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Backdoor Attack Beats Contract

What would you do if you arrived at home and found that your key would not open the front door? You’d try the back door. (If that didn’t work, you might find your bags packed on the front lawn.) The same is true of a good defensive bridge player. If it is apparent that straightforward defense will not set the contract, he looks for an indirect route. Maybe it will work; maybe it won’t. But at least it is better than waiting all day at the front door.

Today’s deal, from a recent rubber bridge game, resulted in a routine four-heart contract. South opened one heart, North bid his strong diamond suit, and South rebid two hearts showing a six-card suit. This allowed North to raise, and South continued to game. As the cards lie, the contract appears unbeatable — it is if you waste your time at the front door, but watch how it dissolves with this backdoor defense.

4 H S 8 6 2
H J 10
D A K Q J 6
C J 10 5
N-S Vul

West

Pass
Pass
All Pass


North

2 D
3 H


East

Pass
Pass


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

West led the spade queen; East won the ace and paused to think about the defense. Besides the spade ace and heart ace, two more tricks were required to defeat four hearts. South was sure to hold the spade king (from West’s lead), almost sure to have the club ace (from the bidding), and likely to have the king-queen of hearts. The best hope was to find West with the club queen. But would it do any good to lead clubs? No; declarer would duck the trick to West’s queen, then dummy’s jack-10 would trap the king.

Since a direct attack appeared futile, East looked around to the back door and led a diamond. Don’t laugh; this was a great play. Declarer won the 10, and led a low heart to dummy’s jack. East made another fine play — he ducked. Declarer continued with a heart to East’s ace; then came the killer — another diamond. West still held a trump, so declarer could not win any more diamond tricks. Eventually, the defenders would win two club tricks; down one.

Defensive tip: If declarer leads the club jack from dummy, East should not cover with the king.

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© 5-21-1989 Richard Pavlicek