The Spring Fours -- Part Two
by Nick Smith

Sunday produced very little dramatic bridge, although this deal was a bit of a trial...

Dealer S
NS Vuln
SQ J 8 7 3
HA 6
DA K J 9
CA 7
SK 9 6 5
HQ 5
D10 8 4 2
CK Q 5
H10 9 8 7 4 3
D6 5
C9 6 4 3 2
SA 10 4 2
HK J 2
DQ 7 3
CJ 10 8

For a change, six spades. No opposition bidding. West leads the club king. Your line? And how do you rate your chances?

That's just the lead you didn't want but slam is still well above 50%. Why? Because you need one of two chances. (1) that the king of spades is singleton and (2) if it isn't, the heart finesse. Accordingly, I led the queen of spades from dummy immediately (as a tempter) and rose with the ace when East showed out. Nothing for it now but to take the heart finesse ... losing to West's queen doubleton! Ho hum. Two off and 13 IMPs out when the slam is not reached at the other table.

Nonetheless, we picked up three decent wins then a 20-0 to go 14 VPs clear of the group with a set to go. We just needed four VPs to be sure of qualification, and that's exactly what we got after a tiresome match against the second-placed team who pushed to a number of jammy games. So, through to the knock-out stages by the skin of our teeth -- oh, no, that meant we would have to come back for a fourth day of bridge!

The quarter-final saw us drawn against Michael Byrne's team of relative youngsters, including Ed Jones, another one still licking his wounds from the President's Cup Final. We had to play eight boards against each pair, and Alan and I took on Ed and partner first. On #5, they bid up to four hearts, but it seemed to be a something of a misfit with lots of clubs in Ed's hand on my right and hearts on my left. I held a tasty 14-count including CAQx and as the auction seemed to have lost its way, I took my chances with a double. This was passed round to Ed who held a 4027 shape and, after much thought, he ran to five clubs. I doubled that one too and Ed's partner looked daggers at him as she pulled out the card for five hearts. Yes, you've guessed it, there were always exactly ten tricks in a heart contract, so they were one off doubled. 11 IMPs in. But their luck was to change somewhat on #7 ...

Dealer E
Both Vuln
S6 4 3 2
HA K Q 8 5
D8 6
CK 10
H10 9 6 4
DJ 10 9
CQ J 8 5 4
HandSA Q J 10 5
H7 3
D5 4 3
CA 9 3
SK 9 8
HJ 2
DA K Q 7 2
C7 6 2
Pass3NTAll Pass

(Similar bidding at both tables. At one table, the one spade opening was Precision, at the other Acol.)

West leads the five of clubs (fourth highest). Your go ...

Ed's partner (whose name escapes me) was declarer at our table. She took one scathing look at dummy and called for the ten. Later she said she was sure she was going off and it didn't matter which card she played. As you can see, there was no way of preventing 11 tricks now.

At the other table, declarer was John Slater and he gave the matter serious thought before rising with the King and so going two off. Unlucky, but was it the percentage guess? On the face of it, the chances of West holding one specific card (the ace) rather than two specific cards (the QJ) appear rather greater, especially when you bear in mind that you can't see the nine and the automatic lead from QJ9 would be the queen.

But I think there is a lot more to it than that. Essentially, there are only two "interesting" holdings that West can have (assuming that the five of clubs really is 4th best, as it surely is) - A985(x)(x) or QJ85(x)(x). Anything else and you are routinely off. These two possibilities are equally likely in principle but there are two things that tip the balance slightly in favour of playing for QJ85, in my opinion. One is the fact that East needs enough points for an opening bid. There are more such hands including ace of clubs as he has an 11-count even without the jack of diamonds. Perhaps more importantly, there is the possibility that East has AJ doubleton. If so, it is vital to play the ten. All in all, I think the ten is the right card here -- and not just because it is the one that happens to work. But it was a 26 IMP swing on the club lie, and it cancelled our gains on the other first half boards.

But the second half was to prove very one-sided. This was a typical exhibit ...

PassPassDblAll Pass

You are on lead with:

S2   HQ 9 7   DK Q 8 2   CA Q J 8 2

The winning leads here are a trump or a diamong because this is the deal:

Dealer E
E/W Vuln
SQ 7 5
H10 2
DJ 10 9 7 5 4 3
HQ 9 7
DK Q 8 2
CA Q J 8 2
HandSK 10 8
HK 6 5 4 3
CK 7 5 3
SA J 9 6 4 3
HA J 8
C9 6 4

I was declarer and, at the table, Michael Byrne, understandably, tried a seven of hearts lead instead. This ran to the king and ace, and I was able to lead a club from hand. Byrne rose with the jack and was correctly left on play for a trump switch to the ten and jack. I ruffed a club, came back to the ace of diamonds and ruffed my last club. I still had to lose a trump and a heart but that was ten easy tricks.

A singleton trump lead is never easy to find and here it is at the cost of a trump trick. But it not only limits declarer to one club ruff, it also means he has an extra heart loser to worry about. On an original diamond lead, which looks rather more "obvious", the defence needs to be careful later on, but I think it should prevail.

Indeed, this was the second time I had made four spades doubled in the space of three boards -- again, shades of the previous week and the final set against Jones/Murphy. The result of the second half was a 32-6 win to our side, and we were into a semi-final against the No. 6 seeds originally (Milner), including the ever-charming Brian Senior. If we could win that, we would be through to an interesting final against Alice Kaye's young team which did remarkably well to come through the other half of the draw.

Alan and I started against Milner/Katz, one of the top American partnerships, and things seemed to go pretty well for our side. We had what we hoped was a match-winning stroke of luck when we held these cards:

S6 5
HK Q 5
DA K Q 8
CK 8 6 5
HA 10 8 4
D6 2
CA Q J 9 3

Alan (North) opened the two-way one club and I responded one no trump, showing 8+ HCP and 5+ clubs. Alan bid two diamonds to confirm that he was 16+, and my Alpha response told him that I held poor diamonds but four or more controls. He then asked with three clubs (Gamma), and I showed a five-card club suit to two of the top three honours. Now what? Alan tried four hearts (Epsilon) and my five diamond response confirmed that I held the ace of hearts. By now it was too high for Alan to bid anything but six clubs, trusting to luck that there weren't two spade losers. East (Katz) asked lots of questions but had little chance of finding a spade lead on this auction from SKxxx. When he led something else, Alan could more or less claim 12 tricks -- a very jammy 1370.

But our joy was short-lived. Senior and partner had also found it impossible to diagnose the spade problem and they too reached six clubs, this time by South. John Slater duly led the ace of spades, and Rob played the ten to encourage. It is easy with hindsight to say that a spade continuation is "obvious", but somehow John talked himself out of it, and the slam rolled in a second time. Disappointingly, we were 13 IMPs down at the halfway point. Still, all to play for...

In the second half, Alan and I were up against Brian Senior and Jack Mizel. Mizel found a way to let through an unmakeable five hearts on the first board, failing to accept a routine ruff for the setting trick. That was the 13 IMPs back with six hearts failing at the other table. Anyone who knows Brian can guess what his response to this setback was.

Two boards were to settle the outcome. One was a slam hand where both sides bid the N/S cards to six diamonds. For our side, Rob was faced with the tougher problem:

SQ 7 6 4
HA K J 9 2
CK J 6
SA 10 5
HQ 8 7 5 3
D5 3 2
C9 8
HandSJ 3
D8 7 4
CQ 10 7 5 4 3 2
SK 9 8 2
H10 4
DA K Q J 10 6

He and John bid unopposed to six diamonds, and a diamond was led - an awkward lead in terms of communications between the two hands. Rob won in hand and tried a spade towards the queen, which held. He crossed back to the ace of clubs and ran all his diamond winners, watching the discards. West threw a couple of small hearts away, and East threw clubs. Rob decided that West's heart discards were more likely to be from four small than from queen to some number. So he played for the drop in hearts ... and East showed out on the second round. One off and 16 IMPs out. Unlucky! I think Rob might have given himself a better chance if he had cashed the ace of hearts at trick two but the original lead prevented him from cashing the king of clubs at an earlier point. If he had been able to do that, West would have been decidedly squeezed in the majors.

At the other table, I pre-empted on the East cards, and when Senior became declarer in six diamonds, it quickly became apparent that I was very short in hearts, so he was never going to eschew the heart finesse. Senior/Mizel also bid and made a good five diamonds which was not found at the other table, so we had to admit defeat at last. All in all, a little sad, perhaps.

This hand from Saturday afternoon works well as a single dummy or as a double dummy problem:

S10 8 5 3
HA J 8 6 3
CA 5
H10 9 7 4 2
DJ 8 6
CQ 7 6 3
HandS7 6 2
HQ 5
DK 10 7 4 2
CJ 10 4
SA K Q J 9
D9 5 3
CK 9 8 2

We played in six spades, so it's all a bit hypothetical, but still...

Say you reach the optimistic spot of seven spades after East has doubled a diamond cue-bid. West duly leads the diamond six. Make that!

It is tempting to try to ruff your two losing clubs in dummy before you draw trumps but, if you do, you can't both draw trumps and reach dummy to discard your losing diamonds on the ace and jack of hearts.

The winning answer is to win the diamond lead in dummy and cash the ace and king of spades, discovering the 3-1 break. Next cash the king of hearts and overtake the nine of spades with dummy's ten, drawing East's last trump in the process. You plan to play on hearts, ruffing the suit out and, if they break 4-3, getting your second diamond loser away on the fifth heart. But when you cash the ace of hearts and East's queen comes crashing down, you can continue with the jack, discarding your last diamond loser. This is the position now:

H8 6
CA 5
H10 9
CQ 7 6 3
DK 10 7
CJ 10 4
CK 9 8 2

Next you lead the queen of diamonds from dummy and ruff in hand -- what can West discard? He is caught in a kind of "backwash" squeeze, to use Geza Ottlik's term. If he throws a club, you can trump the third round of the suit and establish the fourth round. If he discards a heart instead, you can cross over to the ace of clubs, ruff a heart, cash the king of clubs, ruff a club and claim the eight of hearts as your 13th trick. Neat, eh?

Why not come along to this year’s Spring Foursomes? Click here for more information

Nick Smith