The Real Deal


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A refexive unblock

This deal is from the 2014 Sarasota–Manatee Regional. In a knockout match, East dealt at favorable vulnerability with:

♠ Q J 9 8 7 6  K 2   9 4  ♣ 10 8 7

At this vulnerability, most players would open 2♠. East did so, and two passes followed. Then right-hand opponent bid 3♠. What does that mean?

First of all, there is no reason to ask at the table – you have no intention of bidding. Second, whatever it means, don’t double. That silly action just allows the opponents extra bidding
options.

You pass and LHO bids 3NT. Everyone passes and now is the time to ask. Actually, no it isn’t, not yet. Because partner is on lead, it would be completely inappropriate for you to ask until he has selected his lead and placed it face down on the table, lest your question influence his choice of leads. You may not ask about a bid until it is your turn to bid or play.

Partner asks and is told that 3♠ asked for a spade stopper. That is one way of playing this cuebid. The other way is to play it as a Michaels bid. Make sure you and your partner have an agreement, or this is a big accident waiting to happen.

Partner leads the Q and you see this imposing dummy:

Dlr:
East
Vul:
N-S
North
♠ 2
A 5
A K Q J 10 8 7
♣ K Q J
East
♠ Q J 9 8 7 6
K 2
9 4
♣ 10 8 7

On dummy’s ace, East made the expert play of unblocking the K.

Did I say “expert”? Actually, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A beginner would have done better, keeping the king and playing the 2 under the ace. I’d call the play of the K “reflexive.” Most players have learned this unblocking play on defense, usually the indicated move with a doubleton honor. There is, however, always an exception. On this deal, there is absolutely no reason to unblock the king. In fact, there is every reason to keep it.

East’s only chance to defeat the contract – this was team scoring – was to hope partner had both black-suit aces. If declarer had either one, he had at least nine tricks. So what good could
come from unblocking?

Declarer knocks out the ♣A and all partner can do is cash the J 10 in addition to the ♠A, which doesn’t defeat the contract. If, however, he has both needed aces, he can always cross to your K so that you can lead back the ♠Q.

This was the Real Deal:

Dlr:
East
Vul:
N-S
North
♠ 2
A 5
A K Q J 10 8 7
♣ K Q J
West
♠ A 3
Q J 10 8
6 5
♣ A 9 5 3 2
East
♠ Q J 9 8 7 6
K 2
9 4
♣ 10 8 7
South
♠ K 10 5 4
9 7 6 4 3
3 2
♣ 6 4

East, a multi-time regional winner, reflexively unblocked his K under the ace. Declarer played a club and West could take only four tricks. Had East played low – even if West continued with a high heart at trick three after winning the ♣A – the contract would still have been defeated. East would win the K and play the ♠Q, giving the defense two spade tricks, two hearts and a club.

Credit declarer with correctly playing the ♥A at trick one.