Monday, July 5, 2010

Second Hand High

The old adage of second hand low except when covering an honor with an honor is something we engrain in the minds of bridge beginners. In the majority of cases, this is the right thing to do but as with every rule, there are exceptions. One is when you need to take an ace right away before it goes away on other good cards or to give partner a ruff. Those situations are reasonably easy to spot, even for an intermediate player. The other common situation that I’m writing about today is something even the best of players sometimes get wrong.

Today I was playing in the flight A Swiss teams at the Atlanta Super Sectional and on two separate occasions, players with well over 5000 masterpoints did not play second hand high when they needed to. I am referring to the situation where dummy in 3NT has something like AJTxx and no sign of an entry outside the suit and declarer leads low toward dummy. With Qx, Kx, Qxx, or Kxx, it is almost always right to play high to disrupt communications. However, with KQx, it is usually right to play low, also to disrupt communications. The declarer is trying to take a double finesse in the suit. Look at what happens if you play low and let the T force an honor from partner. Declarer gets in the lead again and can finesse against you and wind up with 4 tricks.

If you play an honor on the first round of the suit, he can duck and try to finesse you again, possibly winding up with no tricks in the suit if he started with a doubleton. Or he can take the ace and now partner has the boss in the suit and can hold up to keep from establishing dummy’s suit. If declarer started with 3, his chances are better and playing an honor from Hxx is unlikely to gain because partner won’t be able to hold up, having only Hx. The only way this can lose a trick unnecessarily is if declarer has a two-way guess for the Q, but it should be pretty clear if he is playing to establish the suit or to just score the first 3 tricks in the suit.

On the contrary, it is right not to play an honor from KQx when declarer is trying to establish the suit for several tricks because, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, declarer can duck and then finesse later. But if you play and let the T hold and split the honors next time, he may not have a third card in the suit to get back to the good tricks. As before, you must be able to distinguish between whether declarer needs to set up long tricks or just needs tricks quickly. If he needs the tricks quickly, you should split the honors to be sure you get one of the first 2 in the suit. Likewise, it is almost never right to play second hand high from Hxxx in this situation.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot count the number of times I have seen good players miss this play. This was a great reminder and will keep me on my toes in future tournaments.