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Max Schireson wrote that when he started his bridge career, he tended to play by rote and has gotten better about making plans, though they are not always the best plans.  I feel the same way about my own play and have written this article to share a few mediocre plans from a recent club game.  They are perhaps not as advanced as Max’s and I hope this forum is appropriate for them.

West
AK9863
654
64
84
North
QJ10542
872
KJ5
K
East
7
Q93
AQ973
Q976
South
AKJ10
1082
AJ10532
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

My partner led a small heart and declarer took my heart queen.  He then crossed to the club king, back to a heart, and played the J.  I still had in my head that partner had heart values, not having noticed that he led the six.  That couldn’t have been fourth-best, and even if he might led low from something like KT6, the subsequent play in the suit ruled out any legitimate distribution with him holding a heart honor.  But I didn’t think of that at the time.  I did deduce that declarer couldn’t hold both spade honors, so I expected partner to get in when declarer switched to spades, if not earlier.

So what I did was to play a low diamond and wait for partner to get in.  As you can see, that wasn’t a success; given that nobody else found 3NT (or 4 by North, which is unbeatable), it was a clear bottom.  I should have realized that if declarer had *either* spade honor, he probably would have played on that suit and so I could play back my spade, allowing him to take the AK and then give me my diamonds.

Incidentally, declarer probably should have played the A before the jack, in case one of us had a doubleton queen.  In this case, it worked out--the "better" line would have allowed West to discard a high spade, clarifying the position even more than was necessary.

West
84
QJ1093
J102
A96
North
QJ963
754
6
KJ32
East
AK105
82
98753
85
South
72
AK6
AKQ4
Q1074
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
1
1
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

After the lead of a heart honor (ducked and won the second one), it was clear that there was no chance for nine tricks—I could knock out the club ace while I still had a second stopper in hearts, but that was only eight, and if I tried to set up the spades, then the opponents would be able to set up and run the hearts, absent a very lucky spade position.  At IMPs, I would hope for that lucky position, as down two or three is not much worse than down one, but at MP, I figured I should just go for average.

But a funny thing happened—the opponents let me win the first two clubs.  At this point, I should have switched to spades.  With defensive communication broken in clubs, the chance of a disaster is lower and the chance of success is higher.  As you can see, that would not have worked.  For some reason, I decided to stick to my original plan… but a funny thing happened.  East had to make three discards on the hearts and clubs.  He thought he should hold on to his spade AKT, expecting me to eventually play that suit, and pitched two diamonds, even though the auction indicated that I held four of them, so my four turned into the ninth trick. 

Most of the other declarers also found nine tricks.  One possibility is that they took the first heart trick, knocked out the club ace, then cashed the last club.  East had to make two discards and, in an error similar to the one at my table, discarded a spade and a diamond.  If declarer then played the last diamond, East could cash two spades, but would eventually have to let dummy win one.  The moral of the story is to keep winners and discard losers—pitching two spades sets the contract.  (Declarer can now set up spades, but can never get to dummy to cash them.)

West
10986
K8732
86
98
North
Q74
Q4
AK1042
632
East
AJ5
J
J75
KQJ1074
South
K32
A10965
Q93
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I won the opening spade lead with my king and could count eight tricks (as usual) if the diamonds came home.  The best chance of a ninth is to guess hearts and the easiest way to do this is to play low to the queen; if it loses to the king, there is still a chance to finesse the jack coming back.  You could also run the ten and when it loses to the jack, play the queen intending to run it.  Each line makes when either honor is onside, but the second line forces you to use diamonds for transportation when you might rather run the suit first.  Due to some confusion about the spade suit, I decided that the second line was safer and was unlucky.

West
53
J752
108
AKQ85
North
AK62
Q1094
J743
6
East
J1087
K83
952
J42
South
Q94
A6
AKQ6
10973
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was lucky that West led the AK, then a low one, blocking the suit.  East returned a diamond.  As you can see, the usual eight tricks are present.  There are two sensible ways to get a ninth—the spades might break 3-3 or the heart suit might be as shown, where a trick can be developed by leading low to the ten.  Note that leading to the queen is pointless, as West would always rise with the king to run his clubs.  If you play for the spade break, this will usually work 35.5% of the time, though slightly less today, given the known 5-3 club break.  And playing hearts seems to work 25% of the time—whenever West has the jack and East has the king.  So I decided to play on spades, but first decided to cash the diamonds to see if anything helpful happened.  And so it did: West discarded a club.  Now I changed course, playing exactly two spades and then exiting with my last club.  This doesn’t give up on the chance of 3-3 spades, but when West holds only a doubleton, he will be left with only hearts.  I correctly guessed to play the 9, thinking that with Kxxx, West might have bid over my opening notrump.

I believe my actual play was correct, though the original plan was not.  First of all, if East is 60% to hold the K (which I think he is), then playing hearts gains a trick 30% of the time.  More importantly, if East has both heart honors (another 30% of the time), then I can still play for 3-3 spades after losing to the J.  And if I play all the diamonds and two spades before playing hearts, then East will have to lead away from his king at the end if he started with only two spades, similar to the endplay which actually happened.  So that line will make the contract whenever East has the K, unless he also has the J with four or more spades, a much better chance than an even spade break.

 

Incidentally, a convention that would have worked well here is to play splinters over 1NT.  South would bid 3, showing shortness in that suit and 10+ points.  Now 5 can be reached, which can be made on any defense with little guessing needed.

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