Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fourth from Longest and Strongest?

By David Neuman

             A maxim dating back to the early days of contract bridge is to lead the “fourth highest” from your “longest and strongest” suit against a notrump contract.   This maxim has been under attack in recent years, most vocally by the expert and theorist Kit Woolsey.   Noting that expert practice is increasingly to shy away from leading broken four-card suits, Woolsey has theorized that such a lead is a losing tactic when trying to defeat the opponents’ 3NT contract.  

If your objective is to defeat 3NT, Woolsey advises to look for a 5-card suit.  If you see one in your hand, lead it.   If not, look for one in your partner’s hand.   Woolsey’s point is that trying to defeat three notrump by leading a broken 4-card suit is often futile.  At its worst you are handing declarer an extra trick without gain, and even where the lead is successful in establishing the suit, it is unlikely that the lead will establish enough tricks to defeat the contract.    As one example, suppose declarer’s side is wide open in the suit, so the lead enables the defenders to cash the first 4 tricks.  The defense still need another trick to defeat the contract.  So even if you had led another suit, if the contract can be defeated you will have another opportunity to run your 4-card suit.

            The following deal, taken from a qualifying round in the recent California Capital Open Swiss Teams in Sacramento, is a good illustration of this principle.    As West, I was on lead against 3NT, holding AQ94, 8742, 862, 103 (spots approximate), after the following auction:

West   North  East     South

Pass     1D        Pass     1H
Pass     2D        Pass     2NT*
Pass     3NT     (all pass)

                                    *Alerted as forcing

            Spurning the “obvious” spade lead, I led the 10 of clubs.  This was the layout:

                        West                                                   East
                        AQ94                                                   10753
                        8742                                                    AJ
                        862                                                      104
                        103                                                      K9765 

            Declarer ducked the club in dummy.  My partner, Bob Klein, won the king and, seeing no future in the club suit, shifted to the ten of spades, covered by the jack and queen.  I returned a heart to Bob’s ace.  Another spade through declarer’s K8 gave us four spade tricks to go with our club king and heart ace, to defeat the contract by two tricks.

            This resulted in a gain of 13 IMPs.  At the other table, my counterpart led the four of spades (fourth from longest and strongest!).  Jennifer was the declarer and she now had eight tricks, and had the timing to establish her ninth trick in hearts to make the contract.   The spade lead was “successful” in that it established the spade suit for the defense, but after the lead declarer had 9 tricks and made his contract. 

            One might say of the spade lead that the operation was successful, but the patient died.


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Black Widow

By Bob Klein

Hi again everyone.  I haven't posted for a while but I plan to start doing so again.

Jenn and I just finished playing as teammates in Sacramento.  I played with Dave Neuman; she played with Erwin Linzner.  We finished fifth overall in the 2-day Swiss Teams, due in large part to this hand.  We were in the final match.  We were sitting seventh overall going into the last round.  Our opponent was Debbie Rosenberg and some of her students.  Debbie was sitting to my right.  I was dealt the following with our side vulnerable:

S void
H KJ532
C Q962

I opened 1 Heart.  Dave and I were playing Precision, so this showed less than 16 HCP.  LHO overcalled 1 Spade.  Dave bid 4 Clubs, a splinter bid showing at least 4 hearts and shortness in clubs.  Since I was void in the opponents' suit, I decided to show some slam interest with a 4 Diamond cue bid.  Dave bid 4NT, RKC for hearts.  I replied 5NT, which showed him 2 keycards and a useful void
(a void in the opponents' suit is always considered useful).  Dave signed off in 6 Hearts.  LHO led the ace of clubs, and I looked at

                                            S KQJ74
                                            H AQT7
                                            D Q53
                                            C T

                                            S void
                                            H KJ532
                                            D AKT9
                                            C Q962

     The dummy was disappointing.  Dave clearly was hoping I had the ace of clubs, so we could use the spades after losing to the ace.  My void wasn't all that useful, and there was no obvious path to 12 tricks.  It looked like I would have to get 4 diamond tricks, 5 heart tricks in my hand, and either 3 club ruffs in dummy or perhaps 2 ruffs and a trick with the club queen.

     LHO shifted to the 6 of hearts at trick 2.   I would have liked to win this in my hand to start ruffing the clubs, but there was a problem.  Look at those heart spots.  I was missing the 8 and 9.  If I played dummy's seven and won in my hand with the jack, I could not use dummy's remaining trumps to ruff, as this would promote the 9 if the suit split 3-1.  So I had to decide if I could prevail if I won in dummy.  This would require using an extra entry to my hand to begin ruffing clubs.  Fortunately, my void did serve a useful purpose:  it enabled me to reach my hand by ruffing spades.  So I won with dummy's ace, ruffed a spade and ruffed a club.  On this trick, LHO dropped the jack.  Now things were looking better.  His opening lead was more likely from AKJ than from AJ.  I played a diamond to the ace and ruffed another club.  Sure enough, the king fell.  Now that the queen was good, I was up to 11 tricks, and just had to negotiate the diamonds for 4 tricks and I would have 12.  So I played dummy's last trump, LHO showing out.  Now I could see my way to the right ending.  Can you see it?

     At this point, the remaining cards were:

                                     S KQJ7
                                     D Q6

                                     H KJ
                                     D KT9
                                     C Q

     LHO has shown out of both hearts and clubs.  This meant that RHO began with 3 hearts and 5 clubs.  If she had as many as 4 diamonds, this leaves her with only 1 spade.  When I ruffed a spade in this position, RHO followed.  Now I knew for sure that she didn't have 4 diamonds.  Since LHO was marked with the ace of spades, if he had 4 diamonds he would be subject to a squeeze.  I cashed my last trump to leave this position:

                                     S KQ
                                     D Q6

D J73                                                   immaterial

                                     D KT9
                                     C Q

Now came the queen of clubs, the deadly black widow!  LHO was smitten.  He couldn't throw the ace of spades, so he had to play a diamond, so my diamonds were good and the slam came home.  We won 14 IMPs.  I was pleased that when it was over, Debbie said one word: nice.

Good luck!