Main     Lesson 6J by Richard Pavlicek    

When To Win or Duck

As a defender you frequently must decide whether or not to win a trick that is offered to you by declarer. Indeed, there is no simple answer; each situation must be considered at the table.

If you understand the principles in this lesson, you will make the right decision more often and defeat a lot more contracts.

Entry Considerations

A common concern, especially at notrump contracts, is the subject of entries. The defender who needs an entry later in the play should often duck an early trick. Conversely, the defender who does not need a later entry should grab the lead quickly to prevent his partner’s entry from being dislodged.

If partner has led his long suit at notrump, try to gain the lead as soon as possible to return it.

1. 3 NT South

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

Assume declarer wins the D K and leads a club. East should grab the ace immediately and return a diamond. East does not know for sure that West has the S A entry, but his own entry is unimportant.

Suppose declarer instead leads the S 2 to his king at trick two. West should duck — smoothly to have an effect — and this puts declarer at a crossroad. He can make his contract by continuing spades, but he is likely to think East has the S A and switch to clubs. Now East grabs the C A to return a diamond, and declarer fails.

The defenders have more control over their fate when their entries are in the same suit. Carefully compare the next two examples which contain identical North-South hands.

How many times have I told you to take your aces!
I’m sorry, but I can’t play when you bark at me all the time.

2. 3 NT South

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

Declarer wins the S K and leads a club. West should assume East holds the C A — else declarer would cross to dummy and take a club finesse — so he should duck to preserve his entry. East must win the C A immediately and return the S Q to defeat the contract.

3. 3 NT South

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

Here the spade situation is different. West led a short suit and East signaled encouragement with the eight. Now it is East’s entry that is important so West must win the first club and continue spades.

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Proper Hand on Lead

Sometimes it is obvious to both defenders which suit should be attacked, and the only concern is the proper way to begin the attack. It is often necessary to place the right defender on lead.

If either defender can win the current trick, the defender who can shift to the obvious “attack suit” more safely should win.

4. 4 H South

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

Declarer draws trumps in two rounds and leads a club. West should win and lead the D 8 through dummy’s jack. This gives the defense four tricks — down one.

If East wins the first club and shifts to the D K, declarer can succeed by ducking; East cannot lead another diamond safely.

5. 4 H South

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

To defeat the contract in this layout East must win the first club and shift to the D 10 — an entrapment play to nullify the power of dummy’s nine. The diamond suit is worth studying.

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Cash Out Time?

When deciding whether to win or duck, an important consideration is whether you can cash one or more tricks in another suit (or suits). It rarely pays to grab an early trick if you can’t cash any more.

If your side tricks are cashable, you should usually win the lead; otherwise it is usually better to duck and see what develops.

6. 4 H South

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

On the S Q lead East plays the nine and South, the ace. After winning two trumps, South leads a club. West should grab the ace because: (1) A spade trick is cashable, (2) declarer has no club guess, and (3) if East has the D Q — the only other hope for a trick — nothing can be done about it.

7. 4 H South

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

Here West should duck the club because a spade trick is not cashable (East does not signal). If declarer wins the C K, returns to hand and leads a second club, West should duck again; declarer may misguess.

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Dummy’s Long Suit

Declarer will often lead dummy’s long suit early in the play of a suit contract. Since declarer may have a singleton, consider the outcome if you duck and lose your ace. Will the trick come back in another suit?

If dummy has a weak three-card side suit (Q-x-x or worse), it is often right to win and shift to that suit; otherwise usually duck.

8. 4 S South

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

Declarer wins the trump lead in his hand and leads the H 4. The club suit in dummy is the tip-off. West should win the H A and lead the C 7 — down one. It was fortunate that East held the C A, but the situation would be hopeless if South had it. Note that declarer would succeed if you ducked.

9. 4 S South

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

Here West should duck the heart. The only hope to cash out is in diamonds (East could have A-J-x) but that is a slim chance. Further, if East has the D A, declarer lacks the entries to enjoy the long heart.

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Dummy’s Singleton

A similar problem occurs when declarer leads dummy’s singleton early at a suit contract. Most players fly with the ace every time, but this is a losing policy. The proper play depends on several factors.

If your holding includes the A-K or A-Q, or if cash-out prospects are good, you should win the trick; otherwise usually duck.

10. 4 H South

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

Declarer wins the S A and leads a club. The appearance of dummy makes it clear the defenders will be able to cash whatever tricks they are entitled to, so East should win the C A. Do not return a spade! East should lead the D A, seven from West, then another diamond — down one.

11. 4 H South

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

Here East should duck the club because the D A in dummy prevents a cash-out. The C A is lost, but the defenders get two diamond tricks. Declarer wins 10 tricks, instead of 11 if East had won his ace.

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© 2013 Richard Pavlicek