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Hands of the Week #2
Strategies in Declarer Play (1).

The bid by East was explained as an opening bid with spades. Unfortunately, the much better contract of 4S was not found. With weak long suits in suits bid by the opposition and probably no entry, North led the 2C in the hope of finding partner’s suit.

How does declarer play the hand (1) at Teams or Butler Pairs (2) at Match Point Pairs?

This is a hand with no certain answer but is very instructive as far as declarer working out the high percentage line before undertaking play.

At Teams or Butler Pairs, making the contract, not over-tricks is all important. Based on the 2C lead, South has five or six clubs and North four or three. If North has led from four clubs (more likely) then ducking the clubs twice won’t help. South plays the KC and declarer decides to win with the AC.  Declarer has a double stop in clubs as long as North is the opponent that gets on lead or if South holds both KC and QC (unlikely based on lead and play).

 If the spade finesse is successful then at least 11 tricks are assured but if it loses to South the contract will probably go down. Finessing North for the QD would yield at least three tricks if successful and probably more tricks if North is then put on lead with the QD. This would also provide at least nine tricks but if South holds the QD then the contract will again probably go down. If the hearts break 3-3 there are also nine tricks off the top to be had with more possible via finesses. If South has four hearts declarer must find another line after playing the three rounds. If North has four hearts giving them a heart trick will provide the eight trick only providing North does not then cash QC and lead another to give declarer his/her contract.

There is no guaranteed way of making the contract if North does not cash QC once he/she gets in. However declarer can maximise his/her prospects by not taking any finesses into the South hand. Let us say declarer plays three rounds of hearts and then plays a fourth round. North must not lead clubs or diamonds. Let’s assume that North concludes that declarer has a problem with spades and leads a spade. Letting North back in with a spade still can’t hurt declarer so he/she should go up with the AS. The KS will now drop and it is all over but if it hadn’t declarer should come back to hand with the AD cash the fifth heart and try the diamond finesse for the contract.

Note that neither finesse works in the actual situation but declarer has one last chance if South gets in and plays a club, declarer can duck in the hope that North has Qxx in clubs. This is, in fact, the case.


At Match Point Pairs, declarer is in trouble because 4S is patently a much better contract and a bottom is on the horizon. Playing spades (declarer East) will at worst lose one spade, make four hearts by ruffing the suit out and three other quick tricks for 11 ( a score of 450) so declarer has to make 11 tricks (a score of 460) at NT to even stand a chance. Declarer must ask him/herself what distribution could actually make NT a better contract. If they then, rather than finessing, make the ostensibly bizarre play of leading a spade to the AS which yields them rich rewards, perhaps give them credit for trying a low percentage option in the face of being stuck in a really inferior contract.

Defence is a Partnership

The following hand was Board 12 played at Nowra on 14/1/2014.

You are East holding this hand:

                                        S KQ5

                                        H KQJ1073

                                        D 4

                                        C Q32

With N/S vulnerable the bidding proceeds:

West (Dealer)     North        East        South

 Pass                     Pass           1H           2NT*

 Pass                       3C           Pass          5C

 Passed out

*This bid, termed the unusual NT, shows at least 5-5 in the minors and could be weak, less than an opening bid or any HCP range, by partnership agreement. The bid of 5C by South clearly shows a very strong hand because North may have very little but has been forced to show preference.

You lead the KH and dummy goes down:

Partner plays 8H, declarer takes the AH and leads a diamond finessing the KD but West wins and returns a diamond which declarer trumps with JC. What do you play? If you over-ruff with QC what suit do you play next?

You did not choose to lead your singleton diamond recognising partner must have very few HCPs and a diamond lead may damage his/her holding and you may end up with a trump trick anyway. However, now the very powerful dummy is in view, you see no virtue in discarding on the diamond return by partner and over-ruff declarer’s JC with your QC.

How to continue? North showed preference to clubs over diamonds and presumably has at least 2 x clubs. If partner has the 10C doubleton and a singleton heart you can promote the 10C into a trick by leading another heart. Partner should have tried to signal his/her heart distribution with the 8H on your lead but it is not clear whether this is a singleton or a doubleton (a peter from four is unlikely).

However, this assumption that partner has the doubleton 10C and a singleton heart is also unlikely and you should consider the diamond situation. You should be able to deduce that partner started with K109xx in diamonds and still has a diamond trick coming to him/her providing declarer cannot trump a low diamond. You now are left with the 3C and 2C and you are powerless to over-trump a second time. You should therefore lead a trump playing partner and declarer for two trumps. Declarer probably does not hold 3+ x clubs or he/she would probably have played at least one round to start with rather than taking the diamond finesse with a singleton. Declarer now has no trumps left and can only score AH, AS, the six trumps in dummy and 2 x diamonds, one down.

If you look at all the hands you will note that if you lead a second heart, declarer will trump a second time in dummy, trump another low diamond with his/her (concealed) 10C, trump a spade to dummy, draw trumps in two rounds and play on the established diamonds. The AS is not even required to make 11 tricks.  

Ruffing Losers in Dummy

There are basically five types of trump hands that declarer is faced with:

  1. Draw trumps and play as No Trump
  2. Ruff losers in the hand (usually dummy) shorter in trumps before drawing trumps
  3. Play off outside top tricks and cross-ruff
  4. Draw trumps before or during setting up a long side suit
  5. Ruff losers in hand before or while drawing trumps with dummy (dummy reversal).

North led KH overtaken by South who continued with QH. How does West continue to make 11 tricks?

This is an example of Hand type 2 above with an element of Hand type 4…but it has a catch. If you ruffed the second heart, played AC and then ruffed a club in dummy, ruffed the last heart back to hand before ruffing a second club, you are almost right, but you are now stuck in dummy and your only chance is to lead KD with the intention of ruffing a diamond back to hand before drawing trumps and enjoying your two remaining clubs. However, North will get in with the AD and play his/her fourth club club which South will ruff, that is, ten tricks only.

The optimum line is to discard a diamond on the heart continuation! South will probably play a third heart. West ruffs with the 8S, plays AC, ruffs a club, ruffs a diamond with the 4S, ruffs a club, ruffs a diamond with 10S, draws trumps and cashes KC and 8C.

Counting Declarer’s Points

South led 2D, North played 10D and East took the trick with AD. East then led AS, KS, QS and then JC.  Should South play AC and, if so, what should be his/her next card?

This is one of the most straightforward examples of working out declarer’s honour cards.

He/she has played out 14HCP in the first four rounds and has passed out partner’s 2S raise. Declarer probably has no other honour cards, possibly JH at most.

You could bang down the AH and continue hearts with the confident expectation that partner has the KH and QH and you will win all the top hearts coming to you and  that will work most of the time but what if declarer has?

                                           S AKQxx

                                           H J10xx

                                           D Axx

                                           C J

If you play the AH partner’s QH will drop under it. Declarer will then make ten tricks losing one club and two heart tricks. You know partner has KH and almost certainly the QH. The correct lead is a small heart. Partner can cash his/her KH and QH doubleton but must then exit with a club or a spade. Declarer can discard two losers on the clubs but must still lose either a heart or a diamond to make nine tricks.

Plan Ahead

The following hand came from recent play at IBA, Figtree.

Your partner South is showing 5 x hearts and 4 x spades and enough HCP to make 2NT.

You decide to bid 2NT with your diamond stop rather than bid 3C and risk playing at the three level in a 6:1.

The 3D is led and dummy goes down:

                                          S AJ92

                                          H K7652

                                          D K92

                                          C 3

What cards do you play from dummy and hand to the first trick?

If you didn’t play the KD from dummy, ensuring that one of the QD or JD is an entry to your hand you are in trouble.

The heart position is actually extremely serendipitous but most declarers will play on clubs to seek salvation. In the board, as played, declarer took the 10D in hand with the JD and played three rounds of clubs (discarding a spade and a heart) to discover that they were “unfortunately” 3-3. I say unfortunately because declarer now has three more club tricks but can’t get to them! West wins the QC and plays another diamond, if declarer plays the QD, East plays the AD and another. In the actual play declarer ducked the diamond and East let the KD win in dummy. Now declarer tried to get back to hand via hearts but East won, cleared diamonds and attacked spades. Declarer only made five tricks.

There is only one lesson in this hand. Protect entries to a long suit that you want to set up at all costs.

TakeOut Doubles

Take-out doubles are low level bids that most often are used when bidding directly over an opponent’s opening bid to show, traditionally, at least opening points and at least three card support for all of the unbid suits. Many players downplay the minor suits and use the double to show opening points and four cards in the unbid major or at least 4/3 in the unbid majors, if a minor suit has been opened.

Doubling as the first bid to show a stronger hand (16+ HCP) which is unsuitable to overcall 1NT is a less common possibility. Take-out doubles can also be used when the opponents have bid two suits to show the other two suits. In this case distribution is more important than HCPs.

You are North, and Dealer, not vulnerable against vulnerable. You pass, East opens 1C (better minor) which your partner doubles and West passes.

What do you bid?


You have 9 HCPs and three certain club tricks. You have neither major but could bid 1NT or stretch to 2NT…..but if you think you can make 7 or 8 tricks in NT assuming partner has a minimum opener, how many tricks can East make in 1C? The key to your bid lies in your solid club suit and the fact that the opponents are vulnerable and you are not. If you make 2NT that is worth 120. If East goes down one doubled that is worth 200. More likely East will go down two tricks which is worth 500 to you, which is more than you can make via a non-vulnerable game in NT.

Hence, your best bid is to pass. Your partner actually had 16HCPs and two pairs where North passed the double scored 800 (three down). No-one North-South actually made 3NT when they bid it so the pass provided a very good score.

You can imagine how play would have gone. K♠  followed by A♠  led then spade ruff, probably A  then K  then a heart ruff followed by a diamond exit. Declarer will probably lose 2 x spades, 2 x hearts, 1 x diamond 2 x ruffs and 2 x additional trumps for three down.

Incidentally, the text book recommends that the doubler with the shortage leads a trump if he/she has one based on the fact that partner has indicated a very strong trump holding capable of drawing declarer’s trumps if given a chance which would allow the defenders to play in NT. In this case, South has several quick tricks and a trump lead yields no further advantage.

Safe(ty) Plays (2)

Safety plays should always be considered when playing Teams when the contract looks to be secure and sometimes at Pairs when you believe that you have reached a better contract than most.

One of two hands played at Nowra on 29/10/13. Board 28

2. North/South only are vulnerable and North ends in 6NT with no bidding from the opposition. The 8D is led.

How do you maximise your chance of making the contract?


(2 ) You can count 9 tricks off-the-top by way of 3 x spades, 1 x heart, 3 x diamonds and 2 x clubs.

The other 3 tricks could come from hearts if the finesse of the K  is successful and the opponent’s heart distribution aligns with probabilities. If the heart finesse loses then a successful club finesse against the Q♣  is needed. The chances of one of these two finesses working are high (75%) so this is a good contract….but what could go wrong apart from both finesses losing?

You could run the Q  covered by the singleton K  and your A  only to find that you must lose the fourth round of hearts to the other defender’s 9  which would force you to bank on a successful club finesse. The safe(ty) play with multiple entries in dummy is to lead a small heart to the 10  in your hand. This ensures one heart loser at most even if all the hearts are in East’s hand as well as catering for the singleton K  in West’s hand.

As it turns out the distribution was totally favourable and 13 tricks are readily available…so what is all the fuss about? The point is that if you take precautions when a contract looks iron-clad then, occasionally, your insurance policy will pay off big-time and you will feel a real “winner”.

Incidentally, the converse is also true. When you appear to be in a hopeless contract, play for the unlikely distribution that will bring you home. In this second hand, let’s say you didn’t have that all-important 10  (which is needed to make this heart holding yield 4 tricks) and you (unwisely) ran the Q  which was covered  by the K  singleton. You can now only make 2 x heart tricks and salvation must come from clubs. You now have two choices, a successful club finesse against the Q♣  together with each opponent holding 3 x clubs  (20% chance in total) or a successful deep finesses of the Q♣  and 10♣  in the East hand (25% chance in total), not great odds.

With Axxx opposite QJxx you must lose one trick in the suit. If you have plenty of entries and don’t mind losing the lead and you want to give yourself the best chance of making 3 tricks with this holding, play off the A  and lead towards the J . If this works but the opponent who plays after the J  shows out, cross back to hand and lead toward the Q .

Safe(ty) Plays (1)

Safety plays should always be considered when playing Teams when the contract looks to be secure and sometimes at Pairs when you believe that you have reached a better contract than most.

One of two hands played at Nowra on 29/10/13. Board 24

  1. With nobody vulnerable, North is in 4H after opening 1H in second position, with no competitive bidding. The A  is led toppling your K , followed by another diamond. Apart from the diamond loser you probably have at least one club loser.

What is the best way to play trumps to:
(a) have the chance of no losers
(b) minimise your trump losers to one?


(1a) To avoid a loser in the trump suit, the J  or K  must be singleton in one of the hands . You must make your best guesstimate of how that might occur and play accordingly. Playing the A  off first will work if East has the Jxx  and West the K  alone. Running the Q  will work if East has the J  alone and West Kxx . Leading small to the 10  will work if East has K  alone.

The A  lead by East puzzled me since there had been no interfering bidding but appeared to signify a long diamond suit (correct). I therefore played East for the shortage in trumps (INCORRECT).

(1b) All the options above allow the chance of losing 2 or more tricks in the trump suit given several possible distributions of the outstanding trumps. Running the 10  towards the Q  sacrifices the chance of avoiding a loser in trumps but will hold the losers to one 90% of the time. This line is thus a safety play to secure a very high probability of making the contract if the club finesse loses.  The basis behind the play is that the A  and Q  are retained to give declarer flexibility depending on what cards are played by the opposition.