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Bundesliga jewel: A ruff is in the air
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The German Bundesliga 2017 started this weekend. We are playing in the second division and had a few shiny moments there, but overall our performance did not match our hopes. The following deal is from the third round. Several mistakes were made at our table; still, I believe the deal can be quite instructive.

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

East's 2 bid showed five spades and at least a four-card minor. Given the quality of his "suits", the opening is hardly textbook, but they say anything goes at these colors. West's 4 was pass/correct, and eventually 4X became the final contract.

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
10
Q
A
3
1
0
J
7
3
2
3
2
0
5
A
4
2
0
2
1
9
K
4
6
1
3
1
3
7
K
3
3
4
1
5
K
8
2
0
4
2
6

West led his spade singleton. I covered with the ten since this would give me a finessing position later; East played the queen, and I won the ace. To the second trick I played the J from my hand, hoping that West would duck, which he did. He won the next round of trumps and played another; East discarded two small spades.

At this point the contract is cold (the double finesse in spades is no longer needed due to East's discards). I could discard a diamond on the fourth round of spades, but since dummy had only one trump left, this would still leave me with a diamond loser anyway. I went back to my hand in spades instead and played a diamond; West took his king, so ten tricks were made.

The first obvious question is why East gave up two spades. Even if he doesn't suspect me of having four spades, he can afford to discard diamonds instead; with West announcing sufficient length in both minors to play them at the four-level, it is practically impossible to come up with a layout where East must keep his diamond length.

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
10
Q
A
3
1
0
J
7
3
2
3
2
0
5
A
4
2
0
2
1
3
4
K
2
2
2
2
8
K
9
3
0
2
3
A
5
7
6
3
3
3
6

East's discards were not decisive. As the play went, however, the contract can be defeated after West wins his ace of trumps. He must underlead his clubs, and East must return a high spade for his partner to ruff. After that, West can lock us in our hand; having still a spade finesse to take, we cannot avoid the loss of a diamond trick. (We could cross to dummy in trumps, but this would cost us a diamond ruff in the end.)

Note that a priori West cannot know for sure which minor to lead (nor that this attempt is called for at all), since East might just as well hold totally different values in the side suits. Depending on the signalling agreements of the EW pair, it might be possible for East to clarify on the second round of trumps which suit his partner can safely lead.

So much about the defenders' actions. What about my own?

North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P

First, let us take a single-dummy look at the deal from declarer's perspective. West has shown length in both minors but preferred to double 4 rather than play 5m. It seems pretty likely that he holds 1-3-(5-4) shape with Axx in trumps and a lot of values in the minor suits. He may even have all four missing hearts, although it is hard to see how to succeed in that case.

Next, spade singleton or not, I guess West would have led a top club if the suit was solid. Therefore, East can expected to have at least one club honor, possibly two. (I cannot know at this point what East's minor suit is.) For his double, West will probably hold the king of diamonds, although this is not certain.

Maybe some of this is not entirely correct; it is usually hard to draw objective inferences about the defensive layout in the post-mortem after one has already declared the hand. Still, I believe a point can be made for playing for a layout very similar to the present one.

North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P

Regarding the declarer play, the first point of interest is why we would want West to duck the trump lead at all. Trumps are unlikely to be 2-2, and in case of a 3-1 split, we would actually want West to take his ace immediately. If he does, the contract can no longer be defeated: The defense could still get the spade ruff, but now we have a legitimate table entry for the spade finesse, namely the second round of trumps which we have to play anyway.

Therefore, barring the less likely 2-2 layout, the intention behind the heart play is misguided. Also, it is pretty much impossible to fool West into thinking I was missing the Q anyway, since it would mean that I made a three-level overcall on a jack-high suit and with very little extra strength. The West player will almost certainly play me for the heart queen if it matters to him at all.

North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P

Now, let us ignore such toying attempts. Is there a legitimate way to make four hearts, if we take the main assumptions on West's hand for granted? It turns out there is one, but it requires that we make a game plan from the start, rather than just drawing trumps and see how the play unfolds.

We cannot avoid the loss of the two aces. Apart from that, there are two losers in diamonds and one in spades; our resources to dispose of these losers are the double finesse in spades, the straightforward play of a low diamond to the queen and one or more ruffs in dummy.

If we manage to draw trumps, it is unlikely that we will get two ruffs in dummy, since a 3-1 break must be expected. In that case, we either need two entries to dummy in order to clear the spades, or we need the diamond king onside. However, if there are no defensive spade ruffs, we can only start taking spade finesses after drawing trumps, in which case our entries are simply insufficient. The conclusion is that, if we avoid spade ruffs, we must play a diamond from our hand anyway.

On the other hand, it is too early to play on diamonds right away. The defense would win the king (we are still planning under the assumption that West holds this card) and then arrange for their spade ruff. No good. Once the defenders get their ruff, we may be able to ruff twice in dummy after all, but we can no longer afford to lose a diamond trick. In this case, we must be able to discard our diamond loser on the fourth round of spades which has to be good at the time.

The key observation is that our loser-handling in the side suits crucially depends on whether the defenders get a spade ruff or not. The key play is to give up a club at trick two. It is a strange hybrid of Morton's Fork and Scissors Coup, forcing the defenders to commit themselves regarding the ruff before we have made up our mind on the diamond play. Watch what happens:

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
10
Q
A
3
1
0
2
3
10
K
2
1
1
8
K
7
3
0
1
2
A
4
7
5
3
2
2
Q
A
3
2
0
2
3
9
K
2
6
1
3
3
5
4
6
8
3
4
3
J
9
8
7
3
5
3
8

If East wins and gives his partner his ruff, we can count on two ruffs in dummy. West cannot clear the diamonds himself, so he will probably choose the safe club exit. We only need to draw two rounds of trumps now. Moreover, observe that East's spade play will reduce the need for dummy entries, since we must play spades from dummy only once after that. Whether West holds up his ace of trumps or not, we will get the one required entry in trumps without losing our ruffing capacity.

If the defenders decide not to take their spade ruff at trick three, it is no longer a threat later on because East does not have another entry, so we can afford to lose a diamond in this line. The entry situation is still an interesting issue.

Our plan is to draw three round of trumps (West will presumably win the second round). The third trump trick, the diamond queen and the eventual diamond ruff provide plenty of entries to dummy in order to take the double finesse in spades. If the defenders play along, there will be no problem.

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
10
Q
A
3
1
0
2
3
10
K
2
1
1
9
5
8
4
3
2
1
Q
7
3
2
3
3
1
6
A
4
2
0
3
2
A
5
7
8
3
4
2
5
K
8
2
0
4
3
7

Suppose the defenders are aiming to shorten our trumps in hand. Whoever wins trick two can return a club which we ruff. We play on trumps, West wins the second round and forces us with another club. At this point we have only one trump left in our hand, and we cannot afford to play it right now, since West would later win the K and cash a club winner.

But we don't need to draw the trump right away. Instead we play a diamond, and the defenders are helpless. Say West wins and returns a diamond; now it is safe to draw the outstanding trump and eventually discard the last club from dummy on the A. If he plays a fourth round of clubs instead, we ruff and cross to dummy in diamonds in order to draw the last trump.

West
9
A97
KJ109
AQJ83
North
1053
K1043
Q8
10654
East
Q8742
2
7432
K97
South
AKJ6
QJ865
A65
2
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Observe that in this last scenario we don't actually need the double finesse in spades at all. The extra trick comes from a dummy reversal. Let's look at the hand from dummy's perspective: We only lose a trump, a diamond and a club. Two of the other three club losers are ruffed in the closed hand (which becomes the shorter trump hand in the process), and the last loser is parked on the A.

It turns out the double finesse in spades is a red herring in this hand. We can just as well play low in dummy at trick one and win the opening lead with the J. If East gives his partner the ruff as before, he must establish our entire spade suit immediately, due to the 10 in dummy - no need for another finesse later, and no need to worry about entries. On the other hand, if the defenders play a minor suit, we forget about the potential fourth spade winner in our hand and play the dummy reversal.

Sometimes the big picture in a bridge hand is clouded by additional resources which turn out to be distractions only. It is easy to go astray under such circumstances. The play in the above hand might have been easier if my spades had been AKJ2 instead of AKJ6.

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