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The value of small cards

Gabriel Chagas ( Brazil )

 

In bridge, and other card games, attention has always focused on high cards. You start by counting points, or honour tricks, but as you improve you appreciate intermediate cards: Q1098, 10987, Q987 have potential, while Q432, AK432 and even AKQ432 show signs of fragility.

For the defenders, the small cards have great significance. As leads and signals they will often show length, or attitude, or a desire for some other suit. And the declarer will attempt to decode them in the light of other information he has available.

The rare situation in which a defender discards an ace is highly meaningful often an indication that he has all winners and that a shift is desirable. The common situation in which a defender plays or discards a deuce can be given more precise meaning.

Many experts play a mixture of count and attitude according to circumstances. Consider the situation in which your partner leads a strong honour holding and you have 842. I suggest that the normal play should be the four followed by the eight to show an odd number of cards. This preserves the deuce for special purposes, perhaps a suit preference to the low-ranking suit.

When the deuce seems to suggest an impossible or absurd shift, the corollary must be that the deuce-player had no choice.

Perhaps he has a singleton, or a doubleton honour that cannot be wasted.

This, of course, applies to the lowest missing card not in view. If the two is in the dummy, your three is obviously low and has special power. However, your play of the three does not have a special meaning when the declarer follows with the deuce. Otherwise you would be overexposed to falsecarding.

The small trumps, too, are not given the attention they deserve. They are often crucial for entry purposes, and in rare situations are needed for endplays. Careless players frequently lose contracts by routinely ruffing with the lowest trump: one very seldom loses by saving that card.

The modern trend toward upside-down count and upside-down attitude signals often permits a defender with a doubleton to play his small card and preserve an intermediate card. 'We prefer to keep the high cards to score tricks,' they say, thus showing a deplorable contempt for the small cards.

My BOLS tip is aimed at defenders as well as declarers:

Watch the small cards, as they tell you the story of the hand.

Opportunities for the declarer to make proper use of small cards are often missed. The following example is a 'small-card adventure' in the manner of Geza Ottlik. North-South overbid to 6NT after a Precision Club opening was countered by a 'Crash' overcall to show two suits of the same colour.

 

♠ J 5

9765

AJ3

♣KJ53

NS Game Dealer S

♠ A108

AKJ

K42 

 

♣ A 1086

 

 

The heart two was led and East played the queen. South won with the king, cashed the ace, and was still not sure whether West held the red suits or the black suits. But to come close to twelve tricks he had to assume that West held the diamond queen and he began by finessing in that suit.

It might not seem to matter which small diamond South led, but South showed proper respect for small cards by leading the four. Believe it or not, preserving the deuce was the key to success.

When the diamond jack held, South felt sure that West had a red hand, not a black hand. So the club jack was led and East covered with the queen. South won with the ace, led to the king, and took the marked finesse of the eight.

South could now place West, fairly confidently, with an original 3-4-5-1 distribution the lead suggested a four-card heart suit, and a six-card diamond suit would have been bid or led. He needed to score his twelfth trick in the spade suit and had to make a guess at the location of the king and the queen.

There was a way to endplay West in the unlikely event that he had the king and the queen. Direct play would produce the extra trick if East had both key cards. But thanks to his ownership of the diamond deuce, South found a way to have a good chance of success if East's five spades included the nine and one of the king or queen. The position was in fact this

 

  South Dealer J 5    

 

N-S Game

 9 7

 

 

 

 

 A 3

 

 

 

 

 5

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

K 4 3     Q 9 7 6 2

 10 8

 

W                          E

 ---

 Q 10

 

 

 9

 ---

 

 

 9

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

 A 10 8

 

 

 

 

 A

 

 

 

 

 K 2

 

 

 

 

 10

 

 

                            The club ten was led, putting pressure on West. He could not part with a heart, and a spade discard would have permitted a low spade lead. So West gave up the diamond ten, apparently safely. But this gave South an extra entry to the dummy. He led the diamond king to the ace and played the spade jack.

With the diamond three available as a further entry to the dummy, it did not matter whether or not East covered with the queen. When he did so, South took the ace, led to the diamond three, and finessed the spade eight. The complete deal was:

 

  South Dealer J 5    

 

N-S Game

 9 7 6 5

 

 

 

 

 A J 3

 

 

 

 

  K j 5 3

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

K 4 3     Q 9 7 6 2

 10 8 4 2

 

W                          E

 Q 3

 Q 10 8 6 5

 

 

 9 7

 4

 

 

 Q 9 7 2

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

A 10 8

 

 

 

 

 A K j

 

 

 

 

 K 4 2

 

 

 

 

 A 10 8 6

 

 

                           

Given the accuracy of the distributional assessment, this small-card play is about as likely to succeed as playing East for the king and queen of spades and vastly more aesthetic.

The defenders must also give more attention to the small cards. To illustrate this, put yourself in the East seat you are defending Six Hearts

  Game All A J 5    

 

Neither Vulnerable

 8 6 5 3

 

 

 

 

 K 5 4 3

 

 

 

 

 A 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

      K Q 9 7 6 4 3

 

 

W                          E

 10

 

 

 

 10 6

 

 

 

 K J 10 4

                              

W

N

E

S

 

 

 

1

Pass

2NT

3♠

4

Pass

4♠

Dbl

5

Pass

6

All

Pass

 

 

 

 

 

Your partner leads the spade ten, and dummy's jack is played. You win with the queen and return the king. South follows suit and wins with dummy 's ace, obviously relieved that your partner has a second spade.

Five rounds of trumps now force a lot of discards. You give up two spades and the jack and ten of clubs, and your partner, after following to three rounds, discards two clubs.

Dummy parts with a club, and South cashes the ace, queen and king of diamonds, putting the lead in dummy in this end position:

 

5    

-

 

 

 5

 

 

 A 2

 

 

 

N

 

 

 

 

 K Q 7 6 4 3

 

W                       E

 10

 

 

 10 6

 

 

 K J 10 4

 

The club ace is cashed and South plays the queen. He follows with the diamond five, and you remember that your partner followed three times. You give up the spade seven, but unfortunately declarer produces the deuce of diamonds and scores the last trick with the spade five. You quickly blame the bad light for your slight misplay. The complete deal was:

  South Dealer A J 5    

 

Game All

 8 6 5 3

 

 

 

 

 K 5 4 3

 

 

 

 

 A 2

 

 

 

 

 

N

 

 

10 8      K Q 7 6 4 3

 9 7 4

 

W                          E

 10

 J 9 8

 

 

 10 6

 8 7 6 5 3

 

 

 K J 10 4

 

 

 

S

 

 

 

 

9 2

 

 

 

 

 A K Q J 2

 

 

 

 

 A Q 7  2

 

 

 

 

 Q 9

 

 

 

In real life, would you be paying the required attention to the diamond pips?

My BOLS tip is aimed at defenders as well as declarers:

Watch the small cards, as they tell you the story of the hand.

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