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Can You Outplay Zia?
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There is no question that Zia is one of the best declarers in the world.  He has a remarkable combination of technique, imagination, table feel, ability to picture opponents hands, and to create problems for opponents where none existed.

However, even the best have an off session.  In one 15 board segment in the finals of USA2 Senior trials, Zia went down in 4 contracts which he could or might have made.  If he had made two of these and the other results had been the same, his team would have qualified for the world championships.  See if you can do better.

For these hands, Michael Rosenberg is on your left and Mark Lair is on your right.

West
North
104
AQ10974
982
Q4
East
South
AK97653
AK3
KJ3
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
4
2
9
3
1
0
1

West leads the 8, low from dummy, and East plays the 2. 

Plan your play.

West
J8
K8532
764
985
North
104
AQ10974
982
Q4
East
Q2
J6
QJ105
A10762
South
AK97653
AK3
KJ3
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
4
2
9
3
1
0
A
J
10
Q
3
2
0
K
2
4
6
3
3
0
6
4
7
2
3
4
0
5
8
9
J
3
5
0
3
5
10
5
3
6
0
3
5
Q
A
2
6
1
Q
A
6
2
3
7
1
7
7
4
6
3
8
1
K
8
Q
7
3
9
1
J
9
A
10
3
10
1
K
3
8
10
3
11
1
12

The trumps are clearly 2-2.  If West has the ace of clubs you have an entry to the ace of hearts, but if East has the ace of clubs he can beat dummy's queen, return a trump, and your only hope will be a pseudo-squeeze.  This pseudo-squeeze has a real chance of succeeding, particularly if the opponents are unable to diagnose your heart void.  Even if they can work this out, they may think you have 4 clubs and 2 diamonds rather than 3 clubs and 3 diamonds.

It seems like the natural thing to do is to immediately run your trumps, which is what Zia did.  However, there is a problem with this.  Suppose West hangs onto Kx of hearts.  If you lead your last trump and follow with a club to the queen, West might have the ace of clubs.  Now when you cash the ace of hearts that will set up a second defensive trick for West before the ace of clubs is knocked out.  Consequently, you will not be able to lead your last trump before leading a club to the queen.  Since the pseudo-squeeze card is likely to be the last trump, that means the defense will have seen more when that last trump is played, which will help them get it right.

A better idea is to lead a club to the queen at trick 2.  If West has the ace, you are cold.  If East has the ace, he will win and must return a trump.  Now you can run all your trumps safely, maximizing the chances for your pseudo-squeeze.

Would the pseudo-squeeze work?  West will have to discard 3 hearts to make it clear to East that East can pitch both of his hearts if he started with Jx.  That gives West less time to make other informative discards.  On the actual layout the defenders would probably have gotten it right, but it would have been more difficult for them than on the actual play.

West
North
QJ1063
K102
A104
J6
East
South
8
AQ43
KJ752
Q53
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
6
K
5
2
0
1
9
3
A
J
0
0
2
10
3
2
Q
3
1
2
3

West leads the 7 (4th-best leads).  East wins the king, and returns the 9.  West wins the ace, and leads the 10 to your queen, East playing the 2, spade pitch from dummy.

Plan the play.

West
A942
6
Q86
A10874
North
QJ1063
K102
A104
J6
East
K75
J9875
93
K92
South
8
AQ43
KJ752
Q53
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
6
K
5
2
0
1
9
3
A
J
0
0
2
10
3
2
Q
3
1
2
2
6
A
9
1
2
2
4
3
J
Q
0
2
3
5

There is no question about the percentage play in the diamond suit.  Leading to the ace allows you to pick up a 4-1 split if West has stiff queen, 9, or 8.  In addition West appears to have 5 clubs.  West certainly has a spade honor, since without one he would have ducked the second club.  There are more vacant spaces in the East hand for diamond length.  In addition, if West has the queen of diamonds he is knocking on the doors of an opening bid.

Zia played a diamond to the ace and took a diamond finesse.  When that lost, he was down 3.

Before committing yourself to the diamond suit, you can consider testing the hearts.  You can't afford to squander dummy's king of hearts, since that entry will be needed if the West has singleton 8 or 9.  However, you can afford to play ace and queen of hearts, since taking 4 heart tricks isn't relevant for making the contract.  If nothing interesting happens, you can make your normal play in diamonds.

On the actual hand, something interesting does happen.  West shows out on the second round of hearts.  That changes the odds considerably.

For starters, with the hearts 1-5 there are now two more vacant spaces in the West hand, making it more likely that West has the queen of diamonds if the diamonds are 3-2.  It is now extremely unlikely that West has a singleton diamond, since that would mean he is 6-5 in the black suits and probably wouldn't have passed as dealer.  West doesn't have AK of spades, since that would give him an opening bid.  Since West doesn't have the jack of hearts, the queen of diamonds would give him a 10-count at most, not enough to open, so his initial pass doesn't make it less likely that he has the queen of diamonds.  The percentage play is now to lead a diamond to the 10, which succeeds.

West
North
A106
1043
AKQ985
3
East
South
3
96
J10
AKJ86542
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
J
9
0
0
1
A
4
2
6
0
0
2
Q
10
5
2
3
1
2
3

West leads three top hearts.  East plays J, 2, and discards the 5 on the third heart.

Plan the play.

West
Q87
AKQ875
643
10
North
A106
1043
AKQ985
3
East
KJ9542
J2
72
Q97
South
3
96
J10
AKJ86542
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
J
9
0
0
1
A
4
2
6
0
0
2
Q
10
5
2
3
1
2
3
7
A
2
1
2
2
10
K
4
8
3
3
2
A
10
3
7
3
4
2
K
5
7

The hearts are known to be 6-2.  Spades are likely to be 3-6.  East is pretty light for his 2 call, and probably wouldn't be making it on a 5-card suit.  If this is the case the diamonds could be 3-2 either way, making the clubs either 3-1 or 2-2.  Perhaps one could infer something from East's failure to discard a diamond, but that is getting into head games.  From a percentage point of view, playing for the drop is slightly better, since West might have singleton queen.

Zia tried to get some information with spade to ace, spade ruff,  However, he didn't really find out anything, and chose to play for the drop, which failed.

Perhaps more can be found out.  East would probably make his 2 call with KQJxxx of spades and out, and if East has that West likely has the queen of clubs as West might not have opened 1 with just AKQxxx of hearts.  However, if West has one of the spade honors, that changes things.  Now West wouldn't need the queen of clubs for his opening bid, but East might need it for his 2 call.

Since the diamonds will be 3-2 if the spades are 3-6 as expected, you can smoke out West's spade holding safely.  Spade to ace, spade ruff, diamond to ace, spade ruff.  If West doesn't produce an honor, it looks best to play him for the queen of clubs.  On the actual layout, West will produce the queen of spades.  Would East really have bid 2 with KJxxxx Jx xxx xx?  Probably not.  Therefore it looks to be percentage to play him for the queen of clubs, and that succeeds.  

West
North
KQJ
4
AKJ962
KQ8
East
South
A106543
A1083
5
42
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
K
A
4
2
0
1
10
2
6
Q
1
1
1
2

West led a club to the king and ace, and East returned 10 to dummy's queen.

Plan the play.

West
87
QJ5
Q10843
653
North
KQJ
4
AKJ962
KQ8
East
92
K9762
7
AJ1097
South
A106543
A1083
5
42
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
K
A
4
2
0
1
10
2
6
Q
1
1
1
J
2
3
8
1
2
1
A
7
5
3
1
3
1
2
7
4
8
3
4
1
A
5
4
2
3
5
1
3
J
Q
8
1
6
1
K
9
10
4
3
7
1
8
Q
K
7
1
8
1
9

If the diamonds are 5-1, they can be established provided the spades are 2-2 which gives you 7 spade tricks, 3 diamond tricks, 1 heart trick, 1 club trick.  If the diamonds are 4-2 you can handle a 3-1 spade split, giving you 6 spade tricks, 4 diamond tricks, 1 club trick, 1 heart trick.  Even a 4-0 spade split can be handled with 4 spades on your right and the diamond queen doubleton or tripleton.  You can play ace of diamonds, diamond ruff, cross with a spade, and ram good diamonds through.  When East ruffs you overruff, and have 4 diamond tricks, 6 spade tricks, 1 heart trick, 1 club trick.

In the case of a 5-1 diamond split, you need to play ace of diamonds and ruff a diamond before touching trump.  If you test even one round of trumps, you will be an entry short.

Zia made the mistake of playing one round of trumps first.  He apparently didn't think of the possible 5-1 diamond split and that the hand can still be made if the trumps are 2-2.  His play is right only if trumps are 4-0 with 4 on his left, and Qxx of diamonds is onside.  That parlay is far less likely than the actual layout.

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