After you (South) open 1♦ and West overcalls 1♠, you wind up in 6♦. West leads the ♠K. What’s the best line of play?.
This is a deal from the 2009 Buffett Cup, the bridge equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf. Six top U.S. pairs squared off against 12 top European pairs in a board-a-match showdown. Europe won. The best line is to win the ♠A and plunk down the ♦A as West is marked with the king. Say both follow and no king appears meaning you have to dispose of your spade loser pronto. Cash the ♣K, cross to the ♣A and try the ♣Q. If East follows, discard your remaining spade and if West follows as well, all you can lose is the ♦K. If West ruffs, you have to hope it is with the king.
If East ruffs the third club low (actual case), overruff, cross to the ♥K and ruff a club. Now dummy’s fifth club is established and there is only one trump outstanding, the king. Cross to dummy with a heart and discard your remaining spade on the established club, losing but one trick, the ♦K.
It’s a beautiful plan, but when you try to get to dummy with a second heart, West, looking at:
♠ K Q 9 8 7 3 — ♥ 6 ♦ K 4 ♣ J 8 7 5
ruffs with the ♦K and cashes the ♠Q. Nobody ever said life was easy.
Opening lead: ♦Q. You cover and East wins and returns a diamond which you ruff. You cross to the ♠K and return a spade to your hand, both following. (Am I good to you or what?) How do you continue?
The idea is to avoid two heart finesses because in quiz hands, they are always both offside. Your best bet to avoid this aggravation is to try to strip clubs before hearts are played.
Start with the ♣A, a club to the king, and assuming the queen has not appeared, in which case it is all over but the shouting, a third club. If clubs are 3–3, you are cold no matter
who takes the trick. Assume West wins. West can do no better than lead a heart and after your finesse loses, East is endplayed. If East wins the third club, East must attack hearts or give you a ruff and a sluff. Say East has something like ♣Q 10 x x. East wins the queen and exits with a club to your jack as you pitch a heart from dummy. Now East is endplayed after you lead a heart to the 10. A worstcase scenario finds West with ♣Q 10 x x. West wins the third club and plays a fourth, forcing you to ruff in dummy. Your counter is to cross to your hand with a trump and take a heart finesse. Assuming it loses and a diamond comes back, ruff, and take a second heart finesse. Even in a quiz hand, a finesse works once in a while provided you have given yourself every chance in the world to avoid it.
The trap is to not take an early club finesse. If West has ♣Q x or ♣Q x x and East both heart honors, West, upon winning the ♣Q, can shift to a heart, leaving East with a safe club exit after winning the first heart. Then you will be forced to take a second heart finesse.
Thanks to Howard Einberg, Los Angeles, for the theme to this one.