January 14, 2015 – Bridge is a Cruel Game
Sometimes, what happens at the bridge table doesn’t seem to reflect the skill of the players involved, and that can be very frustrating. Of course, that also makes it fun, for, as we all know, Bridge can be a very cruel game. Take a look at this hand from Sunday’s play:
We had an excellent auction to stop safely in two spades:
West leads a fourth-best club four. We appear to have five sure spade winners, and two clubs, so need only one other trick. How would you play for that eighth trick?
Well, the diamond spots are strong enough to develop a sure trick there, so one option is the win the club ace, and lead trumps. We can win the club king next, draw trumps, and lead diamonds from hand. That looks quite strong, but a bad trump split might doom us – we may lose control if trumps split four-one.
We could also go down on a hand like this:
East could win the spade, play a diamond through, win the heart ace, and collect two more diamonds and a diamond ruff.
Alternatively, we could develop a certain heart winner – win club king, run the heart jack, and, should it lose to the queen, win the club return, run the heart king, throwing a diamond, and hope to discard another diamond on the heart ten. This too, might fail, if hearts are 5-2, and all our finesses lose. Consider this possible layout:
We win the club in hand and run the heart jack, losing to the queen. We win the club return and run the heart king, losing to the ace. Trump a club, and try the spade finesse. That wins, but, when West turns up with four spades, and can trump the heart, we will fail. That would be really annoying, with all the diamonds onside!
I don’t know which line is best, but it would take quite a bit of bad look to go down. Our declarer opted for the second line, and ran into the layout above – a very unlucky down one. So what makes this such a cruel hand? Suppose you happened to stumble into a silly spade game? On that club lead, you’d win in hand, and play the heart jack, but, in game, with plenty of losers, declarer would likely put up the heart king, and suddenly emerge with ten tricks. Four spades making at one table, with two spades down at the other!
In fact, the auction started identically, but North forgot their system, and bid 2NT, not 2D, over 2C. This showed a maximum hand without three spades, and set up a game force, so the awful four spades was reached. West tried the diamond seven (using 3rd-low leads), and it looked like the defense could get a spade, heart, diamond ace, and diamond ruff, but East won the first diamond with the ace, and suddenly, the game could no longer be set.
East shifted to the club queen, which South won. This left:
How should South proceed from here?
South should have a pretty good idea of the diamond position – The lead was either from 7x, or Q107(x). In the latter case, East would have played another diamond, so South could tell what was happening there. This means diamonds can be picked up for no more losers, but entries are a problem. If you play spade ace, spade, you have only one entry for two diamond finesses. If you take a diamond finesse too early, the defenders can knock out the club entry, and ruff the next diamond. So?
Here, I think South should take a spade finesse. If it loses, win the club return, finesse in diamonds, and lead a heart, hoping to set up a heart winner for a diamond pitch. Here, there is no heart guess, since, if East had the heart ace, East would have played a diamond and generated a ruff.
What if the finesse wins? The contract will now be cold if trumps split, but, if, as on the actual hand, West started with four trumps, declarer will need a heart winner. So South must lead a heart now, and guess well. On this layout, South will emerge with nine winners, or eleven, depending on that heart guess. So, two spades might go down with five spades making at the other table! Cruel, cruel, cruel.
At the table, declarer played a spade to the ace, and a spade back, and no longer had the entries to pick up diamonds (or to get a heart winner). West had the hand set by continuing clubs. However, West tried another diamond, and solved declarer’s problems.
The first board out was also cruel:
At one table, North opened one heart, and played in a heart part-score, scoring the obvious nine tricks, +140. At the other table, the auction went, with no one vulnerable:
North led the heart seven, and the defenders took six hearts and a club, for down three. -150, and a weird push.
By the way, how should West play 3NT?
The contract has no hope if the hearts can run, so declarer will need a very friendly heart position. One possibility is to hope that hearts are 8-1 (and North has no entry). Is that possible?
No! That would mean that North opened 3H holding eight of them to the AQ1097652, and led the seven. No way. Indeed, the heart seven lead, and the rule of eleven, marks South with two high hearts. When South plays the jack, South won’t have the ten, and South would always play the ace with AJ, so South will either hold QJ or J9.
One possible play is to duck the opening lead, and hope that South holds QJ tight in hearts, and that North has no entry. Maybe the full hand would look like this:
Ducking would kill the heart suit, but declarer can win only four diamonds, three clubs, and a spade. Close, but only eight tricks.
I like this line: Win the king and return the heart three! Will North rise with the ace? Maybe, but, if not, declarer is home. And if you think it is obvious to fly with the ace, then I’ll try that play next time against you holding KQ83 in hearts.
Let’s close this off with an easier (and friendlier) hand. With no one vulnerable, you land in four spades on this auction:
How would you play this contract on a heart lead?
What if the lead were a diamond?
The contract is cold unless diamonds are five-one. Declarer should trump the heart, and cash the top diamonds, throwing a club. If both live, claim! Diamond ruff high, heart ruff, diamond ruff high, heart ruff, diamond ruff high, heart ruff. South will have won the first nine tricks, and still have left the trump 76, with the eight out, for a certain winner.
Perhaps the full hand will look like this:
Use the “next” button to follow the cross-ruff play, and be sure to convince yourself that the hand cannot be made if you trump the third diamond low.
One table received a heart lead, and started on these lines. The diamond eight was led at the other table, a lead that looked very much like a singleton, and such a split would doom the line I recommended on a heart lead. Assuming that diamonds are 1-5, how should you proceed?
The cross-ruff might still work, scoring only one diamond and nine trump tricks. This will require East to hold the trump eight. Win the diamond, trump a diamond low, heart ruff, diamond ruff low, then a high cross-ruff. Our declarer opted for this line, but we can do better. East doesn’t need the trump eight – any old trump will do. So long as trumps are not 4-0, we can set up dummy: Trump a diamond high, trump to dummy, another high ruff, trump, high diamond ruff, heart ruff, draw the last trump, if needed, and win two diamonds. We’ll have taken the first ten tricks.
The full hand:
At the table where declarer tried to cash two diamonds and cross-ruff, West trumped the second diamond, and the contract failed by a trick. Even if declarer guessed that diamonds weren’t splitting, the heart opening lead killed one of dummy’s entries, and trying to set up diamonds would also fail. That heart lead was a killer.
I, however, would have led my singleton. That gave declarer the timing to make the hand, and a big clue as to the distribution. But South trumped the second diamond low, over-ruffed with the eight, and should have finished down a trick, for a push.
That would have happened, but West figured out a way to let declarer win a late trick with the club ten. Oh well …