Jens Auken of Denmark popularized a concept called the “kill point”: the critical decision point in a hand when you are faced with the opportunity to make a decisive action for your side. Not every hand has a kill point, but when one comes up with the fate of the contract riding on it, you had better take your time and get it right.
I faced a kill point in my Grand National Teams (Flight B) district finals this past weekend. Leading by just 1 IMP going into the last segment, both vulnerable, I picked up: ♠
and heard the following auction:
The opponents are playing a weak notrump (12-14), and partner's overcall is natural.
is explained to you as a heart transfer with invitational-or-better values.
What's your call?
Despite holding 4-card support for partner, I chose to pass. In general, I have found that marginal hands lacking any hard assets (ace, king, singleton, void, or a 5th trump) are not worth raising partner on, even in competition.
After my pass, the bidding took a bizarre turn:
What was going on? Had RHO forgotten his system?
Partner led the ♠
A and dummy tabled:
Uh-oh. Looks like this wasn’t an accident after all! Even though dummy only has 9 HCP opposite a weak notrump, there are few potential winners for the defense.
Declarer went into the tank, and so did I. I could see that I didn’t know what to play if declarer ruffed and led the diamond 9. Should I cover or duck? Click here to continue
Since this is IMPs, the focus is on beating the contract. I visualized the following ways of scoring two tricks:
1) Partner has Ax of diamonds and we get two diamond tricks.
2) Partner has AQ of hearts and x of diamonds, and we get a heart and a diamond.
3) Partner has singleton A or K of diamonds and we get two diamond tricks.
In case (1), we should play the 10, to guarantee our 2 diamond tricks -- else declarer can play the 6 from K6 to force partner’s ace. Although it’s not guaranteed that he would do that, why give declarer the opportunity to get it right?
In case (2), we should play the 2, to increase the chances that we will win the third round of diamonds. In fact, we need to play the 2 in tempo or declarer might let the 9 ride, which is why we are doing our thinking in advance, and not when declarer leads the suit.
In case (3), we must play the 2 or else we lose our 2nd diamond trick.
At this point in my thinking, declarer ruffed in dummy and led the 3 of diamonds. This was a little unexpected as I had been visualizing what to do if he led the ♦9, but then I realized he might have the ♦6, in which case the thought process was the same. It looked like we had reached the kill point. So, which diamond was it to be?
From a pure mathematical perspective, the odds favor playing the 2. Bridge students around the world are taught to play “second hand low”. Yet I was inclined to play the 10. Why?
In the cases where playing the 2 is right, declarer has 3 diamonds (♦
AKx in case 2, ♦
K65 in case 3). I didn’t think declarer had 3 diamonds. My reasons:
- The bidding. Declarer bid notrump before supporting hearts, and consistently took a preference to hearts over diamonds. If he held 3 diamonds, we might be playing 6♦ instead of 6♥.
- The sequence of play. Declarer chose to lead a diamond at trick 2, before tackling trumps. This implies declarer holds 2 diamonds -- with 3, the risk of a diamond ruff is far greater. We can see that a diamond ruff is not happening, but declarer doesn’t know that, and leading a diamond before trumps would be quite risky holding 9 diamonds.
On the other hand, if declarer did have 3 diamonds, inserting the ten would probably be the only defense to let him make. Also, playing partner for Ax in diamonds would be giving partner credit for a bizarre double. Doubling on just the ♠
A and ♦
A feels wrong -- there is no guarantee that a spade will cash, or that I would have a defensive trick to contribute. So this was a true kill point: kill, or be killed.
A famous poker saying is : ”In order to live, you must be willing to die.” Backing my intuition, I played the 10. Declarer played the 6 and partner … the 5. Indeed, declarer had the heart AQ and just K6 of diamonds, so the ten was the only card to beat the contract.
Declarer complimented me on my play and stated that, given the double, he had decided to play my partner for the ace of diamonds. His plan was to play a diamond to the 6, winning if partner had the stiff ace, or if he had the doubleton ace and I “misplayed” low from Q10x. The misplay was the stronger chance so he decided to put me to the test at trick 2, instead of pulling trumps and giving me more time and information. His statement was consistent with his duck of the 10 at the table, so my play was necessary to kill the slam.
At the other table, my teammates stopped in game. Not warned by a double, they made 5 by playing a diamond to the king, so we won 13 IMPs, more than our final victory margin of 9. Had I missed my kill point and played a routine second hand low, our opponents would have been representing District 21 in Toronto this summer.
May everyone in Louisville identify their kill points at the table and get them right!