Improving your Card Play

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A word, an important one, before we start. “Wait.” As soon as the opening lead has been made, it is time to stop and think,

The Encyclopedia of card Play Techniques at Bridge
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Extracted from: The Encyclopedia of card Play Techniques at Bridge

A word, an important one, before we start. “Wait.” As soon as the opening lead has been made, it is time to stop and think, to count winners and losers, to review the opposition bidding (or lack of it) and to draw conclusions, to search for where the missing trick(s) might come from and, of course, to decide what technique to apply. In short, it is time to plan a line of play.

Do not touch a single card in dummy, even if it is a singleton, before planning the play. You do not set off in a car to go somewhere (the contract) without knowing which route to take (the line of play); otherwise you risk trouble ahead (going down). We’ll look at one example just in case you’re not convinced:

A J 4
J 5 2
K Q 5 3
Q 9 4

 
K 9 5
A K 4 3
A 7 6 4
A 2
 

South plays 3NT; West leads the 2.

Initial thinking and diagnostic

What’s the lead convention? Fourth best.

Even with 31 combined points, South has only eight tricks. One more must be found. There are several possible ways we might do this:

• establish the fourth diamond
• establish the fourth heart
• lead up to dummy’s honors in hearts and clubs
• spade finesse
• endplay an opponent
• a squeeze

Let’s keep thinking:

1) Establish the fourth diamond. From the lead, West probably has four diamonds and they are all higher than ours, so this line is very unlikely to work!

2) Establish the fourth heart. This is possible if hearts are 3-3 or if the queen is doubleton — keep this line in mind.

3) Playing towards dummy’s honors. Yes, we only need West to have one of the Q, the Q and the K. We could win the A and play once towards the J, once towards the J and once towards the Q. Three chances! Not bad. Surely one of them will succeed.

4) Endplay an opponent to give us a free finesse. That works after eliminating his exit cards. Keep it in mind.

5) A squeeze? For the time being, that’s not an obvious choice.

Let’s try Line 3. We want the lead in the South hand, so we put in the 3 at Trick 1 and East plays the 10. That should start an alarm bell ringing. ‘Stop, look, listen,’ was
what the traffic signs used to say at the beginning of the automobile era. Before grabbing that A, let’s think some more. What if East has all the honors after all? In addition, what if the hearts are not 3-3 and the queen is not doubleton? In that case, we are going to go down, although we will be able to complain about our bad luck.

Any other ideas? Is there something we forgot to take into account? Stop and think now; do not mechanically take the trick! Maybe there’s a better line. Thinking further
brings us to the endplay, Line 4: if a play is due to fail when South tries it, perhaps it will succeed if East has to make it (the reverse of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better!)

If West has four diamonds, East has only one, and if we let him hold this trick, he is endplayed right now! His return will, perforce, be in one of the three other suits, the ones that we are interested in. Wherever the missing honors are, he will be obliged to give us a trick.

 

A J 4
J 5 2
K Q 5 3
Q 9 4

 

10 3 2
9 7
J 9 8 2
10 7 5 3

 

Q 8 7 6
Q 10 8 6
10
K J 8 6

 

K 9 5
A K 4 3
A 7 6 4
A 2

 

We can call it a (very) early throw-in. Assuming that the 2 really is a fourth-best card, the contract is 100% safe from the very first trick — nice, isn’t it? All we had to do was count 4+4+4+1= 13 diamonds — not too difficult at all. No difficult technique whatsoever was required here, just a ducking play at the first trick. Yes, East could have been thrown in later, but it’s much neater and more effective this way. Above all, the important thing was not to play mechanically. Of course, ‘Stop, Look, Listen’ is not a maxim for declarer only; it is just as important for the defenders.

What’s the problem?

Even when applying the principle ‘Stop, Look, Listen’, many players, even relatively good ones, have difficulty deciding what needs to be done. As in a police enquiry, or a medical diagnosis, the collection of facts (here, that West has four diamonds) does not suffice to solve the problem; one must know how to make deductions and draw conclusions. The first deduction (East has only one diamond) will not suffice. It is the consequence (if left on play, East must now lead another suit) that ultimately indicates the right line of play.

How many times do we think, ‘I can’t believe it was so simple. How did I never think of it?’ Intellectual laziness, lack of concentration, distractions, too many things to think about… everything plays a role. However, a player can develop the necessary analytical discipline by following a checklist. After ‘Stop, Look, Listen’, we can add ‘Analyze, Imagine, Draw conclusions, Verify that nothing has been overlooked’. All good players, without exception, force themselves to do just that, and it is an even more valuable process for aspiring players, whether they are declarer or defender.

As Declarer

Victor Mollo, The Finer Arts of Bridge:

KJ72
AJ5
983
1073

A653
K9872
Q2
A2

The bidding:

West

North

East

South

Pass

Pass

1

1

2

2

3

3

Pass

Pass

4

4

The End

     

A competitive auction and a difficult contract. West leads the 6 and East takes the king, then the ace and jack. Declarer discards the 2 on the third diamond, escaping an overruff. West throws the 9 on this trick. East now plays the 8, taken with the ace. East had six diamonds and it’s reasonable to assume he has two clubs, since West should have six clubs rather than five, with the three missing honors. East surely has the two major queens for his opening bid. If the Q is doubleton, the Q will be third and impossible to pick up, because the ten, nine and eight are also missing. You therefore have to assume the opposite situation: that the Q is doubleton. We have to play the A and J, a backwards finesse, hoping to pin West’s doubleton 10. If that works, we can play off the top spades to drop the queen.

As Defender

Victor Mollo, The Finer Arts of Bridge.

AQ842
64
842
AK7

 
 

J9765
532
AK5
J8

The bidding:

West

North

East

South

     

1

Pass

1

Pass

4

The End

     

West leads the Q.
East may be surprised by North’s pessimism in passing 4 with such a good hand, but it is still his job to try to defeat the contract. North’s bid obviously enhanced South’s hand, but South nevertheless made no slam tries, so he probably has two losing diamonds. What’s more, South certainly has some spades. So why can’t West be void? Overtake the Q with the king, a revealing card, and give West a spade ruff. You can then regain the lead with the A and give partner another spade ruff for the setting trick.

 

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