A bridge hand I’m proud of

Playing in a club game with a regular partner, I pick up:

♠ KJ6
J
AKJ1032
♣ A94

Favorable vulnerability, my LHO is the dealer. Against silent opponents, partner opens 1D. That’s a pleasant surprise: he likely has 4 of them (he’d only open 1D with 3 diamonds if his hand shape was exactly 4=4=3=2), and a 10-card fit with the ace-king is very likely to have no losers. We play inverted minors, so I reply 2D to show my strong hand. He comes back 2H. So, he’s got a 4-card heart suit, likely headed by the ace or king. I bid 2S just to mark time and show the control, wondering whether we’ll be better in notrump or a diamond contract.

Partner raises to 3S, and I get nervous. Does he think I have a 4-card suit? I was wondering about slam, but don’t feel comfortable bidding (RKC) Blackwood any more because it’s unclear what suit would be trump (or whether we’d be invoking the 2-suited variation that I still am not confident I have right). Going past the safe contract of 3N, I bid 4C to show my other control, and partner bids 4H (so, he doesn’t have a diamond control, which I already knew, but he’s got both heart controls). I figure his shape is either 4=4=4=1 or 4=4=3=2, and he’s got the ace of spades, ace-king of hearts, and about 2 HCP I don’t see yet. Not counting that extra mystery strength, we’ve already got 11.5 tricks (2.5 spades, 2 hearts, 6 diamonds, and a club), and I figure the mystery strength is worth about half a trick. Moreover, we’ve got all four aces (thank goodness the control bids can describe that without resorting to Blackwood!), so I end the auction by jumping to 6N.

LHO leads the 6 of clubs (standard), and down comes dummy:

♠ A972
AK85
975
♣ J8

Roughly what I expected, but this isn’t cold.

Using the Rule of 11, I know that RHO only has one club higher than the 6. Although it didn’t occur to me at the table, I should have realized it was a face card, since LHO would have lead the king if she’d had king-queen-fourth in the suit. I put up the jack (arguably a mistake), covered by RHO’s queen and my ace. I need to tread carefully: if I ever lose the lead, the opponents will attack clubs, and I’ll be down at least 3 tricks.

I turn my attention to the diamonds: we’ve got a 9 card fit missing the queen. The adage “eight ever, nine never” suggests that playing from the top and hoping the queen drops doubleton is better than taking the finesse, but it’s just barely more likely (58% to 56%) and assumes you have no other information. I suspect, though, that LHO has at least 5 clubs, since the defenders have three clubs lower than the lead. If clubs are 5-3, the finesse in diamonds is about as likely to work as the drop, and if clubs are 6-2, the finesse is the more likely play. However, taking the finesse requires getting to dummy, and I’ve only got 2 entries, so I need to use them sparingly.

Both courses of action require first cashing one top diamond, so I start there before making any major decisions. and decisions aren’t needed: LHO plays the singleton queen! I run the diamonds, discarding one card of each other suit from dummy. LHO discards three spades, a heart, and a club, while RHO discards two hearts and a club.

The next suit to focus on is spades: it sure looks like I’ll need the jack to win a trick, and LHO’s discards suggest that this is a likely proposition. A low spade to dummy’s ace, and LHO shows out of the suit. I take the marked finesse and cash the third spade trick, revealing that the suit had split 3-3. I regret discarding dummy’s fourth spade; I could have claimed already. Even better would have been if the fourth spade had been in my hand. I’d have this 3-card ending:

♠ 2
J

♣ 9
♠ –
AK8

♣ –

It would be a double squeeze: if LHO discards the top club, I can claim (with a club and two hearts). If the spades break, I can claim (a spade and two hearts), and if LHO keeps the club stopper while RHO keeps a spade stopper, then the hearts run.

Unfortunately, that’s not the hand I was actually dealt. My hand is reduced to the jack of hearts and 9-4 of clubs, with AK8 of hearts on the board. LHO has held onto the king of clubs, so there’s nothing left for me to do but try running the hearts from the top. The contract is assured, but I don’t know if I’ll get an overtrick.

It turns out I do: when I was running the diamonds, RHO held on to all three spades to protect the queen, and decided to keep one club so that if she got in with the spade, she could give her partner the setting trick. That required discarding down to two hearts, which probably didn’t seem significant at the time because one wouldn’t expect 9-third to be a stopper. but when RHO gave up that stopper, I was able to perform a simple squeeze on LHO (this type of squeeze is called a Vienna Coup) to get the overtrick: LHO can’t keep both the club stopper and the heart stopper, and then I get an extra trick in whichever suit she discards while I’m cashing the spades.

Here’s the whole deal:

♠ A972
AK85
975
♣ J8
♠ 853
Q1072
Q
♣ K10765
♠ Q104
9643
864
♣ Q32
♠ KJ6
J
AKJ1032
♣ A94

Friday evening is an unpopular time for sanctioned bridge games, and only 25 tables reported to TCG. We had a clean top: I don’t know how many pairs bid slams (several went down in whatever contract they bid), but only two tables made notrump slams, and I was the only one to get the overtrick.

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