Howard Christ is the Executive Director of the Ocala Duplicate Bridge Club in Ocala Florida. When I am in Florida, he is further distinguished (my choice of words) by having me as a partner 6 days a month. I think Howard really keeps me around to demonstrate that he does, indeed, have limited tolerance for fools. It is nerve wracking to play with Howard since he is one of those players that always seems to know what is going on at the table and never fails to identify an opportunity if there is even a whiff of it lingering over the table. One of his great pearls of wisdom is his thought about opportunity at the table: “You won’t see it if you are not looking for it!”
Frank Stewart’s bridge column for Saturday, September 15 reminded me of the need to look for those opportunities, no matter how slim they may be, as long as it doesn’t cost you anything to explore. Here is the set up in Frank’s column:
The contract is 3NT. The opening lead is the 3 of spades, up steps dummy’s K. As all good match point players do, you look at the array of potential contracts that could have been reached by the field on this deal and see if the club suit breaks, you are going to take gas on this board, since either 6 clubs or 6 NT are high probability contracts. You now have to hope that the club suit doesn’t break 3-2 and that those slam bidders get heartburn. You note that your 3NT contract also has problems, as the only remaining entry on the board is in the club suit. If you play small to the club Queen and back to the high club honors, you will get exactly 3 club tricks on a 4-1 club break, This will leave you one trick short unless the heart finesse works.
Many players would simply resign themselves to the heart finesse, a 50-50 proposition, as the only back up to a failed club play. The best declarers who are always looking for a small edge will see that the heart finesse can always be tried, but that there is a slim chance for another line of play that can be explored first without losing the later chance for the heart finesse.
Noting the 4 diamonds to the 9 on the board, they will see that the QJT of diamonds are outstanding and that if RHO has any two of those honors doubleton, the 9 of diamonds will set up as a trick if an entry is preserved to get at it. Yes, finding the JT doubleton East is a long shot, about an 8% probability, but nothing is lost by trying the diamond play before you take the heart finesse. Play a small club to the Queen and lay down the A and K of diamonds, and lo and behold, the bank vault opens up, the J and T fall under the A and K. Now you can play the third diamond toward the 9 and the 9 becomes a good trick when West takes his Q of diamonds. Since you still have the club 6 to get to t he board ,you can reach that diamond trick. Now you no longer have to count on the heart finessse for your 9th trick.
This comes under the category of “if you are not looking for it, you won’t see it.” Perhaps “timing is everything” would also be appropriate. Note that you have to try the diamond play while you still have a club entry, so if you make the mistake of laying down 2 clubs to try the club suit first, you are dead. You can still promote the diamond trick, but you can’t get at it. When the clubs don’t break, you can still try your heart finesse, but you have then given up on the additive diamond play.
This is not an easy problem, and is in this post simply as a teaching tool. First, look for additive opportunities if they do not jeopardize your existing chances. If you are not looking for them, you will not see them. When you have multiple play options, and one of them involves a 7 card suit, even though the odds are against a 3-3 break, always try that solution first before taking your finesses. If the 7 card suit doesn’t work you can usually still take the finesse, but often if the finesse doesn’t work, it is too late to try the 7 card suit. Alternatively, you can do as I do, get Howard Christ to play these hands for you!