October 1, 2014 – Count, Count, Count, Count, Count.
The play, on Sunday, was quite disappointing, with several hands where players simply lost focus, and made silly errors. East-West had much the worst of it, with five hands contributing mightily to the final score. On board 4, East, as declarer in four spades, could have simply claimed ten tricks, yet managed only nine. Two boards later, West, looking at a sure side-suit winner that could be ruffed on the table with dummy’s last trump, did not play a trump, and a doomed part-score made. These were simply sleepy errors.
East-West also missed two slams, though neither was easy to bid. First up, at favorable, with South dealing and passing, they held:
West opened 1S (I would open four, and my partner might not move, given the vulnerability). The auction proceeded:
Either player might have bid more. By the way, how would you play six spades on a trump lead (with South following)?
Declarer should trump a heart before leading a diamond up. With the ace of diamonds onside, twelve tricks are easy, but this would make the slam if hearts are 4-3, or if South has a doubleton honor.
Then, with neither side vulnerable, and West dealing, they held:
Six notrump, played by West, is absolutely lay-down, but I don’t see any way to get there. The auction started 1C – 1S – 3C, and getting to any slam seemed unlikely. Could the slam be bid? Well, if West upgrades a hair and opens 2NT, then East will likely transfer and key-card, getting to six spades by West, which is nearly as good. Only a club ruff would set that.
Very few pairs bid either slam, so these didn’t cost much. The biggest bidding swing came on this hand:
You hold, vulnerable against not,
The auction goes:
What would you call?
Four spades is certainly reasonable – indeed, you might have simply opened four spades facing a passed partner. I could live with a three spade call, but I prefer bidding three diamonds. This forces to game, and leaves open the chance that partner will bid 3NT, and win an easy nine tricks. East chose to rebid only two spades, and played there, scoring up an embarrassing +230. Ten IMPs away.
Time now to look closely at two interesting hands.
First, a defensive problem:
North-South are vulnerable, and bid:
You, West, lead the club ace, regretting it when dummy hits, and hating your lead when declarer trumps the club. Declarer plays the diamond two to dummy’s ace (three from partner, standard count), and throws the diamond five and jack on the good clubs. Next comes a trump to the jack and your queen. You play another club, trumped in hand, and South continues with a low trump.
Plan the defense from here.
Then, a declarer play problem:
No one is vulnerable, and the bidding went:
West leads the club queen, and East plays the six, upside down attitude. West surprises you and produces the club ace next. Sneaky lead! Okay, my title says count, and says that many times. This is a fine exercise in counting and deduction. You have lots of information – use it. Write down the full hand!
West now shifts to the heart two. East wins the ace and returns the seven. Seeing as how you know all the cards, find a way to make your contract.
For the first hand, let’s start out with an easy question. What trumps are still out?
Were you counting? Declarer has trumped two clubs in hand, and played two rounds of the suit, so you have seen four trumps from declarer. There were four in dummy, and three in your hand, and you’ve seen one from partner. There is only one left – the king.
Question 2: What were declarer’s diamonds?
This is also easy. Declarer showed at least five spades and at least four hearts in the auction, and partner showed an odd number of diamonds. South has already played the J, 5, and 2 of diamonds. If declarer had another diamond, partner would not have an odd number – so that’s it for diamonds. Partner has all the rest of them.
Question 3: Will partner hold a key honor?
Probably. Otherwise, South will have a hand like AKQxx KJxxx Jxx –, and would probably have bid more. In any event, if South has that hand, we can’t set five hearts, much less four.
So we can place partner with a key honor – either in trumps or in spades.
Question 4: Can we set the hand if partner has the heart king?
Sure, with ease. Play the heart nine, and let partner win, and cash two diamond tricks. We’ll set the hand two tricks.
Question 5: Can we set the hand if partner has a spade card?
Maybe the full hand looks like this:
In that case, the ending will be this:
If we try the heart nine here, North will win the ten, then spade to the queen, spade ace, spade ruff, diamond ruff, and another good spade, to throw the other diamond. South will make an overtrick if we play the heart nine. To set the hand in this layout, we have to rise with the heart ace and stick South back in hand with the trump king. Partner will win a spade and two diamonds – down two. Flying with the ace will set the contract if partner has as much as the spade queen.
So, which defense do we choose? What honor does partner hold?
Actually, that doesn’t matter. Go up with the ace. If we drop partner’s king (too bad), declarer will be out of trumps, and we can simply play our diamond, and let partner win two diamond tricks. That defense will cost a second undertrick, but still set the hand. And, of course, if partner shows out, we continue with the third heart and set the contract that way.
At the table, these were the cards:
Unfortunately, in the key position, West rose with the ace of trumps, and then, perhaps thinking that declarer had another trump, played back the trump nine. South claimed the rest. West wasn’t counting!
Lest you think I am picking too much on East and West, I should add that I rotated the hands to make declarer South. North-South actually mis-defended this hand, and our hapless East-West pair landed an impossible game.
On to the second problem: Here is what we know. West raised clubs, even though clubs could be a three card suit, so West will have at least four clubs. Over one diamond, West didn’t bother to look for a major suit fit, so West is unlikely to hold four of either major, which means that East holds four of both majors. East competed to three clubs, and probably would not do that with only three clubs, so East has at least four clubs. Thus, clubs are four-four, and East started with a 4-4-1-4 shape.
West has shown up with the club queen and ace, and probably has the club jack as well, yet East opened the bidding. There are only twelve other high card points missing, so East will have all of those, except possibly for some odd jack. Here is how I picture the hand:
For the play – we have already lost three tricks, and appear to have two inevitable spade losers, with the king poorly placed. Yet, the hand is quite cold now. Simply draw trumps, ending on the table. East will have to discard twice. What can East throw? If East ever discards a heart, we trump a heart, and the last heart in dummy will be our ninth trick. Likewise, if East discards two spades, we set up the spade queen. So, East really has no choice – East will throw a club and a spade. That will leave:
Trump a heart, trump a club, and lead the heart eight, discarding a spade. East, down to nothing but spades, must lead away from the king. Contract made!
The actual hand was slightly different:
I don’t think much of East’s decision to push to the three-level on a three card suit, but, other than that, the cards were as expected. With trumps two-two, the play is even easier. Again, declarer simply throws East in on the last heart, for a spade play, or a ruff-and-sluff.
The defense lost their way here. West would set the contract by shifting to spades, not hearts. That play is not clear-cut, however, and could cost the contract if declarer held AJ9 in spades, and two heart losers, but a spade shift looks more promising that the heart shift chosen.
But the contract could still be set with a heart shift. Simply back up one trick. Suppose, at trick two, West had cashed the club jack, not the ace, and then shifted to the heart. Would declarer find that winning endplay? Not a chance! Declarer would picture East with a hand like ??? AJ97 63 AK106. Give East the spade king, and that is a 1NT opener. So West must have the spade king, but …
West got the defense off to a great start at trick one, and helped declarer completely mis-place the high cards. But West undid all that tricky work by revealing the club ace at trick two.