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Promoting Tricks in Defence Part I by Terence Reese

This article describes, without reference to general tactics, a number of situations in which the defenders can promote an extra trick in a single suit, often the trump suit. In the establishment of tricks in side suits there are certain forms of play used by defenders which are very seldom made by declarer. Consider, for example, the defender’s problem in the following position:

The hands of West and North are:

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

The bidding has gone:

South   North
1   1
1NT   3NT

West leads 5 and dummy’s K wins, East playing the 2. Declarer plays Q and another Club, the K losing to the A. East has played 2 and then the 7. The problem is, what should West lead now, and why?

The play so far has shown that South holds AQ of Spades and five Clubs to the KJ. (This much can be deduced as follows: had East held the Q, he would not have played the 2; had East held Q2 alone, South would have let the first trick come up to his A 7 x x. The fact that East did not signal to show four Clubs, together with South’s play of the suit, makes it certain that South started with five to the K J; had they been headed by K10, he would have finessed the 1o.

It is, therefore, certain that South can go game with four Clubs’ three spades and two diamonds unless the defence can take 4 tricks in hearts. This can be done if South holds as good as Q 9 provided that West leads the 8 and no other card.

This position is not so easy to recognize from the other side. Study this diagram:

  10 6 5 2  
A 9 4   K J 7 3
  Q 8  

If East is on lead and he judges that his partner holds the Ace, the only card which he can play to win four tricks straight off is the King; West has to unblock with the 9.

There are a number of situations in which the defenders use the tactics of a backward finesse. This is the most simple:

  10 x x  
A x x   K J 9 x
  Q xx  

When he attacks this suit, East must lead the jack to win four tricks.

Essentially the same play is made in this position:

  A J x  
Q 10 7 x   K 8 x
  9 x x  

The way for West to attack the suit is to lead the 10; any other lead gives declarer a double stop.

From a combination headed by A Q10 the Queen is generally the right lead:

  K x x  
A Q 10 x   x x x
  J x x  

So long as partner has an entry, West establishes three tricks by leading the Queen.

The same play has to be made if this diagram is viewed the other way up:

  J x x  
10 x x   A Q 9 x
  K x x  

East attacks the suit by leading the Queen.

The lead through A Q from a combination headed by KJ is generally the Jack:

  A Q x  
K J x x   9 8 x
  10 x x  

If West plays the suit he must lead the jack and not a small card. The American writer, Charles Goren, has remarked upon the frequency with which tricks are sacrificed by the defence in positions like this :

  x x x  
K J 9 x   Q x
  A 10 x x  

 East is on lead and has no other entry. He places partner with strength in this suit and also with outside entries. The usual play by East is the Queen, but when the cards lie as they do in this diagram, the Queen is a mistake, for declarer wins and if East has no other entry the suit is stopped twice. If East leads small on the other hand, West can win with the 9 and play a small card back; in this way the defenders come to three tricks in the suit. Situations of this kind are, of course, difficult to judge in play; if the cards lie rather differently, the Queen may be best.


Preserving a Tenace Position

The defensive play required in the following hand proved a blind spot for most players when the hand was set in a Par Contest.

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

West leads 3 against Three No-Trumps. South wins and finesses J, losing to East’s Queen. As South has bid Spades, East can see little future in this suit and it is obvious that the setting tricks can come only from Clubs. Most players thought they were rising to the occasion when they played back Q. However, this is not good enough, for as the cards lie South has a second stop after this play. The only return to establish three certain tricks in Clubs is the low one; then, when West wins with A, he leads a second Club and East makes three tricks to set the contract.

Second Hand Law or High

One of the most difficult decisions which a defender has constantly to make is when declarer leads low to a suit in dummy headed by K Q or K J, and the player underneath the dummy has the Ace. The defender has to gauge whether declarer has led a singleton or not; and also whether, if the lead is a singleton, it is better to go in with the Ace or hold it up. Sometimes it is almost impossible for a defender to judge, especially if the play is made early on before the defenders have a count of the hand. For this reason a declarer with Kjxxx in dummy and a doubleton or singleton in his own hand should play the suit at the first opportunity before the defenders can be sure whether it is better to play the Ace or not

A defender cannot do the right thing every time in these positions, but it is probably correct to say that when in doubt it is better to play low; for even when the lead is a singleton, it is often a mistake to play the Ace. This hand is rather a striking example:

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

The bidding has gone:

South   North
1   2
2NT   4

The J is led, and if you look at the hand you will see that East can beat the contract only by not playing his A at the first trick. East can see that if he puts on A, declarer’s K Q will provide discards for two losing Clubs, so by giving up a Diamond the defenders gain two tricks in Clubs.

Playing Partner for a Ruff

Now we come to the first of a series of examples in which play slightly outside the usual is needed to win extra tricks in the trump suit. Most players can see ahead when the want to ruff themselves, but they tend to miss chances c giving partner a ruff:

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

The bidding has gone:

South   North
1   2
3   3

West leads Qand East wins with the Ace. What should he play back? The contract can be defeated only if West has a trump trick. West can hardly have a trick in Spades as well as a trick in trumps; but there is a good chance that a second trick may be won by means of a Club ruff. Remember that South has raised Clubs; West is not likely to have a singleton Club, for with a singleton and a high trump he would have led the singleton. West has a duubleton Club, as it is reasonable to suppose, the hand is defeated by the return of a low Club at the second trick.


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