Lesson 6G   Main

Defensive Card Combinations

  by Richard Pavlicek

As declarer you are taught how to play various card combinations, generally to win the most tricks. This topic is equally, if not more important from the defenders’ perspective.

This lesson is about the play of card combinations with dummy in view (not the opening lead). It also shows how to draw inferences from the way declarer plays a suit. Each example depicts a single suit which could apply at any contract.

Risky Leads

The obvious goal about defensive card play is not to lose tricks. Of course, it is impossible to be perfect in every lead; some risks have to be taken. One way to minimize the risk is to know which leads to avoid:

Avoid leading from an honor if fourth hand has a lower honor.

1. J 5 4
Q 9 2TableK 8 7 3
East leadsA 10 6

It is dangerous for East to lead from his king around to the jack. The same is true for West to lead from his queen around to the 10. Note that declarer will win two tricks if either defender leads this suit.

2. 10 2
K 8 6 4TableJ 9 7 3
East leadsA Q 5

If East leads the three, declarer gains a trick by ducking it to the 10. Obviously West also would lose a trick if he leads from his king around to the queen.

3. J 4 2
K 10 6TableA 9 7 3
East leadsQ 8 5

It is popular to underlead an ace to make declarer guess, and some players believe “the only risk is a singleton king.” Not true. If East leads from his ace around to the jack, it loses a trick here.

Lesson 6G   MainTop   Defensive Card Combinations

Safer Leads

The safest lead of all is a solid honor sequence, but in most cases you are not so fortunate. What you must choose is a reasonably safe lead from the options available.

It is safe to lead from any holding if fourth hand has no honor.

4. 7 3 2
J 9 6TableK 10 5 4
East leadsA Q 8

East can lead the four in complete safety. It is true that South can finesse the queen but he could do that on his own (assuming North held an entry in another suit).

5. 9 3 2
Q 8 6TableK 10 5 4
East leadsA J 7

The presence of North’s nine changes this to a risky lead. Note that declarer can win two tricks if East leads the four.

It is safe to lead from a worthless holding regardless of what the other hands contain.

6. A Q 2
K 10 8 7Table6 4 3
East leadsJ 9 5

East can lead this suit (preferably the six) without risk. Many defenders mistakenly view this as “finessing partner” but declarer can always win two tricks. In fact West should appreciate this lead; declarer would win three tricks if West led it.

It is relatively safe (low risk) to lead from an honor around to a higher honor in fourth hand.

7. K 4 3
J 9 5TableQ 8 6 2
East leadsA 10 7

It is often good strategy for East to lead from his queen around to the king. Note that declarer can win only two tricks regardless. If South held A-10-9, East’s lead would lose; but that is unlikely.

Lesson 6G   MainTop   Defensive Card Combinations

Entrapment Plays

When leading a suit with dummy in view, the correct card may be different than if you were making the opening lead. You can see which cards are missing, and many times you can take advantage of it.

Let me outta here, somebody! I’ll never take another finesse.

Do not routinely lead low. Consider the missing honors and if you may gain by leading a high card (even with no sequence).

8. 10 4 3
A 8 6TableK J 9 5
East leadsQ 7 2

It is dangerous for East to lead around to the ten — that is, if he leads low. The lead of the jack is safe as it nullifies the value of the 10. Note that the jack would also be necessary if declarer held A-Q-x.

9. K 4 3
A Q 9Table10 7 6 5
West leadsJ 8 2

If West decides to lead this suit he should lead the queen; otherwise declarer can win two tricks. Note that East must lead the suit the next time to finesse against the jack.

10. A 10 3
Q 9 2TableJ 6 5 4
West leadsK 8 7

If West breaks this suit he must lead the queen to stop declarer from winning three tricks. Note that if South had K-J-x or J-x-x it would not matter which card West led; hence the queen cannot lose.

Be aware that the nine is an important card in the play of many card combinations, hence it should be treated like an honor in most situations.

Lesson 6G   MainTop   Defensive Card Combinations

Drawing Inferences

It is often possible for a defender to place the missing high cards in a suit by the way declarer handles the suit. This assumes that declarer is making his best play — generally a wise assumption because otherwise the defense will usually prevail in any event.

Put yourself in declarer’s position and think how you would play a particular suit. This will often reveal the layout.

11. A 10 4 3
K 9 5TableJ 8 2
North leadsQ 7 6

Declarer leads the three to his queen and West’s king. West can deduce that East has the jack because declarer would surely try a finesse if he held Q-J.

12. A J 3
10 7 6 2TableQ 9 8
West leadsK 5 4

West leads the two, and the play goes jack, queen, king. West can deduce that East has the nine as declarer would play the three from dummy if he held K-9. Hence West can lead the suit again safely.

13. A J 9 7
Q 8 3TableK 10 4
South leads6 5 2

Declarer leads the two to dummy’s nine and East’s ten. East knows that West has the queen; otherwise declarer is making a foolish play.

14. A Q 4
J 8 6 2Table9 7 5
West leadsK 10 3

West leads the two and declarer wins the queen in dummy. East deduces that South has three winners in the suit (he must have the king or J-10-x) else he would duck the first trick around to his hand.

Lesson 6G   MainTop   Defensive Card Combinations

Obligatory Falsecards

Certain card combinations require a defender to falsecard (play a card other than his lowest) in order to give declarer a chance to misguess the lie of the suit.

When declarer leads a suit, it is often effective to drop an intermediate card (ten, nine or eight) to suggest shortness.

15. J 4 3 2
10 9 5TableK 6
North leadsA Q 8 7

Declarer leads the two to his queen. West must play the ten (or nine) to give declarer a chance to go wrong. Otherwise declarer’s only hope is to lay down the ace.

16. A Q 10 8
J 9 4 3Table2
North leadsK 7 6 5

Declarer is marked for length in this suit and he begins by leading the ace. If West drops the nine, declarer is likely to play the queen next. Otherwise declarer will play the king next as his only possible finesse, missing J-9-x, would be against West.

If declarer knows you hold a certain card, play that card at your earliest opportunity.

17. K J 2
Q 10 8Table5 4 3
South leadsA 9 7 6

Declarer leads the six and finesses the jack, then he cashes the king. West must drop the queen (the card he is known to hold). Otherwise the suit is a giveaway.

18. 4 3
8 7 6TableK J 5
North leadsA Q 10 9 2

In a side suit at a trump contract, declarer leads the three and finesses the queen then cashes the ace. East should drop the king next since he is known to hold it. Declarer then might take a ruffing finesse.

Lesson 6G   MainTop   Defensive Card Combinations

Deceptive Plays

There are many opportunities for deceptive plays as a defender. The basic principle is to try to create a losing option for declarer whenever possible.

A prime opportunity for deception is to underlead an ace, but you must be careful not to lose a trick or to be “too obvious.”

19. K 4
A 9 7 2TableQ 10 8 3
West leadsJ 6 5

If West leads the two (in a side suit at a trump contract) declarer might play low, allowing the defense to win two tricks. This gives declarer a chance to go wrong when his normal play would succeed.

20. K J 10
A 9 7 2TableQ 8 6 4
West leads5 3

Here the strategy is less desirable (West does better to lead some other suit). If West led the two, a good declarer (needing just one trick) would infer that West would be unlikely to lead this suit if holding the queen; hence, he would play West for the ace.

21. 10 8 2
J 7 6 4TableA Q 9
East leadsK 5 3

If East leads the queen, South is likely to duck (placing East with Q-J-9) and he will duck again when East continues with the nine. This produces three fast tricks (and an unhappy declarer).

22. 10 9 4
J 7 3TableA K 6 2
East leadsQ 8 5

Needing more than two tricks, East does best to lead a low card immediately. If he led the king first, South would wise up to the situation. (The king would be a clever lead if East actually held K-J-x-x!)

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© 2012 Richard Pavlicek