Paul Bethe

Playing safe in Vancouver ’99



West East
xxxxx xx
T8xx K9xx
xxx xx
K T9654

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver reminded me of this hand, played at the ’99 Spring NABC in Vancouver.  In a team game, both declarers reached 6N uncontested and received spade leads.

Both declarers won in dummy, took a club finesse and went down when East later carefully covered a heart finesse to avoid a squeeze.

Drop the club King when it is stiff?  Yes.  Declarer should realize that with 7 pointed-suit tricks, 5 are needed from hearts and clubs.  The heart suit always provides 2, and the clubs may provide 3.  But how to play the club suit depends on whether a loser can be afforded.  So, declarer should win and take a heart finesse.  If that loses, then declarer must take 3 club tricks without a loser, so a double finesse is the best option.

However, if the heart finesse succeeds, declarer can add one more chance for three tricks to the mix, by cashing the club Ace and then leading towards the club QJ.   This safety play makes on all the same hands as finessing the QJ of clubs, plus the stiff King of clubs.  The bridge gods would have rewarded technique on this one.  In fact, at trick 2, East might not cover the King of hearts.  After the club Ace bears fruit, declarer can unblock the Ace of hearts, and run winners to squeeze East for 13 tricks.


Bobby WolffFebruary 17th, 2010 at 11:16 am

Hi Paul,

You waited 11 years to present this hand, but it was well worth the wait. It certainly was a triumph for technique which shines forth in No Trump. Although it is not my long suit, pun intended, let us examine the math.

When a suit breaks 5-1 a specific card will only be singleton and in a certain hand about 8+%. The 5-1 break itself (with of course, 6 cards out) occurs only about 14+% reducing the probability of the layout of the defender’s club suit on this specific hand to just over 1%.

Let us then fuel this discussion with the practicalities. Our side (NS) have 34 high card points

between us, so it is quite normal to arrive at a mundane 6NT (if slams can ever be thought to be that). Therefore the important question (drumroll) is it worth giving up an extra trick when the club suit is not exactly what it is on this hand? Vulnerable (not mentioned in the caption) the adverse swing on this hand is 17 IMP’s and Not vulnerable 14 IMPs against the gain of only an extra trick (30) points (1 IMP) for the overtrick.

If we lived as long as Methuselah (969 years) and played bridge almost every waking minute we might get this hand to come up 100 times. On 99 (approximately) of those times we picked up 1 IMP, but lost the slam swing the other time we would show a nice net gain for our lack of knowledge in eschewing the first round club finesse for the no less than brilliant safety play, even if we figured in the breakeven which would occur if the club finesse lost.

Does that make the safety play incorrect? Heavens no, since by so making it we will have enhanced our reputation several times over by not only doing it, but by possibly doing it on the global internet, something which didn’t exist (I don’t think) in Methuselah’s lifetime.

Anyway, at least at 3AM, the current time now in Las Vegas, isn’t my discussion better than having a nightmare? Please do not answer “no”, since I will then be forced to return to my fetal position in bed.

Conclusion, Paul thanks for presenting this real hand from Vancouver. If nothing else it can be used as fodder for the previously mentioned nightmares.

Paul BetheFebruary 17th, 2010 at 10:25 pm


Thanks for your insightful remarks.

Usually I am the one to comment on your blog/column, so I appreciate the turnaround very much.

(Even though yours is probably read by a few more people than mine is)


Jon GreenFebruary 21st, 2010 at 7:44 pm

While it’s true the safety play would only work one time in a hundred, we’re not making 13 tricks the other 99 via the club finesse. In the absence of a defensive error we need 3-3 clubs to make the overtrick. Both kings on and 3-3 clubs is only 9%. If East has 4, 5, or 6 clubs to the king we only make 13 tricks when he fails to cover the heart queen. Since those combined holdings would occur about 10% of the time, East would have to go wrong almost all the time to make the safety play wrong.

No auction was provided, but if South opened a 20-21 point 2NT West would be known to be broke so East should get it right at least sometimes.

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