When discussing bidding problems in our Sunday night supervised play sessions, the ladies and I frequently use the expression “Points, Schmoints” – apologies to Marty Bergen, author of a great book with that title – to emphasize the importance of distribution when evaluating hands.  In previous articles in ESRAmagazine, I have covered bidding techniques like the “Rule of 20” for deciding whether or not to open  10 or 11  point hands, and “Loosing Trick Count”  (Rule of 18) for determining the correct level of limit raises when supporting partner.

Selecting the correct cards to play in defense is not easy and here too there exist several so-called rules to help one navigate these murky waters. You’ve heard and applied them many times: “Cover an honor with an honor.” “Second hand plays low”. “Play your highest card in the suit led by partner – Third hand high”.  In general, they are supported by sound logic. Consider the following situation, for example:

 

    Dummy

 

 

A J 9 8 7

 

   You

 

     Partner

K 5 2

 

  10 6 3

Declarer leads the Q towards dummy.  Do you cover with the K?  Most certainly, yes. If declarer has the 10 or another 2 small spades – you can’t, of course, see partner’s hand – it doesn’t matter whether you do or not, but in the case above, if you don’t cover, declarer will continue with another spade from hand, finessing with dummy’s J, then play dummy’s A, in one blow felling both your partners 10 and your K and thereby picking up the entire spade suit without loss. Covering the Q, however, will promote partner’s 10 as a trick.

How about this situation?  In defense against 3NT, partner leads the 5, her 4th highest spade. Declarer plays the 9 from dummy. Do you play your A, “third hand high”? Again, most assuredly, yes. 

 

    Dummy

 

 

  J 9 8

 

 

 

     You

 

 

  A 6 3

Partner figures to have 4 or 5 spades, headed by the Queen or King.  In either case, declarer has only one stopper in the spade suit. Playing the A and continuing spades will potentially set up another 2 or 3 spade tricks in partner’s hand.

So are these defensive “rules” iron clad?  I’m afraid not.  Like in all aspects of the game, one has to think logically and choose the appropriate play depending on the particular circumstances of the hand under consideration.  There are often situations where one must not blindly follow the normally prescribed action.

By way of an example, consider the following hand which came up in one of our recent Sunday night sessions - West led the 2 against 3NT, declarer played dummy’s 8 and East was in a quandary as to whether or not she should “respect her partner’s lead” and play her highest spade, the K:

 

 Dummy (North)  

 

 

  J 8 5

 

 

©  8 3

 

 

¨ Q J 10 9 4 3

 East

 

§ Q 9 2

 K 7 3

 

 

© 7 6 4

 

 

¨ K 8 2

 

 

§ K J 7 4

What do you suggest?  Well, let’s look at the big picture. The bidding was as follows:

South

West

North

East

1 §

Pass

1¨

Pass

1©

Pass

2¨

Pass

3NT

Pass

Pass

Pass

 

 

 

 

West’s lead of the 2 indicated she started with 4 spades to an honor, the A or the Q, and therefore declarer had three to the other honor. From the bidding, we know that South had 18 or 19 points, leaving West with at most 6. Therefore, more likely than not, declarer had the A and West the Q. If that was the case, declarer had two spade stoppers irrespective of whether East played the K or not.  If the latter played the King, declarer would win with the Ace and, later on in the play, the Knave in dummy would constitute a second stopper.  More importantly, the J would provide an entry to dummy’s long diamonds after declarer had knocked out the ¨K.  East’s correct play was thus to allow dummy’s 8 to hold the first trick. Declarer would next have led the ¨Q from dummy which, of course, East would again have flaunted the rule and not covered. South would have overtaken the ¨Q with her ¨A and played another diamond to knock out the ¨K but she would have had no way back to dummy to enjoy the established long diamonds. The full hand:

 

    North

 

 

  J 8 5

 

 

©  8 3

 

      West

¨ Q J 10 9 4 3

      East

 Q 10 72

§ Q 9 2

 K 7 3

© A 10 7 2

 

© 7 6 4

¨ 7 6

     South

¨ K 8 2

§ 8 6 5

 A 6 4

§ K J 7 4

 

© K Q J 9

 

 

¨ A 5

 

 

§ A 10 4 3

 

East followed the rules and played the K on the first trick: Declarer made 10 tricks and brought home the contract with an overtrick.  Had East not done so, declarer would have been restricted to at most 8 tricks. Rules, Shmules: There is no substitute for thinking!

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About the author

Alan Caplan

Alan Caplan was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was an active member of Bnei Zion and, subsequently, Habonim following the merger of the two movements. The year after high school ...
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