Bridge Defense Summary

This page is a summary of the ACBL series on Defense.

Opening Leads Against NT Contract

When you are on lead against a notrump contract, use the following guideline:
    • If partner has bid a suit, lead it:
      • Lead the top card if you have a doubleton, e.g. 10-6 or K-9
      • Lead the top of touching honors, e.g. Q-J-7
      • With no sequence, lead low, e.g. Q-9-4
    • Otherwise, lead your longest suit (unless it was bid by the opponents)
      • Lead the top of touching honors from a 3-card sequence, a broken sequence, or an interior sequence, e.g. K-Q-J-3-2, Q-J-9-6-4, K-J-10-8.
      • With no sequence, lead four highest, e.g.  Q-10-8-3, K-J-6-5-4
    • With a choice of suits:
      • Lead the stronger.
      • Lead the unbid suit.
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    Opening Leads Against Trump Contract

    Use the following guidelines when choosing a suit to lead against a trump contract:
    • If your partner has bid, lead his/her suit.
    • If you have a strong sequence such as Q-J-10-4 lead this in preference to leading low from an honor.
    • Lead an unbid suit.
    • Lead a short suit when partner is likely to be able to give you a ruff before the trumps are drawn.
    • Lead a trump when declarer is likely to want to ruff losers in dummy or when all other leads are unattractive.
    • Lead a long suit when you, or perhaps your partner, have four or more trumps.
    When choosing the card to lead:
    • Lead the top card from a doubleton, e.g. 7-2, Q-5
    • Lead the top of touching honors, e.g. K-Q-8-3-2, Q-J-3
    Leading from three small cards:
    • Partnerships vary on strategy:
      • Top of nothing, e.g. 8-6-2, a disadvantage of this is that this is the same lead that would be made with a doubleton or even a singleton, or
      • Middle, Top, Down (MUD), e.g. 6-8-2. The disadvantage of this is that it supplies little information of value early on, or
      • Lead small from three or more, e.g. 8-6-2, 8-6-3-2.  Little information is provided to partner, however, the declarer is likewise kept guessing.  Preferred.
    Leading from the Ace and the King
    • Partnerships vary on strategy:
      • Some lead the King when holding the Ace and King.  The advantage of this is the knowledge that the king is missing with the Ace is lead.  The disadvantage is that the King lead might indicate the top of a sequence instead of the holder of the Ace.
      • Some lead the Ace promising the King.  Discuss with new partner and be consistent.
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    Third-Hand Play

    Things to remember when you are the third to play:
    • When your partner leads to a trick and you are the third person to play to the trick, a useful guide is third hand high. 
    • When you are the last player on your side to contribute a card to a trick, you want to try to win the trick for your side, if possible; otherwise, you want to help promote winners in your partner's hand.
    • You need to play as high a card as necessary to try to win the trick.  With a choice of equal (touching) cards, play the lowest.
    • If your partner plays a high card which will win the trick, you don't need to play a higher unless you have to unblock the suit by overtaking partner's card.
    • When deciding how high a card it's necessary to play as third hand, try to keep the opponents' high cards trapped whenever possible.  If the second hand has a high card which isn't played and you have both a higher card and a lower card which might win the trick, play the lower card.

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    Second-Hand Play

    Things to remember when you are the second to play on a trick:
    • When you are 2nd  behind a low card play from either the declarer or the dummy, a useful guideline is to play second hand low.  Your partner will play last on the trick and you do not want to waste your high card capturing only low cards from both sides.  Ideally, aces are for capturing kings, and kings are for capturing queens.
    • There are exceptions:
      • You don't want to play a low card if it will allow declarer to win trick too cheaply.  With a strong holding in the suit, you may want to split your honors e.g. K-Q-J-3.
      • You don't want to play second hand low if  you could defeat the contract by playing high.
      • If declarer leads a high, you should generally cover an honor with an honor if you have a higher card.  You should do this only if it is likely to produce a trick for your side.  If declarer leads from touching high cards in the dummy, wait to cover the last high lead.
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    Defensive Signals

    Since the defenders can't see each other's hands, they must try to communicate information about their strength and distribution through the use of defensive signals.  They have the opportunity to give a signal whenever they have a choice of cards to play to a trick.  The types of signals the defenders can use, in order of priority are:
    • Attitude Signals -- When you want to tell partner whether or not you like a particular suit, a high card is an encouraging signal, and a low card is a discouraging signal.
      • You can only use an attitude signal when you have a choice of cards to play. If partner plays a low card, and opponents play low, you can't signal because in the 3rd position you are forced to play a high card.  On the other hand, if the second hand played the ace, you might be able to signal assuming you have a high and low card choice.
      • Sometimes a high card may not be very high.  If you have only low cards, go ahead and choose the highest to encourage.  An alert partner may recognize that lower cards were likely available for you.
      • When you hold a doubleton in your partner's suit, a high card discard may lead to a ruff.
      • Attitude signals can be given to encourage the lead of a new suit.
      • Be consistent and always consider your discards with respect to attitude.
      • Partners must work together.  Be alert to your partner's attitude signals.  When you  play with different partners, this is a subject that should be discussed.

    • Count Signals -- When you want to tell partner how many cards you hold in a suit, a high card followed by a low card shows an even number of cards, a low card followed by a high card shows an odd number of cards.Both partners will need to be aware of which type of signal the situation calls for. 
      • In signaling, attitude always has priority, so a count signal can only be given when attitude is clearly established or known. 

    • Suit-Preference Signals -- When partner will have a choice of leading one of two suits, a high card shows preference  for the higher ranking suit, and a low card shows a preference for the lower-ranking suit.
    Both partners will need to be aware of which type of signal the situation calls for. While one partner is doing the signaling, the other partner must be watching the cards played by partner in order to receive the signal.

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    Developing Defensive Tricks

    The defenders want to develop and take their tricks using the same techniques as declarer.  They are hampered by not being able to see their combined holdings in each suit.  However, the defenders can overcome much of this disadvantage through the use of signals and by trying to visualize the layout of a suit based on the auction and the way the play has gone.

    When taking their winners, the defenders must be careful not to block a suit when it's unevenly divided between the two hands.  The hand with the fewer cards needs to have a low card, rather than a high card, as the last card left in the suit.  One defender may have to unblock the suit by overtaking partner's high card.  At other times, a defender may have to lead a low card to partner's winner(s) in the short hand before taking the winners in the long hand.  More on blocking

    The defenders also must try to maintain communication between the two hands when developing tricks.  They may have to take their losses early by ducking a trick to keep an entry to the long suit and to avoid stranding their winners.

    The defenders must cooperate to take finesses and trap declarer's and dummy's high cards.  A useful guide is lead through strength and lead up to weakness.  By leading through the high cards held on your left and up to the low cards held on  your right, you give partner a chance to get tricks with high cards when they are favorably placed.
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    Interfering with Declarer
    The defenders want to develop their own tricks, but whenever possible, they also want to prevent declarer from developing tricks. The defenders must watch to see what the declarer is trying to do and look for ways to thwart those plans.

    When declarer is trying to develop tricks in a long suit, the defenders can make use of the holdup play, refusing to take their winner(s) until declarer's are stranded.  The defenders also can attack declarer's entries to try to drive them out before declarer is ready to use them.  More

    When discarding, the defenders must be careful to prevent declarer from winning undeserved tricks with low cards.  In general, the defenders must work together, so that at least one of them keeps enough cards in each suit to prevent declarer's low cards from becoming established.  The defenders will have to share the responsibility, with one defender guarding a suit that the other can't protect.  Since declarer's cards are hidden, the defenders must listen to the bidding and watch each other's signals for clues as to which cards to keep.

    When declarer is taking finesses, the defenders should avoid taking their winners before they have to, keeping declarer in doubt as to the location of the missing cards.

    When defending trump contracts, the defenders must look for ways to prevent declarer from ruffing losers in the dummy, either by leading trumps or by being in a position to overruff the dummy.  The defenders also should look for opportunities to promote tricks for their side whenever possible.

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