Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Knowing When a Sluff-Ruff is Right

Things tend to come in threes. Since I was twice irked by takeout doubles of 1NT last week, I guess I kind of knew a third one would be coming soon, and it came last night. My LHO picked up Kxxx, AQx, Ax, Txxx, and I opened a 15-17 1NT. Obviously, dude doubles, partner transfers to hearts, and RHO bids 2S, which is passed out. So they have reached a 2S contract that most tables wouldn't reach after my hand opens 1NT. However, my masterminding skills were in top form last night and I actually had a rather mundane 14 count: AQx, Tx, K9xx, KQxx, so the field will be bidding 2S as well, after a takeout double of a 1D opening.
Anyway, the more interesting part of this deal is the defense. I led a heart which declarer took with the jack and then led the jack of spades. I rose with the ace and played another heart. Declarer took this in hand and led a small spade to dummy's K, failing to pin partner's now-stiff 9. Now she played ace and a diamond, partner winning with the jack. Partner now led a low club to my Q. I then cashed the spade queen but now what? I have a partial count on declarer's hand: 4 spades, 3 hearts, and 2 or 4 diamonds (if partner's first play on diamonds to accurately be showing odd count is accurate), so declarer has 2 or 4 clubs. If he has 4 clubs, giving him a ruff and a sluff here cannot help him. If he has 2 clubs, giving him a ruff and a sluff also will not help him unless partner has the ace of clubs. Can partner have the ace of clubs? Would declarer have bid 2S on JTxx, KJx, xxxx, xx? I think not. The fact that declarer has only 4 spades should indicate more high cards. And partner might have taken more action with the ace of clubs and QJ of diamonds.
So, I continued with a low diamond, expecting partner to have only the jack left (in which case tapping the dummy is clearly best regardless of who holds the club ace), but knowing that she may well have Jxx left and this be a sluff-ruff. The latter is in fact what she had. I'm making sure I get my second club trick. After the hand, I get a strange look or disapproval from dummy, as if I had misdefended. We teach and are taught that sluff-ruffs are bad bad things to do, but when it is right, and you can work it out that it's the right play, it's sweet. Of course, you have to be counting and trusting partner's signaling and visualizing cards in declarer's hand that are consistent with the bidding, and playing out what might happen if you make a particular play. -110 was worth a top as most of the people were -140 or -170.

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