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Are You a Player or a Defender?

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal from a local team-of-four match was the subject of an interesting dilemma. Three notrump was reached in short order, and West led the club 10 from his long suit. Looking at all four hands, would you rather play or defend?

3 NT South
Both Vul
S K 8 2
H 9 7 2
D A Q 10 7 5
C K 2


3 NT
1 NT
S J 9 4
H 6 4
D 9 4
C A 10 9 7 4 3
TableS 10 6 5 3
H J 10 8 5
D K 8 3
C Q 6

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

Of course you’d play, right? Declarer ducks the club lead to East’s queen; West wins the next club with the ace (it would do him no good to duck); and South wins the third club with the jack. The rest is easy because the diamond finesse is lost to East, who has no more clubs to return. In fact declarer makes an overtrick. Satisfied?

You shouldn’t be. East missed an opportunity to make a fine play. On the club lead he should not put up the queen. This violates a few basic principles: “Third hand high” and “Don’t finesse against partner”; but an expert should find it. He would reason that (1) if South held the club ace, nothing matters; and (2) if West held the club ace, he could not hold another ace as an entry (that would give South only 14 HCP for his one-notrump opening) so the only hope is to let South win the club jack on the opening lead, after which partner might be able to overtake the queen with the ace to run the suit. So, you should defend.

Wait a minute. Declarer can block the club suit by playing the king at trick one, then West cannot overtake his partner’s queen without setting up the jack. So, you should play.

Hold everything. East can counter the last move by throwing the queen under the king, after which the suit can be run with a finesse through South’s jack. We’re back to defending.

Touche! Declarer gets the final thrust: Duck the opening lead in both hands. That’s right; let West win the club 10 and there is no defense to beat you. Admittedly, this play would be impossible to find at the table — you’d look like a fool 99 percent of the time — but it works here.

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© 1986 Richard Pavlicek