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Ducking and Unblocking

From David Schokman

As bridge players we are all so guilty of forgetting to use some of the simplest and most effective methods that the game provides for us to use in both attack and defence. I am referring to DUCKING (which we use fairly often) and UNBLOCKING, which almost appears to be a forgotten art! Look at this deal from a recent congress, were everyone in the room, playing any system or convention, should bid to 3NT. Three pairs did not. The lead was always the eight or nine of diamonds. In 3N, 11 pairs made 10 tricks; seven made nine, and four only made eight tricks. Play the hand yourself before reading further.

East Deals
Both Vul
A 10 9 2
A 10 8 7
J 10 7
Q 5 3
Q 4
9 8 7 6 3
A 9 2
K 8 7
J 9 6 3
K 10 4
5 4 3
J 6 4
K 5 2
A 5 2
K Q 8 6

So let's start with the assumption that west leads the nine of diamonds. The queen from dummy; the king from east, and declarer thinks that Christmas has come early, though in reality declarer always has only two diamond tricks on any line of play. This means that you have to lose a diamond trick, so why not lose it early? A smart declarer ducks the first trick. East wins, and now must not be mean and should return the diamond ten, which is won in dummy. As the cards lie there is nothing the defence can do to defeat the contract.

So now let's assume that (a careless) declarer did not duck the first round of diamonds and plays the knave of clubs from dummy. West wins the second round and returns a diamond. Now for the unblocking part. Defenders who are asleep will play the four, forgetting that partner has led the nine, and every higher card is visible to east. I can almost hear you scoffing and saying, "I would not do anything as silly as that". You would not, but it happens. How else would declarer make nine, or even, 10 tricks? So be alert to drop a high card (if it is not a signal) when you can see, or anticipate, the possibility of you blocking your partner's suit in a NT contract.

Yes there were the declarers who made 10 tricks, and I would totally place this result on the feet of the players who did not unblock the diamond ten. Here again the defence has to be very alert as we tend to drop our guard in what appears to be standard contracts. If this happened to be a Match Point event, allowing your opponents to make 10 tricks would be a disaster.

We now will assume that declarer has done the correct thing and ducked the first diamond. He wins the second and plays the knave of clubs. Your partner's card (GIVING COUNT) shows that she has an odd number of cards. So you duck the first two clubs and win the third, now actually removing a vital card from declarer's hand so that he can take the second spade finesse. Declarer could have played a low club to the king early, but this has an element of risk of a 4-2 break). So west wins the third club and considers the options available. Declarer had shown a 12-14 point hand and has already come up with nine points in clubs and diamonds. In the bidding south has also denied holding three hearts, or four spades.

As you are most unlikely to have an established card to cash any diamond winners that you (may) have established is it time to search for greener pastures? If so what suit will you chose? Your partner could hold the KJX in spades, or the KJxx in hearts. Whatever you pick will have an element of guess work in it. My choice would be the queen of hearts, only as you know, for certain, that partner has four of them. Is there a risk? Certainly, it could be a disaster if declarer had the knave, or even the nine, because you will not convince anyone that you have the knave of hearts. If diamonds had been established declarer would never take the heart finesse into your hand. He is not silly and neither are you! This contract can never be defeated.

Blocking and ducking is over and I am only talking about holding declarer to nine tricks, so, on this defence, declarer will have to give you two heart tricks, or two spade tricks, because you did not provide that second entry for the spade finesse to be taken twice. So giving count is vitally important. I hope that this column has not led you to utter confusion. So maybe I will get some expert help from Fiske and Nigel.

There is one other point which I would like all of you to seriously consider. You look at your opponent's system card and find that they do not give count, or suit preference signals. I can understand, and accept, the latter, but surely no one can really play bridge without using count? You have to be tolerant of this omission at club level but it should not happen in congresses or major events. Can you say that "We do not give count" but then does your partner really not know what you have?

If your partner leads, for example, the king of spades (suggesting the ace) and you hold 72, which card do you play? If like 90% of players you play the 7 intending to follow with the 2 then you are playing natural count. This is the information that needs to be supplied to your opponents.


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