Sunday, 15 April 2018

Melville Congress - when to finesse

I played in the Melville Congress Pairs with Martin Stephens a couple of weeks ago. Our result is probably something we'd both rather forget, but there were a couple of interesting boards. Here's one: 

You play in 4♥. The lead is the ♦9 the AK♦ are cashed and then the third round is ruffed. A small ♠ exit goes to the T♠ and Q♠ which you win. What do you do now? 

This is the sort of hand that everyone would get right if it were in a chapter on 'counting the defenders points' in a book', but is much harder to actually get right at the table. So far North has shown the AK♦ and the Q♠, and passed in third seat. Unless she's playing a very deep game, the ♥ finesse can't possibly be right, and you should play the ♥A now, hoping S started with Kx in ♥. You drop her now singleton K, and (as the saying goes) she holds her cards closer to her chest for the next board. This particular hand is one of those occasions where this play would have been rewarded.

 A look at the traveller shows that 11 people played in ♥ with a ♦ lead, and only 3 of them made 10 tricks, so it's obviously harder in practice than it is on paper... 

Here's the next one, where we found our way to slam.

Here's the second one. I won't give you the auction (suffice it to say that there were too many rounds, and that we were in both 6♣ and 6♠ before settling in 6NT by East), but I think North had the opportunity to double ♦ for a lead at some point, and South obliged. This is unfortunate, as 6NT is a pretty easy make on any other lead, with 4♠'s, 2♥'s, 1♦ and 5♣'s. However, as you can see if you look closely at the picture above, it's also makeable on this lead, at least in theory... 

How, exactly? Well, North had the guard in both red suits, so it looks like you might be able to squeeze her. However, if you try that, you'll find that a simple squeeze doesn't work, because West's black suits are both longer than East's, and the only entry in a threat suit is in the West hand, so you can't arrange to play the squeeze card from the right hand. However, if you manufacture this ending: 

North is squeezed on the play of the last ♠. If she keeps KT♥, you can throw her in with the ♦, and if she comes down to bare K♥, you can drop it, you just need to read the ending right to know which to do. (North has the option to bare the K♥ early, to make your guess tough, and even to ditch the K♦ playing her partner for the T, but the latter seems really unlikely to work, as in that case you've given up the ♥ finesse for effectively no compensation)

Of course, in practice this is not something you can do at the table, since you need to decide not to take the ♥ finesse in order to embark on this plan. If you manage to pull of this strip squeeze, relying on North holding all of 3 specific cards in favour of a straightforward finesse in ♥s, then I think she really does have a case for wondering whether you're peeking!


  1. Were you declarer on the first one - assume you made the contract?

    1. I wasn’t declared, and declarer at our table only made 9 tricks. I won’t say who it was, to protect the guilty. I will mention that Derek sanders did successfully make 10 tricks on the same line, though.