By Neil Petrie
This lesson can deal with only a few of many types of safety plays. Taking a SAFETY PLAY is to ensure one’s contract against the worst possible distribution of the opponents’ cards. There are basically two types of safety plays: 1) those that guard against adverse breaks without sacrificing any advantage, and 2) those plays that deliberately sacrifice a trick that might possibly be won in order to guard against the loss of two tricks.
This latter type of safety play is controversial since matchpoint duplicate play rewards those who may make overtricks rather than those who ensure their contracts. Good bridge technique requires ensuring contracts rather than risking them. Despite this fact, one hears that safety plays should only be made at imp scoring or rubber bridge scoring, while one needs to go all out to gain a top board at matchpoints. Thus it is simply a fact that matchpoint scoring encourages risks that are counter to sound technical play.
Here is an end position from a hand played at a recent club game that illustrates the problem. The contract is 4 hearts. Two tricks have been lost. Trumps are gone except for the last trump in dummy, and the rest of the contract hinges on the side diamond suit. How do you play this suit?
Declarer’s remaining cards: Dummy:
The “normal” play of the king followed by a finesse to the jack will yield all the tricks if queen third is onside: making five. What if the jack loses to a doubleton queen offside? A black suit return locks declarer in dummy. When the diamond ten fails to fall under the ace, a second diamond trick is lost and the contract goes down. But what matchpoint player will want to make the technically correct safety play of the ace first, followed by a small one to the king, and a third diamond toward the remaining J9? This will ensure 3 tricks and the contract unless there are four diamonds to the Q10 behind dummy. And it actually loses nothing or gains if east has the doubleton 10 or Q.
PROVIDING FOR THE 4-0 BREAK: Safety plays that give up nothing.
1. Axxx KQxxx
2. A10xx KQ98x
3. A9xx KQ8xx
NINE-CARD FITS MISSING THE Q(J): Using the principle of restricted choice.
1. 98x AK10xxx
2. A10xx K98xx
3. KJxx A9xxx
EIGHT-CARD FITS MISSING TWO HONORS: You must first determine how many tricks you need in these suits (or how greedy you are for all of them since these plays deliberately concede a trick to avoid the possibility of losing two in the event of a 4-1 break).
1. Jxx AK9xx
2. 10xx AK8xx
3. xxx AQJxx
REFUSING A FINESSE TO AVOID A RUFF AND MANAGING DUMMY TO AVOID AN EXTRA LOSER:
The contract is 4 spades, with left-hand opponent having over called 2 clubs. Opening lead is the club Q. Plan the play.
Declarer: AQ10xx Dummy: J9xx
Here is a slightly different problem that requires a careful decision at trick one.
Declarer: KJ10xx Dummy: Qxxx
A SAFETY PLAY TO AVOID TWO LOSERS IN A COMMON TRUMP SUIT:
How do you play this suit for all the tricks? How do you play it to avoid two losers (if possible)?
AQ109xx(x) Assume a nine-card fit, either 7-2 or 6-3.
DUCKING SAFETY PLAYS TO MAINTAIN COMMUNICATION:
Assume that these suits are in a dummy that contains no outside entries. In the first example, you lead toward dummy and the jack pops out. In the second example, a small card comes out when you lead toward dummy.
1. AK10xxxx xx
2. AKJ9xxx xx
Here is an example of an opportunity to make a spectacular safety play. Your contract is 4 hearts. Rather than cash two spade winners, the defense starts with the King of diamonds. If hearts and clubs behave, you’ll take the rest of the tricks! Plan your play.
Declarer: xxx Dummy: xx
FINALLY, HERE ARE TWO EXAMPLES OF SAFETY PLAYS, ONE AT NO-TRUMP AND ONE IN A SUIT CONTRACT THAT ARE NEEDED TO AVOID THE DANGEROUS HAND:
1. The contract is 3NT (forget about the fact that 5 clubs may be a superior spot. You, after all, are a matchpoint player looking for the extra points in no-trump). You receive the expected spade lead, winning the 9 with the jack. If you can find the minor queens, you’ll wrap up all the tricks for a sure top! Plan the play.
Declarer: KJx Dummy: x
2. The contract is 4 hearts. The opening lead is the spade Q. Plan the play. Hint: as always, count your tricks carefully, both potential winners and losers.
Declarer: Ax Dummy: Kx