Dormer on Deception

Leading Towards the Closed Hand

The compleat bridge player tries as often as possible to arrange matters so that it is difficult for the opponents to know what is going on. The idea is that if you give your opponents the chance to go wrong, they will sometimes do so. Consider this situation:

 Dummy
K x x x
 Declarer (you)
Q x

You are at a trump contract and this is a side suit, You lead low to your queen and it holds the trick. Dummy has plenty of entries. How do you procede?

The normal technique is to duck the second round, hoping to find East with A-x-x, in which case you can ruff out his ace on the third round. Since entries are no problem, however, it is a better play to lead the second round from the table. Now if East has A-x-x-x — a holding where the ace could not be ruffed out — he will be sorely tested, for he may fear that you have Q-J bare. He can no doubt place you with a doubleton, from his partner’s previous suit length signal, so he may just decide to go up with the ace.

The principle seen here is that if you can afford to lead from either hand, you should lead the critical round (the round where you hope something may happen) towards the closed hand. This procedure is undoubtedly sound for it compels the second hand to play without knowing what third-hand holds. Conversely, if you were to lead from the closed hand, second-hand would see not only what you had led, but what dummy held also.

The foregoing example illustrated a play that cost nothing to try. In a case where you can be confident of your reading of the cards, you may make a similar play in a situation like this:

Dummy
West K 9 x x x East
Q J x x A 10 x
Declarer (You)
x

If you have reason to believe that East has the ace, you should spurn the illusory chance of leading towards the king. Instead, be bold lead low from the dummy hoping East will play you for the singleton queen!

As scheming players well know, leading towards the closed hand can also be advantageous when simply cashing winners. Suppose you are at a trump contract and have this holding in a side suit:

 Dummy
A J x x
 Declarer (you)
K Q x

We’ll say that you intend to play the hand on a crossruff but first want to cash three tricks in this suit. Rather than stake everything on the 36% chance that the opponents cards are 3-3, you should try to make life difficult for East if he has a doubleton. This is done by leading the critical round of the suit, the one East may ruff, towards the closed hand.

Therefore, cash the king, lead low to the ace and then return a low one from the table. If East has not been paying attention to his partner’s count signals, or if West has chosen not to indicate his suit length for fear of helping declarer (who might be missing the queen), East, with a doubleton, may decide not to ruff, thinking you can ruff also. Whatever the case, you obviously have a better chance by playing in this way than if you simply laid down your winners in a straightforward manner.

The next example shows an application of this idea on an actual deal:

Declarer (You) Dummy
♠ K J 10 4 3 ♠ A Q 5
A 9 6 8 7 4
J 2 10 8 6
♣A K Q ♣J 8 4 2

The contract is 4♠. Diamonds are led and you ruff the third round. A brief inspection shows this is not so much a case of whether you’ve got what it takes, but whether you can take what you’ve got. You have 10 tricks — five spades, four clubs, and a heart — but there is no entry to dummy’s fourth club except in trumps.

Therefore, a 3-2 trump division will be essential, since you must end in dummy after drawing trumps. In addition, it appears on the surface that you also need a 3-3 club break, so that you can cash the ♣AKQ before crossing to dummy with the third round of spades.

However, there are two ways you can improve your chances. The first is the obvious percentage play of cashing two rounds of trumps before playing clubs. This will win if either opponent began with a doubleton club and two trumps — you will be able to cash the third club safely as the player with the long trump and club length helplessly follows suit. The second chance caters to East’s holding a doubleton club and three trumps. If this is the actual lie of the cards, you can give East a problem by playing deceptively.

To cover both possibilities, you should cash the ♣AK and then the ♠KA, leaving the queen in dummy as an entry. Now lead a low club from dummy. If East has the third trump and no more clubs, he may not ruff, thinking you are trying to bring down the queen in an opponent’s hand. Admittedly, if his partner has given a true count on the ♣AK and East has taken note of it, this ruse will not work. But, as in all of our attempts at deception, it cannot hurt to try to hoodwink a defender, and in the present case, the recommended line is certainly superior to simply banging down the three top clubs and hoping the gods have been kind to you.

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