Tough Break

I’m looking at a board from Thursday morning – I had a ruling, and it piqued my interest. I’m trying to justify the Bridge Composer double-dummy analysis without actually using it.

West
4
1082
Q10876
KJ75
North
A65
K3
AK4
Q10962
East
K1098
QJ5
953
843
South
QJ732
A9764
J2
A
D

The hand record says that NS can make 6, despite the bad trump break. This proved challenging.

The main problem is that you have to ruff one heart (low) to set them up, which means you can’t pick up the spades in the usual way (leading low twice from dummy). A basic elopement is out, because we have to dispose of two of South’s low hearts. As usual with hands involving trump problems, it’s useful that the “difficult” hand is 4333. How do we get around East’s trumps?

First thoughts; if we lead a low trump from dummy early in the play, superficially it looks like East must duck. Then we can win the queen, use dummy entries to ruff three minor cards, ruffing one heart in dummy, and come down to the following ending (I’m calling this ending 1):

West
4
Q
K
North
A
Q10
East
K109
South
Q
97
D

Now ruff the heart with the spade ace, and get the spade queen on the way back.

So does the timing work for this? Let’s try it on a heart lead, where we have the most flexibility. We’ve got to ruff in hand three times to get to ending 1.

Trick 1 – heart to K

Trick 2 – spade. If East rises here, it’s easy to ruff out the hearts, and then unblock and draw the trumps. So let’s have East duck.

Trick 3 – Ace of clubs

Trick 4, 5 – K, ruff club

Trick 6, 7 – A, ruff club

Trick 8, 9, 10 – A, ruff heart, ruff diamond. East has had to follow throughout.

That gets us to the ending noted above. You have to be careful to play the spade from dummy before unblocking the club ace, though.

How about other leads? On a diamond lead, I think you have to win in dummy, but if you do that, you’re ok if you play the trump from dummy early. A trump lead makes it even easier.

However, there are problems with a club lead. On a club lead (or if South mistakenly unblocks the club before playing the low spade from dummy), East can rise on a spade lead from dummy, and punch declarer (not literally, though) with a club. South and East now have equal trumps, and when South ruffs out the hearts the spades are blocked. South must ruff to get back to his hand, and East must get his last trump.

It’s beginning to look as though, on a club lead, playing ANY spades from dummy is fatal. Let’s try it without playing any trumps…

Club lead. Win ace, heart to K, ruff club, diamond to K, ruff club, diamond to ace, ruff diamond. Both defenders have had to follow helplessly. Now ruffing out the hearts leaves a 4-card ending, with dummy on lead (call this ending 2).

West
4
Q10
K
North
A6
Q10
East
K1098
South
QJ
97
D

This works. When North leads a club, if East ruffs the club low, we can overruff, ruff a heart with the spade ace, and take the spade Queen en passant. If East ruffs high, we can pitch, and have a high crossruff.

Could we always have got to ending 2, and ending 1 was just a pleasant mirage? To get to ending 2, we had to unblock the club, ruff 3 times in hand, ruff 1 time on the table, and end up on the table without touching trumps. It looks like that’s unattainable on a diamond lead; we’re an entry short. An opening club lead threatened the tap, but it unblocked the club, which proved to be a tradeoff. Really, ending 1 vs. ending 2 comes down to entry management.

On a heart lead, which doesn’t threaten entries, we have the luxury of playing to either ending.

Fun hand! It was a cute exercise in countering East’s trump stack. There are two distinct trump elopements that occur, depending on the lead, which has got to be rare. Also interesting (to me), was that South’s hearts rarely came into play as winners; on most lines, the fourth round was ruffed high in dummy, and the fifth was the ‘loser’ in the en passant ending.