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Diamond Article - Hold up that king?

Ducking a trick with a K

Ducking with a king is in many ways a similar decision to ducking with an ace, with one very important difference: kings require positional advantage to take a trick. What do I mean by that? Unlike an ace, which will always be the high card in the suit, the king is only the high card if the ace has already played or chosen not to play. The moment the ace plays after the king, the king won’t take a trick.

Choosing to not take a trick with the king has all of the same considerations as choosing to not take a trick with an ace, with the added and very important concern of: If I don’t take my king now, will I get a second chance?

How can we know if we will get a second chance? We evaluate a few different factors.

The most important consideration is protection. Honor cards must have little cards to protect them. There must be at least one little card to go with the king to protect him from the ace. If you don’t have any little cards, when the suit is led, you will be forced to play the king whether or not the ace has played.

The little card gives you the option of playing low and it is that choice that protects the king from the ace. After all, if the ace is led and the king is by himself, we will be forced to play him under the ace.

Next, we have to consider positional advantage. If we can guarantee that the king will play after the hand that has the ace, then we know the king will be good. If the hand that has the ace doesn’t play it, the king can win. If the hand that has the ace does play it, we can play low and the king will be promoted to the high card. How can we know that the king is playing after the hand that has the ace?

Well, there are two ways. Let’s discuss the far easier way first. The opponents are leading, which means that your king is either playing second on the trick or fourth. If your king is playing second, he is playing before one of the defenders and therefore might be vulnerable to the ace. However, if the king is playing fourth, he is playing after both defenders and now is guaranteed to take a trick.

Thus, after you assess whether or not you gain from ducking and whether or not you have the protection you need to do so, you need to think about which opponent is winning the trick prior to your play. As you make your choice, look at the cards. Is the person to the right of the king winning the trick? If so, your king will play second on the next trick. Is the person to the left of the king winning the trick? Then your king will play fourth.

If the king is playing fourth, he is guaranteed to take either this trick or the next (as long as he's protected).

What’s the second way to know our king is playing after the ace? If we know where the ace is, then we can determine whether the king is playing before or after that defender. How would we know where the ace is?

Assuming your opponents are honest people who also always play correctly, you can learn a lot from both the auction and the play of the cards. Generally speaking, third hand is going to play high. This suggests that if your RHO could have taken the trick we are considering ducking, she would have. Her failure to do so is an indicator that her partner has the ace. This is especially true if the auction indicates she has a doubleton in the suit.

But keep in mind, there is no guarantee that your opponent is playing correctly or that she is even paying attention.

Another scenario might be if your LHO bid the suit and in the course of the bidding promised two of the top three honors. Since we are looking at one of the top three honors, she either has the other two, or lied with her bid.

You might also be able to locate the ace by counting points on the hand. If your opponent’s bid promised a certain number of HCP that they can only get to with the ace, then they almost certainly have it.

When you count on the opponents to bid or play correctly, you are taking a certain amount of risk. Which brings us to our final decision.

I would recommend that unless you are certain you will get a second chance to take the king (he is playing fourth on the next trick or after the hand you are confident has the ace), you should almost never duck with a king. You are taking a fairly serious risk that you will now never take a trick with your king and lose the entire suit.

If your plan for the hand requires that you run the short defender out of the suit, then you can evaluate the potential loss of the king versus the risk of allowing the short defender to keep cards in the suit. When we evaluate risk, we always consider the reward first and foremost and then the likelihood of both the risk and the reward of happening.

Ultimately, this decision should be a fairly simple one for you. If you are certain you’ll get a second chance, you can use all the tools you use to evaluate whether or not to duck with an ace to make your decision. If you are uncertain you’ll get a second chance to take your king, you should probably take it now.

As for a queen? I’ve found that once you pass up a chance to take a trick with the queen, you rarely get a second chance. I would almost never duck with a queen.

In the following hands, decide whether or not you should take the trick with the king and explain why:

1. West dealt and the auction went as follows:

3s – x – p – 3nt

Your LHO has led the 8 of spades.


2. East dealt and the auction went as follows:

2d – 2nt - p – 3c

p – 3s – p – 3nt

Your LHO has led the 9 of diamonds.


3. You dealt and the auction went as follows:

1s – 2d – x – p


Your LHO has led the Q of diamonds.


4. You dealt and the auction went as follows:

1c – 2h – 2s – p

2nt – p – 3nt

Your LHO leads the Q of hearts.


5. East dealt and the auction went as follows:

1c – 1nt – p – 2c

x – 2d – p – 3h*


Your LHO leads the 5 of clubs.

*3h is Smolen showing four hearts and five spades and a game forcing hand


1. You should take the trick with the K. As tempting as it is to duck (we would love to run East out so that we can safely take the heart finesse and guarantee the contract), ducking will result in immediate disaster. Your RHO is winning this trick with the J. It is almost certain that your LHO has the A, since your RHO has only two spades (of which the J is one). If your RHO had the A, she would be blocking the suit by playing the J instead of the A, which is not a good defensive play. Which means that if you let the J win, your RHO is now going to lead her second spade, forcing your K to play before West’s A. West will now go on to collect her seven spade tricks, whichever card you play on the second trick.

Look at the full spade position.


If you let East win with the J, she will turn around and play the 2. Now you have only the K and the 9 left. If you play the 9, West will win with the T and play the A, dropping your K. If you play the K, West will play the A and now all of her spades are good.

Whatever else you choose to do on this hand, you absolutely cannot afford to duck with the K of spades.

2. You should duck. If your LHO had not been paying quite as much attention (and played a card lower than the 9), this would have been a much easier decision. With West winning the 9, it would be completely safe to duck the K and would be worthwhile, because we know West only has two diamonds. Now that West is out of diamonds, we can safely take the heart finesse and guarantee the trick.

However, East played the T of diamonds, making this a much more dangerous proposition. Why is it more dangerous? Because with East winning the trick, our K is now going to be forced to play second. This dramatically increases the risk of ducking with the K, because if West has the A, we may now lose the K.

Now we have to consider how likely it is that West has the A of diamonds (our risk) and also how great the benefit from ducking is (reward). West not having any diamonds guarantees the contract. Whereas if we take this trick and then take the heart finesse (or club finesse), if it fails, we will lose five diamond tricks.

It seems as if West does not have the A of diamonds. What makes me think that? Stop reading and take a moment to consider it for yourself, then scroll down.

We know that West has exactly two diamonds (assuming East bid properly). If she had A9, the proper card to lead would be the A. Most partnerships will lead the top of a doubleton, especially when it is partner’s suit. This strongly indicates to us that the 9 is West’s highest diamond. In addition, unless they are playing upside down, most people play a high spot card as the top of nothing. It might benefit you at this point to inquire about your opponents’ carding. You might also inquire about their preempt style. If they promise two of the top three honors with a preempt, then East almost certainly has the A.

Why didn’t East take the trick? The hand would be over if East had. West would now be out of diamonds, you would safely get your K, and as long as you took the heart finesse instead of the club finesse, you’d be home free.

West playing the T makes things much more difficult for you and good defenders are always difficult. So, how dangerous is ducking this trick? It seems as if we will get a second chance to take a trick with the K, even if the K is playing second, because we are fairly confident East has the A. The reward is also very high. Should we be wrong about the location of the A, all is still not lost, because now the suit is blocked. We have lost a trick by not taking our K, but even so, we’ve still created a situation where the heart finesse is completely safe. If the finesse works, we have nine tricks. If it doesn’t, we can fall back on the club finesse and hope for the best.

Whatever you do, do not duck twice. East will be counting diamonds. If you make the mistake of ducking twice, you K will no longer have protection and East can simply lead the A on the third trick, felling your K.

3. You must take the K. You absolutely cannot afford to duck. As tempting as it might be to duck the K so that we can safely take the heart finesse, you simply cannot afford to do so. On first blush, it would appear that ducking is the right thing to do. We know that West almost certainly has the A (she really needed it for her bid which we will get to more in a moment and East would have likely played the A had she had it). This isn’t necessarily a problem, because West is winning this first trick. The real problem here is that we don’t have enough protection for the K. We only have the 4 accompanying our K.

If we duck the first trick, our K will be bare (singleton) and should West decide to lead the A on the second trick, we will immediately lose the rest of West’s diamonds.

As an added consideration, it seems fairly likely that West has the K of hearts. Most partnerships require that two-level overcalls have at least 10 HCP. We can figure West for the AQJ of diamonds, no spade high card (we have them all) and at most the Q of clubs (we have the rest). This is only 9 HCP without the K of hearts. Now, of course some people will overcall at the two level with only 9 HCP, especially with a suit headed by the AQJ. So there is no guarantee. But a lot of partnerships require an opening hand for overcalls and then West would have to have the K of hearts for his bid. You can inquire as to their overcall agreements if you like, but either way, you cannot afford to duck with the K of diamonds.

4. Duck! You can guarantee the success of this contract by making certain East is out of hearts. From the auction, we assume that West has six hearts (jump-overcall at the two level) and therefore that East has two. The form of scoring will partially dictate when you take the K of hearts. If you are playing IMPs, then you should take the third trick (keep in mind if you duck the first two, it’s likely West will lead the A on the third). This guarantees your contract as it makes certain that East is out of hearts (we assume West had six for her bid, but there’s no guarantee of that). If you are playing MPs, this may cost you a trick and it may be better to take the second trick and hope that either the diamond finesse works or that West wasn’t lying with her bid (if you duck twice, you will lose three tricks – four if the K of diamonds is off-side, which will be an inferior MP score to those who took the second trick and scored up ten or eleven tricks).

5. Duck! This decision is made very hard by the fact that East is winning this first club trick. This puts our K playing second, which is not an ideal position. However, we have a pretty strong sense that East has the A of clubs. Why?

East dealt and opened first seat. This means that she has an opening hand. If we consider the high cards that are missing: AQJ of clubs, J of hearts, Q of spades, and Q of diamonds, these missing high cards only total 12 HCP. It seems likely that East has most if not all of them for her bid. While I could imagine East opening missing one of the queens or perhaps the J, I can’t imagine East opening without the A of clubs.

East also doubled North’s 2c bid, indicating she really had clubs and that she wanted a club lead. While she could do this with QJ98xx, it seems more likely that she has the A. You can afford to duck the club twice (assuming East has the A), because your K has three cards protecting it. The opponents have eight, so this will cover you for all of the likely breaks, running West out of the suit. Once West is out, you can run the diamond finesse guaranteeing your contract. You could test hearts, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If West has all of the high cards, your are making this hand as long as you choose the diamond finesse over the spade finesse. If West is missing a high card or two, then her hand is likely distributional. She’s more likely to be 6-5 or 6-4 than 5-5 since she’s opened clubs (and with 5-5 she would have bid the higher ranking suit). Thus, testing hearts could leave you wide open in the suit is West has the Q of diamonds and five hearts. I would suggest that if West has the Q of diamonds it is highly unlikely that the heart suit is 3-3 since the East hand would then be distributional. If the Q of diamonds is in East, you don’t need to test the hearts since you can play them after taking your successful diamond finesse.

Look at the full hand. Aren’t you glad you ducked?


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