At the end of an entertaining night's bridge at the Most Excellent Marmalade Factory, aka the home of Nicholas and Cynthia Bull, we settled down to post-mortem the slam which went off on Board 14. Should declarer have made it, or not? You can judge for here was the deal:
West North East South
2♠(1) Pass 3♣(2) Pass
3♦ Pass 4♦ Pass
4NT Pass 5♠ Dbl
6♦ Pass Pass Pass
(1) Transfer to clubs
(2) Denies three card support to an honour
North found the best lead of a ace and a second spade, declarer ruffing in hand. How should he plan the play?
One line, and the one found at the table, was to try and ruff a second spade in hand, attempting to make twelve tricks by means of four diamond tricks, two spade ruffs, two hearts and four clubs (hoping that clubs were no worse than 4-2). On the actual lie of the cards this was doomed, the attempted second spade ruff being over-ruffed by North for the setting trick.
The bidding and play to the first two tricks does indicate some risk of spades being divided 6-2, so was there a plausible alternative?
Assuming a 3-2 trump split, declarer has ten top tricks, so it seems normal to play for the extra tricks from clubs. If they split evenly, it will be plain sailing, while if they are four-two, a ruff will establish one extra trick, with the twelfth trick then needed from a successful heart finesse.
So declarer cashes ♦A and plays a second diamond to the ♦Q, seeing both opponents following. Before drawing the last opposing trump, it is now right to test the clubs: ♣A and a club to the ♣K in hand - on which South discards! The distribution is now revealed: with three cards in the minors, South must have started life with six spades and four hearts, while North is marked with an initial 2335 shape. Now the advantage of not having drawn that last trump starts to become clear. Declarer follows with ♣Q, discarding a spade from table, and follows with a club ruff.
This is the end position with declarer needing to take all the remaining tricks and the lead in dummy (East):
Even seeing all four hands, it isn't immediately clear how you take the balance of tricks. Suppose you play dummy's ♥4 to your king and lead back the ♥J? No good: North can foil your plan by covering with the ♥Q and you will be stuck in the wrong hand, unable to take a second club ruff. It is no better to lead back ♥9 rather than ♥J - this time North refuses to cover and the ♥10 overtaking again puts you in the wrong hand. Slightly bizarrely, you have to lead the ♥10 to the king and now North cannot upset the timing. After winning the trick in hand, you play back the ♥J and remain in control. If the ♥J is covered, you win and cash a third heart bringing you back to hand. You then ruff your last club on table and win the last trick by ruffing dummy's remaining spade with the ♦A, squashing North's helpless ♦10. If the ♥J is not covered, you take the club ruff, cash your ♥A and again North has to underplay the ♦10 on the last trick.
Why, you may well ask, should one play North for the ♥Q and not South? Well, of course, the play of the hand would not be nearly as "elegant" if South had held this card! Maybe too there is a very slight inference from the bidding. South was presumed to hold six spades to the KJ9, might he not have overcalled 1NT if also holding four hearts headed by the queen?