Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wall

It's not often that you see a defensive action having so much logical coherence and effectiveness that it smashes declarer's play into bits and pieces.

Two weeks ago in Mamaia such a board came up. Let's study it from the Western defender's perspective.

Matchpoints, N-S vulnerable.


Bidding started with North's 1NT opening and went (EW were silent):

1NT (15-17) - 2 (transfer)
2 - 3NT
4 - all pass

East led the 3 (3rd - 5th best, with 2nd from 3-5 small cards), and dummy was displayed:


Dummy won the T and played a trump. This is where paths diverged.

Some defenders in West's seat inserted a low heart. Declarer played the J and East won the A. A club was continued, again won in dummy, and a heart came from there to West's K, declarer contributing the 9 and East the 6.
Now those defenders hoped that partner had either the A or the Q as a possible entry to deliver a club ruff, so they played a back. Alas, declarer had KQ in spades and nothing to guess, so 650 and 100% NS.

These players were hoping for declarer to hold :

♣ AQxx


♠ QJx
♣ AQxx

Are those layouts plausible? Hardly. The reason being the 3 lead almost 100% promising an honor. Not to mention that "club" that partner played back after winning the trump Ace.

That's the reasoning that another group of players made. They observed that the club East returned upon winning the A was the 2. Therefore partner had Q fourth in clubs. Also maybe partner would not play the 3 from any remaining 3 card holding, since he also should play carefully to signal a possible entry for delivering a club ruff (ergo a small club strongly suggest NO top spade honor).

All things considered, declarer is likely to hold:

♠ KQx
♣ Axxx

, when the only remaining trick is the Ace of spades. So they cashed it for 620 NS, 50%.

Then there was The Wall. The player that, when dummy played a small trump at trick 2, rose with the King!

Upon winning the trick, this player continued with his remaining club; the next trump was won by East with the A and a club ruff + the A ensured one off. -100, 100% for East-West.

The full board:

Session 1, Board 2
Dealer: E
N-S Vul
              ♠ KQ8
              ♣ A875
    ♠ A5432
    ♥ KT7
    ♦ 432
    ♣ 96
♥ A6
              ♠ 6
              ♥ 85432
              ♦ AQJ5
              ♣ KJT

Declarer could not have broken the link between the defenders by playing a spade himself before any trump play was made. West puts up the A and returns his club. Declarer comes to hand via the K and discards a club on the K. However dummy will be overruffed on the next club play from East.

What was West's logic?

Declarer most likely does not have 4 trumps since he bid a simple 2 hearts.

Declarer has at least a spade honor (no spade lead from partner), and the simplest way to get a fourth trick would be through a club ruff. But partner can only get the lead in spades or hearts. 

Declarer would probably play spades on his own missing the spade King (play spade, win club, play heart and pray; at least it wins when both heart honors are in a single hand, with split spade honors). Which means that the logical play is the heart King, with very little risk of catching a stiff heart honor from partner's hand.

What do you think of West's defence? Brilliant? Logical? Exotic? I would love to know your comments on that.

Should you want to study great books on defence and common partnership situations, here are my recommendations from Hef's Bridge Attic, an powered store. 

Killing Defence at Bridge is the profound approach to defence, Eddie Kantar teaches modern bridge defence is the alphabet of defence, Dynamic Defense the enriched best practice, while Step by Step: Planning the Defence is the integrated framework for forming a defensive skill set. Enjoy and let's discuss on these truly valuable books.

Nothing but the best,


  1. Probably the right question to ask is what does W have to lose by rising with the HK, as it seems obvious that declarer will finesse with AQ anything in trumps.
    I'd say it's a good defence.

  2. Could be funny if declarer had AQ9x, AJ9x or QJxx in hearts. But again, "declarer most likely does not have 4 trumps since he bid a simple 2 hearts". But still, it's a risk. Worth taking as it seems.

    Other than that I can't find a losing scenario after rising with the K, since all the information is in dummy - the spade shortness, the club honors - therefore declarer can't deduce anything from the K of hearts. Still, it's a play that has not been made in that tourney.

    Which proves that good things are rare :)

  3. foarte tare apararea; cred ca sunt la minim 5 ani sa vad pozitia asta, presupunand ca o sa o vad vreodata
    cand mai pui articole noi?

  4. I think it's a spectacular defence, but one that can easily be found if the defender thinks along these lines: how can I defeat this contract, what can I lose and what can I gain by playing the heart king.
    I will be posting about once a week, Friday evenings. You can subscribe to this blog on the right column - rss feed or Google Follow - so that you will always be up to date. Thanks :)


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