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Safety play

Safety plays in contract bridge are plays which adapt the odds of the cards to the scoring system. A safety play is a play maximizing the chances for a certain score by, possibly neglecting a slightly higher score. There are perfect safety plays which assure a certain number of tricks, and there are imperfect safety plays which maximize the chance to make a certain number of tricks. The following hand is a first example:

    (1)                 Q 9 3 2        
                        K T 3 
                        A 6 3
                        J 9 2

                        A K 8 6 4
                        A J 6 
                        K 5 4
                        5 4

South plays a contract of four spades and West leads the club king after which he shifts to a diamond, South winning his king. After three rounds of trumps, which are sufficient to extract all trumps, South has a perfect safety play for ten tricks. South gives up another club, wins the diamond return with dummies ace, ruffs the last club and exits in diamonds. The North-South cards remaining are

                         Q 9
                         K T 3

                         8 6
                         A J 6
Whatever is led from the opponents, South takes the rest, either by discarding a heart and ruffing in the other hand, or by winning three heart tricks. This example was a case of an elimination play[?] with a throw in[?] a type of an endplay[?].

On a tactical basis this was an easy hand, the safety play was perfect and without risks. Often safety plays have their price though, the next example will demonstrate that point and we will see that the hand shall be played differently depending on the form of scoring.

    (2)                  J 6 4 3
                         K T 6 
                         8 7 2
                         5 4 3

                         A K 9 5 2
                         8 5 2
                         A K
                         A K Q

South declares four spades and West leads the heart queen. After ducking this trick South plays the ten on the second trick. East wins the ace and returns a heart to dummies king. A trump is led from the board and East plays the seven spot. Declarer has two lines, either he plays the nine spot absolutely assuring his contract (unless East has a minor suit void). But he might give up an unnecessary trick to a doubleton ten or queen in the West hand. The alternative line is to play an honor, but if West is void in trumps there is no chance any more to avoid the loss of two trump tricks. N.B. There is no entry to dummy for a diamond ruff that South would need to establish a trump endplay. In an imp or rubber game it is obviously right to choose the safety play , but in matchpoints, where every overtrick might score many additional points, the choice is not clearcut at all.

Safety plays, of course, are not limited to trumps, the following is an example of a safety play in no trumps.

    (3)                   A 10 8 7 2
                          A 5 3 2
                          8 4 3

                          K 9
                          K 10 2
                          K 9 6 4
                          A K 6 2

South declares 3 no trumps on the lead of the heart queen. After making the thoughtful play of the ace to the first trick, the spade deuce is lead from the board, East playing a small card. The play of the 9 assures the contract. If West wins the trick he cannot play another heart without giving the ninth trick to declarer and the tempo to develop more in spades. West will therefore switch to a diamond that South wins in hand. The spade king is overtaken by the ace, the key play on this hand, and the diamond ace assures an entry to two more spade tricks. If spades are played from top the hand might not make if East holds Q J x x and both minor suits fail to break.

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