Sunday Times - - Puzzles -

Open­ing lead — queen of spades.

As­sume you’re in four hearts and West leads a spade. There seems to be noth­ing to the play, so let’s say you win with the ace, ruff a spade in dummy and cash the A-K of trumps. West shows out on the sec­ond trump, and you sud­denly re­alise you’re in se­ri­ous trou­ble.

You con­tinue with the queen of trumps and then, try­ing to make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion, play the A-K-Q of clubs. Un­for­tu­nately, East ruffs the third club, cashes the king of spades and con­tin­ues with a spade, and you sub­se­quently lose two di­a­mond tricks to go down one.

Some­time later, it dawns on you that you should have made the con­tract. Rather than sim­ply as­sume that the miss­ing trumps would be di­vided 3-2 — in which case you’d wind up with two over­tricks — you should have al­lowed for the pos­si­bil­ity that the trumps might be di­vided 4-1 (a 28% pos­si­bil­ity). Had you con­sid­ered that, you might have seen that you could guard against a 4-1 trump break by play­ing the three of trumps from your hand at trick two!

This seem­ingly ridicu­lous play has much more merit to it than at first meets the eye. Af­ter the op­po­nents win the trick, they can­not stop you from scor­ing the 10 tricks — four hearts, five clubs and spade — you started with.

The deal demon­strates once again that a de­clarer should al­ways try to ar­range the play to cater not only to the most likely dis­tri­bu­tion of a suit, but also to a less likely one. The chief danger in this deal is that the trumps might split 4-1 in­stead of 3-2, and de­clarer should take the nec­es­sary steps to guard against that even­tu­al­ity.

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