Cross that bridge:
Don’t send a boy
By Al Peters and Al Spaet
This month’s hand reports the actions of two sound defenders as they recently played to scuttle East’s contract of Three Notrump. No unusual or fancy carding conventions or specialized signaling techniques were needed – just basic play that required counting to 13, and a few time-tested methods of defense.
West’s hand was too strong for the pair’s “weak” Notrump in their methods, so West opened in the long minor. East’s One Notrump response promised 8-10 high card points and denied a four card or longer major suit. West’s raise showed 15-17 points, and game in Notrump was bid.
North-South were playing standard leads, so South led fourth best Heart, the Three. This first trick went to Dummy’s eight, North’s Jack, and Declarer’s King.
With only five top tricks, East started an uphill trek by leading Clubs. Four of Clubs – King – Six - Three. In again at trick two, South took stock of the defensive prospects.
North’s Heart play and East’s denial of a 4-card major in the bidding meant that both North and East started with three Hearts, and that East still held the Ace and Ten. Why? With AJx of Hearts, North’s best play would have been the Ace, and from J10x, North would have played the ten, the lower of touching honors, rather than deny holding the Ten by playing the Jack. So continuing Hearts into declarer’s King-Ten was unappealing.
But South also knew the Ace of Diamonds was almost surely with North, for two reasons: First, the bidding had by their system limited the East hand to ten points, seven of which were the known Ace and King of Hearts. Second, East would soon be able to claim at least ten tricks (3 Clubs, 3 Spades, Ace-King of Hearts, and at least 2 Diamonds) if holding the Diamond Ace and an “over-strength” One No Trump response.
So South avoided Hearts for the moment and shifted to the Nine of Diamonds. The lead of a high rather than low spot card marked the Diamond Queen as being with East, so North won the Diamond Ace and returned the Seven of Hearts (the middle card of an original 3-card holding), leading to an eventual two-trick set.
Both the original opening lead and the subsequent Diamond shift are illustrations of what experts have called the most important principle of defense carding, whether at suit or Notrump play: A defender’s lead of a low spot card suggests a suit headed by at least one honor, and encourages the return of the suit. The lead of a high spot card very often denies interest in having that suit returned.