The Real Deal


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Is it magic?

This deal was played in the 2011 World Championships in the Netherlands. South held:

♠ A Q 10    A 10 8 5 K J 4 2   ♣ K 6

Most players would open a 15–17 1NT. I can live with that, but I think this hand is really worth about 19 points. The A–Q–10 combination is so much more than just 6 points. Also, the 10 with the ace as part of a four-card suit (as opposed to a short suit) is a great value.

The player at the table upgraded by opening a strong 1♣. After a waiting response and opener’s 1NT rebid (showing 18–19), responder transferred to spades and the contract was 4♠. The defense led a low trump. 6 4 3
8 3
♣ A Q 7

♠ A Q 10
A 10 8 5
K J 4 2
♣ K 6

Declarer has his work cut out for him. Maybe that upgrade was a bit too optimistic. Dummy’s ♣Q turns out to be a mostly useless card; a discard on the third club doesn’t do much for
the South hand. That queen would be much more valuable if it were a red queen. Anyway, let’s count our losers from the viewpoint of the hand with the long trumps — dummy in this case (standard operating procedure in a suit contract). In spite of the low trump lead, the king could still be wrong — so maybe one loser there. It also looks like two heart losers and at least one diamond loser (maybe we’ll have to guess the suit).

Entries to dummy are short, so right or wrong, declarer put up dummy’s jack at trick one. He wanted to remain in dummy to repeat the spade finesse in case right-hand opponent started with K–x–x. The jack was covered by the king and ace. Declarer was now chagrined to see RHO show out on the next round of trumps. D’oh! East started with a blank king. Squandering dummy’s jack turned out to be unnecessary and now there is a low trump to be lost (West started with 9–7–5–3).

Is there any hope? Even if the A–Q are onside, there don’t seem to be enough dummy entries to pick them up. Our actual declarer played a low club to the queen and a diamond to his jack. This lost to the ace and the defense shifted to hearts. Declarer has to lose a trump trick and has lost the A. There is nowhere to throw dummy’s heart losers. Down one?

Declarer won the A, played the K and ruffed a diamond. He played to his ♣K and played his last diamond. LHO, who started with:

♠ 9 7 5 3   J 9 7 A 9 7  ♣ J 9 8
threw a club on this trick. Eventually declarer lost his four tricks for down one. But he could have — and should have — made his contract. It’s magic:

♠ 8 6 4
6 4
8
♣ A 7
♠ 9 7 ♠ —
J 9 K 2
9 7 Q 10 5
♣ J 9 ♣ 10 5 4
♠ 10
10 8 5
K 4 2
♣ K

Declarer has just won his A. To make the contract he should first cash his ♣K (a key play). Then the K and a diamond ruff. He cashes dummy’s ♣A (while the cashing is good) as West follows with his last club. Then a spade to the 10 in hand to play the last diamond.

This time, West is helpless. Declarer has already taken the following nine tricks (three high spades in hand, the A, the K, a diamond ruff in dummy and the three top clubs). Dummy still has the ♠8 and has to score it. If West ruffs with the 9, dummy’s 8 is high. If West doesn’t ruff, dummy ruffs with the ♠8 for the 10th trick. The heart loser vanishes into thin air.

This was one of those rare suit contracts where declarer had to stop thinking about losers and instead, count winners. By cashing his three clubs first and then eventually eloping with dummy’s ♠8, declarer had a clear path to 10 tricks. It’s magic!