December 17, 2014 – Find the Jack!
Two game contracts Sunday night hinged on finding the jack of spades. I will look at those hands in some detail, and let you test your guessing skills.
First up, you bid to a 3NT contract on these cards:
West leads the heart four to East’s ten and your queen. The opponents will likely set up their hearts, so you won’t make this contract without bringing in the spade suit. Declarer started with the spade king next, fetching an upside-down seven from West, and the ace from East. Back comes the heart two, ducked to West’s seven. West continues with the heart nine to East’s ace, as you discard two clubs from dummy. East puts you on the table with a club, leaving this position:
You call for the diamond queen, which loses to West’s ace. West returns a diamond to you. You cash the diamond king, throwing a spade, as East discards a club.
Time to try spades. You lead the eight, and West plays the two. The five and the jack are still out, and, if they are both in one hand, you can’t make the hand. So, we’ll assume that West has one of them, and East the other. Is this a straight guess, or do the percentages favor one choice? What do you play from dummy?
The other guess was on this hand, at favorable. Partner opened a Precision 2C in first seat, and your four spade call ended the auction:
West leads out the ace and king of hearts, with East discarding a discouraging diamond nine on the second round of hearts. West shifts to the club two. Plan the play.
Obviously, you must hold your trump losers to one, which is possible only if someone holds a doubleton trump honor. So, you will win the club ace, cross to hand, try the ace of spades, and then?
Will you play for a doubleton jack or a doubleton king?
Would your choice of play change if someone dropped the trump nine under your ace?
How about the trump jack?
Finally, how should you cross to hand?
In the three notrump contract, with only two spades out, the five and the jack, it might seem like a straight toss-up. That is far from true. There were four relevant holdings for East: AJ or any of the three A-smalls. Finessing, a priori, is a 3-1 favorite. So, you should consider yourself lucky that you were able to get to hand to finesse. Personally, I would have risen with the heart king on the second round and finessed in spades.
So, getting that late entry for the spade finesse was quite lucky, right? Of course not. West, looking at a finessable spade jack would never let you get to hand. There is only one reason for this generosity, and you should play the spade queen now, and drop the jack.
Here was the full hand:
The play at the table deviated slightly from the way I described it. Declarer did duck the second heart, but threw a club (jack) and a diamond from the table, not two clubs. This was very poor. East got out a diamond to West’s ace, and a diamond came back, leading to the same ending, and testing declarer’s guessing. South mis-guessed, and finessed in spades. However, before we praise West for that sneaky defense, let’s back up the play a bit. Here was the position when West won the diamond ace:
Declarer was marked with the diamond and heart kings. If declarer also held the spade jack, the hand was over. If partner held that card, declarer might well misguess, but, if West played back a club (or a spade), guessing the spades wouldn’t help if East held the club queen. Essentially, declarer had thrown a winner from the table, and kept a club loser, and could no longer make the hand even after dropping the spade jack.
How should the hand be played? It looks best, to me, to win the heart, cross in clubs, and lead a spade to the king. West would likely have raised hearts holding two aces, so East seems to be marked with one or both pointed aces. This line will ensure the contract whenever spades are 3-2, with the jack onside, or, as here, when East holds AJ doubleton.
On to the second hand, the four spade contract. This one is really quite easy. That club looks suspiciously like a singleton. If it is, then playing spade ace, spade queen will work if either player holds the doubleton jack. Playing spade ace, low spade will work if West holds the doubleton king, but not if East has that. A club will promote the trump jack.
There is also the bidding to consider. West has already shown up with seven very strong hearts, and is much more likely to be short in spades than East. Surely West would have been tempted to bid with the spade king on the side, so catering to Jx with West seems very promising.
As for my other questions: If the full hand looks like this:
Crossing to hand in hearts could be fatal – West can uppercut you with the trump jack. Perhaps the defense should have found this play earlier, but there is no reason to give them a second chance. So you should lead to the diamond ace, and play spade ace, spade queen.
What if the nine drops? Doesn’t matter. The nine is not relevant, and either player might choose to play the nine from honor-9x.
The jack, however, is a different critter. Perhaps this is the hand:
If declarer continues with the queen or ten, a club will promote the trump nine. Declarer can only succeed here by leading low next. Unfortunately, that will pay off if East thought about dropping the jack from any jack doubleton. That would be an unlikely false-card from jack-small, since it would help solve your guess, but a strong East can work out your problems holding J9 doubleton, and might well find that play.
What would work at the table? Spade queen, for West held