Sunday, 30 June 2013

Mirages and Singletons

We won our third round match in the Silver Plate by 38 IMP's, playing against Jackie Davies's team. However that result might have been rather better if I had not misplayed this rather intriguing deal in the final set.

Board 30 

Dealer South
Neither Vulnerable


Dbl (1)
4 (2)
All Pass

(1) 2NT is a possibility, but maybe hoping to double the opponents later
(2) Refusing to be shut out

West leads a small spade and East plays the knave. You can safely assume that West has not underled AK, so the likely spade split is K10xxx opposite AJx.

How do you plan the play?

There is nothing wrong with this contract. On the surface there is only only one inescapable loser - in clubs - and if diamonds can be negotiated for only one loser, there are ten tricks in the offing. With East marked with five points in spades and most likely something useful in clubs, prospects are good that the K is in the West hand.

The opponents having failed to lead a trump to trick one, it seems natural to play for a club ruff in dummy immediately -  but unless one opponent has a magical doubleton Q, you will still need three diamond tricks to make this contract.

So, after ruffing the initial spade, let's say you play a club to the ace at trick two and a second club off the table. West wins with K and plays a second spade through dummy which you again ruff.

Again, over to you.

Imagine you now play your third club. East discards a spade and you ruff with dummy's 10. You cash your K and both opponents follow. How are you going to get off table? Rather than force yourself, you lead a diamond from table, East plays J and you win with A. If that knave is a true card, West is sitting with K98 over your 10xx and you have two inescapable diamond losers to go with your losing club. You cash the A and both opponents follow, but no Q appears. One off! Bad luck.

It is hard to see - but that club ruff is a beckoning mirage: having made the ruff possible by playing on clubs early, you need to tackle diamonds first!  Rather than playing a third round of clubs straightaway, suppose you had instead played a small diamond towards dummy. West cannot gain by going up with the K - converting your 10 into a winner. He can of course grab one trick back by giving his partner an immediate diamond ruff (at the cost of his potential trump trick) but you are still in control. You ruff East's third round of spades and now take your club ruff in dummy - on which West discards, as before, revealing his initial shape to have been 5242. You can then cash K, ruff a fourth spade in hand with J, cash A drawing both opposing trumps, and win the last two tricks with your boss diamonds.

So, let us say that West plays low when you lead the diamond towards dummy and dummy's queen holds the trick, East following with J. You can now play a diamond back to hand -  East cannot usefully ruff this, so discards a club while you win with the A. Having two diamond tricks in the bag, you can ruff a club, ruff a third spade, lead a trump to the K on table and ruff a fourth spade! The A is your tenth trick! Wow!

Except it doesn't quite go like that.

When you led a small diamond from hand, West went up with the K and  gave his partner a diamond ruff as before. The spade ace followed, which you ruffed in hand, but when you led the third round of clubs, West followed suit, as you won the trick by trumping with dummy's 10. So West's initial distribution was not 5242 but 5143! That means that East started with four trumps - and you cannot afford to cash the K and then ruff your way back to hand via a spade since this will cede trump control to opponents.

You have one last chance. Maybe West's singleton heart is the queen, so you overtake dummy's king theatrically with the ace - and the queen drops underneath like manna from heaven. (Cue applause from the assembled crowd watching vu-graph).

After drawing the oustanding trumps with J9, you cash the A and concede the last trick to West's K.

The full deal:














PS At the table, I did not play like this - but fatally tried to maintain communications by ruffing the club with HK and finessing 10 on the way back. Not a success!

The contract can be made even on an initial heart lead - an interesting challenge which I will leave for the reader.

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