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When to break a rule

“Second hand low”. I used to be sparing with this motto when teaching, perhaps to avoid too much “painting by numbers”. But as a guide to defenders, when a low card is led, it really is pretty accurate.

Consider this suit:

A 10 x
J 9 8 x
Q x x x

Lead low from North towards your queen. If East goes up with the king, you can make three tricks in the suit by next leading low to the ten. If East plays second-hand-low, however, you can only score two tricks: the queen and the ace.

South Deals
None Vul
10 3
A 8 6 4 2
A 10 5
A 10 7
Q 2
K 10 7 5
J 9 7 6
Q J 9
W   E
5 4
Q J 9 3
K 3
K 8 6 3 2
A K J 9 8 7 6
Q 8 4 2
5 4

West North East South
Pass 2  Pass 4 1
Pass 6 2 Pass Pass
  1. 3  is forcing here, so 4  shows more shape and less strength.
  2. Three lovely aces – and three potentially useful tens.

Our featured deal comes from a duplicate at my club. Declaring the optimistic 6 , declarer won West’s queen of clubs lead with dummy’s ace, hurriedly dumped his other club on dummy’s ace of hearts and led the five of diamonds (best).

If East rises with the king, declarer can ruff his club return, draw trumps and judge to finesse the ten of diamonds (probably after several trumps to put the pressure on). In this way he scores three diamond tricks and the slam is made.

Say East plays second-hand low on dummy’s five of diamonds. Admittedly this is not an easy thing to do holding just a doubleton, especially v a slam. However it is probably right on general second-hand-low principles – and surely declarer cannot have both queen and jack, or he’d have taken a normal finesse (running the queen). But say East does play low.

Declarer is robbed of the chance of three diamond tricks. He can still succeed though: he wins the queen and, delaying drawing trumps, crosses to the ace of diamonds and leads a third diamond. If the suit splits 3-3, he is home with a long card. Here West wins the third diamond with the jack. Declarer ruffs his (say) club return, cashes one top spade, then ruffs his losing fourth diamond with dummy’s remaining ten of spades, with East unable to overruff. He ruffs his way back to hand, cashes the other top spade felling West’s queen and claims his slam.

The only lead to beat 6  is a trump. East then ducks the low diamond from dummy that soon follows and West leads a second trump (his queen) when he wins the third diamond. Down one.


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