Kokish: As we all know, bridge players are wont to argue about the game. A real deal is not necessarily required to get them going; theoretical points and hypothetical combinations will stir up the pot just as readily. The better the players, the more rational the discussion should be, but even among experts capable of submerging their egos, the search for the truth will not always be successful. Indeed, there may be more than one truth.

Kraft: Some of the most heated discussions involve contracts that could have been defeated with a different line of defense, particularly when the winning approach is not clearly indicated by the available evidence. Take today’s deal, for example . . .

Dealer North E/W Vul

10 7 6
A Q J 10 9
A K 8 4
K 5
K 7
8 7 3 2
J 10 9 6 5
A Q J 8 3 2
6 4 3
K 6
3 2
9 4
A Q J 10 9 8 2
5 4
Q 7
West North East South
1 1 4
Pass Pass Pass

Opening lead: K

After East overcalls in spades, West leads the K against 4. There are two sensible ways for East to conduct the defense.The more obvious approach: East overtakes the K (a possible singleton) to play three rounds, hoping to promote a trump winner or two for West, perhaps with the K still to come. If declarer discards a diamond on the third spade, East intends to play a fourth spade.

The alternative plan: East tries to discourage a spades and encourage a diamond switch. East aspires to take two spades and one diamond and hopes West can contribute a trump trick. Even if declarer spurns the diamond finesse and attempts to discard a diamond on the third round of clubs (as here), East, holding only two clubs, will foil this plan by trumping in to kill the useful discard. Declarer will take six hearts, the A, and two clubs, for one down.

Beverly Kraft & Eric Kokish
Beverly Kraft & Eric Kokish

Kraft: Only the second line of defense works on this rather specific layout, but failing to cash spades could be fatal on a variety of combinations (picture declarer with 2-7-3-1 shape, for example; declarer wins the diamond switch and discards a spade on the K before attacking trumps). Overtaking the K will usually succeed when West holds only one spade, and will not cost whenever declarer cannot avoid the diamond finesse. If West has two spades, it is unlikely that the defense will be able to develop two trump tricks; East’s three small trumps don’t leave much room for a useful holding in West.

Kokish: Perhaps it is your final point that makes the winning defense more attractive. In any case, it’s not the sort of deal that should lend itself to finger pointing. Or to chest beating either, for that matter.

Kraft: Which card should East play at trick one to attract a diamond switch?

Kokish: Some would say that it should be enough for East simply to discourage a spade continuation (the deuce for standard players). Others believe that three-way signals are best when signaller has shown a long (define minimum length carefully) suit. They would play the queen or jack (high) to request a diamond switch, the deuce (low) to suggest a club switch, and the eight (a middle card) to encourage (not here; East can overtake). If East had a club ruff coming, the suit-preference approach would handle it smoothly where the standard approach might leave some doubt.