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Nice hand from Senior trials
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While there are plenty of hands from the trials I would like to forget about, here is one hand where I was very pleased with how I played it.  See if you can do as well.

North
A74
AK4
AK3
K1083
South
J85
Q9852
Q6
A97

After North opens a strong club and East overcalls 1, you arrive at an undignified 5 contract on an auction which is not to be repeated.  

West leads the 9 of spades

To get you started, you duck.  East wins the queen, and returns a low diamond.  You win the queen, and cash AK of hearts.  Of course RHO shows out on the second round, so you have a sure trump loser.

Think about how you would play it from here.  Be very specific about what you will do and the order in which you will do it.

North
A74
AK4
AK3
K1083
South
J85
Q9852
Q6
A97

Obviously you must do something with the club suit.  The spades are likely to be 5-2.  You don't have much of a clue about the minor-suit distribution.  The clubs could be 3-3, or they could be 4-2 either way.

If you somehow knew East had 4 clubs, it would be easy to generate a black-suit squeeze against him.  But you have no real reason to know that.  There are other more likely possibilities.  These involve discarding a club on the third round of diamonds and ruffing a club in your hand.

If West has 4 clubs, it is easy.  You cash your high trump, take the diamonds discarding a club, two rounds of clubs and a club ruff, cross to the spade and ruff another club.  That's 11 tricks.  The opponents score their trump trick and their king of spades together on the 13th trick.

If the clubs are 3-3, it is also easy.  Again, you pitch a club and ruff out the clubs, setting up the long club in dummy.

If East has 4 clubs, you still have a chance.  You need to find West with a doubleton honor.  Once again, you pitch a club on the diamond and take two top clubs.  Now you follow through with a ruffing finesse.

This all is straightforward.  But can you do better? 

 

North
A74
AK4
AK3
K1083
South
J85
Q9852
Q6
A97

Consider the variation where West plays an honor on the second round of clubs.  West could have started with honor-doubleton, or he could have QJx.  You will have to decide whether to take the ruffing finesse or play for the drop.  Restricted choice makes the ruffing finesse clearly the percentage play, about a 2 to 1 favorite in fact.  There is no clue in the diamond count, and your good opponents are going to play random diamond cards which won't help you at all there.  But is there some way you can improve on those 2 to 1 odds?

 

North
A74
AK4
AK3
K1083
South
J85
Q9852
Q6
A97

As I pondered the possibilities which included a potential guess on the third round of clubs, I had an inspiration.  It was one of those "aha" moments which make bridge so enjoyable.  Suppose I play the club suit starting with a small club from my hand.  If West has QJx of clubs, West will certainly be afraid that I am trying to sneak a club trick through and will split his honors.  But if West has Qx or Jx of clubs, it will never occur to West to play the honor.  Thus, by doing this I can virtually guarantee that I will get the club suit right if I have a decision.  Are the entries okay for this?  Yes, they are.  I come to the queen of hearts, and lead a club to the king.  Then club back to the ace, followed by AK of diamonds discarding my last club.  And I will have reached the desired end position.  This isn't the "normal" order of play, but it is just as effective, and has the advantage of making West play to the first round of clubs before West knows what I am up to.

So I crossed to the queen of hearts, and led a club up.  West followed small.  I won the king, back to the ace of clubs (jack from West), cashed the diamonds discarding a club, and took the ruffing finesse in clubs very confident that it would succeed.  It did, and we survived our bidding accident.

It is true that a top expert in the West seat who was really in the zone and into the hand probably has enough information to figure out what I am up to, so he could foil my plan by not splitting from QJx and playing an honor from Qx or Jx.  In practice, it would be very difficult for West to not split from QJx and almost impossible for West to play an honor from Qx or Jx.  West is not expecting a club play at this point in the hand, and he would have to work out the entire position in a few seconds.  If my opponent did this and led me astray, I would be happy to congratulate him.

Of course it looked like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  It appeared that I had made a routine play of discarding a club and followed it up with the restricted choice percentage play.  I would have made the hand without my inspiration.  But there was that glow of satisfaction which comes from the knowledge that one has found an out of the ordinary improvement above the normal line of play.

 

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