Classic Rewind
Advanced Blocking
by Albert H. Morehead


   Perhaps it seems that a blocking play is merely the reverse of an unblocking play. For example, if an opponent tries to unblock, and you do something that prevents him, you might call that a blocking play. But cases in which you can prevent a normal unblocking maneuver are rare. The most interesting blocking play occurs when you do something out of a clear sky to cut off linkage in a suit that was seemingly wide open.

   Here is a normal case from an everyday rubber game:

West dealer
Neither side vulnerable

  NORTH
S 5 3
H 9 5 4 3
D Q 10
C A 9 8 7 5
 
WEST
S 10 4
H A J
D A J 7 5 4
C J 6 3 2
EAST
S A J
H 10 8 7 2
D 9 8 3 2
C Q 10 4
SOUTH
S K Q 9 8 7 6 2
H K Q 6
D K 6
C K

SOUTH WEST NORTH EAST
 -- Pass Pass Pass
1 S 2 D Pass Pass
3 S Pass 4 C Pass
4 S Pass Pass Pass


   West, not wishing to lead from one of his tenaces and fearing clubs because of North's bid, opened the ten of spades. East won with the ace and returned the deuce of hearts, West capturing South's queen with the ace. West returned the jack of hearts and South was in. After drawing trumps, South unblocked the club suit by cashing the king and then led a low diamond, hoping to sneak through an entry to dummy (to play the king would have been futile against strong opponents, who would undoubtedly hold off).

   South's lead of the diamond six might have resulted in the contract's being made had West reasoned that he could take only one trick with the ace of diamonds, and would have a later opportunity to take the king even if he passed the first round; but West went farther than this and foresaw the danger of giving dummy an entry that would permit a discard. He leaped up with the ace and effectively blocked the suit.

   That [blocking situation] was very simple; the next [from the Sims-Culbertson match] is more complex.

  NORTH
D A 10
WEST
D Q 9 8 7 6 5 4
EAST
D 2
SOUTH
D K J 3

   [Needing two entries to dummy,] South would lead the three of diamonds. If West played a small diamond, dummy's ten would be finessed. West could have stopped any chance of [a second entry] by simply putting up the queen of diamonds when South led the three toward dummy's ace-ten. This somewhat complicated blocking play would have immediately established South's diamonds, but it would have shut off that valuable second entry to the dummy. [It would be rather less effective when East's singleton is the jack.--Ed.]

   Such opportunities arise constantly. Every time a suit is distributed something like this:

  NORTH
C K 10 5
WEST
C Q 8 2
EAST
C 9 6 4 3
SOUTH
C A J 7

it is in West's power to decide which opposing hand shall have two entries and which shall have only one. When South leads the seven, if it is desirable to block the suit and reduce the North hand to one entry, West simply plays the queen; but if it is South who must be left with one entry, West plays low, allowing the ten to win but leaving South with only the ace as a remaining entry card.

   This amazing example of a blocking play is worthy of record: South, because of his 150 honors, played in six hearts rather than letting North play at six diamonds. If the deal had been played in diamonds, North-South could have made seven, but as the thirteenth trick depends upon a finesse, the grand slam is not a very good bid.

  NORTH
S A K 6 4
H --
D A 9 8 7 6 5 3
C 5 4
 
WEST
S Q J 10 5
H 8 4 3
D K 2
C K J 10 7
EAST
S 9 8 7 3
H 9 7 6 5 2
D 4
C Q 9 8
SOUTH
S 2
H A K Q J 10
D Q J 10
C A 6 3 2

   West opened the queen of spades, and the first sensational play of the deal was made: South ducked and let the queen hold the first trick. Surely there are few cases on record in which it is correct to lose a trick purposely, at a trump contract, with the ace-king in one hand and a singleton in the other. This amazing play of South's was, in fact, the result of very shrewd analysis. The diamond suit was unquestionably blocked, and the opening lead cut off dummy's spade entry. The only hope seemed to be that South could later discard the two diamonds that blocked the suit on dummy's ace and king of spades. Of course, he could have taken the first spade trick and ruffed a spade, but then he would be ruined unless the hearts were divided four-four, a very unlikely division.

   Had West, after winning the first trick, led a club or a heart, South would have made six. For, by his remarkable play on the first trick, South had succeeded in unblocking the diamonds. After winning the second trick and drawing trumps he could then lead the queen of diamonds; if West covered to block the suit, South would take the ace and discard his jack and ten on the high spades. If West did not cover the diamond queen, it would be allowed to win and then it would be necessary to discard only one diamond.

   If West had led a second spade at trick two, South would have discarded one of his diamonds immediately and have made six in the same way as above.

   But, inasmuch as this is an age of miracles, West arose to the occasion and led not a spade, a heart or a club. Instead, he laid down the king of diamonds, whereupon that suit became blocked all over again.


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