The County Individual

by Dave Harrison

A disappointingly low entry of 77 players from only three clubs took part in heats to qualify for a 20-player final.

Board 19 caused problems all round the room:

Dealer S
S Q10954
H J10
D 97
C 7643
EW Vul
S A873
H Q7
D K62
W         E
H K952
C K852
S 62
H A8643
D J10853
C 9

The unopposed East-West auction began in four out of five cases 1c - 1h - 1NT. The West players settled for 3NT at this point, perhaps influenced by the pairs scoring and by having an unknown quantity for a partner. West having shown extra values with the 1NT rebid, a jump to 3c must be natural and forcing, as in the Individual event no gadgets such as a 2c `checkback' are permitted. This might have enabled the very good contract of 6c to be reached.

After (say) a diamond lead, the plan is to ruff two spades in dummy. A trump to hand at trick 2 suggests a 4-1 break, but the c9 is a good card to see. Play the King and Ace of spades, ruff a spade with the 8, and play a heart to establish a trick in that suit. Then you can win the return, ruff the last spade with King, draw the rest of the trumps and you have your twelve tricks.

All five declarers however played in notrumps (the fifth one having been propelled into 6NT by her partner.) I watched each declarer in turn take a successful spade finesse, and at some stage play a heart to the Queen, noting the fall of the Jack (or ten) from North. With eleven tricks assured whatever the lie of the cards, it can cost nothing to lead a heart back towards the King. When the other low heart honour conveniently pops up, the 9 in dummy becomes the twelfth trick. Sadly the declarers had all without exception cashed all their minor suit winners before trying the second heart, enabling South to take the last two tricks.

Congratulations to Sheila Barker on winning the event after a close tussle throughout with David Carmichael.

[In no trumps it does feel natural to play off the clubs hoping someone throws a spade from 4. Once hQ holds marking South with hA, cashing the diamonds can never gain against sensible defence. North is under no pressure holding spade length, and if North held sQxx, South will come down to s10x hAJ, and on the last diamond can afford to throw hJ. So playing a second heart looks right, as Dave says. However, if North finds the difficult play of following to the first two spades with s9 and sQ, declarer will almost certainly go wrong, playing to endplay South. If North is good enough to do this, (s)he's certainly good enough to drop the h10 from 10xx!

One good reason for playing off the clubs is that South has an unpleasant guess with say 10xxx AJxx Jxxx 9. If you've been fortunate to have had an unrevealing auction a spade discard is very likely. If your auction began 1c-1h-1NT-2c*-2s-3c, however, it is much easier for South to throw red suits. (ed)]