Hard to Plan

At IMPs, one usually knows the target number of tricks one wants to take; it is often worth taking big chances to make a contract. At matchpoints, however, sometimes one's trick goal is less clear.

Playing in the Life Master Pairs, a hand arises where I have no idea how many tricks I need to take.

S: Q654
H: A1054
D: K1052
C: A
S: KJ7
H: J63
D: AQ3
C: KJ53
I have found that downgrading 15-counts, even the really crappy one here, is losing matchpoints. Most of the field is going to open 1NT; to be the one pair who doesn't is to bet a full board on that one judgment. Since at best such a judgment can only provide a tiny edge, such a call is tantamount to rolling dice for the board. Oddly, it's not usually the constructive nature of the 1NT opening which is key in cases like this, but the preemptive effect.

Anyway, I open that piece of junk 1NT. Partner shows exactly 4441 shape and game going values, so I have nowhere to go but 3NT. Fortunately, partner has extras, so 3NT has some play.

The opening lead is the S:9. I run it around to my hand while RHO follows small. Despite the 28 HCP, 3NT isn't cold; I start with two spades, one heart, three diamonds, and two club tricks. I'd like to lead another spade towards hand; RHO could have a doubleton ace. It seems natural to attack hearts while in hand, so I do. On the first round of hearts, LHO inserts the H:Q. I have nine tricks for sure now, but that may not be enough for a good score. Anyway, I win the H:A and play another spade. RHO supplies the S:8 and I win again in hand. It looks as if the opening lead was a doubleton.

The next order of business is to lead a heart towards the table; LHO can't take his H:K without giving me a trick. When I do, RHO shows out, pitching a club. Interesting. I think I can guarantee ten tricks now if I guess well. I cash the C:A and the three top diamonds ending in dummy. The suit splits 3-3, so when I cash the fourth diamond, I have already taken nine tricks. I can't get to my C:K, but the opponents will be forced to let me there. On the last diamond, RHO pitches a club and LHO a heart. A heart? I expected a club. That would have given me a guess. Now, however, I know that LHO has two hearts and two clubs left, so I just exit with a heart, and after LHO cashes his last heart, I claim the last two tricks with clubs. Making 11 tricks was far better than I initially expected.

LHO was counted out as 2533. If he pitches a club instead of a heart on the last diamond, I would have had to exit with a spade to RHO. After he cashed his two spades, I'd have to guess who held the C:Q. If RHO, I can finesse the C:J to make five, but if I'm wrong, LHO would take the last two tricks and I'd only make three. I get 5-3 odds in favor of the finesse, so I'd probably try it. On the other hand, if LHO has the C:Q, I'd make five by dropping it. He was sort of squeezed.

After the game, I am rather surprised to find that RHO had the C:Q the whole time! Since I needed the C:KJ to make 15 HCP, LHO should have had no trouble discarding a useless club. I probably would have got it right anyway, but he made it easy for me.

Copyright © 2005 Jeff Goldsmith