Bridge Lecture for ACBL Hearts Ch6 (April 17, 2017)

Our chapter for today — ACBL’s Heart Series, 2nd Ed., Ch. 6 — explains how to take defensive tricks in several ways. Defenders can take sure tricks immediately, promote or establish slow tricks, finesse 50:50 tricks, and ruff shortage tricks. The chapter also reviews some aspects of bidding and play. You may download this lesson in one of the two following formats:

  1. Paragraph: ACBL Hearts Ch6 Para
  2. Outline: ACBL Hearts Ch6 Note.docx
Sure Tricks

Concept: A sure trick is a Quick Trick (QT). This is a trick that a Declarer would count as an immediate winner when planning the play. QT are the ranking cards in their suits. In a NT contract, all ranking cards are sure tricks. In a suit contract, Defenders generally will not win more than two sure tricks in a suit before Declarer ruffs. Defenders will run their sure tricks as soon as Defenders have developed sufficient tricks to set the contract.


Long Suit: Bridge considers any 4c+ holding to be long, as such holdings have the potential to promote their lowest cards into Low Card Tricks (LCT). The correct long-suit strategy for a bridge partnership is to play the winners in the short-hand first, before crossing to the long-hand to run the remainder of the tricks. This means that when the first partner (P1) leads a suit, the second partner (P2) must isolate their lowest card. P2 will reserve their lowest card as their final entry into P1’s hand. In notrumps, P1 will always lead a long suit.

Sequence to Unblock

Dummy Plays High: Holding a doubleton, P2 always plays high on P1’s lead. Holding a tripleton or longer, P2 plays 3rd hand high, unless Dummy or P1 is already high, in which case P2 shows attitude. On the next round, P2 will give count. P2 will save their lowest card for last.

Dummy Plays Low: P2 has an obligation to capture any high cards in Dummy. If Dummy retains a potential winner, then P2 must retain a higher card. P2 should not allow Dummy to establish a winner. That is, even though P2 may want to unblock, their priority remains to guard against any potential winners in Dummy. Unblocking is a high but not highest priority.

Suit Doubleton: In a suit contract, P2 can win a trick by playing high or by ruffing. Guarding Dummy’s honors is not a priority whenever P2 still has trumps as substitutes. P2 does not want to strand winners in P1’s hand. P2 must not win the 2nd trick from a doubleton. Therefore, P2 should play high on the 1st trick, then lead low on the return card. P1 will observe the Hi-Lo sequence, and lead a 3rd round for P2 to ruff.


Trap Declarer: If P2 can win the lead, then P2 usually plays 3rd hand high. P2 will play the bottom card from their ranking sequence, or the top card if it is not part of a sequence. Otherwise, P2 signals how P1 should play the 2nd card. P2 signals with a T98 to show they can take the next trick. P2 signals with a 432 to show they do not have any such ranking cards. This technique is required in Hands 6-1 and 6-3.

Action by P1: Seeing a T98, P1 will play low on their 2nd lead. Seeing a 432, and holding a tenace, P1 will switch suits so that P2 can lead the suit through Declarer’s strength. If P2 can get in the lead, the partnership can use P1’s tenace to trap any honors in Declarer’s hand. Note that P2 might not have a perfect T98 or 432 signal, so a card very close to these (say a J or 5) might be P2’s best attempt to signal. Also, P2 holding a T2 doubleton might be playing the T as top of a doubleton rather than as a favorable attitude signal.

Promoted Tricks

Concept: A high card rises to sure-trick status when all higher cards are exhausted. For example, the play of an A promotes a K, the play of an AK promotes a Q, and so forth. Generally high cards are promoted to sure tricks while low cards are established as sure tricks. A Defender (or Declarer) with high intermediates must pay close attention to which cards fall; this will tell when their high intermediates are promoted to winners.

Sequence: P2 plays their cards the same as if they were unblocking. This is count from a doubleton, and attitude from a tripleton. The signals can be hard for P1 to interpret.

Established Tricks

Concept: A low card rises to sure-trick status when all higher cards are exhausted. This sounds like promotion. When a suit is first led, the Ace is the highest of the 13 cards in the suit. On the 2nd round, a card such as the K will be the highest of the remaining cards in the suit. If one player starts with four cards in a suit, that player might establish one low card, say the 2, after playing three rounds. If the same player starts with five cards in the suit, that player might establish two low cards, say the 32, after playing the same three rounds.

Choice of Suits: The LHO chooses the suit that the partnership will establish. If P2 has bid, this might be P2’s bid suit. Otherwise, this is P1’s longest and strongest suit. P2 should not switch to a different suit without solid evidence that P1’s suit cannot be developed. For example, a Dummy holding KQJx might be persuasive evidence that the suit cannot be developed by Defenders.

Choice of Cards: While LHO picks the initial lead, P2 must pick the return card. P2 wins the first trick with the bottom of a sequence, plays top of a doubleton (Hi-Lo) whether winning or not, and signals middle of a tripleton (MUD, aka Lo-Hi) if feasible. By feasible, P2 means the U card isn’t 3rd hand high, and the M card shows the correct attitude.

Ducking: Defenders should never allow Declarer to win the last trick or tricks in a suit developed by Defenders. As Will Rogers might say, if the last trick isn’t a winner for Defenders, then Defenders shouldn’t “buy” it. Instead, Defenders duck one or more of the previous tricks so that Declarer “buys” or wins the early tricks. Defenders lose tricks early if necessary to maintain entry to their long hand. Once the tricks are established, Defenders can run them (“buy” them in our analogy). This technique is required in Hand 6-2.

Card Retention: Again, P1 picks the Defenders’ primary suit. Once P1 has selected the primary suit, P2 must keep two types of cards. These are winners in other suits, and entry cards to P1’s suit. Sometimes P2 will be squeezed so it isn’t possible to do both. But until getting squeezed, P2 should keep winners in side suits and entries to partner’s chosen suit.

Finessed Tricks

Concept: Either partner can attempt a finesse. RHO should assume Declarer holds a tenace in any of Dummy’s weak suits. LHO can see the tenaces in Dummy’s hand. Defenders should lead through these tenaces up to partner’s strength. Of course, partner’s hand can’t be seen, but Defenders can imagine what their partner must hold if they are to defeat the contract.

Signal: If LHO leads a suit in which both Dummy and RHO are weak, RHO must signal their attitude (weak) by playing low. When RHO gains the lead by winning a side suit, RHO should return to the weak suit. RHO’s lead from this suit will go through Declarer’s concealed strength.

Choice of Suits: There are two ways for your partnership to have a finesse. LHO can see that Dummy has a tenace, and imagine that RHO holds the gap card. RHO might not be able to account for three honors, so imagines that Declarer holds two of these unseen honors as a tenace and LHO holds the third unseen honor as the gap card. As Defenders, your partnership must lead into these seen and imagined tenaces.

Ruffed Tricks

Concept: With shortage and trumps, Defenders can ruff. This concept is unusual because generally Declarer pulls Defenders’ trumps before Defenders get a ruff or crossruff. Still, the concept is possible. To work, P1 must make a highly unusual lead, P1 must have a stopper in trumps or some other early winner, P2 must recognize the lead as a singleton, P2 must signal any Ace holding as a suit preference, P1 must win the lead early, P1 must lead to P2’s Ace, and P2 must lead back in P1’s void. That is a lot to happen in one hand. Still, it is possible.

Overruff: Even though P2 can ruff, Declarer may overruff. P1 should count how many cards are extant. If P1 wants P2 to ruff, P1 should lead low, forcing P2 to ruff if the partnership is to win the trick. If P1 knows that Declarer is void, P1 should lead high, alerting partner that a ruff is neither needed nor wanted. Leading high is a forcing defense, in which Declarer is stripped of trumps so that Defenders can win their Low Card Tricks.

Short Suit: In trumps, either partner may lead shortage such as a doubleton/singleton (d/s) at their first opportunity. However, they succeed in getting a ruff only if they have an entry to partner’s hand. When P1’s lead seems unusual in that Dummy and P2 are long in the lead suit, P2 should give suit preference. P1 has an obvious short suit. P1 will use the suit-preference signal to reach P2’s hand. P2 will then return the short suit to give a ruff to P1.This technique is required in Hand 6-4.

Review of Bidding
Overcalls and Takeout Doubles
Bids Requirements
Overcall of 1m/M 8-16 HCP, 5c+ suit
Overcall of 2m/M 11+ HCP, 6c+ suit
Takeout Double (TOX) 10+ HCP, 3c+ unbid suits
Overcall of 1NT 15-18 HCP, balanced, stoppers in Opps’ suits
Advancer’s Bids after an Overcall
  1. Advancer is Min (8-9 PVP1): Bid a new suit at the 1-level; raise Overcaller’s suit to the 2-level; bid 1NT with 8-11 HCP.
  2. Advancer is Med+ (10+ PVP): Bid a new suit cheaply; cuebid for partner to pick how high; bid 2NT with 12-15 HCP; bid game with shortage in Opps’ suit; bid 3NT with 16+ HCP.
Advancer’s Bids after a Takeout Double (TOX)
  1. Advancer is Min (0-8 PVP): Bid a 4c+ M/m cheaply. After a TOX, Advancer must show both “which suit” and “which strength.”
  2. Advancer is Med (9-11 PVP): Jump in a 4c+ M/m; bid 1NT with 8-10 HCP and stoppers in Opps’ suits.
  3. Advancer is Max (12+ PVP): Bid 2NT with 11-12 HCP and stoppers in Opps’ suits; bid 3NT with 13+ HCP and stoppers in Opps’ suits; jump to game; cuebid for partner to pick how high.
Overcaller’s Rebids (not from AG)
  1. Overcaller is Min (8-14 HCP): If Advancer is a medium, raise a previously bid suit. If Advancer has bid NT, raise to the level of the partnership’s combined points. If neither, pass.
  2. Overcaller is Med+ (15-16 HCP): Find a game.
Doubler’s Rebids
  1. Doubler is Min (13-15 PVP): Pass if Advancer does not jump; bid game if combined points are 25+.
  2. Doubler is Med (16-18 PVP): Raise if Advancer does not jump; bid game if Advancer jumps. [nb: A Doubler generally does not bid again, hence this second bid shows Doubler has more than just an opening hand.]
  3. Doubler is Max (19-21 PVP): Jump raise if Advancer does not jump; bid game if Advancer jumps.
Review of Declarer Play: (This review is NOT Defense! It is about the Declarer.)

Preserving an Entry: In a suit that can be run, promoted, or developed, a Declarer should play from the short side first. If both sides are short with ranking cards, Declarer shouldn’t lead the suit, rather keep the suit for entries to both hands. Declarer might have only one suit to play, as Declarer will not want to develop Defender’s suit (the suit played during the opening lead), not want to continue in trumps once Defenders are void, and not want to waste a short suit that has precious entries.

Creating an Entry: Declarer uses promotion or development to create an entry. Declarer must remember to keep a lower card in the other hand, so that the low card can be led to the high-ranking entry card. With very careful play, Declarer can often pull trumps while simultaneously creating an entry. Declarer does this by keeping one or more high trumps in the hand that needs entries, or by creating a void and then ruffing the void suit in the hand that needs an entry.


Key Topics: Defenders can take sure tricks immediately, promote or establish slow tricks, finesse 50:50 tricks, and ruff shortage tricks. Bidders can be disruptive with overcalls (~8-16 HCP), takeout doubles (~11 HCP), and rebids after a TOX (~16 HCP). A Declarer needs entries, which can include short-suit high cards, trumps, and long-suit low cards.

  1. Best eBridge: Log on, then choose Defense. You can then choose between Levels (1-6) or Techniques (Basic, Signals, Advanced). This would imply that BeB treats Signals as an Intermediate topic. There are approximately 150 hands. On each, you choose your next card to play based on your hand and the bidding. Click on Solution and you can see a play-by-play analysis of how Defenders could have set the contract.
  2. Best eBridge Login: Here is a link to Best e Bridge where you can go and practice what you learn —
Tests of Comprehension
  1. QT: For a test on LHO’s leads, go to Exercise One.
  2. Promotion: For a test on RHO’s play, go to Exercise Two.
  3. Long Suits: For a test on RHO’s play, go to Exercise Three.
  4. Finesse: For a test on the sequence of play, go to Exercise Four.
  5. Traps: For a test on who leads a frozen suit, go to Exercise Five.
  6. Ruffs: For a test on recognizing a singleton lead, go to Exercise Six.
  7. Review of Bidding: For a test on disruptive bids, go to Exercise Seven.
  8. Review of Play: For a test on counting entries, go to Exercise Eight.
 Hands to Play, from Hearts = “ACBL Defense in the 21st Century” (404p)
Deck Hands Declarer Dealer Bid Lead Hints
Hearts P. 268 #6-1 W N 3NT 5 A
Hearts P. 270 #6-2 N E 3NT 9♦ B
Hearts P. 272 #6-3 E S 4♥ A C
Hearts P. 274 #6-4 S W 2♥ 2 D
  • A: W=13 PVP[i] . E=15 PVP. West (W) holds 13 HCP + (0LP or 0DP). East (E) holds 12 HCP + (2LP or 3DP). E overcalls 2C, showing a hand with opening values and probably a 6cm. W has a miserable 4-3-3-3 shape so knows that a suit contract will not play well. W jumps to 3NT with stoppers. N has a nice 5cM but no sequence, so leads 4th best. South signals a ranking honor. Declarer has 10 tricks after driving out the A♣, so wins the lead and plays clubs until the Ace wins. N wins and leads towards the Q♠. Declarer is trapped. Down 1. (-50 nv)
  • B: N=16 PVP. S=9.5 PVP. North (N) holds 16 HCP + (0LP or 0DP). South (S) holds 9 HCP + (1LP or 1DP). N overcalls 1NT, showing 15-18 HCP with stoppers. S with no JTB or Stayman options goes to 3NT. E leads top of doubleton in W’s suit. Declarer has 9 tricks if the A♣, A, and K can be outed. W ducks the lead. W forces out the A♣, but this puts Defenders in the lead for 6 tricks. Down 2. (-100 nv)
  • C: E=13 PVP. W=14 PVP. E holds 12 HCP + (1LP or 1DP). W holds 11 HCP + (0LP or 3DP). W starts with a TOX, showing 8 HCP and a desire to be Dummy. E bids game in 4. W is not a max, so passes. S leads top of sequence, and N discourages to show no honor cards. Dummy has a tenace, so S continues by leading a through Dummy’s strength. N wins and returns a ♠, trapping Declarer’s Q♠. Down 1. (-50 nv)
  • D: S=9 PVP. N=13 PVP. N holds 12 HCP + (0LP or 1DP). S holds 9 HCP + (0LP or 1DP). N doubles, showing an opening hand. E makes a lead-directing bid. S bids 2, a 4cM. AP. W leads E’s suit, playing a card that cannot be a doubleton. W wins and returns the suit for a ruff. W also signals a entry. E returns a . Defenders take 5 tricks. Making. (+110 nv)

Student Notes: (nb: The latest version of ACBL Hearts Ch6 Note may be downloaded at

_ _ _ _ _ _

1PVP: Partnership Valuation Points = HCP + Length Points (for Declarer) + Dummy Points (for Responder). Declarer’s PVP = their HCP + their Length Points. Responder’s PVP = their HCP + their Dummy Points. All points discussed in this paper are PVP unless they are specially identified as HCP only.

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