One of the areas of play that causes lots of trouble for Spaders is how to play consecutively ranked cards.
When you have a run of cards in your hand, such as the 10, Jack, and Queen of a suit, the cards all have the same value to you. They are all higher than the 9 and lower than the King. Anyone of them can win the same trick as any other one.
Some players make the very big mistake of translating this equal value to mean that it doesn’t mater which card they play as long as they are going to play one of them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, because, even though the cards are all the same to you, your partner doesn’t know what cards you have in your hand, and how you choose to play your ordered cards is crucial for communicating critical information to him about your hand.
This month’s column reviews several of the more common situations where how you play your consecutive cards is very important, and in which many players make mistakes which cost them lost bids, lost sets of the opps, and lost games as a result.
There are 3 different areas of play where order play is very important. These are Leading, Underplaying, and Forcing.
Let’s say that you have the Q, J, and 10 of Clubs, and that you want to lead one of them. In a case like this, you should always lead the highest card, which in this example is the Queen.
The reasons for this are primarily 2-fold. First, there is a general convention in Spades that, when you lead an honor, it promises 1 of 2 things…..either you have the card directly under the one led, or you have no more cards in the suit. There are exceptions to this rule, as with most rules, but most often if a player leads the King or the Queen, he should have the Queen or the Jack unless he has no more cards in the suit.
Second, and very important, is to avoid the following occurrence. Say that your partner has the x x x K in the suit that you are leading (here Clubs). If you were to lead the 10, your pard, not knowing that you have the J and Q as well, would be forced to play his King in order prevent the opps from winning a cheap trick. If he did so, the King would be wasted, because West would have had to play the Ace anyway in order to win the trick. Your team would be left with only 2 possible winners in the suit, as opposed to 3 possible if you get to play your cards before your pard plays the King.
This is just one example of how leading from the bottom of a string of cards can force your pard to needlessly waste one of his high cards.
This same approach becomes extremely important when trying to pull the opps trump. Say that you are facing the following situation:
North 5/3 West 4/3 East 1/1 SOUTH 3/2
2 9 10 J
The 5/3 means that North bid 5 and has taken 3 tricks.
The Ace, King and Queen of Spades are still outstanding.
Chances are your pard has 2 of the 3 missing honors. If West has the King, it is very possible that you can pin his King between your honors and your pard’s Ace. You need to offer your pard a finessing attempt by leading the Jack here.
If you lead the Jack and West plays low, your pard can let your card ride, assuming/hoping that East does not have the King. If you were to lead the 9, or even worse the 2, your partner would not be able to take the risk that East had neither the 10, Jack, or King, and have to play his Ace.
Further, and equally as damaging, is that your pard would then be in the lead, and even if he had taken the trick with the Queen, he would then be stuck leading into West’s King, and the chances of setting the opps would be gone unless the King was unprotected and your pard was able to pull it with the Ace.
If you lead the Jack and it goes around the table, lead the 10 for the same reason, unless it is clear to you that the only Spade that your pard has left is the Ace, and then lead the 2 instead.
On bagging hands, the opposite approach should be used.
If you have the 4, 5, and 6 of Diamonds, you should lead the 4. Just as on setting hands where it is important for your pard to know where the high cards are, on bagging hands it is important for him to know where the low cards are.
Say you were to lead the 6 and West played the 3. If your partner had the 2, he could reasonably think that East may have the 4 or the 5, and not want to play the 2 being that it would be for naught. He might save the 2, assuming that your team will have to win this trick no matter what he plays. As long as you show him the 3, he can’t make this mistake.
Say that you have the K, Q, J, 10 of Hearts, and that East leads the Ace.
Here you should play the King. This tells your partner that you have either the Queen or no more hearts, but either way that you have control of the next round of the suit.
If you were to play the 10, he would not know that you had control of the next round of Hearts.
The correct approach is just the opposite when underplaying trump.
Say that you have the Q, J, and 10 of Spades and that East leads the King. Here, you should play the 10. With Spades, having the next highest card or no more cards are 2 very different things. With a sidesuit it promises control of the next round of the suit. With trump, it would promise either control of the next round, or no control of any future trump trick
Think of it this way: If you had only the Queen, you would be forced to play it under the King. This would tell your pard that you had no more Spades. If you play the 10, he can at least hope that you have more trump in your hand.
One notable exception to this rule is if you want to try to fake out the opps. Say that you have the Queen and Jack of Spades, and that East leads the Ace. If it appears that your pard is irrelevant to the remainder of the hand, such that communication with him is of little value, you can play the Queen under the Ace in order to try to trick East into thinking that you have no more Spades, or that you have the King if East does not. If East is easily fooled, he may stop pulling trump and you may be able to sneak in the Jack.
An example of forcing is when you are playing 3rd on a trick, and must play 3rd hand high to keep the opps from winning a cheap trick.
Say that you have the Jack, Queen, and King of hearts. Your pard leads a low Heart and East plays low.
Here, you should play the Jack, You should always force with the lowest card possible The reason is as follows:
If you had, for example, the 3, 7, and King in the suit, you would have to play the King. Playing the King would tell your partner nothing about your hand or West’s hand. Consequently, playing the King never says anything else about your hand when forcing in the 3rd seat.
When you play the Jack and West plays the Ace, it tells your pard 2 things.
First, if West had the Queen or the King, he probably would play the lower one. Doing so would provide his pard with critical information.
Second, your pard can then assign you a decent chance of having at least the Jack or the Queen (if not both) of the suit.
One special case exists when covering Nil bids.
Say that you have the A, K, Q, J, 4 of Clubs and a weak Spade cover.
Start by leading the Club King, not the Ace. If the suit goes around, play the Queen next….etc.
The goal here is to make West think that your pard may have the Ace of the suit. This may cause him to refrain from trumping in if he is out of Clubs, and that will keep one more Spade out there for possible cover for your pard.
If you even have the 10 of the suit or beyond, you can start by leading from the Queen on down. This will add even more uncertainty to the picture.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you will be able to please your pard by playing your cards in the proper order.
GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY SPADING!
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