OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE by Stephen Rzewski To win matchpoint events, one must play well, make few mistakes, and hope for some luck. Besides receiving some outright “gifts” from opponents, good luck can occasionally befall players who find themselves in poor, anti-percentage contracts, whether by result of a bidding misunderstanding, or by aggressive overbidding. When faced with the prospect of playing what seems like a hopeless contract, it is essential to keep one’s head and look for a favorable lie of the cards that will enable you to bring the requisite tricks home, no matter how improbable. And conversely, when luck similarly smiles upon the opponents, one has to learn to philosophically accept what may seem like the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—and move on to the next hand. On the last round of a two-session Sectional open pairs, where I sense that we might be in contention, I pick up: ♠ Q76 ♥ A76432 ♦ AK7 ♣ A With neither side vulnerable, my LHO opens 1NT (14-17), and my partner overcalls 2♣. In our methods, that call shows clubs and a five-card major, which I can infer from my hand must be spades. With a spade fit and all those controls, I have what looks like a great hand. I bid 2NT, which we use as an asking bid, and partner answers 3C, which is his weakest action, indicating a bad hand without disclosing which major he holds. Still, it is hard for me to imagine a holding where we do not have some kind of play for game, so I bid 4♠, which is passed out (in retrospect, my 2NT inquiry was probably a pointless exercise). LHO leads the ♦Q, and there is some hilarity when the dummy appears, as I see that partner really meant his 3♣ call: ♠ 109432 ♥ J9 ♦ 2 ♣ J10982 ♠ Q76 ♥ A76432 ♦ AK7 ♣ A Unfortunately, it looks as though we will be heading for an untimely minus score, as it will take some miraculous holding or bad defense for me to make this contract. It looks like my best play is to take my side winners and try to scramble as many ruffs as I can, and hope for the best. So I win the diamond lead and start by playing my singleton ♣A, to lay the groundwork for scoring club ruffs in my hand. It is a good thing that I am paying attention, as my often inattentive eyes catch sight of the queen on my left. Wait a minute. To find out if that is a true card, I lead my low diamond, ruff in dummy, and play a 2nd club, ruffing in my hand. As if answering a prayer, the king of clubs does in fact come down on the table. Instead of proceeding with my first idea of crossruffing, I change tactics by leading the queen of spades: LHO pauses, then plays low, as RHO produces the ace. He then leads a heart. I play the ace, followed by the king of diamonds so as to discard dummy’s losing heart, then cross my fingers as I play a second spade. I am almost afraid to look, as LHO wins the jack, and RHO…. follows suit! The dummy has only good clubs and two trumps against LHO’s lone remaining king. If he leads a red card, I simply ruff and lead good clubs, the last trump giving me control. Making +420. Actually, I have to confess to having made a subtle error in the play: at the table, after winning the diamond lead, I made the mistake of playing the second high diamond and pitching a heart from dummy immediately. This could have led to trouble when RHO won the ace of spades, as he could have defeated me by playing a 4th diamond, which would have made the hand unmanageable. In fact, he saved me by playing a heart. To be fair, from his point of view, I might have had a heart loser, which could go away if his diamond play resulted in giving me a ruff and sluff. Of course, if the defense had led a trump on opening lead and drawn three rounds, they would have enjoyed a club winner and defeated the contract, and I would have had no story to tell. The complete deal: ♠ 109432 ♥ J9 ♦ 2 ♣ J10982 ♠ KJ8 ♠ A5 ♥ Q85 ♥ K10 ♦ QJ654 ♦ 10983 ♣ KQ ♣ 76543 ♠ Q76 ♥ A76432 ♦ AK7 ♣ A Just to show that the universe has its way of balancing out, following is a hand from a Regional tournament in Saratoga, last Spring, on which I was a defender:: ♠ 74 ♥ AK64 ♦ J852 ♣ 852 ♠ AK3 ♥ Q52 ♦ AK3 ♣ AQJ4 At our table, the opponents who bid this hand had two misunder- standings: in answer to South’s strong 2♣ opening, North responded positively in hearts, showing a good five-card suit, when he held only four. Then later in a Blackwood auction, North responded 6♣ to 5NT, which South thought showed the king of that suit. Based on those two pieces of misinformation, South bid what seemed like a reasonable 7NT. The opening lead was a spade, which declarer won in hand. Well, to make this hand, declarer needed the king of clubs onside (it was), two entries to dummy to take and repeat the club finesse (the two high hearts), clubs and hearts to both split 3-3 so as to make the long card in each suit (they did), and the most outrageous of all, the queen of diamonds to come down doubleton so as to score the jack for the 13th trick (down she came). For this undeservedly bad result (known in the parlance as a “fix”) to befall us, I calculate the probability to be less than 1%**. On a hand where no other pair, quite reasonably, was even in a small slam, I think this was perhaps the roundest zero I have ever experienced. Nonetheless, when the last card was played, all FOUR players at the table burst into laughter. ** Amend that to around 2%, as I failed to take certain possibilities into account in my estimate. See "comment" below, by my good friend, Michael Klein.
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.
ARTISTIC ENDING by Stephen Rzewski Some of the better plays one sees at the table occur on hands where the result, good or bad, has already been determined. For example, declarer successfully executes a double squeeze in a slam, but only to go down one trick instead of two. Good players sometimes respectfully jest that “style points” should be awarded for such plays. In today’s hand, from an IMPs event at a Regional tournament, declarer managed to bring about an endplay for an overtrick, where he had already earned a decent score simply by going plus and making his contract: North ♠ AK2 ♥ KQJ96 ♦ 9 ♣ KJ43 West East ♠ Q108 ♠ J7 ♥ 8 ♥ A105432 ♦ AKJ86 ♦ 2 ♣ A1087 ♣ Q965 South ♠ 96543 ♥ 7 ♦ Q107543 ♣ 2 bidding: W N E S 1♦ dbl 1♥ 1♠ 2♣ dbl P 2♠ P P P opening lead: ♥ 8 The bidding is shown as it occurred. As a matter of style, some players might overcall 1♥ with the North hand, then subsequently follow through with a takeout double; this sequence would show the five-card suit, extra values, and a willingness to play other strains. South, with 6-5 shape, ventured a free 1♠ call in spite of his weakness, then pulled his partner’s second double with nothing to contribute to the defense. East might actually have bid on to 3♣, which seems likely to make, but was inhibited from doing so because of North’s double on the previous round. The jack of hearts was played from dummy at the first trick, East winning the ace. East’s best return is probably a diamond at this point (a club return might also result in a successful defense). If West can read his partner’s singleton, he can cash the ace of clubs and return a low diamond. The hand will now become unmanageable for declarer, and he will ultimately be defeated. However, East instead returned a heart at trick #2. South pitched his losing club as West ruffed with a natural trump trick. West cashed the king of diamonds, but couldn’t read his partner’s deuce as a singleton, and unsure as to how to proceed, played a trump. Declarer cleared the enemy trumps with the ace and king, leaving: North ♠ 2 ♥ KQ9 ♦ --- ♣ KJ93 West East ♠ --- ♠ --- ♥ --- ♥ 10432 ♦ AJ86 ♦ --- ♣ A1087 ♣ Q965 South ♠ 965 ♥ --- ♦ Q10754 ♣ --- South was now assured of making his contract, since he had two tricks in the bank, two heart winners in dummy and was destined to score his remaining four trumps individually. Do you see how he managed a sequence of plays that resulted in his gaining an overtrick? * * * * * * * South cashed dummy’s two high hearts, then played a third heart, covered by East and ruffed in declarer’s hand. Declarer then led the 10 of diamonds (actually, any diamond will do). West covered with the jack, but instead of ruffing with dummy’s last trump, declarer called for a club, allowing West to win the trick and putting that player on lead in the following position: North ♠ 2 ♥ --- ♦ --- ♣ KJ9 West East ♠ --- ♠ --- ♥ --- ♥ 4 ♦ A8 ♦ --- ♣ A10 ♣ Q96 South ♠ 96 ♥ --- ♦ Q7 ♣ --- West pondered her position for a full minute, looking for a way out; there was none. If she played the ace of diamonds, South would ruff in dummy, and the queen would be established. Similarly, playing the ace of clubs would establish dummy’s king, as South would ruff in his hand. If she played a low diamond, South would simply let that come around to the queen. Eventually, she found the best play of a low club, but South, reading the position, put up dummy’s king, discarding a diamond from his hand, and took the remainder with ruffs.
DEPT. OF DEFENSE (II) by Stephen Rzewski vul: N-S matchpoints North (dummy) ♠ 10 ♥ J754 ♦ A10962 ♣ 753 West (you) ♠ Q982 ♥ K9 ♦ 875 ♣ J642 bidding: N E S W P 1♦ 1♠ P P dbl redbl 1NT P P 2♠ (all pass) Trick #1: you lead ♦5, 9, jack from partner, king from declarer. #2: declarer leads ♥3, you play the king, 4, deuce. #3: you continue with ♥9, 5, 10 from partner, 6. #4: partner leads ♥Q, 8, you discard a diamond, 7. #5: partner leads ♥A, declarer ruffs with ♠J … ? How do you defend from this point? * * * * * * * The full deal: North ♠ 10 ♥ J754 ♦ A10962 ♣ 753 West East ♠ Q982 ♠ 64 ♥ K9 ♥ AQ102 ♦ 875 ♦ QJ43 ♣ J642 ♣ K109 South ♠ AKJ753 ♥ 863 ♦ K ♣ AQ8 Don’t overruff declarer’s ♠J! Look what happens if you do: declarer will now have an entry to the dummy (♠10), which will enable him to get a club discard on the ace of diamonds. He will then be able to take the club finesse and draw your remaining trumps with the ace and king, to score up 9 tricks. If you discard instead of overruffing, you will not only deprive declarer of access to dummy, but you will score two trump tricks instead of one. Discarding effectively promotes your 9-8 of trumps to a second winner. At the table, West discarded a diamond at trick #5. Declarer led a low spade from his hand, hoping for West to duck. West, understanding declarer’s problem, went up with the queen and led back the 9 of spades, trying to avoid the play of a minor suit. Declarer did his best by winning the ace and king of trumps, then threw West back on lead with a small trump to the 8. West now had to break clubs, finessing his partner’s king, but South still had to concede a slow club loser to West’s jack for down one. Refusing to ruff with the queen of trumps at the critical point in the hand resulted in a two-trick gain for the defense. There is one point about the auction worth mentioning: one of the incentives for East’s re-opening double is to provide for the case where West might have a penalty pass of 1Sx. When South redoubles, a pass by West should still indicate a willingness to defend that contract; otherwise, if South were in trouble, he might be able to get the opponents to rescue him and pull the double by bluffing with a redouble. Therefore, if West does not want to defend, he must bid. Obviously, South would have done better to double 1NT instead of bidding 2♠, but these situations are often difficult to judge, as West might well have had the 10 of spades, and his partner, North, could have been broke.
TEST YOUR PLAY (III) by Stephen Rzewski IMPs North ♠ AKJ2 ♥ AK7 ♦ K7 ♣ 9863 South ♠ 1085 ♥ Q82 ♦ A4 ♣ AK1042 bidding: S W N E 1♣ P 1♠ P 1NT P 2♦ P 2♠ P 3♣ P 3♦ P 6♣ (all pass) opening lead: ♦ J North’s 2♦ bid at his 2nd turn was a conventional forcing call (“New Minor Forcing”). South’s 2♠ showed 3-card support in case North held a 5-card suit. North’s 3♣ in this sequence was a natural slam try in that suit. When South bid 3♦, he was making an encouraging cue-bid, implying good clubs (with a less suitable hand, he would have signed off in 3NT). You win the king of diamonds in dummy and lead a low club to the ace. On this trick, East follows with the 5, and West plays the queen. Plan the play. * * * * * * * The complete deal: North ♠ AKJ2 ♥ AK7 ♦ K7 ♣ 9863 West East ♠ 764 ♠ Q93 ♥ 10654 ♥ J93 ♦ J1095 ♦ Q8632 ♣ QJ ♣ 75 South ♠ 1085 ♥ Q82 ♦ A4 ♣ AK1042 This hand came from a Swiss teams match at a Sectional tournament. At one table, South was a somewhat experienced player, who had read and learned the “Rule of Restricted Choice” (see an earlier article on this website, entitled “Find the Jack”, hand #1). He knew with this club combination that when an honor appears on the left, the percentage play is to finesse on the 2nd round of the suit against a probable holding of J-x-x on the right. So he played a heart to dummy, led the ♣9 and passed it when East played the 7. This lost to the jack. Later, he had to fall back on the finesse for the queen of spades, which you can see was offside. Result: down 1 and certainly bad luck, as declarer’s choice of plays gave him better than an 80% chance of landing his contract. This sort of result feels embarrassing, as an inexperienced player, who would not know about Restricted Choice, would typically play off the top clubs and make the contract easily. At the other table, South was a player of even greater experience. He also knew about Restricted Choice, but chose to spurn the finesse and played the top clubs, catching West’s doubleton Q-J, just as the novice would. So why did he choose to ignore the “right” play? Because he saw that if the finesse actually did work (East holding J-x-x in trumps), he didn’t need to take it. If West were to show out on the 2nd high club, declarer would play off his remaining high diamond and heart winners, then throw East in with a club to his jack. East would now be endplayed, either by leading a spade to dummy’s tenace, or playing a red card, allowing South to sluff his losing spade while ruffing in dummy. The chance of this line succeeding: virtually 100%. The moral: Always consider the technically correct play of any given holding within the context of the complete deal.
- TEST YOUR PLAY (II) by Stephen Rzewski IMPs vul: both dlr: South North ♠ K5 ♥ AQ102 ♦ J9 ♣ QJ1054 South ♠ AQ ♥ K43 ♦ A87632 ♣ 93 bidding: S W N E 1♦ P 2♣ P 2♦ P 2♥ P 2NT P 3NT (all pass) opening lead: ♠ J This hand came up in a Flight A Regional Swiss teams match. As is often the case in tight competition, 6 of the 7 boards played were pushes. The match was won (& lost) on this board, where one declarer solved the hand, and the other did not. How would you have fared? Plan the play. * * * * * * * The complete deal: North ♠ K5 ♥ AQ102 ♦ J9 ♣ QJ1054 West East ♠ J10972 ♠ 8643 ♥ 76 ♥ J985 ♦ 105 ♦ KQ4 ♣ A762 ♣ K8 South ♠ AQ ♥ K43 ♦ A87632 ♣ 93 The duplication in spades is annoying, since if you had a 3rd spade in either hand, you could simply establish the clubs. That won’t work with the spade lead on the actual holding, because you would have to give up the lead twice in the club suit, and in the meantime the defense will have at least three spade tricks set up so as to beat you. So your only alternative is to go after those anemic diamonds and envision a layout that will enable you to set up that suit while giving up the lead only once. The odds are against you, but there are a few holdings that will work. What you have to hope for is a doubleton holding in the West hand which includes the 10, with or without an honor, that is, either 10-x, K-10, or Q-10. In all those cases, you must start the diamond plays from your hand, so win the ace of spades and lead a low diamond toward dummy. In the cases where West holds K-10 or Q-10, most players will play the high honor out of a reasonable fear of losing it, especially since declarer might be leading from a strong holding headed by A-Q or A-K. If West plays the 10 instead, the jack will force the honor in the East hand. Declarer can play the ace when in next, dropping the stiff honor in West’s hand, and the suit will now be good—that is, provided that declarer reads the position. If West wins the first diamond and presumably leads another spade, you will win the king in dummy and lead the jack of diamonds, pinning West’s remaining 10. If East doesn’t cover, let the jack ride, then come to your hand with a heart, play the ace of diamonds and run the suit. If West holds 10-x, as in the actual hand, he will likely follow with his low spot card at trick #2. Put in the 9, forcing a high honor from East. Win the spade continuation in dummy, and once again lead the jack of diamonds, intending to pass it as before if East does not cover. If West, holding 10-x, plays the 10 on the first diamond lead, he will create a problem for declarer. Since a singleton 10 holding would be irrelevant, as South can not play the suit for one loser if East has K-Q-x-x, South will have to guess on the second diamond play whether to run the 9, playing for East to have started with K-Q-x, or go up with the ace, playing for West to have started with Honor-10. This all means that, whether West holds honor-10 or 10-x, his best play is actually to first play the 10 in each case (although admittedly a much more difficult play to make with the honor-10 holding), creating an ambiguity and forcing South to guess which play to make on the second diamond lead. Probably only a sophisticated defender, (or a naïve one, perhaps “giving count”) would make that play in tempo, however. If you envisioned the right line (and presumably did not get the play of the 10 on the first diamond lead), your team gained 730 points (+630 & +100), which translates into +12 IMPs and the match; nice going.
SURROUNDING PLAY by Stephen Rzewski matchpoints vul: none North ♠ K75 ♥ A8742 ♦ AJ2 ♣ 82 West East ♠ AQ102 ♠ 864 ♥ Q103 ♥ K65 ♦ Q1043 ♦ K976 ♣ 64 ♣ A105 South ♠ J93 ♥ J9 ♦ 85 ♣ KQJ973 bidding: N E S W 1♥ P 1NT P 2♦ P 3♣ (all pass) opening lead: ♦ 3 In an earlier column, we discussed the need to remember the correct way of playing certain complex or infrequent card combinations as an element of successful declarer play. That principle applies to defense as well. In today’s hand, South does not have the values to bid 2♣ at his first turn, since that call would imply better overall hand quality. So he started with a "forcing" 1NT. In this style, it is understood that North’s 2♦ call may be based on a 3-card suit. South might have reverted to 2♥ at his 2nd turn, but elected to play in his own suit because of its quality and length. In fact, both contracts should be defeated, but the defense has to be careful to do so in each case. West’s spade holding was unattractive as an opening lead, so he chose a low diamond. South played low from dummy, hoping to induce a mistake on East’s part: if the diamond honors were divided and East played high, declarer might have a chance to take a diamond finesse with dummy’s AJ and dump a loser. But East got it right when he put in the 9, holding the trick. He then continued with a low diamond to his partner’s queen and dummy’s ace. Declarer led a club from dummy. East ducked his ace, but won the club continuation and played a third diamond. South ruffed and drew the last trump, leaving: ♠ K75 ♥ A874 ♦ ----- ♣ ----- ♠ AQ10 ♠ 864 ♥ Q103 ♥ K65 ♦ 10 ♦ 9 ♣ ----- ♣ ----- ♠ J93 ♥ J9 ♦ ----- ♣ 97 South didn’t like his chances, but he saw one possibility: if hearts were 3- 3, he might be able to establish a long heart in dummy and use the king of spades as a way to get to it if the ace was with West. To accomplish this, he would have to duck a heart, then when in next play a heart to the ace, ruff a heart, lead a spade up to the king, and pray, as a lot of things would have to go right. Declarer led the jack of hearts from his hand, and when West covered with the queen, he called for a low heart from dummy. West was slightly surprised to be allowed to win this trick. He thought for awhile and figured out what South was up to. Realizing that a heart or diamond return would be futile, he attacked spades by playing the ace and then the 10. But South simply let this come around to his jack, losing just one spade and making his contract. The key play that West needs to make when in with the queen of hearts is to play the QUEEN of spades. This not only removes the entry to dummy for the long heart, but preserves two potential spade tricks for the defense. This play is called a “surrounding” play, because once the queen is played to the king, the remaining A- 10 surround the J-x in the opposite hand. This combination is a good one to remember, as it occurs with some frequency. East might have made it easier for his partner if he had returned a spade at trick #2. If a spade is led from East, however, West must be careful to put in the 10, not the ace. * * * * * * * Here are some other surrounding play positions, which you may want to confine to memory, as you will encounter them from time to time. Put yourself in the West position, and decide how you should attack the suit: 1. Q42 KJ93 A76 1085 If you lead low, declarer will play low from dummy, and partner will have to put up the ace or let South score his 10. Instead, start by playing the jack. If the queen is played, partner will win the ace, and his return will ensnare South’s 10, which will be surrounded by your K-9, giving the opponents no tricks in the suit. However, the following position, with the same N-S cards distributed unevenly, must be treated differently: Q4 KJ93 A76 10854 In this 2nd case, if you are West and need four fast tricks in the suit, you must boldly start with the king, then play low to partner’s ace. On the return, South’s 10-8 will be captured by your J-9. 2. AQ2 KJ93 764 1085 If you lead low, South will let this come around to his 10 and still preserve the winning A-Q in dummy. Instead, start with the jack. Dummy’s queen will win, but if either partner or declarer plays the suit a 2nd time, you will cover the 10 with the king, making your 9 good, and the opponents will be held to two tricks in the suit. 3. AJ2 Q1083 K76(4) 95(4) A low card from West will force partner’s king, should the deuce be played from the North hand, giving North a winning tenace position with the A-J over the queen. Instead, start with the 10. If the jack and king are then played, your Q-8 will surround the 9 on the return. Exchanging the queen with the king in the E-W hands would obviously amount to the same holding. Also, if one exchanges the ace and king in the North and East hands, to leave: KJ2 Q1083 A76 954 the lead of the 10 will have a similar effect, limiting the opponents to one winner in the suit. 4. J42 Q1083 K76 A95 Again, West must lead the 10 rather than a low card, if he wishes to limit South to one trick. 5. The position in today’s column is: K75 AQ102 864 J93 If West needs to attack the suit from his side, he must start with the queen, allowing the king to win. He then needs to wait for partner or declarer to play the suit next in order to score two tricks.
INCORRECT ANALYSIS by Stephen Rzewski On several occasions every year, bridge events are held in local clubs in which the same hands are played across the entire ACBL, or in some cases, world- wide. The events are popular because club players are given the opportunity to achieve a high score that may rank nationally or globally. As a further attraction, a record of the hands played, along with an expert analysis of each deal, is provided to every player on conclusion of play. Today’s hand came from one such event, an “International Fund Pairs”, held in 1987. Imagine yourself as the declarer, and try to think and play the hand along with the narrative: My partner and I are vulnerable and the opponents not, and in 2nd seat I pick up this promising collection: ♠ AK9732 ♥ ----- ♦ A84 ♣ AKQ3 My right-hand opponent, who is the dealer, begins with a weak 2♥. Many years ago, a 3♥ cue-bid might have been used to show a hand of this type, but my partner and I have a different conventional understanding for that call, so I decide to start with a takeout double. Over this, my left-hand opponent jumps to 5♥. This is a good tactic from his side at favorable vulnerability, called an “advance sacrifice”. He figures we can probably make a game somewhere, and elects to make the sacrifice bid against our contract before we actually reach it, rather than wait until we can determine at what strain and level we best belong, thus forcing us to guess whether to bid or double. My partner passes, as does my RHO. Well, I’m not going to let myself be shut out with a good playing hand like this one, so I bid 5♠. This is followed by a pass on my left. My partner thinks for a bit, then bids 6♠, which is passed out. The complete auction has been: E S W N 2♥ dbl 5♥ P P 5♠ P 6♠ (all pass) West leads the ace of hearts, and the dummy comes down: ♠ QJ84 ♥ J82 ♦ J106 ♣ 972 ♠ AK9732 ♥ ----- ♦ A84 ♣ AKQ3 It probably would have been more judicious for partner to pass, since he knows I am counting on him for a little something. Still, he does have very good trumps, and he could be right. In any case, here I am in a slam. How should I plan the play so as to come up with 12 tricks? I have 6 spades and 4 top tricks in the minors. In addition, I can always ruff the 4th club in dummy after drawing trumps, giving me 11 tricks. If the clubs are 3-3, the 4th club will be a winner, and I can discard one of dummy’s diamonds on that card, then give up a diamond and ruff a diamond for my 12th trick. With all this aggressive pre-empting, though, I would be very surprised if the clubs split evenly. Is there any other reasonable chance that I can play for in addition to the even club break? If only that 8 of diamonds were the 9, I could take a double-finesse in diamonds. With West leading the ace of hearts, East’s heart suit can only be headed by the KQ at most, which easily leaves room for a diamond honor in his hand in spite of his pre-emptive two-bid. Is there any way I may be able to play the diamond suit for one loser with this combination, other than hoping for a defensive mistake? Besides a very lucky holding of KQ tight or singleton honor, there is also the chance of K-x or Q-x doubleton in either hand (most likely East, as few players would open a weak two-bid with 6-5 distribution). If you thought that LHO had that holding, for instance, you could prevail by leading a low diamond from the closed hand. If LHO played his honor, your J10 in dummy would give you a finessing position against the remaining honor in RHO’s hand. Conversely, if you thought RHO held a doubleton honor, you would start the diamonds by leading the jack from the dummy. If RHO played his honor, you would win and lead through LHO’s honor to establish the 10. And if either player ducked his honor on the first lead, your play would force the honor in the opposite hand, then you could pick off the remaining stiff honor with your ace. There is also the chance of an endplay, if either hand holds both diamond honors. That hand would most likely be West, since a weak two-bid with KQ in both red suits would be very rich. To allow for that possibility, I will want to strip the hand as much as possible so as to force the opponents to lead diamonds in the end, as well as to try to get a count on their distribution. I shall draw trumps by leading to dummy’s honors, so as to ruff hearts on the way back. So I start by ruffing the opening lead, then I lead a low spade to dummy’s jack. On this trick West discards a heart. The 3-0 trump split is annoying, because I now won’t be able to draw three rounds of trumps and ruff all three of dummy’s hearts and still leave a trump in each hand, limiting my end-play possibilities. Still, I see no better way to continue, since playing the hand in this way will still help me build up a picture of the enemy holdings. West may also have some discarding problems and under pressure may make a defensive error in that regard. As my club holding is concealed, an opponent might easily make a careless discard of a club from something like 10xxx, which will make my 4th club good. After leading a spade to dummy’s jack, I lead the 8 of hearts and ruff in my hand, both opponents following. I continue with a low spade to the queen: on this trick West discards the deuce of diamonds. I lead dummy’s last heart, the jack, which East covers with the queen; I ruff in my hand, West following suit. This leaves: ♠ 84 ♥ ----- ♦ J106 ♣ 972 ♠ A ♥ ----- ♦ A84 ♣ AKQ3 West presumably began with four hearts, so he is out of major-suit cards now, having followed to three heart leads and discarding a heart and a diamond on the two trump leads. East has one trump left, and now is the time to draw it with my ace. On this trick, West discards the 4 of clubs. That may be the mistake I am looking for. So I next try the ace of clubs on which both opponents follow with spot cards, then I play the king, but no such luck: West follows low, but East discards a heart. That’s more bad news for another reason, as I now know East’s distribution. He is presumed to have begun with 6 hearts, 3 spades, and a singleton club. That means he holds three diamonds, and West, who discarded a diamond earlier, now also holds three. So there is no chance of playing either opponent for a doubleton honor. Am I therefore licked? Not necessarily. If West holds KQx of diamonds, I can strip the clubs from his hand and endplay him. But I also see another chance now: maybe that 8 of diamonds will prove to be of some use after all. I lead my third high club: West follows with the 10, and East discards a heart. Then I lead my small club, West covers with the jack, I ruff with dummy’s last trump, and East plays another heart. All hands are now down to nothing but diamonds. The lead is in dummy, and I am looking at: J106 A84 If West has KQx, I have him now, as I should simply lead the jack and pass it. He will win and have to lead away from his remaining honor, on which I should play dummy’s 10. However, my gut feeling is that West does not hold both honors. East had three opportunities to discard on the club plays and threw a heart each time. It is true that an expert East, holding 9xx in diamonds would understand my problem and would have discarded all his hearts, since they are useless cards anyway, which he is known to hold, thus forcing me to guess the diamond holdings. But East is not an expert, and most average players at some point in the hand will typically discard a low diamond from such a weak holding. This suggests to me that the diamond honors are divided between the two hands. I therefore believe that my best chance is to hope that West holds the 9 of diamonds, making my 8 the key card all along. So I lead the jack, which is ducked by East and me to West’s king. West leads a low card back, and I follow my instincts by playing low from dummy. East can either play low and let me score the 8, or he can cough up the queen, the full deal being: North ♠ QJ84 ♥ J82 ♦ J106 ♣ 972 West East ♠ ----- ♠ 1065 ♥ A764 ♥ KQ10953 ♦ K972 ♦ Q53 ♣ J10654 ♣ 8 South ♠ AK9732 ♥ ----- ♦ A84 ♣ AKQ3 Had West returned the 9 of diamonds, I would simply have covered with the 10, pickling East’s queen and establishing my 8. The opponents carded as well as they could. If West had discarded a second diamond, for instance, South could well have figured him to have come down to Kx, and would have made the winning play of a low diamond from his hand before playing all the clubs. Interestingly, the hand analysis you are given after the game states that on the normal ace of hearts lead, 6♠ can not be legitimately made, as E-W must come to two diamond tricks!
STRIP SQUEEZE by Stephen Rzewski Try your hand at the following play problem, which came up at a local duplicate club game: North ♠ 972 ♥ AK6 ♦ KQ109 ♣ A83 South ♠ KQ ♥ J74 ♦ AJ7 ♣ Q10765 bidding: S W N E 1♣ 1♠ 2♦ P 2NT P 3NT (all pass) opening lead: ♠ 10 (showing 0 or 2 honors higher) East follows with the 4 of spades on the opening lead, and you win the queen. Decide on a line of play before reading on. * * * * * * * You have eight top tricks. The problem with trying to set up club tricks is that as soon as you give up the lead, West is likely to run a pile of spades on you. There are a couple of remote chances, such as a doubleton queen of hearts, or a singleton king of clubs, but before committing yourself to such improbable cases, start by playing your best suit and watch the discards. On the first three diamond leads, everyone follows, but on the 4th diamond, West throws a heart. Now you might test the hearts to see if a small miracle happens: on the ace, both opponents follow low, then on the king, no queen appears, but West throws a spade. Many players would essentially give up and play the ace of clubs now, settling for down one unless the king is singleton. But you should stop and ask yourself: with West out of red cards, why is he throwing away a potentially good spade? The answer is that he must be protecting something in clubs. Even if he began with a 6-card suit, he can’t have more than four spades left now. So you should lead a spade, in the following position: ♠ 97 ♥ 6 ♦ ----- ♣ A83 ♠ AJ86 ♥ ----- ♦ ----- ♣ K4 ♠ K ♥ J ♦ ----- ♣ Q1076 West can cash his four spade winners, but on the run of those tricks you sluff down to the A-8 of clubs in dummy and the Q-10 in your hand. West is now endplayed and must lead a low club away from the king, which you allow to come around to your queen for the game-going trick. The full deal: ♠ 972 ♥ AK6 ♦ KQ109 ♣ A83 ♠ AJ10863 ♠ 54 ♥ 92 ♥ Q10853 ♦ 432 ♦ 865 ♣ K4 ♣ J92 ♠ KQ ♥ J74 ♦ AJ7 ♣ Q10765 Declarer might come around to this play almost accidentally in the manner described above, but one might also conceive the general line of play from the very beginning, as West’s overcall would be pretty thin without the king of clubs on the side. The key point on a hand like this one is to visualize two or more defensive assets in the same hand, here the long spades and the king of clubs, then try to put pressure on that hand by playing off as many winners as possible in the other suits. The play is called a “strip squeeze”, since one begins by stripping the West hand of all the cards in the irrelevant suits (in this case hearts and diamonds), mostly to deprive him of any possible exit cards in those suits in preparation for a throw-in and endplay. Additional winners in those suits may then compress that player’s black-suit holdings to his disadvantage. The same line of play would also work if West had started with only five spades and a hand such as: ♠ AJ1086 ♥ 92 ♦ 432 ♣ KJ4 In this case, West would probably discard a club on the 6th red-suit play. In any event, it is essential that the top hearts be played as well as the diamonds in order to remove any possible exit cards in West’s hand, so that when he is given the lead with a spade, he will be forced to lead a club in the end. Now try another: North ♠ AQ8 ♥ A109 ♦ 765 ♣ 8432 South ♠ K7 ♥ KQ6 ♦ K10 ♣ AQ10765 bidding: S W N E 1♣ 1♦ 2♣ P 2NT P 3NT (all pass) opening lead: ♦ Q North has an awkward call at his first turn. A negative double, which would imply 4-4 in the majors is out of the question, and passing is very risky with such good values. A 2♦ cuebid, promising a limit raise in clubs, seems pushy with a square hand and only four weak trumps. The simple raise is probably the least of evil choices. On the first trick, East follows with the 4, as you win the king. Again, plan the play before reading on. * * * * * * * Once again, you have eight top winners. If you can pick up the club suit, you will end up with all 13 tricks, but if you get the suit wrong, you will go down. If you think the king of clubs might be in the East hand, the best play is probably to lead a low club from dummy and finesse the queen, but what if the king is in the West hand? Should one simply go up with the ace and hope the king is singleton, or is there an alternative play? Knowing the opponents’ bidding style can sometimes be helpful in deciding which hand holds the king of clubs. One would normally expect such an honor to be in the overcaller’s hand, since, once again, a bid on the West hand without a side card would be a very light action. But players seem to bid much more aggressively today, and some might make a tactical bid with AQJxx and no side card, especially as a lead- directing call. With a 6-card suit such as AQJxxx, one would expect a player with no outside card to make a pre-emptive 2♦ call, but bid only 1♦ with a more constructive hand (such as one that includes the king of clubs). However, many players also don’t follow such guidelines and will make the jump overcall with both hands. Since your first play in the club suit will likely determine the outcome of the deal, postpone the clubs and play off your major-suit winners before committing yourself, and once again, watch the discards to see if you can glean any pertinent information as to the location of the king of clubs. If West actually holds that card along with the long diamonds, perhaps you can apply some pressure on his hand. Let’s suppose you start by playing your three heart winners, on which both opponents follow. When you next play the king of spades, both opponents follow, but when you lead a low spade to the ace, West shows out, discarding the 13th heart. Then on the queen of spades, he throws a diamond. Once again, with West stripped of his major-suit cards, the discard of a potential diamond winner suggests that he is protecting clubs. The club finesse will probably fail, so lead a diamond and let West cash his four winners. He will be endplayed in clubs, forced to lead into your A-Q to give you your 9th trick. The full deal: ♠ AQ8 ♥ A109 ♦ 765 ♣ 8432 ♠ J ♠ 10965432 ♥ 8753 ♥ J42 ♦ AQJ932 ♦ 84 ♣ K9 ♣ J ♠ K7 ♥ KQ6 ♦ K10 ♣ AQ10765 Possession of the 10 of diamonds in your hand adds some insurance to this play, since if East held that card, he would be able to win the attempted throw-in, cash major suit winners, or lead a club from his side to set you. An important factor declarer needs to read is the discomfort level shown by the West hand during the play. An average player, for instance, will usually exhibit some pain and suffering as he gets down to the crucial discards, which can give away the vital information declarer needs to know to make the right play. An expert defender, on the other hand, will foresee what is happening early in the play and may well casually discard a club on the last major-suit winner, or perhaps even earlier in the play, baring the king. Will declarer get it right, and go up with the ace of clubs in that instance? If declarer is himself an expert, and judges his left-hand opponent capable of such a play, then quite possibly yes; otherwise, probably not. (Thanks to my good friend, Jeff Lehman, for providing the 2nd deal).
SCISSORS COUP by Stephen Rzewski vul: both matchpoints North ♠ Q9 ♥ J62 ♦ AQJ72 ♣ QJ5 West East ♠ AK2 ♠ 54 ♥ A753 ♥ KQ1084 ♦ 84 ♦ 1096 ♣ 9843 ♣ K107 South ♠ J108763 ♥ 9 ♦ K53 ♣ A62 bidding: N E S W 1♦ 1♥ 1♠ 2♦ P 2♥ 2♠ 3♥ 3♠ P P P opening lead: ♦ 8 Today’s hand was played in a Flight A event at a Regional tournament in Albany many years ago. The bidding is typical of the tight competitive auctions at matchpoints, as each side bid to their par spot. West’s 2♦ cue-bid was intended to show a good, invitational raise of hearts, in case his partner had overcalled with a better hand. On the surface, it looks as though South ought to be able to take ten tricks, but the defense against 4♠ would be fairly routine. Suppose West led his ace of hearts. On seeing the dummy, the defense need only attack clubs and develop a slow ` trick in that suit before declarer can knock out the trumps and enjoy the diamonds. West found the only lead to give the defense a chance to defeat 3♠. With two stops in the trump suit, he decided to go for a diamond ruff. Here is how one might project the defense: declarer wins the diamond lead, plays a trump, West winning. Then would come a second diamond by West, followed by another trump play. West would win again, then underlead his ace of hearts to get to his partner (West was the caliber of player who was quite capable of doing this), who would play a third diamond, giving West his ruff. West would then simply exit with a heart, and South, out of diamonds himself and having no direct link to dummy, would have to play clubs out of his hand and concede the king to East. Result: down one. So what could declarer do to avoid this disaster? The answer is remarkably simple; one has only to think of it. At trick #2, instead of playing on trumps, South led a heart! East won and played a second diamond, but declarer won and was now in control. On the first trump lead, West won, and try as he may, he had no way to reach his partner’s hand, since the early heart play had cut the only link between the defenders (thereby known as a “Scissors Coup”). He first tried a club: queen, king and ace. In again with a high spade, he underled his ace of hearts in the thin hope that the overcall was based on a 4-card suit. South ruffed, drew the last trump, and was able to discard his club loser on dummy’s diamonds. Making four, for +170, a good matchpoint score on this hand. Once South makes the play of a heart at trick #2, the best East-West can do is to then give up on diamonds and attack clubs to set up the slow winner there, but declarer will always make his contract.