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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

BLACK SUIT RED HERRING

31 points in yours and partner’s hands, two missing kings and no real fit, not even a very long suit. It does not augur well for making 6NT, unless the wind is behind you and the finesses work. No, face facts, you’ve done well to stop in time in 5NT. So, don’t spoil it by failing to make 11 tricks. Time to look: time to plan. They have led dummy’s undisclosed strong 5 card suit.

South Deals
E-W Vul
A 8 6
A 6 2
J 4
A K Q 5 3
   
N
W   E
S
   
 
K J 9
Q J 7 5
A Q 10 9
10 9
West North East South
      1 NT
Pass 4  Pass 4 
Pass 5  Pass 5 
Pass 5 NT All pass  

 (4Club-small and 5Club-small were both Gerber asks.)

West led Club-small7 and declarer could see that 12 tricks were possible if clubs behaved. On the first round, East played the Club-small9 as dummy’s ace won the trick. South decided to check on the diamond suit by playing the jack. The finesse worked and so South repeated it…but second time round, West seized their king and fired back the Club-small2.

At this point, declarer went up with dummy’s king but stopped counting to 11 (or at least lost focus). When the jack came down from East, South could see there was likely to be a club loser. He decided that if the spade finesse worked, there would be three tricks in each black suit along with three diamonds and two heart tricks, making 11.

That was indeed true but when he played a small spade to the jack, West took their queen. Declarer could not now lose a club trick and was in deep trouble. West exited a spade won in hand by South who cashed their remaining two diamond winners. South played the Heart-smallQ and was relieved that West put on the king. These cards remained with South needing the rest of the tricks:

 
A
6 2
Q
5
3
6 4
 
N
W   E
S
 
10
10 9 8
 
9
J 7 5

 

The Spade-smallA,Club-smallQ and Heart-smallJ were all winners but the Heart-small7 was not, down one.

Where did South go wrong? As it looked like there was a club loser, 11 tricks was the limit. One option was to give up a club trick but then, in order to come to 11 tricks, South had to take a successful major suit finesse(4 club tricks, 3 diamonds, two spades, one heart and a successful finesse) but if South chose wrong finesse, they would lose three tricks before they could get 11. With the heart finesse, working, this line would have succeeded…but…can you see a better line? Here are the actual four hands:

South Deals
E-W Vul
A 8 6
A 6 2
J 4
A K Q 5 3
Q 5 3 2
K 3
K 3 2
7 6 4 2
 
N
W   E
S
 
10 7 4
10 9 8 4
8 7 6 5
J 8
 
K J 9
Q J 7 5
A Q 10 9
10 9
West North East South
      1 NT
Pass 4  Pass 4 
Pass 5  Pass 5 
Pass 5 NT All pass  

 

The one finesse you must not take is the spade finesse. There is nothing to gain if it loses. Even giving up a club still leaves you needing an urgent successful major suit finesse. At least that line gives you an extra trick, the fifth club. However, the best line is to leave both black suits alone.

After winning the Club-smallK (you have lost already to the Diamond-smallK), play a low heart away from the ace. Whenever the heart finesse was losing (East has the king) or whenever the suit breaks 3-3, you have 11 tricks (3 tricks in every suit except spades plus Spade-smallAK). As you can see, neither of those options exists above.

West exits in hearts. At that point, these cards remain:

   
     
   
 
A 8 6
6
Q 5 3
Q 5 3 2
3
6 4
 
N
W   E
S
 
10 7 4
10 9
8 7
 
K J 9
Q 7
A Q

 

South needs the rest. Firstly, cash the Club-smallQ in case the suit broke 3-3 after all. East throws a diamond and South should throw the Spade-small9 (hearts could still be 3-3). Next try the hearts (no spade finesse even at this stage!)…but West discards their diamond. Now cash the two high diamonds. Holding the high Club-small6, West has to throw two spades. The two little clubs can be thrown from dummy. East has also to find a discard and the Heart-small6 is the threat here. So, it has to be a spade from East.

Have you noticed how many spades each defender has left? Two each and therefore simply by playing Spade-smallK then Spade-smallA, the queen falls and declarer has 11 tricks, three in each suit except hearts and two in that suit.

The squeeze would be hard for most players to visualise. However, the two things they could visualise are that:

  1. you need only three heart tricks and can gain three a lot of the time by leading away from the ace towards the QJ (far greater than 50%..indeed 50% when East held the king plus about 18% when West held the king but the suit broke 3-3). In fact, this line worked even when neither of the above happened.
  2. taking the spade finesse would only work half the time. You would not want to be failing half the time. In fact, both black suits should be left alone. Hearts played as above offered the best chance.

You may not reach 5NT too often and those a level or too lower would have found this board much easier. You wonder why we try to avoid finesses if we can? Certainly, take the diamond finesse here but think twice before taking finesses in the other suits. Watch out for the “black suits' red herrings”!   

red herring 2.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




   
   
   
   

 

 

 

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