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Down Three is Good Bridge?

South Deals
None Vul
8 7 6 2
J 10 5 4 2
9 8 7 4
Q 8
A K Q 9 7 3
A 5 3 2
South West North East
1 1 3 1 4
5 2 6 7 Dbl
All Pass
1. Weak
2. Lead directing?

West led a low heart, ruffed in dummy. What is the best line for declarer?
Declarer's goal is to go down as little as possible. If clubs split 3-2, declarer loses a spade and two clubs. What if they split 4-1? Declarer has a chance to endplay whoever holds the stiff, if that stiff is not the six.
Declarer should immediately lose a spade to West. If West finds the club continuation, all is lost, but he is unlikely to find it ; if he holds something like K-Q-J-6 or Q-J-10-6, he'd have to find the lead of the 6 to still get three tricks in the suit, and if he holds the stiff, he will be hard-pressed to lead into your presumed club strength.
So, assume that West exits a heart. Ruff in dummy, ruff a spade high, lead a diamond to the ten, ruff another spade high, a diamond to the jack and ruff another spade high. Now lead a low club from hand at this position:
9 8 7 4
A 5 3 2
If one of the defenders holds a stiff club other than the 6, he will be endplayed, forced to concede a ruff-and-sluff. And if his partner overtakes the club, declarer can duck a club continuation and, if clubs were 4-1, the defender on lead again has to yield either a ruff-and-discard or lead a club from, say, K-6, while declarer still has A-5 opposite 9-8.
This line, protecting against most 4-1 breaks, allows declarer to be down only 3, for -500. This is still not likely to be a great results, as many pairs will not likely find the heart slam (diamonds are 0-2, with West holding the A, so the slam makes.) Still -500 would have been worth about 6 IMPs more than -800, against the +480 at the other table.
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Thomas Andrews (bridge@thomasoandrews.com), © 1995-2009.
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