Bridge in Boca
Most Wednesday afternoons, there is a high-level, South-Florida-bridge-players IMP game in Boca Raton. Spearheaded by Hall of Famers Mike Becker and David Berkowitz, this game has seen more than 80 different North American champions participate over the years. I don’t play much, but my spies report Real Deals to me. You’re South with:
♠K 2 ♥A K 7 6 4 ♦A 10 8 3 ♣6 3
Your partner opens a 15–17 1NT. What is the plan?
While only a 14-count, the 5–4 shape and prime cards (all aces and kings) make this worth more. I’d say slam is certainly possible. South should transfer to hearts. Over partner’s 2♥, it can’t hurt to bid 3♦ next (natural and forcing to game). Partner bids 3♠. What’s that?
This is not a “western cuebid.” It simply says that partner has spade values/cards. He pretty much denies three-card heart support (or he would have bid 3♥). Partner is either wary about 3NT (hoping you have club values), or is interested in exploring a diamond slam.
In either case, you should not bid 3NT. You have a fitting spade card and no club values. Also, you have a nice hand if partner is slamming in diamonds. Let’s say you retreat to 4♦. Partner bids 5♣. This surely shows a club control and further slam interest. You have prime cards, so you jump to the diamond slam.
Assuming you aren’t worn out from the auction, plan the play on the ♣10 lead:
Because you expect a diamond loser, you have to win the ♣A at trick one. You might as well start trumps with the ace. If East has a singleton king, you will finesse next and be playing for seven! No king drops under the ace, but the next best thing happens: East drops the ♦J. Now what?
If you play another trump, the defense will cash the club winner, so your next move has to be to try to get rid of a club. Should you play the top spades to throw a club from hand (you survive on 4–3 spades) or play the top hearts to try to throw a club from the dummy?.
It seems West started with ♦K x x or a low doubleton diamond (if East has ♦K J doubleton). If you play spades and West started with shortness (fewer than three) and ♦K x x, you will be down. West will ruff low, and still have the ♦K to set you.
Playing on hearts is better. True, you have seven hearts between the two hands while only six spades. The big difference is that if hearts aren’t 5–1, you are in great shape. After a low heart to the queen and a heart back to your ace, you can safely try the ♥K. If West follows, you throw the club from dummy and East can’t hurt you (if he is out of hearts, he is presumably ruffing with the ♦K from his original ♦K J doubleton). If West ruffs low on the third heart, you can overruff and then work on spades (throwing a club from hand on the third round; there will be only the one high diamond left).
In short, by trying hearts first, you succeed, even with a 4–2 break. Trying spades first fails in the case of a 5–2 break in the situation described above. A look at the Real Deal makes this clearer:
After winning the minor-suit aces, the declarer at the table tried spades first. West ruffed the third round and still had the ♦K for down one. Playing hearts first gives better chances of success. On the third heart, West has to ruff low. Declarer overruffs and now plays spades successfully. West has only the ♦K left.
Astute readers will observe that East could make a brilliant falsecard with ♦J x to deflect declarer from a winning line in some other potential layouts (for example, East started with two hearts while spades were 4–3).