Consult the Coopers: Play the known card, Nov 2010
by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO
Since nobody “consulted” us with a bridge problem this month we’ll just have to wing it (please send us email at the address in the box on page one). And what attracted our attention this month is something that everyone should do but many don’t: Play the Card You’re Known to Hold. Here’s an example: Suppose as declarer you hold K9xx opposite AJx and finesse the jack, which wins; your only hope for four tricks now is to play the ace and king and hope that the king (or the ace) drops the queen. But what do you do when the queen drops under the ace? Against many players it’s clear - lead a low card from dummy and insert the nine. Which brings us to the theme of this consultation: If you woodenly play the 10 declarer knows that the queen will next fall under the king; if you play the queen - a play which cannot cost since the queen and the 10 are equivalent cards after the jack is played - declarer at least has to judge whether you have played the queen holding the 10, in which case declarer should play the king, or whether you have played the queen because you had no choice, in which case declarer should finesse the nine. Here’s a hot tip: If you make declarer guess what to do sometimes declarer will get it wrong.
The example we gave above is an easy one, one which we would expect any decent defender to get right.
This principle has far wider application - for example, suppose that declarer, on your left, is playing 4S and is known to be 5-5 in the majors; you hold xx xxxx Kxxxx xx and dummy has Axxx xxxx Jxx Ax. Partner leads a club, declarer wins in dummy, leads a diamond to his queen, and cashes the ace of diamonds. Since you have nothing in declarer’s known five card heart suit and would like him to finesse into whatever heart honor partner may have, you may as well drop the king. The discard will do declarer no good - just how many hearts can he pitch on that lonely jack of diamonds? - but if declarer believes you, he may cross to dummy in spades and take a losing heart finesse. In other words, by creating the illusion that you are short in diamonds you may cause declarer to think that you are long in hearts.
Once when we were playing behind screens Kitty was declaring a hand and took a finesse through Steve’s screenmate (the person on the same side of the screen as him), playing Steve’s queen then his ace and then ruffing one of his two remaining cards with the deuce of trump. What made this so difficult for Steve (other than his usual difficulties whenever he is dummy!) is that his screenmate was showing him her hand and he could see that she held KJ109. And yet she resolutely held on to her king until the bitter end, thus giving Kitty the certainty that she could play to ruff the third and fourth cards of the suit without fear of being overruffed. Steve said later that he felt like grabbing the king and throwing it on the table!
So the next time you’re known to hold a card give some thought to whether you can safely play it the next time the suit is led.
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