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Phillip Alder: You need to find nine, so find nine

Phillip Alder • Updated Sep 30, 2018 at 2:00 PM

When you are the declarer in three no-trump, you need to win nine tricks. That might seem to be self-evident, but it is overlooked by some players.

In this example from last month’s World Youth Bridge Team Championships in China, several declarers went down in three no-trump after taking the first trick with dummy’s spade queen. What should they have done?

In this auction, North’s double was fit-showing, indicating three-card heart support.

South started with eight top tricks: one spade (given the first trick), three hearts, three diamonds and one club. One declarer playing on Bridge Base Online immediately crossed to his hand with a heart and led a club to dummy’s queen. East won with the king and returned the spade 10, so the defenders took five fast tricks.

Hendrik Febriyanto from Indonesia did much better. He immediately cashed dummy’s three diamond winners. When the nine and jack obligingly dropped, the diamond eight was his ninth trick.

If the diamonds had been less obliging, I expect Febriyanto would have tried for a 3-3 heart split. Then, if necessary, he would have taken the club finesse. However, as Barry Rigal, the head vugraph commentator, pointed out, the club finesse was a mirage. If it were winning, declarer didn’t need to take it. After trying the diamonds, South should cash dummy’s club ace(!), then test hearts. If West has four hearts, South endplays him in the suit, hoping to score his ninth trick with the spade king or club queen. If West has only two hearts, declarer leads a club toward the queen.

Phillip Alder is a longtime New York Times bridge columnist and has taught competitive and recreational bridge to people and teams at all levels for more than 30 years.

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