Stuart Rachels


Hold Up!

When you hold the K behind the AQJ in dummy, the books say you should duck when declarer plays to the Q. The books are right. This hand is a case in point.

In a club game, with nobody vulnerable, I pick up this 15-point collection:

AK4 AJ5 QJ1072 63

After two passes, I open 1, since my partner and I have agreed on a 12-14 point no-trump range. My LHO overcalls 1. Partner bids a natural 2, suggesting a maximum for his pass. RHO bids 2. What should I do? I know that my side has 25 or 26 points; I know we have s stopped; and I know we have no major-suit fit. So I bid 3NT. He who knew went. The auction has been:

P    P    1   1
2 2 3NT


Everyone passes, and the bad guys lead a low .

83
93
A54
AQJ852
 
AK4
AJ5
QJ1072
63                      Contract: 3NT

That's a fine dummy. Most players would open that hand, but my partner and I promise 12+ points with our minor-suit openings. Anyway, the bidding tells us a lot about what's going on. West has 5 s to East's 3. The opponents have 14 points between them. West should have 8 or 9 for her overcall, with East having 5 or 6 for her raise. I imagine I'm about to see East play the Q or K. Should I win the trick? That would be risky. I must finesse into East's hand, and if she has the wrong minor-suit king, a return would probably set me (the defense would collect 4 s plus that minor-suit king). No, the smart thing would be to hold up twice in s, exhausting East's supply. Then I can finesse into East without worries.

At the moment I must play a card from dummy. Can it matter which? I don't think so. But since one bad defender in twenty might like the idea of putting the 10 on the 9 from K10x, I'll try the 9.

East does play the 10, so I win with the J. This makes me happy, even though other declarers will probably be as lucky. The contract now feels safe. I lead a to the Q, losing to the K. East returns a . Should I duck or rise?

83
3
A54
AJ852
                       (East has led a .)
AK4
A5
QJ1072
6

Ducking would be smart at IMPs or rubber bridge but unwise at matchpoints. At IMPs or rubber bridge, you most want to make the contract. Ducking would ensure that the opponents will never run s on me, even if East has the K. The contract would then be guaranteed. At matchpoints, however, all that matters is how I do relative to other pairs. So far nothing special has happened. Everyone will play 3NT from my side. At most tables, there will be no enemy bidding (since I would open 1NT rather than 1), but the lead would still be normal. (West might not like leading from KQxxx without hearing partner's raise, but a 1NT-3NT auction cries out for a major-suit lead.) The problem right now with ducking the is that I will lose to the declarers who rise A and take the rest of the tricks. Can we take all the tricks? If the suits split normally and West holds the K, I have 14 tricks (but can take only 12): 2 s, 2 s, 5 s and 5 s. And West is likely to have the K, for the following reason. So far we can place West with 5 points (KQ) and East with 3 points (K). If West has 8 or 9 points total, he'll also have either the K alone or the K/J or the QJ. Two of those holdings include the K; one does not. Thus there is something like a 2-to-1 chance that West holds the K. Hence, at trick 3 I play the A.

s split normally, so I run the suit, pitching a , a and two s from hand. After I cash the last , the world looks like this:

83
A54
AK
QJ10

Now I cross to my hand in s and play the Q. To my surprise, West shows out. I guess I now know who has the K! I take the A and my other top , making ten tricks.

Nothing much happened in this hand. However, I go down against good defense. Let's take another look.

83
93
A54
AQJ852
 
AK4
AJ5
QJ1072
63                      Contract: 3NT

Suppose that after I win the J and play to the Q, East ducks smoothly. What now? I don't know East is holding up, so I return to hand in s and repeat the finesse. This time, however, East wins the K and returns a .

8
3
A54
A852
                       (East has led a .)
K4
A5
QJ1072

Do I rise or duck? My reasoning is the same. In an effort to take all the tricks, I should play the A. But now look what ducking has achieved for the defense: I have no s in my hand, so I must decide now whether to finesse in s. When I play the Q, West plays low--she still has s because she hasn't yet discarded on dummy's long suit. Playing the odds, I let the Q ride. But East wins with the K and returns a . The defense now gets 3 s to go with their 2 minor-suits kings. Down 1.


Final Thoughts


This was the full layout:

83
93
A54
AQJ852
Q92 J10765
KQ874 1062
863 K9
97 K104
AK4
AJ5
QJ1072
63

As it turns out, West had only 7 points for her 1 overcall. It was a good lead-directive bid. Since East was a passed hand, she wasn't worried about East's bidding too high. West's ploy would have worked brilliantly had her partner defended well. I would have misread the hand and gone down.

When you hold the K behind the AQJ in dummy, the books say you should duck when declarer plays to the Q. Sometimes the books also say, "Don't worry about why--just do it." They say this because the explanation can be abstract. You duck because you want declarer to go back to his hand in a side-suit and repeat the finesse. This may upset declarer's timing, or deplete his hand of entries, or deplete his side-suit of stoppers, or persude him to play the side-suit sub-optimally. In this hand, the hold-up severed a line of communication between declarer and dummy, which meant that declarer had to make a decision prematurely. It's hard for a defender to foresee such a thing, but it's easy to follow the rule.

A good defender will duck smoothly even when it bares his king. Declarer will almost always repeat the finesse, making this play less risky than winning on the first round. As a philosopher might put it, you need to take seriously the epistemic position of your opponent. He doesn't know what you know.

It's hard to put yourself in other people's shoes--maybe that's why you and I don't give more to charity. I was once in an uncontested auction at my local club. One of the opponents held a hand with zero points. After several low-level bids, my partner bid 4NT Blackwood. The opponent said, "We were all expecting that!" Apparently she thought everyone was looking at her hand.