Drop or finesse
This Real Deal was reported to me by my friend, Victor Markowitz.
At unfavorable vulnerability, South holds:
♠ K 5 3 ♥ K 5 4 3 ♦ 6 ♣ K J 7 6 5
Right-hand opponent opens 2♥, passed around to your partner who doubles.
Lebensohl is a convention after doubles of weak two-bids whereby 2NT is weak and three-level bids show values.
You are delighted to be able to bid 3♣, lebensohl, to show a decent hand. Partner uses Roman key card Blackwood and puts you in 6♣. The ♥7 is led and you see.
RHO wins the ♥A and returns the ♥J. What is your plan?
All that really matters is locating the trump queen. You could go with eight-ever, nine-never and play for the ♣Q to drop. Or, you could play the preempter for shortness and finesse against West (after cashing the king).
There is something better. Win the ♥K and try to get a count on the hand. Lay down the ♠K, but don’t play any more spades yet; RHO could have a singleton.
Play top diamonds, throwing spades. If RHO ruffs in, that won’t bother you. As it turns out, everyone follows to all three diamonds. You throw your remaining low spades. Next, play the ♠A from dummy. RHO thinks it over and discards and you discard a low heart. At this point, you imagine that RHO started with six hearts, one spade and three diamonds.
Play the fourth diamond from dummy. RHO discards. You ruff and by now, you expect RHO’s distribution to be 1=6=3=3. Accordingly, you lay down the ♣A and finesse against the preempter for the ♣Q. This was the Real Deal:
As you can see, this was a skillful line of play. Playing trumps first would fail: You would never guess to finesse against the preempter to pick up the queen. Playing more than one spade first would fail. Cashing only one spade and then the diamonds was the perfect way to discover the layout.
A day after hearing about this deal, I was told that it was played as part of a program that allows old deals to be played. The original was from a tournament in the 1990s. What happened there? At one table, West raised 2♥ to 3♥ and North’s double was passed out; East–West went down 800.
At the other table, South was me! What a coincidence! Did I play the slam correctly? Alas, I was in only 5♣, so there was no challenge. It was IMP scoring, so I just cashed two high clubs and got on with it – no overtrick.