The Scissors Coup

This week’s deal features the Scissors Coup, so-called because it cuts communications between the two defenders.

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East’s 4♦ was preemptive, showing long Diamonds and not much else.

As West, what’s your opening lead? It would be reasonable to lead ♣K, attempting to set up a Club trick while you still have the ♠A entry. That doesn’t work on the actual deal because of Declarer’s Club singleton. A more promising plan might be to lead the singleton Heart, later winning the ♠A, then underleading the ♦A to East’s hoped-for ♦K, and getting a Heart ruff for down one. As you can see, that plan is the winner. Well, not quite, because there is a clever counter-measure. How can Declarer deprive West of his ruff?

Enter the Scissors Coup. Declarer wins the Heart lead in Dummy, and before touching trumps she cashes ♣A and leads another Club, pitching a Diamond when East plays low. By this maneuver Declarer trades a Diamond loser for a Club loser, in the process thwarting West in his plan to reach East with the ♦K. Now, with the defensive communications snipped, Declarer loses only the ♠A and a Club (but there is no Diamond loser and no Heart ruff).

Post Script: As West you no doubt found that well-thought-out Heart opening lead. Then as Declarer you made a clever play to bring home the 5♠ contract. Next, imagine that you hold the East cards, but with the ♣6 replaced by the ♣J. Now, after Dummy’s ♣A has been cashed, when a second Club is played, we are quite confident that you would alertly hop up with that ♣J, foiling the Scissors Coup. Nice play!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

The Merrimac Coup

Historians of the Spanish-American War will have no difficulty figuring out how this week’s coup got its exotic name. For the rest of us there is Google.

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Against 3NT, West leads his 4th best Heart, and routine defense by East is to win the Ace and return the Jack. Declarer’s King wins that and Clubs are played. East can take his ♣A when he likes, West gets a couple of Hearts, but that is all there is for the defense. 9 tricks for Declarer.

Let’s replay the hand, this time with a wide-awake East at the table. He can see those ominous Clubs in Dummy and must knock out the ♠A before Declarer can set up the Clubs. That’s right, a Spade shift is required at Trick 2. But shifting to the ♠J does not get the job done. Declarer will hop up with her Queen, saving Dummy’s ♠A entry for later. What is needed is the spectacular shift to the ♠K, that does knock out Dummy’s entry (if the ♠K is ducked then East simply continues with another Spade). Nicely done! East’s sacrifice of the ♠K (the Merrimac Coup) shuts out the Clubs and is the only way to set the contract.

Of course, after the ♠A has been dislodged, East must keep up the good work by ducking one round of Clubs, in order to complete the job of shutting out the Club suit. Why not duck a second round in case Declarer started with three Clubs? West will help out by giving a count signal, playing the ♣2 on the first round. This “low-high” tells East that West started with an odd number of Clubs and therefore that Declarer does not have three. Ducking the second Club would be fatal as it happens, allowing Declarer to scamper home with two Spades, a Heart, four Diamonds and two Clubs.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

The Anti-Bath Coup

antibathcoup1The Bath Coup is well known by now:

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West leads the King and Declarer craftily ducks. Now if West continues he gives Declarer a second trick in the suit. The rule for East here, when holding Jxx, is to encourage with his higher spot card, hopefully that agreement will save West from the ignominy of the Bath Coup.

However, in the diagram above, Declarer pulled off what has been termed as the “Anti-Bath Coup”. Against 3NT, West led the ♥K and Declarer could have ducked this trick in order to lure West into a Bath Coup. But Declarer could see that a Diamond shift might be fatal, so in order to muddy the waters he played the ♥J on the first trick! Our (gullible) West assumed that Declarer had started with ♥AJ doubleton and continued Hearts, won by Declarer’s Ace. The Club finesse was lost, but East was out of Hearts and Declarer had 9 tricks. Of course, a Diamond shift at Trick 2 beats the contract, but Declarer’s clever false card diverted West from the winning play.

Yes, West erred grievously! After that first Heart trick (King, Five, Three, Jack), he should have smelled a rat. Where was the Two? East would not play the Three from 732, instead he would play his lowest card saying “I don’t have the Jack!” So, an alert West (and one who trusted his Partner to signal correctly) could have figured out that Declarer had false-carded. But, in the heat of battle, such clues can be missed!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

The Trump Coup

This week’s deal contains a little bit of magic whereby a “certain” trump loser evaporates into thin air thanks to some well-timed Declarer play.

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Against your 6♠ contract West leads the ♣J. You finesse the Queen but that loses to the King and East returns a Club to Dummy’s Ace. It was a fine slam but it got worse when that Club finesse lost. Now you must pick up the trump suit for no losers. You run the ♠T and it holds. You say a silent “Yippee!” but that quickly changes to “Rats!” when you repeat the finesse and West shows out. How will you overcome this setback?

East still has ♠K7 but there are no Spades left in Dummy with which to repeat the finesse. That might seem like a certain trump loser but you have a resource, it’s known as a Trump Coup. For this to work you must shorten your trumps down to two (the same length as East) and also make sure that you win the 11th trick in Dummy. If you can do that, then when you lead from Dummy at Trick 12, East will be forced to ruff in front of you, thereby losing his “sure” trump trick.

So, after the second trump finesse wins, the play goes: ♦K; ♦A; Diamond ruff; over to Dummy’s ♥Q; Club ruff; back to Dummy’s ♥J. The ♥A is now cashed and at Trick 12 Dummy leads a Club (or Diamond) and East is forced to ruff in front of you. Great stuff! Be sure to realize that you needed both those ruffs in your hand, if you had not shortened your trumps to the right length then there would have been no Trump Coup.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Morton’s Fork

We continue our look at some of bridge’s exotic coups, and this week it is the Morton’s Fork, a play which offers an opponent a choice of evils. Here, the Fork allows Declarer to bring home the 6♥ contract.

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West leads a trump. As Declarer, what is your plan? Of course, if the Club finesse works then 12 tricks will be easy. Alternatively, it would be just grand if Dummy’s long Diamond could be set up with a couple of ruffs, then the Club finesse would not be necessary. Alas, there are not enough Dummy entries for that. Or maybe there are! Yes, here is your chance to skewer the defense on a Morton’s Fork, offering two losing options.

After drawing trumps, you cross to the ♦A and ruff a Diamond. Now you lead the ♠K and West will be impaled on one of these prongs:

            First Prong: If West wins the ♠K with his Ace he manages to score his Spade, but not without cost. Now Dummy has an extra entry (in Spades) and you have the timing to ruff out the Diamonds. You no longer need the Club finesse, you have your 12 tricks via a Spade, 6 Hearts, 3 Diamonds and 2 Clubs.

            Second Prong: If West ducks the ♠K then you cross to the ♣K, cash Dummy’s ♦K (pitching your remaining Spade), give up a Club, and romp home with 12 tricks. In this variation the defense never scores a Spade trick.

This hand required perfect timing! It was necessary to cash just one high Diamond and then ruff a Diamond before playing on Spades. If you had neglected to do that then you had no chance of getting the long Diamond established. And it would have been fatal to cash both Diamonds before playing on Spades, that would have rendered the fork’s second prong inoperable. A very pretty deal!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

The Crocodile Coup

Bridge has a number of exotic “coups” and for the next few weeks we’ll look at some of them, starting with the aptly named Crocodile Coup.

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We’ll spare you the auction and just say that American many-time world champion Bob Hamman found himself in a poor 6♦ contract after East had overcalled Spades. You are sitting West, try playing this out looking at just the N-W hands.

You lead the Spade Three, Dummy plays the King, East the Ace and Declarer ruffs. Then a Diamond to Dummy’s King, a Diamond to Declarer’s Jack, and the ♦A. Partner follows with the Seven, Ten and Queen. With trumps drawn, Declarer now plays ♥A, ♥K, ♥Q, East playing the Four, Six, Ten.

Of course, while all this going on, you are busy counting the distribution, because that’s what successful defenders do. Declarer ruffed the first Spade so East is known to have started with 6 Spades. Hearts? East played the Four and then the Six, and “low-high” shows an odd number, in this case three. Diamonds? East started with three of those also. That leaves just one Club with East, he started life with 6=3=3=1 distribution.

Next, Declarer leads a low Club from his hand and you must avoid the temptation to win this cheaply with the Nine! If you do, East will be forced to overtake with the Jack, and will have to lead a Spade (that’s all he has left), allowing Declarer’s Club losers to go away on Dummy’s Spades. Instead, you alertly squander the ♣K, swallowing Partner’s Jack, and you return the ♣T. Now Declarer never reaches Dummy’s Spades, and eventually loses another Club. Nice defense! When this deal was played in the 2006 World Championships, West was caught napping and missed that Crocodile Coup.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

A Dummy Reversal

dummyreversal1 dummyreversal2N-S stumble into 4♠ and West leads ♦A. Declarer can count 5 Spade tricks and 4 Clubs. That’s 9, where’s the 10th? A ruff in the “short hand” is a common ploy for an extra trick, but that won’t work here, Dummy has no short side-suits. Any ideas?

Does ruffing the opening Diamond lead generate a 10th trick? No, that is a ruff in the long hand, that still leaves us with only five trump tricks. But suppose that Declarer ruffs three Diamonds. Now he gets six trump tricks via Dummy’s three high trumps plus three ruffs by Declarer (the long hand). In effect, Dummy becomes the master hand, the hand which will be used to draw the enemy trumps after Declarer has got his ruffs.

Therefore, the sequence of plays is: ruff the Diamond lead, cross to the ♠Q, ruff another Diamond, cross to the ♠J, ruff a third Diamond, cross to the ♣Q, draw the remaining enemy trump. This line works whenever trumps are 3-2.

The thing to remember here is that Declarer needs three ruffs for the Dummy Reversal to produce an extra trick. It’s that third ruff which reduces Declarer’s trumps to a shorter length than Dummy’s. Actually, it would even be possible for Declarer to get a fourth ruff, but there are insufficient entries to take advantage of this. So, 10 tricks it is.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Third Hand Trickery

“Third hand high” is common advice, and on this hand East plays “Third hand extra high” in order to fool Declarer.

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On defense, in third hand, it’s standard procedure to win the trick with the lowest card possible, that’s the best way to let Partner know what is going on. So, when West leads a low Heart against 5♣, East would normally win that trick with the King. But this week’s East decided to win the opening trick with the ♥A, supposedly denying possession of the King. He then returned the ♥T. What was East up to?

To answer that question put yourself in Declarer’s shoes. From East’s play to the first two Heart tricks Declarer deduces that East does not have the King (he would have played it at Trick 1), nor does he have the Jack (he would have returned it at Trick 2). So, it appears that East started with ♥AQT9x.   Based on this logic Declarer will calculate that East has a maximum of 8 HCP outside the Club suit. Now, when Dummy leads a low Club from the board and East plays low, how should Declarer guess? East needs the ♣A for his opening bid and must have started with ♣A2 or ♣AQ2, so let’s not blame Declarer if he guesses wrong and goes up with the ♣K, playing East for ♣A2.

If East plays more routinely, winning the ♥K on the first round and continuing with the Ace, then he no longer needs the ♣A to make up his opening bid. That being the case, Declarer will be more inclined to make the normal Club play of running the Eight on the first round, hoping for Q2 or AQ2 in the East hand (two chances) rather than A2 (only one chance). Nice deception, Mr. East!

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

Second Hand High

“Second hand low” is common advice, but this is a hand where it pays to ignore that recommendation.

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North saw no reason to mess about showing the minors, so she jumped straight to game in the most likely contract. West had the obvious lead of the ♠J, won by East’s Ace. Back came a Spade and Declarer could see 9 tricks if she could bring in the Diamonds. She finessed the ♦J, losing to the Queen. The defense cashed their Spades, but Dummy’s Diamonds were good. Declarer’s 9 tricks were a Spade, three Hearts, four Diamonds and a Club. Somebody goofed, who was it?

Yes, indeed, West was the goofster. We are always told “second hand low, third hand high” but (as usual) there are exceptions and this was one of them. When Declarer led that first round of Diamonds, West must hop up with the King! This alert play makes it impossible for Declarer to bring in the Diamonds for four tricks. If she takes the ♦A on the first round then East will duck the second round of Diamonds … and if Declarer ducks the first round then the best she can do is to score three Diamonds, which is not enough.

It’s a recurring theme. Dummy has AJTxx or AT9xx or some such holding … Dummy has no side-suit entries … West has the Queen or the King … and the winning play by West to play “second hand high” in order to jam Declarer’s communications.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.

The Safe Hand

3NT is the normal contract and 9 top tricks are available. But this event was duplicate bridge where it’s not always enough just to make your contract, it’s also important to make overtricks. So, the question for you South players is “How do you make 10 tricks after an opening Diamond lead?”

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Hearts are the best place to get that extra trick and there are two ways to tackle the suit … either finesse the Ten hoping that West has the Jack … or lead towards the Queen hoping that East has the King. As you can see both plays work and will earn that valuable overtrick. But playing East for the ♥K is dangerous! If it turns out that West has the King then he can shift dramatically to the ♠J and South’s cold contract is down one! The correct play is to win the opening lead in hand and finesse the ♥T, forcing East to win the trick. On this deal, East is the “safe hand”, the one that cannot make the deadly Spade shift through Dummy’s King.

Post Script When Declarer led a Heart towards Dummy’s AT West could have made a brilliant and spectacular play! If he rises majestically with the Jack then Declarer will fear that West started with the King as well. If that’s the case then the 10th trick cannot be developed without letting the danger hand gain the lead and the play of the ♥J might persuade a nervous (aka chicken) Declarer to settle for 9 tricks. But a bold Declarer will go for the gusto, playing a second round of Hearts and risking the contract for the precious overtrick.

Article courtesy of the American Contract Bridge League. Visit www.acbl.org for more about the fascinating game of bridge.