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If you're a declarer, and West leads the queen of spades, with dummy showing the Kx of the suit, while you have Axx in the closed hand, you might take the trick with the K from the dummy, thereby not exposing the A that you hold. That, I can understand.

On the other hand, this concept is more of a defensive maneuver, where both defending hands are closed. In that case, cards can't really be "known" but can merely be inferred (e.g. when someone fails to cover a card that's being finessed).

Apparently, playing certain cards that are "known" is considered a form of, or at least related to, falsecarding. But if a card that is played is "known," how can it be "false?"

3 Answers 3

15

Great question!

The basic idea is that by playing the card you are known to hold, you do not give declarer any extra information and might mislead declarer about the length of your holding in that suit (the falsecarding bit).

(btw, your example about west leading Q and you playing K from Kx not to disclose your A is not completely right. If East has the A, he will play it. And West would likely not lead the Q from AQ {unless an NT contract, of course}. So the location of the A will probably be known anyway...)

Anyway, here is an example with respect to defense.

      AQJx
      xx
      xxx
      AKJT
Kxx          xxx
xxxx         xxx
xxx          xxx
xxx          Qxxx 
      xxx
      AKQx
      AKQJ
      xx

Playing Matchpoints (note: overtricks matter here) South the declarer, finds himself in 6NT.

You are West and you lead a heart.

Declarer wins and plays a spade to the J which wins. Now declarer comes back to hand with a diamond and leads another spade.

At this point, you must play the card you are "known" to hold: the K.

The K is going to drop on the A anyway, so it is not as if you are wasting that card.

Consider:

Declarer has 12 tricks and would be trying for the 13th (remember, this is matchpoints).

To try for the thirteenth, declarer has two major options: spades 3-3 or club finesse. (we are ignoring any squeezes to get the point across, and IMO those chances are inferior anyway)

If you play low instead of K, declarer will know that you started with either Kxx or Kxxx.

In either case, declarer can cash the third spade to test for spade 3-3. If spades are 4-2, he can safely take the club finesse into partner's hand, who has no spades to cash.

So if you play low, declarer can combine his chances of spades 3-3 with the club finesse without endangering the contract and in the current layout, he will make 13 tricks.

Now imagine you played the card you are known to hold, the K.

Now declarer will likely place you Kx, (but a smart declarer will not completely eliminate Kxx, or Kxxx, of course).

Now if declarer tests for spades 3-3 and you indeed turn up with Kx, declarer is in danger of losing his contract if the club finesse (for the 13th trick) loses, as partner can cash a spade when he gets in.

So in order to not endanger the contract and having some chances of making the 13th trick, declarer might choose to give up on spades and take the club finesse.

If that happens, you hold declarer to 12 tricks, while at the other tables where the defender in your position played low, declarer makes an easy 13.

So by playing the K, you have nothing to lose but a lot to gain.

Of course, at the table you might not have time (or even need to) think about all this. The idea of not giving declarer any extra information is usually sound and when you have no clue about a hand (or need to play in tempo), it pays to follow general principles.

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    Your bridge answers make me want to start playing bridge again (after 20 years not playing).
    – Pat Ludwig
    Sep 27, 2011 at 17:52
  • @PatLudwig: Aryabhata's answers make me want to CONTINUE playing, after taking it up again after 20 years.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 27, 2011 at 18:21
  • @Pat: Thank you! I do hope you start again, it is truly one of the greatest games of all time!
    – Aryabhata
    Sep 27, 2011 at 18:23
  • @Tom: Glad to hear it! It is always nice to see people show interest in bridge and ask great questions like these.
    – Aryabhata
    Sep 27, 2011 at 18:24
  • @Aryabhata: OK, by playing the K on the second lead, which "you are known to hold," you are in effect "falsecarding" that you have Kx, when in fact you have Kxx, right?
    – Tom Au
    Sep 27, 2011 at 18:37
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The above answer is a good one and you have to be aware to make that decision.

More commonly, you might hold KJx in a suit where declarer finesses through your hand to win with the queen, then plays the ace. Your cards are "equals" but you are known (or at least likely) to hold the king so play it, leaving declarer unaware of who holds the jack, which might be significant to him.

This is the sort of play that should be almost automatic.

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  • Good example. This type of play (in tempo of course) can entice declarer to select an incorrect endplay or squeeze position. Jan 19, 2015 at 23:30
  • Exactly this (+1). Spelling it out: Say, in a suit contract, dummy has AQT9x, declarer leads from his doubleton through your KJx, and sensible calls for the queen, winning. And then plays the ace. If you don't dump the king under the ace, you just saved declarer a guess as to whether play for a 33 split or try a ruffing finesse against partner's putative jack. Feb 21, 2021 at 17:25
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To give a different view from the other two answers - which are both exactly correct - the best player at our club (among other things, winner of the 0-6000 Blue Ribbon Pairs) will say on a line like CashCow's, when you don't put up the K, "thanks for telling me you have the J as well"[*]. Declarers can - and good declarers do - use that information routinely.

The essence of Bridge is that it is a game of imperfect information; any play that unnecessarily gives away information useful to the opponents is weaker than the play that doesn't. Note that "unnecessarily" is pulling a lot of weight here - especially on defence, information given to partner is frequently worth more than the same information given to declarer; and of course, a play that gives away a trick is worse than one that gives away information (but see Grosvenor Coup). In a "play the card you're known to hold" situation, that isn't the case (for "bridge values of never", which is "never never means never, even in this statement").

Those of a M:tG bent should understand the parallel easily - "he has perfect information" when, after turn 1 Thoughtseize, you play the card you drew. This is clearly inferior to having "one unknown card", so you should only do it when the disadvantage of not playing it outweighs the information given away.

[*]Note, only to people he knows would want the education. He is the politest and most ethical player I know (that includes me). Normally, unrequested advice from opponents is a no-no, and "thanks for helping me" can very easily be heard as gloating.

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  • Also, in certain cases such as the last 16-board set of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl Final - play the card you must have because it's the only way Declarer can be conned into going down. At the victory banquet, [Belladonna] was asked, “What would have happened had West played the club king on the first round of trumps?” He answered, “the Americans would be World Champions today!” Dec 9, 2021 at 2:56
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    Agree. But that's - very very hard, compared to "play the card you're known to hold".
    – Mycroft
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:11
  • Yes; that's why even the highly esteemed Eddie Kantar got it wrong in 1975. However I do my best, in hopes someday I get it right. Dec 10, 2021 at 0:26

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