When NOT to Cash Tricks

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Here’s a defensive tip that will save you tons of matchpoints if you are willing to apply it:

Jim Diebel
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Source:  When NOT to Cash Tricks

Here’s a defensive tip that will save you tons of matchpoints if you are willing to apply it:

When you are defending a suit contract – do not attempt to cash tricks in suits that can not disappear!

This is often true in no trump contracts as well, but it’s especially important against suits. Of all of the easily correctable errors I see, this is one of those things that lesser experienced players seem to get wrong over and over again. Defending accurately is difficult. To be a good defender, you have to know what declarer’s plan is going to be before he even starts it. On top of that, you need to recognize whether or not a particular hand needs to be defended aggressively or passively. How can you know?

Most of the time, the answer will be staring you in the face. Look at the dummy. It usually will provide the necessary clues. Let’s look at a couple of simple examples.  Suppose the auction goes 2 – Pass – 3 – all pass  – and partner leads a low diamond. How do you defend differently if you hold hand (A) or hand (B)?


You win the Ace of Diamonds and now have to decide how to continue. With hand (A), there is no rush to do anything. You have the club suit under control, and you shouldn’t take a chance of developing anything for declarer. Return a trump. Declarer will ruff a diamond if he can, but you shouldn’t break the heart suit unless you are forced to do so. In other words, nothing is going away, so defend passively.

With hand (B) however, changing two cards changes the defense dramatically.  You don’t know who has the King of Clubs, and even if partner has it, it can be finessed. An alarm should be ringing in your head that tricks are going to vanish if you don’t take them. It’s time to defend aggressively. Switch to the 6 of hearts. Partner rates to hold the Ace, and if you’re lucky, he will return the Jack. If he returns a different heart, take your King, and try to cash one more diamond before all defensive tricks disappear on the club suit. When the dummy (or the auction) suggests that there is a secondary source of tricks for declarer, the defense must attempt to cash or develop their side suit winners as quickly as possible.

This principle arises often under many disguises. Suppose you are defending a heart contract, declarer is known to be out of, say, diamonds, and dummy has been exhausted of trumps. You have the choice of leading the Ace of Clubs, or a diamond. Following our guidelines, it’s clear to continue leading diamonds. If declarer has any clubs, they’re not going anywhere. You can win it later. Furthermore, you don’t risk establishing a possible King of Clubs in declarer’s hand.

When defending, always stop to ask yourself before you lead a card: “Do I need to cash this card now, or can it wait? If declarer has any of these, can he pitch it somewhere? Is there a danger of something going away?”

If the answer to all of these questions is “no”, play safely and passively.


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