Oh, Well

Playing in a home team game of very mixed skill level, an interesting play problem comes up.
S: Q10x
H: AJ97x
D: Axx
C: 109
S: AKx
H: K8x
D: Kx
C: AKQxx
West leads the D:Q. How do you play for 12 tricks?

With eight top tricks outside of hearts, we only need four heart tricks. The standard safety play for four tricks is to lead low from dummy planning to insert the H:8. That blows only to stiff 10 on the left, a little under 3%. 97% isn't bad. On this hand, however, we can do better. Since three tricks with no loser is good enough, we can cash the H:A, catering to that singleton H:10, and then lead low to the H:8. If East has all five hearts, he can choose to split, in which case we knock out the other one and claim, or he can duck. If he ducks, we have 11 tops and can just duck a club to set up a 12th. If East shows out on the H:A, we can lead toward the H:J for our 11th trick and then take a club finesse for 12. This line loses only if hearts are 5-0 onside (about 2%) and the club finesse loses. That's a little better than 99%.

If hearts are 5-0 in the West, and he doesn't continue diamonds when he wins his H:Q, we can do even better than a club finesse. If East has three or more clubs (pretty likely when he has no hearts), we have an easy double squeeze around diamonds. It's pretty likely that most players will return a diamond (unless the D:Q was singleton, in which case we are probably cold, as West will get squeezed in hearts and clubs on the way to the double squeeze), but a weak player may not. Then our odds go way up.

In real life, hearts were 5-0 offside, and clubs were 5-1 offside. Neither declarer found any safety play; one went down two to lose two IMPs. Oh, well.

Copyright © 2012 Jeff Goldsmith