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Sophisticated Play Fails

Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing; or so it has been said. This adage proved to be a factor on today’s deal from a local duplicate game. Every North-South pair reached the routine four-heart contract, and every South player made his contract — except for one.

4 H S J 10 7 6
H A Q 7 3
D 3
C K 6 5 2
Both Vul

West

Pass
All Pass


North

3 H


East

Pass


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

With two obvious spade losers and the heart king offside, the contract depends on avoiding a club loser; and this is easily done with the normal play of finessing the club jack. Lacking the club 10, there is only one way to finesse and the finesse works.

On this basis it would appear that the declarer who failed must have been a rank beginner. To the contrary! He was a fine player and the line of play he chose was just as valid as the club finesse, although probably unnoticed at most other tables. He elected to play for a squeeze.

The defense began with the spade king, then a spade to the ace and another spade which South ruffed. The heart jack lost to the king and East returned a diamond to South’s ace.

Needing the rest of the tricks, declarer considered the play of the club suit. If East held the queen, a simple finesse would succeed; if West held the queen, he could be forced to unguard that card in order to protect spades (West was marked for the spade queen from the earlier play). In short, declarer could always succeed if he guessed which opponent held the club queen.

Unluckily, declarer chose to play West for the queen. He trumped his small diamond with the heart ace (to keep communication) and then led all of his trumps and the diamond king to reach a three-card ending. West perforce discarded a club so declarer cashed the top clubs hoping to drop the queen. But it was all in vain — down one.

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© 10-13-1985 Richard Pavlicek