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Lauria-Versace

Verlau After a two-week hiatus, UFR is back! There has been speculation that Steve used the break and the recent Vanderbilt in Louisville to generate enough column material to last for months; we cannot confirm or deny these rumors. Even though there were plenty of mistakes at the Spring NABC, this week’s hand comes from the finals of the first World Mindsport Games in Beijing, China.



Lorenzo Lauria and Alfredo Versace have been stalwarts on the Italian team for two decades. Combined, they own more than ten world championships as well as dozens of other impressive victories. In October 2008 their play put them in position to add to their impressive trophy case once again, with only England remaining in their way. They encountered the following defensive problem early in a very swingy first set .

Lauria
Q9853
Q9
A987
Q10
Gold
AK742
KJ87
Q1064
Versace
J10
A106432
KJ3
J7
Townsend
6
5
52
AK9865432
W
N
E
S
5
P
P
P
D
4
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
4
3
2
0
0
1
9
K
A
5
2
0
2
2
2
Q
7
3
1
2
A
10
2
7
3
2
2
K
Q
6
J
3
3
2
11 tricks claimed
N/S +600
5


The auction and defensive objective are self-explanatory. Let’s tackle the play card-by-card.

The A
It’s common to lead unsupported aces at the five-level or higher when it appears that the defense is in a cashout situation. This puts a trick in your pocket and provides the defense with a view of the dummy. Many pairs alter their defensive agreements at these levels and lead the king from ace-king, rather than the ace, in order to distinguish between these two holdings. The A stands out.

The 3
When partner tables an ace against a 5-level contract should the expected signal be attitude, count, or suit preference? Does it depend on the auction or what appears in dummy? Here, the Italians play upside-down count. Versace opted to play the 3, giving false count, which was more palatable than signalling with the potential setting trick.

Take note of Townsend’s expert play of the 2, which muddied the position for the defense. Had Townsend played the five, Lauria would know his partner couldn’t hold KJ32. As it was, KJ53 was still viable.

The 9
Lauria couldn’t be sure that the defense required two heart tricks, but they certainly needed at least one. Therefore, he played for a misguess. But, declarer was unlikely to go wrong after the opening lead for two reasons:
  • Lauria might have led the A if he held both aces.
  • Lauria would be reluctant to underlead the A because it might be the setting trick if the defense had another diamond to cash.

If West shifts to a heart instead of continuing diamonds, with the assumption that declarer will guess the suit correctly, is there a case that West’s play to the second trick should be a count card? (Even if that means playing the queen from Qx)

Should West continue Diamonds?
It’s imperative if East has a singleton diamond. On the other hand, if East holds the awkward KJx hand there is a risk that he might play for his partner to hold Ax and attempt to cash a third diamond rather than his A. It seems that declarer needs precisely x -- 98xx AKQxxxxx for the A to cost the contract—a specific hand that East probably shouldn’t play for.

Trick three
Can East draw any inference from declarer’s play of the K? Would West have led the ace from A9875 rather than his singleton at trick one? Certainly at the 4-level we expect our partner to lead his singleton before his Ace, but does that hold water at the 5-level?

Post-mortem
This is a very tempo-sensitive hand with the potential for a pair to convey unauthorized information. We might not like the results of their defense on this hand but we certainly applaud Lauria and Versace’s ethics. Was this just a high-level guessing game or could the Italians have simplified their dilemma?

We pulled the tape, now we invite you to make the call.
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