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Claim Rules
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After reading Debbie's article on the claim with AQ8x opposite K7xxx (where unblocking the 8 is necessary to run the suit) and seeing all the comments, I am still undecided as to what the correct ruling is. The ruling involves judgment about how likely it is that declarer will find the unblock. We would prefer not to have rulings be based on such judgment.

I believe I have a solution to these problems. It is as follows:

When declarer claims, he of course shows his hand. If both defenders agree, that is that. However, if one defender objects that defender says: play. Play continues under the following conditions:

If the claim occurs in the middle of a trick, that trick coninues normally.  After that, the defenders must make legal plays (they cannot revoke). However, they play their cards face down. Declarer does not get to see what they play, whether or not they are following, whether or not they played a high card, etc.

There are some exceptions:

1) If declarer has stated his line of play when his play depends upon what a defender plays (such as a finesse, a suit splitting, or whatever), then declarer gets to see the necessary information. For example, if declarer says: I'll test the spades, making if they are 3-3, otherwise I'll take the club finesse, he gets to both test the spades and take the club finesse. However, if he did not make such a statement he doesn't get to see whether or not the spades split, and if he leads up to his AQ of clubs he doesn't get to see whether or not second hand plays the king.

2) If a defender has shown out of a suit and his partner subsequently leads or follows to that suit, declarer is permitted to see which card in the suit is played. This permits declarer to take a totally marked finesse even if he didn't state so with his claim.

3) If a defender wins a trick, he must tell declarer that he won the trick (declarer might not know -- for example declarer may think he is running a suit but the suit didn't split). The defender must then tell declarer the denomination of his lead, but he keeps the rank concealed.

4) If a defender wishes to see what card his partner plays, he may ask that the card be turned face up. If that happens, declarer gets to see the card also.

Let's look at a couple of examples and see if they get us what we want.

AQ9x opposite K10xxx. If declarer cashes the ace (and then claims without seeing what happens), or if declarer gets an opening lead and says: I'm going to win the opening lead and cash the ace, then he gets to run the suit assuming he has the entry to get back to finesse the 9. The cashing of the ace makes the claim in the middle of that trick, so declarer gets to see if the suit is 4-0. Once the suit is 4-0, he gets to take the marked finesse. However, if declarer claims without first cashing the ace or saying that he will, he doesn't get to pick up the 4-0 since he doesn't get to see the defender show out.

It should be noted that a defender objecting to the claim doesn't necessarily tip declarer off. The defender might have simply miscounted the tricks, or been the sort of person who doesn't accept a claim unless it is staring him in the face. Even if declarer knew the suit were 4-0, he would both have to guess which way and he would have to guess whether the defender was clever enough to play the jack on the third round when declarer would be taking his "finesse". Declarer cannot gain an advantage from the premature claim.

AKxx opposite J10xxxx. Same sort of thing. If declarer leads or calls for the ace and then claims (before seeing what happens), he gets to see if the player behind the AKxx shows out, and he gets to cross and take the finesse (since it is now marked) if he can do so. However, if he claims before playing the ace, he doesn't get to pick up the 3-0 -- or if he tries to do so he does so at his own risk when a defender objects to the claim holding queen-doubleton.

AQ8x opposite K7xxx (needing to unblock since no entries to the K7xxx). If declarer claims before leading the suit, he will not know if the suit splits 4-0 and may try to run the suit and unexpectedly lose a trick in the suit and not even get the fourth trick which he would have had by ducking. If the suit splits 3-1, he will still have to execute the unblock. Once again, the defender objecting to the claim isn't really giving anything away. Maybe the suit is 4-0. Maybe the defender spotted the potential blockage problem. Maybe the defender miscounted the tricks. Maybe the defender just doesn't accept claims which aren't the "my hand is high" type. Declarer won't be getting any kind of wakeup call. He will simply have to play the suit correctly. If he does so he will have deserved his contract, even if he mistakenly claimed before determining that the suit wasn't 4-0. If he doesn't see the unblock and screws it up, he goes down.

The key on this example is that (with the exception of the possible 4-0 split), declarer's fate doesn't depend upon what he sees the defenders play. It depends solely on declarer's handling the suit correctly. Thus, we don't have to distinguish this combination from the AQx opposite KJxxx example. In both cases, if declarer plays the suit correctly and doesn't run into a bad split he will get his 5 tricks in the suit. It doesn't matter that even a beginner will probably get the AQx opposite KJxxx correct while a good player might screw up the AQ8x opposite K7xxx on a bad day. In both cases, declarer has to prove himself.

Declarer has xx opposite AQ, and needs the finesse to take the rest of the tricks. Obviously if declarer claims saying he is taking the finesse, he gets to take the finesse. Similarly, if declarer leads towards the AQ and then claims (before his LHO follows), declarer can do what he wants on this trick and base his play on whether or not LHO plays the king. If LHO plays small and declarer chooses to go up ace and try something else, that is declarer's business. However, if declarer claims without leading towards the AQ or saying he is taking the finesse, then play continues but declarer doesn't get to see what LHO plays when declarer leads towards the AQ. LHO might well stick up the king, particularly if he sees that declarer has no other option. In any event, declarer is worse off than if he had claimed properly.

The idea is that we don't have to read declarer's mind when making a ruling on a claim. Declarer has to prove himself. We don't have to judge whether or not declarer knew there was a trump out. If he remembers, he can draw it. We don't have to judge whether declarer would have been careful and safely ruff high when coming back to his hand to draw trumps. If he remembers and has counted trumps, he can do it. We don't have to decide whether declarer would have been competent enough to handle his entries properly to ruff out dummy's 5-card suit when the suit splits 4-2 instead of 3-3. If declarer knows how to do that, he can prove it himself. We don't have to listen to the "obviously I would have played for the double squeeze once West shows out on the second round of diamonds" story. If declarer didn't state that contigency in his claim, he doesn't get to do that.

Here is a typical bad claim hand.

Contract 7

Dummy: QJx Qxx AK109x xx.

Declarer: AK10xx AKx Qx AQx.

Opening lead: Jack of hearts. Plan the play.

This would be a trivial hand for any competent player. Win the opening lead in hand, saving the queen of hearts entry. Draw trumps, discarding a club from dummy if a fourth round of trumps is necessary. Play queen of diamonds, diamond to ace, king of diamonds, and ruff out the jack of diamonds if the diamonds are 4-2. If East has Jxxxx of diamonds, take the marked ruffing finesse. If West has Jxxxx of diamonds, cross to ace of hearts, run your trumps, and lead a heart to the queen, coming down to a diamond and a club in dummy and AQ of clubs in your hand. West will have to come down to a stiff club. Now you have to guess whether to finesse or drop, based on your count of the hand and whatever else you believe you have picked up from the cards the enemy has played. If the trumps are 5-0, you will draw all the trumps discarding a diamond and a club from dummy, and test the diamonds. If they don't behave with West having the diamonds, you will come down to the same squeeze or finesse guess. If East has the diamonds, either he has the king of clubs (it will show up since he will be down to a stiff club and the jack of diamonds) or he doesn't.

Now, what will happen if declarer claimed upon seeing the opening lead?

With the current laws, look at the judgments a director and/or committee would have to make.

Would declarer know enough to win the opening lead in his hand?

Would declarer know enough to draw trumps, but not to play an unnecessary fifth round of trumps?

Would declarer know to unblock the diamonds?

Would declarer know to ruff out the fourth round of diamonds if necessary, or to take the ruffing finesse?

If the diamonds didn't come in, would declarer recognize the potential squeeze position?

Would declarer get the squeeze vs. finesse position right in the end?

These are questions I would not like to have to answer as a director or a committee member. The answers might depend upon the skill level of the declarer (which itself is a subjective matter), how attentive the declarer is, and probably some other factors. There might not be a clear adjudication.

With my rules, declarer simply plays it out without seeing the defender's cards. Since declarer won't see a 5-0 spade split if there is one and won't see a 5-1 diamond split if there is one, I would judge that declarer will draw 4 rounds of trumps discarding a club, play queen, ace, king, and a diamond ruff, cross to queen of hearts, and cash the 10 of diamonds. If he does this, he will go down with 5-0 trumps or with 5-1 diamond split (remember, he won't know that the 10 of diamonds isn't cashing). Obviously a good declarer wouldn't have lost to the jack of diamonds this way, but that was declarer's fault for making the bad claim. Once he does so, he doesn't get to use any information from the enemy cards for a contingency play (such as the ruffing finesse in diamonds) unless he so states in his claim.

I belive these rules will solve pretty much all claiming problems. There won't be any judgment involved. The hand gets played out if the defense objects. However, declarer doesn't get to adopt any contingency plans unless he stated them in his claim, even if these contingency plays might be "obvious" once the situation arises. Declarer has to make the tricks he claimed with top tricks or tricks he successfully sets up, without knowledge of how things are splitting or what the defenders hold. This is the way it should be if there is a proper claim, unless the proper claim statement includes appropriate contingency plans.

I would appreciate if BW readers can try to come up with examples for which my rules would lead to results which are less equitable than the current claiming rules.

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