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When you realise its time to concentrate on defence for a while

#1 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-January-10, 23:08

Dear all

Hoping for some defensive pointers from the collected brains trust around here. We (I) often tend to spend so much time working on bidding and declarer play, and possibly leads, that much of defence is often ignored beyond basic discards at beginner level. This is made worse by the emphasis on declarer play in hands on here, but also the bias towards declarer play and bidding on training sites. In the following hand I started to analyse what went wrong (as I do for all bad IMP scores) by allowing this contract to make when most people successfully brought it down the requisite 1 trick. When you see the full hand there are clearly enough diamonds to bring it down. How should I have known that diamonds was the suit to protect in Souths hand. North had discarded two diamonds and a club. I erroneously discarded a low diamond on 8th trick when I should have discarded a small club.

What should a defender be looking for in order to decide which of the Queens to protect

regards P



PS Has anyone ever considered having more defense focussed competitions. We have just declare hands on BBO. I think a just defend tourney would be good too for those of us who enjoy that aspect of bridge. I often prefer the challenge of defence to being a declarer

PPS Does anyone know if anyone has analysed if it is easier (cognitively) to be a declarer or defender. ie in terms of visualising the hidden hands. Theoretically the number of hidden cards is the same but it could be more complex visualising a declarer+partner rather than the declarer just visualising two defenderd
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#2 User is offline   Stephen Tu 

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Posted 2019-January-11, 01:07

Defense is definitely harder for most people. It requires cooperation and trust between partners and is hard to develop vs. robots who in general defend poorly and have no concept of defensive signalling. Still it is useful to develop some raw defensive skills in practicing with a partner who has no idea how to signal like a robot, as occasionally you may get stuck with human partner who doesn't know a lot and it's good to be able to defend on first principles with minimal information, and try to control partner from going wrong.
For defense, you basically have to count everything, and build inferences from partner's lead, signalling (not available with bots), and from declarer's play. You should assume that declarer is playing in a logical manner and defend accordingly. From the lead you know partner has nothing in spades, and in course of play it is clear that declarer is 45(??) at the time you have to make the crucial discard. Now note that declarer had solid spades and 2 entries to dummy. But didn't use them to lead clubs (or diamonds for that matter). So think about how you would declare. If you had a holding such as Kx or KJ or KJX or AJx or AKJ of clubs, wouldn't you use an entry to try a club lead up to your hand? So you should think that declarer does not have such a club holding, and more likely stiff honor or AK doubleton or Ax, some holding that doesn't gain from leading from dummy.

Also you should discount partner having stiff or AK of either minor since he didn't lead either of them. So probably declarer is not AKQJ Txxxx x AKx either. So you don't need to keep all 3 clubs since it doesn't seem declarer has that.

The QT of diamonds are clearly important over dummy's jack, especially after partner seems to be ditching his diamonds (therefore keeping his clubs), so clearly you should think to pitch clubs. If partner is keeping clubs, you have to keep diamonds.
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#3 User is offline   The_Badger 

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Posted 2019-January-11, 03:47

A good rule of thumb, though it doesn't work on every occasion, is to (try to) keep the same shape as dummy if you are over the dummy. (And try to anticipate declarer's discards if you are under the dummy.)

Easier said than done sometimes. And yes, defence is so overlooked in favour of bidding and declarer play, I feel. I think the magic moments in bridge are not when you and your partner bid a good contract, but where you cooperate fully and pull out of the bag an amazing and winning defence.
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#4 User is offline   rmnka447 

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Posted 2019-January-11, 15:43

Amen, Badger!

Defense is much harder to do well than declaring or bidding. All are important, but if contracts tend to fall evenly among all hands, you're going to be defending twice as much as you'll be declaring (as partner should be declaring about half your contracts). Because of the increased way you can personally affect the play, good defending players are usually winning players.

Counting is vital. But analyzing both how partner and declarer are playing is also critical. Part of that is both looking at what they are doing/did and what they haven't done.

Start with the opening lead. 8 is almost assuredly a doubleton. Why, because if it isn't, the Rule of 11 tells you that from a 4th best lead 3 higher cards are out. From the spot, dummy's holding and your holding, the one remaining higher card in declarer's hand must be an honor which meant partner would have led low from a holding with 3 honors. If the lead is a doubleton, it's likely that partner also holds a high trump card because doubleton leads usually are only good when declarer can't draw one's trump to prevent a ruff. Looking at dummy, that high trump is the A.

So at the opening lead, you are pretty certain opener holds AKQJ along with 5 . That tells you that declarer also has at least 8 tricks when the A is driven out. That's one of the important counts to keep. It's also important to count the tricks your side has and focus on how to get enough tricks to beat the contract.

When partner wins the A, he switches to a passive defense and returns a trump. What didn't partner do? Partner didn't lead from a touching honor combination in a minor such as AK, AK, KQ, or QJ. The trump return also tends to make you think partner has honors in both minors, is reluctant to lead away from them, and give something to declarer.

As declarer runs his major suit tricks, partner discards the 6 first. Could it be a signal of holding an honor? From your holding and dummy, you see that the 3 hasn't been played yet. So it remains a possibility that the 6 shows an honor. On the next lead, partner discards the 9 definitely showing a honor. But without a honor, wouldn't it be likely that partner would flash a high first rather than play 6. Declarer is also discarding from dummy.

So, as you get to the critical discard, it looks like you have to protect against declarer setting up the J in dummy.


A good book to help develop these card reading skills is Mike Lawrence's How to Read Your Opponent's Cards. It do so from declarer's perspective and is a little dated in that it still uses 16-18 NT. But the thinking process it start to develop is invaluable on defense as well.

Also, the two books on defense by Eddie Kantar should be part of every bridge player education. They are Modern Bridge Defense and Advanced Bridge Defense. Modern covers all the basic defending plays in detail so that you fully understand how and when to make them. Advanced covers a lot of the thinking processes that accompany good defense such as starting to develop the distribution of the hand from the bidding, counting tricks, etc. It's well worthwhile for every player below a bona fide (not BBO) expert to read and work through them.
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#5 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-January-11, 23:34

Thanks, everyone for the advice

regards P
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#6 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2019-January-12, 08:14

If you want a shorter and more enjoyable read, there is a rare concentration of wisdom in the chapters about defence in 'The complete book of bridge" by Terence Reese.

View Postrmnka447, on 2019-January-11, 15:43, said:

Defense is much harder to do well than declaring or bidding.

I agree up to a point. Good defence certainly takes longer to achieve than good declaring or good bidding. If the books are few and short, it is probably because it relies heavily on skills which cannot be simply learned by study and then applied but require years of practice to acquire and refine. But it is my experience that the majority of players *do* reach a good level of competence in defence over the years, it just takes time. This is not so true of declaring and quite untrue of bidding, where the majority never become good. I suspect that good bidding requires mathematical and learning abilities which are not as common in the population as are the logic and memory more needed for defence. Declarer play is somewhere in the middle, which is probably why everyone enjoys it, whereas many good defenders have little interest in the auction and vice versa.
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#7 User is offline   rmnka447 

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Posted 2019-January-12, 14:43

View Postpescetom, on 2019-January-12, 08:14, said:

If you want a shorter and more enjoyable read, there is a rare concentration of wisdom in the chapters about defence in 'The complete book of bridge" by Terence Reese.


I agree up to a point. Good defence certainly takes longer to achieve than good declaring or good bidding. If the books are few and short, it is probably because it relies heavily on skills which cannot be simply learned by study and then applied but require years of practice to acquire and refine. But it is my experience that the majority of players *do* reach a good level of competence in defence over the years, it just takes time. This is not so true of declaring and quite untrue of bidding, where the majority never become good. I suspect that good bidding requires mathematical and learning abilities which are not as common in the population as are the logic and memory more needed for defence. Declarer play is somewhere in the middle, which is probably why everyone enjoys it, whereas many good defenders have little interest in the auction and vice versa.


Additionally, there are a few skills required that are not often covered in educational materials, such as ducking smoothly. When you are LHO to declarer and hold Ax in a suit with KJ of the suit in dummy, if can you play low in tempo so as to not reveal your holding, you put declarer to a guess when a low card is led toward dummy from declarer's hand. This is "ducking smoothly". However, if you flinch or hitch in playing your low card, it usually gives away the position to an observant declarer.
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#8 User is offline   gszes 

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Posted 2019-January-13, 16:45

the main thing about defense is imagining declarer's distribution. We know declarer had 5H and 4S so what is minor suit distribution? if they had 1d and 3c that means partner started with 6d and never bid at favorable (unlikely). We cannot trust bot carding but the odds seem strongly against partner having 6d so declarer either had 2d and 2c or 3d and 1c which means we have to cater to declarer having 3d.
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