Friday, 8 February 2013

A little knowledge.........

How do you play a side suit of Q9xx opposite AJx to make the maximum number of tricks?

The "book" answer is to lead a small card towards the hand with AJx, intending to put in the knave if the next hand plays low. When this holds, you follow by cashing the ace and if you are lucky, the king falls and you finesse against the marked ten on the next round.

A straightforward enough problem - or is it?

This hand proved beyond the level of all eleven tables at the Cambridge Bridge Club on Tuesday. Not only did none of the North/South pairs reach the very good club slam, opting instead for the not quite solid 4 contract, only one of the declarers made twelve tricks.

At most tables, after a pass by West, the bidding continued 1-2-Dbl-Pass, after which North ventured 3 to elicit further information from partner. South, not aware that he was facing a strong three suited hand opposite, revealed his three card spade support and there was now insufficent space to find the club fit.

Now to the play.....

On a top heart lead, assuming that trumps are no worse than 4-1 and clubs break 3-2, North can count ten tricks. Clearly there is scope for establishing one or more tricks in diamonds by taking the finesse, recognising that a losing finesse could pose trump control problems if spades are 4-1.

Taking this all into account, declarer ruffs the A and plays a spade to dummy's J and a second trump to hand - on which East discards a small heart. Now declarer can afford to take the diamond finesse. Even if it loses and the defence persists with hearts, declarer can simply discard diamonds on two further rounds, leaving dummy's last trump to handle a possible fourth round of hearts. Ten tricks remain assured.

So, we face the original problem posed above except that in this case declarer has the 8 as well as the 9. This changes the odds and the way to play the suit.

In this situation, assuming that entries are not an issue, the pure odds favour taking the double finesse against the king and the ten. So, in isolation, declarer should first lead the Q - not a small card - from hand and if this is covered by the king (and ace), return to hand for a finesse against the ten.

However there is a further point. If the hand under the AJ6 holds K7xx diamonds (i.e. not the 10), it is far from obvious to cover the queen when it is led. Indeed, covering the queen is the only way to give declarer a chance to make four tricks in the suit, if, for whatever reason he follows by next cashing the knave. Thus leading the queen in this situation also gives the opponents a chance to guess wrong.

Let us say however that East guesses right to cover the queen (in itself giving a slight indication that he does hold the 10). Would you, as declarer, still get the diamonds right after winning the trick with the diamond ace? You should.

You continue by drawing two more rounds of trumps and cash K, followed by a club to the ace in hand. When both opponents follow, you play small to dummy's ♣Q and come back to hand with ♣9. You now have an almost 100% count on East distribution. Surely the hearts are divided 6-4, and he is known to hold two clubs and a singleton spade - leaving him with exactly four diamonds. The odds are now at least three to one in favour of taking the repeat diamond finesse against the ten. You have your ten tricks in the bag and lead the 9 with confidence - if East is foolish enough to cover, you end up with thirteen tricks!

Reverting to the auction and the missed club slam, my side had a better chance than most due to a slightly unusual bidding situation, for at our table the auction started:


1 (1)
2 (2)

(1) Insufficient bid
(2) Accepted by South. Bidding continues as normal without penalty for either side.

Bearing  in mind the weapons we had in our arsenal, North could and should now have continued with 3, a splinter bid showing game going values and support for clubs. South, looking at his three small hearts facing a shortage opposite, would realise that his side were effectively playing with a 30 point pack, and would then be likely to push on beyond 4. In fact, to his subsequent regret, North opted for 2, South revealed the spade support and proceedings were closed with a jump to 4. Missed opportunity!

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