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My Subjective 'Solution' to "The Greatest Play"

4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Thank you for all comments and messages. I’ve gotten 80+ Private Messages so far. I don’t plan to answer them – but hope that all questions from them will be answered here. If not, you can always comment here.

I thank all of you who wished me and mine good health during this trying time. I wish all of you a good life. What the hell, I wish each of you a good life. (With a nod to Jim Ignatowski.)

When I constructed this hand (yes, it’s a Fantasy Hand – it did not happen) I made the layout as simple as possible. I could have added complications/red herrings in the minors, making both the defense and the play less clear. But I decided to avoid that.

In fact, I could have made it even ‘simpler’ by making the opposing trumps AJ987. But, for aesthetic reasons (I wanted to give South all even spots) I did what I did. Even this small ‘complication’ induced some offbeat responses. In any case, the 8 was not intended to be relevant to the problem.

Another thought I had was to show the full deal as East having trump Jx. I knew this layout would make it more difficult for some and impossible for others to think of the ‘good play’. While that might have been more fun for me, I decided not to do that because I thought some might find it confusing and/or annoying.

However, I would be interested now in your input as to which presentation would have been better – so I have separately made my first (I think) Bridge Winners poll.

Let’s go to the play. First (as many pointed out) East should encourage in hearts (this removes any inference from West’s continuing hearts). This would have been a little more relevant with a slightly less ‘clear’ dummy. Then, declarer should ruff dummy’s Q (every ‘nice’ problem should have you ruffing partner’s winner somewhere?). (There were those that wanted to lead a trump to the 8 or discussed East rising with the jack. Obviously, none of that has anything to do with ‘real bridge’.)

Declarer ruffs the third heart and leads a spade. At this point, some suggested that West should rise and play a fourth heart. However, since West would clearly play low with AJx (declarer could have the 9), there would really be no guess.

Declarer wins the Q and leads a second trump. (BTW, playing 10 from dummy, suggested by a couple, makes no bridge sense.)

Up to now, the play has been routine/correct. There have been no ‘good plays’. But now, as spotted by many, East MUST play the J - if he doesn’t, the contract is bound to make. This ‘good play’ is a play I have been looking to make for decades – ever since I saw it somewhere. There has been more than one write-up of this play being made in the past but, like many attributed brilliancies, I have strong doubts that it ever actually happened. Whether that is envy or sensible skepticism (or both) on my part is, I suppose, subjective.

Anyway, the mandatory but hard-to-find jack is played – and normally that would be the end of it. Declarer covers and goes down.

But then I began to wonder. Were circumstances possible that declarer could still get it right and duck the jack? In other words, under my definitions, was there a possibility of a ‘great play’ that could defeat the ‘good play’?

Well, first it would have to be the theoretical percentage play. When I wrote the article, I thought Ax was a little more likely than Axx due to vacant spaces. But this kind of stuff is not my strong suit, and Steve Bloom, who knows a lot more about math than I, said it was even money and that the vacant spaces argument is bogus here. Others had a different opinion. I’m still hoping that Steve is incorrect, and that Ax is a slight favorite.

Anyway, that’s the easy bit. The tricky part is finding a declarer who would duck. You need someone who is willing to back their judgment to (or past?) the limit and who has zero fear of looking stupid. In short, you need Geir Helgemo.

Geir is the only declarer I know who will do absolutely anything he thinks is ‘right’, and never give a thought to how he might ‘look’. I believe Geir to be one of the greatest declarers of all time, but he has always had my vote for the Expert Most Likely to Go Down in Any Contract while not Blacking Out. If Geir played low on the jack, and West also played low, Geir would just laugh.

Steve Weinstein used to play this way. But then he got old. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Geir make one of his ‘totally fearless’ plays for several years. Maybe he’s gotten old too. Maybe there are others who could take/have taken his place.

Anyway we have Geir (or a facsimile). But we still need him to believe he has an RHO who would, basically, ALWAYS play the jack from J9x. Despite a few messages suggesting the play of the jack is pretty routine, I have not changed my opinion that this is one of the best of the ‘good plays’ – and would be unlikely to be found at the table by someone who did not already know the position (and not always by that person, unless they were having a good day).

I can think of only a few Easts who would qualify. As one who has been dreaming of this position for decades, and is likely to be attuned to it (especially with this ‘simple’ dummy) I’d like to put myself in that category. Maybe now that I have written this article, the number of 'qualifying' Easts have increased.

Sidebar: those who thought the jack was the ‘great play’ did not really understand my definitions. There was no prior ‘good play’ - merely correct or routine play.. Also, those who thought the ‘greatest play’ was a play that defeated a ‘great play’ did not read carefully. There is no ‘defeat’ of a ‘great play’. The ‘greatest play’ is merely (!?) the best of all the ‘great plays’.

So now we have the right declarer and the right opponent and (I hope) the percentages in our favor. Declarer ducks the jack. I understand, there are those of you who will say this is crazy (but Helgemo CAN be crazy), and that, anyway, there is nothing ‘good’ about this play, let alone ‘great’, let alone ‘the greatest’.

I know some will be disappointed by my ‘solution’. But, I ask you, imagine you were kibitzing, and you saw East make the excellent play of the jack, and then saw declarer get it right and duck. Wouldn’t you think you’d just witnessed ‘the greatest play’ ever? Oh well, I DID say this whole thing was subjective. No doubt Ernst Theimer's Norton would duck Weston's J saying 'Nice, try - but you knew it wouldn't work'.

One might think (like me) that ducking is the greatest play, or one might think (especially if it was losing) that it is batshit crazy, but there is one thing I hope we can all agree on. Ducking the jack, whether successful or not, is, as a bridge play, the greatest COMPLIMENT of all time.

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