Thursday, 13 June 2013

A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff

They say that we learn more from our disasters than our successes.

See what you would have learned from this one:

You, as North,  hold 108 A976 K1094 K107 and hear the auction develop as follows, your partner and yourself remaining silent throughout:

Dealer N,  N/S Vulnerable


Your choice of lead is .........?

Every suit is fraught with risk. The A might be right if partner holds a singleton in that suit, while either a club or diamond might be critical to establish a trick in that minor (if partner holds the queen) and prior to the A being knocked out. A spade maybe looks safer, but partner will not thank you if he holds Qxx sitting over dummy's KJxx.

While you are deciding, a brief word about the bidding. West has chosen to bid slam directly rather than using Blackwood or cue-bidding. Presumably he holds three aces or perhaps two aces and a void. Bidding the slam directly removes the opportunity for lead-directing doubles, or indeed for the hand on lead to draw inference from the lack of such doubles.

At the table, North led a spade and dummy now put down:

KQJ2 K1043 Q 9632

Declarer wins the spade on table with K, your partner following with 4, crosses to hand with A and leads the 2 towards dummy.....and you play?

Is there not some risk that declarer has A9752 2 AJxxxx A ? Ducking would allow declarer to win with dummy's K and then commence a cross-ruff. You would be powerless to stop declarer taking three diamond ruffs in dummy and ruffing back to hand to draw the outstanding trumps, making all thirteen tricks. Under those circumstances, you must rise with A and play a second round of trumps before it is too late - declarer will get one diamond away on the K but can now only take two ruffs in dummy and you will make the K. Have I convinced you?

You can now switch to declarer's seat:


Dummy was something of a disappointment. I - yes, indeed, I was West - had hoped for rather more in hearts, perhaps KJ10xx, and the Q was effectively waste paper. Perceptive readers will have noticed that a low diamond lead would not have been helpful for the defence - nor indeed the A (although possibly not fatal). The spade lead actually worked well for N/S, but it might easily have been fatal had dummy not held the Q/Q but instead K. 

I was clearly going to need at least one extra trick from my diamond length, so I envisioned playing the following sequence after winning the opening lead in dummy: diamond ace, diamond ruff, club ace, diamond ruff, club ruff, diamond ruff - assuming that diamonds had started 4-3, I would now have the winning diamond, but would be in dummy with the position:

A9      None
Q82    K1043
8         None
None  96

At this stage only one round of trumps would have been played and I would need to make five of the six remaining tricks. I could lead a heart off table towards my Q but the position would be totally transparent to the defence and either defender could win with the A and force me with another round of clubs - and no matter the heart or trump distribution, I would be destined for defeat.

There was a slight other chance though: maybe one opponent had started with KJ10 bare - then I would need only two ruffs to establish two long diamond winners. Rewind a couple of tricks and the situation would be:

A95    K
Q82    K1043
87       None
None  963

Now I could cash K and lead a heart towards hand. If the A were onside (in the South hand), I could win with the Q, draw the last trump (assuming that they had started 3-2, cash my winning diamonds and then lead a heart towards dummy's 10. In other words, I'd still need A with South and J with North (or maybe AJ doubleton with South) - odds of barely 25% on top of all the other requirements. - was there any way I could improve my odds, I asked myself?

Well clearly it would help enormously if one opponent or the other could be persuaded to play their A early - the opponents at this stage had very limited knowledge of my hand and might well slip up. I could try a club to hand and then lead a heart towards to dummy. North, fearful that I might have a singleton might well be tempted to rise with A (if he had it) - simplifying my task considerably. Alternatively a heart off the table at trick two might have the same effect on South.

In the event, I opted for the second option. South, of course, followed small and I played Q, taken by North with A, who played a second spade - won in dummy: at least the spades were 3-2, I thought. Now I would have to rely on all the other favourable things described above to happen for my slam to make. However a diamond to the ace failed to elicit a diamond honour from either opponent -  I now knew that I was going off, and unlikely to be earning many match points. With little choice but to persist, I ruffed a diamond, played a club to my ace and ruffed a second diamond. Diamonds were at least 4-3 ; in line with the odds! So I ruffed a club and drew the last trump. This was the end position:

None    None
82        K104
87         None
None    9

If hearts had started 3-3 and North held J, I could at least escape for one off by now taking the heart finesse -: not worth a lot of matchpoints but maybe something.

In the event, South was quite surprised to win with the J and take the remaining tricks for +400.

At this point, to quote Gerard Hoffman's Bricklayer's lament: 

"I respectfully request sick leave"

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