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 Helpful Echoes by Ben Norton

Helpful Echoes

The auction is a bustling trading post for information. Not only are both sides wanting to communicate their holdings to each member of the partnership in an attempt to claim the declarership of a hand, but the ground is hardly barren when one side isn’t bidding either.

While the declaring side is trying to find their place to play, the keen-eyed defender hones in on the intricacies of the bids that are being made (and not made), in order to find out as much as possible about the hand. This skill is particularly useful to the defender on lead, for they can use this information to their advantage when forming their defensive plans.

Question 1

  Your Hand
 8 7 2
 A 9 4 2
 K 9 5 4
 6 5
Q: 1 - Your opponents end up in 5 after East shows length in both minor suits and West bids 3, fourth suit forcing, along the way.

What do you lead?


 Your choice:
A: A. The one thing you can be sure of after this auction is that East-West don’t have a Heart stop, for with one they would likely have preferred to play in 3NT.

Since East would certainly have ventured 3NT with a high card in Hearts, your best source of tricks is bound to be Hearts, so you lead the Ace to make sure you take the tricks that you’re due.

If you were to lead passively in a side suit there is every chance that the opponents’ Heart losers will run away, probably on dummy’s Spade suit, since your x x x is a warning sign that the suit is splitting well for declarer, and any ruffing finesses that he may take through partner will be working.

Note that there is very little danger in leading the A here, for East has denied any Heart values with his failure to try 3NT, and as such you won’t be promoting a trick for declarer there.

The stigma that is attached to leading from unsupported side-suit Aces against suit contracts is a well-founded concern, however in Bridge there’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule, and here you can tell from the bidding that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from the A lead.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 2

  Your Hand
 5 2
 J 10 9 4
 9 7 6 3 2
 A 3
Q: 2 - East-West climb to 4 after bidding and raising Diamonds.

How do you plan to defeat this contract?


 Your choice:
A: 2. From the auction partner is marked with a Diamond void, so you kick off with a Diamond intending to give him two ruffs with the aid of the A.

Your opponents have bid and raised Diamonds, indicating an eight-card fit, for West would not raise to 3 without four-card support. As such you can give partner a ruff right from the off.

However, it would be careless to just fling your second-highest Diamond on the table in a flurry of excitement, no, you must lay the grounds for the whole campaign.

By carefully leading your lowest Diamond you can advise partner of where your entry is by means of a suit-preference signal. With this in mind, the Two is your best lead, advertising your A as a re-entry to give partner another ruff.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 3

  Your Hand
 6 3
 10 7 6 4 2
 A 5 4
 K Q 3
Q: 3 - Your opponents land in 4 after a short ride on the cue-bidding roundabout.

What are your thoughts?


 Your choice:
A: 4. East has denied a Diamond control by missing out the 4 bid, thus a Diamond lead is best to take advantage of partner’s strength there, in a similar vein to question 1.

Because East doesn’t have a Diamond control your most affluent source of tricks is likely in that suit, going by the old adage “lead through strength and around to weakness”. If you fail to lead a Diamond there is a big chance that declarer will be able to park his losers on dummy’s Heart suit, because if partner has high cards there then they’ll be falling very quickly due to his shortage of cards in Hearts.

What’s more the best Diamond to lead is a low one, for if declarer has a King-Jack guess (partner has the Queen), then it’s unlikely that he’ll place you with the Ace, because leading away from an Ace is a fairly strange thing to do. No, he wouldn’t second guess you; he would put the Jack in, playing you for the Queen.

This may seem like a small advantage in return for a pretty hefty risk, but when you consider the position more deeply it comes to light that there is next to no risk attached to a low Diamond lead.

Declarer can’t have a singleton so you won't be taking care of a loser for him. Nor will your lead confuse partner, for upon the sight of dummy he will place you with the Ace by drawing the same inference about East’s 4 bid as you did.

Another factor supporting a Diamond lead is that the opponents have stopped in game after making a try for slam with a couple of cue-bids. This indicates that they have extra strength, so you must adopt an active defense to beat 4, knowing that declarer will likely have no problems coming to ten tricks if left to his own devices.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 4

  Your Hand
 6 5
 A 7 5
 K Q 10 6 3
 6 4 3
Q: 4 - You’re surprised to find yourself on lead after just one bid, a gambling 3NT (showing a solid seven-card minor) from East.

What’s your plan?


 Your choice:
A: A. It’s very likely that your opponents will be able to run nine tricks if they gain the lead, otherwise West would have converted to his partner’s minor for fear of going too many off in 3NT, thus you must find five quick tricks before declarer gets in.

By kicking off with the A you get to have a look at dummy while retaining the lead, allowing you to more accurately assess where your tricks are going to come from, not just from the contents of dummy but also from partner’s attitude signal at trick one.

It’s likely that your tricks will come from Diamonds anyway, but by leading the A you give the defense an extra chance if partner doesn’t hold the A. By making the seemingly normal lead of the K you are essentially putting all of your eggs into one basket.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 5

  Your Hand
 J 6 5
 A Q 10 5 3
 J 9 8 5
Q: 5 - Once again your opponents linger in 3NT.

What’s your shot?


 Your choice:
A: Q. You’re definitely going to lead a Heart, but it’s less clear that the Queen is the best card, in an attempt to crush declarer’s J.

For his jump to game West will have the vast majority of points between the other three hands. Therefore he rates to hold the K over anyone else, which makes it very attractive to lead the Queen, to prevent declarer from taking two tricks in the suit if he holds the Jack.

If you were to lead a low one, you would present declarer with a second trick in the suit if he holds the Jack opposite K x x in dummy. Whereas if you lead the Queen and this is the position, you stand to knock out dummy’s King, allowing for partner to return the suit through declarer’s Jack later on, thus reducing declarer’s number of tricks in the suit to one and increasing the chance that you can cash the suit.

It’s true that by leading the K for this trick one surrounding play, you might give away an extra trick if East turns up with the King and the Jack is on dummy, or you could potentially blow your chance to cash the suit if partner has for instance K x, but these are unlikely scenarios.

It’s much more probable that the K is in dummy for West’s show of strength and the fact that he might have taken a slower route to look for a minor suit contract had he not held any of the top three Heart honors. In this case the Q lead won’t harm your chances, for declarer can’t have four Hearts else he would have responded with 1 to his partner’s 1 opening.

Whenever you’re on lead, remember to include not only the contents of your own hand, but also the auction and your plan for the defense as a whole, in your thought processes.

There are often clues to be drawn from your opponents’ bidding, after all their primary concern in the auction is to find the best spot, and they can hardly do that without divulging information to their partner, and you at the same time.

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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