Main   Study 4Q81 by Richard Pavlicek  

Finding an Extra Chance

You don’t need a degree in mathematics to be a first-rate bridge player. In fact, it has been evidenced over the years that mathematical theorists seldom reach the top levels in bridge. Why not? Because it is rarely necessary to know exact percentages to play a hand correctly. As the story goes, a mathematician can tell you his exact chances of success — to at least two decimal places — after he has gone down in his contract.

The key to being a successful declarer is to have a practical mind. If possible, try not to rely on a single chance to make your contract.

Look for an extra chance and try to develop a plan to take advantage of both chances.

Regardless of actual percentages, anyone can see that two chances are better than one. Even if one of the chances is unlikely, it may save the day when your main chance fails.

My triple squeeze and endplay was 77.83 percent!

Do me a favor. Next time just take a finesse.

Planning the Play

To be a skillful declarer you must plan the play before you touch a single card. I recommend a four-step procedure that applies to any contract, notrump or suit:

1. Count your top tricks

2. Look for additional tricks

3. Analyze the opening lead

4. Develop a plan

Then play it! Even when your plan fails, you will gain valuable experience for the next time.

1. S 5 3 2
H A 8 6 4 3
D K Q 3
C 3 2
S K 8
H Q 10 9
D J 9 7 4
C J 10 9 4
Table S A Q 9 6
H J 7 5
D 2
C Q 8 7 6 5
3 NT South
Lead: C J
S J 10 7 4
H K 2
D A 10 8 6 5

There are seven top tricks, and many players would eagerly cash the diamonds expecting two more. Oops! When that suit goes sour, declarer can no longer succeed with any play.

An extra chance was available in the heart suit. At trick two the proper play is to duck a heart — this is safe because at most the opponents can win three other tricks in spades. Assuming a club return, you will cash the H K then cross to dummy with a diamond. Cash the H A to reveal the 3-3 break, and you are home without needing the diamond suit.

2. S 9 7 5 3
D J 9 3
C A K J 10 4
S A 10 6
H 7 6 3
D K Q 5 4 2
C 7 6
Table S K Q J
H 5 4
D A 10 8 7 6
C Q 8 3
4 H South
Lead: D K
S 8 4 2
H A K J 10 9 8 2
C 9 5 2

After ruffing the opening lead and drawing trumps, the obvious play is to work on the club suit. Oops! The finesse loses, and the opponents quickly cash three spades — down one.

Instead declarer should lead spades at every opportunity after trumps are drawn. (Also note that you must not discard any of dummy’s spades while drawing trumps.) This is risk-free and gives you an extra chance. When the spades happen to break 3-3, your contract is now assured without having to risk the club finesse. The S 9 is your 10th trick.


3. S 2
H A Q 10 9 8
D Q J 7 3
C K 8 3
S J 10 9 7 5
H 7 6 5
D A 6 4
C 5 2
Table S 8 6 3
H K 3 2
D K 10 9 8 5
C 6 4
6 C South
Lead: S J
S A K Q 4
H J 4
D 2
C A Q J 10 9 7

The eager beavers go down quickly here. After drawing trumps, the heart finesse loses and East returns a diamond for the setting trick.

The contract is cold! Win the S A, draw one round of trumps, and lead a diamond. West must duck (else you have a ruffing finesse against the king) so the jack loses to the king. Assuming East returns a club (nothing matters) you will win in dummy and ruff a diamond. Ruff a spade and ruff another diamond. Bingo! The ace falls and you no longer need the heart finesse. The D Q is your 12th trick.

4. S A 3 2
H Q 8 7 3
D K Q 8 2
C 7 2
S J 10 9 7 6
H K 6
D 10 9 6 3
C 10 6
Table S Q 8 5
H J 10 9 5 4
D 5
C J 9 8 3
6 NT South
Lead: S J
S K 4
H A 2
D A J 7 4
C A K Q 5 4

There are 10 top tricks. Many players would start the clubs and, when they don’t break, give up a club to establish the long one. This would be an excellent play for 11 tricks; alas, it is hopeless for 12.

The smart player realizes this ahead of time and leads the H 2 at trick two. There is a chance West might duck with the king (letting declarer win the H Q and switch back to clubs). In this case West will take his H K and return a spade, but watch what happens. When the diamonds are run, East gets squeezed! (It may be easier to see this if you lay out a deck of cards.)


© 1997 Richard Pavlicek