Only One Club Will Do

Playing in a unit game (matchpoints), I pick up a fairly normal-looking hand and reach a normal game.
S: Q974
H: 4
C: AQ7543
H: AKQ63
D: 432
C: J86
2C:Pass3NTAll Pass
3NT might have been a little precipitous, but partner believes in making a support double nearly always, so I am pretty confident that he doesn't have three hearts. A slow auction might tip off the defense, so I just bid what's in front of my face.

The opening lead is a bit of a surprise, the D:K. That's remarkably inconvenient. On a spade lead, I'd make 11 or 12 tricks without breathing hard. I doubt this is a common lead unless the opening leader also has the D:10. Even then, most will likely get a spade lead.

There's no point in ducking the first trick, and the D:J could come in handy later. If I can pick up the clubs, I have 11 tricks and since LHO surely has the S:K, I can strip-squeeze him to lead into my spade tenace.

Entries are a major problem. I only have two sure entries to my hand. I'll need one to take the club finesse, but I want to keep the spades intact for the endgame. So I lead to the H:A at trick two.

How shall I tackle the clubs? I can pick up the suit if LHO has either king doubleton or singleton king. If he has king doubleton, I need to unblock the jack and the eight on the first two rounds of the suit. If he has stiff king, I can't afford to play the jack, so only the C:8 will do on the first round of the suit. In theory, I can pick up singleton ten or nine on my right, but LHO appears to be long in spades and diamonds, so I don't want to give up stiff king for those.

There's yet another complication. If LHO has the singleton C:K, there's no problem, but if he has two clubs, how do I get back to my hand to cash the top hearts before throwing LHO in to lead from the S:K? I can't, so I must cash them now. This may lead to extra undertricks, but I don't expect many got the D:K lead, so if I lose a club trick, I'm getting a zero anyway. The right play must be to cash the high hearts pitching spades, and lead the C:8 from hand.

LHO turns out to have the singleton C:K, so my plan works out. I cash out all the clubs and in the three-card end-position, throw LHO in with the D:K to give me two spade tricks for twelve in all and an excellent matchpoint score. My care in cashing the hearts first wasn't needed, nor for that matter, was the unblock of the C:8.

Unblocking specifically an eight from J86 is a pretty unusual play. Despite its not having been necessary on the lie of the cards, it was still pretty fun.

Copyright © 2006 Jeff Goldsmith