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John's Tips 08
John's Tip of the Month - January 08
Be wary when you can see a potential source of tricks

Oneof the five main defensive strategies used against a suit contract is –‘Take our tricks first before declarer can discard those losers’. Astrategy that is very easy to apply if the defensive winners arealready there or can obviously be established. But that is not alwaysthe case and when declarer has a potential source of tricks available aseemingly incautious move may be needed.
Here is a recent hand to illustrate that point (read the text before looking at the hand).

The contract is 4 spades by South (North in reality but I’ve rotated the deal through 180◦).

Declarer had opened a weak two spades and West is on lead holding;-


Easy! Lead the diamond King (for ‘count ‘) and then find dummy going down with:-


Eastfollows high to the first trick so the diamond Ace comes next and itturns out that both East and declarer had started with two diamondseach. Now what?

I was one of the several lucky Souths on thishand – my West opponent continued with the ‘safe ‘ Queen of diamonds. Iruffed, drew trumps and subsequently lost to the King of clubs in East- just making the contract. The full deal was as shown above:-

West,instead of continuing diamonds, should have switched to a heart – thenthe defence would have prevailed taking two diamonds, one club and oneheart. The danger was there to be seen for West - in dummy’s club suit.What must at the time have seemed like a dangerous switch to hearts wasin fact an essential move if the contract was to be beaten.

We can note finally that
(i) if South had held the heart Queen then the contract would always make
(ii) if West’s hearts had been King and Queen then a switch would have been obvious and
(iii) if West’s heart holding had been xx then leading a heart at trick three would still have been necessary – because of the threat posed by the club suit in dummy.
John's Tip of the Month - March (1)
And there’s more (1)

For this article I am using the same deal as last time – firstly to point out the way whereby declarer could have (should have!) made the contract with an overtrick.  Secondly, although the hand occurred at duplicate pairs where the overtrick was an important consideration, we will look at the approach to the play of the hand if the scene had been a team match or even a game of Rubber Bridge wherein the making of the contract would have been the main priority. Finally we will consider the role of East who might have ‘sacrificed’ in five clubs, doubled of course, and then would have had the job of keeping the damage under control.

Click on the 'Show all Hands' to see the E and W cards.

During the bidding East had suggested a club lead  so West did lead the club 2 ( either a singleton or from a holding containing an honour card - East/West were using the standard leading method of fourth highest from strength and second highest from a poor suit).

East won the first trick with the Ace and returned the 9, a suit preference signal for a heart return (high card for the higher ranked of the two suits other than clubs and trumps – yes the 3 of clubs would ask for a diamond return). So at trick three West lead the 10 of Hearts - this was won in dummy with the Ace. The trump Queen won the next trick, East correctly not covering. The Knave was covered on the next trick  declarer winning with the Ace and seeing West discard a heart knew then that East held the guarded 9 of trumps. Declarer crossed to the knave of diamonds pulled trumps by way of a finesse and then relied on the diamond suit splitting 3/2 – it didn’t so one-off was the result.

What had been missed? In crossing to dummy, using the diamond suit, the Queen should have been lead and overtaken with the King – nothing lost if the suit breaks 3/2 – but if East held the singleton 9 or 10  which was the case - a finesse position would have shown up in the diamond suit – and the result - ‘plus 1’.

When you've digested this - go onto the Next Section - March (2).

John's Tip of the Month - March (2)
And there’s more (2)

Declarer’s taking the first heart trick was definitely the right thing to do in a duplicate pairs game. However had the deal cropped up in say a team match declarer may well have ducked the first heart and taken the second. Squeeze addicts call that ‘Rectifying the count’ ( usually it means reducing the scene to ‘can win all the remaining tricks but one’ – a situation wherein defenders can be squeezed). But let us not dwell on the technical language and instead just see the mechanics of the play as it would have unfolded. Success for declarer even when East’s singleton diamond was neither 9 nor 10!

Move on to the point where trumps have been drawn and declarer is hoping the diamonds will behave. (see the position above).

Declarer plays the diamond Ace and finds that the suit is not breaking. All is not lost -see the difficulty for West when South plays the last trump, the spade 4. Whatever West discards dummy keeps winners and the contract makes. The ending is slightly different, but the result the same if dummy comes down to
♦ J 8 6 3.

Try it – noting the role of the heart 7. In both cases West is ‘squeezed’ - unable to retain a winning heart and also protect the diamond suit.

Finally how does East fare as declarer in 5C X? The answer is – badly - if South starts proceedings by leading away from AQ of diamonds. That’s most unlikely so assume that the lead is a trump ( often the right lead against a sacrifice!).

Hopefully East remembers Andrew Robson’s advice at the Crown Hotel last year and does not draw trumps immediately but ‘sets up the side suit first’. East wins trick one in hand and plays the heart King - eventually establishing heart winners  which can be reached as trumps are drawn. or by ruffing a spade if the defence continue to lead trumps. ‘One down’ is the likely outcome – but draw trumps first and  it could well be ‘Three down’.

John's Tip of the Month - May (1)
Ruff guide to success

(Don't press any of the 'Show' buttons yet.)

(4NT is Roman Keycard Blackwood - 5D shows 1 of the 'keycards' - the 4 aces and the K of trumps)

It is your lead – what do you choose?

(press 'Show Answer' for the correct answer)

Well done if you lead a club – intending to lead another one when you get in again with the spade King. Partner will ruff the second club lead and the contract ends ‘one down’. You had ‘listened’ carefully to the bidding – as always – and deduced the club distribution.

(Press 'Show All Hands' for the complete deal)

Now Read Part 2


Johns Tip of the Month - May (2)
Unlucky for North/South?

They had chosen to play the contract with spades as trumps because of the better score (pairs play!). Twelve tricks in a club contract, played by North, looks straight forward even on a heart lead. So how was it that at least one North had made just eleven tricks?

(press 'Show all Hands')

Assume a heart is lead – otherwise there is no problem in making the contract.

If we, as declarer, draw all the trumps and then finesse, unsuccessfully, in spades West will, most unkindly, cash a winning heart and we will not have any trumps left to protect us. Often the way to play such a hand is to start off by tackling the trump suit and then when the poor break comes to light establish the side suit, in this case, spades before the trumps are completely drawn. But even this approach can fail here –  


(Press Show Answer)

If we had used the AK in hand (North) to start on trumps West would have been able to promote a trump trick for the defence. After winning with the spade King West could lead another top heart and we could only win this at the expense of a top trump.

This situation does not arise if we use a top club from the South hand when starting on the trump suit. So easy – but don’t we all, particularly at the table, usually only think about it a few tricks too late!

John's Tip of the Month - June (1)
More Ruff Stuff

Sitting West, playing duplicate pairs with both sides vulnerable, we are dealer and pick up the hand above-

An easy decision to start with. We open 1NT and watch the auction proceed as above.

Stayman with 2D = no 4 card major response.
Bids expected to be ‘announced’ nowadays.

Thus we are on lead against 2S by South. Your choice of lead and a defensive plan?

When you've had a think about it - press Show Answer.

Spot on if you decided on the Ace of clubs followed by ‘another’ club

Press Reveal all Hands.

Partner’s Stayman bid and subsequent pass of our 2D response had shown a weak hand interested in playing at the two-level in Spades, Hearts or Diamonds and therefore a hand with club shortage. That is your reason for choosing to lead the club Ace! The story doesn’t just end there – we have a ‘suit-preference’ signalling system and we are going to use it to maximum effect! At trick two the club eight (high card) is lead asking for a heart (higher ranking of the other two suits) to be returned.

Partner is awake - so after ruffing the club, back comes the deuce of hearts ( in itself indicating the holding of an honour card ) We win this trick with the Ace and lead the club deuce ( asking for.....?). Partner gets another ruff and dutifully tries a diamond. South, of course, jumps in with the Ace of diamonds and draws trumps but still cannot avoid the loss of another two tricks – contract is ‘down one’. It is worth noting here that if Partner cashes the King of Hearts before returning a diamond – the heart suit would then, eventually, provide a discard for declarer’s losing diamond).

As another and more dramatic example of the effectiveness of a suit preference signalling system below [June (2)] is a deal from a team match played earlier this year

John's Tip of the Month - June (2)
West was dealer at love-all.

Have a look at all four hands.

West opened proceedings with three diamonds; North bid four of the same (both majors) and East raised the bar to five (many would have bid six). South bid five hearts and North spent very little time in raising this to the final contract of six hearts by South. Over to West. Could she get East on lead to lead a spade thereby defeating the slam with a ruff at trick two? Hoping that her partner held the Queen of diamonds for his raise, the eight of diamonds was lead. East took this trick with the Knave, had no difficulty in getting the message and returned a spade – bingo!

Two final notes:-
(i) Why not lead the ten of diamonds instead of the eight?  Even more of a suit preference emphasis? Holding QJxx in diamonds could East have ‘forgotten’ to cover the ten -  thus leaving the lead with West and no way to beat the contract?
(ii) If her void had been in clubs instead of spades West would have lead her lowest diamond.

John's Tip of the Month - July (1)
Take out Insurance

We are in the West seat again- this time looking at the hand above.

It is ‘game-all’ and South is dealer. The bidding is what we hear/see (with the appropriate ‘stops’ of course).

So what do we lead and how do we propose to defend?

(Press Show Answer)

Ace and another trump was your decision I guess with the intention, no doubt, of leading your last trump when declarer tries the heart finesse. We take out trumps and thereby insure that we win our rightful tricks in hearts, declarer’s side suit.

It is not too relevant on this deal, but having done our usual assessment we know that Partner holds very little in high cards

Now look at the full deal.

(Press Show All Hands)

If trumps are not ‘taken-out’ by the defence, Declarer can score a heart ruff in the dummy and so land the contract via 4 spade tricks, 2 hearts(1 ruffed in dummy) and the 4 top minor suit cards. A 3NT contract by North/South cannot be beaten but thankfully opponents don’t always bid to their best spot and it is at such times that we have to grasp any advantage that has been offered.

(Now go to July (2))

John's Tip of the Month - July (2)
Let us stay with this deal and pose the question:- If the defenders adopt a trump leading strategy, can Declarer still make the 4 spade contract ‘double-dummy’ i.e. being allowed to see all four hands? Artificial - I know - but interesting in that it can reveal in a ‘post mortem’ what could possibly have been achieved, whether realistically or not. Try it as the Declarer with all hands above on show.

(for double-dummy - press Show all Hands)

(for the answer - press Show Answer)

The answer to the posed question is ‘Yes’ and in fact there are many routes all leading to the same ending wherein we, as West, are ‘end-played’. One way is for Declarer to draw the other trump, after our initial trump leads, and then to cash the four top minor suit winners ending in dummy. Now another minor suit card is lead and Declarer can discard a heart from his/her own hand. We are forced to win this trick and then when we play our final minor suit winner Declarer discards a heart again. All over - with only hearts left we have to lead into Declarer’s Ace-Queen.

John's Tip of the Month - August

Again we start with a lead problem. Take the West seat, its pairs with North-South vulnerable and South is the dealer. Your hand is:-


South starts the proceedings with a one heart bid and you double, North passes and so does your partner. What is your choice for the opening lead?

Press 'Show Answer'

It has to be a trump every day of the week – it’s a must and logically so – you have the other suits and your partner has good hearts – so out with the trumps- your side is effectively playing the contract with hearts as trumps.

Press 'Show all Hands'

Leading your singleton heart keeps Declarer to just four tricks and + 800 to the good guys.

If instead you start off with the King of diamonds or maybe the Queen which asks partner to play the Knave if he/she has it, Declarer will hold up, win the diamond continuation, and ruff a diamond low in dummy. Then back to the two top clubs before ruffing the last diamond with dummy’s Knave. East can over trump but only at the expense of promoting declarer’s trump eight and that means South will escape for -200, one down doubled and vulnerable.

Four points to make:-

(i) We should only pass-out our partner’s take-out double if we have a substantial trump holding.
(ii) Even if we had forgotten to lead a trump at trick one a trump switch at trick two should be made. Declarer still gets out for -500 having been allowed one diamond ruff in dummy
(iii) Vulnerability very much affects the success of East’s decision to pass one heart doubled. If East/West are vulnerable against non-vulnerable South can make a profit.

(iv) I have included the defence wherein West woodenly continues diamonds, at trick two, because it gives declarer a  chance to show sound technique - by cashing both club winners before leading the last diamond. What can East do if only one of the top clubs is cashed?

Scroll down for answer

Answer:-  Discard a club instead of over-ruffing the dummy.

John's Tip of the Month - September
May the Force be with you

Here is a deal from a Teams match with IMP scoring – a format wherein defenders are happy to concede possible overtricks in exchange for an extra chance of defeating a contract and where defenders eschew overtricks in return for an increased chance of success in their contract.
We are sitting in the West seat, game-all with South the dealer and we pick up the collection shown above.

We are informed that 3C is Five card Stayman and thus South is known to hold a five card spade suit. Now what is our lead to be?

(Press Show Answer)

Four trumps, headed by a top card, suggest a forcing strategy – hoping to wrest trump control from declarer by forcing him/her to ruff. With this in mind we choose to lead a heart, the knave, and things go our way. Look at the full deal and consider what could/should happen noting on the way that without a heart lead declarer gets an easy ride.

(Press show All Hands)

(Now go to September 2)

John's Tip of the Month - September (2)
(Press Show all Hands)

Partner plays the heart ace at trick one and continues the suit. After winning trick two with our King, we lead another heart which is ruffed by declarer. If trumps are now lead immediately we can win with the ace and ‘force’ declarer with yet another heart giving us trump control. What happens after that will not change the result – the contract is one down. But maybe this declarer will anticipate a difficulty and give us a bit of a problem by…..? 

(When you've had a think - Press Show Answer)

Three rounds of diamonds can be played pitching dummy’s last heart so that any further heart leads can be countered by a ruff, with the spade knave, on the table. But of course we can overcome that – which is? 

(Scroll down for answer)

We just delay winning our trump ace until the third round and then hitting declarer with the last heart.


John's Tip of the Month - October
Force and counterforce

This month’s offering is a deal from a one-day green pointed pairs event. Defensively it involves the same strategy as in the September hand i.e. a forcing game. Declarer fails to make a very makeable contract – but was his plan reasonable? We will begin by taking the West seat, getting the defence off to the best start, see the play, listen to the aftermath verbal interchange and finally we will take our seat on the jury with declarer in the dock.

It is game-all, South is dealer, and our (West’s) hand is as above.

We are on lead. It is reasonable to deduce from the bidding that declarer’s shape is 5143 ( 5 spades, 1 heart, 4 diamonds and 3 clubs) and that any points partner may hold are most likely to be in the heart suit. Our trump holding could embarrass declarer so we go for a forcing strategy and lead a heart – fourth highest or even the queen!

Press Show all Hands

Declarer takes the first trick with the heart ace in dummy and runs the trump knave to our queen. We continue with another heart which is ruffed by declarer who then draws trumps – unfortunately (for him that is) using all his trumps in the process. We are now in control holding the ace of clubs and three winning hearts. If  South tries to sneak a club trick we can put the contract two down (partner having discarded hearts on the trump leads) – more likely, as did happen, four rounds of diamonds are taken on which we discard the losing club and one heart and take the last three tricks with the ace of clubs and two good hearts. The contract goes one down.

When the hand occurred North wasted little time in pointing out that the contract was an easy make- true - so how should South have played the hand if his sole objective was the making of the contract - as if it had been a teams event or a rubber bridge hand?

When you've worked it out, press Show Answer for the solution.

Declarer takes the two top trumps and then plays on clubs and eventually on diamonds - in effect a counter force. The defence gets two trump tricks and the club ace – but the contract is made.

Back to the actual scene we hear South claiming that since it was a pairs event his play was correct and that in fact:-
  1. If the trump finesse had been successful twelve tricks would have been made and
  2. Eleven tricks would have been the result when the finesse had lost if only the trumps had split 3/3.
Those two claims are indisputable but I think that South was guilty of misplaying the hand even at pairs. Leading the knave of trumps at trick two was right but when that was not covered by the queen the appropriate probabilities had moved and declarer should have changed his plan of action and guaranteed the contract.. Guilty, perhaps, of finessing without due care and attention!

John's tip of the Month - November
Promotional Material

It is the time for pigs – as in Can Radar Track Flying Pigs – an aide-memoire for defenders thought processes when battling against a declarer’s suit contract. The following deal arose last November in our own Men’s pairs event - and the question? What does West lead at trick three!? Take a look at the scene from the West seat. It is game-all and South, as dealer, opens the bidding with a weak two hearts (known to be a six card suit and five up to nine, or possibly a poor ten, points). West bids two spades and North ends the auction with his jump to four hearts.

The opening lead for West is clearly not a problem. The king (asking partner for a count signal) of spades is chosen. Dummy follows small, East plays the ten (clearly either a singleton or the start of a peter - showing two spades) and declarer tables the six. At trick two, on the lead of the spade ace, East completes the count signal by playing the eight and declarer follows with the last spade. So what is next for West?     

(When you've had a think - Press Show Answer)

Any side suit lead gives declarer the obvious eleven tricks - six trumps four clubs and a diamond. So continue spades and hope that East’s only trump is the knave or the queen. Either of those cards with East and the lead of a spade at trick three generates an extra defensive trick in the trump suit – a trump promotion (Pigs in the aide-memoire).In the actual event West chose to continue with a low spade rather than the queen thereby making sure that his partner used whatever trump he held.

(Now press Show All Hands)

Success!  East did have the spade knave and used it to good effect – promoting West’s trump holding to provide a winner.

Three points in conclusion:-

(i) Even if West had continued with the spade queen East should still have played his trump!

(ii) The play of the trump knave in any similar situation has often been called an ‘uppercut’. In response Declarer’s counter punch would normally be to refuse to over ruff and to discard a loser instead. In the deal above he did not have a loser to play and so over ruffed the knave with his queen thus establishing an important extra trick for the defence. An fundamental point therefore arises and that is: - For a trump promotion to succeed defenders must, if possible, remove declarer’s losers first. Next month’s hand, I hope, will emphasise that very point.

(iii) A more general point. The contract was not beaten – but it was match-pointed pairs and getting that third defensive trick, compared to settling for ‘4♥ + 1’, would most probably have netted an extra 2% (i.e. a half top) in East/West’s final score,

John's Tip of the Month - December
Prepared For Promotion

This deal is a ‘follow-on’ to last month’s offering - same basic defensive thinking but now some preparation/precaution is required. As usual we take the West seat and our hand is as above.

South deals at ‘game-all’ and starts the auction with one heart. We compete with one spade but South ends up as declarer in four hearts

North’s double was ‘negative’, i.e. not a penalty double but a device to show responding values without using up possible valuable bidding space.

We have a clear lead decision – a spade. The King is usual but when the 10 is also present then leading the Queen, which asks partner to play the knave when holding that card, is an mprovement if only for clarification. The Queen it is then - although it makes no difference on this deal. Dummy hits the table – this is what we see.

                                     9    8    7    6                               
                                     9    8    2                                   
                                     K    Q    J    3                               
                                     Q    J                                       
        K    Q    T    4    3                                                           
        Q    T                                                                       
        A    8    7    2                                                               
        5    3                                                                       

Partner overtakes our lead with the spade Ace and returns the suit declarer showing up with knave and deuce. How should our defence continue?

(Press Show Answer when ready)                

Once partner has turned up with the Ace of spades we can be sure that there is no other top card over there. Our only chance of another trick, in addition to the two spades and our own Ace of diamonds, is a trump promotion. From the bidding we know that partner will probably have two trumps and if one of them happens to be the knave then our trump holding can be promoted to take a trick via the lead of a third round of spades.

So that is what we have to do but first we must cash that diamond Ace! – just in case declarer can counter the trump promotion by discarding a singleton diamond.

(Press Show all Hands)

Now look at all four hands noting (i) that when East does ruff a spade it must be with the highest trump held – always the case when trumping in order to promote partner’s trump holding and (ii) if the diamond Ace is not cashed before a third round of spades is played then declarer will be able to avoid the promotion by discarding the losing diamond after East has played the knave of hearts on trick three.