Do you approach your declarer play in slam the same way you approach every declaring decision?
Several of the new players I supervise each week, feel a panic at the thought of losing tricks. Somewhere along their early journey into the game they developed the idea that you need to win every trick.
When we first start to play, we are taught to count losers in suits and winners in NTs. That’s a great start for making a plan. If you have ever kibbitzed experts work their magic to take the obvious and turn it around to avoid trouble, we notice that it is very rare that they call for a card immediately. They are in the process of finding ways to assess their options for success, and evaluate the possible hazards they might face on the way to making their contract.
Today the tip is all about being careful about what you play at trick one. MAYBE, EVEN IF YOU CAN ONLY LOSE ONE TRICK, ducking trick one might be the best answer for your contract’s success.
In these following deals our four Declarers approached very similar decisions in totally different ways.
One of my favourite Declarer’s is world class Norwegian superstar Tor Erik Hoftaniska. I was delighted to witness him demonstrate this week’s tip: It might be right to duck at trick one on Board 1 of Stanza 5 at England’s 2023 Crockfords Cup Final – it sets the benchmark for a winning performance. BONUS: If you follow the play all the way through with the Next button, you witness a fine example of why experts don’t need finesses!
At the other table, teammate and world class defender Tom Townsend was on lead. Noting that EW had used 5NT to suggest grand slam might be on, Townsend reasoned that partner could not have an ace and did not lead his singleton. His KH lead set a trap which declarer fell into.
The contract went down. (Actually BBO was wrong and Declarer finessed the jack of spades to go one off – but I liked the idea that the three of clubs could win trick 13 in a slam so the little imp in me constructed the ending so!)
Here’s how the play could have gone had declarer ducked trick one and now South played a diamond. NB: On a heart or club continuation, East must squeeze North to make twelve tricks – try it yourself by clicking PLAY & GIB will guide you through teaching yourself how to execute a squeeze. At the table this Declarer would have struggled to conclude North held QS & KD because it was South who overcalled. The true joy of this hand is that wherever the QS & KD lies, the squeeze catches them (Click here for the alternative layout squeeze) .
We come a little closer to IBEScore’s home town now. To the 2023 Essex Swiss Pairs, where only a few East-West pairs reached the fine six club slam.
Of those who did, none thought to duck at trick one. This declarer failed when once again, South overruffed.
Here’s how ducking at trick one would have snared twelve tricks. (Use Next to follow the play).
Declarer Play in bridge is rarely black and white. On the above deal, Declarer could have played the hand in several ways to make the contract. You can try the effect yourself with the Play button. If winning aces and drawing trumps immediately is more natural for you, on this hand it would have worked as well.
ALSO WORTH KNOWING
Ducking as declarer is a sophisticated technique that requires a good understanding of the game, the specific hand’s dynamics, and the opponents’ likely holdings. It’s a strategic tool used to maximize the declarer’s chances of fulfilling the contract and winning more tricks. It’s important to assess each hand’s situation carefully and adapt your strategy accordingly.