Saturday, November 13, 2010

Genius or Stupidity?

For the most part I leave hand analysis to Andre. He has been playing for almost twice as long as I have and is clearly a better player. At the Atlanta sectional, however, I was faced with quite the defensive dilemma. I picked up J9x T9xx A98 xxx and after a simple 1NT-2C;2D-2NT;3NT auction by the opponents I was on lead. My fourth best Heart hit the table and the dummy set down: QTxx J8xx xxx KQ.

Low Heart from dummy and partner’s King gets taken by the Ace. Declarer quickly cashes his clubs from dummy and then leads a small diamond from the board to his King and my Ace. So what do I know? Declarer has AC, AH, KD, QH. He has 2-4 HCP still unaccounted for. He is likely to have 5 Clubs since he doesn’t have a 4 card Major. That gives him 8 top tricks: 5 Clubs and the AQJ of Hs. He also could now have a good diamond trick – or two. And what is the situation with Spades? Why did he take this line?

Playing IMPS I have no real need to worry about possibly giving up an overtrick if it means having a chance to defeat the contract. I decided my only shot was that he had stranded himself from the Jack of Hearts. Does he have xxx AQ KQx ATxxx? I concluded that if he had a spade honor then he couldn’t have another diamond honor and he wouldn’t ever play into a diamond suit that he has completely unguarded. And I played him for the above hand. I exited a passive Club hoping that we had two more diamond tricks and two spades. It might have been better exit a diamond at this point but I’m not sure it makes much difference. I think a club is slightly better in case declarer only has four and has to lead diamonds out of his hand.

It turns out, however, that my partner wasn’t able to scream for a diamond lead quite loudly enough for me to figure it out. He has Kxx Kx QJxxx Jxx. Declarer gave us pretty much the only shot at beating the contract: because of the diamond spots without declarer leading them it is very hard for Andre and me to unblock the suit. Even on a club lead, declarer can set up his Queen of Spades.

So why did he take this line in IMPs? I can’t answer that question at all. He has 9 quick tricks after my free finesse of partner’s King of Hearts. My question is slightly different: What about matchpoints? Is this play genius or beginner? It will gain matchpoints any time the AD is onside, and even when it is offside how often will they be able to figure out the Diamond situation? Of course there is that unlucky time when LHO will have AQJxx of Diamonds, but otherwise will the opponents ever be able to figure out the cards you are holding? I know that as a defender I was very upset that I couldn’t figure it out, but I don’t see any way that I should have – if anyone does I would love to know.

So, is this a play that experts in the Open Pairs would be doing or would you always cash out? I’ve given the hands below if anyone has any interest:

Dealer: South
Vul: none


  1. it is actually not clear to declarer that he has 9 cashing tricks. We know as defenders that the jack of clubs is dropping tripleton but he does not. And it's really a guess whether to try to get another trick from spades or diamonds but if he loses a spade to me, a diamond is definitely coming through him, and he can't really afford to lose a club in addition to the 4 potential diamonds. so really, he might as well, lead a diamond - we may then misdefend or he may still find diamonds 4-4 or blocked and clubs 3-3 - it's a good play by declarer.

  2. But how can that play gain, really? I mean, if the ace of diamonds is onside, then you'll make it eventually, but you need to set up the long club. And if it's offside, you're probably going to need clubs 3-3. In any event you're almost certainly going to need at least four club tricks, so why not set up your fourth one now? If you need another trick from spades or diamonds, you can try for it later--meanwhile Sean will have a difficult lead decision if he has the club stopper and a spade honor. (Depending on the location of the eight of hearts...)

  3. My 2 cents:
    'I played him for above hand' is not a good argument here. That gives declarer 15 HCP, a broken 5 card suit. 2 NT would probably be passed especially against competent defenders. Even at IMPs.

    Further, the above specific holding can be explicitly ruled out.
    Say declarer has the above holding. He has a possibility of 3 spade losers, 1 diamond loser for sure...with this situation, as Andre points out he doesn't know clubs are 3-3. So he tries to hedge his to the king, diamond to the King (assuming AD onside as the hedge for 3-3 clubs), club to the Queen, diamond to the Queen...if Clubs are 4-2, he has got 2 diamond tricks home, and if he plays Ace and out a club, he gets 4 club winners, 3 hearts, 2 diamonds. Now the defense has to untangle their 2-3 spades, 1 club, 2 diamonds. If Sean's partner held the 4 clubs, he doesn't know about the QH yet. I guess they will find their setting trick if it's there, but I think it's normal for declarer to hedge bets with KQx diamond and above assumed holding (by Sean)...declarer could have had Axx Ax KQx ATxxx to justify above bidding and line. In short, am fairly convinced declarer would lead one diamond before completing the club unblock with Sean's assumed holding.

    It still doesn't give rationale for the winning auction. Scratch your right nostril next time declarer brazenly leads your suit.