ASSESSING THE CONTRACT by Stephen Rzewski Unlike IMPs or rubber bridge, where small differences in scores generally have slight meaning, in matchpoint events, any difference, no matter how small, can have a great effect on the matchpoint outcome. For example, if the normal contract on a particular hand is a major-suit game yielding +420, and declarer is instead playing 3NT achieving +400 or +430 instead, the small difference in the numbers can have major consequences, probably resulting in a score significantly below or above average, perhaps even a bottom or a top (for one such example, check one of our previous columns, entitled “Moysian Fit”). When the dummy appears, it always behooves declarer to assess the contract, not just from the perspective of his chances of fulfilling it, but especially insofar as it is the likely one, or not, to be played at other tables. If the contract is unusual, and possibly resulting in scores different from the typical contract, declarer must focus on outscoring the probable result in the normal contract, sometimes even taking desperate measures to do so, lest he be outscored by the rest of the field. Playing in a pairs game at a Sectional tournament, I pick up: ♠ K9642 ♥ KQ1082 ♦ 87 ♣ 6 Neither side is vulnerable, and my partner opens with 1♣. The opponents are silent, and I respond 1♠. Partner rebids 2♦, a “reverse” showing extra values, and a two-suited hand with longer clubs than diamonds. I would like to show the heart suit now, as there is some chance that partner has a 3-card major-suit fragment, but unfortunately for me on this hand, we have agreed that 2♥ is an artificial bid, showing weakness and a desire to get out in a partscore. If I jump in hearts, we may get into trouble, as the meaning of that bid is undiscussed. I decide to take the direct route to 3NT, since with this misfit, it may prove to be the best contract anyway. Besides, by concealing the hearts, I may encourage the defense to lead that suit at some point. That ends the auction, which has been: (partner) (me) 1♣ P 1♠ P 2♦ P 3NT (all pass) The opening lead is the deuce of diamonds, and I see: ♠ A103 ♥ 9 ♦ AQJ4 ♣ AK1043 ♠ K9642 ♥ KQ1082 ♦ 87 ♣ 6 Well, so much for my clever thinking. I expect that most of the field will be in 4♠. Those declarers will be able to avoid a potential diamond loser by taking a fast club discard. If the spades split normally (3-2), they will make 4 or 5, depending on how many hearts they lose. Playing in 3NT, I am forced to finesse the jack of diamonds, and my fears are proved right when RHO produces the king. However, he elects to lead back the 3 of hearts, the play I was hoping for. It may be right to play low here, hoping for the jack to be on my right, but that doesn’t feel best. If I am wrong and lose a trick to the jack now, I will almost surely be held to only 9 tricks, which figures to be a disastrous result (+400 as compared to at least +420 in spades). And even if I am correct, and the ace wins, LHO may be reluctant to continue the suit, as I would appear to him to have a strong heart holding. Since I want to appear weak and therefore encourage more heart plays, I go up with the king. LHO does in fact win the ace and leads back the 4. I discard a club from dummy, and RHO thinks briefly before putting up the hoped-for jack. I win and play a third heart, just to verify that the suit is running, and both opponents follow. The following cards remain: ♠ A103 ♥ ----- ♦ AQ4 ♣ AK10 ♠ K9642 ♥ 82 ♦ 7 ♣ 6 Just as an aside, I have the sense that my opponents are relatively inexperienced and do not have good lead and carding habits. Holding in fact J753, it might have been better for RHO to have begun the suit with a high spot rather than the 3 with such a weak holding. Also, LHO, with A64, should return the 6 and not the 4. This may still have been difficult for his partner to read, but either play might have enabled them to avoid continuing the suit, or at the very least, helped RHO to avoid the play of putting up the jack on the 2nd lead. My position has improved considerably, as I have lost only two tricks so far, and I now have eight winners remaining. Still, I can envision that many declarers in 4♠ may elect to pass the 9 of hearts to the ace, ruff a heart, and make +450, so +430 may not be enough. Is there any way I might be able to take the rest? Whenever declarer has all the remaining tricks but one, he should always look for an opportunity to develop a squeeze. Actually, there are a few squeeze chances in this case. For instance, either opponent may be squeezed if he started with four or more diamonds and three or more spades. In addition, there is a slight chance of a positional squeeze on LHO if he began life with four diamonds and a club holding that includes the Q-J. I can actually take a line of play that will include both cases, and they seem like reasonable chances to play for. In order to do so, I must play the top clubs, then the ace of spades and another to my king. Both opponents follow to the spade plays, RHO with the queen. I now play the 8 of hearts from my hand, discarding dummy’s spade (optionally, the 8 of hearts could have been played before the clubs), leaving: ♠ ----- ♥ ----- ♦ AQ4 ♣ 10 (LHO) ♠ J ♥ ----- ♦ 952 ♣ ---- ♠ 96 ♥ 2 ♦ 7 ♣ ----- When I lead the good heart, LHO, who in fact started with both the spade and diamond length, has no safe play. If he throws the jack of spades, my spades will be good, and if he discards a diamond, I will throw dummy’s club and lead a diamond to dummy to run that suit. The same play would have worked had the spade and diamond length happened to be with RHO, making the squeeze “automatic”. These plays all proved to be necessary, as several declarers had in fact scored +450, and there were also a couple of +460s, with whom the top was shared. The full deal: ♠ A103 ♥ 9 ♦ AQJ4 ♣ AK1043 ♠ J75 ♠ Q8 ♥ A64 ♥ J753 ♦ 10952 ♦ K63 ♣ J85 ♣ Q972 ♠ K9642 ♥ KQ1082 ♦ 87 ♣ 6 As an afterthought, the reader may have noticed that there is an additional squeeze chance, which does not work on the actual lie of the cards, but which would be correct on a slightly different layout. If declarer had reason to believe that the diamond length was with LHO, and the spade length was on the right, he could play for a double squeeze. To illustrate this case, exchange the ♠5 with the ♣2 in the above diagram. Now at the mid-point of the hand, where the cards had come down to: ♠ A103 ♥ ----- ♦ AQ4 ♣ AK10 ♠ K9642 ♥ 82 ♦ 7 ♣ 6 Declarer, to play for the double squeeze, must play the high diamonds early, then the ace and king of spades, ending in his hand, then the 4th heart (this card could have been played earlier), discarding dummy’s last spade, coming down to: ♠ ----- ♥ ----- ♦ 4 ♣ AK10 ♠ ----- ♠ Q ♥ ----- ♥ ----- ♦ 9 ♦ ----- ♣ J85 ♣ Q97 ♠ 96 ♥ 2 ♦ ----- ♣ 6 Declarer now leads the last heart. LHO must keep the ♦9 to prevent the ♦4 in dummy from becoming a good card, so he discards a club. Declarer now throws dummy’s ♦ 4, and RHO, forced to hold the ♠Q to prevent declarer’s spades from becoming winners, also must let go a club. With both opponents down to two clubs each, the ♣10 in dummy takes the last trick. This play is called a “double squeeze”, because it operates on both opponents, in turn. So why did declarer opt for the first squeeze type and not the second? The odds probably favor the chosen line somewhat, but the choice of plays just amounted to a good guess, basically.