Check and Double Check

I had the pleasure of playing with Jean Davis in the under-10,000 mixed Swiss team event in this year’s Summer nationals in Atlanta.  I was delighted when she accepted my offer to play in the event, and flattered when she agreed to try upside-down count/attitude signaling, my preferred defensive carding method.  (More on this in a future column).

It was  the very last hand of the last round in the evening session.  I, South,  was dealt the following so-so collection of cards:


The dealer, East on my left, passed; playing 2/1, Jean opened a club; my RHO (West) made a weak jump overcall of 2.  We eventually ended up in the ambitious contract of 4 as per the bidding shown with the dummy below.


A note on the bidding:  Even playing 2/1, a 2 over 1 bid necessitated by East’s interfering 2 IS NOT game forcing.   It should, however, still show a decent 10-count, as it forces partner to bid for at least 1 more round.  Swayed by the favorable placement of the K behind the presumed A, I decided to count my hand as a decent 10-pointer.    Similarly, since my 2 bid was not game forcing due to the overcall, Jean’s 3 was NOT forcing, or even very encouraging.  With heart support and a 14-count or a good 13-count, Jean would have bid 4 (since I would pass 3 with a minimum 2 bid) but with any lesser hand she would have made the minimum 3 bid.  My 4 bid was an overbid premised on the belief that partner’s spade honor(s) would be favorably placed behind West’s spade honors revealed by West’s 2♠ bid.

The dummy was about what I expected.  The Q was a big disappointment, however.  Had this been the ♣Q, my chances would be much better. 

On the first trick, I played low from the dummy and then unblocked my K under RHO’s A to create an entry to the dummy.  East returned a diamond; I took the Q in dummy and led a heart.  Low from East, K from me and A from West.  Back came a trump with the J falling from East.  Good:  a 2-2 heart break.  In my hand, I decided to lead towards the ♠K, trusting the ♠A to be on my left due to the 2♠ bid.  As predicted, West rose with the ♠A.  Then then made the curious lead of the ♣9.  

This looked foreboding as it appeared to be top of a doubleton, which means the protected ♣Q is on my right.  Down 1.  With nothing better to do, I delayed matters by winning with the ♣A, cashing my ♠K  and then leading a spade for a ruff back to my hand, my right hand opponent following to both spades.  

Decision time in the club suit.  I play my ♣J.  West plays the ♣2.  I have lost 3 tricks already and can’t lose a 4th.  Do I play West for 3 clubs to the ♣Q92 and assume West led the ♣9 trying to talk me out of the finesse?  Or do I rise with the ♣K, playing my RHO for a ♣Q doubleton?  What would you do if you were me?  Click on the link below to see the answer.

Recall that this was the very last hand of the last round in the evening session:  it was after 10:00 p.m. and the intellectual strain of two full sessions of high-level bridge were starting to take a toll on my mind.  The fuzzy feeling induced by lactic acid accumulating in my brain cells was beginning to take a toll.  Simply put, it was very difficult to think.

I labored to count the hand.  Let’s see:  East had made a weak 2 overcall and West had led the 2.  Give 6 diamonds to East and 3 to West.  Both were 2-2 in hearts.  West had overcalled 2♠ and East had followed to 3 spade tricks, playing low each time.  That means West started with 5 spades (as presumed from the overcall) and East only 3.  East is therefor 3-2-6-?.  I struggled to add 3+2+6 and subtract it from 13.  Literally, I had to do it twice to make sure.  Finally I came up with 2.  East had 2 clubs.  That means West had (another 30 seconds of thought) 13 – [2+4+4] = 3 clubs.  This process alone took me a full two minutes.

With three clubs on my left and two on my right, the odds are 3 out of 2 that the ♣Q is on my left.  The odds distinctly favored finessing.  I prepared to play low from the dummy when my personal bridge fairy godmother stopped me.  She reminded me of some advice given in  “The Rodwell Files” — one of the best books available on advanced card play — that an expert declarer always checks and double checks her assumptions to see if  alternative evidence exists that might contradict or further enlighten a suggested line of play.  Aspiring to be an expert some day, I decided to follow my fairy godmother’s advice and to cross-check my assumptions against other available evidence.

The obvious cross-check to perform  is to count opponent’s high card points and check to see whether my assumptions about the lie of the cards (Qxx on my left) was consistent with the bidding and high card placement.   My LHO had showed up with the A, the ♠A.  My RHO, having exactly three spades, followed low to all three spade tricks which means that LHO must also have the ♠Q.  That gives LHO 10 HCP.  If she had the ♣Qxx, she would have a full twelve count — a sound opening hand.  But I managed to recall that she had failed to open the bidding.  Thus, the evidence from the bidding squarely contradicted my probability calculation regarding who had the ♣Q.  It was a near-certainty that West would have opened the bidding with ♠AQxxx Ax xxx ♣Q9x.  She did not — so East must have the ♣Q.

I played the ♣K.  East initially showed out coyly playing the 5 but after a few seconds produced ♣Q — his version of bridge humor, I suppose.   Making four hearts.

Paraphrasing Jean’s reaction:   “Why did it take you so long to figure out to play a high club?  No one, seeing that dummy, would ever break the club suit holding Qxx of clubs.” 

I was just happy to make the hand.

For sake of a complete record, here are all four hands:


— Tom Hunt





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