they might have tried a more neutral lead like Diamond-smallQ. Also, when in with Spade-smallA, they could switch to Diamond-smallQ, assuming East had ducked at trick 1. West would not want South to throw their diamond loser on the third round of hearts.

Imagine, though, on a totally different lay of the cards that East held Heart-smallAK, both cashing except that West led Diamond-smallQ and that one of those heart losers disappeared under dummy’s Diamond-smallK as declarer held singleton Diamond-smallA. That could have been the situation….and no second guess for what our charmless East would have said then…”I guess you did not see my heart overcall, partner!”

“Try not to blame partner for their own errors. Certainly, do not blame them for yours.”

Imagine West did hold a singleton Heart-smallJ. That would give South an extra heart…the possibility (not guaranteed) of two heart tricks for the defence. South was known to have at least 9 cards in the black suits. They were unlikely to have more one diamond (at most two). East also knew that their partner held no more than two hearts because of the lead of Heart-smallJ and the fact that the Heart-small10 was in the East hand. It was easy for East to duck the Heart-smallJ.

What should have happened.

Then, at trick two, South leads a high spade won by West. West can play a second heart to the Heart-small10 with East exiting a low heart (although, on this occasion), even Heart-smallA would work for the defence. South must lose two trumps, Heart-smallA and with no entry to dummy, the Club-smallQ as well. Down one, no sweat, no bad words. We know which side of the table produced the poor defence…and it was not West.

East could not be sure that South was void in diamonds though they did know that South had at least two hearts. A more understanding East might have evoked a little sympathy had they said that they hoped to defeat the contract with two red aces and two trump tricks for their partner. Firstly, this statement ignored their own Club-smallQ and the difficulty South could have to reach dummy for a club finesse. It was also unnecessary at such an early stage for East to decide that was the only way to defeat the contract.

Next time, East will not hold the Heart-small10 and the correct defence would be harder to find. Using declarer’s thinking time at trick 1 would have aided East into a better, and ultimately, more successful defence. East should also keep a collection of
sorry.pngcards in their top pocket...and know when to use them!

Richard Solomon


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