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Copyright 2003 by John Strichman (all rights reserved)

John Strichman is the author of
by JohnGalt Strichman

Valley Publishing - Boulder, Colorado


In the following situation, you have made the correct decision to attempt to set the cover bid, what card should you lead in order to start the attack?

Score: Your Team 243
Opps 232

    North 3      
West 4         East 0  
    SOUTH 5

4 6 9 K
10 Q
5 8 K A
6 J K
If you lead any card other than the Queen of Hearts, you are making a mistake.


If, when trying to set the Nil cover bid, you lead the highest card or cards in your hand, you are failing in your setting attempts more frequently than necessary, and you and your pard are losing more Spades games than you should.

The easiest way to understand why the Dishonorable Discharge is the most successful approach for setting the Nil cover bid is to imagine yourself in the place of the covering opponent. At the start of the hand the covering pone is focused almost entirely on covering his partner's Nil bid. He is evaluating his strengths and his weaknesses, and trying to figure out how to work around his weaknesses in such a way as to insure his partner safe cover.

If he has any low cards in suits where he has three or four cards, he will be very eager to safely unload them if provided the opportunity. This is especially true if he has not had the chance to see what his partner's highest card is in any of those suits.

For example, if he is holding the Ace, King, 4, and 2 of Hearts, he will be looking for some way to safely unburden himself of the 2 and the 4. Similarly, if he has the Ace and two small Clubs, he will be looking for some way to get rid of the low Clubs without placing his partner's bid at risk.

Invariably, if a low honor is led directly into the cover pard on the first trick of a Nil hand, he will use that opportunity to dump a small card in that suit. If you and your partner have an understanding that such a lead indicates a decision to attempt to set the cover bid, he will also play low under your lead. As a result, you will immediately be provided with a trick that you did not bid, and what in this case was a 12 bid hand will have been, for all intents and purposes, turned into a 13 bid hand.

Once again you will be in the lead, and you should, once again, use the same strategy. If on the first trick the Nil bidder played a relatively high Heart (say the Jack or the 9), you should lead the 10 of Hearts. The cover pard may be so concerned about his pard's Heart holding that he will once again duck your lead. If he does so, you are almost guaranteed of the cover set, and even if he takes the trick you are now prepared to trump the next round of Hearts if necessary.

Another possibility if you lead the 10 of Hearts on trick 2 is that the cover pard is sitting there with the King of Hearts but not the Ace. If this is the case, he will be placed in the impossible position of trying to figure out how to win his King without potentially losing it to your partner's Ace.

If on trick 1 the Nil bidder plays a low Heart, indicating that his partner does not have to worry about covering him in Hearts, switch your lead on trick 2 to the Jack of Clubs. Once again, it would be very unusual for the covering pard to risk playing the Queen or the Ace over your Jack unless he has a very strong and long Club holding. When he does not cover your Jack, your partner will let it go through just like the Heart Queen on trick 1, and your set of the cover bid will virtually be assured.

This approach of leading a high, but not the highest, honor into the covering opponent will almost always result in his being faced with a substantial approach/avoidance dilemma, and he will almost always succumb to the fear of not being able to cover the Nil bid if he takes your honor with his honor. Consequently, 'dis' low honor that you lead on the first trick will be able to successfully lead 'dis' charge against the cover bid in the vast majority of hands where your goal is to set the covering opponent's bid.

Is the Dishonorable Discharge really that important? Here is what happened on the hand in this example.

South made the correct lead of the Queen of Hearts. It turned out that West had the Ace, King, and 3 of Hearts (West had counted his two high Hearts, Ace of Clubs, and one Spade as winners).

West dumped his 3 of Hearts on the first trick… North played the 4… and East played the Jack.

On the next trick, South led the 10 of Hearts… West won the trick with the Ace… North played the 6… and East played the nine.

West then led the King of Hearts… North followed suit… so did East… and South won the trick by trumping with the 4 of Spades.

South then cashed his Ace and King of Diamonds, and his third lead of Diamonds was won by North's Queen.

North/South now had won two tricks that the team did not count in its bid, the Queens of Hearts and Diamonds. From this point the set of the cover bid was routine. West won only his Ace of Hearts, Ace of Clubs, and one Spade trick, and covered his partner's Nil.

North/South scored 82 points on the hand while East/West scored only 60, and North/South went on to win the game. If South had started the hand by leading his high Diamonds and then followed by leading a low Club or low Heart, West most likely would have not only covered the Nil bid but made his own bid as well, and North/South probably would have gone on to lose the game.

If you are not using the Dishonorable Discharge when leading into the covering opponent, you are frequently losing the chance to set the cover bid, and needlessly losing Spades games as a result.

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