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Interesting Play Problem from Victor Champion Cup
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I recently finished playing in the Victor Champion Cup in Melbourne, Australia.  It was a really fun event, with a somewhat unusual format for a national event (2 day swiss pairs, 2 1/2 day swiss teams), since the team event is only a swiss, and has no knockout component.  Still, it's a really fun event, and I was lucky to be in contention for most of the late rounds of the swiss.

 

In the last round, my team, McGann (Hugh McGann, Matthew Thomson, James Coutts, and myself) were sitting in 2nd place, and faced off against the Harrison team (Matt Smith, Jamie Thompson, Shane Harrison, Stevie Williams), 4 strong Australian juniors (or recent juniors) who'd won this event the past 2 years.  They weren't in 1st going into the last round, but they were also in contention at the time. 

 

James Coutts and I sat against Matt Smith and Jamie Thompson.  On the 3rd deal of a 14-board set, I faced a difficult declarer play problem.  I picked up:

South
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
?

Redbl: single-suited hand

What would your bidding plan be here?

It seemed normal enough to me to rebid 2.  As I saw it, the downsides were that my hand might be a little good to bid 2, as partner may expect a dead minimum opener, and my hand has a decent amount of offense. Also, we may miss out on a penalty.  On the other hand, they may have a big red-suit fit which I can keep them from finding, and buy the pot with 2.  

I bid 2, and caught a raise to 4.  The opening lead was the A.  Opponent's carding is UDCA.

J Thompson
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
3

Click the NEXT button in the diagram to see the play for the first few tricks. After LHO leads a third round of clubs, plan the play before moving on.

RHO is certainly signalling as though they have a doubleton club. It's standard expert practice to encourage in these situations only with a doubleton, since dummy can ruff the 3rd round of the suit.  Thus, our first instinct might be to ruff with the Jack.

However, if RHO does have a doubleton club, how will we make the hand?  Our J will score the trick, but we will still have a club loser in hand which we cannot possibly ruff or get rid of.  Since we must also lose a spade, ruffing with the jack cannot be correct.

Given that we've eliminated ruffing with the jack, what is the correct plan?

We must assume RHO has a 3rd (if not 4th) club.  This effectively means they've falsecarded on the first two tricks, but this is not an uncommon tactic, because it might induce us (as declarer) to waste a high trump ruffing in the dummy.

Clearly our remaining options are to either discard, or ruff small in the dummy. Discarding will immediately fail if RHO has the 10. If we ruff small, and the 10 doesn't appear, it seems we will have to deal with our 4th club loser by ruffing, and hope to pick up the spade suit.  However, even if the 10 does appear, we can't simply concede a spade to LHO, as they will then be able to give their partner a club ruff.

All that being said, it seems an awfully big risk to discard from the dummy.  We might go down immediately, and even if our 9 does win the trick, we still have to deal with our 4th club loser.  Say we choose to ruff the club small in the dummy.

J Thompson
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
2
6
3
1
1
2
3

A success, in that RHO did not overruff.  We still have to deal with our 4th club loser though, and lose no more than 1 spade.  Where should we go from here?

The obvious plan is to ruff the 4th club in the dummy (there isn't anywhere to discard it really), and try to pick up the spades for one loser.  At the table, in an effort to get a count on the hand, I now played the K.  When both opponents followed small, I decided that RHO probably had 6 diamonds.  This gives them ?-?-6-3, so I played them for 2-2-6-3, and was going to attempt to pin the 10.

Unfortunately, after I ruffed my last club in the dummy, LHO showed me his hand, which included the K10x of spades.  See below for the play at my table.

J Thompson
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
2
6
3
1
1
2
K
2
9
4
1
2
2
10
J
A
7
3
3
2
9
10
J
3
1
4
2
9 tricks claimed
N/S -50
6

Just an unlucky hand, I thought.  Even had I figured out to discard from dummy at trick 3, it still seems unmakeable, as I still need to deal with my 4th club loser, and ruffing it high will still mean 2 trump losers.

Was there anything else I could have done?

Yes. Sometimes declaring is about spotting themes and seeing ideas. On this hand, I believe I partly spotted the correct theme, but didn't come back to it at the right moment.

At trick 3, I took about 5 minutes before deciding I had to ruff small in the dummy. While I was considering ruffing with the jack, the idea occurred to me that I might be able to shorten my trumps and endplay LHO somehow. However I quickly saw this would not work (insufficient entries to the dummy for ruffs), and abandoned the idea.

However, my mistake was not revisiting that theme after the small club ruff won in dummy. I was too focused on reading the shape and trying to guess spades, and did not consider all of my options. Now my 4th club ruff in dummy is an additional entry, and shortening myself in trumps can be an effective plan.

J Thompson
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
2
6
3
1
1
2
3

With this idea in mind, plan the play one last time. (Last chance!)

This is how I should have played the hand:

J Thompson
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
2
6
3
1
1
2
A
8
4
3
1
2
2
2
J
3
Q
3
3
2
A
4
6
2
3
4
2
9
7
K
3
1
5
2
5
5
5
K
3
6
2
9
10
J
8
1
7
2
6
J
8
10
3
8
2
Q
K
7
4
0
8
3
10 tricks claimed
N/S +420
11

This technique will work basically whenever the hand can be made.  If LHO does have only 3 clubs, then they will be 3-4-3-3 (remember RHO showed a single-suiter, which must be diamonds), and I will get to see what they pitch on the 4th club before I decided what to take as my last ruff.  Another key component is that I get to see if hearts are 3-3 or 4-2 when I ruff the 3rd round of hearts in my hand.

It's possible that the line I provided above isn't technically the most precise, and there are few equivalent orders on the most pertinent layouts. The point of the hand was about taking my time after something had gone well, to recall a theme I'd thought of earlier in the hand.

I think it's especially cute that this is the correct line of play even if the 10 had appeared on my right at trick 3.  Ruffing the winning 9 for an entry to the dummy would be a truly spectacular play.

Here are all the hands, with the correct line of play:

J Thompson
K107
KQ103
74
AK107
J Coutts
J2
A97652
K106
QJ
M Smith
64
J8
QJ8532
862
K Rosenberg
AQ9853
4
A9
9543
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
X
XX
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
17
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
J
2
5
0
0
1
K
Q
8
4
0
0
2
7
2
6
3
1
1
2
A
8
4
3
1
2
2
2
J
3
Q
3
3
2
A
4
6
2
3
4
2
9
7
K
3
1
5
2
5
5
5
K
3
6
2
9
10
J
8
1
7
2
6
J
8
10
3
8
2
Q
K
7
4
0
8
3
10 tricks claimed
N/S +420
11

In case you are curious, my teammates at the other table played in 3-1, so we lost 3 IMPs on this hand.  We lost the 14 board match by 16 IMPs, which unfortunately knocked us down to 7th place.  Our opponents on the Harrison team finished 3rd.  Congratulations to them, and to the winners (Markey - Ron Klinger, Matt Mullamphy, Andrew Spooner, Phil Markey), as well as the 2nd place finishers (Crowe-Mai - Keiran Crowe-Mai, Laura Ginnan, Peter Hollands, Ann Baker, Colin Baker, Lucy Henbest).  

I had a great time at this event and in Melbourne, and hope to be back in the future!  I also went to my first AFL (Australian Football League) game while I was in Melbourne, which was lots of fun.

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