A Tricky Slam
I was dealt: KT72 Q AK3 AK853. In fourth seat after 3 passes to me, I open 1. Partner responds 2N, and it is our style to pass most balanced 11 counts and open most balanced 12s. Points aren't really what's important here, it's more about where his honors are located and the degree of fit he has. I bid 3 in an effort to start describing my hand, and partner signs off in 3N. I have a close call here and pass, 4, and 4N are all reasonable bids. I have not shown this good of a hand, and think that 4N will probably be safe so I choose 4 in an effort to give partner a good idea about my shape. He cooperates now with 4 and as I have said my piece, I sign off in 4N. He is free to bid on if he wants. He does, and answers aces along the way with 5 and my 6 bid ends the auction.
Not the greatest slam but I've seen worse. I asked the opponents about their leads and they told me 3rd and 5th. Trick 1 posed a difficult problem. I obviously have a club loser, barring some unlikely miracle, and need to take the rest of the tricks. I have numerous lines of plays available including:
- Duck at trick one planning on ruffing 2 spades and pitching my diamond on the heart. This will work when Jim has the king of hearts and either the spade queen drops third or doubleton or the hand with 3 spades has 3 clubs (or xx). If spades are 5-2 you will survive if the short spade has long clubs (likely) and the diamond queen drops.
- Duck at trick 1 planning to play the AK of clubs followed by AK of diamonds, if no queen drops spade to the ace, heart ace pitching a diamond, ruff a diamond, spade king, spade ruff. This will work when the diamond queen drops or the diamonds and spades both break. If spades are 4-3 and rho has the long club and short diamond (we know he has 5 hearts from the lead so 3-5-2-3 is not unlikely) he will be able to pitch his 3rd spade on the 3rd diamond and then overruff dummy.
- Win the first trick and play for the diamond queen to drop.
All of these trumps need 3-2 trumps, some catering to 4-1 with a stiff honor on right. The hand is very complicated to analyze. At the table, I felt like the opening leader was very likely to have the king of hearts. He can have K97, KJ7, or J97 of hearts from the lead (third and fifth). He knows I have a stiff heart so is eager to lead one to eliminate an option for me. It also seems like the safest lead. After ducking successfully to my queen I chose to adopt the first line. I play 3 rounds of spades cashing a heart and pitching a diamond along the way and the queen ruffs out (LHO starting with 3). Great, I'm flying high, I can just pull trumps and claim right?
Mike Lawrence wrote a great BOLS tip called ecstasy. Everyone knows not to start steaming after a bad board, but it is equally important to keep your eye on the ball after something very GOOD happens. I lost my focus and played a club to my ace. RHO followed with the queen and I realized I had messed it up if trumps were 4-1. LHO said "down 1" so I knew they were 4-1 after all. I tried by playing AK of diamonds, and the spade ten but lho did not trump. I ruffed in dummy, ruffed a heart to my hand, and got out with the 5 of clubs with K85 of clubs left, but LHO had J97. Down 1.
Let's go back. I was in dummy and this was the position:
My spade ten is high, so my only danger is a 4-1 trump split. If it is not stiff honor on my right nothing can be done. It can cost nothing to ruff a heart to my hand right now. Now when RHO follows with the queen of clubs under my ace, I am in control. I will cash my AK of diamonds and lead the spade ten, as before. If LHO ruffs high or low, I have the rest. He must pitch a heart. Now I duck a club and LHO wins with the jack, but is endplayed into leading a small club away from his 9x into my K8. This small slip cost me the slam. This error is very common and there is a very sound fundamental principle that will eliminate it from your game. Whenver you can shorten yourself and it cannot cost, go ahead and do it.
By the way, LHO had Qx of diamonds to go with his spade queen so every line works. A potential improvement to my actual line is to cash one round of clubs first. If RHO follows with an honor, I can lead a small trump from my hand and fall back on line 2 with a spade finesse instead of ruff as the second entry. This will fail if RHO has made a nice falsecard from QJx and actually has the queen of spades, or if RHO has QJ tight of clubs and the spade queen. To further complicate things LHO could follow with an honor. I am not sure what the correct percentage line is, but I suspect in retrospect that it is line 2. I am sure that the two lines are reasonably close, and figuring out at the table which line may be a few percentage points better or worse is not as important as other things like keeping your focus. I will leave it up to the mathematicians to figure it out. That ain't me.