Simple Safety Plays by Dr. Paul Stern

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Photo: The winning Austria open team at the 1937 world championships: Karl Schneider, Hans Jellinek, Edouard Frischauer, Paul Stern (captain), Josephine Culbertson (US), Walter Herbert, Helen Sobel (US), and Karl von Blöhdorn.

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Paul Stern

Paul Stern

Dr Paul Stern (1892 – 12 June 1948), lawyer and diplomat, was an Austrian international bridge player who fled to London in 1938. He was a bidding theorist and administrator who contributed to the early growth of the game. He founded the Austrian Bridge Federation in 1929, and was its first president.

Simple Safety Plays by Dr. Paul Stern

THE situation illustrated in the following hand is fairly common, but how many declarers know of the safety play which should be used ?

  9 7 6
10 7 4 3
K 7 2
A 10 3
Q J 9 8 6
A 8 6 3
9 5 2
  Q J 8 4
K 2
10 9 4
J 8 7 4
  A K 10 5 3
A 5
Q J 5
K Q 6

The contract is Four Spades by South, and West leads the Q. When dummy goes down declarer should, as always in a suit contract, count his losers. He must concede one Heart and one Diamond trick, so he cannot afford to lose more than one trick in trumps. With any 3-2 division South is on safe ground ; his one fear is that an opponent will hold four trumps including the Queen and Jack. If West holds them, obviously two tricks must be lost, but if they are in East’s hand a simple safety play will prevent him from making more than one trick.

At trick 2 declarer must lay down the K. When both opponents follow, dummy is entered with the A and the 7 is led. If East plays the 8, South covers with the 10; West shows out, and East can now make only one of his trumps.

The play of the A at trick 4 makes the loss of two tricks inevitable. Note that the play of the 10 cannot cost anything. Should West win with an honour, only one trump will remain in the East-West hands, and it will fall to the Ace. East cannot do better by splitting his honours, for if he plays the J when Dummy’s 7 is led, declarer wins with the A and leads a small trump to dummy’s 9, forcing the Q, and South’s 10 will pick up the last outstanding trump. Another typical trump position is shown in the following hand.

NORTH: K Q 5 4 Q 9 7 6 7 2 ; A J 2

SOUTH: A 7 A K 2 9 Q 9 8 6 5 4 3

North-South have bid the small slam in Clubs and West leads the K, followed by the Q, which South ruffs. The fate of the contract depends on not losing to the K. The odds greatly favour the finesse, as the chance of finding the bare King with East is remote.

But now comes the question : which card should South play at trick 2 ? The Q, the 9, or a small Club ?

Let us assume that you lead the 9 or the 3. West plays the 7, and dummy’s J is finessed. It wins—but East shows out, and West still holds the K 10 tenace over your Q, and the contract must fail.

But what if you had led the Q? Whether West covers or not, you must take all the tricks. If he covers, dummy’s Ace wins and East shows out ; you simply return to your hand and take a second finesse against the 10. If West plays low, the Q holds the trick, and once again the safety play has worked.

Although my third example occurs frequently in various forms, it is no exaggeration to state that 95 out of 100 players fail to handle the situation correctly.

  K J 5 3
K 7 6
A 4 2
K Q 3
J 10 9 3
Q 10 8 3
J 9 8 4
  Q 10 8 4
5 4
J 9 7 6
10 7 2
  A 9 7 6
A Q 8 2
K 5 4
A 10 5

6 is easy to bid. West leads the J, South wins and plays the A; when both opponents follow the 6 is led, and the horrid truth is revealed : East must now win two tricks in trumps. South shows his disgust in various ways, depending on his temperament and manners, but the usual plaint is ” . . . that can only happen to me, four trumps in the wrong hand,” or, alternatively ” Sorry, partner, against that distribution only a clairvoyant would make the contract.” He is often the recipient of polite commiseration, but nevertheless correct play would have landed the slam.

The safety play is easy—if you know it and don’t forget to use it at the critical moment. The correct play is to lead small to dummy’s King. If both opponents follow, your contract is safe, and it makes no difference which opponents holds Q 10 8 4. Try to work out the continuation for yourself. One word more. The play of the trumps does not alter if dummy holds K J 3 and declarer A 9 7 6 5 or a similar combination.

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