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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

                        The Priority at Pairs is… Make your Contract.

Although we love making overtricks at Pairs, there is a lot to be said for ensuring your own contract rather than chase overtricks. Two recent boards left declarers with much egg on their faces or shall we say, a negative score for no good reason.

Try this one:

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

 

Your 4Heart-small bid showed a long heart suit without many high card points, a desire just to play there unless your partner is particularly strong. West did as instructed by leading a diamond with East taking the first two tricks with high diamonds before switching to Club-smallQ.

You win in hand. What next? If you cross to dummy with a spade, how do you play the trump suit? Say Heart-smallQ loses to Heart-smallK?

Question 2

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

 

3Club-small asked for 4 or 5 card majors with 3Spade-small showing a 5-card suit.

West led Club-small4. What’s your line?

Back to 4Heart-small. If East has Heart-smallK doubleton, then you are going to make an overtrick by crossing to dummy and playing a heart to the queen. Excellent…+450. What happens when the Heart-smallQ loses to the Heart-smallK? If West has the remaining two hearts, you are down..but you were anyway.

Say the hearts are split between the defensive hands. Assuming you can cross to dummy (more of that in a minute), either the jack or the 9 will appear and you will still make your contract. (This is only true when the remaining cards are the jack and the 9). Were the 9 a lower card and the lower card appeared, you would not know what to do, finesse or play the ace. Either could be the correct play.

Say hearts split 3-1. We have already said that we are down if West had the remaining 2 hearts. Yet, we are also down if East has the remaining 2 hearts (unless the 9 appeared on the first round).

Seeking the overtrick cost several defenders the contract when these were the 4 hands.

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

 

In fact, had you played the Heart-smallQ, you would have suffered a spade ruff in returning to dummy….but as the 9 had not appeared, East had to score a second heart trick anyway.

Playing a heart from dummy only gains in the small percentage of cases where East has all four missing hearts (Assuming you run Heart-small10). Laying down Heart-smallA not only solves all your problems when Heart-smallK falls but also when West has any singleton heart or Heart-smallJ falls when and West held Heart-smallKJ doubleton.

On the above deal, had East switched to their spade at trick 3, it would be imperative to start with Heart-smallA although you would lose out where East had KJx as a heart to the queen would enable you to play the suit for one loser.  

The presence of the Heart-small9 as well as HKJ in the defenders’ hands made the finesse even less appealing. The prospect of a singleton spade in East’s hand complicates the play slightly. What a declarer should be thinking about is how to restrict the trump losers to one rather than try for an anti-percentage overtrick.

Had declarer to play the suit for no losers, then a heart to the queen would be correct.

Lazy Play punished in 4Spade-small

If you have three spade losers, then your chance of success is very low because you are almost certain to lose a diamond trick. The only ways to avoid a diamond loser are if West has Diamond-small109 doubleton or if either defender has the singleton K. Notice you cannot play for both lines. So, really, you do not want to lose three spade tricks!

Our declarer did lose three spade tricks but the spades broke 3-1!

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

 

Declarer won the first trick with Club-smallQ and decided they may as well try the diamond finesse while in dummy. You can see what happened. West won Diamond-smallK and returned a diamond which East ruffed. West still had two trump tricks…down 1.

Unlucky?              Certainly.

Reasonable line? Certainly not.

Two singletons in the same hand is anti-percentage but still quite possible. South’s play was lazy, greedy and wrong! They deserved to pay the price.

Find out firstly how many trump losers and then take the diamond finesse if you wish. What South did not notice was that they did not have to use up their entry to dummy at trick 1. Play K on top of the Club-smallQ at trick 1 and later on you can play low to the jack… and try the diamond finesse. Declarer will probably have a spade entry to dummy too.

In our first case, South’s priority was to avoid 2 trump losers rather than try for the overtrick. In the second, South did not notice that they could enter dummy later. Taking the diamond finesse would usually not cost but in a small number of cases would.

The card dealer often penalises inferior or lazy play. Nevertheless, the real message is to ensure the success of your contract before you try for overtricks, even at Pairs.

Richard Solomon

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