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Board 2 of GNT Final
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I am by no means an expert on how to beat Meckstroth and Rodwell. I expect nobody is, although I'm pretty far down the list of players to be consulted on the subject. However, I think it pretty clear that priority number one is defending game contracts accurately, as they bid a ton of thin games and challenge you to beat them. So, first board out of the box, Shi had to lead from

East
A52
1073
1098
J987
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
1
2
3
3
3NT
P
P
P
A heart is natural, but unfortunately a club is the only lead to beat 3N. Donn and Lee stopped in 2 in the other room, so before the coffee had time to kick in, you're already down 7. Then, before you know it, a hand comes up that you need your coffee for.

North
AK975
86
972
Q93
South
KJ1054
AQ3
KJ1085
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

I have rotated the hand for convenience. Meckstroth opened 2, and it would have been interesting to watch had Shi reopened with a double. Of course, not seeing through the backs of the cards, she balanced 2 and Korbel jammed it into 3N, exactly as I would expect Meckstroth or Rodwell to do in his seat. Spector at the other table bid a calm 2N, passed out. Against 3N, Rodwell led the 6 to the 2, T, and Q, and you can either immediately bring the match back to a virtual tie or be down double digits after two boards, a harbinger of a very long day.

On the surface you can develop four clubs and a heart to go with your two diamonds and two spades. However, transportation is awkward, as the only suit in which you could control the communication is clubs, and you are missing the Ace there. First things first, however. With Meckstroth marked with all six outstanding hearts, you can lay whatever odds necessary to draw action on Rodwell having the club Ace. Since that is the outside entry to the diamonds, you have to knock that out first. Since you would prefer he take it on the first round, the club of choice is the King, which Korbel duly led to trick two. Rodwell indeed hopped Ace. The variations if he ducks are fascinating, and I'll get to them later, but at the table the K came back on which Meckstroth pitches the 2 and you win the Ace. What next?

North
AK975
86
972
Q93
South
KJ1054
AQ3
KJ1085
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

It seems as if you do not want to cross in clubs to lead a heart up. Say you do that and Meckstroth ducks. Now you are in your hand and ... which hand do you want to take the next club trick in? If you take it on dummy to cash the spades you have no entry for the two long clubs, and if you take it in your hand you have no entry to the spades. So, Korbel played the K at trick four to Meckstroth's Ace, with Rodwell discarding the 4. Over to Meckstroth.

After some thought Meckstroth played the 3. This ran to the Ace, and with two clubs in each hand, the transportation was smooth to cash nine tricks once Korbel led the second heart off the dummy. Watching this on my phone while waiting for the plane, my first reaction was the Meckstroth had misdefended, as returning a club puts Korbel in the same situation as if he had crossed in clubs. I can't say precisely what Meckstroth was playing for, but in the interval between boarding the plane and the WiFi in the air kicking on, I had enough time to realize that my initial reaction was wrong. A second club doesn't beat it. Why not?

By the way, I love this play of attacking declarer's communications. Rodwell calls it the "Days of Thunder" play. I got a red 3N swing in a recent regional Swiss by exactly this tactic. I didn't see a path to setting up five winners, so I just led declarer's solid suit and let him go about his work, and by doing so every time we were in, eventually he couldn't cash all the tricks he had set up.

North
AK975
86
972
Q93
South
KJ1054
AQ3
KJ1085
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

The reason the second club doesn't beat it is that not only are the North and South hands cut off from one another, but so are the East and West hands. The line to take nine tricks if Meckstroth led a second club is to win it on dummy, cash one spade, and lead the other heart off dummy. Meckstroth cannot profitably play the Queen on this, as Korbel would have two hearts and one spade instead of two spades and one heart, so say he covers with the 9 and Korbel wins the J. Now Korbel cashes out the clubs and exits a low heart. Meckstroth either has to give him the ninth trick in spades, or set up the other heart honor. A Hobson's choice between an endplay and a stepping stone. Cute.

But what if Rodwell had ducked the club Ace? Ducking once is insufficient, as it transposes into the line here. If Rodwell wins the second club and leads a third one, win it in dummy, cash one spade, and lead the heart off, eventually coming to either two heart tricks or two spade tricks by the same Hobson's choice. How about ducking twice? How does declarer overcome that?

North
AK975
86
972
Q93
South
KJ1054
AQ3
KJ1085
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

So, the first three tricks are diamond lead to the Queen, King of clubs, ducked, low club, ducked. Korbel must win second club on dummy to have any hope of cashing a spade and/or leading a heart up to his hand. The immediate decision is to cash zero, one, or two spades, and whether to clear the clubs or lead a heart up after whatever spade playes you make. What does he know about the distribution? Meckstroth has six hearts and two clubs, and either four spades and one diamond or three spades and two diamonds. How about two spades and three diamonds? That gives Rodwell six spades and four diamonds, and he may have preferred a spade lead from that hand to leading away from King (Jack) fourth of diamonds.

Let's first rule out cashing two spades. Unless spades are four-four, Korbel would set up too many tricks for the defense. If spades are four-four there are alternative ways to five tricks. In that case Meckstroth is 1=2 in the minors and you can cash one spade, lead a heart off the dummy, and even flying Ace won't help him because he doesn't have a second diamond to set up the suit, allowing Korbel to clear the clubs without threat. Can Korbel make it if spades are five-three? Perhaps. The play might go cash a spade, pitching the small diamond and lead the club off. Rodwell wins the Ace perforce and clears the diamonds. Now after cashing the clubs, leaving only spades in the dummy, exit the heart King. If Rodwell has only one of the QJT, an interesting position emerges. After Meckstroth cashes the AQ, in the three-card end position he has two spades to two honors plus a heart, and Rodwell either holds three spades or two plus a diamond. If Rodwell has held a diamond, Korbel simply needs to duck the spade if Meckstroth holds the trick, or win it and exit if Rodwell covers Meckstroth's honor. If Rodwell holds three spades and doesn't cover Meckstroth's honor, Korbel wins the spades and exits a low one. Either Rodwell lets Meckstroth hold the trick and be stepping-stoned to the good heart, or overtakes and then the 9 wins the last trick.

Ah, but I hear you say, can't Meckstroth unblock one of his honors on the A? Sure, but it doesn't help. In the same three-card end position Meckstroth will lead the other honor to avoid the stepping stone, and Korbel ducks it. Now he either plays his heart to two good ones in Korbel's hand, or his spade to the K9 lying over Rodwell's Qx.

As it were, spades were four-four, so there were no worries about clearing the diamonds, but overall, a fascinating hand in communications.

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