Dormer on Deception

England’s Albert Dormer, whose previous Master Pointers offerings on “Deduction” and “Discovery” won him many devoted fans. Here begins the final 10-part Dormer Series on the art of deception in the play of the cards.

Bridge players have much in common with the Athenians, of whom Pericles said, “They were born neither to have rest themselves nor to allow others to have it.”

The parallel can be drawn because any bridge player worth his salt cannot simply rest content to get the best out of his own cards. He also has to ensure that the opponents get the worst out of theirs, by nefarious means if necessary (but always within the rules, of course). To this end, he tries to persuade the opponents that he has got what he hasn’t, or that he hasn’t got what he has. Just how this is done is what will be covered in this series.

There is no better way to begin than at the beginning, with the little things. Even a Napoleon of the pasteboards has to start in a small way, and no bridge player is ready to embark on a career of deception until he is thoruoughly familiar with situations such as the following:

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

You are playing in a trump contract and West leads the king of this side suit, East following with the seven. Naturally, you do not want West to continue and give his partner a third round ruff. So, which card do you play from your hand to the first trick?

An unthinking player, believing he was being clever, might drop the jack or the nine, but this will not deceive West, who will be able to work out that his partner has indeed started an echo. How? Well, if you drop the nine, West will realize that his partner would not have played the seven-spot from a holding of J-7-6-2 (if your nine is a singleton) or from 7-6-2 (if you hold J-9 doubleton). Therefore, you have simply told West that you hold at least one card lower than the nine, and, as before, whether he credits you with 9-2 or 9-6, he knows that his partner would not have dropped the seven-spot from either J-7-6 or J-7-2. Since only one possibility remains, West continues the suit and gives East his ruff. And the very same thing happens if you follow with the jack at trick one.

But observe the difference if you play the deuce, your lowest card, initially. Now West can no longer be certain that East has started an echo: he may have played the seven-spot from J-9-7.

Equally common is the situation illustrating the same principle in reverse:

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

West leads the king and East follows with the five. This time you would like West to continue the suit, establishing a winner for you in the dummy. So which card do you play?

If you drop the three, West will know his partner played a discouraging card, his lowest. Therefore you must drop the seven. West will then have to consider the possibility that his partner has started an echo with 5-3.

Simple isn’t it? As declarer, you merely do what you would have done had you been the partner of the leader. You play a high card to encourage, a low one to discourage. Furthermore, this can be applied throughout the hand — whenever the opponents break a new suit — and not just an opening lead.

Some plays of this kind, however, do require that you exercise your grey cells. For example:

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

You are in a trump contract and East has overcalled in this suit. The three is led and there is no problem concluding that it is a singleton. You intend to play low from dummy, but first you should consider which card from your own hand offers the best chance of misleading East.

If you play the jack under East’s queen in an effort to convince him that you hold the singleton, he will reason that his partner would not have led the three from 10-9-3. If you play the nine, a similar inference will arise. But if you drop the 10, East will have to allow for the possibility that West has led from J-9-3.

It is also possible to make life difficult for the opponents when you are tackling a suit yourself. For example, with three small cards in the closed hand, it is often right to lead the middle one first when playing toward the dummy. A defender may then be unable to read his partner’s attempt to give count in the suit. The ruse can be especially useful in a case like this:

K Q J 8
 West  East
 10 6 4  A 73
9 5 2

You want to dislodge the ace but do not want East to hold up until the third round. If you lead the two, East, when he sees partner’s four, will know he can afford to hold up the twice, since West would have begun an echo with a four card holding. A good Athenian, however, will lead the five on the first round. East will duck, no doubt, but when you continue with another honor from dummy, East will be under pressure. He may play the ace, thinking that West’s four-spot was the beginning of an echo, since the deuce has not yet appeared.

This first article has dealt mainly with stock situations familiar to many players. Later on, though, we will see examples which, although they may not cause you to experience the same deep emotions as the poet Keats on first looking into Chapman’s Homer, may nevertheless suggest new ways in which you can befuddle your opponents.

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