When in doubt...


Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 06/25/2009
Level: Intermediate

A Hall-of-Famer misplayed this deal against me at the 2009 Las Vegas Regional. See if you can do better. Your hand is:

?A 3
?10 7 5 4 3
?K J 4
?K J 10
 

With nobody vulnerable, your partner opens 1?. RHO passes and you respond 1?.

LHO overcalls 1?, partner passes and RHO raises to 2?.  Because you are playing Support Doubles, your partner's pass denies 3-card heart support. What would you do?

There are several possibilities. I prefer a double--which at a low level just shows "cards." You could also bid 2NT or 3NT--although you'd prefer a little more meat in spades. Anyway, the Hall-of-Famer (I name names only when the player is a hero) chose 2NT. This is a slight underbid, but his partner came through and raised him to 3NT. A spade was led and this was the layout:

Vul: None
Dlr: North
?K 6
?A 8
?A Q 8 7 6
?9 8 6 5
 
  ?A 3
?10 7 5 4 3
?K J 4
?K J 10
 

 

WestNorthEastSouth
Berkowitz HOFer's Partner Cohen Unnamed HOFer
  1?  Pass 1?
 1?  Pass  2?  2NT
 Pass 3NT Pass Pass
Pass      

Assuming diamonds aren't 5-0, you have 8 top tricks. How should you try for a 9th?

The unnamed HOFer won the opening spade lead in dummy and played a club. RHO played low and declarer guessed to insert the jack. LHO won the queen and a spade came back. Down one. This was the full deal:

  ?K 6
?A 8
?A Q 8 7 6
?9 8 6 5
 
?Q 10 8 5 2
?Q 9 6 2
?9 2
?A Q
  ?J 9 7 4
?K J
?10 5 3
?7 4 3 2
  ?A 3
?10 7 5 4 3
?K J 4
?K J 10
 

As you can see, both clubs were wrong--declarer had only his 8 top tricks. When West won the ?Q, he cleared spades. The defense had 5 tricks established.

So, with both clubs wrong, how can declarer make 3NT?

When in doubt, try running your long suit  first. Sometimes you don't run your long suit because it allows the defenders to signal. On this deal, however, they already know to attack spades, so there is no mystery. Running your long suit might cause some awkward discarding problems.

In fact, what can West throw if declarer runs the diamonds before playing clubs? West must make a total of 3 discards. If he parts with just one spade, the defense is doomed (declarer can set up clubs and lose only 2 clubs and 2 spades). So, West must cling to all of his spades. A club discard is also fatal--declarer simply knocks out the other club and has lots of tricks.

So, West's 3 discards all have to be hearts. Now, declarer can forget about clubs and just play ace and a heart to set up his 9th trick in hearts. Try it!