Cavendish 2009 -- bonus deal

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 05/31/2009

Pepsi
The 2009 Cavendish Pairs in Las Vegas had almost one million dollars in the prize pool. I haven't played in this event recently, but I enjoy doing the on-line commentary on Bridge Base. In the process, I witnessed this interesting decision faced by Pepsi. For those who don't know, "Pepsi" is the nickname (for obvious reasons) of the Polish (now residing in America) bridge star, Jacek Pszczola. With neither side vulnerable, on Board 1 of the final session, he held:

A Q
10 6 5 4
A K Q 3
Q 9 5
His RHO dealt and opened 3. What Should Pepsi do? In such situations, the practical solution is to overcall 3NT. Any time the opponents preempt and you have the values for a 1NT opening (and their suit stopped), you have no better choice. The 3NT overcall could be made on a flat 16-count. it might contain 20 or 21 HCP. It also could be made on a trick-taking hand, such as: Q X
A x
K x
A K J x x x x
(3NT would be a much better guess than overcalling with 4 and blowing by 3NT opposite, some flat 6-count such as: K x x x x
Q x x
J x
x x x
).

After Pepsi's 3NT overcall, the auction became a bit tortured (do you know what you and your partner play after your 3NT overcall?). I'll spare you all the gory details and tell you that you arrive in 7NT. The opening lead is the 9 and you see:

 K 10 9 4A K 9 8 210A K 8 A Q10 6 5 4A K Q 3Q 9 5
What is your general plan?

Outside of hearts, you have 3 top tricks in each side suit. If the J falls, you have 10 tricks. It looks as if you will need the hearts to run.

How should you play the heart suit?

If the preempter (East) has a small singleton (or void), you can pick up the suit by double-finessing against West's QJx(x).

That feels like too big of a play to make. It must be better odds to lay down the  A on the first round. You can pick up any 2-2 break. Furthermore, if East started with a singleton honor, you can use Restricted Choice (finesse on the second round of the suit).

So, at trick one, dummy's 10 is covered with the jack and you win in hand. You play a heart to the ace and East...follows with a quack. (That means the "queen or the jack" -- the actual card he played is irrelevant since they are equals). Now what?

The theory of restricted choice suggests that you presume the honor East played was singleton. Especially with the opening preempt, the odds strongly favor that hearts are 3-1. West rates to remain with honor-low which you can pick up with a finesse.

However, there is something more important than the theory of restricted choice. How about the theory that every player was dealt 13 cards? It must be better to play the side suits before making the crucial heart decision. When you cash your AQ, East shows out on the second round, throwing a diamond. You cross to the A, cash the K and cash the rest of the clubs ending in hand (all following). You cash the top diamonds (West started with a doubleton). What do you know?

West started with 6 spades, 2 diamonds, and at least 3 clubs. That is all you need to know. At the moment of truth, when you play a heart, West follows low. Should you finesse (following restricted choice)?  No way. Unless West started with 14 cards, he can't have any more hearts. He has already shown 11 cards in the other 3 suits. This was the full deal:

 Vul: NoneDir: East K 10 9 4A K 9 8 210A K 8 J 8 7 6 3 27 39 2J 6 2 5Q JJ 8 7 6 5 410 7 4 3 A Q10 6 5 4A K Q 3Q 9 5

Of course, Pepsi played it correctly and won a huge swing for 1520. There was nothing complicated to the play as long as you postpone the heart "guess" to the end. Other Souths weren't as lucky. When hearts were trump, declarer couldn't afford the luxury of testing the side suits first. After laying down the top heart and seeing an honor drop, it was quite normal to come back to the South hand to finesse. The declarers in 7 failed by a  trick.