Pretty Unlucky?

Playing in the last match of a regional Swiss, we are four victory points behind the leaders and in third place. That's what we get for losing the last match. On the first board, everyone's vulnerable, and in third chair, I pick up
 S:J8752 H:A10 D:AK C:QJ94
Some would open a strong notrump, but 5-4 is a suit shape, so I open 1S:. Partner bids Drury, and now I have to come up with the best way to get partner to judge between 4S: and 3NT. I could show my clubs, but I think the best approach is simply to bid 3NT. We may have a 2-2 fit in a red suit, but on the other hand, we may have nine top tricks anyway. If partner passes 3NT, I suspect it will be the best contract. He does and maybe it is, maybe it isn't.
S: 943
H: KJ87
D: Q3
C: A652
S: J8752
H: A10
C: QJ94
The opening lead is the D:2. Since my bidding was not entirely obvious, my first thought is that 4S: is not much of a contract. Not only does it need 3-2 spades, we'll need to pick up clubs or find the H:Q and a club-heart squeeze. On the other hand, 3NT isn't much of a contract either. I need either four club tricks or four heart tricks. Worse still, if 3NT goes down, it'll go down a lot. Vulnerable.

I win the first trick with the D:A. That tells the opponents that I have the ace-king. I want them to know that; maybe they'll switch to something more promising if they get in. That's not too likely, but it can't hurt to try. The next order of business is to play clubs. Do I want LHO to cover the first club honor? I don't know. Either way, I'll have a guess, so I might as well advance the C:Q. That loses to RHO who returns a diamond. I win as LHO unblocks the D:J. The good news is that 4S: looks hopeless. The bad news is that 3NT doesn't look so hot, either. I'll need three club tricks and four heart tricks to make. If I lose a heart trick, they'll take three diamonds, three spades, a club and a heart. Down four. I could cash out for down two. That'll probably only lose three IMPs. It'd be seven if I get hearts wrong. On the other hand, if I get them right, I either break even or win 12. We're a little behind, so I think I need to go for it.

Who has the H:Q? The only information I have so far is that LHO appears to have four diamonds and RHO five. LHO didn't lead a heart, but preferred a weak diamond suit, knowing that declarer had a long suit he could set up if he had time. That suggests RHO has the H:Q. Good...especially since to get four heart tricks, I need either to play RHO for three hearts to the queen, or LHO for three hearts to the queen and nine.

Entries are a problem, so I can't afford to take the best line in clubs. They are going to have to be 3-2. I lead the C:9 to the ace in dummy and play a low heart, finessing the H:10. Good news, it holds! When I play off the H:A, RHO drops the six. Maybe he has only three of them...could this be my lucky day? I cash the C:J and lead the carefully-preserved C:4 to dummy's six to cash the H:K. The queen comes tumbling down, and I claim nine tricks.

Partner congratulates me on making game, and says, "I bet you thought it was pretty unlucky to find the doubleton diamond queen opposite your ace-king doubleton!" I reply, "after making 3NT on those cards, I can't feel even slightly unlucky!"

We finish the match before our teammates. The captain of the team who was in the lead comes by to ask how we did. We admit that we don't know. He tells us that we need to win by 8 IMPs to tie with him for the win, or to win by 11 to win the event outright. Turns out we win 12 IMPs on this board and win the match by 8.

Copyright © 2006 Jeff Goldsmith