Liam Milne
Liam Milne

If someone’s play looks strange, stop and consider the position.

Sitting East and playing a knockout teams match, you hold the following hand:

Spade Suit10872 AK1093 105 95

The opponents have a short and sweet Precision auction:

Partner selects the two of clubs (fourth best) for their opening lead. Dummy plays the seven, you cover with the nine and declarer wins the queen.

You may not have prepared yourself for what declarer does next: he leads the six of spades to dummy’s king (partner following with the five), and dummy’s next play is the eight of hearts! What on earth is going on?

If declarer is trying to establish a heart trick, he is going about it in a very curious way. Your strong heart spots suggest that hearts is declarer’s weakest suit rather than a likely source of tricks. In fact, we can probably rule out several heart holdings immediately: if declarer held three or four hearts to the queen, this play would frequently destroy his own stopper. Assuming declarer is a sane player, his heart holding simply can’t be that good.

So, what is he up to? With several other alternative suits to play on, the only reason for declarer to play hearts is for dishonest purposes. He must be attempting to dissuade the defence from shifting to hearts when they get in. Luckily, your hearts were strong enough that you could see through the plan.

Declarer can’t hold three or more hearts including the queen, so is it good enough to put in the nine of hearts (hopefully winning) and cash out the suit?

No. Declarer might hold the queen of hearts doubleton, in which case playing low would be disastrous. There are two good reasons to take your top hearts and attempt to run the suit: if you let your partner win the queen of hearts, they might concede the ninth trick with their return, while if declarer has the queen, ducking will probably concede the contract.

In order to help partner do the right thing if they holdQxx, best is to play your hearts in abnormal order (ace then king). An abnormal order of play suggests that partner wake up and do something special, in this case unblocking his queen under your king.

Declarer could see that the straight-forward line of playing on
spades would compel the opponents to find the winning switch.
The most realistic plan was to play their suit himself and hope for
the best. At the table, East ducked the heart smoothly and that
was that.
Did you get swindled, or did you punish declarer’s flamboyant line of play?

Point to remember: ‘following the rules’ (second hand low) is good enough for the most part, but when it looks like someone has made a very strange play, playing quickly is the surest way to have a disaster.

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