e-Vil Files 08

How can you improve your defence? Well, the first step to good defence is the opening lead, so let’s talk about that. There is no short cut to becoming a good opening leader, but nothing beats a bit of thought. Your thinking should be about two things: the actual hands as you can best work them out, and that includes your partner’s hand as well as declarer and dummy; and then, an anticipation of how declarer is likely to play the hand.

Dealer W NS Vul


The auction was:


This deal certainly illustrates the need to think about the bidding and anticipating how declarer will play the hand, and how the opening leader can try and give the defenders every chance of defeating the contract. EW have bid this one confidently, and South can see that he has hopes of two trump tricks. Is there any chance of another trick outside trumps? Normally, South might hope that the king of diamonds will take a trick, but seriously, is there any chance of that? Even in the extreme circumstance when declarer may need to resort to a diamond finesse, the ace is likely to be in dummy. South can be reasonably confident that he will make two trump tricks, but there is a possibility that declarer may be able to avoid this. That is, by taking a safety play and playing one top trump and then finessing on the next round if the next defender plays low. Declarer has a certain trump loser, so will play to try and limit the chances of a second one. As it happens, the king of diamonds is irrelevant and declarer has two ways to make the safety play, but a diamond lead is most likely to persuade declarer to play the trumps from the top. South, having thought these things out, started the defence by leading the two of diamonds. Often, such an opening lead against a confidently bid slam will put immediate pressure on declarer, and very few declarers will want to face a loser on the first round.

Take a look at the full deal again and see if declarer should have done better.

The lead of the diamond struck an immediate nerve, but declarer should have thought about it before doing the obvious and cashing two rounds of trumps after winning dummy’s ace. My own first rule for playing a trump contract is not “draw trumps”, but “DON’T draw trumps”. Drawing trumps immediately is so often a losing play because it is an instinctive play that stops declarer thinking the hand through before playing to trick one, and thinking the hand through will so often tell declarer that there is a much better use for all the trumps. This time, declarer can take one round immediately without giving up the safety play, but which top trump to cash first? In so far as declarer will run spades rather than clubs for diamond discards because there are only six spades but seven clubs between declarer and dummy, declarer will win the ace of diamonds, lead a trump to his king and then run spades, discarding dummy’s two diamonds. When the three spades survive, there is a sure fire safety play now available, and declarer can lead a trump to dummy’s ten, since North can not return anything that will hurt declarer.

So, as you can see, even when you can do your best to steer declarer into a losing line, it won’t always achieve the result you hope for. But, you have tried.

In the next issue I will talk about underleading aces when you KNOW it’s a good move.