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Don’t play in fear

My club is fortunate enough to have as a regular player English women’s international Nevena Senior. Does she soften up when playing at club level? Not a bit of it.

See if you can replicate her play declaring 3 NT on our featured deal from a Tuesday afternoon duplicate. West led the jack of hearts, top of the internal sequence, and declarer ducked. At trick two, West led a second (low) heart to East’s queen. And declarer?

North Deals
E-W Vul
5 4
J 8 7 5
A K Q J 9 8
10 9 4 3
K J 10 3 2
A 3
10 6
W   E
J 8 6 5
Q 9 7
K Q 10 6
7 3
K Q 7 2
A 8 6
9 4 2
5 4 2
West North East Nevena
  1  Pass 1 
Pass 3  Pass 3 N1
Pass Pass Pass  
  1. Nevena’s favourite contract.

The danger of declarer ducking the second heart is that East will switch suits and declarer will never be able to reach her hand to score her ace of hearts, losing four diamond tricks and going down two — despite initially having eight top tricks.

Top players never play in fear; they rarely assume the defence is going to do the right thing. I asked Geir Helgemo of Norway (perhaps the world’s best declarer), “Do you play them to be brilliant or to have made a mistake?” He looked at me with the air of “why are you even asking, you know the answer”. Yes, we all pay off to brilliancies, even at the top level.

Nevena let East’s queen of hearts win the second trick. And, knowing Nevena, this will have taken but a fraction of a second. Unaware he was at the key point, East woodenly continued with a third heart. Curtains.

Can you see what Nevena did? She won the ace of hearts and discarded... dummy’s ace of spades (key play). With the suit unblocked, declarer could now enjoy her otherwise stranded king queen of spades, discarding two diamonds from dummy, and enjoy dummy’s six club winners. Nine tricks and game made.

Could East have divined the position? It’s easier after the fact but perhaps. West could hardly hold  AKJ10x — he’d lead the ace; he could not hold  AJ10xx — or declarer would have had to winthe king. So declarer had to hold the ace of hearts. There is the real danger that she can jettison dummy’s ace of spades on that ace of hearts to enjoy her otherwise impossible-to-reach spades (andshe did bid spades).

Dummy’s clubs are a further clue to declarer’s problem: if declarer doesn’t hold the ten, then there is no club entry. Nonetheless, figuring out the impending ace of spades jettison was far easier after the fact, especially as I’m guessing the play took less than ten seconds from start to finish.

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