An Important Detail
Consider the following deal:
Bidding: you open 1NT (12-14), partner bids 5NT and you decide to bid seven based on the fact that you have two four card suits, the 10 of diamonds and an optimistic nature.
Opening lead: 4 of clubs. You play the 6 from dummy, RHO plays the 10 and you win the Jack.
Analysis: the contract has a good chance. You need a 3-3 heart split, a successful guess as to the location of the spade Queen, or a defensive mistake. The play seems straightforward: begin by running clubs so as to force a discard (or discards) that may be helpful; cash three rounds of hearts hoping your long heart sets up; and, if not, decide which way to finesse the spade (the distribution of hearts and clubs in the opponents’ hands may provide a clue). But, there is more to the hand! What is it?
Solution: the key detail to the correct play of the hand is the order in which you cash your clubs! You must win the second club in dummy (in order to preserve a choice as to where to win the third club) and carefully observe what club LHO plays. Noting whether it’s higher or lower than the 4 will tell you if he started with two clubs or more than two. If two, you must win the third club in your hand; otherwise you must win the third club in dummy! Why? So that on the fourth club the hand short in clubs is forced to discard before his partner.
Illustration: if either opponent holds three spades including the Queen, four hearts without the Jack, four diamonds without the Jack and two clubs, then his partner can hold at most one Jack (if he holds none the hand is cold unless declarer has three or more spades). A spade pitch on the third club can’t hurt. But the only pitch on the fourth club that is certain not to cost a trick, no matter what declarer’s distribution is, is from the red suit in which partner does not hold the Jack! – an unsolvable dilemma unless the clubs have been played in the wrong order, in which case his partner can reveal that the safe pitch is a diamond by discarding his lowest diamond. The recommended line of play gives the defender a 50% chance of guessing wrong as opposed to a 100% chance of guessing right. This is a significant increase in your odds of making the contract and should not be squandered – especially in a grand slam!