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In the semi-finals of a national team trial, you have an agricultural auction to a playable slam.

West
North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
East
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
1

Against 6, West leads the 8. This lead around into the club tenace might prove useful.

What are your first impressions about the contract and the lead?

North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

With four club tricks, we can ‘sort of’ count twelve tricks: five trumps, two diamonds, a diamond ruff in dummy, and four clubs. However, the clubs can’t be cashed without drawing trumps, and the entry situation in dummy is a bit flimsy, so twelve theoretical tricks become eleven in practice.

A successful guess in hearts will see us home, providing a twelfth trick by a different route. 

Anything more going on here?

North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

The opening lead often provides several clues about how the hand looks to the defence. After this auction where all suits except hearts were bid naturally, we were expecting to see a heart lead. Depending on what school of thought West subscribes to, the A might have been led if they held it – or they might never lead a suit with an unsupported ace. Hard to say without more information.

On the other hand, the club lead surely gives off the vibe of a singleton. A doubleton club lead might blow the suit at trick one, for example when the other defender holds J-x-x-x. Likewise leading from three or four small in dummy’s two-over-one suit is unlikely to do anything good. The only other holding that makes sense is extreme length (five or six clubs) hoping to give partner a ruff.

If the club lead is a singleton, what does that imply about the hearts?

North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

If the experienced player sitting in the West seat has led a singleton club, we expect East to hold the ace of hearts. Why?

Leading a shortage doesn’t make sense unless partner has a chance of getting in. If West held the ace of hearts, it would be clear to them that their partner isn’t going to win an early trick.

With these clues in mind, have you come up with a plan?

North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

With the general idea of playing East for the ace of hearts, it makes sense to bring our sure tricks up to eleven with a ruff in the short trump hand.

At trick one we play low from dummy. East puts up the J, so we win our Q. After cashing the A and ruffing a diamond in the dummy, we proceed to draw four rounds of trumps.

West follows suit all the way, confirming the initial theory of club shortness. Dummy follows twice before discarding a heart and a club. East discards a low heart, a low club and the jack of diamonds.

North
K106
AK7
South
2
J8
K8
10

With seven tricks in the bag, what now?

North
K106
AK7
South
2
J8
K8
10

We need five more tricks from this ending. Four are easy, but the trick for our contract might be a little more difficult.

A shallow analysis would go along the lines of “I’ve seen three of the opponents’ six clubs. Unless they are all in one hand, the clubs will run. I can lead the 10 now – if West follows, I’ll overtake and run the clubs. If not, I’ll have to try the hearts.”

Do you see the problem with guessing the hearts?

If we have decided that East will have the ace of hearts when West has led a singleton club, we can try the eight of hearts towards the ten after we cash the ten of clubs. However, if West is awake, they can insert a spanner into the works in the form of the Q. This will kill the entry to dummy and we’ll shortly be back in our hand to lose a diamond at the end.

If we run the jack of hearts, everyone might duck. Again, no entry to the dummy. Awkward.

Finally, the ace and queen of hearts might both be offside.

What’s the best way home?

North
K106
AK7
South
2
J8
K8
10

North
K106
AK7
South
2
J8
K8
10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

On the assumption that East has all the clubs and the ace of hearts, there is a 100% solution.

Cash the last trump, throwing a heart from the dummy. East throws a small heart.

Now play the king of diamonds in this ending, throwing dummy’s 10:

West
Q97
Q10
North
K10
AK7
East
A5
964
South
J8
K8
10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

East is finished. If they discard a club, you can overtake the 10 and run the suit, losing the last trick. If East chooses to protect clubs, you can cash the 10 before playing a heart to East’s ace. With only clubs left, the stranded dummy comes back to life.

The best thing about this idea is that we’ll make it even if East holds the A-Q over dummy.

The only snag with this beautiful plan is that if our assumptions about the layout are wrong, we could blow an easy hand.

Made up your mind?

The full hand is as follows:

West
10972
Q97
Q10652
8
North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
East
5
A543
J94
J9642
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

As predicted, West’s club lead was a singleton.

At the table, declarer decided this layout was likely before playing any cards. With the vision of club length and the ace of hearts on her right, declarer foresaw that East would come under pressure in the endgame and played for the ending on the previous page:

West
Q97
Q10
North
K106
AK7
East
A5
964
South
2
J8
K8
10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Backing her judgment, declarer kept her clubs intact and played off her last trump and the king of diamonds to catch East in an elegant stepping-stone squeeze.

At the other table the opponents were in game, so the swing on solving this puzzle was 22 IMPs.

West
10972
Q97
Q10652
8
North
J64
K1062
3
AK753
East
5
A543
J94
J9642
South
AKQ82
J8
AK87
Q10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
3
J
Q
3
1
0
A
2
3
4
3
2
0
7
5
4
9
1
3
0
J
5
2
3
1
4
0
6
3
A
7
3
5
0
K
9
2
2
3
6
0
Q
10
5
J
3
7
0
8
6
6
4
3
8
0
K
10
10
5
3
9
0
10
7
7
4
3
10
0
8
9
K
A
2
10
1
12 tricks claimed
N/S +980
11

 

At the recently concluded Australian Seniors’ and Women’s Playoff, eight tables played this deal in the semi-final stage. In the Seniors’, two tables played game and two played slam. In the Women’s, only one table bid to the slam.

Each of the three tables in slam received the 8 lead. In the Seniors’, both tables won the 10, drew three rounds of trumps ending in the dummy, followed by a diamond to hand and drawing the last trump.

Now each declarer unblocked the queen of clubs and advanced the eight of hearts. Neither West found the Q entry-killing sacrifice so it was down to the heart guess. One table tried the 10, perhaps taking the inference about the singleton club suggesting no outside entry: +980. The other declarer, maybe on the basis that West could have played the Q if they had it, put up the K…. -150. 

Raise a glass to Barbara Travis who was the only declarer to make 6 on a double dummy undefeatable line. The only thing that could have made this hand any more spectacular would have been if both heart honours were offside!

If this deal tickled your fancy, hover over my name in the right-hand panel and click Follow. You’ll get a notification the next time one of these articles appears.

Happy holidays to all Bridge Winners readers. Let’s hope that 2019 is a great year for bridge!

Previously: Unwanted Gift (2018 IBPA Defence of the Year)

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