Managing to Play Safe

LESSON NOTES

Managing to Play Safe

When declarer is deciding how to make their contract, it almost goes without saying that the defenders are trying hard to beat you. They have the advantage of the opening lead so they have the first chance to "get" at you. The best way to stop them doing any damage is, ideally, to keep them off lead until you've taken your tricks. But unless you have all your winners waiting there to be taken, you'll need to develop extra winners, via promotion, length or the finesse. And this often means losing a trick in the process to the opponents. 

You might think that both opponents are equally dangerous, so that when you have to let them gain the lead, they will both be in a position to damage your contract. This is sometimes so, but more often than not, one opponent is more "dangerous" than the other. For example, one opponent might have winners in one suit but the other opponent mightn't have any cards left in that suit. In these situations, if you need to lose the lead, lose it to the "safe" (i.e. non dangerous) opponent. 

Maybe declarer needs to "hold up" taking a trick until they know that one opponent can't return that suit to their partner. eg

               Dummy
               ♠ 86
♠ KQJ109                ♠ 432
              Declarer
              ♠ A75

The defenders are trying to promote their spades to be winners after the ♠A is gone. If declarer doesn't win the ♠A until the third time spades are played, rather than the first or the second, East won't have a spade to return to West. It's called "ducking" a trick, or a "hold-up" play (you hold up taking your winners). 
Here's a whole hand: 
               Dummy
               ♠ 86
               ♥ K74
               ♦ A86
               ♣ QJ864
West                        East
♠ KQJ109                 ♠ 432
♥ 1095                     ♥ J632
♦ Q97                       ♦ J1043
♣ 53                         ♣ A9
              ♠ A75
              ♥ AQ8
              ♦ K52
              ♣ K1072

There are six sure winners, one spade, three hearts and two diamonds. The club suit will provide the extra winners, which are four extra, through promotion. After winning the ♠A, your plan is to play on the club suit. But there's a danger to this: When the opponents win the ♣A after you've taken the ♠A, and before you can develop the extra tricks via promotion in clubs, the defenders will be able to take enough spades to defeat your contract.
What you can do to make it more difficult for them is not to take your ♠A until East has no spades left, and can't return that suit to their partner. If East holds the ♣A, and you "duck" spades until the third round, then the opponents will take two spades and the ♣A only. But if West held the ♣A, then it wouldn't matter when you took the ♠A, they will win five tricks, four spades and the ♣A.

It's also important for declarer to recognise who the dangerous opponent is. Sometimes you can't take the risk of ducking a trick or hoping to make an extra trick if it means allowing one hand to lead another suit through a vulnerable holding you might have. Take this for example: 

 Dummy
               ♠ AQ5
               ♥ Q73
               ♦ AQ94
               ♣ 432
West                        East
♠ J982                      ♠ K1064
♥ 65                         ♥ 94
♦ J652                      ♦ 1087
♣ A65                      ♣ QJ109
              ♠ 73
              ♥ AKJ1082
              ♦ K3
              ♣ K87

The contract is 4♥ and West leads the ♠2. Do you take the spade finesse?
Declarer has a possible spade and three club losers. If you try the spade finesse and it loses to East's ♠K, East may switch to the ♣Q, and the opponents will now take three clubs and the ♠K. So don't take that risk. East was the dangerous opponent, so don't let East win the  first trIck.


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