Safety Plays



We will be embarking on safety plays! It is a broad area under the entire huge spectrum of Suit Combinations! 

It is our belief that safety plays are inexhaustible and one must understand the concept before being able to identify one at the table. Also, Safety Plays should only be done when it does not cost to do so. In view of the entire hand, one can then make the right decision to execute the safety play. Take for example the following hand. 6NT by South; Dealer: N; Vul:None, Lead: Q


Well in this hand, you see 8 top tricks and the Club suit looks good for another few tricks. By cashing the top 2 Clubs, you would make your contract if Clubs break 2-2: you would make 13 tricks on top. Yet would this be a good play? At a glance, it seems that if Clubs were to break badly, the contract would go down due to the lack of tricks as you cannot establish the Clubs in Dummy and get to them due to lack of entry in North. Thus, the solution is to duck a Club first! It may cost an unnecessary trick, but it guarantees the contract on any 3-1 Club break, with the entry in the Club suit retained. Such is an example of a Safety Play and it definitely did not cost to do such a play as it does not jeopardise the contract. This safety play has to do with entries and thus may be considered an entry producing/preserving play(more on this next time).

Moving on, we did promise that we would focus on Suit Combinations and not the whole hand and so this is an example of a suit in which a safety play can be executed.

Lets take a look at this suit, AQTxxx(North) facing xxx(South).

Suppose you had to play this suit for no losers, you would take a finesse of the Queen and cash the Ace. When the suit breaks 2-2 with the King onside, you make all the tricks. Note that there is no reason to finesse the Ten on the first round as you would be catering for only a KJx with West. Furthermore, finessing the Ten on the first round also loses against a singleton Jack with East which would be picked up with a finesse of the Queen, then subsequently the Ten when the Jack drops under the Queen.

Well having said that, where’s the safety play you ask? If you had to play the suit now for 1 loser how would you do it? Well if you haven’t tackled this suit for 1 loser before, there are probably 2 lines of play that would arise in your mind almost immediately.

1. Finessing the Ten then the Queen.
2. Finessing the Queen then cashing the Ace.

A little more thought would almost certainly tell you that the first line is superior to the second line as a play for one loser. Thus, should we follow the first line of play?

As most of you would have guessed, the answer is definitely a no! You should in fact cash the Ace on your first trick! This line wins the rest as it guards against any singleton honour offside! Furthermore, in the case where KJ bare is with East, you save yourself a guess!

When the Jack drops from East under your Ace on the first trick, you can now force out the King with your Queen/Ten for one loser. In the event that the suit breaks 3-1, your other high card will fell the opponent’s last small card.

If the King drops from East under your Ace on the first trick, you would thus take the marked finesse against the Jack on the second round, making an uptrick! Of course if East had (rather oddly) dropped the King from KJ doubleton, you wouldn’t mind him winning with the Jack on the 2nd trick because you would have succeed in playing the suit for 1 loser anyway.

When East holds the KJ doubleton, your Ace will drop the Jack from him and the scenario is just as if East had the singleton Jack honour.

Playing this way, you also could pick up KJxx onside, not losing to the finesse line, as East would show out on the first round.

If you were to instead tackle the suit by finessing the Ten first, if the Ten lost to the Jack with East on the first round, you would not know whether to finesse the Queen or to play for a 2-2 break. If you were to finesse the Queen first, if the Queen lost to the King on the first trick, you would not know whether to finesse the Ten or to play for a 2-2 break!

Thus using the safety play, you eliminate any guesses in the suit and always succeed in playing the suit for only 1 loser as long as the cards allow it.(Barring a KJx or KJxx offside in which you always will have 2 losers no matter how you play it.) Sure, you lose a trick unnecessarily if the cards actually sat well for you, but you could afford a loser, so there was no harm done.

Lets see the suit played in this manner, in a real contract, to convince you of the importance of such safety plays!

4 by South;  Lead: K


Seeing only 2 losers in Diamonds, the only problem would be not to lose 2 trump tricks. Thus by laying down the Ace, one can prevent the loss of 2 trump tricks without need for guessing. In the actual layout, the singleton King drops and Declarer makes a well deserved uptrick by finessing against the Jack.

The Full Hand:


Now that we have seen the usefulness of safety plays, lets take a look at one more before we end with a cliffhanger again!

Holding K7654 (North) facing T932 (South), if asked to play for one loser, one would definitely lead low up to the King, and hope the suit breaks 2-2 with the Ace onside. Now however, we can play the suit for 2 losers and not any more. How would you play the suit?

Of course, the answer cannot be a low card to the King again or there would be no need to discuss this suit combination. The correct thing to do would be to duck the first round completely! This caters for a singleton Ace offside. If you had went up with the King on the first round, the singleton Ace would have captured your King and the Queen and Jack would take 2 more tricks, giving you 3 losers in the suit! Note that you do not lose anything even if the first trick was won with anything but the Ace. When you subsequently lead towards the King again on the second trick, you cover anything West plays and if East still has the Ace, that is the defence’s last trick in the suit. If West had the Ace in the first place, your King would hold as East shows out and again the Ace would be the defence’s last trick again!

Again, the safety play gives you a 100% chance on any layout that can be played for 2 losers in the suit. (Barring the AQJ or more offside or AQJ8 onside, in which you would have 3 losers in the suit anyway.)

Let us end with this suit, A43 (North)  facing  KJ986 (South). What would be your line of plays for no loser and 1 loser? The answer in the next article.