MAKE A SHORT SUIT LOOK LONG
The opening lead of a trump is won by dummy's queen. Declarer promptly plays a club to the jack and ace. Average Joe now has a dilemma. If declarer has the other high clubs, he will be able to discard at least one of dummy's diamonds; so A.J. panics and cashes the ace of diamonds, handing declarer his contract.
There is a clue to a winning defense. Assuming that east's play
of the two of clubs shows an odd number of the suit, presumably three,
that would give declarer four; and with
♠AKxxx, he surely would have
3♠ himself. A.J. goes wrong here either
because he has not attempted to count declarer's hand, or because he does
not trust partner to havethe odd number of clubs that he ostensibly has shown.
MAKE A SHORT SUIT LOOK LONG
This hand is from a Swiss Teams at the local sectional. Whatever possessed south to open the bidding is unknown; but that's another issue. When dummy goes down after a spade lead, he can see eight easy winners and will need a club trick as well. Feeling that he might improve his chances, declarer leads a heart to the jack at trick two!
From west's perspective, that play is not unusual. Declarer could
four-card heart suit on the bidding, consistent with east's
play of the heart deuce; so west leads another spade, still hoping to promote
something in partner's hand.
Winning the spade king, declarer plays a club ten to the ace, furthering the illusion of shortness there, then leads a diamond to the king and ace. This is west's last chance to unravel the illusion and find the defense's tricks; but without much to go on he tries a third spade, whereupon declarer claims his game.
Had declarer simply played on diamonds at trick two, west might have found the switch and he might not. A greater concern was the east might win the diamond, in which case he surely would switch to hearts himself. This was a difficult situation for even good defenders to work out.
East's first play of the spade four was consistent with a possible
Q874; so west had no clue there. East had
other ways of showing partner that he did not have the spades, but Average
Jane doesn't know them. A better clue that something was amiss was
the fact that declarer elected to lead a club when ostensibly he needed
to develop both of the red suits; but poor west understandably was
unprepared to process all that input in the heat of battle.
MAKE A LONG SUIT LOOK SHORT
South's Weak Notrump opening bid effectively shut the opponents out of the bidding, as it so often does.
The club king is led. When dummy appears, declarer can see that
the opponents are
ice-cold for at least eight tricks in hearts;
but he would like to go plus anyway if he can. To that end, he
eschews his guaranteed second stopper by following with the club
ten! West, "seeing"
9xxx in partner's hand,
continues clubs; but now it is too late to defeat the contract.
Declarer takes the ace and plays a third club, establishing the
eight-spot for himself. No matter which major the defense
shifts to, declarer then sets up the diamonds and ultimately scores three
diamonds, two hearts and two clubs, for seven tricks altogether.
Had declarer won the opening lead and later played on clubs himself, the defense had time to find the heart suit and defeat the contract with a trick to spare.
MAKE A LONG SUIT LOOK SHORT
On the opening lead of a low spade, declarer plays the king and underplays the queen! A diamond finesse runs to west, who wins the king and... does what? Well, Average Joe will return a spade almost every time, irrespective of partner's plays. Making five.
The queen-gambit would have given up an overtrick had the diamond king been onside. Was it worth it? You bet! One should make the same play even without the spade ten.
The opening lead of a heart goes to the jack, queen and ace. West grabs the first trump lead, and... what? As it happens, the only winning defense is to lead another heart to partner's ten and get a diamond return, thereby setting up a trick in each suit for the defenders. If partner doesn't have the heart ten, though, such a lead would hand declarer an overtrick.
It would not help to duck the first spade, hoping to get a signal on the
next one; declarer simply would switch to clubs, discarding the diamond queen
before west regains the lead. In a team game, west's course is
clear — try a low heart lead and go for a set; but at matchpoints,
giving up that overtrick would be disastrous.
Note what a devastating effect the simple play of second-hand high had! Without it, east would have inserted the ten of hearts at trick one, and west would have known that he could safely underlead his king later.
PAINT A FALSE PICTURE
After opening the bidding with 1♠, south plays
4♠. The opening lead of a trump runs to
declarer's queen. The next four plays are a heart to the jack, another
trump, a heart to the queen, and a third round of spades. Now a diamond
goes to the king and ace. What to do?
On this occasion, east is a reasonable player who bothers to count some things. He knows about five spade winners, three hearts, and two diamonds waiting. Since south opened the bidding, he must hold either the club ace or the heart king. If it is the club, then a club return here would hand declarer a twelfth trick; if it is the heart king, then why in blazes did declarer bother to play that suit so soon, seemingly using the high trumps as entries for two heart finesses?
If east doesn't figure it out, he is going to lose 470 points.
One minor clue is that declarer actually could have drawn two rounds of trumps
before making the first heart play; but then he would have had to lead
diamonds from dummy instead of from his hand, so that isn't much help.
Another possibility would be to rely on partner to put up the heart king on
the second lead of the suit if he had it. Since east showed him a
three-card heart holding, that play could not cost, although it could
cause partner to miscount the overall distribution.
Is there another way? Yes, there is, and it's not even hard. In a skilled partnership, east already knows where the club ace is! How? Well, you will just have to read my page on Defense for the answer to that one.
None of this takes away from declarer's effort, however; with a bit of misdirection, he gave east a big problem. Oddly enough, Average Joe probably would return a club almost without thinking, getting lucky in this case.
LEAD THE LAST TRUMP
West leads the queen of hearts against a contract of
4♠. Declarer wins dummy's ace and promptly plays
a club to the queen! Interestingly enough, it already is too late
to prevent an overtrick. Why?
Declarer could not see the entire deal; what he could see was that if
diamonds split, he still could win eleven tricks eventually even after
losing two clubs. He was catering to a possibility other than a
3-3 diamond split.
Say that west exits with the ten of clubs, not that it matters. East overtakes with the king and returns a heart, not that that matters either. Winning the king, declarer plays four rounds of spades, to this position:
On the last trump lead, west is squeezed. Compelled to keep the jack of hearts, he must discard a diamond, allowing that suit to be run. By giving up the two club tricks, declarer rectified the count; those cards had to go away before the squeeze could function.
There were two points to the play here. Firstly, declarer recognized the value of playing off the last trump, something that Average Jane cannot seem to envision. Secondly, it was important to lead clubs early, before east could know what was going on. The only way to have held declarer to his contract was for east to have risen with the club king on the first lead of the suit, to return a heart. That play would have been easier after getting a signal from partner on the third round of trumps.
MANAGE YOUR ENTRIES SUBJECTIVELY
Your partner, conscious of your superior declarer skills, has checked for aces, then opted for the maximum contract rather than a more prudent diamond slam. The opening lead is the ten of spades. Because you can see only eleven tricks even with a successful club finesse, you properly duck the first trick. After winning the next spade lead, you call for a club, which is covered by the king.
You are pleased that the club finesse worked, but you really didn't want east to cover the ten and block the suit. Had he played low, you could have run off all the red cards and squeezed him in the black suits if he started with four or more clubs originally. You continue with a club to the jack, cash the ace and king of hearts, then try the ace of clubs, hoping that the nine will drop; but no.
There still is hope, however, against Average Joe. You cash the ace of diamonds, lead the three of diamonds to the king, then the queen of diamonds, underplaying the ten, to this position:
You call for the nine of diamonds. East has an easy club discard on this one; but what will he do when the five of diamonds is led?
The answer is: It depends. Has A.J. counted the diamonds? Does he
know that you also started with five of them? If not, then he surely will
keep the king of spades, assuming that dummy will win the last diamond.
If however, A.J. does know that you still have a diamond, which one is it?
five-spot is pretty small; so he might well keep the high club,
assuming that the last diamond will be won by south. Will it be?
The answer is: It depends. This is a most unusual situation in that declarer must gauge how much A.J. actually knows. If, for example, east cries, "No diamonds, partner?" on the second round of the suit, then it is reasonable to infer that he does know that you have five of them; and your best chance is to play the diamond seven under the nine. If A.J. has not been paying close attention, he will not realize that dummy will win the twelfth trick.
Conversely, if A.J. is behaving normally, meaning that he is not counting well, then he surely will keep the high spade; if you judge that to be the case, then save the diamond seven for last. Be sure to make this decision before leading the third round of the suit, though. You must play in tempo on the fourth round so as not to give anything away.
I call this the Reese Coup, after a similar ploy suggested in one of
Terence's books. Holding
9753 in hand opposite
KQJ4 in dummy, the three honors are played off, whereupon an
opponent might not realize that dummy's
four-spot is now the high card!
GIVE THE OPPONENTS A CHANCE TO GO WRONG
In a matchpoint game, South plays in 5♦ with no bidding from the opponents. The opening lead of the ten of clubs is taken by the ace, and trumps are drawn in two rounds. Now what?
Is this a joke? At this juncture you could simply put your hand on the table and claim your contract, losing just the two heart tricks. That is the wrong tactic, however, because you haven't given the opponents a chance to make a useful mistake. The expert line is to play off a third round of trumps!
West does not have an easy discard, although paying attention to any
signal from partner might help. Pitching a spade could be fatal if
declarer started with more than one card in that suit, because that would
enable the establishment of dummy's fourth spade; similarly, a heart discard
would give up a trick if declarer held
AJx there. Your
defender might well choose to discard a seemingly worthless club in this
situation; after all, if declarer had club losers, he would not be
squandering dummy's trumps. Right?
Wrong. Parting with a club proves disastrous; for now declarer can discard two of dummy's hearts on his winning clubs and rake in a precious overtrick.
This deal is a classic case of revealing as little as possible for as long as possible. Had declarer, for example, humored himself by ruffing a spade or two early, LHO would have known that a spade discard was safe. Also, declarer should try to guess who has the long club and arrange to lead through that hand on the third round of trumps, forcing him to play before partner has a chance to show him another card.
If you have no clue about the distribution, then you should at least
arrange to lead the third trump through the hand with the singleton diamond,
compelling him to discard before having seen any
that is, cash the Queen, then lead the Jack, overtaking if LHO follows to
the second round.
Note: The results of a local survey were
mind-boggling. I polled thirty of the best declarers in the
Sacramento area; yet only one player, Don Guerin, thought to make
this no-lose play — one that is so easy in retrospect,
yet which needs to be thought of and implemented in real time.
In those other players' defenses, however, I believe that despite admonishments to the contrary, a couple of them might have felt compelled to look for something more exotic solely because I had bothered to pose the problem.
Addendum: Some double-dummy aficionados (including my regular partner in
this case) might observe that a legitimate line for twelve tricks actually
is available by way of a dummy reversal and a squeeze on RHO under the right
conditions. If your contract is
6♦, then perhaps
that is the best approach; otherwise, since that ploy risks losing up to
three tricks, it's not worth it. In any case, such matters are beyond
the scope of these pages, because they have nothing to do with the handling
of Average Joe.