Some Tricks of the Trade
Some of these methods are fairly well-known by most. All are standard equipment of the compleat declarer.
WATCH THE SIGNALS AND THE DISCARDS
What are the opponents' carding methods? You might need to know:
If you ask, and an opponent answers, say, "Lavinthal", this can be a good time to observe the other opponent's behavior. Often, A.J. is not playing the same card as his partner; and an inadvertent mannerism might telegraph that fact.
More importantly, however:
Get clarification. Was that discard of the Three of diamonds encouraging, or was it not? Millions of bridge players worldwide, including many at your own local club, believe that making their first discard in the suit that they want led is Standard. Not only is that a really poor defensive method, but announcing it as Standard is both incorrect and, because it is a private understanding, illegal. In Standard American, a high card is encouraging in the suit of the discard, and a low card is discouraging. As declarer, you may need to root out the facts.
AVOID MAKING FALSE CONCLUSIONS FROM A SIGNAL
At Trick Seven, an opponent discards a deuce. You ask about the carding, and the response is, "upside-down attitude." So you play the signaller for an important key card, which proves to be wrong. What happened? Were you misinformed? Not necessarily. You probably were not playing against Average Joe on this occasion. Your capable defenders already had completed their pertinent signalling to each other several tricks earlier; subsequent plays might have been solely for your benefit.
Another situation is when a defender has all the outstanding stuff and knows that he is pretty much on his own. Because partner doesn't need any signals, the defender can play whatever he chooses. He is not carding to help you. Average Joe's signals, on the other hand, tend to be honest at all times; but rely upon them at your own risk, of course.
So many declarers simply do not understand that good players don't signal later in a hand; they do it as soon as possible, when the information is most useful. You need to be aware of this fact, and of the opponents' carding methods. Asking about a play made late in a hand generally is a waste of time; instead, you need to concentrate on why RHO played his Ace at trick one instead of the King, or why LHO echoed in the trump suit, etcetera. At Trick Seven, a Two is just a Two.
TRY TO INDUCE A CONTINUATION
Everyone is familiar with the Bath Coup, wherein you duck the lead of a King or Queen holding AJx, hoping that the suit will be led again. There are other possibilities, however, most of which involve the playing of an unnecessarily high card on the first lead.
For example, a King is led against your Notrump contract. You hold AT9 opposite 8xxx. Consider following with the Ten. This gambit gives up a sure second stopper; but it also might prompt LHO to continue the suit, giving you an extra tempo toward setting up the Eight when a defensive switch would have proved more profitable.
TRY TO INDUCE A COSTLY COVER
Lead the Ten from Txxx opposite A98xx, which cannot cost. RHO might split his honors for you, crashing his partner's equal honor. Lead the Jack from Jxxx toward A9xxx in your hand for the same reason, but not if RHO could be short in the suit.
Lead the Ten from AT8 toward K9xxx. LHO might foolishly cover with Jx, Qx, Jxx, Qxx. With Jxxxx opposite Qxxxx, lead toward dummy if you judge that LHO might have Kx, or lead the Queen from dummy, hoping that RHO will cover with Kx. This ploy never should work; but occasionally it does.
TRY TO INDUCE A MEANINGLESS COVER
Most players know this one. If you are missing the Queen of trump, the lead of the jack might prompt a cover that could not possibly be useful to the defense. Average Joe grasps the concept of honor promotion only vaguely, if at all. Somebody once told him to "cover an honor with an honor", though, so he might do just that.
Be careful not to overdo it, however. If you hold K8xxx opposite AJTx, you can afford to lead to Jack; but overtaking with the King is risky. if the other defender shows out, you have just created an extra loser in the suit.
LEAD THE HIGHEST CARD IF YOU WANT IT TO BE COVERED, OTHERWISE NOT
Most players are aware of this one. The lead of a King is more likely to be captured than the lead of a Queen or Jack, because the hand with the Ace might be leery of crashing an honor in partner's hand. If you want to sneak a trick through, such as when trying to get the trumps drawn, lead a lesser honor first. Don't be too greedy, though. A little deception is well and good; but too much of it can backfire. If you have bid a suit three times, it is not likely to be Jack-high, and the opponents will know that; so from KQJ, lead the Queen, not the Jack.
There also are opportunities for inducing an error. With JTxxx opposite Kxx, lead the Ten, hoping that it is not covered by the hand with Qx. Holding JTx across from Axx and you believe that the suit is splitting 4-3, lead the Jack, because you are hoping for split honors and you want the Jack to be covered. If you have QJ9x with Axx in dummy, lead the Queen. If it is covered, finesse the Nine on the way back; you might not lose any trick at all!
GIVE THE OPPONENTS OPPORTUNITIES TO GO WRONG
The knowledge that Average Joe will grab most opportunities to win a trick is a powerful thing. In most situations is is odds-on to assume that A.J. is behaving normally for his skill-level:
With Axx opposite QTx, lead toward the Queen; if the King doesn't pop up, assume that it is not in LHO's hand. Lead low from Kxxxx toward a singleton in your hand; sometimes, RHO will rise with the Ace. Lead low from AQx toward xxx in your hand. If RHO has the King, either he will play it, or he very likely will reveal its location by a hesitation. He definitely will not be ready for that particular lead. Even a good player would be hard-pressed to duck with, say, Kx, because it could prove very costly.
The well-publicized principle of Restricted Choice is a useful guide; yet not only is it nonsensically named, but going with the mathematical odds accomplishes the same effect. The following is a situation of truly restricted choice:
It is reasonable to expect that LHO was restricted from leading a trump due to the nature of her holding — Qxx or Kx, for example.
Note that this conclusion does not apply if you are missing just three trumps including the Queen. No one ever would lead a trump in that situation unless the suit were breaking 2-1 anyway. Be aware also that this conclusion is valid only against a reasonably skilled opponent; Average Joe might not have known to lead the right thing.