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Who Is To Blame on Defense?

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal, submitted by a reader who was East, provides a good lesson in deductive reasoning on defense. Against a routine contract of three notrump, West led the heart two, and South captured the 10 with the jack. The diamond king was cashed, followed by another diamond on which West discarded the spade five, and East took dummy’s 10 with the jack. East returned a heart and declarer easily made his contract, ultimately with two overtricks.

3 NT South
Both Vul
S J 6
H K 6
D A Q 10 8 6 4
C 10 6 2


3 NT

1 NT
S Q 5 4 3
H Q 9 8 2
D 5
C J 9 8 7
TableS K 10 8 2
H 10 7 5
D J 9 7 2
C A 3

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

The reader asks: 1. Was West’s opening lead correct? 2. Was West’s spade discard correct? 3. Was there any way East should know to shift to a spade after winning the diamond jack? (This defense would defeat the contract because declarer is unable to cash his nine tricks due to entry problems.)

First, West’s lead was correct. Lacking a long suit, it is normal to lead an unbid major suit against a notrump contract; and the heart suit held more promise than spades because of the superior spot cards.

West had a difficult discard to make. Usually it is wise to discard from a suit you do not want led, thus retaining the length in the suit you want partner to lead; but this case is exceptional. A heart discard is unattractive because it might cost a trick no matter who held the ace. (Note that East would play the same on the first trick if he held A-10-x in hearts.) A club discard is unattractive because it would relinquish West’s stopper in that suit, and the club seven might be misinterpreted as strength-showing.

East gets the blame. The distribution could have been deduced when West showed out of diamonds. The lead of the heart two indicated a four-card suit, and West would have led a longer suit if he had one; hence, West began with 4-4-1-4 shape. It follows that the spade-five discard could not have been West’s lowest from a weak holding; hence, West held a spade honor. Therefore, East should have shifted to a spade.

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© 1987 Richard Pavlicek