Sunday, 15 April 2018

Melville Congress - when to finesse

I played in the Melville Congress Pairs with Martin Stephens a couple of weeks ago. Our result is probably something we'd both rather forget, but there were a couple of interesting boards. Here's one: 


You play in 4♥. The lead is the ♦9 the AK♦ are cashed and then the third round is ruffed. A small ♠ exit goes to the T♠ and Q♠ which you win. What do you do now? 

This is the sort of hand that everyone would get right if it were in a chapter on 'counting the defenders points' in a book', but is much harder to actually get right at the table. So far North has shown the AK♦ and the Q♠, and passed in third seat. Unless she's playing a very deep game, the ♥ finesse can't possibly be right, and you should play the ♥A now, hoping S started with Kx in ♥. You drop her now singleton K, and (as the saying goes) she holds her cards closer to her chest for the next board. This particular hand is one of those occasions where this play would have been rewarded.

 A look at the traveller shows that 11 people played in ♥ with a ♦ lead, and only 3 of them made 10 tricks, so it's obviously harder in practice than it is on paper... 

Here's the next one, where we found our way to slam.



Here's the second one. I won't give you the auction (suffice it to say that there were too many rounds, and that we were in both 6♣ and 6♠ before settling in 6NT by East), but I think North had the opportunity to double ♦ for a lead at some point, and South obliged. This is unfortunate, as 6NT is a pretty easy make on any other lead, with 4♠'s, 2♥'s, 1♦ and 5♣'s. However, as you can see if you look closely at the picture above, it's also makeable on this lead, at least in theory... 

How, exactly? Well, North had the guard in both red suits, so it looks like you might be able to squeeze her. However, if you try that, you'll find that a simple squeeze doesn't work, because West's black suits are both longer than East's, and the only entry in a threat suit is in the West hand, so you can't arrange to play the squeeze card from the right hand. However, if you manufacture this ending: 

North is squeezed on the play of the last ♠. If she keeps KT♥, you can throw her in with the ♦, and if she comes down to bare K♥, you can drop it, you just need to read the ending right to know which to do. (North has the option to bare the K♥ early, to make your guess tough, and even to ditch the K♦ playing her partner for the T, but the latter seems really unlikely to work, as in that case you've given up the ♥ finesse for effectively no compensation)

Of course, in practice this is not something you can do at the table, since you need to decide not to take the ♥ finesse in order to embark on this plan. If you manage to pull of this strip squeeze, relying on North holding all of 3 specific cards in favour of a straightforward finesse in ♥s, then I think she really does have a case for wondering whether you're peeking!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Three No Trump vs Broomlands

I played the hand below in 3NT in an aggregate teams match, West led the jack of hearts, East playing the 7. What's you plan (and which ♥ did you use to win trick one, assuming you won it?)



I won and ran the ♠Q, which was covered on my left. My plan now was to cash all the ♠ and ♥ winners, and exit with a ♥, making whenever the spades are 4-3 and either the diamonds are 3-3 or the diamond honours are in different hands (and in the unlikely case that the ♥s are 3-3), and also in some edge cases where the defence don't have the entries to cash their tricks. 

When I gave the hand to Phil Stephens, his first plan was to immediately play a ♦ to the 10, (or I guess a ♦ to the 9) although he's since discussed it with a few people, and come round to taking the ♠ finesse, I think because it's hard to see a route to 9 tricks if you can't make 3 tricks in ♠s. 

One interesting point he brought up was that one of the dangers with taking the ♠ finesse is that against good defence, you still don't know how many ♠ tricks you've got when the Q holds. On this particular hand, I don't think that matters, but it's not something that had immediately occurred to me.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Jackie Josephson

We had a match in the 'JJ' (Jackie Josephson) cup last night. This is a handicap competition, where teams from the lower divisions get a head start of 2000 points per division, and we were playing against Gilmorehill, who are definitely a first division team (with at least 5 recent Scottish internationals playing). 

The hand below caused a few rules discussions at half time, although in the end it didn't really matter too much, as we lost comfortably. 




2♣ was Drury, but it was not alerted. Here is where the first question comes up. I'm pretty certain that Norman would never bid 2NT in response to Drury. Obviously the bid should have some meaning, but Norman has a very strong preference for always playing an 8 card major fit once one is identified, and I just couldn't figure out what 2NT could possibly mean. My bid of 3♥ was sort of a hedge against the possibility that it shows a weak NT, but in practice I knew what was going on (and I'm pretty sure I would have known what was going on even if I was behind a screen) - am I ethically obliged to hang myself by bidding 4♥? Especially when I'm not even sure 4♥ would be the correct bid over whatever 2NT does mean. 

However, that's not the only issue. Looking at Jim's hand (South), he has a pretty safe double of 2♣ for a lead if it is alerted. Absent this information, John led a ♠  which gives away the spade suit, and Norman made 3♥. With the double, you'd have to get the spade right to make 9 tricks in ♥s. However, there isn't really any scenario where Norman gives Jim the information he needs to double, and we still end up bidding to 3♥, so it seem harsh to rule whatever fraction of 3♥-1 you would deem appropriate. Charles suggested a fair ruling would be 2♥ making, which I would definitely have accepted, but in the end, we decided to scrap the board entirely (as another table had been unable to play it due to overhearing the result) so it was all moot.

I'm genuinely not sure what the ruling should have been for either of these things, but I'm glad the match didn't finish with a 10 point gap :)