The Real Deal


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When there are eight

The saying goes: “Where there are eight, there are nine.” Typically, this refers to tricks in 3NT. This deal was played correctly by Chris Willenken in a practice match in New York City.

As South, Willenken held:

♠ 8 6 5 4    Q 10  A 8 6 4   ♣ A J 8

His left-hand opponent opened 1♣, which was announced as “could be short.” What is this all about? Usually, it is just like any 1♣ opening, but it could be a hand with exactly 4–4 in the majors, three diamonds and two clubs. Playing “Standard,” a hand with that shape opens 1 (the only time 1 can be bid on a three-card suit). A few players don’t like to open 1 without at least four diamonds, so they open the 4=4=3=2 hand with 1♣, thus the “could be short” announcement.

LHO’s 1 opening is followed by two passes. What should South do (nobody vulnerable)? Don’t let the “could be short” affect your decision. You don’t want to let your opponents play on the one level if you can help it. Doubling is not an option (wrong shape), but 1NT describes this hand. In the balancing seat, 1NT is still natural and balanced, but it shows a much weaker hand than a direct 1NT overcall. The range here would be about 11–14 high-card points. South’s 1NT is raised to 3NT and the ♣9 is led:

♠ K 9
A 7 6 4
K 9 5 3
♣ K 10 2

♠ 8 6 5 4
Q 10
A 8 6 4
♣ A J 8

From the lead, it does indeed look like this was one of those short clubs. If so, West is going to be exactly 4=4=3=2 (with three diamonds and two clubs).

In notrump, I like to count winners. With the club suit picked up, we have three clubs, two diamonds and a heart for sure. That’s six. If diamonds split 3–2 (which we expect), that gets
us up to seven. With the ♠A onside (surely it is — East appears to have the ♣Q and, based on the auction, can’t also have the ♠A) that gets us to eight. And where there are eight, there are nine.

How should you play?

Win the club in hand and play spades first. The plan is to set up the spade trick and then exhaust East–West of their spade exit cards. Your ♠K holds the second trick and you should play another spade. The defense wins, but trouble looms for them. Can you see it?

You can win any return and play another spade. They can take their spades whenever they want, but once they are out of spades, they are dead. You will eventually cash your clubs, cash the top diamonds and then play a diamond. You expect West to win the third round. He will have to lead a heart from his king to give you your ninth trick. Here is the full deal:

Dlr: West ♠ K 9
Vul: none A 7 6 4
K 9 5 3
♣ K 10 2
♠ A Q J 2 ♠ 10 7 3
K 9 8 5 J3 2
Q J 2 10 7
♣ 9 3 ♣ Q 7 6 5 4
♠ 8 6 5 4
Q 10
A 8 6 4
♣ A J 8

To recap: West led the ♣9. You won in hand and played spades. Eventually, you played three rounds of diamonds and West had to lead from his K to present you with a well-earned plus 400.

Playing a heart to the 10 to try for a ninth trick is no good for two reasons: (1) West might have held both the K and J and (2) The math doesn’t work; depending on the timing, giving them a heart trick could lead to five defensive tricks (for example, three spades, one diamond and one heart).