|Hand of the Month|
MAINTAINING ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS AS DECLARER
This deal is Board 30 played on March 9, 2015, at South Bend Bridge Club as part of The Common Game.
At matchpoint scoring, responder did not look for a potentially safer minor suit slam and made an old fashioned quantitative invitation to 6 NT, which opener was happy to accept with a maximum 17 HCP.
It's more important for responder to ask opener if she holds a maximum than to ask for aces or kings. This time, the ace askers are fortunate opener has a maximum. The next time, one of those black queens will be a deuce and they will end in a low percentage 6 NT contract instead of the 4 NT contract others would play using 4 NT as a quantitative invitation to 6 NT.
Bridge players have been told for decades Blackwood and Gerber were invented to stay out of slams when twelve tricks likely could be won but might be off two aces. They were not invented as a method of inviting slam when you do not yet know if the combined partnership assets expect to take twelve tricks.
Possession of all the aces and all the kings does not by itself make slam likely.
Since responder did not use Stayman, the opening leader should look for a passive lead in a major as her first choice. This is not the time to lead "fourth best from your longest and strongest", which does not apply to 6 NT contracts! This is especially true on this auction, because the auction has revealed the opponents barely have the values to be in slam.
Similarly, a passive lead if not holding a long suit is appropriate after the auction 1 NT-2 NT-3 NT when the opponents are stretching for game and often without a long suit of their own.
After the ♠ 10 opening lead, what should declarer be thinking?
1. There are 11 top tricks and only two chances for the slam going trick, either the ♥ J with a successful heart finesse or a second diamond trick without allowing the opponents to win two diamond tricks of their own.
2. The heart finesse will work slightly less than half the time because with two available passive major suit leads, the opening lead might have been a heart.
3. The goal should be to combine the chances in the red suits.
It is vital to play on the diamond suit first to see if you can score an extra diamond trick before the defense scores two diamond tricks. If that does not work, you always have the heart finesse in reserve.
The vital play is an early LOW diamond from dummy, planning on finessing the ♦ 10. Declarer must not lead the ♦ J for a finesse because she does not want to see the ♦ J covered. If she held the ♦ 9 along with the ♦ 8 and ♦ 10 she already holds in the two hands, now she can afford to lead the ♦ J. But not when she is missing the ♦ 9.
Lead a low diamond from dummy and if the ♦ 10 loses to the queen or king, cash the ♦ A next hoping the other honor will fall. If that fails, take the heart finesse. This allows you to combine your chances and make 6 NT if East holds singleton ♦ K or ♦ Q, doubleton ♦ Kx or ♦ Qx, both the ♦ K and ♦ Q with any length, or the ♥ Q.
Why play diamonds before hearts? If the heart finesse loses, and you later learn the diamonds are friendly, you still need to lose a diamond trick to the opponents, setting your slam. But if the diamonds are friendly and you try them first, you may not need to risk the heart finesse, as was the case on this deal.
Here is the entire deal:
This is not the time to cash tricks hoping the opponents will err. You need the club entries to allow trying the heart finesse and if you cash four spade tricks, you will find you will be squeezing your own dummy on the fourth spade trick!
Easiest is to win the first trick with dummy's ♠ A and lead a low diamond from dummy immediately. When the diamond finesse loses and you win the next trick, the ♦ Q comes tumbling down on your ace and you can quickly claim twelve tricks.
Only one out of seven declarers won twelve tricks after a spade lead at South Bend Bridge Club when this deal was played.
Two books written in the last five years by Eddie Kantar, one of the most prolific writers of bridge books, are "Take All Your Chances at Bridge" and "Take All Your Chances at Bridge 2", emphasizing how to combine all of your available chances as declarer. This deal is very similar to those in Eddie's recently written two books.
One other example of not leading an honor the first time is a trump suit of ♠ 10876 in dummy opposite ♠ AQJ2 in your hand. Unless there is a lack of dummy entries, do not lead the ♠ 10 from dummy on the first trump trick. If RHO holds the singleton ♠ K, you will lose a trump trick to LHO's ♠ 9543 when it could have been avoided.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. If entries allow, lead low when finessing when you do not hold all of the significant spot cards, allowing you to take advantage of a singleton or doubleton honor playing second to the trick.
2. Combining your chances in two different suits may mean preserving entries. You may need to decide if a defender making a discarding error or a legitimate squeeze is more likely than your other plan. When the decision is close, I recommend combining your chances and not depending on a defensive error.
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