THE GREEDY OVERTRICK
by Stephen Rzewski
bidding: N E S W
1♣ 2♠ 3♥ P
4♥ (all pass)
opening lead: ♠2
One of the most important areas of matchpoint play that can
help generate winning games is the matter of overtricks. This is
especially true when it becomes apparent that a normal contract has
been reached which figures to make easily. Declarer may easily become
complacent and inattentive and miss an opportunity to make a precious
overtrick, which could turn an average result into a top. Likewise,
a defender can similarly lose concentration and allow declarer an
extra trick to which he is not entitled, converting an average into
a bottom. One such play on a 26-board session can easily affect one’s
score by about two percentage points, a considerable gain at matchpoints.
In today’s deal, which occurred at a recent club game, the
bidding and contract appear routine, and are likely to be the same at
all tables. What would be your general line of play?
If the trumps are 2-2, twelve tricks will be easy. If the
clubs should divide 3-3, one of dummy’s diamonds can be discarded on
the 13th club, and the diamond finesse can be taken for all thirteen
tricks. If the clubs do not split evenly, there are still some possible
ways to finesse the diamonds so as to avoid a loser in that suit. With
East pre-empting in spades, however, he figures to have shortness
somewhere, so some suits will undoubtedly split unevenly. To begin,
how should one play the hearts?
It is better to start the play of trumps with the king rather
than with dummy’s ace. If the hearts are not 2-2, the length is more
likely to be with West. If East should play an honor on the first lead,
the percentage line on the second trump play would be to play West for
honor-third and finesse dummy’s 9, in accordance with the Law of
Because there may be an endplay possibility on the hand, one
should use the opportunity of being in dummy at the first trick to ruff
a spade before touching trumps. Then at trick #3, play the king of hearts.
Both opponents follow low, and when you lead a second trump to dummy’s ace,
West plays the jack and East shows out, discarding a spade. So you will
have one sure trump loser. Now lead dummy’s last spade and ruff in hand,
West following. With the following cards remaining, how would you now
It behooves one to count the hand as you play, as the best
continuation may depend on the opponents’ distribution. East should
have six spades for his weak jump overcall and has followed to one heart;
so he has six cards in the minors. Suppose you were to test the clubs
and find them to be 4-2, with length in the East hand. That would give
him two diamonds. In that case, your best play to avoid a diamond loser
and score twelve tricks would be to hope that he started with exactly
K-x doubleton. You should accordingly lead a low diamond from dummy,
finesse the jack, and if it holds, play the ace next to drop the king.
If instead it should turn out that West holds four clubs, that
would leave East with two, and that hand would therefore have four diamonds.
In that case, your only play for the second overtrick would be to hope that
he started with K10xx. Holding the AJ9, you should plan on taking two
diamond finesses through East, first leading the queen, and if that card
is covered, winning the ace and getting back to dummy to finesse the 9.
The ace of clubs and a ruff of the 4th club will provide the necessary
entries. The odds of this play succeeding are small, but are essentially
on the house, since there is no danger of losing any additional trick if
the double-finesse fails. (It is somewhat better to start with the queen
rather than low to the 9, since a careless East might make a mistake and
fail to cover the queen with Kxxx).
To be in the best position to make your choice of plays, first
play the king and queen of clubs, then low to the ace on the third round
so as to end up in dummy (if West should ruff in, he will be obliged to
play a diamond, since he will have no other suit left, which presents you
with no danger). As it turns out, the clubs do split 3-3. So how should
you play the diamonds now?
The answer is: don’t touch the diamonds at all! Instead, lead
a trump to West, resulting in an endplay. He will be obliged to lead a
diamond into your tenace holding. You will now be able to discard a diamond
from dummy on your good 13th club and ruff your last diamond in dummy.
Making twelve tricks for a well-earned top. The full deal: