Tip for the pip

Jose le Dentu ( France )

Jose le Dentu won five French Open Team Championships before retiring from tournament play in 1957. He died at the end of 1996.  Born in Madagascar , he lived most of his life in Paris . He was the author of many magazine articles and newspaper columns, including Le Figaro.


I Always feel surprised when no-trump contracts are not defeated because the defenders' suit is blocked after a fourth-best lead in a suit where dummy has a singleton and partner five cards. I am convinced there is, indeed, a very simple rule to avoid such accidents but I think it has never been explained.

Here is an example chosen by Rosenkranz in his book Tips for Tops



South Dealer

A J 10 5 2




Game All






 K J 10





 J 8 6 4












K 8 7 6 4

 A 10 8 2


W                         E

 Q 9 7 4 2

 9 8 6 3



 5 2

 Q 9 7 5












Q 3





 K 6 5





 A Q 7 4





 A K 3





















West led the two of hearts, to the jack, queen and king. Declarer tried the spade finesse, won by the king. Which card should East play in order to help West avoid a blockage and beat 3NT?

At Table 1 East returned the four, declarer played the five, West the eight and the suit was blocked.

At Table 2 Rosenkranz (East) returned the seven, declarer played the five and West (Wold) could have won the trick cheaply wit the eight but he knew from the bidding that South could not have five hearts. So he won with the ten, cashed the ace and returned the eight to defeat the contract.


This seems to me an unnecessarily convoluted solution to a straightforward problem. A less alert West may well have blocked the suit anyway. But if East simply plays his smallest pip when he has five cards and dummy a singleton there would not be a problem even if West is only an average player.

The point is this. Suppose the lay-out is slightly different:




      West                              East

    A842                            Q973


    ♥ K1065


West leads the two, covered by the jack, queen and king. When East gains the lead he cannot afford to return his fourth-highest three because he knows that declarer will just cover this card, preventing the run of the suit. He would have to lead his highest card (in this instance the nine), forcing South to cover (with the ten).

If partner would return his highest card from an original four-card holding when dummy is out of the suit, when he returns his lowest card the only explanation is that it is from an original five-card holding and West must be alert to possible blockage problems.


LET us conclude with this typical case. The contract is 3NT, reached after South opened 1NT.




West                                               East

  K Q 9 6                                   A10543 





West lead the six of hearts, East takes the ace and returns the three. South plays the eight of hearts and West ... the queen because he knows that South

 has only one heart left (the jack or the ten).

So here is my BOLS tip for the pip:  

Against no-trump contracts, when partner has led his fourth best in a suit where dummy has a singleton, you should return your smallest pip if you have five cards in the suit.


The corollary, of course, is that partner must unblock on the second round of the suit when he sees your small card.