By Barbara Seagram
Courtesy of BarbaraSeagram.com
On a recent trip to South Africa with a group, we played duplicate bridge at Ngala Lodge in Kruger Park between safari game drives. Playing out on the open air veranda, the wart hogs and water buffalo came to visit, brazenly grazing just a few feet away. It doesn’t get any better.
The following hand was one of the random deals:
Opening lead: ♥A
West led the HAx, East following with the ♥6. West continued with the ♥K and East discarded the ♣2. West now led a middle heart (the ♥7) to partner which East ruffed with the ♠3.
East, with his perfect sequence in D,x had a clear-cut return of the ♦Q (tops of sequences being the best leads in bridge).
Now we come to declarer, Eileen, a nurse who works in Nunavut, land of the Inuits and one of the most northerly climes of Canada. She was playing with Helga, a nurse from Calgary. Eileen has lost three tricks and dares lose no more. Being a conscientious declarer, she had paused at Trick 1 to take stock. No spade losers, three heart losers (after the ruff), no diamond losers and one potential club loser. Therein lies the rub. Time for stretching exercises… lean to the left, lean to the right and see who has the ♣Q. (Just kidding of course!) Rats, the opponents are chesting their cards… no sense of humor. Time to focus and see what’s what.
Eileen won the ♦A and drew three rounds of trumps, East discarding a diamond and a club on the second and third rounds. A better picture of opponents’ hands starts to emerge. West started with six hearts and three spades. If only we could now determine how many diamonds and how many clubs West has. Faced with a two-way finesse in clubs, declarer decided to postpone the decision until the last possible moment. Her mandate: glean as much information as possible about the lie of the cards first. Next she played the ♦9 to dummy’s ♦K and now ruffed a diamond in her hand. Lo and behold, West followed to three rounds of diamonds.
Hmm. Only thirteen cards in each hand and she already knows twelve of West’s cards. Three spades, six hearts, three diamonds, ergo: only one club at most can be in West’s hand. Declarer now played the ♣5 to dummy’s king (in case West had a singleton ♣Q) and when all followed suit, she led the ♣4 from dummy and confidently finessed, playing the ♣10 from her hand. What a player!
So, the moral of this story is: when you have to take a finesse, stop first and see if you can determine how many cards the opponents have. Counting is a very tough part of the game; we almost need a notepad and paper. To keep it all in our heads is a challenge for even very experienced players. Instead of trying to count both your opponents’ cards, count the hand with a known long suit and focus on that. If you were playing this hand and had found that West had two clubs, instead of a singleton, that would mean that East had started with five clubs. You would now play East for the missing ♣Q. East, having been dealt more cards in this suit, would have a much higher chance to have been dealt the ♣Q. This is not quite as definitive as the way the above hand played out, but it works most of the time. So next time you play, take along your abacus and count, count, count! Your partner will love you for it!