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Subtle Logic Helps Find a Queen

by Richard Pavlicek

When today’s deal occurred at the Ft. Lauderdale Bridge Club, almost all North-South pairs bid to four hearts. Those who guessed how to play the heart suit won 11 tricks; those who did not won only 10 tricks. The difference, a simple overtrick, is quite significant at matchpoint scoring. Would you have guessed right?

 4 SouthN-S Vul A J 8 3 K 9 5 2 K 8 2 10 2 WestPassPass North3 Pass EastPassPass SOUTH1 4 K 5 Q 8 7 7 6 5 Q J 9 7 4 10 9 7 6 2 — J 10 9 3 A K 8 6 Lead: Q Q 4 A J 10 6 4 3 A Q 4 5 3

The bidding illustrates a “limit major raise.” North’s jump to three hearts showed 10-12 points and was invitational to game. South held minimum high-card strength, but the possession of a six-card suit was ample incentive to continue to four hearts.

Assume West leads the club queen, and the defenders cash two club tricks then shift to a diamond. Declarer’s problem is whether to cash the heart ace or king first; either play could be right depending on which opponent, if any, held Q-8-7.

Here are four reasonings that might be considered: (1) Cash the king because it is in the shorter hand; (2) cash the ace because the queen usually lies over the jack; (3) lead the jack and, if West does not cover, go up with the king; (4) cash the ace since West is likely to have the heart queen because East is known to have more high cards in clubs. Do you buy any of these?

Obviously, Option 2 or 4 would work, but none of the above reasonings is valid. The only real indication (and it is slight) is that West, not East, had an opportunity to bid at a low level; with a heart void, he might have done so at favorable vulnerability. Therefore, cashing the heart ace is better in case East is void. Anyway, it works.

The astute reader may have noticed another advantage in cashing the heart ace first: It guarantees making the contract. Imagine the situation if East instead held Q-8-7 in hearts: Declarer would cash the heart king and his remaining diamond winners; then he would exit with a heart. East would be endplayed; he must lead a spade into dummy’s ace-jack or give you a ruff and discard — either way you will avoid a spade loser no matter who has the king.

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