Deal Of The Week: January 28, 2023

Nobody In The History Of Bridge Has Ever...

So if it is possible your opponent is the first, look again!

An early eye-opening deal in Mike Lawrence's excellent 1974 book How To Read Your Opponent's Cards is a hand where you lose three tricks early in 4 and, it seems, have to play West for the missing king of spades to make your contract. Problem is, East opened the bidding, you passed, and so did West, and when the auction ended West led the ace of clubs. Nobody in the history of bridge ever having passed an opener with seven points, the only play for the contract is to play East for the singleton K, and this being an instructive bridge book, presto, it works!

Behold, another deal on the same theme, playing a team match scored in IMPs: see if you catch it. Click the 'Next' button repeatedly and watch the comments appear below to go through the deal with me...

This is the point that never happens in real life but in a classic mystery novel would be where the detective has all the clues needed and gathers the suspects into the drawing room to make his case. What's your plan from this point? (In the diagram below, you'll need to click Next a bunch of times to replay the first five tricks before seeing the rest.)

Not a great result, and clearly we could have done better by cashing out the Q and the clubs, but that's only eight tricks. Should we have done so? What did we know about East's hand after five tricks? East had shown up with the A, the A (but not the queen: with AQ East would have taken both, dropping dummy's king, and then would have returned another heart, hoping for West to have the jack), and the K (but not the jack, which West led to trick one). If East also held the A, that would be 15 points already, 16 with the J, and a 1NT overcall might have been made instead of the 1 call.

Perhaps if East had six spades, or, as in this deal, five spades and only two hearts (a distribution which leads to trouble if partner transfers to hearts with two or three small spades), the 1 overcall would be the clear option. Some potential East hands with six spades and three aces would actually compete over 3. But a lot of potential East hands with the A are 1NT overcalls, rather than 1 overcalls. And few bridge players can resist the 1NT overcall when they have a hand for it.

So, armed with the likelihood that West has another entry and at least one more heart to cash after the queen, what can be done? Well, we can take our eight tricks and see what happens. Perhaps the defenders will discard poorly or someone will be (or think they are) squeezed. Perhaps the other table will fall into the same trap in 3NT and end up down three. But most likely we will get eight tricks only and save an IMP or two by not instead taking only six.

And sometimes, the best you can do, even after a fine auction and some excellent card reading, is limit the loss.

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