Careful declarer play

Start with these two card combinations to warm up. In both instances you are declarer in a notrump contract:

1. K42 in dummy (West) opposite your  T76. South leads the queen of this suit; should you “cover an honour with an honour”?

2. Q972 opposite  AK653. How should you play this suit?

Let us consider the second question first. If the four missing clubs are all in one hand, you can never pick up this suit. If the clubs are divided 3-1, the only issue is to avoid blocking the suit. Say you play the CQ first. The key is that you must then play the 9-7 under the A-K, so you have the C2 to go under the 6-5..

In the first card combination, the question is “who has the HJ?” Unless North bid hearts, South is surely the one with the jack. Sure enough, this was the layout:

          A83
K42                T76
          QJ95

If you cover the queen with the king, North will win the ace and return the suit, and your 10 will be trapped under South’s jack (and you will go down). If you allow the HQ to win, the suit is “frozen” – if either defender leads it, that gives you a trick.

Now work out how you would play as declarer this hand from a past Trumps congress on a H4 lead:

Finals, Board 20. Dealer East, Both vul.

          NORTH
          952
          
 AQ5
          AQ7
          
 A742
WEST                 EAST
 —                   KQJ64
 J98432              76
 32                  K986
 QJT53               K6
          SOUTH
          
 AT873
          
 KT
          
 JT54
          
 98

WEST  NORTH  EAST   SOUTH
             1S     Pass
Pass  Dble   Pass   1NT
Pass  2NT    Pass   3NT
All pass

South called for dummy’s HA to win the opening heart lead, in order to immediately lead spades, knowing that East (for the opening bid) had all the missing ones. East split the honours, playing the SJ to avoid letting declarer score a cheap trick, and declarer ducked, needing to keep the SA as an entry.

The heart continuation knocked out the HK. South led the D4 to the DQ, but was not unhappy when the finesse lost to the DK, because the rest of the diamonds were now winners. East exited with a diamond, won by the DA.

Now South led the S9, and the hand was over; if East played low, the S9 would win, and if East split honours again, this time the SA would be played and spades continued to drive out the remaining honour; either way, three spade tricks would be made, for ten tricks in total.

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