A sure thing?
This deal was played by the Italian champion, Giorgio Belladonna.
With neither side vulnerable, IMP scoring, he was the dealer, holding:
♠A Q 10 8 6 5 4 3 ♥J 6 4 ♦A ♣3
Although a bit on the heavy side, he chose to open 4♠. Everyone passed and the opening lead was the ♦6.
After winning your ace, how would you play?
Even with all of dummy’s assets, there is no obvious path to 10 sure tricks. If the ♠K is wrong, and hearts don’t behave, there is a possibility of losing a spade trick and three heart tricks.
For example, say you play a heart at trick two with the hope of ruffing your third heart in dummy. If left-hand opponent has the ace, all is well, but what if RHO wins dummy’s ♥K with the ace and returns a trump? If you finesse and it loses, the defense can play another trump and prevent your heart ruff in dummy. You still might
have a club finesse in reserve. Also, after the ♥K has lost to the ♥A, you could later cross in clubs and lead dummy’s remaining heart up to your jack in case RHO has the ♥Q.
But playing a heart to the king at trick two does not guarantee the contract. How about doing something with the club suit? What about a club to the queen at trick two? If it wins, you can throw a heart on the ♣A and take the spade finesse for an overtrick. But if the club finesse loses and a trump comes back, you might have troubles. If the spade finesse loses, the defense next plays a heart and you could easily lose two heart tricks.
How about a ruffing club finesse? If you play the ♣A and then run the ♣Q, it could lose to the king and a heart back along with a losing spade finesse could spell doom.
Can you find anything better? Maybe a way to guarantee the contract? After you’ve made your plan, look at the full deal:
How did you do? If you played a heart at trick two, East won the ace and returned a trump. If you finesse, West wins and returns a trump. If you win the ♠A to do anything else, West will eventually win the second heart and play his ♠K to remove dummy’s other trump. You lose the dreaded three heart tricks and one spade trick. If you try the club finesse at trick two,
East wins the ♣K. When West gets in with his ♠K and plays a heart, you need to have your guessing shoes on. If you play the ♣A at trick two and then the ♣Q for a ruffing finesse, you are in good shape if you make the right follow-up. However, all of these lines involve a guess and none of them are a sure thing.
How did Belladonna do? He didn’t rely on guesswork or on a friendly layout. He found a sure-trick line of play. At trick two he crossed to dummy’s ♣A and then led a low heart away from dummy’s ♥K–3! Why is that a sure thing?
Let’s look at what might happen. If East plays any high heart on dummy’s ♥3 (not likely), then there are only two hearts to lose, so declarer loses
at most two hearts and a spade. If East plays a low heart (likely), declarer puts up the ♥J. If it loses to the ♥A, the deal is over. The worst that can happen is that LHO wins the ♥Q. If he doesn’t shift to a trump at this point, declarer wins any return, surrenders a second heart and easily ruffs the third heart in dummy (losing at most two hearts and the ♠K).
So, when West wins his ♥Q, he is forced to return a trump. If spades are 2–1, a trump return produces all eight trump tricks for declarer (no spade to lose). Even if the trump return is from ♠K–x–x, declarer is fine. He wins and plays the second heart. If East wins, he has no trumps left. If West wins, he can’t effectively play
a second round of trumps without squandering his trump trick.
So, playing a low heart from dummy was the sure path to 10 tricks. Did you find this brilliant (but logical) play?