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Damned if you do: Damned if you don’t. Covering Honours.

For less experienced players and others

Is that how you feel when you cover an honour with one of your honours? If you do, you seem to solve declarer’s problem for them and if you don’t, you hear partner say, politely of course, that you could have scored an extra trick for your side had you covered.

There are times when it is blatantly wrong to cover like when you hold Spade-smallKx with spades the trump suit and dummy having Spade-small QJxxx and you know that declarer has 5 spades. On an average bad day, you solve declarer’s problem of the whereabouts of the Spade-smallK. On a really bad day, your partner’s Spade-smallA, a singleton, overtakes your king on the same trick. Ouch!

Be careful. Anticipate.

What then of the problem we left you with yesterday?

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

 

Your partner leads Heart-small4. Trick 1 goes Heart-small9 your Heart-small10 and declarer’s ace. A club is played to dummy’s king and declarer calls for Spade-smallQ…and you?

You do not need to be told that declarer has at least 6 spades: their 3Spade-small bid told you that, no matter whether your opponents are playing 4 or 5 card majors. Some days, they will have seven spades and if they do, the chances are that one of those seven is the ace. They have also shown a strong hand.

Are you a person who likes rules which you can follow, fall back on, quote when it eventuates you have done the wrong thing? If so, you will know the basic rule about covering honours. “Cover if by doing so you will or could benefit your side.” That’s easier to write than at times to put into practice but on the above deal, it could benefit your side, not “will” but there is a chance. Since you have been given Spade-small9, all your partner needs is Spade-small10x for your side to take a trump trick. Remember that declarer normally will have only 6 spades. So, 10x or even Jx (though then declarer’s line is questionable) is quite possible. These were the four hands..and the game was matchpoint Pairs:

 

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

 

The heart lead was good for the defence, perfectly safe. You are never beating 4Spade-small but that is not important. You want to take as many tricks as you can and if the play goes your way, you might even score three tricks but you must cover the Spade-smallQ or else your spade trick will have disappeared.

If you do so, South will have only one entry left to dummy to take both the club and diamond finesses. So, if they take the diamond finesse, the defence would eventually score a trump trick and one in each minor. Covering this time “might” benefit the defence: so, you cover.

There are other guidelines like not covering the first of touching honours. Of course, if your holding is say K10 doubleton and with QJ9 staring at you in dummy, you cover and hope to score Spade-small10 second time round. You see: there are always exceptions!

It is also harder when declarer leads the queen from their own hand in a side suit to a trump contract and dummy has say A4. You hold K73 and presume declarer has QJ to a number in their hand. If you do not cover, declarer will have to waste a trump to ruff out your king on the third round. Best not to cover until you discover that the jack was in your partner’s hand and declarer was trying and succeeded in scoring two tricks in the suit, or avoiding any loser. So, covering may be correct after all.

There is another basic rule in the honour covering category which West did not follow on the following deal.

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

 

The bidding was a little unusual in that your partner could not or chose not to speak over 2Club-small but then emerged with 4Diamond-small over North’s 3NT. North would, no doubt, have had something to say about 4Diamond-small but South spoke first! 

Life would have been a lot easier had you started off with Spade-smallA but you led a diamond. South was void and discarded three little spades on those ominous diamonds in dummy. Next came a heart to the king and your ace.

You exited a fourth round of diamonds, ruffed by declarer who played Heart-smallQ and a low heart, with your partner who held originally Heart-small J987 taking two more tricks in that suit.

When your partner exited Spade-smallQ, declarer ruffed with their last trump… and then it happened. Club-smallJ. Were you ready for that card? You needed to be.

The basic rule is “be prepared”. Even sometimes a wrong decision can turn out right if done in tempo. You only needed one more trick. So, if your partner held the Club-smallK, it was all over..but they did not.

If you had time to count out either of the hidden hands, you would have known South had started with three spades, six hearts and no diamonds. Yet, you had no time. You had to be prepared. Covering was only correct if your partner’s singleton was Club-small10. Maybe South guessed you held the Club-smallQ and was trying an odd type of finesse?

Yet, when West hesitated…and eventually covered, it was all over. Contract made.

 

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

 

So, cover when it will or can benefit your side. Generally, do not cover the first of “touching honours”. If you are not going to cover, play low smoothly in tempo. Be prepared for that dreaded honour being played.

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It’s not easy…but you knew that already!

Major Choice?

 

 
A Q J 9 8 3
Q 9 3 2
10
7 3
West North East South
      1 
Pass ?    

 

You are playing Teams and 5-card majors. What do you bid?

Richard Solomon

 

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