Planning the Play by Frank Groome
Having ‘won’ the auction, the first step to making your contract is to plan the play before playing to the opening lead.
Source: Alton Bridge Club
Having ‘won’ the auction, the first step to making your contract is to plan the play before playing to the opening lead. Far too often a player will automatically call for a card from the dummy without stopping to think about how to make the contract. Frequently this leads to a failure to make the contract, because by the time that declarer realises he is in trouble it is too late to do anything about it. It is astonishing how many contracts are defeated not by good defence but by careless declarer play. This can usually be avoided by answering two questions before playing to the first trick. The first question is: “How many tricks can I guarantee to make?” The second question is: “In what order should I play the suits to give myself the best chance of making the maximum number of tricks?”
This procedure should become a habit that you learn, even on the hands that are straightforward. Unless you teach yourself to count your tricks and evaluate which order the suits should be played in, you will find it much more difficult to make a constructive plan on hands that are not so simple. Initially, you should count winners as being the tricks you can win without losing the lead. Once you have done this you will know how many tricks you need to develop in order to make your contract. From this it becomes clearer in which order you should play the suits, since it should be obvious that the suit which develops the greatest number of tricks should be played first, so long as the communications between your hand and the dummy is properly maintained. Here is an example of the importance of this process:-
| A J 5
Q 10 9 4
K J 6 3
| 10 9 4
K J 9 4 2
A 8 5
* East/West were playing transfers, which meant that a 2NT response to an opening 1NT bid would be a transfer to s. Therefore the only method to show a balanced 2NT raise (11-12 HCP) was to bid it via Stayman.
The lead was the 3. Before reading on, take a moment to plan how to make this contract.
At first sight the contract does not look particularly difficult. Although there are only three tricks that you can cash immediately, the lead has developed a trick in the suit. Three tricks can be developed in the suit if the finesse of the J works. Four tricks are available in the suit if the 10 appears within three rounds. Four tricks in the suit if the finesse of the Q works and the suit breaks 3-3.
The problem arises if in developing any of these suits, a finesse does not work and/or the suit does not break kindly, in which case you will develop tricks for the opponents while giving them the time to set up their long suit. So which suit do you play first?
The temptation on this kind of hand is to attempt the finesse first. If it works and the suit does break kindly, you will easily have the time to set up three tricks in the red suits to make the contract. But if it fails it is a disaster, because you will not have the communication between the two hands to develop the rest of your tricks. By losing the finesse you will have deprived yourself of an essential entry to the table (the A) before you have developed the required tricks. You must develop your tricks before cashing your A. Here are all four hands:-
| Q 8 7 3
8 7 3 2
A 10 3
| A J 5
Q 10 9 4
K J 6 3
| 10 9 4
K J 9 4 2
A 8 5
| K 6 2
A J 5
8 6 5
10 9 7 2
With a sight of all four hands, you can see that the finesse is a disaster. Not only do you lose a trick to the Q, you also establish an additional trick for the opponents if you play for the suit to break. By starting on the s first you will have ample time to set up your ninth trick in the suit, without having to worry about the finesse. Note that if neither the A nor the 10 has appeared in two rounds of the suit, you should switch to the suit immediately. This is because there is a strong possibility that a continuation in these circumstances will establish a second trick for the opponents, which you cannot afford.
The hand is a useful illustration of the principle of losing your losers early. Never take an early finesse unless you need it to make your contract or losing the finesse will not cost you your contract. And never deprive yourself of entries that are essential before you have set up the tricks you need in the other suits. This principle of maintaining the communication between the two hands is a vital consideration in any contract you play, and one to which we will be returning again and again.
The final point about this hand is to note the decision about which of the red Aces you should knock out first. You should have chosen the suit because you have a longer combined holding in s than you do in s. You are more likely to develop a greater number of tricks in the suit than the suit, which is the final criterion for making the choice. There are occasions, however, when this would be an error…
| A Q 7
K J 9 3
Q 10 7 2
| 9 8
Q 10 7
A J 9 6 3
A 6 5
North leads the 2, showing his partner an odd number in the suit. Once again, take a moment to plan how you would play the contract before reading any further…
You can count two tricks, three tricks once the A has been knocked out, four s (five if the finesse of the K succeeds) and two tricks. The temptation is to take the finesse of the K at trick two, of course. If it works you will have nine tricks on top, even without knocking out the A. This would be a bad mistake, however, since South is virtually certain to hold the K for his bid and he will have the time to knock out your guard before you have eliminated the A. But surely you need the finesse to make your contract?
Well, no! Not if you can persuade South that he needs to guard the s and possibly the s as well. What you must do is knock out the A first and then wait and see what South discards on the long (s) before deciding how to play the remaining suits. Let’s see what happened…
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