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How to Play Card Combinations When
Opponents Lead

When you are declarer, the defenders might give you an opportunity to win a trick that you could not if you have to lead the suit yourself. Your knowledge of lead conventions will help you decide how to play.

Example 1
North K 10 2
                                                   West                                               East
                                                     Q                                                   7 6 5
South A 4 3

West’s opening lead is the queen, which indicates that she holds the jack. You can win the trick with the ace and then play a low card toward north, finessing against the jack.  You will win three tricks.  If you played the suit yourself, you could win only two tricks.

Example 2
North K 4 2
                                               West                                                    East
                                                      3                                                   A 9 7
South J 6 5

West’s lead of the three looks like fourth highest of a suit in which he has some strength.  You play the 2 from north, hoping west’s lead is from the Q 10 x x. This will guarantee you one trick in the suit which you could not get if you played the suit yourself.
Example 3
North A J 2
South K 9 4

Once again, west is probably leading from a four-card suit.  If west’s suit contains either the 10 or the queen, you will win three tricks with this suit.  You must call for the 2 from the dummy.  If west led from Q 10 7 3, your 9 will win the trick.  If west led from Q 8 7 3, east will play the ten, you win with your king and you have a marked finesse against the queen. If west’s lead is from 10 8 7 3, east will play the queen. You win with the king and north’s ace and jack are good.  If you have to play this suit yourself and east and west defend properly, you can get only two tricks.  
Example 4
North Q 2
                                              West                                     East             
South A 10 4
You can win two tricks with this holding no matter how the cards lie, if you play the 2 from the north hand.  If east plays the king, you will win with the ace and the queen is your second trick.  If east plays the jack, you win with your ace and the queen and 10 will force another trick.  
Example 5
North Q 2
                                         West                                                   East
South A 5 4
With this holding you can get two tricks, only if west has led away from the king.  Therefore, you must immediately call for the queen from the north hand.  If it does not hold the trick, you never hand a chance of winning two tricks.  

Example 6
North J 10 2
                                             West                                                   East
South A 5 3
If west has either the king or the queen you can win two tricks by playing the 10 or jack from the north hand.  If east plays the king or the queen you will win with the ace and lead toward the north hand to force a second trick.  The only way you cannot get two tricks is when east has both the king and queen.

Example 7
North J 9 2
                                            West                                                   East
South A 5 3
This one is less certain than example 6.  You must call for the 9 from north and hope that west led from K 10 8 3 or Q 10 8 3.  If this is the case, east will be forced to play the other high honor. You will win with your ace and can then lead toward the north hand to force a second trick.
Example 8
North K 2
                                          West                                                   East
South J 4
If this is an opening lead against a suit contract, you must play the 2 from the north hand.  Players seldom under lead an ace against a suit contract.  So you should suspect that east has the ace. If west lead from something like Q 9 7 3, East will be forced to play the ace, setting up your king.  If, however, it is a no trump contract, you will have to guess, because good defenders sometimes do underlead an ace against no trump.

Example 9
10 4
♥A 7 3
♦Q J 9 6 3
♣K 8 2
                                           West                                                   East
                                          ♠ 9 6 2                                                Q J 8 5
                                          ♥K Q J 9 4                                         ♥8 6 2
                                          ♦7 5                                                    ♦A 8 2
                                           ♣10 7 4                                              ♣9 6 5
A K 7 3
♥10 5
♦K 10 4
♣A Q J 3

Use your fingers to cover the east-west hands.  Now, imagine you have opened 1 no trump with the south hand and north has bid 3 no trump.  West leads the Heart king.   Before you read on, count your tricks and decide how you will play the hand.
Your sure trick count is 7 (2 spades, 1 heart and 4 clubs).  You need two tricks to make the contract.  The diamond suit will give you the needed tricks, but in order to establish those tricks you will have to force out the opponents’ ace.  Now you must think about the opening lead.  How many hearts do you think west has? It is likely that he has 4, 5, or 6. In addition, west probably has the K Q and J of the suit.  If west has 4 hearts you are safe because after you win with the ace, the defense can take three heart tricks and the ace of diamonds.  This will leave you with nine tricks and your contract in hand.  However, if west had 5 hearts, your contract is in jeopardy, because the defense can take 4 hearts and the ace of diamonds to set your contract by one trick.  Now here’s an important bridge play.  If you count the hearts you will see that if west has five hearts, east has three.  Therefore you will hold up your ace until the third heart is played.  Now you must hope that east has the ace of diamonds.  If that is the case, east will win a diamond but has no hearts to lead to west.  The defense will take three tricks (2 hearts and 1 diamond).  You will make your contract with an overtrick.

This hold-up play is a common strategy for bridge play.  You might note that it was a bit lucky to find the east with the ace of diamonds.  Obviously, if west held the diamond ace, the contract would have been defeated.  This illustrates an important bridge axiom, “If the only way you can accomplish your objective is for the cards to lie in a certain way, play for them to be that way.”
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