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Welcome to Bridge @ Box
  The next Play & Learn session is on Wednesday 26 September 9.20 for a 9.30 start.
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.

Hand of the week 29 August 2018

Make 'em guess

What a lovely 8-card diamond suit. Trouble is, your partner probably doesn't have much to go with it, as East has opened and West has raised her to the 3 level. What to do?

3NT is an attractive thought, isn't it? If East is kind enough to lead a spade round to your ♠K, you have your spade trick, which, added to your 8 tricks in diamonds, comes to 9. Tempting. BUT ... there's no reason to suppose that East wants to be kind. Instead, missing the King, she'd do better to get the lead to her partner, who will lead a spade through your ♠K (rather than round to it) and take you screaming off.

Better to stick with the diamonds, then. But how many? 4 or 5? My preference is the latter. It rules out 4♠ and puts EW right on the spot. Do they pass? Do they double? Or do they punt 5♠? They simply have to guess.
 

What happens?

Have a look at the whole deal. You'll see that 4♠ by East makes comfortably, declarer losing just one diamond and two clubs. So what of the other possibilities? 

How do you do in NT? Well, as we thought, on a spade lead from East you're home and dry. But what if East starts with the A (dropping declarer's Queen) and continues with a small heart? West takes two heart tricks, then leads a spade for four off. Ouch.

What about 5X (which East will of course double in her sleep)? It's a good sacrifice, as it goes only two off for -300: declarer loses a heart, a club and two spades. But note that just as an opening spade lead from East is disastrous against 3NT, so it is against 5X, as North will now only go one off for -100. It's generally a bad idea to lead from AQ unless you're sure that partner has the King.

Note also that EW can't make 5♠. If they punt it, NS just shut up shop and defend, taking +50 for an absolute top.

And one very final note: with just 6 points, many Wests will (not wrongly) just raise partner's opening bid to 2♠. But with only 8 losers, it isn't wrong to make the more positive 3♠ response either: that's what the Losing Trick Count is for, after all!

In Box and Bath

In Box, all five NS pairs were in diamonds (4, 5 or in one case 6!), but 3 of them got lucky as they got a spade lead. Only one pair, however, was kept to just 9 tricks.

The defence didn't do much better in Bath. One North got away with an unmakeable 3NT on the lead of the ♠A. Most of the other 10 pairs were in diamonds, but only TWO were kept to 9 tricks. One was even allowed to make 5X - how I'm not sure.

   The previous featured hand – It's that Holy Grail (yet again) – is now on the Basic bidding Improvers' Page.   
Results
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Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
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Director: Trevor
Scorer: Trevor
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Director: Trevor
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Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris
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Director: Chris
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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
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Wed 7th Nov 2018
Play & Learn
Director: Chris
Scorer: Chris