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The title is from several of Eddie Kantar's books, I stole it. But what the heck, I did buy the books, and I'm giving him credit for helping to improve my game by writing them, so maybe it's OK.

 

This deal came up in a recent club game, matchpoints if it matters.

West
A654
743
J86
AQ10
East
QJ
AK986
975
K73

With no opposing bidding, E/W reached 3, declared by East.

South cashed the AK, North following twice, and continued with a club. If you were declaring, how would you proceed?

At the table declarer saw that a third diamond had to be lost, as well as a trump. Assuming that trumps broke 3-2, she'd get home if the spade finesse succeeded. So she cashed the AK of trumps, both defenders following, and led the Queen, letting it ride when South did not cover. Of course, the finesse lost, North cashed the Queen and the defense eventually scored the high trump for down 1. Otherwise there would have been no story.

After the game, East looked at the hand record and observed that the defense could always take 5 tricks. Although it is not directly on topic, it should be noted that the outcomes listed for various contracts on the hand records are based on double dummy analysis. They really are not indicative of what should happen, one must consider the deal in light of what actually did happen, and in light of the likely distribution of the unseen cards (as opposed to the actual distribution).

One attribute of successful declarers is that they look for additional chances. On this deal that means that declarer should have stopped to consider if the contract could be made even if North held the spade King. There are two observations she might have made :

a. If the spade finesse was working now, it would still be working later.

b. Even if the spade finesse won, the third diamond still had to be lost, there was no way to get rid of it.

That meant there was no rush to take the spade finesse. Instead, maybe it would be possible to make North lead spades, then it wouldn't matter who held the King. And if it proved impossible to induce North to lead spades? Well nothing would have been lost, declarer could still try the finesse herself.

This is how declarer should have continued after cashing the AK of trumps :

c. Cash the rest of the clubs, this is called stripping the suit. Good news, everyone follows suit. If South ruffs the third club, and leads a spade, declarer will try the finesse.

d. Lead the last diamond (stripping that suit), and hope North has to win it. If South wins it, and leads a spade, declarer will finesse. If North wins the diamond and cannot cash the high trump, she'll have to lead a spade, giving declarer a free finesse, or lead a diamond or a club, and declarer would discard a spade from her hand and ruff in dummy (ruff and sluff). It would not matter if South ruffed, it would be too late.

e. Even if North wins the third diamond and can cash the high trump, maybe she will be out of diamonds and clubs, and will have to lead a spade anyway.

Here is the complete deal :

West
A654
743
J86
AQ10
North
K1073
52
Q1042
J84
East
QJ
AK986
975
K73
South
982
QJ10
AK3
9652
D

Notice that this time the endplay on North would have succeeded, and declarer would have fulfilled her contract. And what about that hand record that said that the contract could always have been held to 8 tricks? Well, it would have if South had led a third diamond to trick 3. North would have won the Queen and exited with a club or a trump, and waited for her spade trick. Why didn't South lead a third diamond? I confess I wasn't watching too closely (I was dummy), but either North gave an encouraging signal and South ignored it, or North discouraged a continuation. Maybe they don't signal at all, I don't know, and I'm not about to ask.

One last comment about the hand records - they are a great resource for improving your game, but only if you actually look at them! I've heard several players at the club announce proudly that once they leave the game, it's over, they never look at the hands later. I know that none of those players will ever be any better than they are today. That's not to say that studying the hand records will definitely improve your game, just that your game will not improve if you don't look at them.

 

By the way, how does one get the hand viewer to show the tirck-by-trick play of the cards?

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