Andre Asbury

Trying to avoid the finesse

At the club last night, Joel and I bid this 33 hcp spade slam and unsurprisingly, I was the only person who made only 6.

Dealer: N

Vul: EW


♠ QJx

♥ QT

♦ AKx

♣ Kxxxx


♠ AKT9xx

♥ AJ9x

♦ Q

♣ Ax

West North East South
1♣ Pass 1♠
Pass 1NT Pass 2♦
Pass 2♠ Pass 3♠
Pass 4♠ Pass 4NT
Pass 5♦ Pass 5♥
Pass 6♣ Pass 6♠
Pass Pass Pass

In our auction, the 1NT rebid showed 15-17, 2♦ was artificial game forcing, 3♠ was a slam try, 4♠ said “I hate my hand,” 4NT was RKC, 5♦ showed 1, 5♥ asked about the Q, 6♣ showed ♠Q and ♣K and tends to deny the ♥K (5NT would have shown it and the ♠Q). West led a diamond. How would you play this hand?

You can guarantee making 6 by just drawing trumps and taking a heart finesse for an overtrick. That also leaves open the possibility of ruffing out 1 club (making 7 when spades are 2-2 (40%) giving you a late entry to dummy and clubs are 3-3 (35%) giving you a 3rd discard for the last potentially losing heart in hand). This line is 100% for making 6 and will make 7 slightly more than 60% of the time.

Noting that getting a 3rd club trick is enough to avoid having to rely on the heart finesse, someone not unlike myself might attempt to ruff a club before trumps are all in. This would all be moot if spades were 4-0 because then there definitely would be no entry to the long club.

Anyway, after playing a high trump from hand with both defenders following suit, I planned to play ♣A, ♣K, ruff a club high, go to dummy with a trump and ruff another club high if necessary, and get back to the good club while drawing the 3rd round of trumps. This line succeeds when clubs are 4-2 either way or 3-3, about 84%. Of course, this line does risk going down when clubs split badly and the heart hook is offside (8%).

LHO trumped the first round of clubs. The heart hook was on so I still made 6 for no matchpoints. Don’t you hate it when you take a superior line of play only to find out that the inferior line would have worked?

Mediocre players would draw trumps in 3 rounds, realize that they can’t set up clubs and get back to them, so they pitch 2 hearts on the diamonds (perhaps realizing that it doesn’t help at all) and then take a heart finesse. Expert players search for a way to make 7 that is better than just drawing trumps and taking a finesse.

Since nearly everyone, even fairly weak players, would reach 6♠, the consideration of playing safe to make the contract shouldn’t really be an issue in matchpoints. Playing imps, the 20% extra chance of an overtrick is never worth the 8% chance of an undertrick, especially in a slam where an undertrick will cost 12 imps.


Jeff LehmanJune 9th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Your line seems like a reasonable shot at a thirteenth trick, and, while I might be a little more temperate than you in your write-up reflecting on projected lines taken by the other declarers in the event, I can understand your frustration at their suspected inferior lines of play producing more tricks than yours.

What are your thoughts about a possible third line of declarer play that basically involves looking for a rounded suit squeeze while retaining the possibility of hooking the heart for the thirteenth trick?

This third line might go something like this: DQ won, one high spade in hand, two high spades in dummy, cash two top diamonds pitching hearts, lead a club back to hand, run more spades. After three rounds of diamonds, five of six rounds of spades and CA, everyone is down to four cards. When your hand leads its last trump from a hand that also includes HAJ and Cx, dummy has HQT and CKx and RHO, it sounds like, has HKx and CQJ. You discard the HQ from dummy and RHO has no good discard. At such point, the one round of clubs will have luckily disclosed the club threat (but discarding might have suggested a 5-1 break or maybe even a 4-2 break), while the heart threat can be disclosed only by table feel.

I am not at all sure this line is better than the line you took, but am just throwing it out for your consideration.

Perhaps one other factor to consider in play choice is that, with 18 HCP opposite a strong notrump, I would expect many — in any field — to be in 6NT. When you are in 6S, does that make more attractive the start of the squeeze line, which might make seven when it appears that LHO has club length and the HK (Vienna coup cash of HA), and allow you to beat the 6NT declarers who lose the H finesse to LHO?

Btw, as one who has a few weak notrump partnerships, I like the start of your auction. But I am not so keen on North’s 4S call, as opposed to 4C control bid alternative. Only the HQ is potentially not too useful for spades; his other cards seem fine to me: good trumps, controls, side doubleton.

Finally, an edit check: I think you meant to say that 6C showed SQ and CK rather than SQ and CQ, right? Wrt the trump queen ask follow up, is your treatment where 5NT would shown SQ and HK common? Or would most use 6H for that combination? I think in my most defined partnership agreements, 5NT might be showing SQ and any two side kings.

Andre AsburyJune 14th, 2011 at 2:13 am

With most of my partners, i tend to show specific kings up the line but I really don’t know if this is standard.

Yes, it was SQ and CK.

Playing for a squeeze is interesting but still requires some guessing and I like to take away guesses whenever possible. I guess it wins over my line when clubs are 5-1, the person with 5 clubs has the HK, and you guess this, and it wins over the straight finesse when west has HK and 4 clubs and you guess correctly, but loses probably more often than that.

Yes, I think my partner should have cue bid 4C. I tend to think that 3S pretty much demands a cue bid since opener’s strength is already very limited.

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