Poll #13, Defend against 3 Notrump, 12/13/2010

During the bidding phase, it’s usually not too difficult to be a good partner.  We carefully value our hand, listen to the bidding and follow our agreements.   Unfortunately, when we are on defense, playing the correct card and making correct card signals aren’t always so clear.  Those of you who play golf can relate to your quip,

“Drive for show and putt for dough.” 

Ironically, their analogy isn’t too far from the truth for Bridge players – declarer play and defense is where tricks are won and lost.  And for those of you aren’t into sports, here’s another apt saying:

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So with the opponents bidding 1 Notrump,  2 Notrump, and back with 3 Notrump, our partner begins by leading the Heart Queen.   Sure enough, the dummy has a fair 8 High Card Points with a 5 card Club suit that declarer will certainly plan to promote for extra tricks.  In Hearts, we hold the 10-6-3 and after declarer inserts the dummy’s stiff H8, it’s our turn to play.  What Heart is your pleasure?  And should declarer later play the Club Queen, what do you plan to play?

South opens 1 Notrump with 17 HCP and all honors working (please don’t worry about lacking Club stoppers). 

With 8 HCP, North should invite with 2 Notrump. While we would like to count 1 extra distribution point for the fifth Club, do not do so on this holding.  Lacking primary honors in Clubs (A-K) and only one Diamond King, North should not upgrade with 5 of 9 HCP are secondary honors (Q-J).  FYI – while we normally do not value a suit like J10x, when partner opens 1 Notrump, we value all honors.

On lead, our thoughtful West attributes about 25 points for the opponents, LHO with 8-9 HCP.  West holds 10 HCP so partner East must have about 5 HCP.

West happily leads the HQ, top of a broken sequence suit – LHO did not bid 2C Stayman so responder does not have a 4 card major.

When the dummy comes down, West knows East holds either a King-Queen or an Ace. How so?  Well, since East is marked to hold 4-5 HCP and West can see 4 Jacks (3 in dummy, 1 in hand), East’s 4-5 points must be one of these two combinations. 

How about East’s observation?  Holding 5 HCP and knowing opponents have no more than 25 HCP (seeing 8 in dummy), partner West has 10-11 HCP (opener may be stretching with only 16 HCP). So West could hold 2 Aces and a Queen or perhaps 1 each Ace-King-Queen-Jack. Holding 2 Kings and 2 Queens is less likely since East can already see 4 of the 8 Kings and Queens.  Okay, back to the play – good luck with your play.

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  1. rex_little says:

    The problem with playing the 10 is that it might promote one of South’s low hearts into a stopper. Take the example hand and swap West’s 5H with South’s 4. South wins the first trick and leads a club. If East wins and leads either the 6 or 3 of hearts, South covers as cheaply as possible. West wins, but can’t continue hearts without giving South a free finesse. If West wins the first club and leads the jack, South ducks and once again, West can’t continue.

    I think East has to play the 6 on the first trick and hope partner reads the signal.

    • Fred Spitzzeri says:

      I also like the 6 on the first trick following MUD (middle, up, down).

      • BridgeHands says:
        Fred, MUD normally pertains to leads, so playing a “M” middle card in third seat normally shows neutral interest. Over recent years (20 or so), MUD leads seem to have fallen out of favor. As world class Bridge teacher and professional Eddie Kantar professed during a BridgeHands interview, MUD leads are muddy! In fact, to quote Eddie, “I wouldn’t play MUD at gunpoint.” Click here and click in the “Track 1” horizontal bar, scrolling forward to minute 8:00 to hear Eddie himself talk about his least loved method.
        Still, with a very clever partner MUD leads will probably always have a place in our game.

        Rex, if you were to assume partner West only has 4 Hearts then, yes, unblocking with the H10 might cost a trick. Certainly West promises at least QJ9x when leading the HQ. However when we see dummy with a 5 card suit, we in East hold a 5 card suit, and dummy only hold 1 Heart, it seems fairly safe to assume partner holds 5 Hearts or more.

        But you bring up an interesting scenario swapping the H5-H4 between West and South so let’s check it out. After South wins the HK, the remaining holdings are:


        Now when East gets in and leads the H6, South’s H7 is pinned. Here are the three scenarios:

        1. If South ducks then West also ducks letting the winner ride (and knowing East held a doubleton since the H3 has still not been played after South plays the H4).
        2. If South wins the HA then West again plays low.
        3. If South plays the H7 then West plays either the H9 or HJ – either is fine since South only holds the HA. West now plays a third Heart knocking out South’s HA.

        In all situations, West’s HJ or H9 is now promoted allowing West to win 3 Heart tricks. So along with 2 Club tricks, declarer South cannot make game.

        Of course, if we were to give South the Heart AK76, that along with the dummy Heart 8, then your scenario is correct! Still, for most all situations with hands like these it’s probably best that East unblock with the H10. Of course your mileage may vary!
        Warm Regards, Michael

        • rex_little says:

          Michael, in my scenario if South plays the H7 and West wins, then West is on lead with the J42 or 942 against South’s A5. If West leads a heart, both of South’s hearts will win, not just the ace. That’s why I specified the swap of the 4 and 5; the problem goes away otherwise. Amazing how much of a difference the spots can make sometimes.

  2. BridgeHands says:
    Are we unlucky or something? After all this was Poll #13, on the 13th of the month…

    So, after the first day of the survey, here’s how the voting stands:

    At 33 percent: H3 When dummy leads CQ do not cover
    At 28 percent: H6 When dummy leads CQ do not cover
    At 18 percent: H10 When dummy leads CQ do not cover
    At 14 percent: H3 When dummy leads CQ cover with CK
    At 8 percent: H3 When dummy leads CQ do not cover

    Well, most of us DO agree with the later question – when the time comes, do not cover North’s Club Queen with the dummy’s King (declarer South could hold a doubleton).

    So whoever said defense is difficult, we agree…even if we can’t reach a strong majority on defense. No wonder so many folks say defense is the hardest part of the game.

    We welcome you to login and read more about signaling strategies and hand analysis.

    Until next time, happy Bridging

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