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Counterpunch

One of the nice things about directing a barometer-style game is that you can look at hand records early, and spot any potentially sticky boards. Looking through the double-dummy expected tricks in Session 3 of the Joan Gerard Cup in Orlando, this hand caught my eye.

West
10983
J32
KJ43
QJ
North
J72
98
Q52
98762
East
AQ654
107
1098
K103
South
K
AKQ654
A76
A54
D
7

This looked like a potential time-chewer. It was clear that North-South would take exactly 9 tricks in hearts, and East-West might be competing in spades. Depending on the auction, East (or West) might be able to pick off the spade suit if declaring; apparently, that is what our esteemed editor did. (Editor's note: I did; North passed South's 1 opening.) I’ll assume East declares spades, for simplicity. My two-penny analysis showed only 5 tricks for the defense against spades; 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, and 1 club. But the double-dummy analysis said that the defense was entitled to 6. Intrigued, I looked more closely at the hand. Remember, this is double-dummy, so the declarer will guess diamonds and spades successfully.

There don’t seem to be any lurking ruffs; declarer will guess diamonds. The only potential extra trick could come from trumps. Noting that the 1098 of spades were in dummy, it seems that there was a potential uppercut – if North ruffs with the 7, and declarer overruffs with the queen, this generates a trump trick for N-S. If North-South just play hearts, North can ruff with the 7. But declarer doesn’t have to overruff; he can pitch a diamond loser, guess diamonds, and pick up trumps easily. So that’s wrong. The defense has to take its diamond tricks early, before playing a third round of hearts. For example, A, A, diamond. Declarer wins the king and plays a spade to the ace, but then must let the defense in before he can finesse against the jack of spades. South has entries in clubs and hearts; the defense can cash all four red-suit winners before the uppercut.

To start with, for the defense, three rounds of hearts is too many, one (or zero) is no problem. Who wins if South cashes two rounds of hearts? Declarer can always succeed, but the play depends on which diamond South switches to. If he goes ace and a diamond, declarer winning the king, the defense has entry problems. Declarer cashes A, then plays a club, and the defense can’t cash the queen of diamonds and get the uppercut, because North is heartless. If South plays a third heart, and North ruffs with the 7, East just pitches his third diamond.

If South cashes AK of hearts, then plays a low diamond, the defense might succeed. Declarer must rise with the king, then if he plays spade to the ace, club, the defense can rise, cash Q, then A, and uppercut with a third heart.

Declarer can only succeed by playing the third round of hearts himself after winning the K. On the three types of plausible plays North can make:

a) North ruffs with the 7. Declarer just pitches a diamond, and can draw trumps easily.

b) North pitches a club. Declarer can ruff, cashes the trump ace, and there is no uppercut available.

c) North pitches a diamond. If declarer pitches a diamond as well, the defense can get an uppercut in diamonds instead of hearts. But declarer can just ruff and proceed as in b.

Leading the 9 is a neat loser-on-loser play to counter the uppercut, but it shows that two rounds of hearts is too many for the defense to succeed.

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