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Perfect Technique By Larry Cohen

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This deal was played in the 2012 U.S. Team Trials by Chris Willenken:

He chose to open 1, dealer at favorable vulnerability holding:

 Q   K 9 6 3 2   A K Q 10 8 4   10

Apparently, he considered the hand good enough to reverse (planning to bid hearts twice). LHO passed and partner made the surprising (but pleasing) response of 1!  RHO preempted to 2 and Chris chose to cue-bid 3. LHO bid 4 and Chris’s partner, Michael Rosenberg, bid 5. Right or wrong, Chris chose to pass, thus buying it in 5.

The 7 was led (3rd and 5th best leads) and he saw:

 8   A J 7 4   9 6 5 2   J 8 4 3

East won the A and played the K then a low club. How should declarer play?

This deal is all about the heart suit. If they are 2-2, declarer can draw trump and then lay down the top hearts to make 11 tricks. But, might hearts be 3-1?  Why not try to get a count on the hand. How?

The first move is to carefully trump the club carefully with the 10 (to preserve the 8 and 4 for crossing to dummy).

Next come the trumps. On the A, East plays the jack. Chris now crossed (sorry–couldn’t resist that!) with the 8 to the 9 (RHO showing out) and ruffed a 3rd round of clubs high (all following). Now came the the 4 to the 5 to ruff a 4th round of clubs. RHO showed out.

Since the lead was a 3rd/5th best 7, declarer knew spades were 4-7 (West would have led a low one from a 5-card suit). So, RHO has 7 spades, 1 diamonds, 3 clubs and therefore 2 hearts. There is no reason to take any heart finesses. Declarer laid down the top hearts and this was the full layout:

aaxx 1

At many tables in the Round Robin, declarer (in hearts, so unable to get a complete count), played the preempter for short hearts and lost a heart trick by playing low to the K and then finessing the J.  Willenken’s team won 7 IMPs for +400 when his teammates played in 5 (bid against North-South’s 5).  The defense was accurate, carefully cashing out for down 1 (-100 E-W).

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