xmlns:w="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40"> Mountnessing Bridge Club Featured Hand

Mountnessing Bridge Club


Pre-empts and 'miracles'...



Hand played on 

August 14th 2008

Board number

Red Section, Board 23 




Both Vulnerable

Submitted by

Theo Todman
































































This hand raises 3 issues:

  1. What is the minimum acceptable standard for a (vulnerable) 3-level pre-emptive opening?

  2. What should Declarer's tactics be when playing in a contract that requires a 'miracle' to make?

  3. Does the format of the event - teams or pairs - make a difference to your tactics?

West opened 3 with the hand above, and East faced a bidding problem. The obvious choices are 3NT, 5, 5 or pass. All are punts (other than pass, which is feeble). Maybe 4 is sensible, if taken as a positive bid, but at pairs you probably want to try 3NT. Anyway, East chose 3NT, which was a popular contract, but on a heart lead cannot legitimately make. At the table, South did indeed lead a low heart, taken with the Q in dummy. 


If Declarer can make seven diamond tricks, plus the heart trick already in the bag, then it is necessary to make a black suit trick to make the contract.  One question is whether Declarer should seek to 'sneak' that black trick before revealing the diamond position, or to run all the diamonds and hope that an extra trick 'turns up in the wash'.  Declarer knows - though the opposition do not - that his K is now bare. 


Firstly, let's look at the chances of making seven diamond tricks (without which this contract has no hope at all)There are 5 diamonds out, so the percentage line for that suit seems to be to finesse the J, and the only opportunity to take the finesse is at trick 2.  However, given that the finesse cannot be repeated, it is in fact less than a 50% bet: according to Kelsey and Glauert, the odds of a singleton or doubleton Q are 5.66 + 27.12 = 32.78% (and the odds of a trebleton Q are 40.71%). The successful finesse doesn't bring home the bacon if RHO has 4 or 5 to the Q, and the probability of this is (100 - 40.71 - 32.78)/2 = 13.26 %, so the "50%" finesse is really only 36.74% - little more than the chances of a doubleton Queen.  Note that a singleton Queen does not help, as the opponents' ten of diamonds would stop the suit from running.


Trying to sneak a club or spade trick early should lead to an immediate (at least) 2-off if the defenders realise that they have 4 hearts and 2 other aces to win.  


If Declarer wants to sneak a spade trick, it must be done immediately while the lead is in Dummy.  However, if an attempted 'spade trick sneak' goes wrong, it will open up that suit for the defenders too, possibly leading to many tricks off.  Even if this wheeze works, Declarer then needs the Q coming down in 2 rounds. But this isn't really much worse than the unrepeatable finesse, so the drawback of foregoing the diamond finesse can be discounted.   It comes down to whether the odds of the spade ace on side and a lapse from the defence are better than those of an opposition duck if a bold Declarer successfully finesses the J then confidently whacks out the club K, or (probably better) plays to the K at trick 2.  Playing on diamonds immediately when there's a good club suit in dummy and declarer subsequently shows up with the K is a bit of a give-away that there's something up, though with no likely entry to dummy, the clubs always look unlikely to run with sensible hold-up play; there's a lot of bluff and double-bluff going on!  If LHO has the A, and (maybe) doesn't know Declarer has the stiff K, he'll be under pressure to duck, as if Declarer has the protected K, and another club, he's just let you make 5 club tricks. Even RHO might hedge his bets for a round; having only a doubleton diamond, and not knowing declarer has 7, he may think that clubs are the real threat.


In practice, at trick two Declarer finessed the J, which won. Once the finesse wins, Declarer still has choices:

At first sight it seemed the sort of hand where one off might have been an average score - given that there's no makeable game on best defence, and everyone is likely to be in game. Maybe things change at trick 3 when the Q drops, and it is obvious that every Declarer will make 8 tricks in NT, even those who can't get to Dummy. Then, the only chance of getting an above-average score is to try something clever and attempt to sneak through a club trick. By trick 4 it would be obvious that Declarer has 7 diamonds, and the defence know they have to act quickly. So, you have to do it at trick 2, but that means you can't take the diamond finesse. OK, you could try to get the opponents to duck Q, so that you remain on table to take the diamond finesse, but why would they? On that play you're either missing the AK, or have blocked the suit. Rats would be smelled.


There is an interesting question through all of this analysis about the effect that the format of the event - teams or pairs - has on the tactics adopted by Declarer.  Generally, at teams it is worth taking risks to give a chance of landing a dubious game contract - because the game bonus would provide such a tantalising reward.  On the other hand, success at match-pointed pairs is as much about avoiding disasters as it is about getting 'top scores'.  It looks as though on this board settling on 'one off' with an outside chance of 'something turning up in the wash' is unlikely to score badly, given that 3NT will always be under pressure on a heart lead, and five of a minor faces three missing Aces.  


In practice the opponents defended well and Declarer did not get the hoped-for spade trick, resulting in one off. Several declarers in fact made 3NT.  Even on an initial spade lead this contract ought to fail, as the Defenders should be able to take three spades and two other Aces, but possibly after such a lead it is more difficult for the defenders to keep the right cards as the seven diamond tricks are run off.  3NT-1 turned out to give a worse score than might have been expected, as in the event three pairs got home in 3NT, two others got home in five of a minor (despite the three missing Aces) and one pair subsided in a making part-score.


This month's English Bridge has a debate on pre-empts. Many players favour the old "rule of 2 and 3" to judge whether a hand is fit for a pre-emptive opening, and on that basis here partner's hand is far too weak for a 3 opening second in hand at unfavourable vulnerability. However - what a fascinating game Bridge is?  The effect of opening 3 on this particular hand is that South finishes up 'leading blind' against 3NT - and may, or may not, find the no-real-hope heart lead...