I maintain that you cannot win if you don’t give your opponents a chance to make mistakes. Let’s face facts. Most bridge players are dedicated honor coverers.
When declarer leads an honor through your average defenders he will cover it if he can. In many situations, however, this is not the correct strategy. Instead, a defender’s mind-set should be: cover an honor only with a realistic chance of promoting a card in partner’s hand.
Even if the defender knows not to cover, there is often a hesitation for «thinking it over.» Declarer is certainly entitled to draw inference, from such actions by a defender. You know, of course, that it is highly improper for you to hesitate or fumble with the sole purpose of deceiving your opponent – with nothing but low cards, for example.
For the most part, only very good players can duck smoothly when an honor is led through them. Against these players you cannot make assumptions. With everyone else, it is reasonable to assume:
1. With a higher card, a defender will usually cover or hesitate before playing.
2. If a defender smoothly plays low, the higher honor is probably in the other defender’s hand.
Are you intrigued by this game within a game? Food for thought. For now, let’s concentrate on inducing covers in
long suits. Suppose this is your trump suit:
Q 9 8 7
A J 10 6 5 3
Many players believe it is correct to play the ace, hoping to drop the singleton king. That is not the percentage play, however. The best chance to avoid a loser with 10 cards, missing the king, is to finesse. Make sure that you lead the
queen from dummy. Most players will cover with the king whenever they hold it, or pause to think, marking them with that card. If an average player sitting East plays low smoothly, assume that he does not have the king. At this point, your only chance is to rise with the ace, hoping that West’s king is singleton.
On the other hand, a very good defender will plan whether to cover as soon as dummy is tabled. Therefore, when an expert East calmly plays low, you cannot take any inferences. Instead, go with the odds and finesse. With an 11th trump, playing for the drop is correct:
Q 9 8 7 4
A J 10 6 5 3
Once again, however, lead the queen from dummy. If East likes to cover, it would be a shame to deny him this chance. Now try:
A 7 4 3
K J 10 9
This is an annoying two way finesse. With eight cards missing the queen, you should intend to finesse «eight ever, nine never» is correct in general. You can finesse either way with the above combination, depending on whom you place with the queen. Sometimes the bidding will provide a clue. At other times you are on your own. Try leading the jack. If West covers, your problems are over. If West stops to think, assume the queen is only your left. If West ducks smoothly, it is reasonable to assume that East has the queen, so rise with the ace and finesse through East.
Here is another situation with potential for profit against compulsive honor coverers.
10 5 4 3
A 9 8 6 2
This suit looks boring. If the four missing cards divide 2-2, you will lose only one trick. If they divide 3-1 (more likely), you will lose two tricks. Now watch the magic of «where there’s a coverer there’s a way.» After entering dummy in another suit led the 10. If East has Q J 7, K J 7 or K Q 7 and make, the mistake of covering, your ace will capture two honors when West follows with his singleton face card. You will limit your losses to one trick.
Do I suffer a twinge of conscience when profiting from my opponents’ errors? Not at all. When I played competitive tennis, I dreamed about concluding a match with a spectacular winner. In reality, many of my victories ended with an opponent’s double fault I don’t know how you feel, but I slept just fine.
Keep this note from the late, great Freddy Sheinwold in mind as you play: ‘It’s not enough to win the tricks that belong to you. Try also for some that belong to the opponents.»