Problem No. 22, 2004


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The problem

The Bermuda Bowl final in Monte Carlo last year may have been the most exciting ever, and just like "Sweden's Mr Bridge", Eric Jannersten used to say, they could have "saved a lot of time" by only playing the last board – since it was on that one the match was decided.

In the fifth session, one of many exciting deals was this one (no. 73, North dealer, East-West vulnerable):

S A 4
H A 9 6
D 2
C A K 10 9 8 7 5
S Q J 7 6 5 2 Table S K 8
H 7 5 3 H K Q 10 8 2
D Q 10 4 3 D A 9 8 6
C C 4 3
S 10 9 3
H J 4
D K J 7 5
C Q J 6 2

Open room

South West North East
Meckstroth Versace Rodwell Lauria
1 C 1 H
d'ble 1 S 2 C d'ble
3 C 4 S 5 C pass
pass pass

Eric Rodwel'ls 1 club was strong, 16+ HCP; Jeff Meckstroth's double showed a balanced hand with 6+ HCP; Lorenzo Lauria's double was for take-out; and the rest was natural. Since North-South make 3 notrump easily, and 4 spades is at most one down, the Italians' aggressive bidding had done them something good – if they could defeat 5 clubs.

Closed room

South West North East
Duboin Nickell Bocchi Freeman
1 C 1 H
1 S d'ble 2 H pass
3 C 3 H 3 S pass
4 C pass 4 D pass
5 C pass pass pass

Giorgio Duboin's 1 spade was for take-out with less than four spades, och 2 hearts was game-force with long clubs. Maybe Norberto Bocchi should have bid 3 notrump over 3 hearts, but when he didn't the final contract was 5 clubs here too.


Lauria, for Italy, led the spade king, and when Rodwell later led a diamond towards dummy, he grabbed the ace and played his last spade. In doing so, he had three rights out of three possible, which was the only way to defeat the contract; the defenders should have a heart trick eventually.

In the closed room Dick Freeman led the heart king. Bocchi won the ace, drew trumps and led a diamond towards dummy. Freeman did what he could by playing low, but Bocchi guessed the suit correctly by going up king. Making five; 10 IMPs to Italy.

In the tournament book, Eric Kokish wrote that Freeman's heart lead "could have been the random winning choice had Bocchi's majors been reversed", and in his report for the magazine The Bridge World Adam Wildawsky wrote that the deal was a good illustration to the fact that "luck plays a big part in our game": had North been 3-2 instead of 2-3 in the majors, USA would have won IMPs on the board.

My first thought was to agree with the writers, but eventually I realized that it wasn't plain luck, and that the spade king in fact was a better opening lead then the heart king. What was it that I had realized?


Solution

Let's do as the writers says and change the distribution, giving North 3-2 in the majors instead of 2-3. If we achieve the result by swapping two major suit spot cards between North and South, the result is this:

S A 4 3
H A 9
D 2
C A K 10 9 8 7 5
S Q J 7 6 5 2 Table S K 8
H 7 5 3 H K Q 10 8 2
D Q 10 4 3 D A 9 8 6
C C 4 3
S 10 9
H J 6 4
D K J 7 5
C Q J 6 2

The heart six to South, the spade three to North. And now there is no defense which beats 5 clubs, since the heart jack is in dummy. If East leads the heart king, North wins the trick, draws trumps and leads a heart or a diamond. If East doesn't take both his red winners, he only makes one of them; and if he cashes both, North can discard both spade spots on the heart jack and the diamond king.

So if 5 clubs should go down on the opening lead of the heart king, North also has to have the heart jack. Otherwise, the contract can't be beaten. North will have the jack 40% of the time if we assume that the heart ace is either with North or South (if North has the heart ace, the chance is down to 25%). But after a spade opening lead no extra requirements have to be fulfilled. If North has the actual major suit division, the contract goes one down on a spade lead. Period.

When the defense has a choice of opening leads between two suits of the same length, and they have king-queen-jack in oen of them, king-queen-ten in the other, it is obviously better to lead the strong suit. That is easy to grasp. And that is exactly how it was at the table. Had Lauria had king third of spades, he would have raised Versace in spades, so when he made a take-out double, Varsace couldn't hope for more than honor doubleton. And when Versace, in spite of that, jumped all the way to 4 spades, it's a very good chance that leading the spade king will be the winner.

Another reason is that West very well may have seven spades and two hearts. Then, you may need to establish a trick in the long suit quickly (before the rats get at it) and then sit and wait for the setting trick in the shorter suit. All in all, it is obvious that Lauria's opening lead was the correct one. No doubt about that!

I will finish by quoting one of the winners, Björn Ohlsson of Sweden, who presented a short and excellent reasoning.

"If North has three spades and two hearts, rather than two spades and three hearts, South may have the heart jack. Then, a heart lead doesn't defeat the contract. One diamond or two spades will disappear on dummy's winner(s).
  Therefore: If North has two spades and three hearts, a spade lead defeats the contract, while if North has three spades and two hearts a heart lead my not be enough for a set.
  But can't you make the same reasoning for the spade jack as I just did for the heart jack? Why did West choose to bid spades when he had support for hearts? Because his spades were chunky, i.e. included the jack, and his hearts were weak – not the opposite."


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