Ivaska on Bridge
Investigation before the Key Play
By Paul Ivaska
Las Vegas, Nevada
North East South West
Pass 1♠ Pass
2♥ Pass 2♠ Pass
4♠ Pass Pass Pass
Opening Lead: ♣J
In this IMP teams game hand South made a spectacular play at trick ﬁve, but the key play was an innocuous looking one at trick three.
East took the opening lead with the ♣K and switched to the ♦10. At this point, most players would take the trick in dummy to lead a spade toward the closed hand – intending to play one of the high honors if East followed small. Unless East made the very poor play of gratuitously splitting his ♠J-10, the contract would fail when the heart ﬁnesse lost (one heart, one club, and two trump tricks for the defense).
South was not most players. He won the ♦K in hand, and unsuccessfully ﬁnessed dummy’s ♥Q. He remembered East’s original pass and realized that the play at trick one marked his right hand opponent with both the ♣A and ♣K (because West wouldn’t normally underlead an ace against a suit contract, especially on this auction). Declarer now knew for a certainty that West had the trump ace, and that the normal play in spades was doomed to failure, so he used dummy’s two entries to double-ﬁnesse East for the ♠J10x! South played very well, but as usual, it was based on a sound fundamental principle. He simply put oﬀ a guess in the key suit until he had gathered as much information as safely possible about the hand.
It’s interesting to note that East probably could have defeated the contract by winning with the ♣A at trick one and returning a low trump. Not knowing about the location of the ♣K and ♥K, declarer would have had no reason to reject the normal play of the ♠K.
That defense was not at all easy to ﬁnd, but the false card at trick one would have been a good play. Partner obviously would have little part to play in the defense, and it might mislead South about the position of a key trump honor.