The Real Deal


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Passive or aggressive

I recently read about this deal from the 2008 Senior World Championships, and it surprised me.

East held:

♠A 10 9 8 6 4   J 6 2  8  ♣A 9 4

In a team match, neither side vulnerable, his left-hand opponent (South) opened 1. This was raised to 2, inverted, showing 10+ HCP. East ventured 2♠ and opener tried for game with 3. Partner raised to 3♠ and RHO jumped to 5 and bought it there.

Partner leads the ♠2 and you see:

Dlr:
South
Vul:
None
North
♠ 5
A Q 3
A 6 5 4 2
♣ Q 6 5 2
East
♠ A 10 9 8 6 4
J 6 2
8
♣ A 9 4

Against suits, this pair was playing low from odd and third-best from even. This method is popular among experts to help them count out the hand. Here, you know partner started with either three or five spades; with four, he would have led third-best. You play your ace, declarer following with the queen. And now?

I always preach that the most important consideration on defense is deciding whether to go passive or aggressive. What’s your play at trick two?

There is danger in playing another spade. It looks like partner started with five, and a spade would give a ruff and sluff. A trump could be safe, but not if partner started with Q–x–x. Here, passive would be a low heart. How could it hurt? No matter who has the king, this won’t give away a trick.

The most tempting play is the ♣A; that is what most inexperienced players would play – “a trick is a trick.” However, either the ace or an underlead of the ace is a very dangerous play. The reason to make such an aggressive shift would be if you were afraid that if you didn’t, your ace would go away. If there is nothing in dummy on which to throw things (as here), then go passive.

The expert East player inexplicably laid down the ♣A at trick two.

This was the Real Deal:

Dlr:
South
Vul:
None
North
♠ 5
A Q 3
A 6 5 4 2
♣ Q 6 5 2
West
♠ K J 7 3 2
10 8 7
10 7
♣ J 7 3
East
♠ A 10 9 8 6 4
J 6 2
8
♣ A 9 4
South
♠ Q
K 9 5 4
K Q J 9 3
♣ K 10 8

No surprise, this was a disastrous decision. Declarer soon claimed 11 tricks and plus 400. Had East made a passive shift – either red suit would do – in the goodness of time, declarer would likely lose two clubs tricks. Yes, double dummy, he can make by taking a backwards finesse – leading the ♣10 from hand. Of course, if dummy ever leads a low club, East has to follow second-hand low.

East had committed what I teach is the most common error on defense: wasting your aces to capture only low cards. Or, as I sarcastically put it in my classes, playing the ♣A means, “One trick for you, two tricks for them.”