Sunday, 16 June 2013

Never a dull moment

Playing with David Kendrick could never be said to be dull. With his ready smile and easy wit, he also combines to create an atmosphere at the table when things happen....

And so it was on this board from the Eastern Counties League match against Norfolk (David in the East seat)

A754       KJ2
Q72         J
AK          Q1087653
AK108    72

Now, of course, 5 or 6 would be too mundane a spot to land with our nine card fit and three top honours.. A shame because there is a nice double squeeze which guarantees the latter contract (with South guarding the clubs and North the hearts, neither can guard spades). Anyway, there must have been a reason for the fates having dealt East the J - and we found it by playing in 4.

This is how we got there:

1 (1) - 3H   -  Dbl (2)  - Pass
4 (3)  - Pass - Pass (4) - Pass

Some comments on the bidding:

(1) We play 4 card majors, so I could have opened 1 or even 2NT (20-22). I do not subscribe to the theory that opening 1 and then rebidding 1 guarantees 5+ cards in the minor, although this is certainly a playable method. Holding relatively poor spades, five quick tricks and no intermediates, I chose to start with 1 - also perhaps of lead directional value if we found ourselves defending.
(2) Takeout. Perhaps not everyone's choice since I could have held a weak no trump type of hand, but David is not easily shut out of auctions.
(3) Catching up. No other obvious bid since partner might well have held four spades for his double.
(4) Bidding 5 at this point is not really an option with a minimum hand.

North led a small diamond (an obvious singleton) at trick one. Plan the play.

The obvious first line of thought might be to play for spades to be 3-3 with North holding the queen. Perhaps not great odds, but think this through. At trick two you lead A and then a spade to dummy's knave, taking a nerve-racking finesse. If this loses, you might well be going three or four off. Let's assume it wins, what next? You have to unblock the diamonds, so you next play a diamond, ruffed by North with Q. North now plays a heart to his partner's top honour and a heart comes back, forcing you to ruff with dummy's K. You can cash Q, throwing your last heart, but on the next diamond, South ruffs in, and although you can discard a club, you will be left with a further losing club at the end - and the contract will have been defeated by a trick.

So, if the contract can't be made with spades 3-3 and the queen onside*, what if spades are 4-2?

In fact you can afford to lose two spades and a heart in this contract provided that you manage the entries carefully. If North holds the doubleton spade, as is more likely given his pre-empt, you could take the spade finesse at trick two, cash the K (dropping the presumed doubleton queen), cross back to hand with a diamond (North being out of trumps cannot ruff), back to dummy by ruffing a club and then lead diamonds from the top through South. Say South ruffs the fourth round of diamonds with 8,  you can simply discard a heart . You are then poised with A7 over South's 10 and cannot be denied two more spade tricks and the contract (four spades, a ruff, three diamonds and two clubs).

Even so, that spade finesse at trick two doesn't look very appealing. Playing the hand known to be shorter in length for a particular card is well against the odds, and a losing finesse is again going to see the contract going several off. Is there anything you can do, as declarer, to give yourself an extra chance?

Well, if North has a presumed 2-7-1-3 shape, he might hold both queen and knave of clubs. Do you now see how to combine your chances and maybe make the contract even if it is South who holds the Q?

At tricks two and three, cash the top two clubs! If North plays Q or J on the second trick, you can assume that clubs are indeed favourable. So cash A and lead a spade to the king, eschewing the finesse, cash A, and ruff a club to leave your last club as a winner. You now lead diamonds from the top - East ruffing the fourth round with one of his trump winners, as you discard a second heart. South can draw one of your trumps and cash A, but you can claim the rest with your last trump and a winning 10.

If after two rounds of clubs neither Q nor J appear, you may have to revert to playing North for Qx.  That may or may not work, but at least you have given yourself the best possible chance.

The full deal (deal transposed):

* This is of course not strictly true. You can still make this contract if spades are 3-3 with the queen onside by playing back a diamond early on. Two rounds of hearts follow (ruffed in dummy), then Q allowing North (West in diagram) to ruff again. At this point, following one round of trumps, declarer moves to pushing diamonds though the South.(East in diagram) hand and will eventually emerge with ten tricks. This line is however in no way jeopardised by playing off two rounds of clubs at the start. If  South (East) "helpfully" signals four card club length, one may infer that spades are 2-4, but perhaps not otherwise.

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