Trick Two is Too Late to Start Thinking

You are South in the following auction:

West North East South
Pass 1♣ 1 ?

Your hand is:

♠9 5   J 8 6 3   K J 10 6   ♣A Q 10

What do you bid?

You should try 2NT, which shows an invitational hand (11–12 high-card points) and a stopper in hearts. Note that the J 8 6 3 is a very attractive holding, because it provides a likely heart stopper, yet all but one of your high-card points will help to secure tricks in the other suits.

Your partner bids 3NT, ending the auction.

West leads the ♠6, a fourth-best lead. Here is the dummy and your hand:

♠A K J 3
K 10 9
5 3 2
♣ J 9 7

♠ 9 5
J 8 6 3
K J 10 6
♣ A Q 10

What do you play at trick one? Many contracts are lost by playing the wrong card at trick one, which is the right time to think. In fact, trick two is often too late to make your contract.

What guides your play when you consider which spade to play from the dummy at trick one? Your partner was a bit enthusiastic when bidding 3NT with a balanced hand and 13 HCP, so you need to play carefully. Because your opponent lead her own suit instead of her partner’s, it seems likely she had some good cards in her suit, and so you play the ♠J, which holds. More on this later.

Now what line of play should you consider? You clearly you need to develop some diamond tricks. While a simple club finesse may be taken later, it is important to play diamonds right away. Declarer needs at least two diamond tricks to go along with three spade tricks, two heart tricks and at least two club tricks. And diamonds must be played from the dummy, aiming to finesse twice if necessary. So plays the 2 to your 10, which is won by West’s queen. West continues spades, and you win in the dummy with the king, with East playing the 10. Next play another diamond, and West wins the ace.

West shifts to the 2, aiming to get to her partner. You play low from dummy, as East wins the Q. East returns a diamond, so you win and cash another diamond, discarding a low spade from the dummy. Now all that’s left to do is to drive out the A with low heart to dummy’s 10. East returns a heart to the king in the dummy, so you then cash the ♠A (discarding a club) and play the ♣J from the dummy, covered by East’s king.
You end up with nine tricks: three spades, two hearts, two diamonds and two clubs.

Declarer’s success begins with the trick-one play of the ♠J, a finesse. Then declarer attacks diamonds from the dummy in order to finesse twice. Declarer needs to develop diamond tricks and take the club finesse later.

Here is the full deal:

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

Regarding the play at trick one, you should use the Rule of Eleven. When an opponent makes a fourth-best lead, subtract the rank of the card from 11 to determine how many cards higher than the opening lead are in the other three hands.

In this example, West led the ♠6. The Rule of Eleven says there are five cards higher than the 6, in the other three hands combined: dummy, right-hand opponent, and you, declarer. This rule guides your play of the ♠J at trick one. Because you and dummy have four cards higher than the 6, your right-hand opponent has only one card higher. Because the ♠Q or ♠10 in the East hand would win if declarer plays low from dummy at trick one, declarer should play dummy’s ♠J to eliminate the possibility of East winning with the ♠10.

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