Play it Safe

Many of you have probably heard of the notion of a “safety play.” In bridge, this is often a play that ENSURES making the contract, even on some wildly unlikely distributions, such as a 7-1 split in the defender’s hands. Take the following E/W hands from a recent CBA game in which Julie was playing.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 3.47.59 PM

We safely landed in 3NT, and got a spade lead from LHO. Unfortunately, the ♠J got covered by the Q, so we only have only more spade stopper. Luckily, we should be able to take 2♠, 4♥, and 5♣ for a solid +460. With ten clubs between both hands, this should be no problem, as clubs will usually break 2-1 in the opponents’ hands. So, plan your play: After winning the spade lead, what will you play at Trick 2?

If you went about your business and cashed the ♣A, you would be sorry when West pitches a diamond — clubs happen to break 3-0 here. This is where the SAFETY PLAY comes in. If West has ♣KQx we have no hope — we have to give him both club tricks and he will be able to take his spades and likely beat us. HOWEVER, what if EAST happens to have ♣KQx? It is unlikely, but it really can’t hurt to “guard” against that.

So, win the ♠ at Trick 1 in hand. Cross to the ♥A in dummy, and lead a club. If East plays an honor, you are in the clear, so win that and play another club to set up the suit.

If East plays SMALL, stick in the ♣J – JUST IN CASE East had ♣KQx. If West wins an honor, the other club honor will fall under the ace, and your clubs will be sitting pretty. If West shows out of clubs, you will be happy you played it safe!

If you had played ♣A and another ♣ on this lie of the cards, East gets in twice to knock out your spade stopper and then cash some spade tricks. And all of that could have been avoided by a simple safety play — a possibly unusual play to guard against extremely adverse distribution or honor placement.

Note that not all safety plays are created equal.  Some you make at the cost of an overtrick, and so you may not want to take advantage of the safety play in a matchpoint games where overtricks are valuable.   But in IMPs, where protecting your 10 or 13 imp game scores is by far more important than the risk of losing a measly 1 imp for not taking an overtrick, it is far more likely you will benefit by making any kind of safety play available.

In this particular case, the safety play was a no-brainer.  No matter the distribution of the club suit, you have to lose 1 club trick to establish the suit.  So every day all day with this position go to the board and take the finesse of the ♣J.  You will never regret that you did.

— Julie Arbit

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