Monday, 28 January 2013

Nightmare on Elm Street meets Dirty Harry

It was one of those evenings. On the first board we bid a small slam missing a side ace and five trumps including the king; the opponents did not cash their ace at trick one, and so, courtesy of a 3-3 break in another side suit, this contract rolled home. Then on the second board we pushed our opponents into a five diamond contract, doubled and redoubled to boot and then failed to find the killing opening lead  (king from king doubleton). Inexplicably declarer failed to take a finesse, and the contract went off. My heart was still pumping when this hand came up: 

Dealer:  North
Vul : None


2 (1)
2 (2)
3NT (3)
6 (4)


  1. Forcing to game
  2. Waiting
  3. Natural, showing scattered values
  4. South’s final bid was conservative. Envisaging four spades to the ace in partner’s hand, he could almost count 13 tricks on a 3-2 trump split.

West led the heart knave, covered by the queen, East’s king and won by declarer’s ace. 

Two possible lines of play suggest themselves:

1.    Cash the K and A, then follow with Q, overtaken by dummy’s ace and take a diamond ruff with J. Play your remaining small spade to dummy’s 109, drawing any outstanding trumps in opponents’ hands. Finally, play clubs from top. If clubs break 3-2, you will make thirteen tricks. If clubs do not break, you will lose the fourth round of clubs with no way back to your hand. Opponents will cash their remaining diamonds and heart. Result: contract either makes with an overtrick or two off.

2.    Cash K and Q, follow with AK. If clubs and spades are 3-2, simply draw the last trump and cash winners, ruffing a heart in dummy at the end for your thirteenth trick. If clubs are 3-2 but spades are 4-1, you no longer have the entries to do the dummy reversal.  You can draw the opposing trumps ending in hand and you give up a heart at the end. If clubs break 4-1 but the hand with the singleton club is out of trumps, you can ruff a club and play dummy’s other top spade. Then come back to hand with A to draw the remaining trump with J (if necessary) and again you play your remaining winners, conceding a heart at the end. Result: contract either makes with an over trick, makes exactly or goes one off.

That’s a lot of options and you also need to consider your possible matchpoint score relative to those pairs in 6NT and the few in 7. They will be making exactly if clubs are 3-2 (barring 5-0 spade breaks) and going off (maybe three off in 6NT) otherwise.

Method 1
Method 2
Clubs 3-2 & Spades 3-2
Beat 6NT
Beat 6NT
Clubs 3-2 & Spades 4-1
Beat Method 2, 6NT
Clubs 4-1 & Spades 3-2
Beat 7S, 6NT
Beat Method 1, 6NT, 7S

So in summary, Method 1 gains over Method 2 in all the 3-2 club breaks when spades break 4-1, (68% of 28%) but loses in all the 4-1 club breaks (28%). That said, half the time the spades are 4-1, you might want to discount the possibility that clubs are 4-1 as well, since this would give one player eleven red cards – probably more than enough to have stirred some opposition activity during the auction.

Put it the other way around, Method 2 gains in all the 4-1 club breaks - but if you follow this line, you will be beaten by Method 1 (as well as 6NT and 7) in 28% of the 3-2 club breaks. In the other 68% of the 3-2 breaks, both methods score the same 13 tricks and beat 6NT but not 7.

In pure technical terms, there may be a slight bias in favour of one method over the other. There is however one final factor – what does it do for partnership confidence if you go down in 6 when it was makeable, and have to explain to partner that you were chasing an overtrick? You feed your negative score into the Bridgepad only to find that the overtrick was unnecessary to beat those pairs who were in 4 or 6!

Maybe for all this analysis, the answer is that if you need a lift to your score, you should adopt Method 1. If you need to avoid bad scores, you should play Method 2. Or as Harry Callaghan almost said:  Before you play a card, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you?


  1. Can you not get the best of both worlds? Start with SK, DA, SQ overtaken, like line 1, but if trumps are breaking then there's no need to ruff the diamond immediately - you can draw the last trump and play on clubs. Whereas if trumps are 4-1 you can continue as per line 1.

    1. This is a good point and a definite improvement, although it still does not cater for those rare occasions when one hand holds both a singleton club and a singleton trump.