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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

Bread and Butter Defending…but no jam!

Sorry to be unsensational but it is very rare for any Pairs tournament to be won by one’s slam bidding or by bringing home low point-count risky 3NT contracts. It is much more likely to be won by tight consistent playing and defending at the game and even more so, part-score areas.

So, here is an unsensational piece of part-score defending for you. What is at stake? Saving a second overtrick. That’s why we really do not need to bid such risky games at Pairs. You get almost as many match-points for making the extra overtrick from the safety of a part-score as you do from risking a complete bottom by attempting game.

So, what is to be your first, your only discard on the following deal? You are West:

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

 (1NT is 12-14 balanced and 2Heart-small is a transfer to spades)

You lead the Heart-small2 (I would think that a diamond would be a better suit to attack…as it probably only needs partner to hold one honour for the lead not to be costly) but that was your choice. Trick 1 goes to your partner’s Heart-smallT and declarer’s ace. At trick 2, declarer leads the Spade-smallQ to your partner’s king.

Your partner exits the Diamond-small3 which is won by declarer’s ace. Next comes Spade-small9 covered by your jack and the Spade-smallA in dummy. Your partner contributes Spade-small3.

This is followed by Spade-small6 from dummy, Spade-small5 from East and Spade-small8 from declarer. Which card do you discard and why?

..or which suit should you be wary of discarding?

Our West threw the Club-small7… and an average score on an instantly forgettable board became a bottom!

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

 

The first comment West might make was that partner should have returned a heart, undoubtably true. The diamond switch was risky and rather unnecessary even if it did not in itself cost the overtrick. What did was the club discard.

The defence knew very little for certain about declarer’s hidden high cards or shape. The one thing that West did know was that East held the Heart-smallJ, or else the declarer would have won the first trick with that card. Therefore, although nothing is certain, a small heart discard looked fine for the defence. (Although not 100% certain, West could tell that South held the Heart-smallK as normally, holding Heart-smallKJ10, East would play the king at trick 1. If West knows that South has Spade-smallQ, Heart-smallAK Diamond-smallA, then West does know where the Club-smallK is. )

The subsequent play

What, of course, happened was that South discarded a diamond from dummy on the Heart-smallK and then played and lost a club. A red suit return saw South ruff in dummy but one further round of clubs brought the defence’s remaining high cards crashing together, enabling South to make four trump tricks and two in each other suit for a very handy +170.

Although the diamond switch was not the best, it looked like East was leading away from an honour, in which case a diamond discard might be safe, too. We are taught to keep the same length in suits as the declarer/dummy hands if we can. In this case, the play of the club suit would likely be important and although West only had one trick in the suit, it was wise not to throw a club.

Although East could have switched to Club-smallK to get a ruff, that defence could so easily backfire if South held the Club-smallA.

In fact, had the defence gone passive and returned and continued hearts (no club discard!), South would have been held to 8 tricks as they would run out of trumps before establishing their one club trick. To make 9 tricks, South should have started playing clubs at trick 2 leaving the drawing of trumps until later.

The best North-South score on this board was a pair who managed 9 tricks in 3NT, a very good achievement. Scoring even one overtrick was better than average while scoring two was as stated, getting a near top from the safety of a part-score.

All of which should have given our East-West some cause for reflection….

Richard Solomon

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