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 To Cash or not to Cash by Ben Norton

To Cash or not to Cash?

It’s an exciting time, holding an Ace on lead to a slam contract. You can see one trick and you need only one more to achieve your goal.

However, many players get so worked up at the sight of a key card in their hand that they forget to plan the defense, instead they happily send their Ace careering onto the table. Needless to say this isn’t always the right defense, in fact your opponents will very rarely be missing both a first and second round control in a suit, so cashing your Ace and hoping to find partner with the King is often fairy-tale stuff.

Against small slams especially it’s necessary to plan the defense and consider where your second trick is coming from before making a decision. As South on these five deals see if you can ascertain whether or not it’s best to cash your Ace.

Question 1

  Your Hand
 A 10 6 5 3
 10 9 7 3
 9 6 2
Q: 1 - Your opponents land in 6 after East jumps to 5, suggesting a very long suit there, and West gives him one more for the road.

What do you lead?


 Your choice:
A: A. Here there is a strong chance that you could be giving partner a Spade ruff, so you kick off with your Ace.

It’s possible that partner could have a red suit King that could be set up for you to cash when in with the A, but this isn’t all that likely, for declarer could easily be short in Hearts or Diamonds. Even if you could set up a trick for partner, you’d have to pick the right suit to lead, which is by no means ensured.

Also, there is no guarantee here that East-West have enough key cards for slam, indeed they have only stated that they believe they have the ability to take twelve tricks, not prevent two losers. In which case you definitely want to cash your Ace, else declarer could throw his Spades away from hand.

All in all leading the A is more likely to beat the contract than a red suit lead, for it’s more probable that partner can take a Spade ruff or that he holds a key card himself than it is that declarer has a slow loser in one of the red suits.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 2

  Your Hand
 10 9 4
 A 8 6 5
 7 6 4 2
 J 3
Q: 2 - A standard auction sees your opponents finish in the lofty heights of 6NT.

Which lead gives you the best chance of defeating this?


 Your choice:
A: 10. It’s generally a good policy to lead passively against a no-trump slam, especially when one opponent has limited their hand.

It’s most likely that West has driven to the slam based on power, for with a distributional hand he would have taken a slower route and would try to play in a suit contract. With this in mind the opponents will probably have about 33 high-card points between them, making it very unlikely that partner has the K, for you hold a five count yourself.

No, your job is not to give anything away on the lead, and there is a big danger that by cashing your Ace you are opening the Heart suit up for declarer. Instead you should adopt a passive lead, and the 10 is a stand-out candidate, for it is usually safe to lead from a sequence of non-honors.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 3

  Your Hand
 Q 4
 7 5 3 2
 A 9 7
 Q 8 5 4
Q: 3 - After another very short auction East finds himself at the helm in 6.

What do you think?


 Your choice:
A: 2. Leading passively is the order of the day again here for you hold an eight count on an auction where the opponents will have every suit controlled.

Declarer will have a control in every suit for his leap to slam, and while holding an eight count it’s hard to imagine that partner will have a card of meaningful value, for the opponents will usually have their contract on power after this auction. With a very shapely hand East would probably have employed 4NT as Key Card to investigate a grand slam.

Bearing this in mind, the chances of finding partner with a valuable high card are negligible, so it’s best to lead passively in the hope of scoring one of your black suit Queens later on in the play. Since partner can’t have any Hearts on the auction (West will have four-card support for his 3 limit raise), a trump is completely safe.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 4

  Your Hand
 A 8 7
 J 3
 K 2
 Q 9 8 6 4 2
Q: 4 - This time they have a more sophisticated sequence to 6, after West shows Clubs and three-card Heart support in the midst of East flaunting six Diamonds and five Hearts.

How do you plan the defense?


 Your choice:
A: A. The alarm bells are sounding, for declarer must have at least five Hearts, and thus six Diamonds, to bid like this. As such there is a big danger that declarer will be able to discard his Spades on dummy’s Clubs.

A state of urgency has been declared on this hand because of East’s shape. You must ensure that you take your black suit trick right away, else because declarer is marked with only two cards between Spades and Clubs your Ace will never win a trick.

Luckily you hold the K as well, which looks to be your second trick for it lingers over declarer’s Diamond tenace. If the A stands up you have very high hopes indeed of beating this contract.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 5

  Your Hand
 10 6
 J 6 5 2
 A 8 5
 10 9 6 3
Q: 5 - East pulls the board towards him to make way for what is sure to be a fair dummy, having promised a Diamond control in response to his partner’s 4 cue-bid and having suggested that he has enough key cards for a slam opposite the meagre total of one shown by his partner.

Your turn maestro…


 Your choice:
A: 2. A Heart lead gives you a good chance of establishing partner’s K, ready for you to cash when you get in with the A.

Despite having advertised the remaining key cards, your opponents have exposed their flaw in the auction. East has shown a Diamond control, however by attempting to sign off in 4 he missed out a 4 cue-bid, suggesting that he doesn’t have a Heart control.

Therefore your best shot is to find partner with the K, an eventuality which isn’t so unlikely. You aim to keep yourself a tempo ahead, and will of course pounce on declarer’s Diamond lead to cross to partner’s cashing K.

You’re essentially trying to find partner’s rounded suit King in this scenario, thus it could be that he has the K rather than the K. However, this is very unlikely in the wake of East's 4 cue-bid.

When on lead to a small slam with a cashing Ace, try to think the defense through and imagine where your second trick is going to come from. There will be some cases where the best course of action is to cash your Ace if you think your only chance is to cash two quick tricks, but generally it’s best to attack another suit first, in the hope of establishing your setting trick there.

As with everything in Bridge though, this kind of situation isn’t black and white. Cashing your Ace can be a good idea when the below factors are in play:

- If declarer could discard his losers in the suit in which you have the Ace
- If there’s a good chance of partner having a shortage in the suit
- If the opponents have had a murky and unconfident auction, you may have two cashing tricks (either the Ace and King of your suit or two key cards), so consider cashing your trick while you can

Your result so far:
Open Question

Overall Results

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What next? You may enjoy playing our prepared hands series.
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