Favourite Opponent

The Hideous Hog in Victor Mollo’s menagerie of bridge players was said to have remarked “Give me any partner, but give me my favourite opponent, and I will guarantee you I will win”.

Playing against “formidable” opponents in the last National Masters, I held S:AKJXX H:J109 D:QXX C:XX. At favourable vulnerability, as dealer I open on any excuse, and this is actually pretty close to a normal opening bid. Partner responds 2 clubs, I rebid 2NT, partner bids 3 NT. So the bidding has been:

West leads the Diamond Jack (may be from J10 or KJ10), and this is the dummy:

S:XX H:KQXX D:A C:AQJ9XX, opposite my:

S:AKJXX H:J109 D:QXX C:XX

 

The ace wins on the table. Now this is tricky, as if I play on Hearts, opponents can clear the Diamonds even if the Diamond Queen is well placed and take me down if the Club King is off as I have only 8 tricks. So I play a Spade to the King for which there is another reason. East plays a low Spade and West a high one, which means east “likes” Diamonds, so the Diamond King is well placed. This is a huge advantage of playing against reliable opponents, as I can plan my play, reliably placing the cards. I now play a Club and finesse the Queen, east contributing the 10. Does this mean my finesse is working? Should I return to hand and repeat the finesse? No, as the situation has changed since trick 1. Since (1)I am now reasonably confident about the location of the Diamond King, and I have got an extra Club trick, (2)playing on Hearts will give me 2 Spades, 3 Hearts , 2 Clubs and a Diamond, ie, 8 tricks. So if they knock out my Diamond Queen, I have 9 tricks. So I play on Hearts. I lead a Heart to the Jack and it holds. Now a superficial analysis would say that I can repeat the Club finesse and even if it loses I have 5 Clubs, a Heart, 2 Spades and a Diamond, ie 9 tricks. But this is incorrect, as they can now clear Diamonds after losing the Club finesse, and I have no quick entry to cash the Clubs. So I play another Heart, the 10. This also holds. This is the position now:

 

At this stage, is the Club finesse working? If you know your opponents to be good players, it is certainly not working. If it were, the opponents would have taken the Heart Ace and played for their only chance- that my Diamond Queen is falling doubleton, as they can count that I have 9 tricks.

So I need to continue Hearts. But the danger of playing a 3rd Heart is that I know if it loses to East, he will return a Spade and I will be awkwardly placed after winning the King. So I cash the Spade King, before playing the 3rd Heart. Now if East has only AXX in Hearts, he is endplayed after winning the Heart Ace. Whatever he plays, Spade, Diamond or Club, I will have 9 tricks(please check this). If he has four Hearts , he can play another Heart and put me back on the table. I can now cash the Club Ace and exit with a Club. If East wins the King, he is endplayed again, so long as i guess his distribution. I need to do this, as I have to discard twice, and while the first discard of a Spade is easy, the second will depend on East’s distribution. If he has 4423, and I discard my Spades, he can cash his Spades. But this distribution is impossible, as East would not have encouraged Diamonds with this holding, and may in fact have unblocked his Diamond King. What if West has the King and has 4243 shape? Then on the 3rd Club, my hand is squeezed. But again I rule out this distribution based on the opponents’ defense so far.

East does have 4 Hearts and after winning the ace, he plays Diamond King and a Diamond. I now have 9 tricks, and I play a Club to the Ace. The King comes tumbling down, and I have the rest of the tricks. Note that this hand would have been impossible to play accurately against average opponents.

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