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  The next Play & Learn session is on Wednesday 26 September 9.20 for a 9.30 start.
Hand of the week 19 September 2018

Ruffing potential

Have a look at the auction so far. Who's got what, do you think? Well, South's weak, isn't she? She hasn't even got enough to squeeze out a preemptive 3. Your partner presumably has a normal 8-loserish overcall with at least 5 spades ... and so North must be quite a strong hand. Strong enough to bid and make 4? Hard to tell. 

What's more certain is that your partner will have two or three losing hearts and that you have plenty of spades to ruff them with. Strictly speaking, your 7-loser hand isn't quite what it takes to raise your partner's overcall to 4♠, but your heart void makes it worth a go. If North is really strong, she'll be left with a nasty guess - should she double? pass? punt a vulnerable 5? And who knows - you may make it. 

How does it go?

Let's say North trances for a bit and then passes. South meanly leads the and down goes dummy. You're now declarer, in the East seat. Have a look at the whole deal.

Mindful that you need to avoid a diamond ruff at all costs, you go up with your A, clear trumps in two rounds, then lose a couple of tricks in diamonds. They'll no doubt knock out your ♣A and take a club trick too, but that's all they get. You can ruff two of your hearts in dummy and throw your 3rd on one of dummy's diamond winners. 4♠ bid and made.

It turns out that they can't make 4 after all (and with his 3 quick tricks your partner would rightly double 5, should North be rash enough to bid it). But you've just made game in spades on a combined 18 points - wonderful what a void can do! 

In Box and Bath

A mixed bag in Box: two pairs went off in 4, 4♠ made only 9 tricks and 3♠ made 10! So well bid one EW pair and well played the other!

In Bath, one NS pair was allowed to get away with 4 -1 (for an outright NS top). All the rest were EW in spades, all but two in game. All made at least 10 tricks (one somehow got an overtrick) and the top EW score was for 4♠X making for 590. 

 

Hand of the week 12 September 2018

Other things being equal

You're probably familiar with the mantra '8 ever, 9 never': it's all to do with finessing when you're missing the Queen of a suit, and it means 'With an 8-card fit finesse, but with a 9-card fit cash your AK and try to drop the Queen'.

The reason's quite simple. Other things being equal, when you're missing 5 cards in the suit the chance of dropping the Queen is around 38%, whereas the chance of the finesse succeeding is (obviously) 50%, so the finesse is the better chance. With just 4 cards missing, however, you have a 53% chance of dropping the Queen, which is better than the 50% chance offered by the finesse, so you go for the drop instead. [If you're interested in the numbers, the chance of a 2-2 split is around 40%, and there's also a 6.5% chance of the Queen being a singleton in either hand: so that's 40% + 6.5% + 6.5% = 53%.]

OK. That's the background. On to this week's question. You're East in a slightly under-financed 3NT: South overcalled 2 over your 1NT opener and your partner, with just 10 points but a spade stop, a nice diamond suit and a couple of 10s, decided to raise you to 2NT - which you in turn, with your maximum 14-count, raised to 3NT. South has kindly led the 5 and things are looking good. And the question is:

How are you going to play the diamonds? You have 9 diamonds, missing just the Queen and you can finesse in either direction. Are you going to play for the drop? finesse against North? or finesse against South?

Well, the mantra - '9 never' - would suggest going for the drop, but that wouldn't offer the best chance here. Why not? Well, it's all down to the phrase 'other things being equal' - and in this case other things are anything but that. Can you see why?

Vacant places

It's all to do with South's 2♠ overcall. You hold the A, K and J, so if South isn't completely daft she must surely hold six spades for her bid. Which leaves her partner with just 2 spades. So where's the Q (or any other missing card, for that matter) more likely to be hiding? In North's hand or in South's? Well, there are just 7 'vacant places' in South's hand (the other 6 being spades) whereas there are 11 possible hiding places in the North hand. So the odds are 11:7 in favour of the Q being with North. My trusty calculator tells me that that's around 61% - a whole lot better than any odds we've seen thus far. So go for the best odds - win trick one in hand with your J, cross to dummy's K * and lead a diamond back, playing low from hand. If it works, you have 10 tricks - 3 spades, 6 diamonds and the A. 

Let's have a look at the whole deal. You'll see that, in accordance with the best chance, North has Qxx and you've just made 3NT + 1.

And the mantra?

It's worth hanging on to, but you should mentally append 'other things being equal'. This time it was vacant places. Another time it might be that the overcaller must have the missing honour because she would otherwise not have enough points for her bid. So use the mantra, but not in isolation - use all the evidence at your disposal.

Oh, and with vacant places, there's no need to get too bogged down with arithmetic. It's just common sense: if one opponent has a known long suit, the chances are that any missing card outside that suit is with the other opponent.

In Box and Bath

In Box, two pairs were in 3NT, one making 10 tricks (well done!).

In Bath, only 3 out of 10 pairs found the 3NT game. One, bizarrely, went 2 off, one made it and just one got the overtrick.


* That first round of diamonds, by the way, will also find the Q when it's a singleton with South - which boosts your chances of success by a few extra percent.

Hand of the week 05 September 2018

Race for trumps

This hand is a nice illustration of the tension between declarer and the defence.

First, take a quick look at the auction. East's raise to 2♠ after North's takeout double is enough to deter South from showing her diamonds, but North's not letting them get away with that and doubles again. Now South has to bid 3, West reluctantly reaches for the 3♠ bid ... and that's it.

Declarer's view

Let's imagine North leads her A (partner's suit), dummy goes down ... and West has to make 9 tricks.

OK. You're West. Where are your tricks coming from?

"I can see 5 spade tricks and (with luck) 3 heart tricks. And the ninth ...? Well, I only have 2 diamonds in dummy and I'm about to follow suit with one of those. So when I get the lead, instead of clearing trumps I'm going to lead a second diamond. That's dummy out of diamonds. So when I next get the lead I shall ruff a diamond. Then I can clear trumps. And the diamond ruff is my 9th trick. Good, eh?"
 

Defender's view

Now put yourself in the North seat. You're looking at a dummy with 3 trumps and (now) just one diamond. You're not daft, and you can see the ruffing potential in the diamond suit.

"Oh dear (or words to that effect). She's going to ruff a diamond in dummy, isn't she? I'd better switch to a trump ... "

... but it's too late. West wins the trump trick and leads another diamond, as planned. Back comes another trump ... but West wins and still has a trump in dummy to ruff her losing diamond.

REWIND    Let's go back to North's opening lead. Hearts and clubs are unattractive leads, and actually diamonds aren't that attractive either - partner only bid them when forced, so there's a good chance declarer has the K anyway. So maybe the most attractive lead is the only suit left: trumps.

Supposing North leads a trump. How does it go? 

  • West wins, but now she has to lead diamonds TWICE to get her ruff. Let's try it anyway. She leads a diamond.
  • North wins and leads another trump.
  • West wins and leads her 2nd diamond. Not looking so good now, is it?
  • South wins and leads a 3rd round of trumps, denuding dummy of its last trump.

And now, even if the hearts go well (which they do) West can only make 8 tricks. She loses a heart, a club and THREE diamonds.

Conclusion

It's a typical suit-contract race. Declarer wants to create a void and ruff in the short trump hand before she runs out of trumps. The defence want to run her out of trumps before she can take the ruff. And on this hand, as it happens, an opening trump lead is the only way - a diamond lead just gives declarer a head start.

[The no trump version of this race, of course, is declarer wanting to knock out defender's high cards in her best suit before she has to give up her stops, while the defenders want the exact opposite: and the opening lead is often crucial in gaining a tempo or giving one to declarer.]

In Box and Bath

In Box, most pairs were allowed to stop in 2♠, and all made 9 tricks (one made 10!). Alarmingly, three Norths started with the ♣5, giving a quite unnecessary trick to West's singleton ♣K - it's a perfect example of why you don't 'lead away from an Ace' against a suit contract. One NS pair played in 3 and made it (for 110). So even going one off, 3♠ is a good result for EW, costing only 50 points.

In Bath, 8 pairs were in 2and 2 were in 3♠: 7 out of 10 Norths led a trump, which mostly kept declarer to just 8 tricks. No one led the 5! The other two were in 3 by NS, making 10 tricks.

   The previous featured hand – Make 'em guess – is now on the Competing & Sacrificing Improvers' Page.   
Results
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Calendar
Wed 26th Sep 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Wed 3rd Oct 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Wed 10th Oct 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
Wed 17th Oct 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Wed 24th Oct 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Wed 31st Oct 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
Wed 7th Nov 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris