A defensive lesson in a slam 

When we played this hand in the recent Sectional Tournament at Clubs event, our opponents played the hand at six notrump instead of six spades and went down. The contract can be made, as you can see from the diagram, but declarer isolated himself in his hand and ended up surrendering an extra heart trick. In the course of playing the hearts, he led a small heart to the king, and when it lost to the ace, his only credible option was to finesse for the jack of hearts. Unfortunately for him, he had used up all his board entries and had to give up the extra heart trick.

The defensive lesson lies in the play of the heart ace. If the defender holding that card were to follow with a low heart on the first lead of that suit, declarer would now have another apparent winning option, that of leading another heart to the queen. After all, he might reason, if the defender sitting over him could not take the king with the ace, he or she might not have that card. He would be suspicious when north followed low to the second heart, but would still have the option of playing the queen rather than the 10. You may think this is a daring defense--who would refuse a king with an ace?--but if you try it once or twice, you will be rewarded. The secret is to make sure you decide as soon as you see the dummy that you are going to duck the trick, as long as it is not the setting trick, and follow smoothly with the low card. If you sit and stew at the time it is played, declarer will have no problem figuring what your problem is and make the right play.

This is a situation that surfaces with some regularity, so you should resolve to look for it and make the right defensive play when you recognize it. One piece of advice from one of the all-time great players, Alfred Sheinwold, is that you should lose a couple of aces in the course of your defense by ducking them. Whatever you lose on those occasions, you will gain back many times by giving declarers losing options. And no matter how good the declarers are, they will guess wrong occasionally. That is one of the wonders of this wonderful game of bridge that we can't get enough of.

Two series of lessons will start at the club in January, one for beginning bridge and one on defense. If you want to participate, call 327-0166.

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