Bloom Bridge Blog — Triple-B

April 29, 2013

We start off with the defensive problem that I left for you to ponder:


The play had started with two rounds of diamonds, the second trumped by declarer.  Next came the spade ace and king, dropping partner’s queen, and the heart seven, six from partner, upside down count, queen from the table.

Let’s piece together all our clues.  With the four and three of hearts missing, we will guess that partner has those, and is showing us three hearts.  We already know that declarer started with four spades, and only one diamond.  Giving South four hearts, that leaves a four card club holding – South was 4-4-1-4.  Good.  Let’s count winners.  The trumps are solid, now that partner’s queen has dropped.  That’s four winners.  Hearts are three-three, and ready to run – another three tricks.  Declarer has trumped a diamond, that’s eight.  We don’t have a lot in clubs, and, given South’s aggressive bidding, it is hard to imagine that South holds nothing in clubs.  Even one club trick makes nine, which is dangerously close to ten tricks.  One more little diamond ruff makes ten.

So, the one play we absolutely must avoid is winning this heart and playing another diamond.  Here is a potential hand:

If we play another diamond, South trumps, leads a heart to the queen, and draws the last trump (assuming  South remembers that there is still a trump out!  Don’t laugh – counting takes work and you will lose track of trumps more than once in your life).  Two more hearts and a club and the contract is in.

So, how can we stop that diamond ruff?  That’s not hard.  We can simply win the heart and play back our trump, pulling the last trump from South’s hand.  Good defense.

Let’s peer a little deeper into the hand.  Suppose you held the South hand and the auction went

    1C – 1D overcall

to you.  What would you bid? 

Double, of course.  A double is supposed to suggest both majors, which is just what you have.   Now, maybe this South isn’t as good a bidder as you, or simply forgot about negative doubles.  Still, the bidding strongly suggests that South has more than four hearts.  Is that possible?  Could this be the hand?


Chances are it has never occurred to you that a declarer might lead the seven of hearts from such a holding, and hide the three and four.  Good!  You learned something new.  When you are defending a hand, you try to signal accurately and clearly to your partner.  But, when you are the declarer, you partner has no interest in your signals.  Odds are, partner is sleeping, or getting a beer, or checking e-mails.  Partner is not watching your signals. 

Think of the defenders as two communicators, trying to piece together the information about the hand, and think of the declarer as a saboteur.  Declarer should try to obscure and confuse the signals!  Isn’t that intriguing?

If the full hand looks like the diagram above, then winning the heart and leading back a trump won’t help.  With this hand, declarer will take four spades, four hearts, one ruff, and one club. 

Is it even possible to set this hand?  Yes, but the defense is very hard.  For starters, you have to let the heart queen win the trick.  That is an odd-looking play, so I want to spend some time discussing it.  First off, whether you win the heart or not, you are destined to take one heart trick.  If you let the queen hold, you still hold the K10 sitting over the jack.  So ducking isn’t losing a heart trick – it is simply postponing our heart winner.  Why might that be good?

You make that kind of play all the time as declarer.  Let’s say you are playing in 3NT and hearts are led:



You will, of course, let East win the first two heart tricks, saving your ace until the third round.  Holding up on a stopper makes their communication harder, and is usually the right play. 

OK.  Declaring or defending, your goal is still to take tricks.  Any play that is good for declarer must also be a weapon available to the defenders.  Let’s suppose you are defending 3NT, with this heart suit around the table:



When declarer leads a heart to the king, East should let that hold, and should let the queen win as well.  This is identical to the declarer position – East should hold up on that heart stopper until the third round.

Back to the defensive problem.  Hearts is declarer’s primary suit, and East has one heart stopper, the K105 sitting over the queen and jack. 

      Preserving our stopper in their suit makes their life much harder.

Let’s go back to that diagram and see what happens if we let the heart queen win:

Is there anything declarer can do now?  Draw the last trump?  No, we still have a heart stopper and a diamond to cash.  Play a club?  No, we can grab our ace and play our trump, to win a heart and a diamond later.  Maybe declarer should just continue setting up hearts.  Let’s see:  Again, use the next button to follow the play.



In the ending, declarer seems to have the rest of the tricks, but can’t get to dummy to draw your last trump, and then back to hand to win a heart. 

Letting the heart queen hold rates to set the hand in my first diagram, where declarer had only four hearts, so that is likely to be the best defense.  I don’t care about that.  Like I said before, I want you to make good plays consistently.  Finding the very best possible play is not so important.  Take full credit if you won the heart and led your trump back, or if you let the heart hold. 

This is a really neat hand, and has two key points for you to absorb:

(1) Declarer is allowed to hide spot cards when they attack a suit, in an attempt to confuse your signals.  Indeed, as declarer you should try to do that.

(2) Holding up on a stopper is not just good declarer play, it is also good defense.

Defense is much harder than declarer play, since we can’t see all of our resources.  Defenders rely heavily on signals from their partner.  Signaling clearly is incredibly important.  This showed up twice last night, which is great for me. 

The first was board 10, rotated:

North, by the way, should not invite a game opposite a limited bid like 1NT, but that is another story.  Against 2NT, West led a heart to the nine.  East won the first club, and played back a heart, and now West knew, for certain, that the hand would be set – four hearts, the ace of clubs, and partner’s other ace.  How does West know that partner has another ace?

Otherwise South would have the king of hearts and two aces – 11 points, too much to bid 1NT and much too much to turn down an invite.  Whoa, there’s that counting stuff again.  There might be only one hitch – if, after the hearts, West doesn’t lead to East’s ace, declarer might have eight tricks.  Indeed, that was the case here. 

How will West know which ace?  East will signal it!  On the hearts, East should discard an encouraging diamond first, then a discouraging spade.  East did exactly that –well done, but West, after the hearts, did not play a diamond, so 2NT made.  There are two sides to the signaling coin.  You signal, and partner has to pay attention and absorb the input. 

Then came board 13.  I’ll let you take East’s seat and defend 3NT:

South opened 1NT and North raised to game.  West led the heart two, fourth best, with the queen winning trick one.  Your first thoughts are probably that partner has led declarer’s five card heart suit, which is not so good.  Sure enough, declarer calls for another heart from the table, losing to partner’s jack.  Your next thought is probably this:  I have great clubs and an ace for an entry.  If partner would only play a club …  But partner shifts to the diamond two, and North plays the four.  Take it from here.

You could win and play clubs yourself, but nothing much will come of that.  Partner can’t have more than one club, and you won’t have an entry.  The best you can do is to keep your ace, and play a discouraging diamond spot.  South will win, cash the ace of hearts and give up a heart to partner’s king.  Discard another diamond, to make that message very clear, and then throw the king of clubs.  Partner will wonder about that one, but will soon work out what you have in clubs, and put a club on the table. 

Here was the full hand:



What do you think of West’s opening lead?

I much prefer leading from a five card suit rather than a four card suit in notrump.  Setting up long card tricks is often the key to defense, but here, the spades are weak, and West has very few entries.  A heart lead is quite reasonable, and could well be the best start. 

This time, neither major suit would work, but the key to the hand seems to be finding a club shift in time.  The heart lead actually helped, since it gave East  time to make a great signal.  Could the hand be set on a spade lead?  Follow the play via the next button below to see how an expert pair, using standard signals, might set this hand after a spade lead:

First, East gives count in hearts, and West works out that this is declarer’s primary suit.  Following our freshly learned principle West lets the heart eight win, preserving the stopper in the primary suit for as long as possible.  As it turns out, this doesn’t disrupt their communication, but it gives East time to make the key signal.  So West finds the club shift, just in time. 


BridgeFanApril 29th, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Great series, thanks for writing.

In the first hand, declarer will make if he plays a small club to King in the 6-card ending you describe. East cannot afford to duck, he has to take and play Heart. South wins ruffs a H, pulls trump and comes back to his hand with CQ to enjoy the last Heart.

BridgeFanApril 29th, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Oops, I just realized my error. East can win and return a club.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 30th, 2013 at 4:42 am

Your points are so well taken and your presentation is terrific. Moreover, your subtle sense of humor tops it off.

Steven GaynorApril 30th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Good hands for discussion. On board 10 I agree the 2N bid is questionable. It seems more useful to show 18-19, with a jump to 3N reserved for hand with a running minor.

Steve BloomApril 30th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Thanks. As you may have gathered, these are Junior hands, and the bidding can be a little rough. Our group has two mentors. I try to comment on card play matters, and the other mentor discusses bidding points. Raising to 2NT was certainly a bit much.

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