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Timing The Play - Bridge 220

As declarer, one is generally required to make a number of key plays in the fulfillment of a given contract, such as drawing trumps, taking finesses, discarding or ruffing losers, establishing long suits, cashing in winners, ducking cards led by opponents or giving up tricks that you must anyway lose. The timing of one's play, that is the sequence in which one makes the required plays for a given contact is, almost invariably, crucial to its outcome.

Consider the following hand in which you, sitting South as declarer in 4♠, receive the lead of J:


 ♠ J 8 3


K 8 4 2


A 7 6 5


♠ 10 6 5

  ♣ 6 5

             ♠ 9 7

J 9 7 3

              Q 10

J 10 9


              Q 4 3 2

♣ A Q 2

♠ A K Q 4 2

             ♣ J 10 8 7 3

A 6 5

K 8

♣ K 9 4

You see you have 4 potential losers: 3 clubs and a heart. If the ♣A is in the East hand you can avoid one of the club losers and even make an overtrick by trumping your third club in dummy. On the other hand, if the ♣A is with West, you must trump the third club in dummy to make the contract. In either case, you must set up the club ruff before drawing trumps, so win the lead with the A in dummy and lead a club towards your ♣K. West wins with the ♣A and probably plays a trump. Whatever the case, win West's return and play a second club. West wins with the ♣Q and plays another trump but you still have a club in dummy to ruff your third club loser. Note that if you had drawn even one round of trumps before tackling the clubs, West would have been able to clear dummy's spades before you had a chance to ruff the club.

It's interesting to note, also, that if West had chosen an opening lead of a trump rather than a diamond, you would have lost the timing advantage on the hand. West would have been able to play a second and third trump when in with the ♣A and ♣Q and quash any hope of your ruffing a club in dummy for the contract.

The correct timing of the play in the above hand is fairly obvious as it follows the basic principle of not drawing trumps that are needed in one hand to ruff losers or establish long suits in the other hand. But timing your plays is not always that simple as is the case of the following hand:



♠ 7 6 4 2

K 7 3


J 7 6                   


♠ K Q 9

♣ Q 6 5

♠ A J 10

Q 10 9 8

J 4

5 2


Q 10 8 4 3

♣ J 7 4 3

♠ 8 5 3

♣ 9 8

A 6 5

A K 9

♣ A K 10 2

Sitting South, you receive the opening lead of the 10 to your 2NT contract. You duck the first heart all round and win the continuation with the A in hand. What next? You have 7 tricks on top by way of 2 in hearts, 2 in diamonds and 3 in clubs. At first glance, it appears that the chance of an eighth trick rests on the opponents' clubs splitting 3-3, a 42% probability, or on theQ being doubleton or singleton, less than 4%. One could easily overlook the lowly spade suit as a potential source for the extra trick, but, in fact, spades have as much chance of splitting 3-3 as clubs do, so the fourth spade in dummy ranks equal to the fourth club in your hand as a candidate for the extra trick you need for the contract.

The best chance of bringing home the contact is by playing for a 3-3 break in either of the black suits and the challenge now is how to time the play of these two suits. If you start by playing 3 rounds of clubs and, as is the case in the given hand, the suit does not break as hoped, you will have set up a club trick for the opponents, which, together with 5 tricks in the majors, will set the contract. This leads us to an important, but rarely taught technique of declarer play: When faced with the decision of which of two suits to play, both having the same chance of success, chose the suit with the lesser number of controls or stoppers. This allows you the time to explore the full layout of the hand, conceding tricks to the opponents that they anyway stand to win while still retaining control of the other suits and keeping all your options open.

So saying, at trick 3 you lead a spade, won by West with the ♠Q, say, and win the heart continuation with the K in dummy, East following suit. At trick 5 you lead a second spade. West wins and cashes the remaining heart for the opponents fourth trick. Reluctant to open up one of the minors, West exits with his third and last spade which East wins with the ♠A. Dummy's fourth spade is now good. Whatever East plays, you cash the 2 top diamonds and 2 top clubs in your hand and cross to dummy's ♣Q to play the master spade, claiming your eighth trick and the contract. 



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Saturday, 20 July 2024

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