Everyone knows those contracts that look hopeless, but maybe, just maybe, you could make it if you get a miracle. Almost always, of course, that miracle fails to materialize and the deal fades into the oblivion of bad contracts that went down. Sometimes, though, you get your miracle, and you might even make your stupid contract. I had one such play problem this week at the Charleston New Year's Regional.
In a knockout match, you pick up:
East passes as dealer, you open 1NT (15-17), and partner bids Stayman. You have no way to show 4-4 in the majors directly over Stayman and normally would bid 2♥ with both majors. However, partner will always have at least one 4-card major to bid Stayman, so it is probably safe to show your spades first.
Which major do you bid?
You flirt with the idea of showing spades, but you elect to bid 2♥, as partner might never play you for four hearts if you bid 2♠, and you try to avoid throwing curve balls at partner. Partner raises to 3♥, and you carry on to game.
West, a thoughtful expert playing with a competent but not expert partner, leads the ♠5 (3rd from even, low from odd). You play the ♠9 from dummy and capture East's ♠10 with the ♠A.
Prospects look bleak, but: How do you play?
If you can avoid a trump loser and navigate clubs for one loser, you might just make this. You must find East with a singleton heart honor (you don't have the spots to pick up East's ♥H8xx) or either player with ♥QJ-doubleton, although if you see an honor from East on the first round, you'll have a decision to make.
Since there doesn't seem to be much else to do, you lay down the ♥K: ♥J, ♥2, ♥4. Hardly believing your eyes, you play another heart, and West contributes the ♥Q. Success! You cash the ♥10, drawing East's last trump, while West discards the ♦2 (upside-down). Now it's time to eliminate the spades before exiting with a diamond.
In which hand do you end after cashing the spades?
It probably doesn't make much difference. You elect to finish the spades in the closed hand. On the run of the spades, East follows up-the-line to all three spades, while West discards, in order: ♦5, ♦7, ♣3.
When you lead the ♦9 from hand, West goes into a long tank and plays the ♦Q, which East happily overtakes with the ♦K to return the ♦6 to West's ♦A. West goes back into the tank and shifts to the ♣J, in this position:
What do you do?
If West has the ♣K, you must play the ♣Q at some point (by playing it to this trick, by ducking the ♣J and playing the queen on the next round, or by winning the ♣A and leading up to the queen next).
If West has the ♣J10 without the ♣K, you must duck this trick, then play low from dummy on the next round of the suit.
If West has the ♣J without the ♣K or ♣10, you must cover with the ♣Q and duck the ♣K (winning the ♣A would be fatal, because you would need to cross to the ♥10 to lead toward the ♣9, in which case you will be down except against West's 1=2=7=3 distribution).
West might conceivably lead the ♣J from any of those possible holdings, including ♣KJxx(x). It looks percentage not to play West for both low club honors, based in part on restricted choice, and based in part on the table action. It should be obvious to West that he must return an honor from ♣J10, so would he really take such a long time to decide which honor to play?
There might be clues to the location of the ♣K from West's silence in the bidding (might he bid with 6-4 in the minors, the ♦AQ and the ♣KJ?) and East's overtaking with the ♦K—although it doesn't hold up under scrutiny, East might be trying to force his partner to shift to a club through the ♣Q.
Decision time: What do you play?
You cover with the ♣Q. East plays the ♣K, which you duck. On the club return, you insert the ♣9 and West puts his hand back in the board: +620. The full deal (click NEXT to view the play):
You received more than your fair share of luck on this board, even during the bidding (with spades 4-1, you can't make 4♠ on this layout, so you were lucky that your system bid with 4-4 in the majors was 2♥ and you chose to adhere to system). Going down after such a fortunate start might be an ill omen—maybe you've got some bad karma—particularly at the end of the year.
So, what's your outlook for 2017?
Plus... it's free!