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Always Set Up Your Long Suit?

  by Richard Pavlicek

Beginning players are usually told to set up their longest suit when declaring a notrump contract. This is good advice for a novice, but it has many exceptions. The skillful player takes all rules with a grain of salt. He plays each hand as a separate adventure, not letting preconceived notions dictate his play.

When today’s deal was played, the contract was only two notrump and West led the four of spades. Declarer gave little thought to the problem at hand; but instead based his play on general principles.

2 NT South
None Vul
S 7 6 5
H 8 2
D A K J 2
C 9 8 7 6


2 NT

1 NT
S Q 10 8 4
H A 9 7 6
D 10 9 3
C J 2
TableS K J 2
H K 10 5 4
D 8 7 5
C Q 4 3

Lead: S 4
S A 9 3
H Q J 3
D Q 6 4
C A K 10 5

Declarer ducked the first two spade leads, then won the third round with the ace. Seven tricks were certain — one spade, four diamonds, and two clubs — and declarer considered his prospects. Of course! There were eight clubs between the two hands, so that was the suit to establish.

Declarer crossed to dummy with a diamond and led the club nine, ducking it around to West’s jack. After cashing the last spade, the defenders won their two top hearts to defeat the contract. Unlucky? Not at all. Our declarer took an inferior line of play and deserved his fate.

Declarer’s thinking was one-sided. To be sure, the club suit would provide declarer with his eighth trick; but it also would provide the opponents with their sixth trick (barring a lucky lie of the club suit).

Instead declarer should play on hearts for his eighth trick. By leading twice toward the queen-jack, this succeeds any time East holds either (or both) of the top hearts — better than a 75-percent chance. But most important, it gives the opponents only five tricks.

After winning the spade ace, the play goes: diamond to king; heart to jack-ace; spade cashed (discard a club from each hand); diamond to queen; diamond to ace; diamond jack (discard a club); then a heart. East gets his heart king, but South wins the rest.

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© 1984 Richard Pavlicek