Blocking and Unblocking
Successful declarers and defenders are adept at unblocking their own suits and blocking the enemy suits. Here are some examples.
Related Play Problems Problem 50
Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games
6♦ is a so-so slam, somewhat better than 50%, though not by a lot. We donít claim that the above auction is especially convincing, but we do think that it is worthy of comment:
- 2♠ is game-forcing
- 2NT is natural
- 3♣ is a cheap bid, quasi-natural, intended to elicit belated support for Diamonds (it also indicates shortage in Hearts)
- 3♦ is, er, well itís belated support, isnít it?
- 3♠ might be considered by some as ambiguous, either showing interest in a 4-3 Spade fit, or a cue-bid on the way to 6♦
- 4♠ suggests a place to play
- 6♦ is a shot in the dark.
The Play in 6♦
A Heart lead is best for the defense. Declarer ruffs, and draws trumps. Now Declarer will be forced by the entry situation into the correct Spade guess of finessing the ♠J. But he should not play the ♠A first. By taking a first-round finesse of the Jack, he can still prevail when North has ♠Qxxx and the ♣Q. So the correct line of play is:
Ruff the Heart lead
Finesse the ♠J
Run the ♣J, losing to the Queen
Ruff the Heart return
Now, before playing a Spade back to Dummy, the ♣AK are unblocked, and Dummy's long Club provides the Spade pitch. If Declarer had cashed the ♠A before taking the Spade finesse, then, when in with the ♣Q, North would return a Spade, knocking out Dummy's entry before the Clubs could be unblocked.
South does not have much of a 2♣ overcall, but the vulnerability is right and she would really like North to find an opening Club lead. As it happens, it is East who declares 3NT. South leads the ♣K and North discourages (denying the Queen). Now South must shift, rather than set up an extra Club trick for Declarer, and the obvious choice is a Heart. Dummyís ♥A wins and the ♦J is successfully finessed. At this point, one possibility for Declarer would be a low Diamond to the King, cash the ♥K, and finesse the ♠T. The problem with that line is that Declarer wonít know what to pitch on the ♥K Ö a potential Spade winner Ö or unguard the Clubs (risking disaster if South has the ♠J)?
A Better Line! When the ♦9 appears on the first round, if Declarer assumes that this is not a bizarre false card, he can lead the Diamond Ten to Dummyís King, finesse the ♠T, cross to Dummyís mighty Eight, and score 10 tricks the safe way. Nice unblocking in the Diamond suit!
On lead against 3NT, West must avoid the disastrous opening lead of a low Club. Thatís 10 easy tricks for Declarer when the red suits behave. The way to test Declarerís mettle is for West to start out passively with a Heart. Dummyís Hearts are cashed and now Dummy exits with a Spade. Which one? Look what happens if Declarer plays a low Spade from Dummy to her Nine and Westís Jack. Now West cashes the ♣A and Dummy is squeezed! A Spade cannot be spared (then Eastís suit would run), so a Diamond must be shed. Next, West plays a Spade through and 8 tricks are the limit for Declarer. Yes, after cashing those Hearts, Declarer can do better. Thereís a spectacular play coming up in this end-position:
♠ J5 ♠ AQ864
♦ Q74 ♦ T9
♣ AT7 ♣ 8
Thatís right, Dummy makes the stunning exit of the ♠K, blocking the suit for the opponents! East wins the Ace, exits with a Club and now Dummy can afford to pitch a Spade. West plays the ♠J which East must overtake. But that only prolongs the agony, as Dummy wins the third round of Spades, cashes ♦AK and throws in West with a Diamond. Itís Trick 13 and West is stuck with a Club which provides Declarerís 9th trick. Hands up all those who found this line of play! Itís double dummy, but maybe just within in the realms of possibility if East overcalls 1♠.
Letís say that South leads a low Club which Dummyís Queen wins (Declarer cleverly unblocking with Ten). Declarer could go after the Diamond ruff, but would hate to get over-ruffed by Northís Queen, so he plays on trumps first. When South wins the ♥Q, sheíll lead one back to Northís Ace, and a third round follows. Alas, there is no ruff in Dummy now, but Declarer still has two ways to avoid the Diamond loser. First, he plays a Spade towards Dummy, and finesses the Jack. When that forces Northís Ace, Declarerís troubles are over, the Diamond loser goes on the Spade.
To realize the importance of unblocking the Club Ten at Trick 1, look what happens if the Spade finesse loses!Declarer can cross to the ♦Q, but is now unable to take both the Club finesse and the Diamond finesse.
Against 1NT, East leads the ♣J, after which careful play brings in 8 tricks:
Opening Club lead, overtaken by West's Queen, won by Declarer
Cross to the ♦A
Lead the Diamond Nine and finesse the Jack
Cash the ♠K
Cross to the ♠A
Cash the ♠Q
Finesse the Diamond Seven
Cash the ♦K
The key play here was the unblock of the Diamond Nine. Without that play, Declarer would not have the entries to untangle her 8 tricks.
Against 4♠, North leads a Heart, and all roads lead to 11 tricks. But, lurking within this deal, there is one of those nasty traps for the unwary. Suppose that South wins the opening Heart lead and shifts to a Diamond, won in Declarerís hand Ö then the losing Spade finesse and another Diamond Ö trumps are drawn, and then when the Clubs come in itís 11 tricks. So, whereís the trap? When playing Clubs, Declarer must play the Nine to King, then a Club back to the Ace, followed by a finesse of the Eight. If Declarer fails to unblock the Nine the last two Club winners will be stranded on the board.
3NT is a most interesting contract. So many finesses to take, so few entries to Declarerís hand! Double dummy itís possible to make no fewer than 12 tricks: Diamond lead won by Declarer, finesse the ♣J, cash ♣A which drops the King and provides two entries back to hand for the Spade finesses.
But, in the real world, Declarer will not even be sure of 9 tricks, let alone 12. For example, if Declarer runs the ♣Q and it loses to North, a Diamond will come back and this last entry will be used to take a Spade finesse Ö even if this finesse wins Declarer will still have only 8 tricks.
Suppose that Declarer tackles Spades first and the ♠Q holds. This is fine if the King really is onside, but a cunning North will smoothly duck the ♠Q, perhaps stifling a yawn as she does so. If this is the case, Declarer will no doubt be lured to his doom Ö heíll cash the ♣A, lose a Club to the King, win the Diamond return, and blithely take another Spade finesse Ö this time the finesse loses and the defense scores two black Kings and three Diamonds for down one.
Is there a way of combining the chances in the black suits? Yes, at Trick 2, Declarer leads the ♣Q, and if South plays low she unblocks the ♣J. This clever play provides an entry (the ♣7) back to Declarerís hand for a later Spade finesse. Here is the full line of play:
Diamond lead to the King and Declarerís Ace
♣Q covered by the King and Ace
Cash three more Clubs, ending in Declarerís hand
♠Q, won by Southís King
Diamond return Declarerís Ace
Now Declarer has 11 tricks, but more interesting is what would have happened if the Club finesse had lost. North returns a Diamond to the Ace Ö Spade finesse working Ö cash the Clubs ending in hand Ö another Spade finesse which takes Declarer up to 9 tricks Ö and that becomes 11 when the ♠K turns out to be tripleton.
That unblocking play in Clubs will cost a trick when Clubs are 4-1, but it still looks like the best chance to us.
Itís quite likely that the final contract will be 3♠, played by East, and, in the play of the hand there is a trap for the unwary. Letís say that the defense gets two Hearts on the go, and then North shifts to a Spade, won by Southís King, then a Spade continuation. Now, the hand hinges on the Club situation, and Declarer needs two entries to the board to pick up Northís KJx. Yes, Declarer must carefully unblock the Spade Eight on the first round of the suit Ö this gives him that second entry to the board via the Spade Six.
West leads a Spade, and that the defense forces out Declarerís King. Next a Heart to the Ten and East's Ace. The Spades are cashed, ending in the East hand, and East shifts to a Club, won by Dummyís Ace.
Now, in the play of the Diamond suit, Declarer has a chance to show off her flawless technique:
- If Diamonds are 3-2 (with the K♦ onside) then, when Declarer is in Dummy for the first and last time, it is sufficient to run the Q♦ in order to pick up the suit (for a total of 9 tricks)
- If East has K9xx thereís nothing to be done, Declarer can score but three Diamonds in the absence of another board entry (for a total of 8 tricks)
- Finally, suppose that East has Kxxx and West has the singleton Nine. This is where that flawless technique comes in! Dummyís Q♦ is led, East ducks, and Declarer unblocks the Jack! This costs nothing in the 3-2 case, but, if West contributes the singleton Nine on this trick, the thoughtful unblock gets its just reward Ö now the Eight can be run around, and the whole suit is picked up. That's 9 tricks.
Itís often a good idea to lead through Dummyís second suit, so East might well start out the defense with the Q♠. Things could get interesting now, especially if East has a vivid imagination:
Spade lead, won by Dummyís Ace
Low Heart and East flies with the Ace!
Now, the defense continues Spades and Declarerís entry is knocked out before the Hearts can be unblocked. Declarer can manage no more than 3 Spades, one Heart, two Diamonds, and 2 Clubs, and that will be down one, thanks to Eastís great play. Spot the flaw in this logic? Yes, of course, if East can be "double dummy", then so can Declarer Ö when East rises majestically with that A♥, Declarer flamboyantly jettisons Dummyís Queen! Now things are back on track for 10 tricks.
The play in 2♥ provides West with the opportunity to make a fine play. Letís say that West hits upon the opening lead of the ♦K (the alternatives are not attractive). Now the play might go:
♦K opening lead, ducked by Declarer
Diamond continuation won by Declarer
Low Spade, the Queen from West (nice play!), won by Dummyís Ace
Low Diamond from the board, won by Eastís Jack
Heart shift, Declarer rises with the Ace
Now, when Declarer gets back to her hand she must guess to play the ♥J, squashing Eastís Ten. If Declarer guesses wrong, she goes down one. Nicely done by West, that entry-destroying ♠Q play deprived Declarer of a second Spade trick and gave Declarer a guess to make the contract. Actually, 2♥ can always be beaten, but it takes (a) an opening trump lead, and (b) that same ♠Q play by West when Declarer attacks Spades.
We cannot imagine how it might happen, but imagine that you are East and you end up declaring a Club contract. South leads the Spade Ten. What is you play at Trick One? Yes, that ♠Q is obviously destined to star on this board because the same defensive play that we saw above on defense also works for Declarer! By playing Dummyís Queen, Declarer ends up losing just one Spade trick (the Diamonds provide a discard) and manages to make 10 tricks (assuming a correct Club guess)..
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