Sunday, 24 February 2013

Julius Caesar, Act 4

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3, 218-221

Following on from the previous blog, I hope that you have decided what you would have done: finesse, risking your contract, or rise with the Q, guaranteeing yourself nine tricks and maybe still making eleven if clubs split three-two.

The question of whether to finesse at pairs in the hope of making an overtrick, but risking going down can generally be answered by saying that if the finesse has a better than 50% chance of success, one should finesse.

Here however, you can be sure not just of making the contract if you don't finesse, but perhaps making just as many overtricks, so the situation is different isn't it?

What do we know to help us make a decision?

East started with five spades, headed by the queen, one diamond and at least two hearts including the ace. There are five unknown cards in his hand. When you lead a club, he produces one of those, so there are now just four unknown cards: certainly room for three (or four) clubs including the J.

What about West? His hand included four spades, one heart and five diamonds, so there are only three unknown cards in his hand.

So, by my reckoning, there is definitely a greater chance of East holding the J than West.

Moreover, had East started with only two clubs, that would have given him five hearts - and with five cards in both majors headed by honours, he might have made the opening lead of a heart rather than a spade (missing J109) - or indeed he might have ducked the initial heart to the king, or even returned a heart at trick three. The evidence points to East having started with three if not four clubs, and therefore the finesse will work between 60% and 80% of the time. However - and this is critical - the finesse only actually gains when clubs break 1-4, which is less than half as likely as the more normal 2-3 break.

Or, put another way, taking the finesse will lose somewhat over 20% of the time - you will go off and get a bottom. Taking the finesse will gain when the suit breaks 4-1 onside, which figures to happen somewhat under 20% of the time. You will then score eleven tricks and a top. In all other cases, it doesn't matter to your score whether you finesse or not.

The match point odds therefore favour going up with the queen, although you might decide to go against the odds late in a match you are losing to stronger opposition.

Mike Seaver, my partner, spurned the finesse - and we made exactly nine tricks, for a slightly below average score on the board. However we won the match 14-6 VP's.

Will this prove to have been the deciding moment in the competition?
The full deal:

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