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Expert Plays Little Cards First

An amusing irony exists between the card-play technique of the average player and that of an expert. The “little guy” is anxious to play his big cards; while the “big guy” is anxious to play his little cards. Guess who wins more tricks in the end? Today’s deal is a typical example.

3 NT S K 10 9 3
H 10 4 2
D Q 5
C A K Q 5
N-S Vul

West

Pass
Pass


North
1 C
1 S
3 NT


East
Pass
Pass
All Pass


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

After North’s one-club opening, South responded one heart, adhering to the practical philosophy of showing a four-card major in preference to a four-card minor. North showed his spade suit, South jumped to two notrump, and North continued to game.

West led a low diamond, and declarer counted eight sure tricks. The average player would notice the prospect of making a ninth trick in clubs if that suit divided 3-3, or in spades if the missing honors lay favorably. Chances are he would experiment with spades first, then fall back on the club suit as a last resort. Too bad. Nothing good happens so declarer ends up with the same eight tricks he started with — down one.

The expert is not mesmerized by his high cards, so he notices the heart suit. There is just as good a chance of finding the hearts 3-3 as the clubs, plus the presence of the jack and 10 offer fair hopes of contending with a 4-2 or 5-1 break. Further, by playing his weak suit first, declarer will have better control later on.

The correct play is to win the first trick with the diamond king, and lead the heart three; five, 10, queen. Win the diamond return with the queen, and lead the heart two; eight, six, ace. Note the second-round duck; it would be futile to expect to win the jack, so declarer caters to West having a doubleton honor. Win the diamond ace (throw a spade from dummy), cross to the club queen, and lead another heart to establish the jack and make your contract.

But wait! There is frosting on the cake. When declarer plays his fourth heart and spade king-ace (in that order), West is squeezed in the minor suits. So the expert wins 10 tricks, all because he took the time to play his little cards first.

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© 3-18-1990 Richard Pavlicek