Test Your Play
For this article, I am again indebted to a (rare) minor oversight in Steve Becker’s outstanding column. The hand appears in the May 4 issue of the Seattle Times and is entitled ‘An Unusual Safety Play’.
Bidding: (South) 1H – pass – 1S – pass – 4H.
Lead: Jack of clubs.
The column correctly states that you can ensure the contract by winning the Ace of clubs, leading a trump, and playing the Jack when East follows (on the actual hand, if you play a high trump you will go down). Becker’s line provides a sure trump entry to the dummy should West hold the Queen (if he doesn’t, you make because you won’t lose a trump trick), so that you can later pitch a diamond on the Queen of spades – and admittedly this safety play is the main point of his article (and an excellent one at that!). However there is a better line of play that is worth mentioning (perhaps he didn’t have enough room in his column to do so). Do you see it?
The solution is a subtle play and its advantage is not easy to spot (plays like these separate the experts from the rest of the field) – you should duck the first trick! Why? Because if you do, a good East will overtake and switch to a diamond since this would be the best chance to beat the contract; you will go down off the top if you happen to hold AK, AKJ7543, K2, 54, whereas otherwise you will again make by taking the safety play. Note that if you did hold this hand you would also duck the first trick (there is nothing to lose) in the hope that, if West has the Ace of diamonds, East will fail to overtake and switch. Now, even though with your actual hand you always make if East follows to the first heart, you will always make an overtrick (but not if you take the column’s line of play unless East has the Queen of trumps and they split 2-1) since, after winning the diamond, you have time to test the hearts by cashing the Ace. This allows you to make an overtrick whenever trumps are 2-1 no matter who has the Queen by merely pulling the last trump and leading the King of spades, and if West shows out on the Ace of hearts (as in this case) you also make an overtrick by now leading the King of spades since you can later cross to dummy with the Ace of clubs, pitch a diamond on the Queen of spades (unless West ducked the King of spades in which case you lose no spade tricks) and take the marked trump finesse. An overtrick may seem like a nit, but many a match has been lost by a single IMP!
More importantly, with your actual hand, if East overtakes and shifts you will make (instead of going down) whenever East is void in trumps because you can now lead the King of spades before the Ace of clubs is gone. Although it is true that East shouldn’t do this with a trump void if he thinks you have the hand you actually hold, but he should do it if he thinks you hold either: (a) K, AKQJ10875, K2, 54, which gives you two trump entries so you can pitch a diamond by taking a ruffing finesse against East’s Jack of spades (the percentage play when he has no hearts), no matter how many additional spades he may now hold; or (b) K2, AKQJ1085, K2, 54 (your 4H bid would be marginal, but still reasonable), which gives you one trump entry with which to set up a pitch even if East now has one more spade. In either case East has quite a dilemma and should be given the opportunity to make the wrong choice.