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Defence
Hand of the week 20 December 2017

Exchanging Xmas presents

Not very Christmassy of EW to cheat you out of whatever game you should be in, but that's what they've done. You double East's opening 3♠ (hoping that partner won't bid clubs) and West, bidding 'to the level of the fit' raises to 4♠ and it's simply too risky for you to start looking for a fit at the 5-level. Still, at least your partner's doubled them for penalties. Let's see how many we can get them off ...

First a couple of holiday defence revision questions:

  • On partner's lead you encourage or discourage. How's it done?
  • What do you lead (a) from a sequence of honours? (b) from a single honour? (c) from a rubbish doubleton? (d) from a rubbish tripleton?

Answers:

  • Play a high card to encourage continuation of the suit and a low card to suggest a switch to another suit. (HELD = high encouraging low discouraging)
  • You lead (a) top of an honour sequence (b) the lowest card you have with a single honour (eg 2 from Q92) (c) high, then low (e.g. 7 then 3 from 73) (d) MUD – middle-up-down – e.g. 5 than 8 then 2 from 852

The reason for all this, of course, is to allow defenders to talk to each other and give each other early Christmas presents. And it works a treat on this hand. How does it go?

  • South starts with her A (probably promising the K too). That means she can have a quick look at dummy while she still has the lead – and she can also see whether her partner likes that suit or not.
  • Everyone follows, North playing the 2. What does this mean?
  • It means she isn't interested in diamonds and would like you to switch (she doubled 4♠, don't forget, so she's got something worth having). But switch to what?
  • Well, trumps are a waste of time and hearts don't look great – if you lead your A, dummy's K will be worth a trick. So presumably she'd like a club. You hold ♣54. Which club do you lead?
  • Yes. Lead the ♣5. Partner wins with her ♣K and continues with the ♣A, on which you throw the ♣4. And your high-low signal tells her that you don't have the ♣Q (which declarer therefore must have) so she leads a third club and you RUFF it with your ♠K.
  • Going well, isn't it? Time to cash your A for two down. Then you might as well try your K, but declarer ruffs that and takes all the rest of the tricks.

And that's about as good as it gets: you give partner the present of a club lead and she gives you back the present of a club ruff. Happy Christmas.

What happens if you don't notice partner's signal at trick 1 and continue with a second diamond? Declarer ruffs and leads a spade, catching your ♠K, and you can say goodbye to your club ruff. Now she's only going one off, for -100 instead of -300. Bah humbug!

​​In Box & Bath

As I said at the start, it's never going to be a great result for NS, because EW have stopped them getting to game by great pre-empting. 5 (worth +400) is the place to be, of course, losing just one heart and one spade.

In Box, just one pair reached 5 (well done) and somehow managed 12 tricks! The others were all in 4♠ (which should always be doubled!), but in all but one case (sorry, Helen and Ainsley) managed 9 tricks. Defenders please take note!

In Bath, people were all over the place: mostly in diamonds but by no means all in game. Just two pairs were in 4♠: neither was doubled and both were allowed to make 9 tricks. Too cheap a sacrifice!

See you in January.

Hand of the week 12 April 2017

It takes two to tango 

Less experienced players often worry too much about stops in unbid suits when wanting to bid no trumps. Most of the time, partner will have the suit covered. And even if she hasn't, the defenders have to find the right lead. And even if they do, they have to play the suit properly. So most of the time you'll make your contract – and sometimes even if they find the right lead. Go with the odds and bid your 3NT.

As it happens, on TWO hands out of today's 14, 3NT can be taken off by the right lead followed by the right defence. Here's the first.

Your partner leads the ♠8, dummy goes down, and you beat the singleton ♠Q with your Ace. What now?

Hmm. What's partner got? Not a lot, as you've got 9 points yourself. Could the ♠8 be 4th highest? No - the only spades higher than the 8 that you can't see are the 9 and the K. So it must be 'second highest from rubbish'. Still, it's looking good, especially if, as is likely, partner has 5 spades. Presumably declarer needs to develop the clubs to make her contract, so you're going to get in again. Meanwhile, you have to knock out declarer's ♠K. So you lead the ....?

If you led the ♠7, they've just made 3NT. Have a look at the whole deal. Sure, you can get in again with the ♣A and cash two spades ... but poor old partner's going to be stuck with a winning spade that she can never lead, and declarer is going to bang out lots of club winners with a smug smile on her face.

You have to lead not the ♠7 but the ♠J – and if declarer holds up, continue with the ♠10. Then, when you come in with your ♣A you'll still have the precious ♠7 in your hand to lead to partner's ♠9 – and then she can lead her fifth spade for your vital 5th trick. It's call UNBLOCKING: getting rid of your high cards early so you don't block the suit.

So there you have it. Declarer has a weakness, but the defence can only beat the contract (a) if they find the right lead (West might easily have preferred a diamond lead) and (b) East finds the right lead at trick 2.

But even if the contract goes off, it's still the right contract to be in. With 28 points between them NS should be in 3NT, because most of the time it'll make, with overtricks (thus making it a better contract than 5♣, which also makes).

In Box & Bath

There's a pronounced difference. In Box, 3 out of 4 pairs in 3NT made 9 tricks, suggesting that spades were indeed led, but that East led back the ♠7, blocking the suit. (We'll gloss over the two pairs that subsided in a club part-score: simply not possible with a combined 28 point-count!)

In Bath, 11 out of 12 pairs were in 3NT (suggesting strongly that it's the best place to be), but ONLY THREE pairs made their contract. A spade was led in every case, so 8 out of 11 Easts knew to unblock by offloading their ♠J10 and keeping the ♠7 as an entry to partner's hand. Worth taking on board.

Board 11

The same kind of thinking applies here. East is in a (rather dodgy) 3NT, and unfortunately for her, South has no difficulty finding the right opening lead: the A or K. But it can still go wrong. Can you see how?

If North simply plays low for 3 rounds, he will perforce take the fourth heart trick with his Q ... and South will be stuck with a fifth heart winner she can never cash. Note that as soon as EW get the lead they have 9 tricks off the top: 6 diamonds, 2 clubs and a spade.

At trick 1, North should encourage with the 9 (telling partner he has the Q) and then, whatever happens next, must make sure that he plays his Queen before the 4th trick, so he still has a low heart to lead back to his partner.

Simple, but also vital: unblock and you've taken 3NT off; fail to unblock and they make it.

Hand of the week 08 February 2017

No justice

What would you lead against 4 after this uninformative auction?

I think most players would answer 'Anything except for a club.' The reason? You're missing the ♣K. And declarer is more likely to hold that card than your partner. If so, leading your ♣A will simply present declarer with an extra trick – while a club lead from your partner through declarer, by contrast, will net you a second club trick.

So some will lead the 3 (the start of middle-up-down or MUD, showing three rubbish diamonds), others will prefer the ♠6 (2nd highest of 4 rubbish cards, intending to play the ♠2 on the next round) and the rest will lead a trump. Personally I'd go for the spade. The diamond's ambiguous (partner might think the 3 is your lowest and that you therefore have a diamond honour), and leading a heart might finesse your partner. So the spade seems the least dangerous.

But on this hand, as you'll see if you click on Show all hands, all this intellectualising is in vain. A club is the only lead that prevents declarer from making 12, or even 13, tricks: your partner has the ♣K after all and you have to take your ♣AK right at the start before declarer gets the lead. If not, here's what happens:

You lead 6♠: declarer gratefully accepts the extra spade trick, goes out to dummy with a spade ruff, finesses to catch your partner's trump Queen, ruffs another spade, clears trumps and bangs out 5 diamond tricks (bye bye club losers). 13 tricks.

You lead 3: not quite so easy, but still: declarer wins in hand. Plays ♠A, ruffs a spade, takes the trump finesse, ruffs another spade, clears trumps, etc. This time for just 12 tricks. (Yes, she could have finessed the spade too, but that's dangerous: if it loses, there might be a diamond ruff and then she's in trouble).

You lead a trump: that's the trump finesse taken for you. Much the same as above: combine spade-ruffing with trump-clearing and again declarer has 12 tricks.

No justice?

At times like this, when there seems to be no justice, remind yourself that bridge is a game of probabilities. In bidding and play, you follow the line that has the best chance of success. So with 25+ points and balanced hands, more often than not you'll be able to make 3NT, for example. But sometimes you won't. Never mind. Console yourself with the thought that most of the time your decision will turn out well. Just as most of the time, leading your ♣A against 4 hearts will turn out badly.

In Box & Bath

In Bath, no North led a club against 4 (though one South did, when East was declarer). Most declarers subsequently made 13 tricks. Lucky them.

In Box, two Norths made the truly dreadful * lead of the ♣4, and (because there's no justice on this hand) got away with it.

Why's the ♣4 so dreadful? Well, against 3NT it's a great lead, because you're likely to make some club tricks later when partner leads a club back. But against a suit contract it's vile: first of all (as discussed above) because it's likely to give away a trick. But that's not all: if declarer (or dummy) happens to have the singleton ♣K, you'll never make a club trick at all. If you insist on leading a club from AQx against a suit contract you must therefore lead the Ace!

Hand of the week 20 July 2016

High encourages ...

West's 4 bid (showing a long, probably 7-card heart suit) brings the auction to an abrupt halt and your partner leads the ♣A. How do you read the situation? And what card will you play to the first trick?

Well, North won't be leading his Ace from ♣AQ, will he, so we can safely assume that he holds ♣AK. That's two tricks, then, and your ♠A will provide a third. Where's the 4th trick coming from to get the contract off? Your K? Possibly, but North and West have only 3 diamonds between them, so maybe not very likely. But wait a minute – if North has only 5 clubs (he must have at least 5 for his overcall), then declarer has 3 clubs – and that means you can get a club ruff at trick 3. How to tell partner the good news?

It's all to do with signalling. When partner leads a new suit, it's normal to play HIGH if you like the lead (and want him to continue the suit) and LOW if you don't (and want him to switch). Here you want to encourage your partner to continue clubs, so you should play your higher club – the ♣7. Then when he continues with the ♣K, you'll play your ♣6, and being an observant player he'll realise you started with a doubleton and lead a third club for you to ruff. Marvellous.

But wait a moment. The ♣6 and ♣7 are right next to each other. How will partner know that you're playing 'high' rather than 'low'? Well, you can't be sure, but watch what happens after you play your ♣7. Declarer follows with the ♣9. Now your partner, who happens to hold ♣AK842, will wonder why no-one played the ♣6. Either declarer is deliberately playing a higher card to confuse him or else you, South, must hold the ♣6 yourself. North must trust his partner and continue with the ♣K.

And that's your four tricks: two clubs, a club ruff and a spade. Nothing declarer can do about it. A couple of final points to notice:

  • If you look at the whole deal, you'll see that you're never going to make your K, because declarer has a diamond void.
  • You have to get your club ruff in immediately, at trick three. Once you let declarer get the lead, she's going to clear trumps straight away and your goose will be cooked: you won't be ruffing anything.
  • If you play your ♣6 at trick one, partner will read that as a discouraging signal and may switch to another suit. So make it easy for him – play your ♣7.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone was in hearts, and two declarers were allowed to make 10 tricks. One other made 9 and the fourth made just 8.

In Bath, everyone was also in hearts (though only 6 of the 11 tables were in game). Most of them are watching their signals, as 9 declarers were restricted to just 9 tricks.

Hand of the week 30 March 2016

Keep your eyes open

As a defender, which card do you lead from a rubbish doubleton – 74, say, or 93? The higher card, right? Then when partner sees you play a lower card the next time the suit is played, she knows how many you started with. Simple. The corollary of that, of course, is that in order to use that information she has to take the trouble to notice what you play. And vice versa. Defence is, after all, all about communication – no communication, no defence!

Take a look at this situation. You're sitting South, and EW have made their way to 4♠. It's a simple enough auction – the 3 bid by East is a trial bid, asking whether West can help in hearts, which indeed she can: a singleton is a very useful card in a suit contract, so West raises partner to game. Not that you could see the singleton before you chose a heart as your opening lead.

So. Down goes dummy. Your partner, North, wins trick one with the A, and leads back the 9. West plays the 6 and you take the trick with your Ace. What now?

Depends if you're paying attention or not. You started off with 5 diamonds and so did dummy, and everyone's just followed to a diamond trick. So, doing some very elementary counting, you can work out that there's just ONE more diamond out there. The 10. If declarer has it, you can give your partner a ruff. But if your partner has it, it's no go. 

Which is it? Obvious, innit? If North had started with 10 9, she would have led the 10, not the 9. But she didn't. She led the 9. Can't have the 10, then, can she? You can now give your partner a ruff and take the contract one off (having wisely cashed your ♣A before giving the ruff, just to be sure).

Before we go, let's switch attention to declarer. A canny East will drop her 10 (instead of the 6) on North's 9 lead. Why? Because it may mess up your calculations. Now it's the 6 that's missing, and you may well conclude that North is leading high from 9 6 – a dastardly trick, but it costs declarer nothing to try. Actually, it shouldn't fool you, because you will reason as follows:

Hmm. My partner's led me back a diamond. Doesn't seem much profit in that with the KQ in dummy, does there? Much better to lead me a club – after all, as far as partner's concerned I could have something like ♣AQ, or even better. But she's chosen a diamond. Why? There's only one possible answer: it's a singleton, and declarer is falsecarding to pull the wool over my eyes. Huh! Take that!

It all boils down to trusting your partner rather than your opponents. But before you trust her, you have to notice what card she plays!

In Box and Bath

Nearly everyone in Box was in 4♠, and only one made it. Some even went 2 off, which baffles me a bit, and one unfortunate North went too high in hearts (vulnerable!) and went 2 off doubled for a very nasty -500. 

In Bath, several pairs stopped in 2♠, which is a little tame. Of the three pairs in 4♠, only one made the contract. But the others ended up in NT, all making 9 tricks – 3NT is an inferior contract, but makes a profit here because of that singleton diamond!

Featured hand: Wed 17 December 2014

Watch the pips

Sitting East, you supported your partner's 2 overcall, but NS have nonetheless found their way to 3NT. Very sensibly you lead the 3 (your 4th highest heart) – after all, you and your partner hold at least 9 hearts, so it seems a good bet – and you're greeted with a dummy which is VOID in hearts. 

So what occurs to you about (a) your partner's and (b) declarer's hands?

What should jump out at you is that they must have decent length in their suits. Take partner's hearts. North surely has either Q10x or A for his 3NT bid, so for West to overcall vulnerable with so many honours missing, she must surely have 6 hearts, not 5. She hasn't got many points, either, because North has calmly bid twice at the 3 level and is clearly fairly strong. North's diamonds must be significant, too, as she would otherwise have bid NT straight away.

Back to trick 1. Partner plays the Q and declarer DUCKS with the 5. Partner returns the 6 (her original 4th highest), declarer plays the 9 and you win the trick with your J.

It seems pretty clear. Declarer started with A95 (so now only has the A), and partner started with  Q10xxxx.

What now? Your next card will decide whether declarer makes the contract or goes off ...

It's tempting to lead a small heart, isn't it? That will force out declarer's A and your K will be good for a trick later. But if you do that, declarer's home and dry. Your partner will be sitting there with TWO heart winners that she can't use because she can't get the lead. What will happen is that you will eventually make a trick with your Q (declarer needs to establish diamonds to make her contract), and you will then cash your K ... and that will be that. You will have just 4 tricks and will have to sit and watch while North bangs out hundreds of diamond tricks.

Rewind to trick 3. Instead of leading a small heart, lead your K. Now when you're in with the Q, you lead your 8, which your partner overtakes with the 10 ... and she can now joyfully cash TWO further heart tricks to get declarer 2 down. By playing your K at trick three, you have unblocked, allowing you to pass the lead to your partner at precisely the right moment.

Have a peek at the whole deal. You can see that once declarer has disposed of the Q, she can count nine tricks: A, ♣A, ♠AK and 5 diamond tricks, plus one more if she's prepared to risk the club finesse. So you have to be ready to take your tricks before declarer can set up the diamonds. Hence the need to get rid of the troublesome K, which will otherwise block your progress.

What happened in Bath?

I was lucky on this hand, because I was in 3NT and for some inexplicable reason they switched from hearts at trick 3 to a spade, allowing me to make a comfortable 10 tricks. (I was able to set up my diamonds while I still had the other three suits safely guarded, so it was a doddle.)

The bidding lesson of the hand is for NS, though. When South comes to bid again, having seen a strong diamond bid from partner and extensive heart competition from EW, she could do worse than consider trying for a slam in diamonds. She has Axx and can RUFF hearts and there must be a chance of setting up spades or clubs as a side suit. 4 might be better than simply rebidding spades.

Anyway, 12 tricks are to be had in diamonds, but only one pair bid and made the slam. Most of the other 10 pairs were in 3NT and, sadly for the defence, only three of those were beaten. And all they had to do was lead hearts and watch the pips ...

Featured hand, 10 December 2014

Killing defence

You're North. Forget the auction for a moment,except to note that you're defending against 5♣ by West. A few cards into the play (so actually you haven't still got all those cards), West leads the ♠J. 

Do you play your ♠K or not?

This kind of decision comes up time and again, so it's worth knowing the answer. How to decide?

All you have to do is ask yourself this: how many spade tricks is declarer going to make (a) if I don't play the ♠K? (b) if I do play the ♠K? The answers are:

(a) Three. She'll play low from dummy and her ♠J will win. Then she'll lead another and play her ♠Q, again winning the trick. And finally she'll make a trick with her ♠A. 

(b) Maybe two, maybe three. It depends who has the ♠10! Declarer will have to beat your ♠K with her ♠A - one trick. Then she'll make her ♠Q - that's 2. And if she has the ♠10, she'll get a third. But if it's your partner who holds the 10, two is all they get.

So the answer's clear: play the K. Half the time it'll gain you a trick.

Click on 'Show all hands', and you'll see that partner does indeed hold the ♠10: by playing the ♠K, North has prevented declarer from getting a valuable 3rd spade trick (and probably discarding a loser from her hand). 

♠  ♣  ♠  ♣  ♠  ♣  ♠ 

Now let's rewind a bit to North's opening lead. It ain't rocket science to see that the singleton Q in her partner's bid suit would be an excellent lead. But what happens next? What are your thoughts sitting South? Something like this, perhaps:

'Partner's Q could be top of a doubleton, in which case we can come to 2 heart tricks. But what if it's a singleton? Then we can take 3 heart tricks off the top and they're 1 off by trick 3! In case it is a singleton, I'd better take the trick myself ...'

Either way, South is safe to overtake partner's Q with her A and then bang out her K followed by the J. And as luck would have it, the Q was a singleton and the contract's 1 off. 

Later on, when poor old West comes to take her spade finesse, up goes North with her ♠K and the contract might now end up going off not one but two. Marvellous ...

... except that on the day, South didn't overtake the Q - so North, having no hearts left, had to switch to something much less attractive. And North didn't later cover the ♠J with her ♠K. So instead of going off, declarer makes an overtrick. 

But that's what Wednesdays are all about: two valuable lessons for defenders from just one hand. When it's happened to you and cost you a bottom, it kinda tends to stick in your mind!

Featured hand, 19 November 2014

Unblock!

Weird auction here that wouldn't have happened if I'd been North (because I would have opened 1♠ using the Rule of 20), but there we are. Your partner has led the K again East's 1NT. What are your thoughts?

Well, first of all you notice that she didn't lead a spade – the suit you bid. Either she hasn't got one (which is entirely possible, given East's 1NT bid over your 1 overcall) or she thinks diamonds are a better bet.

Second you notice that she led the diamond King. What does this mean? 

We noted in a recent Featured hand (29 Oct 2014, Defence page) that the lead of an honour against NT is top of a sequence of not two but THREE cards. So the lead of the K will be from KQJx(x) or from KQ10x(x). 

So what's partner got here? Well, you've got the 10 yourself, so she has to have KQJx or KQJxx – the latter, you hope! And now to the main question: what do you play?

Answer: you overtake with the Ace and lead back the 10. Now you've cleared away all your high cards in a suit, leaving the way clear for partner to bang out all her diamond tricks. (Suppose you play low or encourage with your 10. Partner then leads the Q and you play low again. She now leads the J ... and your A wins the trick - but you're BLOCKED. You now don't have a diamond to lead back to her!)

Two points to take home from this:

  • The lead of a King against NT is begging you to play your Ace if you have it and lead one back (this hand shows why!). And if not, you should throw any honour you happen to have under the King – again this clears the way for partner's winners.
     
  • When partner makes the opening lead and you win the trick, the card you lead back depends on how many you started with. If you started with 3, lead back the HIGHER of your remaining doubleton. But if you started with 4 or more, lead back your ORIGINAL 4TH HIGHEST. This not only helps to unblock (as above), but it also tells partner how many cards you have in the suit (and therefore how many declarer has too).
     

What next?

By the time your partner's run out of diamonds, you'll have 5 tricks to your credit. But what happens next? You'd love to tell partner about your club suit, wouldn't you?

This is easily done by your choice of DISCARDS on partner's 4th and/or 5th diamond tricks. We won't get bogged down on the various systems available, but (for example) playing a small spade will tell partner you're not interested in spades (in spite of having bid them) and she should be able to see for herself (by looking at dummy!) that hearts aren't going to get you far ... and that should be enough to make her lead a club.

As it happens, she has ♣Kx, and she should lead the ♣K. When that wins, she leads another and you make both your ♣A and ♣J – giving you 8 tricks for 2 off. Not bad with a mere 20 points between you. smiley

Featured hand: Wed 29 October 2014

Which spade?

The adage has it that when leading your best suit against NT, you should lead 'top of a sequence' (if you have one) or (if not) the 4th highest. A 'sequence', in the context of NT, needs to have three elements, not two: so you'd lead the K from KQJx(x) and the Q from QJ10x(x) or AQJ(x)x, this last being a 'broken sequence' – see below. 

But why? This hand provides a good example. Sitting West, you're hoping to set up some spade tricks (at least 4). So what do you lead? The ♠7 (4th highest)? Or the ♠A ('Just to have a peek at dummy')?

If you start with your ♠A, you can say goodbye to all those nice spade tricks. Why's that? Click on Show all hands and have a look. You've taken the first trick ... and now you lead another spade to knock out declarer's spade stop. And partner, who started with two spades, doesn't have any spades left. How can you make your spades now? You don't have any entries (you're unlikely to win a trick with the singleton Q) and when partner comes in with his ♣A (or possibly with his Q) later in the hand, he can't lead you a spade because he doesn't have one. Oops!

Rewind. This time, lead the ♠7. Declarer has to win the trick (if she doesn't she never makes a spade trick at all). And now you just wait for partner to win a trick. And when he does, he leads you back his last spade and you make your 4 spade tricks.

That's not to say that it's always wrong to lead the ♠A. If you're the one with the outside entries (i.e. if you, not your partner, have the ♣A) then no harm done. But you're probably still best to lead the ♠7, just in case partner has something like ♠Q3.

What did they lead in Bath?

Three led the ♠7 and two the ♠A. As it happens, it's not crucial on this particular hand, as the singleton Q and the finessable Q mean that declarer can come to 9 tricks without losing the lead again. But in the long run, the ♠7 will produce better results. (Several Wests led ♠A against 2, mind, but that's fine against a suit contract.)

Postscript What about AQJxx?

The received wisdom here is that you lead the top card of the unbroken bit of the sequence – in this case the Q. 

Why? Well, imagine that partner again has just two spades and that declarer has Kxx. If declarer takes his K, fine. Later, you'll have a good chance of clearing the spades. But if declarer holds up, don't lead another spade! Switch to another suit and hope partner can get the lead later: then she can lead her last spade through declarer's Kx to your ♠ AJxx. Should have taken his K while he could!

Featured hand: Wed 22 October 2014

Own goal!

You're sitting South after a brief auction and it's your lead against East's 4♠ contract. Before you choose a lead, have a think about what you expect to see in dummy and what declarer's hand might look like. 

OK. What about dummy? Well, she has opening points with at least 5 hearts and 4 diamonds. That leaves a maximum of just 4 cards for the black suits. West hasn't promised any spade support either, but that doesn't mean she has none.

And declarer? Surely 7 spades, and up to opening points. He can't be very strong, because after partner opened the bidding he'd be exploring for a slam if he had a big hand. 

So what to lead? You could conceivably lead any suit, the choices being, in suit order: ♣Q, 10, A, ♠7. Have a think about each one and make a choice. Then read on ...

♣Q Top of a sequence. Quite an attractive lead, as it's the unbid suit. Declarer and/or dummy could be short, so maybe a good idea to grab any tricks before they can discard club losers?

A If you're going to lead a heart it has to be the Ace ('Don't lead away from an Ace against a suit contract'). But not an attractive lead – E or W (who have most of the points) are far more likely to hold the K than your partner.

10 Again, top of a sequence, albeit a less interesting one. A reasonably safe lead. It's dummy's second suit, so you'd be leading through strength.

♠7 There are two main reasons for leading a trump. One, if both sides have tried other suits and settled on spades, they might well have a good cross-ruffing hand – in which case the best defence is to shorten their trump holdings by leading a trump at every opportunity. Or two, if every other possible lead looks dangerous, as a handy last resort. Neither of these is true here: a cross-ruff looks unlikely and you have two other attractive opening leads.

So. You've chosen your lead. Have a look at the whole deal and see what happens.

In an ideal world, he's going one off, losing two clubs, a heart ... and a trump to North's ♠J. Unlucky that partner didn't have just one tiny little trump.

But what about your lead?

The ♣Q is champion: you take your two club tricks straight away, and later on will come to a heart trick and a trump trick. 

The 10 is fine, too. East can set up his diamonds (by playing the AK and ruffing a 3rd round ... but he sadly can't get back to dummy without letting you get the lead first – so you'll grab your two club tricks before he can discard losing clubs from his hand.

What about the A? Well, it's OK provided you switch immediately to a club at trick 2. What if you lead a 2nd heart at trick 2? East wins with his Q, goes out to dummy with a diamond and discards a losing club on the K! ('Oh no he doesn't', I hear you cry. 'North will trump the 3rd round of hearts!' Ah yes - but then you don't get your spade trick, do you? Think about it!)

And finally, the ♠7. The one utterly disastrous opening lead. Why? Because it finesses your partner, who will now not make her ♠J. Declarer has no trumps to lead ... so you've done it for him! Own goal!

And guess what my partner led when we played these hands in Bath for the Swan Trophy? Yep. The ♠7 it was. sad10 tricks bid and made by the opposition.

 

In Box and Bath

In Box half the pairs in spades went one off (well done, defence!) and half didn't.

But what did people lead in Bath? Well, no-one led a diamond or heart. Four led the Q, resulting in one off every time. Three others led a SMALL club, which is not so useful – when dummy plays low, how does North know that his 10 will win the trick? Poor old North has to rise with the A ... and instead of making 2 club tricks you only make 1. 

And three Souths led the fatal trump. Ah well, at least it wasn't just us.

Hand of the week
High Encouraging Low Discouraging
 
Bidding in fourth place, and hoping to open 1NT, you're a bit miffed when East sneaks in before you with 1: you don't have a suitable overcall, so you have to pass and EW end up in 3NT.

What do you lead?


Your only 4-card suit is hearts, and that's been bid by declarer, as have clubs by West, so it's a choice between the two unbid suits: diamonds and spades.

Well, you know what they say about
A from AK being a good lead: it doesn't give anything away and gives you a chance to look at dummy before leading again. And in this case it really is a no-brainer, as you have the J as well, giving you a 'broken sequence' of honours.

There's another reason for leading the A, of course: it gives your partner the chance to signal. If she doesn't like spades, she'll play low (= discouraging) and you can switch to a diamond at trick 2. If she likes them, she'll play high (= encouraging) and you will continue with the suit.

Not that your partner will have very much anyway: the opposition are in game and you have 14 points: you'll be lucky if she has any points at all! Still, defence is all about communication, so here goes ...


Trick 1

You lead the A.

Down goes dummy (click on Show All Hands), which has a spade holding of just
93. That's good – better than Qxx, anyway!

But the crucial card is the one your partner plays to trick 1. You don't know it yet, but she holds Q8742 (yes, she has two points!), and she has to tell you that NOW. If she plays the 2 (low = discouraging) you'll switch, and she doesn't want that. She wants you to continue with spades, so she must play the highest card she can afford (high = encouraging), which is the 8.

There are two things going on here. First, partner has to signal her encouragement, and second, you have to take the trouble to notice which card she plays.
No point in her signalling, otherwise!

So let's say she signals and you notice. What happens then?


Tricks 2-5

At trick 2, you continue with your
K, partner this time playing the 2. (She's already told you she likes spades, so she doesn't need to tell you again!)

At trick 3 you lead your
J – and your partner has to overtake with her Q, so that she has the lead to carry on leading spades.

By this time, declarer has no spades left, so
tricks 4 and 5 consist of two further spade tricks for NS, taking the contract off.

The rest of the hand

Nothing much else happens now, except that later on your make your A, thus netting 200 points for getting declarer two off. Not bad going for a combined holding of 16 points.

Right to overtake?
 

Wait a minute, do I hear you ask? How does your partner know you only have 3 spades? You led them, after all, so you might have started with AKJ10 – in which case playing her Q at trick 3 will block the suit and limit you to just 4 spade tricks.

This is true, but think it through a bit more, this time from the perspective of North
.

The bidding suggests that partner (South) has quite a few points – maybe 12 or so. That ought to be good for a trick at least, even if EW rattle off 5 club tricks. So if South does have
AKJ10, we're still going to get the contract off, whether you overtake with your Q or not.

But supposing the
J is his last spade. If you don't overtake NOW with your Q, you'll never make more than 3 spade tricks, will you? You have no entry to your hand. You'll be sitting there helplessly following suit for another 10 tricks, and at some point you'll have to discard two winning spades simply because you can't ever get the lead.

And in fact, that is exactly what happens if you don't overtake. Declarer knocks out South's
A, but South has no spades left to lead to his partner, so declarer cashes heart, diamond and club tricks galore and doesn't lose another trick: 3NT bid and made.


Postscript

I'm not sure what happened at Bath on this hand, as the scoring system went AWOL that evening, but at Box, one pair found the killing defence against NT.


The two that didn't were a bit naughty, as West was declarer, making the defence a whole lot easier. It goes like this:

North leads her
4 (the 4th highest of her longest and strongest (!) suit). South wins with the A, then leads the K and then the J.

For North now, it's simply a question of adding up to 13. Dummy has shown up with 3 spades. Partner has shown up with 3 spades. Declarer has shown up with just 2 (discarding on the third round). So my 5 spades + dummy's 3 + declarer's 2 + partner's 3 ...

... adds up to 13. So partner doesn't have any spades left! That makes it a simple task to overtake with the
Q and cash the two remaining hearts.
 

Hand of the week 1 February 2012
Leading question
 
After an uninformative auction, what's your choice of opening lead here?

What first springs to mind is  the
6 – the fourth highest of your 'longest and strongest' suit. Well, longest, anyway ...

But hang on a minute. One of the reasons that people end up in no trumps is that they haven't got a fit in a major, and what's conspicuously absent from this auction is anyone asking about major suits: no transfers, no Stayman. So the odds are that partner has something to offer in either hearts or spades.

Hearts seem to be the best bet for finding partner with length, but the great thing about having an AK is that you can lead the Ace (not too dangerous as you still have the King), have a peek at dummy
and also, crucially, see whether partner likes spades or not, all without losing the lead.

You'll remember that partner will encourage with a high card if she wants you to continue with the suit and discourage with a low card if not.
So let's see what happens. Lead the A. Dummy appears (no, don't click on Show All Hands yet) and has, among other things, 974. So far so good. Partner plays the 6 and declarer the 8.

Hmm. So what about this 6 from partner? Is it high/encouraging or low/discouraging? Well, you can't see either the 3 or the 2, so unless declarer is being very cunning both are likely to be in partner's hand. So the 6 is clearly a high card, and partner is encouraging you to continue with spades.

Does that make sense? What's partner got, then? Well, she knows that you have the
K (otherwise you wouldn't have led the A, would you?) so the only reason she would encourage you is if she has the Queen to go with your AK. It looks as if she has Q632, which leaves declarer with just J108 – and that means you can take 4 spade tricks off the top.

So you continue with the
K, then lead a low spade to partner's Queen, she wins trick 4 with her 3 and subsequently gets the contract one off with her A.

Yeah, but ...


You may now be thinking 'Yes, but NS always have 5 tricks off the top – 4 spades and the A – so you don't need to find that as an opening lead. Fair enough. Although an opening club lead gives away a trick (as declarer wins trick 1 with 9), you may now eventually come into a trick with your J.

But a cunning declarer could still find a way through. For example, if he just bashes out four diamond tricks and then starts on his club winners, poor old North has to find discards, and will doubtless throw one – or even two – spades, leaving the defence looking distinctly dodgy. Best to get your five tricks early!

Box and Bath

I don't know what
the leads were in Box, but 3NT went off just once out of four. In Bath, only three pairs found the A lead, though (weirdly) only 2 of those went off. All the rest led a low club, and of those some went off but most made their contracts.

And once in each location, declarer made 11 tricks. Don't ask me how!
Featured hand: Wed 04 June 2014

Don't lead that!

It's your lead after an auction in which you competed in spades against the opponents' heart contract. They've ended up in 4, and you could have sacrificed in 4♠ but you felt there was a chance of getting them off, so you passed – and you have to find a lead.

First, though, you're curious about East's 3♣ bid, and West explains: 'It's a 'trial bid'. My partner is asking me if I can help out in clubs – if I can, she wants me to bid game.'

[This, of course, is the reason you're supposed to leave the auction down on the table until the lead is 'faced' – in case either defender has a question about it.]

So what do you lead? A good way of finding the best lead is to eliminate those that don't seem like a good idea and see what's left at the end. Here, for example ...

  • The ♠A? After all, partner agreed spades. 
    Yeah, but you have the ♠AQ, and who's most likely to hold the ♠K? Declarer, of course – she has far more points than your partner does. So if you lead your ♠A you could be giving away a trick.
  • OK, what about a small spade, then?
    Even worse. If one of the defenders has a singleton (quite likely if partner has supported your spade bid), you may never make your ♠A at all! Don't lead away from an Ace in a suit contract.
  • How about a club? If partner has the ♣A I might get a ruff,
    Same argument as spades: declarer's more likely to have the Ace, and if she holds the Queen too, that's giving away a trick. Not attractive (especially when West has shown values in clubs after East's trial bid).
  • A trump, then – my Q's in a doubleton so it isn't going to make a trick anyway.
    But it might! Declarer will probably try a finesse – and it may be in your direction. She doesn't know that you have Qx doubleton.
  • Oh all right then – a diamond?

Good choice – it's the only one left. BUT it's also

  • top of a sequence (so unlikely to give anything away)
  • the suit where partner is most likely to have a high card and
  • if partner can gets the lead, partner can be the one to lead your spade suit – towards your ♠AQ, rather than away from it.

Have a look at the whole deal. North wins with the A and leads the ♠J through declarer's ♠K, and you make two tricks with your ♠AQ. You have three tricks already – and whether you get a fourth depends on how declarer plays the trumps. Her correct play on this hand will be to finesse ... and if she does you will be delighted to win a trick with your Q and get the contract one off.

But that doesn't happen if (as happened at several tables in Bath) you begin your defence by leading the ♠A. Now the defence only take one spade trick, and even if declarer guesses the trumps wrong she's making 10 tricks. 

So there you are. Sometimes the opening lead is obvious ... but when it's not, try a few ideas – and when you've eliminated some poor options, what's left may be a good one.

Thrust & counter-thrust
 

On last Wednesday's board 11, everyone ended up in 6NT, but the four declarers ended up with 11, 12, 12 and 13 tricks.

The auction is straightforward (though it may well feature in the upcoming special 'Don't Jump!' in a couple of weeks).
With a balanced 17 points, West opens 1♣, East replies 1 and West duly rebids 2NT. East does a little arithmetic and concludes that their combined 34 points are enough for a no trump slam and bids it: 6NT. You should note in passing that East doesn't feel the need to fiddle around with all sorts of complicated conventions just because she's strong: she can see that the partnership has the points for 6NT so she bids it - end of auction!

  Thrust ...   

The first attacking move in the play is the opening lead, and this can be crucial. True, it sometimes doesn't matter a whole lot, but there are times when it can destroy a contract - or hand it to declarer on a plate.

On this hand, the latter is a distinct possibility, and I'm grateful to Pete for pointing out to me the importance of getting it right. Here's North's 'longest and strongest' suit. Which card should he lead?

 

♠ J 10 8 7 6


My first thought (and maybe yours) was that he should lead his 4th highest: the 7. But glance at declarer's holding and see what happens if he does: dummy plays low, South plays her singleton 5, and Declarer wins the trick with his 9. If you add up declarer's tricks, you'll find that North has just presented Declarer with his 12th trick. (He has 4 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks, 2 heart tricks - and now 4 in spades instead of 3.)

The correct lead, of course, is the
J. 'What?' I hear you cry. 'You only lead top of a sequence of THREE against no trumps.' Well, true, but the rule also applies to broken sequences - a sequence with an intervening card missing - and J108 is such a sequence. Here are some others:

 

 

AKJ    KQ10    KJ10   QJ9    Q109    J98   


In each case, you lead the top card of the unbroken bit: the cards underlined above. This ensures that when your partner leads the suit back to you (through declarer), she'll be leading into your tenace - with which you hope to trap Declarer's intervening card.

And as you can see, if North leads the
♠J, he's given Declarer nothing.

Which leaves Declarer rubbing his chin and wondering where his 12th trick is coming from.

  ... & counter-thrust   

Can you help him find it? In the absence of a suicidal lead from North, where is there a chance of developing the 12th trick? Think for a moment before reading on.

Well, it's always a possibility that North will win a trick later (maybe a spade) and will then helpfully lead a diamond around to your AJ, so you should make a mental note to clear the ground for that by getting rid of that K in dummy as quickly as possible. So you do that at trick 2. But without much hope that anything will come of it.

Is there a more realistic hope?

Well, you have 7 hearts and 7 spades. If either of those suits were to break 3-3, your fourth heart (or spade) will eventually become a winner, and provide you with your 12th trick. Hearts look the better bet (North's spade lead suggests that he has 4 or even 5 spades), so how to proceed?

The key thing here is not to lose control. So you DON'T go banging out your
AK and then another, hoping for the friendly 3-3 break. If either defender started with QJxx or Q10xx or J10xx, you'll be giving them two tricks on that same plate I mentioned earlier. Instead you play a LOW heart from both hands, allowing the defence to win the trick. Then, when you get back in, you can test the hearts without losing the lead again.

But although a fourth trick in hearts is my only hope, I wouldn't attack hearts straight away. First, I would play four rounds of clubs.


Can you think why?

The answer is that I'd be hoping the defence will make a mistake. Four rounds of clubs will require the defence to play 8 cards, and they only have 5 clubs between them. Therefore they will have to discard 3 non-clubs somewhere along the line. Yes? OK, well, maybe one defender is holding something like 10xxx, and decides to discard a small one on one of my clubs. It looks harmless enough - how is he to know I'm pinning my hopes on hearts? - but once that defender has only 3 hearts left, my 4th heart is worth a trick and I've made my contract.

And as it happens, the hearts do split 3-3 and however well the defence play they can't prevent 6NT from making.

But how, you may be wondering, did one declarer manage to make all 13 tricks? It was a combination of all of the above! First, the opening lead was the ♠7, which was worth a trick. Then Declarer played off all his club winners, then his spade winners, and each defender duly discarded a heart - leaving the defence with 87 and QJ. So when Declarer finally went in search of heart tricks, all the outstanding hearts dropped under the AK and declarer made not one but two more heart tricks, for the Grand Slam. Marvellous.

  Postscript  

At Bath BC, it was much the same story: most pairs were in 6NT, usually making, but two pairs went one off and one made an overtrick. Crucially, though, one pair bid and made 7♣, and I'm sorry to say that it was at my table. Worse still, it was my opening lead ... which, I find on the Bath BC website, was no other than the ♠7! Oh the shame of it. Sorry, partner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust your partner!
 

Put yourself in North's chair. You played a small part in what appears to have been a rather weird auction (of which more later), and are now defending against 4 by East.

Your partner led the J, and you've won the trick with your Ace. What are you going to do now?

Made your choice? OK. Time for a quick click to reveal all four hands.

Did you return your partner's diamond lead? Full marks if you did, because declarer's now going to be two off.

Or did you switch to a spade, hoping partner would give you a spade ruff? Bad move, as you've now given declarer an overtrick.

Let's take the spade switch first. Partner dutifully returns a spade which you gleefully ruff ... but your joy is short-lived, as declarer overruffs. Just like you, he only had a singleton. He then clears trumps, ending in the dummy, and proceeds to discard his two club losers on two of dummy's top spades, then cashes hundreds of winning diamonds and takes the rest of the tricks.

And now what happens if you return your partner's lead instead? You lead a small diamond. Partner ruffs, then leads a club (you bid clubs, remember?). You win with the Ace and lead a third diamond, which your partner also ruffs. That's four tricks to you, and partner completes the rout by leading her
A. Sometimes defence can be just wonderful.

Yes, OK, but how do I know?

Well, your partner had bid a suit, but he didn't lead that. You had also bid a suit, and partner didn't lead that either. Instead he chose to lead a diamond. It's kinda worth asking yourself why. And if you do, the obvious answer is that it's a singleton. And as for spades, your partner bid them lacking the King, Queen, Jack and the 10 (which you hold). He has a minimum of 5 spades for his overcall, and in the absence of all honours other than the Ace, really ought to have 6 spades rather than just 5 - in which case, declarer will only have a singleton.

So ... trust your partner and return his lead, and all will be well.


  The auction  

A word on the auction. When South bids 1♠, West's best line is to pass smoothly. If North also passes, your hope is that partner will try what's known as a 'reopening double' - that is, double the 1♠ to mean 'Come on partner, they ain't getting away with this. Bid again please.' In which case, West will pass, converting the double into a penalty double. North's 2♣ bid scuppers that, however, so East bids his 2nd suit, diamonds, and West, realising that partner is at least 5-4 in the red suits, is happy to bid game in hearts.

  Postscript  

At Bath BC, only 8 out of the 15 pairs got to 4, and of those 5 succeeded in making game. Which goes to show that not enough players at Bath trust their partners. It also shows that quite a few pairs are not bidding to game when they really ought to. There's hope for us all!
 

Play & Learn Wed 18 August
Make a bid: help your partner's defence ...
 

Here's a hand where East makes it easy for her partner to find the killing defence.

  The auction  

I'm sitting South, with a pleasant 18 count and a 6-card club suit, and open 1♣.

West, though vulnerable, has a pretty low-risk 1 overcall, and my partner passes.

What do you do in East's seat? With just 7 points, you could pass. With a heart fit (you have 3 to add to your partner's 5+) you could raise your parter 2. But it does no harm (and could do a lot of good!) to show your own strong suit: 1♠. Why? Well, if (as seems likely) you end up defending, your spade holding could be useful information for partner. And if you don't have a spade fit, you're quite happy to go back to hearts at the 2 level. So what harm can it do?

To show my extra strength and good club suit, I now bid 2♣, West passes, as does my partner, and now East raises her partner's hearts: 2. She's not going to let me off lightly. 

OK then. I'll fall for it: 3♣ it is. And now, having forced me up to the three level, they all pass.

And it's West's lead ...

  The play  

Put yourself in West's position. Why would partner bid spades when she could support hearts instead? Possibly to ask for a spade lead ... But no hurry. He has AKx. It can do no harm to lead the A first and have a peek at dummy before going any further. (If nothing else, it'll tell his partner that he also holds the K.)

So West leads his A, down goes dummy, partner plays 4 and West wins the trick. And what does he notice? Well, first of all, his partner has discouraged diamonds: the 32 are on the table, so partner has played her lowest diamond (with a doubleton she would have played high-low, hoping for a ruff on the 3rd round). And the other thing he notices is that dummy has 3 spades. Hmm. So if partner (who bid spades) has 5, that leaves declarer with 3, and that could mean a spade ruff. So West now switches to the ♠10.

And that's the end of the contract. East wins, takes a second spade trick, then leads a low spade. South plays his Queen, but West ruffs and now takes his K for one down. Perfect defence and there's precisely nothing that South could do about it.


  Postscript  

So there you have it. Force the opponents too high, then defend perfectly and get them off. Lovely.

Note that any other defence allows South to make his contract. Play 3 rounds of diamonds, or lead a heart or a trump and South wins, clears trumps and makes 9 tricks. Only by switching to a spade can West take the contract off - and his partner's simple little 1♠ bid makes it that much easier to find the killing defence.
 

Play & Learn Wed 21 Oct: Board 1

What a difference the opening lead can make. You're sitting North, leading against 4♠, after an uninformative auction (well, you know that East is a passed hand, and that the raise to 4 is likely to be based on the 'losing trick count' rather than lots of high-card points). So do you lead
 

  • a trump (to reduce dummy's ruffing potential)?
  • the 5 (4th highest of the longest & strongest)?
  • the 8 (2nd highest from 4 rubbish cards)?
  • the ♣A (hoping that partner has the King and can give you a ruff on the 3rd round)?


Make a preliminary choice, then read what I think my thoughts would be if on lead:

 

 

  • Trump lead? Well, East has at least 4, and West probably has 5 (if he's only got 4, he'll have 15+ points - otherwise he would have opened 1NT). So you aren't going to damage East's ruffing potential very much - and you could be finessing partner. Still ...
  • the 5? Certainly in a NT contract, but could give a trick away in a suit contract. ('Don't lead away from an unsupported honour.')
  • the 8? A fairly neutral lead. Probably harmless. Certainly better than a heart.
  • the ♣A? The trouble with leading an unsupported Ace is that declarer may have the King (and probably does, given that they have more points than the defence!). An aggressive lead that is likely to defeat declarer if it works, but give an unnecessary trick away if it fails.


OK. What's your final choice?

Consider it led, and click on 'Show all hands'. How many tricks does declarer make on the lead you chose?

 

 

 

 

 

  • Leading a trump does indeed finesse partner, but declarer's going to try the finesse anyway. Declarer clears trumps, ruffs the third round of hearts, tries the diamond finesse (which fails) and ends up with 10 tricks. Contract made.
  • Leading the 5 is not good (as we suspected from the start). Declarer lets it run round to his Jack, and after clearing trumps has a convenient third heart winner on which to dump his losing 4. 11 tricks and a clear top in duplicate pairs.
  • Leading the 8 will also fail against a competent declarer. (The danger is that declarer will be tempted to play low and hope the King is with North - but how likely is North to have led away from the K? The lead of the 8 suggests otherwise, too.) Up with the A, clear trumps, and again 10 tricks.
  • As it happens, the ♣A is the only lead that defeats the contract. South encourages with the 6, and North continues with his ♣10 to South's King. Now South, like the rest of us when we put our minds to it, is quite capable of adding up to 13, and is aware that neither declarer nor North has any more clubs. But lead another anyway and see what happens. And what happens is that declarer can't win. If he ruffs low, North overruffs with his ♠J, and if he ruffs high with his ♠Q, the defence will later come into a trump trick with their combined ♠KJ holding. Add to that an unavoidable diamond loser and that's four tricks - one off - and a top for North-South.


Don't be disappointed if you didn't get it. It was largely a matter of luck. On another day, declarer will have the ♣K and make 11 tricks on a club lead, and a diamond will instead be the killing lead. You just have to weigh up the alternatives and try the one that looks best.

So what happened at Bath Bridge Club? Eight out of nine pairs reached 4♠ (the other stopped in 3♠), and six pairs made 10 tricks. One made 11 (must have been a heart lead), and only twice was declarer restricted to nine tricks.

 

 

 

 

 

Test your defence #1

The #1 suggests that this was supposed to become a series, but it didn't! Don't know why.

You're sitting South, and about to defend against 3NT by West. Fortunately, you were able to show your diamond suit along the way, and your partner, North, has dutifully led 7.

Without looking at the hidden hands yet, what are you going to play to the first trick?

Hint  Count the diamonds. What diamonds is declarer likely to have?

Answer  You can see nine diamonds. West wouldn't have been daft enough to bid 3NT with just Qx after you've bid the suit. So he either started with Qxxx (in which case your partner's now out of diamonds) or Qxx (in which case partner still has one).

You've got to hope that it was Qxx, and that your partner has a second diamond. That's your only realistic chance of getting in to cash your diamonds before West bangs out nine tricks in the other suits.

So the answer is: play the 9 (or 10, or J) - but not the A or K. If you cash your AK now, your partner won't have a diamond to lead to you, and you'll be sunk.

Now check out the full deal. How does it go? Well, West wins trick 1 with his Q, and can notch up a further seven tricks in the black suits. Eventually, though, he has to let your partner in with A. Back comes the 4, and you clean up in diamonds.

But look what happens if you play A, K and another diamond. West takes his heart in his mouth and leads his 8 towards dummy's King. If North doesn't rise with her A, dummy's K is declarer's 9th trick. And if she does, she has no diamond to lead: again, nine tricks for declarer.

 

Postscript: Hang on, I hear you say. What about going up with the A at trick 1 and switching to a low spade to dummy's King. Don't we come to a spade trick eventually? Yes, but it doesn't help. Declarer simply leads a second diamond from dummy ... and still ends up with 9 tricks. Try it and see!