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Bridge: Take your time at the beginning

Paul Valery, a French poet and critic who died in 1945, said, “Every thought is an exception to the general rule that people don’t think.”

Bridge players always think — although experts think more than others.

Today’s deal requires careful thought. South is in three no-trump. West leads his fourth-highest heart. What should South do after winning with his jack?

South seems to have a textbook two-no-trump opening bid, but it is close to an upgrade to two clubs, with that good five-card suit worth an extra point.

Declarer has only five top tricks: two spades and three hearts. It looks obvious to attack diamonds, where he has so many cards. And that is true, but it helps if he pauses to think about the right play at trick two.

Suppose South makes the natural-looking choice of a low diamond to dummy’s jack. Here, East wins the trick with his ace and returns a heart, after which declarer has no chance. If South then tries clubs, East takes the trick with the ace and leads his last heart.

True, if declarer starts at trick two with a club to dummy’s 10, that makes it harder for the defense. Whichever defender takes the trick must shift to spades.

However, South can leave the defenders with no chance if he leads the diamond king from his hand at the second trick. If East wins the trick, declarer takes East’s return and ducks a diamond to collect two spades, three hearts and four diamonds. Alternatively, if East ducks the diamond king, South turns to clubs, taking two spades, three hearts, one diamond and three clubs.

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