stevesgames (stevesgames) wrote,

Bridge Column

                          A SURE THING

                       by Stephen Rzewski

             vul:  none

                           ♠ K973
                           ♥ A6
                           ♦ J764
                           ♣ K107

                           ♠ AJ865
                           ♥ 3
                           ♦ K52
                           ♣ AQJ6

	        bidding:  S      W      N      E
                          1♠     3♥    4♠   (all pass)
                       opening lead:   ♥ Q

	Today’s hand came up in a Swiss teams event at a local 
club.  Declarer won the heart lead in dummy, then played the king 
of spades, on which both opponents followed with low spot cards. 
When a low spade was played next, East followed with the 10.
Should declarer now finesse the jack or instead play for the drop
of the queen by going up with the ace?  Why? (take no credit unless
you give the correct reasoning)

    *          *          *          *          *          *

	The full deal:	


                            ♠ K973
                            ♥ A6
                            ♦ J764
                            ♣ K107

              West                         East

              ♠ 4                         ♠ Q102
              ♥ QJ109874                  ♥ K52
              ♦ A83                       ♦ Q109
              ♣ 98                        ♣ 5432


                            ♠ AJ865
                            ♥ 3
                            ♦ K52
                            ♣ AQJ6

	At the table, declarer successfully finessed the jack of 
trumps, rejecting the old adage of “eight ever, nine never”, which
suggests that when missing five cards including the queen, one 
should finesse, but instead play for the drop when missing only 
four cards. Later in the play, declarer led a diamond to his king 
and lost three tricks with the unlucky layout in that suit, but at
least fulfilled his contract.  So why did declarer take the finesse?

        It is true that in a vacuum the odds favor playing for the 
drop, but the mathematical advantage for that choice is slight, and
if there are other factors to take into account, one should consider 
the alternative play.  Here there is the matter of West’s pre-empt,
which shows great length in hearts, normally a 7-card suit, increasing
the chances of his holding a singleton spade.  The queen of spades 
is not a relevant card in the bidding, as West would probably be just
as inclined to make the same pre-empt if he held Q-x of spades as well
as a small singleton.  But with 8 of West’s cards inferentially known 
(7 hearts + 1 spade played), that leaves only five cards in his hand
that could be the queen of spades.  Whereas only five of East’s cards
are known (2 spades played + 3 presumed hearts), there are 8 cards 
in his hand which could be the queen.  That leaves much more room in
East’s hand to hold the queen, indicating that the finesse is a 
distinct favorite.

	Nevertheless, in the context of the complete deal, declarer 
should have played for the drop.  The finesse might be a good calculated
risk at matchpoints, where overtricks can bring heavy premiums, 
especially in normal contracts like this one, but at IMPs scoring, 
making the contract has the highest priority.  If declarer had played
the ace of spades at the critical juncture, and the queen had dropped,
the contract would have been assured.  But what if West had then shown 
out, as in the actual layout?  Declarer would then have a sure line
of play as follows:  a club to dummy to then lead and ruff out dummy’s
remaining heart**, followed by the play of the remaining club winners.
Then a trump is led, putting East on lead, who will have to break the 
diamond suit (or play his last heart, which would give declarer a fatal
ruff and sluff).  As long as declarer plays a low diamond from his hand
when East leads low, he can not be deprived of a diamond winner, no 
matter how the honors in the suit are distributed.

	So going up with the ace of spades is a heads-you-win, tails-
you-win play.  No need to resort to guesswork when a sure thing is 

	**An afterthought:  my good friend, Michael Klein pointed out
that declarer could improve his technique by ruffing dummy’s small heart
at trick #2, before touching trumps.  This would provide for the case 
where a defender with the third trump and a club void, probably West,
with something like: 

                  ♠ Q10x   ♥QJ10xxxx  ♦ Axx   ♣ ---

might be able to ruff in and exit safely with a heart before dummy’s 
heart could be removed, forcing declarer to break and guess the 
diamond suit himself.

	It is also worthy to note that there is a standard safety 
play with this card combination of starting the play of the spades 
with the ace rather than the king, which one might consider at this
form of scoring.  This play guards against the possibility of a 4-0 
trump split in either hand, and ensures the loss of no more than one
trump trick.  However, since LHO is highly unlikely to hold four 
spades along with the presumed 7-card heart suit, the initial play 
of the king in this case will likely work out just as well.

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