Declarer’s Play

Inference’s from declarer’s Play

Faithful readers who have been following my account of how a declarer can draw deductions from his opponents’ play may by now have begun to suspect that the defenders are the victims of a most unjust state of affairs. Apparently they can neither bid, play nor discard without tipping off their holdings to some degree and thus enabling the declarer to improve his performace at their expense.

Undoubtedly, this is true enough, but by the same token the defenders can, in their turn, draw deductions from the way a declarer plays his cards, and in that way gain some measure of compensation. As a matter of fact, all defenders, perhaps without even realizing it, employ the good old Sherlock-Holmes type reasoning in situations like this:

♠ Q 10 4
7 3
J 9 5 3
♣ A 6 3 2
♠ A 9
K 10 6 4
10 4 2
♣ Q J 8 5
West North East South
1♠
Pass 2♠ All Pass

Opening lead: ♣Q

West cannot be sure when he selects his opening lead what form of defense is likely to prove best: it may be advisable to try to establish some winners before declarer can discard some losers; it may be better to lead trumps to prevent a crossruff; or it may be best simply to play passively and give nothing away.

However, we’ll say that for want of anything better West elects to lead the ♣Q, which is probably as judicious a lead as anything else. Declarer wins with dummy’s ace, and it can readily be seen that even with the dummy in full view, West is really not a whole lot wiser about the hand than he was before. However, he rapidly becomes wiser when declarer next leads a heart from the table and plays the nine from his own hand after East follows low.

It is now more or less automatic for West to shift to the ace and another trump. The trump shift, it is true, could cost a trick if East happened to have the J-x-x, but it is far more likely to gain a trick by cutting down dummy’s ruffing potential. West shifts to a trump on the basis of a deduction from the declarer’s method of play: it would be pointless for declarer to use one of his very few entries to dummy in order to lead a heart to the nine at trick two, unless he were preparing for one or more heart ruffs on the table.

That sort of deduction is simple enough, to be sure, but there is another angle to it that on the surface would appear equally simple and yet in actual play is frequently overlooked, even by quite experienced players. Consider this situation, where you have the East cards:

♠ Q J 3
7 2
J 7 5 4 3
♣ A 10 6
♠ 7
Q J 8 6
K Q 6 2
♣ J 8 4 3
West North East South
1♠
Pass 2♠ Pass 4♠
All Pass

West leads a spade, taken by dummy’s queen. Declarer plays the A-K of hearts, ruffs a heart, West following suit, and then leads dummy’s last trump, on which East has to find a discard.

For those players whose partners can always be trusted to give count in hearts in this type of situation, there will be no problem: East will know whether declarer or his partner has the remaining heart. But in the absence of such trust, many defenders would at this point look lovingly at the queen of hearts and decide that they could far more readily bear to part with either a club or a diamond. This would be quite wrong, of course, and might well cost a precious overtrick. East should reason that if South had another losing heart, he would surely have made some attempt to get to his hand to ruff it, and therefore holding onto the queen is entirely unnecessary.

The principle is very simple — but how frequently do you see defenders, especially in the end game, clinging to the wrong cards because they have failed to draw this kind of simple deduction?

A very basic type of deduction arises in the following situation and many defenders fail to make full use of it:

♠ A 8 3 2
8 7 5 4
9 4
♣ K 8 6
♠ J 7
A 3 2
Q J 10 8
♣ A J 3 2
West North East South
1♥
Pass 2 Pass 2NT
Pass 4 All Pass

Let’s say you are West and your opening salvo is the queen of diamonds. Declarer takes it with the ace and returns the king of trumps. How do you assess the situation?

The deduction you should draw here is simplicity itself, and yet it forms the basis of some very high class defensive plays. You should tell yourself that when declarer leads the king of trumps at trick two, he must be entirely prepared to have it taken by the ace, and therefore it is quite unlikely that it would be good tactics for you to take it. If you draw that deduction — and act upon it by ducking the trick — you may well find yourself being hung with garlands, for the full deal could turn out to be something like this:

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

Do you see what declarer is trying to do? He is planning to ruff two diamonds in dummy, but first he wants to draw two — and only two — rounds of trumps so as to reduce the possibility of a defender being able to score an overruff on the fourth round of diamonds.

If you allow yourself to be parted from the ace of trumps when the king is led, South will succeed in his pupose. On regaining the lead, he will play a second round of trumps, collecting the nine. Then he will ruff two diamonds in dummy in the greatest of comfort and wind up making the contract for the loss of a spade, a trump and a club.

But if you duck the first trump lead, you will effectively smite South low. If he plays a second trump, you will win the ace and fire back a third one, leaving him with a diamond to lose. And if he doesn’t play a second trump, East will be able to overruff the dummy in diamonds. Either way, the contract goes kerplunk.

All you had to do to put yourself on the trackto this high-powered line of defense was to deduce that South was quite willing to have the king of trumps taken by the ace, and that therefore it could hardly be a good idea to take it.