The Real Deal


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Why take a losing finesse?

This deal was played – and usually misplayed – in the biggest money event of the year, the 2017 Cavendish Pairs in Monaco. With neither side vulnerable, South held:

♠ K 9 8 6 5 4  10 9 6  A 9   ♣ A 8

North deals and opens 1, and you respond 1♠. Left-hand opponent overcalls 1NT. This shows roughly 15–18 and stoppers in the bid suits (unless it is Alerted as light takeout or something else). Opener makes a support double, announcing three-card spade support. RHO shows clubs and you end proceedings by jumping to 4♠. A low club is led and you see:

Dlr:
North
Vul:
None
North
♠ J 10 7
K 7 5
K Q J 8 5 4
♣ 9
South
♠ K 9 8 6 5 4
10 9 6
A 9
♣ A 8

Your only potential losers are in spades and hearts. Thankfully, you have escaped a heart lead. On the low club lead, East plays the 10 and you win the ace.

Most declarers now played reflexively, but incorrectly. They ruffed a club to dummy and led the ♠J for a finesse that surely would fail. In fact, the jack lost to the queen and West shifted to the A and then played the Q to knock out dummy’s king.

Declarer couldn’t play more spades; LHO would win and cash the setting trick. In desperation, he started the diamonds. Maybe three rounds would live if RHO started with a singleton spade and short diamonds. No luck. On the third diamond, RHO ruffed with a small trump. Declarer overruffed, but the contract had to fail. This was the Real Deal:

North
♠ J 10 7
K 7 5
K Q J 8 5 4
♣ 9
West
♠ A Q
A Q J 8
7 6 2
♣ K 7 5 4
East
♠ 3 2
4 3 2
10 3
♣ Q J 10 6 3 2
South
♠ K 9 8 6 5 4
10 9 6
A 9
♣ A 8

Based on the bidding and trick one, West was marked with pretty much every high-card point he held. Holding ♣K Q, he would have led the ♣K (wouldn’t you?). So when East plays the 10, you know East has ♣Q J 10, and West, for his 1NT overcall, the ♣K and all the other missing high-card points.

Knowing the ♠Q is wrong, the deal plays itself. There is no need to take the fatal club ruff at trick two (which took out a key entry to dummy at the wrong time). At trick two, declarer should simply lead a low spade out of his hand. West wins and shifts to the A and Q. Declarer wins, but now is in control. He starts running diamonds, but this time he is OK when East ruffs the third round. Declarer overruffs and now takes his club ruff to reach dummy. He plays the fourth round of diamonds, throwing his losing heart while West remains with only the singleton ♠A.