Stuart Rachels


Three Moments

In a club game, with nobody vulnerable, we pick up this 11-point hand:

AQ10973 Q107 95 K10

Partner passes, and East opens 1. What should we bid?

1 would be normal, but I suggest 2. Since partner is a passed hand, we are probably competing for a partscore, and 2 makes it hard for the bad guys to outbid us. So we make that call. Two passes lead back to East, who frets a bit and then bids 3. We pass, and Lefty passes. Our partner, however, finds some s in his hand and bids 3. This gets passed out. The auction has been:

P 1 2 P
P 3 P   P
3 All pass

The Q is led, and dummy comes down:

K42
A64
J82
J974
 
AQ10973
Q107
95
K10                 Contract: 3

The Q holds the first trick, and West continues with a low . East wins cheaply and returns the A What now?

Both the bidding and the play suggest that West is now void in s. We have losers in s and s, but both suits have potential, so let's ruff this one. With nine s, including the AKQ, there's no need to risk being overuffed with the J, so we ruff with the Q. Now what?

K42
A64
J974
 
A10973
Q107
K10

It's time to draw trumps. Normally, with four trumps missing, you'd play the A-K, but here you know that West began with 2 s, whereas East had 6. This leaves West with 11 cards that could be s, whereas East has 7 possible cards. This changes the odds, so let's finesse. We play the A, and when both opponents follow low, we play the 10, intending to run it. West, however, plays the J, and when we win with the K, East does show out.

4
A64
J974
 
973
Q107
K10

Do you see what the problem is? The bidding marks East with the A and K. So, we need to play from the board twice: once to play to our Q, and once to play to our K. The problem is that we have arrived in dummy prematurely in s. West still has the 8, and we face a dilemma: if we draw the last trump, we're back in our hand with only one dummy entry (the A); but if we play a or , East will rise with his big one and return a , promoting his partner's 8.

This gives me an idea I wish I'd had earlier: I wish I'd led the 9 rather than the 10. The 10 is just asking for the J to cover it; the 9 is more sutble. If West hadn't covered the 9, I could have drawn his last trump in dummy and gone about my business. Of course, from my 2 bid West should know that I began with six s, and so he should realize that I hold the 10 and am trying to slide one by. But I didn't put him to the test, did I? And I think this particular opponent might have left his Bermuda Bowl trophy at home.

Well, I know I can't cope with the trump promotion, so I play a trump back to my hand and take stock.

A64
J974
 
73
Q107
K10

The contract is 3, and so far we've lost two tricks. We still have four losers: two in s and two in s. We can reduce that number to three by going to the A and taking a successful finesse. However, three plus two is still down one. Is there any way to make this?

Yes, there is. We should give up two tricks immediately. This will establish the J9 for pitches. This way, we'll lose only two s and two s. So, play a out of your hand.

Which did you play? One works, and the other blows it. You must play the K. Why? Because if you play the K, East will win with the A, and he cannot disrupt your plan; if he leads a round suit, he's doing your work, while if he leads a , you ruff it and continue with the J. However, if you lead the J first, West will win with the Q. (You didn't know West held the Q, but it isn't surprising.) Now West can lead a through your A, and you're toast: East's K is set up before you can establish the s for pitches.

The K play is hard to see. There are two reasons for this. First, it rubs against the grain to lead broken honors, as opposed to leading towards them; second, it's hard to visualize the importance of that 9 in dummy.


Final Thoughts


This was the full layout:

K42
A64
J82
J974
J85 6
J852 K93
Q3 AK10764
Q853 A62
AQ10973
Q107
95
K10

There were three key moments in the play: the decision to ruff high; the decision to finesse in trumps; and the spectacular play of the K. In reality, I sat West. Declarer ruffed the third with the 10, and I overruffed with the J. Down 1. At another table, a declarer holding 15,000 master points failed to find the K play. However, he made nine tricks on a misdefense in the endgame.