Stuart Rachels


Plan the Play

I once showed my father a weak hand and asked him what I should bid with it. He said, "Pass at the first available opportunity." Your opponents take that advice as you and your partner Jim Mendelsohn bid to 6. A small is led; here are your assets:

K2
K10853     (dummy)
Q1085
62
 
AQ73
QJ97
A4
AKQ

After Eddie Kantar congratulates you on winning the first trick, what is your plan?


First Thoughts

You have a sure loser in s, and you can't play s yourself without losing another trick. Can you throw off three s on the board? Nope. One can go on a , but the s are good for only one pitch. What, then?

You can hope for a miracle in s. There is a just-under-1%-chance that your A will bring down a stiff K, or if you're feeling really lucky, you can play for half that puny chance by running your Q, in case LHO holds the stiff J. Best of luck to you.

If you're feeling both desperate and clever, you can try something that might give you a better than 1% chance. See if you can endplay them into leading s for you. How can you do that? It's risky, but you'd need to strip the hand before losing to the A. You can hope someone has the stiff A (a 12.5% chance), but it would be better to play LHO for Ax (a 20% chance). Do this: on T2, make a fake run of the J (which LHO will mistakenly duck), cash two more s (pitching a ), play the K, A and Q (pitching another ), ruff your last high, and exit with a trump. Did you get away with all that? If LHO began with Ax, he must win this trick and play s for you. Unfortunately, you still have to guess whether to play the 10 or the Q, but at least the choice would be clear: play the 10 (don't play the Q--playing LHO for the K--since if LHO held the K, even he might have taken the A at T2 when he still had safe exits). Of course, even if you get this far, you're stuffed if RHO holds both missing honors.

In my experience, a line like that holds less chance of success than simply playing off your trumps and hoping the opponents discard like drunken wombats.

But the hand could be made by force, as the cards lay.


Better Thoughts

K2
K10853
Q1085
62
 
AQ73
QJ97
A4
AKQ

Win the lead and play on trumps, which split 2-2. When LHO wins the A, he gets out with a , which you win in dummy. Cash your big s, pitching a . The position is now:

2
1085
Q108
 
AQ7
J9
A4

The next step requires some foresight: cash the A. (Not that you really need foresight--maybe you're just hoping to drop that stiff K!) Now play trumps: J, 10.

2
8
Q10
 
AQ7
4

Play your last trump, pitching that . Perhaps the opponents will discard carelessly, but as the cards lay, the squeeze was on: the player with the long s also held the K. So that player must now bear down to 3 cards. If he keeps the K, he must give up his guard, so all the tricks are yours.

Do you see why you needed to play the A? Suppose you hadn't. Then you would have wound up leading your last trump in this position:

2
8
Q108
 
AQ7
A4

You can still play the 8 and pitch the 4, but your Q is no longer a threat because the suit is blocked. The opponents can throw away the K with impunity.



Final Thoughts

Did you play the hand better than I did? I knew the name for plays like the A--a Vienna Coup--but unfortunately a big vocabulary does not get you any extra tricks. I failed to cash the A, the opponents discarded like sober wombats, and I went down 1.

You know, I never ruffed anything, I could have made it, and I had multiple stoppers in each suit. I should have been declaring in 6NT! Not only does 6NT score better than 6, but here it has a slightly better chance of succeeding, for an obscure reason: you're more likely to make 6NT on a lead than to make 6 on a lead. After all, in 6, you're on a complete guess as to whether to play the 10 or the Q--LHO might have underled either the J or the K. However, players are more reluctant to lead away from kings against 6NT, so on a lead in 6NT your play of the 10 is better than a random guess.

If I'm your partner, though, don't count on me getting to 6NT holding these cards. I'm still trying to learn to take my aces early.