Declarer has the built-in advantage of full awareness of his available resources; a disadvantage is that the defenders can see half of them. As declarer, you need to hide the rest of your cards as best you can.
PLAY THE CARD YOU ARE KNOWN TO HOLD
Most declarers handle this one automatically. Winning a trick with your
highest of equal cards generally is best. If an opening lead runs to RHO's
jack, you win the
KQx, thereby temporarily
concealing from LHO the location of the
queen. Had you won the
queen instead, LHO would know that you also have the
his partner would have played it. Similarly, with
ace can leave in doubt the location of the
Sometimes the choice isn't so clear. Suppose that you have
in your hand. LHO leads the
ten of that suit against a Notrump contract,
and RHO plays a spot card. From RHO's perspective, the lead could have been
from a variety of holdings, depending upon their agreements:
10x 109x J10xx Q109x K109x A109x KJ10x
If they play Rusinow (lower of touching honors), then you know that the
lead must be from shortness. Win the
queen; neither opponent will know
jack is. If they play Zero or Two Higher, win the
queen. RHO knows that you have it.
If they play Standard, then the lead must be from
jack. RHO already knows where that one is; but wait.
That tells LHO that you have the
queen; otherwise, his partner would have
played that. So win the
queen, but wait; now, RHO knows about both the
queen. Does that matter, though? No, he will
return the suit regardless; so play the
queen. It is LHO that must be
kept in the dark; he might play his partner for the
jack when he gets in.
PLAY THE CARD YOU ARE NOT KNOWN TO HOLD
Many players suffer from what I call the Pinochle Syndrome. In that game, it tends to be necessary for players to cash every available winner as soon as possible; so they do. Needless to say, that frequently is not the winning defensive strategy on a bridge hand. Average Jane, however, has other ideas. She can be relentless in her hunt for winners in partner's hand. When one avenue fizzes out she will try another, often with little regard for the potential consequences.
Sometimes you can help the defenders to pursue their quest for quick winners,
by showing them something that you have. Example: Playing in a suit contract,
xx in a side suit. When that
suit is led to your
ace, it might also be best to cash the
well and show the defenders that there is no future there. When an opponent
obtains the lead, she might well break a key suit, which is just what you wanted
FEIGN DISINTEREST IN KEY SUITS
This favorite ploy is worth a lot of tricks in the long run. The idea is to make discards in a suit in which you are interested, rather than somewhere else. When trumps are being drawn or a long suit is being run, at least one of the opponents is under pressure to make discards. From A.J.'s perspectiven the more cards he sees played in a suit, the less likely it becomes that a discard in the same suit would be costly.
When discarding from dummy, if you want the opponents to throw away diamonds,
then discard a diamond or two. Holding
Kxxx, and you want three tricks without losing one, discard down to
Kx in dummy. Try not to be too obvious, though. If three
discards must be made, pitch a diamond, then a heart, then another diamond.
Try to make it look as if there is some uncertainty in your choices (but not by
your mannerisms, of course).
Discards from your hand are even more difficult to read. It generally is
right to rid yourself of the highest spot cards you can afford, feigning shortness
AK952, for example, throw away the
nine of that suit; there is a good chance that the
will be a winner at the end.
Why not keep the
deuce? Someone might actually remember that it
still is missing. It's the middle
spot-cards that are easiest to
PLAY SECOND-HAND HIGH!
This is one of my favorite "secrets", because it seems little-known even by a lot of better players and is most likely to succeed against them. Occasionally, this tactic can conceal information about declarer’s holding for a while. In the following examples, LHO leads a low card:
(1) (2) (3) (4) Jx
(1) If you play the
jack and take the
queen with the
LHO will not know where the
ten is. If you play low and let RHO
ten, then LHO will know that he can safely underlead the
king later if desired.
(2) LHO will learn that his partner has
QJ10 no matter
what you do. If you play low from dummy, though, LHO also will learn that
another trick can be cashed by either defender. Why? If RHO held the
eight, he would play it. Call for the
nine immediately, then
ace; LHO will not yet know whether you hold another card in the
suit. Similarly, playing high from
10xxx or even
Jxxx in dummy can temporarily conceal one or more of RHO’s cards from
(3) Play the
queen. If it is covered, LHO will not know where the
jack is; and RHO might not know either, depending upon LHO's choice of
leads. Failure to make this play will tell both opponents immediately that
you have no loser in the suit; and that's a fact worth hiding.
Note that in those three examples, there would have been no benefit to playing
high from dummy unless there were a
lower-ranking card in your hand; for
then there would have been nothing to conceal.
(4) Play the
queen. If it is covered, then once again at least
one defender will not know whether you have a singleton. They might well
guess that you do have another card in your hand; why else would you have played
that way? If the
queen is not covered, then the cat is out of the bag
Another type of ostensibly meaningless cover, however, compels RHO to make a decision with incomplete information:
(1) When the
five is led against a notrump contract, call for the
ten. RHO, not knowing who holds the
three, probably will
cover to prevent you from winning a cheap trick if you hold
Now, should that player obtain the lead right away, he cannot be sure whether it
is safe to continue the
suit — at least, not from the play in that
Finally, a nonsense-play can prove useful. With a small singleton opposite
Qxx in dummy, play the
queen, but only if you want the suit to
be continued. Remember that the weaker dummy's suit is, the easier it is for
an opponent to lead it.
Naturally, you might need to avoid squandering a high card in dummy if it could
jeopardize the holding in your hand, such as by compromising a stopper.
Jx, for example,
one would not want to play the
jack right away if subsequent control of that
suit were important, which it usually is.
On the other hand, if only LHO will be getting the lead, then playing the
jack might be useful after all, for much the same reason as in
Example #1 above. A conscious defender will appreciate that if you hold
ten, then you didn't have to squander the jack. This knowledge might
cause him to underlead his remaining
Q9x, hoping that partner has the
ten after all. He'll know better after you claim the balance.
Alternatively, he might cash the
queen, setting up your
there was something better to do.
REVEAL NOTHING UNTIL YOU MUST
Every lead of a suit allows the defenders to communicate something to each other,
either regarding that suit or another one. That is the nature of the game,
and that is why you want to avoid playing on any key suit until you must.
With a side suit of
Kxx in dummy and
AQxx in hand, for
example, avoid playing on that suit as long as possible; that makes it more difficult
to count your distribution and place the honors.
A common failing in this area is the situation where declarer has some high trumps, plus a winner and a loser on the side. Hoping for a discarding error, declarer leads out the trumps; but wait. Average Joe virtually never leads the last trump right away; no, he invariably plays off a side winner first, which serves only to help the defenders. A.J.'s chronic unholy fear of prematurely playing off the last trump holds true in this scenario. As declarer, you can do better.
This brings us to another of my greatest "secrets" — one which even a lot of good players have overlooked:
If you lead a trump from
Axx in dummy and insert the
KQJ10x, you have just told RHO that his partner has
no higher trump. By winning the
king instead, east might have some
doubt about the actual position. Conversely, the
jack is best if you
want to keep LHO in the dark, for she will not know who actually holds the
queen. From her perspective, that play might have been a finesse.
Observe this phenomenon for yourself. The next time your declarer ruffs
jack, he will not have the
ten. Similarly, if he leads
ten, he will not have the
nine. When running a suit, he
never leads his honors in an unusual order such as
jack. He invariably will have played his sequence either in
top-down or bottom-up fashion, especially in trumps. Watch,
and learn; but don't tell!
“It's not what they could, it's not what they should, but it is what they would.”