Test Your Play

1. Matchpoints

♠ —
A K 10
A Q 7 6 4 2
♣ A 8 5 4
♠ A Q 8 7 3 2
9 8 6 5 3 2
♣ Q
WEst North East South
1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2♣ Pass 3(1)
Pass 6(2) All Pass

(1) Invitational.
(2) I had to get you to 6 somehow.

West leads the ♣J. Plan the play.


At some point you will lead a trump towards dummy. Assume West plays low and you play the ace. Will your follow-up play in trumps be any different if East follows low as opposed to an honor? Hold that thought while we tackle the early play.

Win the ♣A and ruff a low diamond. Maybe East will err and play the king. Unlikely. Assuming East plays low, ruff, cross to the A, play the A and ruff a diamond.

If the K has dropped third (you need it to be third or fourth), you are now cold for seven if hearts break 2–2 and will only make six if hearts are 3–1, whether or not you take a winning finesse. The trick you gain in hearts, you lose back when you can’t ruff a spade in dummy. Because it doesn’t do you any good to take a winning heart finesse, go up with the king. This is matchpoints, after all.

If the K has not dropped third, you are still alive if hearts are 2–2 and someone has K x x x. Cross to the K and ruff a third diamond. You wind up with seven heart tricks, three aces, and two established diamonds.

And what about taking a finesse on the second round of trumps if an honor appeared from East on the first heart play? If someone holds four diamonds to the king, you can’t make six even with a winning finesse (i.e., trumps are 3–1). Count your tricks: Six hearts, three aces and two established diamonds come to 11. Might as well go up with the K, as it is your only chance to make six and doesn’t cost you anything if hearts are 3–1.

Thanks to Nishan Odabashian, Glendale CA, for this one.


♠ Q 3 2
A K 5
J 6
♣ A K Q 7 3
♠ A K J 10 9 4
J 10
A 8 4 2
♣ 5
WEst North East South
1♣ Pass 1♠
Pass 2NT Pass 3♠
Pass 4 Pass 4NT(1)
Pass 5♠(2) Pass 5NT
Pass 7♠ All Pass

(1) RKCB.
(2) 2 key cards with the ♠Q.
Spades are not 4–0.
A. How do you play if the lead is the 10?
B. How do you play if the lead is the ♣10?


Part A. With a diamond lead, win the ace, play the ♠A J and, even if a spade is outstanding, play the ♣A K and ruff a club high. If clubs are 4–3, draw the last trump. You have 13 tricks: four clubs, six spades, two hearts and one diamond. If clubs are 5–2, run the 10, as you need three heart tricks. If the second club gets ruffed, you cannot make the contract even if you can overruff. Only 12 tricks available even with the heart finesse.

Part B. With a club lead, there is some concern that the lead is a singleton or perhaps from a six-card suit. Simply drawing trumps first leaves you in the wrong hand to test the club suit. Keep in mind hearts are blocked if you use up your ♠Q entry and West covers the 10, limiting you to two heart tricks.

Yes, you can test clubs by ruffing a club high at trick two, guarding against 6–1 clubs in either hand and allowing you to take the heart finesse if clubs really do split that badly. However, if you ruff a club at trick two and both follow, you won’t know for sure if clubs are 4–3 (they are now good and you have 13 tricks) or 5–2 (you need the heart finesse). Basically you must make an educated guess.

I say pay off to 6–1 clubs and start by playing the ♣A K and ruffing a club. If clubs are 4–3, you have 13 tricks without the heart finesse, and if they are 5–2 take the heart finesse after drawing two rounds of trumps while the ♠Q is still over there.

After all, the ♣10 could be a simple top-of-sequence lead. Why go bonkers taking a long-shot possibility of ruffing a club at trick two and then trying to guess what to do if both follow just because the deal is being posed as a problem? Paying off to 4–3 clubs would be beyond the pale … and then some.