Ted's Bridge World Dante's Infernal

Tough Defense in the Knockout Teams

The annual Sacramento Regional is in progress.  In the second round of a bracketed KO event, this deal arises in a close match:

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My lead of the diamond ten (from 10-9 doubleton or J-10-x(x) rides to south's ace.  Declarer then runs off six heart winners, being extremely grateful for the 3-3 split, to this position:

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By his heart plays, partner has indicated that he liked my diamond lead.  Also, he has discarded two diamonds, which was unexpected, and just one club.  Since he never would throw away the potential setting trick voluntarily, partner must have started life with six diamonds and three clubs.  If he does not hold the club ace, then declarer has nine tricks.

Similarly, partner already has placed me with the ace of spades and at least the Q-10 in clubs; otherwise, declarer could establish a club trick, and the blockage in diamonds would prevent us from cashing all our winners.  He also knows my precise diamond holding.

Being able to envision five tricks for our side, I pitch away my "losing" spade on the lead of the last heart.  Another spade is discarded from dummy, leaving east in a difficult situation:

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My partner decides to unguard the ace of clubs, a potentially fatal play.  Had declarer now ducked a club to the ace, the defenders would have been unable to unscramble their winners.  She opts to lead a spade, however, enabling the defense to clear up the diamond position while east's club entry is intact.  Down one.

In that ending, east's only winning option was to throw his singleton spade on the last heart lead!  Yet another diamond discard would have left the defense without enough tricks to defeat the contract.  West eventually would have been compelled to lead clubs, and declarer might have guessed that suit correctly.

The fact that my expert partner could go wrong here illustrates what a delicate position had accrued.  It was however, my error that created the potential for disaster.  I should have discarded a diamond on the last heart lead, because it wasn't needed.  Now dummy is squeezed.  Relinquishing a club would be suicidal, and a diamond pitch would unblock that suit, so the ten of spades is discarded from dummy, setting up a trick for my queen.

Now, east can discard safely from any suit!  Let's look at the possibilities.  Say that he discards a club:

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Declarer's best shot here is a club lead.  Winning the ace, east returns a spade to west's ace; then the queen of spades lead squeezes dummy.  A diamond pitch would unblock that suit, whereas discarding the club king would set up west's queen.

If east sheds a diamond on the last heart:

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A spade lead goes to the ace.  Now the queen of spades squeezes the dummy in a slightly different manner.  East keeps whatever suit has been unguarded.

Finally, if east elects to part with his singleton spade on the last heart lead:

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When declarer leads a spade, east simply dumps his club loser and await partner's diamond play; the queen of spades is now a superfluous winner.  Of course, east could elect to have a little more fun on the hand by pitching away a diamond instead and setting up the aforementioned minor-suit squeeze.

Is that what you would have done?

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