Where’s the Ace?

No great heroics or clever tricks on these hands — just the everyday but all-important business of making inferences on defense.  And we also offer some general words of advice to all of our aspiring players.

Here are two hands that came up this past Thursday evening game.  See if you can draw the correct inferences from the bidding, the cards shown, and the cards led to come up with the proper defensive play at a critical juncture in each hand.  Assume that your partner is a competent defender.

Hand 1:  You are East.  You are defending a 2♥ contract after the auction shown below.  Partner, playing standard leads, leads the ♦3.    Dummy (North) plays the ♦2.  What do you (East) play, having the hand shown on the right?


Hand 2:  You are West.  You are defending South’s 3♥ contract having the hand and after the auction shown below.  Not really wishing to lead anything, you finally settle on the ♠Q:


The lead does not work out so well for you:  South takes the ♠K in hand (exposing your remaining spade honor to a finesse) and promptly leads the ♥Q.  Your play.

Click on the link below to see the solution to both problems.

Hand 1:

To figure out what to play from the holding ♦K987 on the 1st hand, you must first answer the following question:  Where is the Ace of Diamonds?

Think about this for awhile and then proceed.

Answer: declarer has the ♦A.  How do we know?  Competent defenders almost never lead away from an unsupported Ace defending against a suit contract.

So what is your proper play, knowing that declarer on your right has the ♦A?

Time to think again.

DO NOT make your usual 3rd hand high play of the ♦K.  Why?  Doing so will just allow declarer to cover your King with his Ace, promoting dummy’s ♦Q and maybe even the ♦10.  Rather, simply play the ♦7 (3rd hand plays the lowest card from a touching sequence).   Two things might happen:

If declarer has the ♦J as well as the ♦A, he will win with the ♦J.  This is no big deal since the diamond finesse was always working anyway.   But, if partner has the ♦J, playing the ♦7 will in this case force out the ♦A, thereby promoting your ♦K.

These are the full hands:


My mentee, Mark McBeth, made the fine play of the ♦7, ultimately resulting in a 2 trick set of this contract, for a top board.

Hand 2

To figure out what to play on the 2nd trick of this 3♥ contract, you must first answer the following question:  Where is the Ace of Hearts?  Obviously, if South has that card, you had better play your heart King immediately or else you will loose the King under the Ace on the next trick.  But do you see the danger if you make that play?  How many hearts is your partner known to have?

Correct, partner has a singleton heart since declarer opened with a weak 2♥ bid, giving him 6 hearts.  Dummy has 4, you have 2, leaving 1 for partner [13 — (6 + 4 + ) = 1]).  If this heart is the ♥A, you must duck, or else your ♥K comes crashing down on the singleton ♥A.  What an embarrassment that would be!

Can you figure out who has the heart Ace?

Here’s where it gets really tricky.  To figure this out, you must ask yourself the following question:  if declarer had the ♥A, how would he play the heart suit?

That’s correct.  Missing 3 hearts, holding the ♥AQ, the percentage play is to take the finesse against the missing King.

But declarer did not take the finesse.  What does that tell us?

Simply that declarer does not have the Ace.  If declarer does not have the Ace, then your partner has it — and it is a singleton.  So you must duck.  It is a good thing you did, for these are the four hands:


* * *

Some words of advice to our aspiring players:  Making inferences is the bread-and-butter skill in the game of bridge.  Too many players learning the game make the mistake of trying to master conventions and “rules” and neglect the development of the logical thought processes needed to make inferences.   There is no real way to teach how to make inferences (although the book “How to Read your Opponent’s Cards” by Mike Lawrence does a very good job of trying to); there are no “rules” to follow — to develop good inference-making skills, a player simple must practice, practice, practice and think, think, think.  Over a period of time, the player’s skills will improve.

The other hard part about making inferences is that to do so, it’s best to play against more skilled players.  Playing against developing players, you can not really trust your opponents’ bidding and their play to be in line with what you would normally expect.  Drawing inferences against such players is risky.  So you won’t try.  You may do well on the limited side but once you get into the open side, your results will not be as good as you hoped.

To develop inference-making skills, you need to play in an open game.  Any player with at least 50 master points is ready to develop these skills, and all such players should play at least occasionally in an open game so they have a chance to practice.  Just find an understanding partner and don’t get discouraged if you have an occasional 30% game.  If you never expose yourself to a tougher field, you will never get better.  If to protect your ego you restrict yourself to the limited sides, once you accrue enough points through the dint of time and are forced into playing in open games, you will not have the skills to compete, and it will be that much more discouraging.   The time to start developing those skills is now, even if you must take a few hard knocks while doing so.

— Tom Hunt




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