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A satisfying hand
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This hand appeared in an Australian swiss pairs event last weekend. It involves combining lots of simple logic - not an impossible hand, and yet less than half the field made a game. A lot of players didn't connect all the dots in the endgame, which is why I think it's worth looking closely at. See if you can outplay them. In their defence, a beautiful day was beckoning through the windows and we were sitting inside like suckers, playing our fourth straight day of bridge.

This was the auction at many tables, West leading the 4 (MUD) to dummy's queen and East's king. Plan 3NT by South:

North
KJ4
Q
AKJ65
7642
South
Q103
A73
1082
AKJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

I find counting top tricks like this useful: 0 + 1 + 2 + 2 = 5 tricks.

Where are the rest coming from?

What's your plan for the first few tricks?

North
KJ4
Q
AKJ65
7642
South
Q103
A73
1082
AKJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

The auction suggests hearts are breaking 6-3, so it can’t hurt to duck two rounds of hearts, to strip West’s hand of hearts to lead across to East later. So you duck RHO's K and J, pitching a small club and spade from dummy, then win the A.

Diamonds are the obvious source of tricks - other approaches rely on you building spade tricks, which will be pretty ugly if righty wins A and cashes a million hearts. So how best to play diamonds, presuming you'll try for them first?

North
KJ4
Q
AKJ65
7642
South
Q103
A73
1082
AKJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

It feels right to finesse. Should you run the T on the first round, or start with (the 8 to) the ace, hoping to catch stiff-queen? Running the T loses to stiff-queen, but gains against stiff-three and stiff-four because you can finesse the rest of the pips. It also gives you an extra trick when diamonds are five-nil. It's probably the right play in isolation.

On the other hand, a lot of players dislike preempting with voids, or might have opened 1 with a void and the A. Rightly or wrongly I decided on A. I got incredibly lucky when this dropped righty's queen, bringing me up to eight tricks. Next I cashed A because it couldn't hurt, then ran diamonds. RHO's four discards were two spades and two hearts. LHO pitched a spade. You're in dummy. What next?

North
KJ
76
South
Q
KJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

The first thing to realise is that if LHO started with Qxx(x), and RHO has the A, you are not going to make your contract. So disregard those layouts.

Which hand patterns could RHO have for their weak two? We know RHO started with six hearts and one diamond from the play so far. These hand shapes spring to mind:

1. 4=6=1=2

2. 2=6=1=4

3. 3=6=1=3

Other shapes are already ruled out, or quite freaky for a weak two. How can you lock your contract if RHO has each of these hand patterns?

North
KJ
76
South
Q
KJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

North
KJ
76
South
Q
KJ5
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
3NT
P
P
P

1. 4=6=1=2     (xxxx KJT965 ?x)

LHO has the A, because we're boned if he doesn't! We can safely put him on lead with a top spade, before or after cashing the K - he only has two tricks (Q + A) and then will have to play a black card, giving us our ninth trick.

2. 2=6=1=4     (xx KJT965 Q QT9x)

LHO has no clubs left, so you could finesse the J. But if we think a bit further, we know LHO has the A, because RHO already pitched two spades which were not the ace. If this were the layout we could also play a high spade now, because LHO only has spades left. We can also play K first, then a spade, getting a spade trick eventually.

3. 3=6=1=3     (?xx KJT965 Q ?xx)

If LHO has the A, you can play a spade, or a top club, or finesse in clubs - it doesn't matter. You'll only lose two tricks max to lefty before he will have to lead back to you, no matter where the Q is.

However, if RHO has the A, he almost certainly won't have the Q, because that would give him a twelve count which doesn't look like a preempt:

Axx KJT965 Q Q83.

If RHO has A, we can safely cash the K. That strips LHO's last club, and is a two-way bet. Either LHO's Q drops, or he doesn't have it, and therefore he has the A. That card will cause him much distress when you play a spade next - LHO can duck, giving you your ninth trick, or win and throw you back to dummy's stranded spade winner:

West
A85
10
North
KJ
76
East
9
9
Q8
South
Q
KJ5
D

 

So cashing the K first works in all three scenarios...

Good thing you didn't hook!

West
985
Q
North
KJ
76
East
A
9
108
South
Q
KJ5
D

I love it when a correct play is rewarded with an overtrick - surely there is a god.

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