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Entries & Communication

As declarer one of the most important considerations is the means of getting from one hand to the other during the play. This communication is made possible through the careful use of your entries.

This lesson explains some techniques for preserving and creating entries, and how to overcome the problem of a blocked suit.

Planning Ahead

The most common problem with entries is not caused by the lie of the cards but by carelessness. Declarer wastes an entry and then finds out he needs it later. Too bad.

Before using up an entry, ask yourself if it might be wiser to save that entry for later.

1. 4 H South

S J 10 8
H 8 7 4
D A K J 4
C 9 8 7
S Q 6 4
H Q J 9
D 9 8 6
C Q J 10 3
TableS A 9 7 5 3
H 10
D Q 10 3
C 6 5 4 2
Lead: C QS K 2
H A K 6 5 3 2
D 7 5 2

After winning the C A you correctly cash the H A-K and discover that West has a natural trump winner. Many players would now be lured into leading a diamond and waste a precious entry to dummy.

The instinctive (but thoughtless) play is to lead a diamond to the king, and then lead the S J for a finesse, losing to the queen. If West is on his toes he will return a diamond and you will fail in an ice-cold contract.

As any experienced player should notice, you cannot afford the luxury of the spade finesse on this deal. The proper play is to lead the S K (or any spade) from your hand, eventually establishing the S J to guarantee your contract.



Many entry situations are flexible in that declarer has a choice of cards to play when he wins a trick. Winning with the right card may offer an additional chance later on.

When you can win a trick with either of two cards, play the card that will give you more options the next time the suit is played.

2. 4 H South

S A K Q 7 2
H A Q 2
D 8 5
C 9 5 4
S 8 6
H 9 7 5
D Q 10 6 4
C A 10 3 2
TableS J 10 9 3
H 8 6
D K 9 7 2
C K J 7
Lead: D 4S 5 4
H K J 10 4 3
D A J 3
C Q 8 6

Declarer has nine sure tricks, and the spade suit offers the best chance to make another. Basically there are two reasonable lines of play: (1) Draw all the outstanding trumps then cash the spades from the top, or (2) cash the S A-K and ruff a spade, then draw trumps ending in the dummy.

Line 1 requires a 3-3 spade break, only a 36% chance. Line 2 will succeed if spades break 4-2 (or 3-3) as long as trumps break 3-2. You do not need to be a mathematician to realize that Line 2 is better. By keeping his entries flexible, declarer can choose the superior Line 2 yet be able to change to Line 1 if the trumps do not break.

East plays the D K and South wins the ace. The correct way to draw trumps is to lead the H 3 to the ace, then the H 2 to the ten. Declarer then can adapt his play according to whether both opponents follow.

In the actual diagram hearts break 3-2 so declarer opts for Line 2 (the third spade must be ruffed high to prevent an overruff). If hearts instead had divided 4-1, South would continue with the H K and the H J then opt for Line 1.

It is important to see that any other play in the trump suit would restrict declarer’s options to one line or the other.


Ducking Plays

A common way to preserve an entry is to withhold a high card on the first or second round of a suit — called a ducking play. The intention is to save your entry till later, when it may be used more effectively.

Ducking plays are common at notrump when a suit contains an unavoidable loser.

Why didn’t you duck that trick?
There’s no need to get personal.

3. 3 NT South

S J 7 5 4
H 8 4 2
D A 2
C A K 7 2
S K 9
H 9 6 3
D Q 9 6
C Q J 10 9 6
TableS A 10 6 3
H Q J 10 7
D J 10
C 8 5 4
Lead: C QS Q 8 2
H A K 5
D K 8 7 5 4 3
C 3

Declarer can count six top tricks, and the diamond suit offers the only chance for three more. Essentially this requires a 3-2 diamond break, but there is also a problem with entries.

Suppose declarer wins the C K and starts diamonds by playing the ace and a low diamond to his king. A diamond is conceded to West and declarer has 9 tricks. Wrong! If West is clever he will shift to a heart, then declarer will fail because he cannot reach the C A.

What about cashing the C A-K early? That is no good because West can run the rest of the clubs when he gains the lead.

The solution is to lead the D 2 at trick two and duck the trick. This saves the D A as an entry to dummy to reach the high club, while declarer can rely on the heart suit to provide an entry to his hand to reach the long diamonds.


Overtaking Plays

If you need to create an extra entry (usually to dummy) this can sometimes be accomplished by overtaking one high card with another. Of course you must plan this strategy carefully to avoid losing a trick.

When considering an overtaking play, watch the enemy plays; if they follow suit enough times, it may become safe to spend two honors on the same trick.

4. 3 NT South

S 10 9 5
H 4 2
D K J 9 8 5
C 5 4 2
S Q J 8 2
H K 10 3
D 10 7 4 3
C Q 9
TableS K 4 3
H Q 9 8 7 5
D 6
C K 8 7 6
Lead: S 2S A 7 6
H A J 6
D A Q 2
C A J 10 3

West’s spade lead appears to be a four-card suit so prospects are good. Assuming the diamond suit runs for five tricks, the general plan is to finesse twice in clubs to obtain a ninth trick.

The problem is entries. After running the diamonds declarer will be able to finesse only once in clubs, and he will fail with accurate defense.

What declarer needs is an extra entry to dummy, and this can be arranged by an overtaking play. Win the S A — do not hold up else East might shift to a heart — and cash the D A, noting that both opponents follow. Next lead the D Q and note that West follows. At this juncture it is 100% safe to overtake with the king in dummy. If diamonds break 3-2, the 10 will have to fall; if diamonds break 4-1 as in the diagram, East will show out and West will be exposed to a subsequent finesse.

Finesse the C 10 losing to the queen. West cashes his spade tricks, but he cannot set you. Assuming a heart return you will win the H A, finesse the D 9 and run the rest of the diamonds, then take the club finesse at the end.


Unblocking Plays

Similar to the overtaking play is the unblocking play — getting rid of a higher card to retain a lower card to provide an entry to the opposite hand. This is most common with intermediate cards such as the 10, nine and eight.

When cashing a long suit, be careful to unblock any cards in the shorter hand that may interfere with the run of that suit.

5. 6 NT South

S J 3 2
H A 6
D 10 9 3
C A K Q 4 3
S Q 10 8 6
H K Q J 8
D 5 4
C J 7 5
TableS 9 7 5 4
H 10 4 3 2
D J 7 6 2
C 6
Lead: H KS A K
H 9 7 5
D A K Q 8
C 10 9 8 2

The best contract is 6 C, but assume you reach 6 NT instead. If the club suit runs you have 11 top tricks. Your 12th trick will have to come from the diamond suit, or possibly the S Q may drop.

The proper play is to refuse the first heart lead, then win the ace on the second round. It looks easy to cash five club tricks, but the 10-9-8 in the South hand will block the suit if declarer is not careful. Under the C A-K-Q South must unblock the 10-9-8 (in any order). This leaves South with the C 2 opposite North’s C 4-3.

Before cashing the last two clubs, South should do some more unblocking. Win the S K-A just in case the queen falls, then cash the D A-K and unblock the 10-9 from dummy — note that South’s D 8 is just as good as the 10 or 9 should the jack drop.

Declarer then leads the C 2 to dummy and cashes the last club on which he discards his last heart. In order to make his contract declarer must guess to finesse East for the D J at the end. This is truly a guess, and the cards might lie differently; but note that the careful unblocking plays make it possible to succeed.


Jettison Plays

Most unblocking plays are done as you follow suit, but it is also possible to unblock by discarding one suit on another. This is called a jettison play. It might be the only solution when a suit is hopelessly blocked.

If it is impossible to unblock a suit as you lead it, look for another suit on which to discard the blocking card(s).

6. 3 NT South

S 3
H A 9 7 2
D Q 8 6 5
C J 10 9 8
S K J 10 9 8 7
H K 8 6
D A 4 3
C 6
TableS 6 4 2
H Q J 10 5
D K 10 9 7
C Q 2
Lead: S JS A Q 5
H 4 3
D J 2
C A K 7 5 4 3

You reach an aggressive 3 NT contract after West has bid spades and North has raised your clubs. Everything looks fine with the spade lead — you can win two spades, one heart, and six clubs assuming a normal 2-1 club break. Or can you? Observe that North’s clubs are all higher than South’s spot cards, which means the suit will be internally blocked after cashing the A-K. There is no way to unblock as there was on Deal 5.

The solution is a jettison play; declarer must unblock the clubs on another suit. After winning the S Q you should cash the C A to be sure both opponents follow; but do not cash the C K yet. Instead lead the S 5 and discard a club from dummy. The opponents will win this trick but there is nothing they can lead to hurt you.

Assuming a spade is returned, discard another club from dummy as you win the S A. Now it is simple to run the clubs; dummy’s last club will fall under your king, then the 7-5-4-3 will be good.

Most players would not be aware of this technique so it is handy to know when the need arises.


© 2013 Richard Pavlicek