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by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal is another from the recent Southeastern Regional in Bal Harbour, occurring in the Knockout Teams. South became declarer in six notrump, a sound contract, after some bidding gadgetry revealed that a grand slam was against the odds.

 North deals A J 10 9 3 West North East South N-S vul K 6 2 1 Pass 2 Q 5 Pass 3 Pass 4 NT A 9 3 Pass 5 Pass 5 8 7 5 Q 6 4 2 Pass 5 Pass 6 NT Q 7 10 9 5 All Pass 10 8 7 4 2 9 6 3 Q 7 4 10 8 5 K A J 8 4 3 A K J 6 NT South K J 6 2

When North opened one spade, South began slowly but jumped to four notrump after the welcome heart raise. This was Roman key-card Blackwood, in which the trump king is counted as an ace, so there are five key cards. Responses are: Five clubs = 0 or 3; five diamonds = 1 or 4; five hearts = 2 or 5; five spades = 2 or 5 plus the trump queen.

North’s five clubs showed three key cards (with none he could not have opened). South’s continuation in the cheapest unbid suit (five diamonds) asked for trump queen, and North’s return to five hearts denied it. (With the heart queen, North would bid six hearts or another suit to show that king.) Consequently, South knew not to bid seven, and he opted for notrump because of his strength in the minor suits.

West led a diamond, and declarer decided to establish the spade suit because of the solid spot cards. He won the diamond king; spade king; diamond queen; spade ace; then the spade jack was led to East’s queen. With 11 tricks now certain, declarer needed a successful finesse in hearts or clubs to make his contract. But which finesse do you take?

Rather than depend on a 50-50 guess, declarer increased his chances (to about 67 percent) by employing a common strategy: Try to drop one queen, then finesse for the other. He won the diamond return and cashed both top hearts. Bingo! Declarer now had the rest of the tricks. Note that if the heart queen did not fall, declarer could try the club finesse as a last resort.

[Thanks to N. Scott Cardell, who did an extensive analysis of the play options and concluded that declarer should win the heart king at trick two and immediately finesse the heart jack. Though unsuccessful as the cards lie, I agree with this analysis.]

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