Main     Ask Richard 9R62 by Richard Pavlicek    

Defensive Play

This page contains selected queries to “Ask Richard” about defensive card play, although discussion sometimes includes other topics. Presentation is reverse-chronological (most recent first). Queries and followups appear in this color, and Richard’s replies are in black. Names, greetings and personal messages have been removed to respect privacy and focus on bridge.

Suit preferenceApril 26, 2011 (9R90)

West

Pass
North
1 S
Pass
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 NT
Matchpoints
None Vul
S A K 8 6 2
H A 9 5
D J 10
C 9 6 2
Trick
1 W
2 E
3 W
Lead
H 4
H Q
?
2nd
5
6
3rd
J
K
4th
3
9
W L
0 1
0 2
S 10 9 7 5
H K 10 7 4 2
D K 8 4
C 7
Table

1 NT South

Should West continue with the H 10 as suit preference (perhaps guiding declarer) or the H 2 to show partner the distribution? Are there any general guidelines for this situation?

First, any heart would be suit preference, since partner will know you held five hearts when South’s H 8 appears. A debatable matter is whether the H 7 would be (1) no preference or (2) preference for diamonds treating spades as high and clubs as low. My philosophy is that suit preference is always a two-suit issue, so if three potential suits exist, one must be eliminated by logic; hence Option 1 with spades being eliminated. Therefore, the H 10 stands out as suit preference for diamonds.

In general, while suit preference might help declarer, there are many more cases where the information will be crucial to partner; so you have to be careful about deception. For example, if West returned the H 2 or H 7, and East held S Q-x-x H Q-J D Q-x-x-x C A-J-10-x, he would pitch a club, gifting that suit to declarer.

Old chestnut revisitedApril 14, 2011 (9R84)

West

Pass
North

3 NT
East

AP
South
1 NT
IMPs
None Vul
S 10 9 8
H 8 7
D Q J 10 8
C K Q J 5
Trick
1 W
2 S
3 N
4 W
Lead
S 3
C 6
D Q
?
2nd
8
8
2
3rd
J
K
5
4th
A!
7
K
W L
1 0
2 0
2 1
S K 7 4 3 2
H Q 9 4 3
D K 4
C 8 3
TableS J 6 5
H A K 10 2
D 7 3 2
C 10 9 7



3 NT South
S A Q
H J 6 5
D A 9 6 5
C A 6 4 2

On this lesson deal, a German bridge trainer says that South should win the ace at Trick 1, so West will be tricked into leading a low spade when he wins the D K. Is this correct? As West, would you fall for this trick?

The advice is correct, since declarer has nine tricks if the diamond finesse wins; but if it loses, the only hope is to divert a heart shift. If South wins the queen at Trick 1, West will certainly shift to hearts.

The tactic is well-known, so it’s not a case of being tricked. An expert West knows that South has either (1) S A-x-(x) and played normally or (2) S A-Q-(x-x) and falsecarded. Also, in Case 1 South must have a doubleton for spades to run. Consequently, there are more falsecard holdings needing a heart shift than normal holdings where a spade continuation sets the contract — but, declarer would not always have falsecarded in Case 2, which brings it back to a close guess.

A defensive method to solve this is the Smith echo. When declarer leads a club at Trick 2, East’s play indicates his attitude toward the opening lead: High means he likes spades (showing S Q), and low means he doesn’t. Alas, in this case East’s C 7 is ambiguous (could be 10-9-7 or 7-x-x) so even Smith users will be guessing.* In potentially ambiguous situations, perhaps East’s next play (D 2) should be a clarification. Food for thought.

*Some experts flip-flop the meanings (reverse Smith) which is lucky here, as the C 10 to show dislike would be crystal clear.

Sunken shipMarch 23, 2011 (9R74)

West

Pass
Pass
Pass
North

1 H
2 C
3 NT
East

Pass
Pass
AP
South
1 D
1 S
2 NT
IMPs
Both Vul
S 2
H K Q 10 9
D K Q J 9 7 5
C K 9
Trick
1 W
2 N
3 W
Lead
C 3
D K
H 3?
2nd
K
2
3rd
4?
3
4th
5
A
W L
1 0
1 1
S 9 8 6
H J 8 6 3
D A
C A J 10 3 2
TableS J 10 7 5 4
H 7 5 4 2
D 10 2
C Q 4


3 NT South
made 6 +690
S A K Q 3
H A
D 8 6 4 3
C 8 7 6 5

Should East play the C Q at Trick 1? Or should West cash the C A at Trick 3?

Tough one. Normally I would do as East did, since South is marked with four clubs from the lead; but the appearance of dummy suggests extreme measures, despite the long shot of West having C A-J-10-3-2. (Usually the jack is led from an A-J-10 holding, but I agree with fourth-best here.)

West also had a difficult guess. East having the H A was a long shot — but so was the C Q with South bidding notrump and East playing his lowest club.

Some would argue that the Smith echo would work here. At Trick 2, East would play the D 10 to say he likes the opening lead. Unfortunately, this is not very convincing, as East would often have a singleton diamond on the bidding.

Rather than dwell on a rare, unfortunate situation, call it a fix by North; never to show the diamond fit could easily have missed a slam. I would have bid 1 DH; 1 SD (forcing); 3 S (strength) 3 NT, which also right-sides the declarer. Alas, down like the Titanic if East leads the C Q.

Two red jackFebruary 19, 2011 (9R62)

West

1 H1
AP
North

2 D
East
Pass
Pass
South
Pass
2 NT
Matchpoints
None Vul
S A 9 8
H 10 8
D A 10 7 6 3
C A 7 2
Trick
1 W
2 S
3 S
Lead
S Q
D K
D 9
2nd
8
2
4
3rd
2
3
6
4th
K
5
J
W L
1 0
2 0
2 1
TableS 7 3 2
H J 6 3
D J 8 5
C K Q 10 3
1. Italian, 4+ cards
2 NT South

After winning the D J, what should East lead next?

The apparent danger is that West is 4=5=3=1 with H A-Q-9-x-x. If East returns anything but the H J, declarer can cash his tricks (including the C A) and endplay West with the third spade. Conflicting evidence is that declarer made no avoidance attempt (i.e., winning the D A on the second round to feed West the queen) but this may have no bearing, as other actions mark N-S as a weak pair.* A deciding factor is that the H J can hardly lose; if South has the key spots (H K-9-x or even K-9-7-x) he has no hand entry to enjoy a heart trick.

*No expert would overcall 2 D with the North hand. A great majority would double, and the rest would pass.

Confucius say: Win one red jack, lead two red jack.

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When will I ever learn?January 26, 2011 (9R52)

West

Pass
2 D
AP
North

1 NT
Pass
East
Pass
Dbl
Pass
South
1 S
Rdbl
2 S
Matchpoints
E-W Vul
S 9 3
H A 6 5 2
D J 5 3 2
C J 4 3
Trick
1 W
2 W
3 E
4 N
5 S
6 S
7 S
8 S
9 S
10 W
11 S
12 W
Lead
D K
H 9
H K
S 3
S K
C A
C K
C Q
D 8
S J
S 5
S 10
2nd
2
2
7
8
6
10
8
6
A
H 5
7
H 6
3rd
10
10
4
A
9
3
4
J
3
D 9
D 5
D Q
4th
4
3
A
2
C 9
2
5
7
7
Q
H J
4
W L
0 1
0 2
1 2
2 2
3 2
4 2
5 2
6 2
6 3
7 3
7 4
7 5
S J 10 7 6 2
H 9 4
D A K 6
C 10 8 6
TableS 8
H K Q J 10
D Q 10 9 7
C 9 7 5 2


2 S South
made 2 +110
S A K Q 5 4
H 8 7 3
D 8 4
C A K Q

Playing ace from A-K, I mistakenly led the D K. Partner discouraged (upside-down) and I switched to a heart. At Trick 9, I precipitously won the D A to lead trumps, and partner later pitched the wrong card at Trick 12. How simple it would have been just to duck at Trick 9, allowing partner to win and lead a good heart. All my fault! When will I ever learn?

To paraphrase Professor Irwin Corey, that’s a two-part question. The first part: “When” has confounded mankind since life on Earth began, and despite hypotheses by the great philosophers, no concrete answer exists. The second part: “Will you ever learn?” No.

Look at the bright side: At Trick 2 you shifted to a heart, without which declarer could always succeed. Also, East gets a share of the blame. From his perspective the only missing heart was the eight, so if you had a heart left it would be high; and simplest of all, you bid diamonds after his takeout double, which could hardly be a doubleton.

About 30 years ago Bill Root cryptically asked, “Where have all the flowers gone?”
I was puzzled until he clarified I had overbid and should be “long time passing.”
When will I ever learn? Good question!

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© 2011 Richard Pavlicek