Main     Quiz 8D17 by Richard Pavlicek    

Run That By Me Again

The following six declarer-play problems appeared in a well-known publication over the past several years. While the general principles were on the mark, I was troubled by the suggested play lines (shown in this color). To be fair, the problems were intended for intermediate players, so it is understandable that elements of expert technique may have been suppressed, and that’s where you fit in! Test yourself and see if you can find a better line of play on each problem.

Jump to Problem 123456
The form of scoring wasn’t given for any of the problems. In most cases it wouldn’t matter — playing bridge suffices — but for the sake of argument assume IMPs.

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Problem 1

E-W Vul

West

Pass
All Pass
North
1 D
2 S
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 S
4 S

4 S South
S Q J 4
H A 5
D A K 6 5 4
C 8 5 2
Table
Lead: H KS A K 10 9 8 2
H 6
D 7 3 2
C K 6 4

“Simply play low on West’s lead at trick one. West will probably continue with a heart, and you can win the ace, pitching a diamond from hand, pull trumps and cash dummy’s top diamonds. When the suit proves to be 3-2, you can ruff, establishing two diamond winners in dummy with an entry in trumps. If trumps prove to be 3-1, you are still home if the player with three trumps has at least two diamonds…”

Can you do better?


Answer

Certainly the trick-one duck is correct, but you don’t necessarily need diamonds to break 3-2. Suppose this is the layout:

4 S South
S Q J 4
H A 5
D A K 6 5 4
C 8 5 2
S 7 6 5
H K Q 9 4 3
D 9
C A 10 9 7
TableS 3
H J 10 8 7 2
D Q J 10 8
C Q J 3
Lead: H KS A K 10 9 8 2
H 6
D 7 3 2
C K 6 4

After pitching a diamond on the H A, proper technique is to cash one top diamond, lead the S 4 to your 10, and lead your last diamond. Despite the singleton, West is helpless to defeat you. Whether he ruffs or pitches, you will score both top diamonds and have the entries to establish the long one.

Actually, West could defeat you with a diabolical trump shift at trick two. This forces you to lead a second trump in order to lead the second diamond from hand (West pitches), then you lack the entries to establish the suit. Note, however, that you would succeed if the C A were onside, while the tactless play of banging down D A-K would fail even then.

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Problem 2

E-W Vul

West

Pass
Pass
North

3 D²
3 NT
East

Pass
All Pass
South
2 NT¹
3 H
1. 21-22
2. Jacoby transfer

3 NT South
S 6 5
H K Q J 8 7
D 7 4 2
C 7 4 3
Table
Lead: D QS A K Q 3
H 10 9
D A K 5
C A Q 6 2

“When dummy appears you can see you are in trouble. You have six top tricks, and dummy’s hearts could provide a few more, but if you attack that suit, good defenders are going to duck the first heart and win the second, cutting you off from dummy. There is a small chance to make the contract. After winning the opening lead, cross to dummy with a heart (defenders will duck of course) and then take the club finesse. If it succeeds, cash the C A and play a third club, praying for a 3-3 split.”

Can you do better?


Answer

Playing on clubs is certainly the best hope. You’ll almost surely need the finesse but not necessarily a 3-3 split. Suppose this is the layout:

3 NT South
S 6 5
H K Q J 8 7
D 7 4 2
C 7 4 3
S J 8 7 4
H 6 3
D Q J 10 8 3
C 9 8
TableS 10 9 2
H A 5 4 2
D 9 6
C K J 10 5
Lead: D QS A K Q 3
H 10 9
D A K 5
C A Q 6 2

When the club finesse wins, it is essential to play a low club next (not the ace). This obviously has the same chance of finding clubs 3-3 but preserves an endplay chance as well. Win the diamond return (or duck), cash the C A, and when they don’t split, cash your top spades and exit with a club (or a heart if you still have one). East must give dummy a heart trick — or two if you won the second diamond.

Note that if you played ace and another club, East could defeat you by cashing his fourth club and the H A, before locking you in hand with a diamond.

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Problem 3

None Vul

West
3 H
Pass
North
Dbl
6 S
East
Pass
All Pass
South
4 S

6 S South
S A 10 9 2
H A 8 3
D A 8
C A Q 5 4
Table
Lead: H KS K J 7 6 5 3
H J 5
D 6
C K 9 8 2

“If clubs break 3-2, or if West has a singleton 10 or jack, you will have an easy road to 12 tricks… Win the H A (East plays the H 7) and cash the S A (if either opponent is void it is likely to be West from the bidding); both opponents follow, so you pick up trumps in one more round, East following with the queen. Your next step should be to cash the D A and ruff dummy’s diamond in your hand.

“Now start on the clubs, playing low from hand; West follows with the C 7 and you win the ace; but on the C Q West discards a heart. [Despite the 4-1 club break] 12 tricks are now certain unless West opened 3 H on a six-card suit. It’s time to find out. Play a club to your king and exit with your last club. East wins but has nothing to lead but diamonds, allowing you to discard the H J and ruff in dummy.”

Can you do better?


Answer

If I had a dollar for every three-level preempt on a six-card suit, I could buy out Google, or at least be a Saudi prince. While West having six hearts doesn’t offer much hope of success (with clubs 4-1) it does offer something; and slim is better than none. Consider this layout:

6 S South
S A 10 9 2
H A 8 3
D A 8
C A Q 5 4
S 8
H K Q 10 9 6 4
D Q 10
C J 10 7 6
TableS Q 4
H 7 2
D K J 9 7 5 4 3 2
C 3
Lead: H KS K J 7 6 5 3
H J 5
D 6
C K 9 8 2

After drawing trumps in two rounds, proper technique is to lead a low club to the queen (or ace), then play ace and another diamond. East will surely rise with the king, but instead of ruffing you pitch your heart. If East indeed had no more hearts, he would be endplayed; any club lead would surrender the suit (by playing second hand low) and a diamond yields a ruff-sluff. In the actual case, however, East exits safely with a heart, which you ruff. Running trumps then squeezes West for the rest.

Note that if East does not play the D K on the second round, you should revert to the primary plan of ruffing. Pitching a heart would still work on the above deal, but if West could win the diamond, you would fail in the more likely layout of East having four clubs and a stiff heart.

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Problem 4

E-W Vul

West

1 S
All Pass
North

2 H
East

Pass
South
1 H
4 H

4 H South
S K 9 4
H J 10 4
D 8 5 3
C Q J 10 4
Table
Lead: S QS A 3
H A K Q 8 3 2
D K 9 7 4
C K

“West likely holds most of the missing high cards, but he might still overcall at the one level without the C A; and if East holds that card, your D K is vulnerable. The solution is to win the S A, cash one high trump (can’t hurt), play a spade to the king, and lead the S 9, discarding your C K. West wins but will be unable to threaten your D K. You can win any return, enter dummy with a trump and establish two club tricks by running the C Q to West (discarding a diamond) or by a ruffing finesse against East.”

Can you do better?


Answer

Leading trumps prematurely can indeed hurt in subtle ways, as in this layout:

4 H South
S K 9 4
H J 10 4
D 8 5 3
C Q J 10 4
S Q J 10 8 7
H
D A J 10 6
C A 9 8 2
TableS 6 5 2
H 9 7 6 5
D Q 2
C 7 6 5 3
Lead: S QS A 3
H A K Q 8 3 2
D K 9 7 4
C K

After the suggested play, West shifts to the D J to South’s king. Now the only hope is to continue diamonds, hoping for a 3-3 split or being able to ruff the fourth diamond in dummy; but this runs afoul. East wins the second diamond to return a trump and later ruffs his partner’s good diamond to clear trumps. Down one. Note that all would have been fine if declarer had not foolishly cashed the H A.

A similar predicament occurs if West has S Q-J-10-x-x H x D Q-x C A-x-x-x-x. Upon winning the third spade, West shifts to the D Q, ducked to the king. East wins the next diamond (D A best) and returns a trump. Declarer can succeed now by switching to clubs (West has no more diamonds), but a third diamond is surely the percentage play. Too bad.

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Problem 5

None Vul

West

3 S
All Pass
North
1 C
4 H
East
Pass
4 S
South
1 H
6 H

6 H South
S J 7 3
H K 10 8
D A 7 3
C A 9 8 5
Table
Lead: H 4S
H A Q J 9 3
D J 5 2
C K Q J 7 4

“You have 11 top tricks with no chance of ruffing in the short hand. You must embark on a dummy reversal. After winning the opening lead with the H 8 (thank goodness for that card) you ruff a spade. Return to dummy with the D A to ruff a second spade with the H A. Back to dummy with the C A and ruff the last spade with the H Q. Next overtake your H J with the king and lead the H 10 (discarding a diamond) to pull the last trump…”

While on the “run that by me again” theme, this bidding dropped my jaw as well. Did North really bid 4 H on a hand he probably shouldn’t even open? And with just three trumps! But that’s probably no worse than South’s 6 H, when 7 C stands out a mile. Ideally South should bid 5 S (exclusion RKC) to verify H K D A C A before bidding the club grand.

Anyway, forget the stupid bidding. Can you find a better play in 6 H?


Answer

The dummy reversal is clearly the best chance, far better than hoping for a miracle in diamonds (K-Q doubleton or a blank honor West), but consider this layout:

6 H South
S J 7 3
H K 10 8
D A 7 3
C A 9 8 5
S A Q 10 9 8 4
H 4
D K 8 6
C 10 3 2
TableS K 6 5 2
H 7 6 5 2
D Q 10 9 4
C 6
Lead: H 4S
H A Q J 9 3
D J 5 2
C K Q J 7 4

Played as suggested, declarer is down four, as only one club trick can be won when the hand collapses. Proper play is to cross to dummy first in trumps. This discovers the 4-1 break in time, so declarer can switch horses and take his 11 tricks. And believe me, for any pair who bids like this, down one is great bridge.

Crossing in trumps first would also save the day (averting a ruff) if West had two trumps and a club void, albeit far-fetched after the trump lead. For the record, if both follow to the second trump, declarer should cross next in clubs, because if it gets ruffed he is down only one; whereas opening up diamonds first would be down two.

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Problem 6

None Vul

West

Pass
All Pass
North

2 S
East

Pass
South
1 S
4 S

4 S South
S K 7 4
H 7 6 3 2
D A 9 4
C 9 7 5
Table
Lead: H AS A Q J 5 2
H 5
D Q J 10 3
C A K 3

“East plays the H 8. West continues with the H K [ace from A-K is normal], East plays the H 4, and you ruff. You cash S A and S Q, East showing out. The 4-1 trump break complicates matters, but you can survive. Next lead the D Q… If East wins the D K and returns a heart, ruff and hope for luck in the minors. Cash the C A and C K, then play a diamond to the nine and ruff another heart with your last trump. If West follows when you play a diamond to the ace, you have 10 tricks.”

Can you do better?


Answer

When the diamond finesse loses, you need West to have at least three diamonds and two clubs, but you don’t need him to have four hearts. Consider this layout:

4 S South
S K 7 4
H 7 6 3 2
D A 9 4
C 9 7 5
S 10 9 8 3
H A K 9
D 8 7 2
C 6 4 2
TableS 6
H Q J 10 8 4
D K 6 5
C Q J 10 8
Lead: H AS A Q J 5 2
H 5
D Q J 10 3
C A K 3

If played as suggested, declarer would be down, as West would pitch a diamond when the fourth heart is ruffed. Proper play of course is to bank your minor tricks as soon as possible. Best technique (after ruffing the third heart) is to lead the D 10 to the ace, return to hand in clubs, and lead a low diamond (might catch West napping with a doubleton) then return in clubs to lead the last diamond. Note that overruffing the fourth diamond has the same effect as ruffing the fourth heart. If West’s shape were 4=3=4=2, this would even score an overtrick.

Another technical flaw, though irrelevant in this case, was declarer drawing two trumps with A-Q. Routine expert play is to win Q-J to retain flexibility; i.e., if trumps are 3-2, the third round can be won in either hand.

I hope you enjoyed the quiz!

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© 2017 Richard Pavlicek