This article is to give encouragement to all those average players, like me, who do their best, but find that the finer points of declarer play are often elusive. Occasionally, for whatever reasons, the adrenaline is flowing, you have a clear picture of the hand and play it really well. Your partner doesn't notice but fortunately you are playing against a most friendly and lively Australian who is so interested in the hand, and so impressed by your play, he decides to write it up for the Australian Bridge Magazine. Here is his article:
Bridge books and articles tend to give one or two utterly false impressions. The first is that the winning line is something like a miracle, only approachable by divine inspiration. The second is that the expert unerringly finds the correct line. Here I give a problem, from my own recent play, that confute both of these extreme views.
Try to solve it, certainly, but when you read the answer remember these two points:
Firstly, that finding the winning answer required only care and particularly, arithmetic. Secondly, that a so-called-expert failed to find the solution on the deal. Believe me, 'cause I was that "expert" ...Cover the West and South hands if you want to follow my problem.
This deal is from a Swiss Teams. Partner, Margaret Courtney, leads 2, dummy plays low and your seven draws the ten. Declarer continues with a heart to dummy's king and a heart to her jack. Partner discards 4. Now declarer advances J, partner plays 2 and declarer plays 9 from dummy.
Partner's failure to make a takeout bid, her choice of a fourth-highest 2 lead and the count signals in clubs, combine to say it all:
Partner has a 4-1-4-4 shape. So declarer is 4-4-2-3.
You win A and return 8, and it goes 6, Q, 9.
Partner now exits with a low diamond. This is a tad odd given dummy's holding. Partner probably holds QJxx, and is playing us for the nine. When you slot the eight over dummy's deuce, declarer wins the nine.
Declarer now plays 6 to dummy's ten and continues with a low heart. When you follow, declarer ducks.
What is happening in this picture?
Clearly you won't beat the contract. Overtricks at IMP scoring, however, are of great importance (in spite of popular myth to the contrary).
How do you play to take as many tricks as possible for your side?
It is important. We (the Courtneys with Vivian & Tony Priday) lost this match by 1 IMP to nil and that was 9-11 in Victory Points. This was certainly (as many Australians will attest) the lowest IMP turnover match I have ever played.
The whole hand is more or less known. Did you lazily return a spade? If you did, declarer won the ace and cashed her winners. Partner was vice-squeezed on the last of these:
On the play of K West must part with a diamond honour lest J score. A diamond play now produces a ninth trick from dummy's ten.
This is an example of the vice squeeze, introduced to the world by Terence Reese in The Expert Game, written around 1960.
Declarer played well and deliberately to effect this rare coup - it was the point of ducking the third heart. Even so, you could have kept her to eight tricks! How? By cashing A before exiting with any card but a diamond. That was easy, because you knew her shape, so you knew declarer had no entry to dummy. Even without knowing the ending you and I should have got this right.Addendum by JM: I accidentally played a vice squeeze once:
I won the 3 lead in dummy and led a club to the 8 and 9, mainly to encourage them to lead diamonds. A heart to the K was followed by 10 to the J and K, and West cashed two more hearts on which I threw a spade and a diamond. West now exited with the K. I won and cashed 4 spades on the last of which the position was:
East is forced to throw a diamond and the 7 comes into its own.
I couldn't honestly say I'd foreseen the end-position at trick 1...