Some contracts look pretty good when dummy comes down. The following hand is not one of them.
Try this play problem from the 2016 World Youth Teams Bridge Championships:
After East’s overcall, you contented yourself with 2♠, but partner’s… aggressive game-try double propelled you into 4♠.
West leads the ♥ Q and continues hearts. What’s the play?
There are a range of issues to consider.
To start with, there are three unavoidable top losers. You can’t afford to lose a second trump trick, meaning this shaky 4-4 fit will have to played for one loser.
In addition, your side suit needs a bit of love. The clubs will need to break 3-2, and there is the small matter of the ♣ Q to consider.
Finally (?), you are in danger of losing trump control. The opponents led hearts from the right side, neutralising dummy’s heart guard, and they will get in at least one more time to continue hearts and shorten the trumps in the South hand.
How’s your thought process coming along?
It’s easy to give up hope in these types of situations. The hand is complicated, prospects are dim, and partner is a fool for doubling 3♥.
Rewind... instead of ‘partner is an idiot’ or ‘well, let’s try and make sure we don’t go two down’, let’s work out a semi-reasonable plan to make the hand. The beauty of IMPs is that all-out plays to make the contract (provided they aren’t totally ridiculous) offer a much higher reward than other forms of scoring.
Luckily, you’re representing your country in a world championship, which means IMPs is the game. Let’s get started:
Trumps need to be favorable. Without much to go on, the 2-level overcaller is more likely to have the trump Ace, and it will need to be doubleton for us to have much of a chance.
Can we attempt to draw trumps with this flimsy holding?
If we ruff trick two, cross to the ♣ K to lead a spade to the Queen, then duck a spade to East’s Ace, they can continue with the ♥ A for us to ruff.
Having contributed a trump to tricks two through five, we will be out of trumps at this point, while West still holds one and dummy sits over them with ♠ K-6.
If the club Queen started life as a doubleton, we will make it home from here by running clubs through West – a cute trump substitution play. West is welcome to ruff whenever. We will over-ruff in dummy and get back to hand in diamonds. With trumps and clubs having obliged in such a friendly manner, there’s no reason to expect the diamond Ace will be offside. Some things were just meant to be.
We’ve got a plan to make it with the miraculous trump layout as well as clubs 3-2 with the Queen short. What about if the clubs aren’t so generously laid out for us?
If someone holds ♣ Q-x-x, drawing trumps straight away is not going to work because of the impending heart tap. We will need to find something more creative.
If West holds the protected Lady, the key move will be finessing the ♣ 10 after ruffing at trick two. Drawing trumps (through East) will work fine now that the clubs are good.
If East holds her Majesty, things are more difficult. Can you see if the cards can be made to cooperate on that layout?
Assuming as always that East holds Ace doubleton in spades, allowing East to also hold ♣ Q-x-x is inconvenient because it seems to require too many entries to the dummy.
After ruffing at trick two and crossing to the ♣ K, if you lead trumps now you won’t be able to take a finesse in clubs as well – no convenient way back to the dummy.
You could try ruffing at trick two, crossing to the ♣ K, and leading the ♣ 10. If you run it and it wins, you are back in the money by drawing trumps. Your clubs are good and the trump substitute play works again.
However, if East can find the cover of the ♣ 10 (perhaps realising the vulnerability of their trumps?) you will be in your hand without having drawn any rounds of trumps, and in the wrong hand to do so. West might have the doubleton spade Ace instead of East, which would allow you to succeed by drawing trumps the other way, but this can’t be the most likely layout.
Regrettably, the term ‘two-way finesse’ doesn’t allow you to take a finesse against both of your opponents simultaneously. It would probably lose, anyway.
Recap and refresh, having possibly still not played a card from the dummy.
Assuming trumps 3-2, Ace doubleton with East, and clubs 3-2 we now have a variety of possibilities:
Any more thoughts on the matter? Have you made your mind up yet?
At the table, declarer was not content with guessing which of the above club layouts to play for and found a different line which many of those following along with the hand might take on general principles:
This left, with North on lead:
Can you see what’s about to happen?
It’s time to take a look under the hood.
Lots of trumps still out, but no need to worry.
We can’t play on trumps ourselves – East wins and taps us out, with the hearts high after dummy over-ruffs West on the run of the clubs.
Instead, try this. Dummy leads a diamond to South’s King, and now we start a weird sort of trump substitution play by running clubs through West.
Careful now: watch what West discards.
If West throws a diamond, you must also pitch a diamond from the North hand. Otherwise, when you pitch a heart, East pitches a heart as well. On the next club, West pitches their penultimate diamond, dummy pitches diamonds (too late!), East ruffs and plays ♦ Ace and a diamond to promote the ♠ J. Pitching diamonds after West negates this threat, as dummy will be able to over-ruff in the endgame.
Likewise, if West pitches their last heart, make sure dummy also gets rid of the heart. Otherwise East over-ruffs, cashes the ♦ A, and finishes you off with the ♥ A for a different over-ruff.
Long story short: in this type of position you have to discard the same suit after West in order to maintain the trump tenace over the Jack. One of those things that's easier having seen it before. If you follow West’s discards with the same suit from dummy, the defence can’t prevail in this position.
The defence didn’t seem to have much control over what happened. Could they have done anything differently?
West definitely needed to begin the tap by leading two rounds of hearts, and after that the defense never got in.
East could have risen with the ♠ A and continued the force. This would have made life too difficult for declarer, but was not an intuitively obvious play.
The real chance was missed at trick 6, when declarer ruffed a club to achieve the position on the previous page. West threw a heart at the table, but if they had thrown a diamond instead, West would have been ahead in the ‘throw away a suit and get a promo’ race.
The position would be:
No one can stop West eventually scoring the ♠ J via a diamond over-ruff.
Keeping the diamonds guarded was natural, but wrong. At this point in the hand, a lot is known about declarer’s hand and retaining the diamond guard can’t be useful.
Declarer’s line avoided taking a club finesse, meaning that as well as retaining all the chances of ♣ Q-x anywhere, he had the very real chance of coming home after the club Queen turned out to be protected. Not only that, it worked, making it the best line in my book.
Well done to Nabil Edgtton who gently guided this delicate hand home for 12 IMPs to Australia in the World Juniors last year. Nabil used a bit of imagination to find the trumps lying well, a bit of intuition to decide to ruff out the clubs, then a touch of technique at the end to watch the discards and find the right counter.
In dire-looking situations like this, simplifying the problem can be valuable. On this hand, fantasizing about ♠ A-x with East turned a confusing, difficult hand into one that was well within reach.
Keen-eyed readers might notice the similarity of the theme on this hand with one of my all-time favorite hands from last year. Something about these obscure trump substitution plays must appeal to me!
As promised, this is the third of three 4♠ hands I planned to write up, each featuring an interesting point of technique. If you enjoyed this one, hover over my name on the right-hand side and click Follow - Bridge Winners will let you know next time I put up an article.
Previously: Time Delay
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