the guardian Thursday 1 September 2011

How would you play this hand?

Suppose you have this trump suit in a slam, so that you can afford only one loser:

heart AJ98754

heart 106

You can play ace and another, hoping for a 2-2 break or a singleton honour in someone’s hand, or you can take two finesses. A third option is to take one finesse, then cash the ace if that loses.By a very small margin, the best play is to take two finesses. When the combination arose in a World Youth Bridge congress, it didn’t actually matter whether declarer took the first or the second option. The interest was in the bidding of the full deal, which was:

Zia Bridge-hand-001

North-South only were vulnerable, and even among junior players a vulnerable pre-emptive opening should be treated with some respect by partner, so when the North players opened the bidding with 3heart the South players launched into Blackwood. But Blackwood isn’t what it used to be – nowadays even the ancients use a version called Roman Key Card Blackwood, or RKCB for short. And there are variations in the way this convention is employed – some pairs use a response of 5club to show no key cards (the king of trumps counts as a «fifth ace» for this purpose) while others use 5club for one key card and 5diamond suit for none.

So it was that in one semi-final the two auctions began: 3heart – 4NT – 5club (one key card) – 5diamond suit (do you have the queen of trumps? – 5heart (no, I don’t). At this point an Argentinian South player bid 6heart anyway, making one wonder why he had bothered to ask for the queen of trumps since he didn’t seem to care whether partner had it or not. He was right – partner didn’t have it but he didn’t need it, for he held his losers in the suit to one by taking two finesses. At the other table a Dutchman carefully stopped in 5heart and lost 13 IMPs for his trouble. That auction was duplicated at one table in the other semi-final; at the other the response to RKCB was 5diamond suit so that South had no room to find out about the queen of trumps. He bid the slam anyway (you’re only young once) and his partner negotiated the trump suit correctly to gain a large swing.