Rule of 7


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Rules? Schmules. There are too many “Rules of #x” out there. I prefer the Rule of Thinking.

If you must know, the “Rule of 7” was designed to tell declarer in notrump how many times to hold up. For example, say he gets a heart lead and this is the heart suit:

5 4
A 8 7

How many times should declarer hold up?

The Rule says to total up your hearts (you have 5) and subtract from 7. That leaves “2” which is how many times you should hold up.

Now, let’s forget that rule (I never use it) and try some good old logic instead.

We will look at four deals and in each case we will have a heart holding of A875  opposite 4.

Let’s start with this one:

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

Against 3NT, West leads the 2 (fourth best).

What does the Rule of 7 say? What does the Rule of Thinking say?

The Rule of 7 says to hold up twice (7-5).

The Rule of Thinking says to win the first heart and don’t hold up.

From the lead of the deuce (4th best), declarer knows the hearts are splitting 4-4. Not only does that make a hold-up play irrelevant, but it gives the defense a chance to switch to a devastating club and defeat the contract. Winning the first heart produces 9 tricks.

On this deal the Winning Play was to hold up 0 times.

Let’s try another:

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

This time East opens 2 and South reaches 3NT on the K lead.

What does the Rule of 7 say? What does the Rule of Thinking say?

The Rule of 7 says to hold up twice (7-5).

In that case you would duck the K and duck the next heart.East would then shift to the Q for down two.

The Rule of Thinking says that hearts are 6-2 (East opened 2). Win the second heart (you know they are 6-2) and cross to dummy in clubs for the spade finesse. If the ♠K is wrong and East has the A, it’s not your day.

On this deal the Winning Play was to Hold up one time.

Let’s try another:

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

Against 3NT, West leads the 6, fourth best. East plays the Q.

What does the Rule of 7 say? What does the Rule of Thinking say?

The Rule of 7 says to hold up 2 times (7-5).

This time the Rule of Thinking yields the same result.

You will have to knock out the ♣A. There is no other suit you fear a shift to. If hearts are 4-4, nothing will matter. If hearts are 6-2, holding up once would suffice, but you have no way to know if they are 6-2. Holding up twice (winning the third round) caters to this very common 5-3 split. East’s Q wins the first trick. You let the 10 hold the second trick. On the third heart, there is no benefit to holding up again (if they are 4-4, it won’t matter). So, you win the third round of hearts and play clubs. If one defender has 5 hearts and the ♣A, there is nothing you can do about it. Here, the holdup play (twice) leads to 10 tricks.

On this deal the Winning Play was to Hold up two times.

One final try:

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

Playing matchpoints, you are in 3NT with the K lead.

What does the Rule of 7 say? What does the Rule of Thinking say?

The Rule of 7 says to hold up twice (7-5).

The Rule of Thinking says to hold up 3 times!

You have 9 top tricks. The only issue is how to try for an overtrick. The obvious source for an overtrick is the diamond finesse—but is it safe to take it?

If you win an early heart and run your winners and then take the diamond finesse, the defense might set you by cashing too many hearts. You don’t know they are 4-4. They could be 5-3.
If you win an early heart, you won’t know the heart split. Even winning the third heart is not safe. What if West started with KQJ and East with 109xxx? Then when you take the diamond finesse, you risk defeat.

Why not hold up hearts (no shift will hurt) until the 4th round? Once you see they are 4-4, you can take the diamond finesse in complete safety.

On this deal the Winning Play was to Hold up three times!

There you have it. I always prefer thinking and logic to “rules.” The Rule of 7 told you the wrong information nearly every time. With it, you would have woodenly held up twice on each deal. In Real Life, the correct play was to hold up 0,1,2, and 3 times. This should put the Rule of 7 into “Rule Heaven.”  Maybe the “Rule Graveyard” is a better phrase.

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