I find these days that I am using prepared hands less and less in my lessons, especially in the more advanced classes. Of course, I use them when introducing new bidding conventions or to highlight particular declarer techniques and defensive plays, but prepared hands are of limited value: Students are tuned into the fact that they are going to have to solve a particular problem and can anticipate under which rock the spiders are to be found, so to speak. Prepared hands are, by their very nature, artificial and do not reflect the normal way of things at the bridge table, social or tournament. So, in general, we prefer to deal out the hands and leave it up to the bridge gods (or should we say “muses”?) to provide us challenging problems. We are seldom disappointed. It is rare to come across one of these so-called everyday hands which is devoid of at least some interest. Practically every hand we deal is worthy of discussion.
To illustrate my point, I have taken a superficially innocuous hand from a supervised playing session a few weeks back. First, a little quiz: You are sitting in the South seat with ♠ A 2, © J 10 9 3, ¨ J 10 5 2, § A K J. West deals and opens the bidding with 1§. Your partner makes a take-out double showing 11+ points and at least 3 cards in the unbid suits, though we would expect 4 cards in one or both majors. East passes. What do you bid?
This is not a trick question but there is some room for discussion. The normal approach would be to bid 1¨, your lowest 4-card suit - bidding “up the line”. If partner now bids 1©, you would raise to 4©. In the actual playing session, South bid 1©and she made a perfectly valid case for doing so: “If we are going to be in the Heart game, I want to be declarer and have the opening lead from West into my hand rather than from East through my strength, particularly my Club holding.”
Be that as it may, North responded 1♠, denying a heart fit, and South jumped confidently to game in 3NT. West led the §4, her fourth highest card in that suit, and dummy came down with a fairly minimal hand for his original take-out double.
♠ K 7 5 4
© Q 7 2
¨ A Q 9 4
§ 9 6
♠ A 2
©J 10 9 3
¨J 10 5 2
§ A K J
With the favorable lead, however, the play of the hand appears trivial. From her opening bid, it is reasonable enough to assume that the ¨K is with West and can be successfully finessed for 4 tricks in Diamonds. All that would remain is for declarer to knock out the ©A and ©K to promote two tricks in that suit for a total of 11 tricks: 4 Diamonds, 3 tricks Clubs and 2 in each of the majors.
So, after winning the opening lead with the §J, declarer immediately went after theDiamonds, playing the ¨J for the seemingly obvious finesse through West. Lo and behold! The finesse lost to East and back came a Club to drive out declarer’s second stopper. She cashed her 3 Diamond winners but when she tried to establish a Heart trick for her contract, West, with both the top honors in that suit, was able to drive out the last Club stopper and cash her two remaining Clubs: One down!
Here is the full hand:
♠ K 7 5 4
♠ Q J 10
♠ 9 8 6 3
♠ A 2
Now I know what you are all thinking: South should have been more prudent. If the Diamond finesse was on, there was no rush to take it. But if the ¨K was with East she had to avoid losing that trick to him until he was out of Clubs – a classic case of an “Avoidance” play. No, she should have gone about setting up hearts at trick two while she still has two stoppers in Clubs.
Does that end the interest of the hand? Well, not quite. Let’s assume that declarer does play a Heart at trick two. West, on winning the trick, should realize that there is now no point playing Clubs even if her partner has a Diamond winner – declarer will have 10 tricks. She must now switch the attack to Spades, playing the ♠Q and ♠J when she wins Heart leads. This way the defense with come to a spade trick when East wins the ¨K, holding declarer to 9 tricks.
Finally, in the above scenario, should declarer make a hold up play in Spades? The answer is no. West will simply continue playing Spades, unblocking the ♠10 from her hand and thereby establishing the ♠9 in East’s hand for a fifth trick for the opposition.
Bridge is a great game, is it not?