Making a Defenders’ Plan

Bridge Lecture for ACBL Hearts Ch8 (May 1, 2017)

Our chapter for today — ACBL’s Heart Series, 2nd Ed., Ch. 8 — explains how to make a Defenders’ Plan. While the concept is like what the Declarer does, now there are two Defenders. Each Defender begins by making their own plan based on their hand. The Defenders get additional information as cards are played. The two Defenders signal their attitudes, counts, and preferences to each other. The two Defenders must adjust their individual plans so that they both share a common plan. They continue their defense according to their unified plan. By working together with a unified play, the two Defenders have a chance to set the Declarer. You may download this lesson in one of the two following formats:

  1. Paragraph: ACBL Hearts Ch8 Para
  2. Outline: ACBL Hearts Ch8 Note.doc

Defender’s Plan

PLAN: The acronym “PLAN” stands for Pause to consider the number of tricks the Defenders require in setting the contract, Look at the Defenders’ obvious winners and losers, Analyze where the Defenders might gain additional tricks, and Now implement the Defenders’ plan. Every Defender should consider the 4 steps of PLAN as they jointly decide on their defensive strategy. Since a Defender cannot see their partner’s hand, a Defender must base their initial plan on how they imagine the cards lie based on the bidding and Dummy’s exposed hand.

HCP & Distribution: Many professional players are uncanny in the way they can analyze the bidding to determine each player’s points and distribution. Good Defenders must practice their hand-analysis skill with each auction they defend.

Length & Tricks: If a Defender is long in a suit during a NT contract, both their High Card Tricks and their Low Card Tricks are likely to be winners. If a Defender is short in a side suit during a suit contract, their High Card Tricks are likely to be winners. Declarer in a suit contract will ruff Defenders’ side suits after the 2nd or 3rd rounds.

Techniques: Defenders have a toolbox that includes promoting high cards, establishing low cards, taking finesses, ruffing losers, leading 4th card in NT contracts, leading a sequence in suit contracts, playing 2nd hand low and 3rd hand high, covering an honor, leading through strength up to weakness, trapping Declarer’s honors, and signaling.

LHO’s Plan, Before Seeing Dummy

Total Partnership Holding: Defenders’ best suit in NT might be the one in which they have the most combined cards. LHO on lead will guess this suit from the bidding or from their own hand.

RHO’s Bid: If RHO bid a suit, perhaps as a lead-directing bid, then with nothing better to do the LHO should lead Partner’s suit.

Runnable Suits: A long suit with gaps may not develop as well as a shorter suit that is solid. Whenever a Defender has a short suit that can provide all the tricks they need to set the contract, the Defender should develop the sure short suit rather than the more problematic long suit. If RHO shifts to a sure short suit, then LHO must recognize the shift in the Defenders’ Plan.

Shortage: While it is possible to get ruffs from the lead of a short suit, this is unlikely unless one Defender has a quick entry. Whenever Defenders are without a quick entry, Declarer will pull trumps. Defenders cannot ruff without their trumps. A quick entry might be LHO’s singleton lead in a suit that RHO bid. Another quick entry might be the A or K of trumps. Without such rare features, traditional sequences are better leads.

Defenders’ Unified Plan, After Seeing Dummy

United: Both Defenders will make their own initial plans. For Defenders to be successful, they must quickly come to agreement on which suits to play and from which hand to lead these suits.

Dummy’s Tenace: In any contract, a Defender will need 1 to 7 tricks to set the contract. Dummy’s honor cards may prove that the lead suit cannot be developed prior to Declarer making the contract. If RHO holds a tenace and Dummy holds the gap card, there is hope in setting the contract if LHO can shift to the tenace. LHO won’t know there is a tenace since LHO cannot see RHO’s hand, but based on the visible gap card LHO should imagine the possibility of such a tenace.

Signals: On partner’s lead, a Defender will show attitude. The correct attitude is Hi-Lo for a continuance, Lo-Hi for a shift. On Declarer’s lead, a Defender will show count. The correct count is Hi-Lo for an even number of cards, Lo-Hi for an odd number of cards. On a desired shift, a Defender will show suit preference. The correct preference is high for the highest logical strain, low for the lowest logical strain.

Positive Attitude: If RHO signals enthusiasm about LHO’s lead, then RHO may have shortage or strength in the suit. Dummy will be long if RHO is short; LHO can continue the suit, expecting a ruff from RHO. Dummy will be short or weak if RHO is strong; LHO can play low on the second trick, expecting RHO to win and return the suit.

Negative Attitude: If RHO is not enthusiastic about LHO’s lead, then LHO might shift. RHO’s desired suit is probably a tenace in Dummy, ideally a tenace tripleton (eg, KJx).

Neutral Attitude: If RHO has a defenseless hand, RHO may have nothing informative to signal. If RHO were to make a positive signal, LHO might play low so that RHO could win the trick. If RHO were to make a negative signal, LHO might shift disastrously. A weak RHO should make a positive signal to any lead, as the outcome will likely be better for the team than if LHO shifts.

Weird Stuff

Lead into Strength: In a NT suit, a Defender may not have the time or entries to encourage partner to lead through Dummy’s strength. If Dummy has a 3c suit with high honors, and RHO can trap two of these honors, then RHO should lead low in the suit whenever gaining the lead. LHO will observe the shift in suits. Whenever LHO gains the lead, LHO should lead this new suit, trapping the honors in Dummy. A RHO who starts with a 5c suit can win 4 tricks in the suit; these are the entire suit except for the low card RHO used as a signal.

Second-Hand High: If one Defender is establishing a long suit, that Defender may not have enough entries to run the suit once it is established. While the second Defender still has cards in partner’s suit, the second Defender should win any trick possible, and return a card in the first Defender’s long suit. Second Defender should win even when such play is counterintuitive, such as not playing 2nd Hand Low. Winning in the short hand will accomplish two things — it will help establish the first Defender’s long suit, and it will preserve the first Defender’s entries.

Ruff in Dummy: If LHO has a trump honor that Declarer can finesse successfully in Dummy, the LHO does best by presenting a ruffing “opportunity” to Dummy. This opportunity is a ranking card in one of Dummy’s voids. If Dummy discards, the LHO’s high card wins the trick. If Dummy ruffs, the Dummy’s remaining trumps become too few to finesse LHO’s high trump. Either way, LHO wins a trick.

Review of Bidding

Sacrifice Bidding: With interference, a bidder may have to go higher than they would otherwise. Holding a good suit or good support, but few defensive values, a bidder should overbid for the contract. Declarer may go down a trick for -50, but this is better than opponents making their contract in 2♥ or 2♠, which would give them +110. If opponents bid again, they might get too high and earn the negative score for themselves.

Review of Declarer Play: (This review is NOT Defense! It is about the Declarer.)

To Draw Trumps or Not: A Declarer should draw trumps immediately whenever (1) the contract is safe, (2) the trumps are runnable (ie, Declarer won’t give up the lead), or (3) the Quick Losers are too few to set the contract. A Declarer should not draw trumps immediately whenever (1) the contract is unsafe due to Quick Losers, (2) the trumps are more valuable for other purposes (eg, guarding, ruffing, crossruffing, entries), or (3) the trumps require a finesse (ie, Declarer must delay long enough to cross to Dummy).

Test of Comprehension

  1. Lead Based on Bids: Go to Exercise One. (p. 348). Try 1.
  2. Asking for a Ruff: Go to Exercise Two. (p. 349). Try 1.
  3. Overcalls: Go to Exercise Three. (p. 350). Try 1, 2, 3, 6.
  4. Delay in Trumps: Go to Exercise Four. (p. 351). Try 1.

_ _ _ _ _ _

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.

Hands to Play, from Hearts = “ACBL Defense in the 21st Century” (404p)

Note that we have studied NT, major-suit, and minor-suit bidding, so please bid. However, if you reach a different contract than AG, please play her contract and opening lead. Consider playing the hands as “double dummy” so that everyone at the table can see the offense and defense unfold. If you finish the four hands early, please use the remaining time for dealt hands.

Deck Hands Declarer Dealer Bid Lead Hints
Hearts P. 352 #8-1 E N 4♠ J♦ A
Hearts P. 354 #8-2 W E 4♠ A♥ B
Hearts P. 356 #8-3 S S 3NT J♠ C
Hearts P. 358 #8-4 N W 4♥ T♦ D


A: E=17 PVP[i] . W=12 PVP. East (E) holds 15 HCP + (2LP or 2DP). West (W) holds 11 HCP + (0LP or 1DP). E opens 1. W bids limit raise of 3, showing points and support. E bids 4 game. S leads top of sequence, N plays 3rd Hand high. N switches to , where Dummy has a tenace. N/S win 2 tricks, then win the A♣. Down 1. (-50 nv)

B: W=14 PVP. E=14 PVP. W holds 12 HCP + (2LP or 2DP). E holds 13 HCP + (0LP or 1DP). E opens 1. W bids 1. E shows shape and strength with 1NT. W bids 4 game. N leads top of sequence, S shows negative attitude. N leads again, and S shows suit preference. S takes 2 ♣ tricks. Down 1. (-50 nv)

C: S=6 PVP. N=20 PVP. South (S) holds 6 HCP + (0LP or 1DP). North (N) holds 19 HCP + (1LP or 1DP). N opens 1, with a rebiddable suit and NT distribution. S bids 1NT, showing no major. N jumps to 3NT, showing 19+ points. AP. W leads a sequence, but E discourages. West wins Declarer’s return, switches to which is only possible E suit. Down 1. (-50 nv)

D: N=15 PVP. S=12 PVP. N holds 14 HCP + (1LP or 1DP). S holds 12 HCP + (0LP or 0DP). N opens 1NT, intending to rebid . S bids Stayman, N responds in , and S jumps to 4. E leads top of sequence, W encouraging. N has 9 tricks, must drive out AS or AC. Defenders must play passively, saving their Aces to capture Kings. [Note that if S realizes they have a 4-3-3-3 NT hand, and jumps to 3NT rather than Stayman, this contract makes.] Down 1. (-50 nv)

Student Notes: (nb: The latest version of ACBL Hearts Ch 8 may be downloaded at

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