November 19, 2014
We did very well in our match Monday night, and the level of play was quite high. Two play problems appealed to me, and I will feature those. First up, both sides bid up to three hearts on these cards, but our auction was very revealing, and, as a result, we got a much tougher defense than our opponent faced:
The auction was, with East-West vulnerable:
You described you hand well, and partner accurately quit at three hearts, but you also described you hand to your opponents. Anyway, West starts off with the club ace, as East plays the four (upside-down count and attitude). West shifts to the spade two, and you try the queen, covered by the king and your ace. You cash two high trumps, both following, and then play a diamond to the six, ten, and queen. East cashes the spade ten, and continues with the spade nine, which you trump. These are the cards remaining:
So everything will come down to the diamond suit. How would you play?
If we continue with a diamond to the ace, and nothing interesting happens, we will need diamonds three-three. But, what if, when we lead a diamond, West plays the nine or the jack? Now we could finesse coming back. Should we? Maybe, but before deciding, we should learn as much about the hand as possible. To that end, declarer correctly continued with a trump, throwing a club from the table. West won, as East also pitched the club two, then West played the spade jack, with East following – so spades were 4-4. Declarer trumped and led out the last trump, collecting the club eight from West, and the club queen from East. Now, diamond seven, nine, king, two. Diamond eight, three, and …?
West still holds the club king, and either the club jack, or the diamond jack. Which?
At first glance, it might appear that we should play for the drop, using Restricted Choice arguments. After all, holding both the queen and the jack of diamonds, East might have won the first round with either card. This doesn’t apply here, though, since, West, holding the jack and nine, might have played either card on the second round. Those are a wash.
Let’s think about the club suit. East either held Q42 or QJ42. With QJ42, East might have preferred the two over the four at trick one, and, with QJ42 in clubs, East could play have discarded either the queen or the jack. That really is a Restricted Choice argument, and both of those suggest finessing. Our declarer finessed, successfully, for the full hand was:
Could the defense have done any better?
Maybe. Certainly West should have followed one of the key principles of deception:
Play the card you are known to hold!
The early play marked West with three cards – name those three.
Those were the club king, from the lead, the spade jack, when East returned the ten, and the club eight. East discouraged at trick one by playing the four, and later the two. Most players would signal with a higher spot than the four, if they held such a spot, so East was unlikely to hold that eight-spot.
So, perhaps West should have played the spade jack on the third round of the suit, continued with the club king when on lead with the trump, and discarded the club eight. In the three card ending, West would hold
Declarer could not be certain about either of those side cards, and might go wrong.
Of course, there is an even simpler defense – when in with the trump queen, West should have played the diamond nine, and forced declarer to guess the suit then and there, not after getting more information.
A corollary to my rule is this:
Do not play the card that declarer thinks partner might hold!
This occurs frequently in a suit like this, when playing fourth-best leads:
West leads the five to East’s ace, and South trumps return of the four. As soon as declarer sees the deuce, declarer will know the count of this suit, and that will help counting out the rest of the hand. So, whoever holds that two, should horde it, and conceal it for as long as possible.
Similar logic applies when using third-fifth best leads. Don’t reveal that lower spot until forced, once partner knows the count.
Look at board eleven from your match:
With neither side vulnerable, West upgraded the hand and opened 1NT (I agree completely). North bid four clubs, doubled, and played there. East found the interesting lead of the diamond queen, hitting pay-dirt. Declarer won the ace, crossed to the heart ace, and led the club jack, covered by the queen, king, and ace (it might have been better not to cover). East now knew every card in the deck – there were only fourteen points out for partner, so West had them all, and had clearly upgraded. Anyway, East shifted to the spade queen, and, after winning two spades, West played diamond king, diamond jack. Declarer, knowing diamonds were 5-2, trumped high, then dropped the club eight, and escaped for -100.
Declarer did not know the diamond position until West played the diamond jack. Up until that point, the lead could easily have been a normal lead from QJx or QJ10x. Bad West! Declarer thinks your partner holds the diamond jack, so don’t play that card until forced. Had West played, say, diamond king, diamond nine, maybe declarer would trump low.
Declarer shouldn’t. Declarer should always get this right. Why? Give me two strong reasons.
For starters, East has already shown up with eight points, out of the twenty-three missing. West, for that promised 15-count, must hold the diamond jack. So declarer knew the diamond position once East played the spade queen.
Then, there was the play. West would never, ever cover the club jack from Q82, so the clubs had to be splitting.
Back to our play problem – could declarer have done any better?
Yes! South read the hand quite well, and worked out the diamond position. Bravo. But, after winning the spade ace, declarer should simply play out three rounds of diamonds, planning to trump the fourth round on the table, if they don’t split. Nine tricks were easy here, without any fancy guesswork.
Now to the other play problem, an absolute gem. With both sides vulnerable, you decide to respond to partner’s opening bid with a shapely two-count, and you are soon at the helm in a pretty awful game:
The auction went:
West leads the diamond ace. Plan the play.
Even if trumps are two-two, where will we win any tricks? We could score five trumps in hand, two ruffs in dummy, and the heart ace. That’s eight. We’ll have to do something with those hearts. Maybe heart ace, heart ruff, trump to dummy, heart ruff, trump. If the heart king has dropped third, we will be up to ten tricks.
Not bad – it’s a plan, anyway. Could we do anything with diamonds? The auction was quite revealing, with East doubling four diamonds, but not three. It feels like East has the diamond king, singleton or doubleton, and that may help. You trump the opening lead, and East plays the ten. So, there is a very good chance that East holds the K10 doubleton in diamonds. One more diamond ruff will get you up to nine tricks, and then a simple heart finesse will see you home. That looks really good – if trumps are two-two and the diamond king drops, you will likely make this hand. That seems like a better plan.
At the table, declarer opted for this route, and tried drawing trumps, but East discarded the heart two on the second round of trumps. So much for that plan. Now what?
Things are really desperate now. Frankly, I don’t see much hope at all, except a miracle heart position: If the full hand looks something like this, you can make the hand –
Ace of hearts, heart ruff, trump to dummy, and run the hearts. Still hopeful, declarer now tried the heart ace, collecting the king from West. Hope that’s a falsecard! Declarer called for the heart queen from the table, but West trumped, and played another diamond. Here are the cards left:
Back to you. How would you play now?
This is an amazing ending, and, if the cards are as you suspect, the hand is now cold. Trump this, dropping East’s king, and setting up your queen, and run the heart ten next. East will cover, of course, which you will ruff. This sets up a winner on the table, a winner that you can’t ever possibly use, but that winner ensures the contract. Let’s look at the full hand from the match:
You will have reached this ending, needing to win four more tricks:
Lead one more trump. What can West discard? If West throws a diamond, you’ll set up your diamonds, so West will have to part with a club. Now exit with your club. West, of course, can’t lead diamonds, and East, thanks to that stranded winner, can’t lead hearts, so they will have to continue clubs. You simply trump, and West is out of clubs. Play the seven (or nine) of diamonds, and West will be endplayed!
Wow! I love this game!