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Restricted Choice

Today’s deal from a local duplicate game was played in four spades at most tables. One of the few pairs to reach a slam conducted the auction shown. The first three bids were routine, then South improvised a three-club bid to explore further. (Any new suit bid after a raise is forcing.) This allowed North to express that he liked his hand by jumping to game — the Q-J-10 of clubs took on greater value after South bid the suit. Now it was up to South. He liked his diamond holding, the fifth spade, the abundance of aces, and even the two tens. His jump to slam showed good judgment.

6 S S K 7 5 4
H K 3
D A 9 7 2
C Q J 10
Both Vul

West

Pass
Pass
All Pass


North
1 D
2 S
4 S


East
Pass
Pass
Pass


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

Six spades is a good contract, basically needing either an even spade division or a successful club finesse — about 70 percent — but this was not to be. The three-one spade break and losing club finesse appear to doom the slam, yet a knowledgeable declarer should prevail. Nothing can be done about the club finesse; but take a closer look at the spade suit. With West holding a singleton queen, declarer can avoid a loser by first winning the king and then finessing against East.

Sure, that works as the cards lie; but what if West held the queen-jack doubleton? Too bad then, but the odds favor the finesse. The rule of restricted choice states, “If declarer is missing two touching cards and an opponent follows suit with one of them, the partner of that opponent is more likely to hold the other card.” The logic behind this is difficult to accept, but it works like this: If West held the queen and jack, he had a choice of plays and might have played the jack; with a singleton queen he had no choice — therefore, the latter is more likely. Similar reasoning would apply if West played the jack on the first round.

Skeptical? A lot of people are; however, the rule has proved to be sound, both in theory and in practice.

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© 7-6-1986 Richard Pavlicek