Can You Handle Delicacy?

Author: Roman L. Weil
Date: November 2, 2021

By BBOer roman99 (Roman L. Weil)

I’ll not introduce the themes here in order to give nothing away. Plan the play in 3NT after the auction shown and club 5 lead. Think about both matchpoints and IMPs.

Opening lead: Club 5.

  • Tell me, or yourself, the safety play in diamonds.
  • After you work that out, accept my assertion that whether the safety play in diamonds wins five or six tricks, the subsequent play involves the same factors in matchpoints. What are these?
  • At IMPs, where you might learn early that you can win six tricks in diamonds, can see a Sure Tricks way to develop nine tricks?

Stop reading here and think what you’re going to do because by the end of the next paragraph I’ll telegraph the secrets.

You might win five or six diamond tricks plus two top clubs. You can develop at least one more club trick and have easy re-entry to it if you develop it before running diamonds. If clubs break 4-3, then you’ll take four club tricks. At IMPs, take a spade trick and stop with nine, taking no chances with your game. (That is, when you learn you can win six diamond tricks and you lead a spade, opponents can attack hearts but they cannot take more than two heart tricks no matter how the hearts lie when they have used the spade Ace first.)

At matchpoints, the danger lies in hearts where you might lose three or four tricks if East holds A and Q and 10 and West can lead hearts twice. Or, when East holds only one of the Ace or Queen of hearts, West might gain the lead with the club Queen or the spade Ace and one of the top heart honors if we are unlucky or misguess when West plays hearts. Imagine, to take one case bad for us: we come to hand in diamonds and play King and Jack of clubs, West winning the Queen. We’ve retained KJ9 of hearts in dummy. West leads a low heart; we play the 9; East, the 10. East returns a spade to West’s Ace and West returns a heart. We [mis-] guess and play the Jack; East wins the Queen and returns a heart to West’s Ace, dropping North’s King. West cashes the fourth heart. How unlucky.

Do you see our mistake? We should not have reduced North’s heart holding to three cards, but should have retained KJ93, dumping North’s spades on the King and Jack of clubs. Then, when East returns a heart to West’s Ace after winning the Queen, our King will remain to stop the fourth round. We’ll lose three heart tricks, but no more. Down one, but no more. To go down, we had to find all three of these cards off side: space Ace, club Queen and a top heart, either Ace or Queen and mis-guess which it was. Here’s the actual deal.

If you’ve read this far, you likely don’t need instruction on the safety play in the diamond suit: if West hold three diamonds, QT8, he must win a trick, but if East hold them, then playing the King first from North will reveal that holding and a finesse on the second round will pick up the diamonds without loss. Playing the Ace first from South is pointless. At IMPs, once you learn you have six diamond tricks, you must decide whether to cash your sure nine tricks, by knocking at the spade Ace, before going for potential extra tricks in clubs, running the risk of losing the contract via bad heart breaks.

Back to the beginning: take the case when diamonds break 3=0, so that we must lose a trick to West to develop five tricks in that suit. On getting the lead in diamonds, West can insure that his side takes a spade trick and put us to the heart suit guesses where we might lose one or two or three tricks, depending on how the cards lie and how we guess. Best case for us is to lose one trick and worst case is that we lose three. Lose three, you ask? Imagine West holds one of Ace or Queen or Ten and the spade Ace. West wins the diamond Queen and shifts to a heart. We mis-guess, playing one of dummy’s card that is not the one just lower than the one West holds, which we don’t know what it is. That is, if West holds the heart Queen, we play either the King or the 9. East wins and returns a spade to West’s Ace. West returns a low heart and we mis-guess again, playing the 9. East wins and returns a heart to West’s Queen. And we lose three heart tricks when East hold Ace, Queen, and 10 and West holds the spade Ace.

Have you advice for the beleaguered South facing this series of heart guesses? On reflection, I think I would play the hearts from the top down on the theory that for that pair of guesses (King first and Jack next) to fail West would have to have under-led, at least once, a winning trick when he had no assurance he’s ever getting that trick back.

BBOer Vocaljazz suggests a riskier line that might produce an extra trick or two. Assume after playing the diamond King at trick two you know you will win six diamond tricks. Come to hand at trick three in diamonds and play a heart to dummy. Guess a heart play; you might take, or develop, a heart trick. East who wins your guess could return clubs to West’s queen, who might not return hearts. If East-West defend precisely and the hearts lie badly, you’ll go down, but you would anyhow, if my assumption in this sentence is right. Unless, that is, you played safely for nine tricks as explained above. What do you think of this foray at trick three? It didn’t occur to me.


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