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Puzzle of the Day - aug17
Card Reading

Your 2NT bid showed 12-14 pts.  West leads the ♣4 and you win with the ♣Q to finesse a heart, which wins.  You return to hand with the A, West dropping the J, and continue with a second heart, upon which West discards the ♠10.  What is going on here and how do you play? (E/W are very good players)

You should ask yourself why East did not win the heart and play back a club as that would give the defenders 4 clubs, a heart and a spade trick to set your contract.  The answer must be that East has no more clubs and does not know where partner's presumed entry lies.  Now for West - he has 6 clubs and only 1 heart.  If the J were singleton, West would hold a 5116 shape and would surely have made a 2 suited overcall.  The fact that he didn't marks his shape as 4126.  The Q is therefore going to fall and hence you rise with A to cash another heart and all the diamonds to make an overtrick.  Well done if you found this line - you have to listen to the bidding and consider the defensive play to get this one right.


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Discard carefully

West leads the ♣4 , won by declarer with his ♣A.  He now plays a diamond to dummy's Jack, cashes the A and returns to hand with ♣Q to run off 4 more diamonds.  West discards 2 hearts and a spade.  How do you discard?

You should project the hand to a four card end position in which dummy has the lead  with ♠10 AKJ.  If you are down to ♠A Q83 then declarer plays a spade and you concede the last 3 tricks.  You need to keep your hearts so must discard the ♠A, playing partner for the ♠K.  He can then win trick ten and lead a heart to beat the contract.  Yes you could have cashed the first 2 tricks but why should West lead a spade.  

It is rare to beat a slam by Jettisoning an Ace - rarer still to do it in a suit bid by declarer.   

Heed the Bidding

You get the lead of ♣T against your 4 contract.  Plan the play.

You have 9 red suit tricks and you can force an additional trick in spades.  What can go wrong?  A problem may arise if the trumps break 4-1.  You will have to ruff the second club lead and draw trumps and this will leave you with only one trump and 2 spades to knock out.  If you lose the first spade to West, another club through your King will sink the contract.  Fortunately, you have taken note of the bidding, which clearly marks East with the ♠A.  Having drawn trumps, play the ♠K from hand.  When East takes the Ace, he cannot attack clubs profitably from his side.  You just lose one club and 2 spades.  The distribution you have to guard against is as shown.


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How do you defend?

Partner leads theK, which declarer wins with the Ace and plays the ♣7.  West contributes the ♣2.  How do you plan the defence?

Consider declarer's hand.  He has at most 4 points in hearts and 1 in clubs - thus he must hold the ♠A to have the values to respond at the 2 level and also a likely 6 card club suit.  It is clear that you must win the Ace of Clubs whilst the club suit is blocked, and attack declarer's spade entry.  Ideally, you would put partner in withe his Q for a spade switch.  However, the defence is not so clear from partners side and if you return a heart, do not be surprised if West ducks to preserve communications with your hand (playing you for 3 hearts and say the ♠ A).  The correct defence is to win the ♣A and continue with the ♠K.  If declarer ducks this trick, another spade cuts the link between the N/S hands. This is guaranteed to beat the contract and must be your number 1 priority.


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Make the most of your chances

3NT.  Lead is the ♣J.  What is the best line of play?

You have 7 top tricks and your best chance of developing 2 more is to play on diamonds.  Win the club lead, play a diamond to the Ace and then duck a diamond completely.  This way you can develop 2 more tricks if diamonds are 3-3 or if either defender has Qx or Kx.  If the defenders switch to spades after winning the first diamond you will have to duck twice and hope the defender who wins the second diamond has no further spade to cash.


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Defend like Garozzo

You lead KA and a third spade, declarer ruffing the third round.  Declarer plays of AK and another club, ruffing in dummy, then a diamond to his Ace and a fourth club.  Over to you.

There are no more side suit losers for declarer so the defense have to take 2 trump tricks.  If partner holds the Q, declarer might lose 2 trump tricks, but might easily get the trumps right on the bidding, by playing a heart to the King, and a second trump bringing down the Ace and Queen.  The way to defeat the contract for certain if East has the Q is to ruff the fourth club with the A and play another spade, promoting East's Q (even if it is singleton)


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How safe do you play?

You play in 6♠ as South on the Q lead.

Which line of play gives you the greatest chance of maiking this contract?

If the ♣K is right then you can afford a trump loser.  If it is wrong, you can't, so first find if you have a club loser.  Win the heart in hand and finesse the club.  If it loses then you will have to play the trumps 3-2 with the Queen right.  If the club finesse wins then play the trumps by first cashing the King and then playing towards the A9, inserting the 9 if West plays low.  If West shows out, rise with the Ace and play towards your Jack, losing at most one spade trick.


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How good is this slam?

South plays in 6♠, a pretty good slam.  Question:  How good do you think this slam is on a club lead?

You can discard a diamond from dummy and take a heart finesse. That is 50%.  You can also discard a heart from dummy and lead a diamond to your king. That is also 50%.

Question:  Can you do better?

Win the club lead and draw trumps.  Run off your clubs and discard a diamond from dummy.  You could take the heart finesse now but you have a better plan.  Go to dummy with a spade and lead a diamond from dummy.  If East has the ace you can discard dummy's heart on the king of diamonds and if West has the ace of diamonds you can fall back on the heart finesse.

Essentially, you get to try two finesse for the price of one.  You go down only if both finesses are offside and that is just 25% of the time.

For the record, what are the chances of the heart finesse working?

A little less
A little more

This is a serious question.  Think about it a moment.

If you think about the bidding you will recall that East did not double North's 4H cue bid.  On auctions like this one, East might well double 4H to suggest a lead to West.  If East has a hand such that he does not welcome any other lead, he might elect to double to help West with the opening lead if West is not sure what to do.

I estimate that the heart finesse will work at least 60% of the time.


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So Simple

West leads the K.  It looks as if you might make 13 tricks on this lead. How do you set about ensuring 12 tricks?

It looka as if you can ruff both losing clubs in dummy, but if you try to take the ♣AK, West ruffs the second club and exits with a trump.  Now you cannot avoid losing a club trick as there is only one trump in dummy to take care of your 2 small clubs.  The solution is very simple.  Just ruff the opening lead and play Ace and a small club.  Now you will always be able to ruff your remaining small club on the table.  12 tricks made.


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A Tricky Slam

Try your hand in this 6 contract.  West leads the ♠J.

It seems natural to test diamonds by cashing the Queen and continuing with a diamond to the Ace, but playing this way diminishes your chance of success. Clearly there will be no problem if the trumps break, but if either defender has 4 trumps, you will need to score your small trumps separately, and that means planning to reduce your trump length from the beginning.  The Q is needed as an entry so you should start with a diamond to the Ace.  Cash the A and return to the Q.  If both opponents follow,, come back to hand with a heart ruff, draw trumps and claim.  If the trumps are 4-1 you are in the correct hand to do something about it.  Look at all four hands to see one of the distributions we are guarding against.  Ruff a heart, play 3 rounds of clubs, discarding a spade from hand, ruff another heart, and return to dummy with the ♠K.  Now your trumps have been reduced to the same length as East's, and the lead of either a heart or the club from table gains you a twelfth trick.  If East doesn't ruff, you score your small trump.  If East does ruff, you discard your spade loser and then sit with K7 of trumps against East's J.

Obviously, success is not guaranteed in this contract.  You need a favourable distribution in the side suits.  However, the key point is to see the possible need for a trump reduction play and retain your entries appropriately.


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Plan the Defence

West leads the 7. How should you plan the defence?

Counting points gives West 3-4 only.  What useful card can West have?  The 7 looks like it's from small cards, so there can be no future in hearts, but maybe partner holds the King or Jack of diamonds and if so... Rise with the A and switch to the Q.  Look at the full hand.  Declarer assumed the East had led from QJ(others) in diamonds and played low on the Queen.  If West held the Ace, covering would be fatal.  On the continuation of a low diamond from East, declarer again played small, hoping West held Ax(x).  The defence can now cash 4 diamond tricks to beat the contract.


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A Straightforward Defence

West leads the ♠5.  You cover dummy's 9 with the ♠J and hold the trick.  What do you do next? 

If the defenders switch to clubs, dummy can make a ruff.  If the defenders draw trumps, declarer will doubtless set up some heart winners.  The solution at trick 2 is to play the T, retaining trump control.  If declarer plays a second trump, you can switch to a club.  On the actual layout, it does declarer no good to duck the club to the Queen, as West can just continue with ♣ K to set up a second club winner.

How do you defend?

You lead the J.  Declarer wins in hand with the Q, leads a heart to dummy's K, and discards theJ on the A.  How do you defend?

Consider South's shape.  He appears to have only 3 red cards.  Therefore unless he has 7 spades, declarer holds 4 clubs.  So ruff the heart and switch to a club.  Play another club when you win the ♠Q and partner will ruff.  Your ♠A will be your fourth trick.


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A certain slam

You play in 6  on the lead of Q. Assuming the A does not get ruffed your contract is now 100%.  How do you play?

This is a hand which screams for the use of elimination and throw-in technique.

At trick 2, ruff a diamond high, return to dummy with a trump, and ruff another diamond high.  Return to dummy with a trump and lead a spade.  Finesse the 7 if you can and West is endplayed.  If East plays the 8 ,9 or 10, win with the Ace, return to dummy with a trump and lead another spade.  Again finesse the ♠7 if possible but if East plays an intermediate card this time you can afford the Jack as you will then sit with a major tenace in spades (K7) 


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Play deceptively

West leads the J against 4♠.  How do you plan the play? 

The King of hearts is almost certainly with East, and to give yourself the best chance you must play the Queen from dummy at trick 1 in order to persuade the defenders that you have a second heart in your hand.  The Queen is covered by King and Ace and you take a losing spade finesse.  Now East is likely to return a heart to his partner's presumed winner, and one of your losing clubs will eventually go away on dummy's fourth diamond.  If you play low from dummy at trick 1, East will certainly switch when in with the ♠K and may well decide that his best chance is to find partner with the Ace of clubs.


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Keep Your Options Open

Your contract is 6 and West leads the ten of spades. Either defender could have the ♠Q, but it is clearly unnecessary to risk everything on a finesse at this point.  You win the Ace.  Trumps are drawn in 3 rounds, East discarding a small club on the third round.  You are in dummy with the Q.  How do you continue?

On top you have 2 spades, 4 hearts, 1 diamond and 2 clubs.  A club ruff makes 10 and the diamonds will provide an eleventh.  The twelfth may come from a favourable diamond break or a successful spade finesse. Naturally you tackle diamonds first for a 3-3 break will render the spade finesse unnecessary.  The normal play is to to lead low to the Queen, but that will not be good enough here.  If the finesse loses, West will play back a spade, forcing you to make the crucial decision early.  Whatever you do, you have lost one of your options.  To give yourself all the chances you must take the diamond finesse the other way round, leading a low card to the Ace and then returning the five towards dummy's Jack.  If West beats air with the King, the spade finesse will not be needed, whereas if East wins the King, he will not be able to attack spades from his side.  Either way, you get to test the diamond position before committing to the spade finesse.  Note that you slightly increase your chances of making 3 diamond tricks by playing the Ace first as this gains whenever there is a singleton King, or when West has Kx.  However, the big gain comes from the fact that you retain the option of the spade finesse as well.


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