stevesgames (stevesgames) wrote,

Bridge Column

                              MORTON’S FORK




                                 ♣ -----

                 bidding:   S      W      N      E

                           1♥      P     2♦      P
                           2♠      P     3♥      P
                           3♠      P     4♣      P
                           5♥      P     6♥  (all pass)

	             opening lead:  a low club

	Today’s play problem came up at a recent club game.  Suppose 
you find yourself in a heart slam, with a possible auction shown.   
South’s 5♥ call was intended to show a very strong trump suit, and North,
figuring that declarer could not lose more than one minor-suit trick, 
hoped that his spades were good enough to solidify his partner’s second
suit.  How would you plan the play (trumps are 3-1)?

           *          *          *          *          *          *   

	The full deal:	


                 ♠53                           ♠Q104
                 ♥8                            ♥J106
                 ♦A1096                        ♦874
                 ♣Q108762                      ♣KJ95

                                   ♣ -----

	If you draw trumps and drive out the ace of diamonds, the 
contract would seem to depend on finessing against the queen of spades,
as you will always get two discards from dummy’s ace of clubs and extra
diamond honor for your two small spades. There is also a possible squeeze 
-–which does not exist on the actual layout-–if LHO had started with 
length in both diamonds and spades.

        However, there is a significant extra chance if you are careful:
DON’T play dummy’s ace of clubs at trick #1.  Instead, play a low club 
and ruff in your hand (as an aside, it would be good technique to ruff 
with the 7, just in case the trumps are 2-2, in which case that lowly 
deuce might provide you with a needed entry to the dummy at some later 
point).   Now draw three rounds of trumps and lead a LOW diamond from 
hand—-not the jack.  If LHO has the ace of diamonds, he will have a choice
of ways to let you win:  if he plays the ace, you will be able to score
two diamond discards, thus enabling you to throw away all three of your
low spades and avoid the spade finesse altogether.  And if he ducks the 
ace, you will win the trick with one of dummy’s honors, then discard your
diamond loser on the ace of clubs.  Now you will only need to play the 
spade suit in a way to avoid the loss of two tricks there, which is a 
very high-percentage proposition.

	With this combination:



the standard safety play if you can afford the loss of one trick is to 
start with the king, then lead low from the opposite hand up to the J-x; 
however, that can not be done unless there are sufficient entries to both
hands, a luxury you do not have on the actual hand.  In this particular
case, your best play is to lead low to the jack to start.  You will probably
go down when this loses to a singleton queen, but you will make the hand 
whenever the spades are 3-2, or all other 4-1 splits, such as when either 
opponent starts with Q10xx.  If that hand should be RHO, LHO will show out
on the second spade play to dummy’s king, and you will be able to lead 
from the dummy and take the marked finesse through RHO’s 10-x.

	The play of the low diamond from J-x toward dummy is called a 
“Morton’s Fork” coup.  The name is derived from Cardinal Morton, Chancellor
under King Henry VII of England, who raised money for the king’s coffers 
by taxing the merchants.  If those merchants lived an ostentatiously lavish
lifestyle, Morton felt that he could tax them with a heavy hand, since they
obviously could afford to pay.  And if others of the time lived an outwardly 
frugal lifestyle, he figured they must be saving and amassing wealth, and 
so concluded that they could equally afford to pay.  So however you lived,
you were doomed to be impaled on “Morton’s Fork.”

	The play of the same name in bridge is used to describe the lead
through a defender’s honor ----  in this case, the ace of diamonds ----
whereby the defender loses whether he wins or ducks the trick, essentially
a “damned if you do / damned if you don’t” choice.  Notice that it is 
essential to resist the impulse to play dummy’s ace of clubs at the first
trick.  If you play the ace early, you will be forced to take an immediate
discard of a diamond or a spade.  Leaving the ace in dummy affords you 
the flexibility of deciding how best to use that discard later in the hand,
depending on the ensuing play.

	There is one further point worth mentioning:  if there had been 
additional entries to dummy, you could execute the Morton’s Fork against 
either opponent.  In fact, since the placement of the ace of diamonds is 
a guess, you might be inclined to play RHO for that card, on the basis 
that many players in the opposite hand, when on opening lead against a slam,
will tend to lead an ace if they have one.  To illustrate the point, let’s
place the queen of trumps in the dummy in exchange for one of the spots,
and have the trumps divide 2-2, so that the deuce of hearts also allows an
additional entry to dummy. If you as declarer decided to play RHO for the 
diamond ace, you would ruff the club with the 7, play the ace and queen of 
trumps (saving that deuce), ending in the dummy, and play a low diamond
toward the closed hand. RHO, if holding the ace of diamonds, would face 
the same dilemma as the one described earlier.  If he were to duck and 
the jack held the trick, you could lead a spade to the king, discard your 
low diamond on the ace of clubs, ruff a minor-suit card to get to your 
hand, and lead up to the jack of spades.  If LHO showed out, the jack 
would force the queen, and you would still have a trump entry to dummy 
to take the remaining spade play through the 10.  On the actual hand, 
you would have gone wrong, as the jack of diamonds would lose to the ace,
and you would have to fall back on the spade finesse, resulting in down one. 
Sometimes it’s better not to have an option.

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