Fishing for Clues
Evidence presents itself during the bidding and the play, but sometimes that is not enough, and we must go fishing for additional information before we make the crucial decision.
Related Play Problems Play Problem 9
Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games
Against 3♥, North leads the ♠Q, and then the ♠J, both of which hold. Next comes a Club shift. How would you play the Heart suit? The theoretically correct play is the ♥A followed by a Heart to the Queen. Does the bidding suggest a different line? South opened the bidding and North responded, so it looks as if the ♦A is in one hand and the ♥K in the other. So one suggestion is to win the Club shift in hand and play the ♦K. North wins this and, as it happens, can give South a Diamond ruff. Declarer wins the Club return in Dummy, and will play South for 3=3=1=6 distribution. That being the case, his only chance is to lead the ♥Q from the board, hoping to pin Northís singleton Jack. Bingo!
Playing on Diamonds first was a good example of a Discovery Play. By finding out who had the ♦A, Declarer was in a better position to play the Hearts correctly. True, the Diamond ruff was a setback, but 9 tricks were still possible. Now look what happens if Declarer wins the Club shift and plays ♥A and a Heart to Southís King. That is followed by a Diamond to Northís Ace and a Diamond ruff for down one!
Against 3♣ (played by North), the defense leads a Heart and Dummy ruffs the third round (East pitching a Spade). The success of the contract depends upon guessing the trump suit and before attempting to do so, Declarer might go on a fishing exhibition. After ruffing the Heart, a low Diamond is led from Dummy and West will no doubt insert the Jack, which wins the trick. West persists with Hearts, again ruffed in Dummy with East pitching another Spade. Now another Diamond is led and letís say that West plays his King and leads his last Heart. Declarer ruffs this, East declines to over-ruff, of course, and now the moment of truth has arrived. West probably has less than four Diamonds (from the bidding) and East has denied four Spades (also from the bidding). Clearly West 4=5=2=2 or 4=5=3=1 shape. Who has the ♣Q? East surely has the ♦A and the only possible other high card he can hold is the ♣Q. Weíd say that the indications are than the ♣Q is with East (though itís no sure thing), so Declarer cashes the ♣A and finesses the Ten. Bingo! 9 tricks.
The play in 4♥ could be quite subtle. Suppose that Eastís opening lead is the Q♦, won by Declarerís King. Declarer can score 12 tricks if she can guess to drop the doubleton off-side Q♣. Is there any good reason why she should? Maybe. There are only 11 missing HCPís and East no doubt has most of them for his vulnerable overcall. But thatís still pretty slim evidence, no reason why East could not have 9 HCPís and West the Q♣. Time to accumulate more evidence. After winning the first trick, Declarer draws three rounds of trumps, ending in her hand and leads a low Spade to Dummyís Ace and out a Spade, won by West's Queen. This information reduces Eastís maximum point-count to 9, and if he doesnít have the Q♣ then heíll be further reduced to 7. Weíd say that the odds now favor playing for the drop of the Q♣ rather than playing for the on-side Q♣ with a 3-3 break (the break is necessary for the 12th trick).
After the opponents make a take-out Double, many players use Jordan 2NT to show a limit raise, but this is probably best reserved for hands with 4-card support, so East starts instead with a value-showing Redouble. Westís 2♠ simply showed a 6th Spade with no extras, East invited, and West optimistically accepted.
In 4♠, Declarer has 3 side-suit losers, and whether he makes 9 or 10 tricks will depend entirely on how he guesses the trump suit. It seems that the choices are whether to play for the drop, or whether to play the Doubler for shortness. We have some other clues:
- South does not have 4 Hearts
- South has longer Clubs than Diamonds (otherwise she would surely let North pick the suit)
With that in mind, West might decide to go on a fishing expedition. The play might go like this:
North leads the A♣
Shift to the Q♦, won by the Ace
Heart to the King and Ace
J♦ to the King
Q♥, followed by a Heart ruff
Club to the King
Club ruffed on the board
We have studiously avoided drawing trumps, as we probe the enemy distribution, and the bidding has made it fairly safe that we will not get overruffed in the process. But has the fishing trip actually achieved anything? Nothing completely conclusive, thatís for sure. We now know that North started with 2-5-3-3 or 1-5-4-3. Weíd assert that the latter is more likely given the bidding, and we would play South for Qxx in the trump suit. Not entirely convinced? Well, we are not surprised, itís not exactly a rock-solid conclusion!
Making 5♦ will ultimately come down to guessing the Q♥, and Declarer can improve her chances of guessing right with a little detective work. Let's say that the defense cashes two Spades and shifts to a trump. Trumps are drawn in three rounds, then Declarer plays two high Clubs and ruffs a Club, looking for clues in the distribution. When West shows out on the third round of Clubs, he is known to have started with 6-4-1-2 distribution. This makes it odds on that he started with the Q♥ so Declarer should get this one right.
Against 4♠, West plays two rounds of Clubs, and gives Partner a ruff (or overruff). Which red suit should East return? A Diamond looks safer that a Heart, and, anyway, when West leads his third Club, it will be the lowest one he has, a clear suit preference for signal for the lower-ranking Diamond suit. But Declarer ruffs this and draws trumps, ultimately needing to guess the Hearts to make her contract.
Do you have any ideas for guessing those Hearts correctly? West does not need the Q♥ to justify her bidding, so that card could be in either hand. One way for Declarer to improve her chances is to rattle off all her trumps before the fateful guess. Declarer can be sure (from the bidding and the play) that the A♦ is with West, so here are the possible cases with 3 cards left (after the play of the last trump):
- If nobody has pitched a Heart, then West started with two and East with three, so perhaps the odds favor the Q♥ being with Eastís length.
- If West has pitched a Heart, then perhaps that pitch was out of necessity, and Declarer can play for the drop in the expectation that the remaining Hearts are 2-2
- If East has pitched a Heart, then he probably started with 4 of them, and the indicated play is to cross to the King and finesse against Eastís Queen.
As it happens, nobody pitches a Heart (the first case), and Declarer presumably finesses against East, successfully. Running off all the trumps before guessing the Hearts certainly gives Declarer the best chance of making her contract but the downside is that it risks going down two if Declarer ends up finessing into the West hand.
Against 3♣, South leads the K♠ won by Declarer, who has two reasonable lines of play:
(a) He can go after three Spade ruffs on the board, hoping that the suit is 4-4. The trouble with this line of play is that if South ruffs the 4th round of Spades in front of Dummy, Declarer will be out of entries to the board and will have to play the Diamonds from his hand, eventually losing the Spade ruff and two or three Diamonds.
(b) Or, he ruff just two Spades on the board, and use his last sure entry to lead a Diamond towards his hand, which will not be a success if the A♦ is offside and Spades were 4-4 all the time.
Declarer has a rather neat Discovery Play available. He ruffs a Spade then leads the K♥ from the board! Declarer is going to ruff this anyway, he merely wants North to tell him where the A♥ is. If North fails to cover the K♥ then surely the Ace is with South, and therefore the A♦ must be with North (otherwise South would have opened the bidding). This clever play points the way for Declarer, heíll ruff the Heart, ruff another Spade, and lead a Diamond from the board. North plays the Ace (South unblocking the Nine, just in case). Now, it turns out to be 11 tricks thanks to the Q♦ coming down.
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