InicioDefense @enSome Basic Defensive Tips

Some Basic Defensive Tips

Source: Bulletin Sep 2015 by George Cuppaidge         

George Cuppaidge
George Cuppaidge

FOR many years now my source of new bridge material has been almost exclusively from BBO. The same basic mistakes are made over and over again. Lack of partnership agreement is only part of the problem, the other part is ignorance of basic bridge skills. Both parts are addressed here.

Low from odd

Far simpler and more readable, than the traditional “fourth highest” is to lead, signal and discard high from an even number, lowest from odd (when you choose to play “high” you must not waste a card, but you do play the highest card you can afford and the highest of equals). Do not be talked into playing UDCA, upside down count and attitude. This style saves nothing and complicates a simple task. The play of the humble two is beset with ambiguities. Playing hilo even, it is a powerful card.

Opening lead

Your longest and strongest suit is so often right, it is the suit you lead unless you can find a very good reason to do otherwise. This applies defending against a suit contract or a NT contract. Against a suit contract do not lead away from an ace. Even when it is technically right, your partner is likely to go wrong by making the normal assumption that you do not hold it. He will withhold his king if he sees the queen in dummy. Against a NT contract, consider leading a good suit that declarer has bid, especially as a response, including a Stayman response. A major suit response is often (erroneously) made ahead of showing a longer stronger minor. It can often be right, even when declarer has opened with one of a major, when that is where your length and strength lies. You are not likely to make deep tricks in declarer’s suit unless you lead it. Declarer is not going to lead it for you. If your long strong suit does not set up, you are unlikely to defeat the contract. If you lead another suit, your non-clairvoyant partner will very likely direct his energies to setting up the suit he imagines that you hold. Holding a 5+card suit and an interior sequence low is often right, especially when you have no side entry. To lead an honour may block the suit. Even when your aggressive lead appears to cost a trick it often comes back as you cash your long ones, or it turns out to be irrelevant. Many prefer to lead from Qxxx ahead of AJxx against 1NT- 3NT. This is wrong thinking. If you have four tricks in the strong suit, you will never get them, declarer’s strength is elsewhere and he will gratefully cash his tricks. Consider leading the ace from A K x in a weak hand, for similar reasons. You hope that your partner is long in the suit, and not declarer. If your A K isn’t “working” you probably have no defence. You must also hope that he does not unblock holding Qxx. If you happen to be playing the convention, ace attitude, king count or the reverse version, use it. Lead the card that asks for count, and include this possibility in your partnership agreement.

An aggressive lead against a small slam is nearly always best. Holding A x x , K x x in unbid suits, lead from the king, hoping that the king is established when you get in with your ace. If the bidding demands it, lay down the ace or lead a trump. Leading a trump against a grand slam is often right, but not always. Look for the best lead.

Alfred Sheinwold’s time-honoured advice, “The only excuse for not leading your partner’s suit is that you are void,” continues to be ignored, invariably to the cost of the defence or the partnership. There is another proviso, if you have it and don’t lead it, you must be right. One of the recurring joys on BBO, having bid on KQJ10 x and an outside ace, is to have your partner lead from J x x x in the suit you hold the ace. It is better to play the convention that a double demands the lead of another suit rather than your own. Doubling for your own suit is archaic, and designed for the dumbos. A partner worth having will lead it anyway and you may just push them somewhere better. You do need a way to stop him. Agreement is vital, discuss all lead-directing doubles.

Touching cards

Every card you play must be as helpful to your partner as it can possibly be. (Unless you are certain that it is not important, or you have a specific reason to deceive him.) With touching cards right through from A K to 3 2 , lead the top one, unless you choose to lead a low card from length. With a holding like A J 1 0 x or K 1 0 9 x , against NT it is the higher of the two touching cards, although there are many instances when, after studying the bidding, that you may consider leading you lowest card, if the length is likely to be on your right, for example. Holding K 9 8 7 , nearly all would lead the fourth highest seven. This is wrong, prefer the nine, utilise the power of the sequence, tell partner you hold the eight. This scheme fits in particularly well if your partnership agrees on hi-lo from even. The lead of an eight, a nine or a ten, implies an even number and possession of the card immediately below the one led.

When partner leads, the old adage of third hand high usually applies, but play the lowest of touching cards. To play a ten, for example, denies the possession of the nine. An exception applies, when you hold A K doubleton and you intend to win and continue the suit. You win with the ace and continue with the king. This break from tradition alerts partner to your exact holding and allows him to give a suit preference signal on the second round of the suit. If you don’t intend to continue the suit, don’t do it. Think carefully before you do it with lower ranking touching doubletons. As always in bridge, ask yourself what message you want to send before you play, and will it help? If dummy plays an honour which you cannot top, play the highest of touching honours, the queen from Q J etc.

In splitting honours as second to play, the majority plays the lowest of touching cards. The other way is better. If you play, according to your agreement, the ten from Q J 10, and declarer wins with the king, your partner does not know who holds the queen or the jack. This defensive carding convention applies whether declarer leads from or towards dummy

Ruffing thin air

When declarer leads a suit in which you are void towards an honour, it is usually wrong to ruff. If you do you use up a trump and declarer still has his honour. Similarly when declarer leads a card, intending to ruff in dummy, if you have a trump higher than any in dummy and you ruff, declarer’s trump length in dummy is intact and you have used one.

There are so many variations on this theme that it is impossible to be explicit. It is a variation on the theme, “Aces are meant for kings.” Use your trumps to ruff declarer’s winners, not his losers. It is also an application of “Second hand low.” The essence of bridge is to get value for your cards. From declarer’s perspective, to have the opponents’ aces and trumps beat the air is good play

Giving partner a ruff

This is easy when the contract is a slam, give it to him and do it quickly, don’t make him sweat. When you are defending a game or part-score, you must consider partner’s position after he has ruffed, especially when you have no entry to give him another ruff. Often it is right to play another suit first, establishing a ruff for yourself. Think about the hand as a whole and in particular where the setting trick is going to come from. One of the few universal “rules” in defensive play applies when you return a card for partner to ruff. The card you return carries a suit-preference message. A middle card shows no preference but will occasionally point to a trump return. You hold the trump ace, and unless you get a trump return, declarer can discard the card which partner can ruff before you get in.


You must keep it simple, and again you must be on the same wavelength. A number of players still follow the convention which dates back to Whist, discard the suit you want led. This is so clearly wrong that it hardly deserves explanation. If you expect to take tricks in the suit then you are throwing a winner away. Simple and effective is, discard (a spot card) from a suit that you don’t want led. You can simply and more comprehensively take it one step further, discard a count card in a suit you don’t want led. The discard of an honour promises the ace or a touching card below while denying the one above.

Stay away from lunacies like odd/ even, revolving or Lavinthal in this vital situation, your first discard. You will not have to improvise when you don’t have the right card because you will always have it. The most precious card in your hand is often the small card in the suit your partner has led. Think very carefully before you let it go. Keep length parity with dummy’s suits is another fundamental.

An alert declarer will see when a suit in which you have carelessly discarded can be established. Rarely is it right to void yourself in a suit which declarer is still to play. He will not take a losing finesse if you show out before he has to choose his play. If you know declarer is going to play a certain suit, and have only small cards in it, hang on to them all or your partner holding Q x(x) will not thank you. Visualise that holdings like 10 x x x can become a defensive trick when partner holds any of the higher cards.


When partner leads a high card, or you cannot beat the card played from dummy on a low-card lead, you must signal. The eternal question is “Count or attitude?” Really accurate defence is possible only if you agree to signal parity. Attitude is the majority choice. There are some conventions that you should follow, regardless. Signal high with the highest of touching cards. When holding a doubleton, play high from J x or smaller, but low from Q x, to play the queen shows that the card is singleton, or that you hold the jack as well. Even holding only spot cards, count is more powerful, when defending a NT contract than a meaningless attitude card. Whether or not to “unblock” an honour doubleton depends on a number of factors. Think. Some claim to be able to combine attitude, count and suit preference in one card. They deceive themselves. Prefer certainty with one unambiguous signal, count, but attitude if you must. In the trump suit, some try to harness the order in which they play small cards. Playing hi-lo to show suit preference, or to show a ruff possibility are popular choices. A more extreme choice is to use hi-lo to show a hand with three even suit lengths, 4-4-3-2, 7-2-2-2 etc. Simply playing hi-lo show an odd number, has the virtue of certainty and assists the defender who is counting.

Doubling for penalty

This topic can fill a book, so here are just some pointers. You can make a grand slam on a combined 7 points, so point count based penalty doubles should be made with great care. You must see defensive tricks and trump tricks are the only certainties. The over-riding principle is to double freely bid contracts, only when you have a nasty surprise for the opponents, honours sitting over a bid suit and an inference that the opponents are stretching. This is countered by the fact that your double may help in the play. Worse, it may push opponents from a bad contract into a good one. To double low-level contracts on trump tricks alone is folly. When contemplating a penalty double, trump honours are gold, honours in your agreed suit are dross. It is generally right to believe vulnerable opponents. All this considered, if your penalty doubles always succeed you are not doubling enough.

You cannot do better than bid what you think you can make and compete up to the level of your fit. If you are out-bid, do not double on point count alone. If you are faced, in a contested auction, with the choice of doubling, bidding on or passing out a hand holding a singleton or void in the opponents’ suit, double is rarely the right option. How often do you see the opponents fail badly in this situation? If your partner has another bid, to double is criminal, but do double with trump honours, even in marginal situations, if there is a danger that partner will bid on. Some see doubling for one down or making a “cheap save” that only goes for 500, as a triumph. Take your chances and simply defend, in both these cases. You must have a partnership agreement as to what your double means. Suggested is, “Double is for take-out until a denomination has been agreed,” penalty thereafter. When the hand belongs to you, after a two-over-one, a business redouble, a 2C or 2NT opening, double is penalty and pass is forcing. An auction beginning 1C-1NT notionally agrees clubs, but after a beginning 1D/H/S-1NT, no denomination has been agreed, so double is for take-out from both partners. Yes, there is a school that plays “All doubles are for take-out.” The statement may be simple but the consequences are not. After a two-over-one response, there is no better description of your hand than to make a penalty double when you have one, short in partner’s suit and trump length. To wait for partner’s take-out double may let this fish off the hook. Your pass, forcing in this auction, is descriptive too. It says simply, “I have nothing to add.” Similarly, having redoubled, you do not have to force partner to bid again over further RHO action. Your pass is forcing and does it with maximum economy of bidding space. Double is penalty. So simple


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