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Take Care What You Ask For...

South Deals
E-W Vul
A Q 8
5 3 2
A K Q 10 6 5
10 6
J 4 3
10 6 4
J 9 7 4 3
Q J 7 5 4
7 6 5
Q J 8 7
A K 9 8 3
K 10 9 2
A K 9
South West North East
1 Pass 3 Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass
6 NT All Pass

West led a low diamond, East contributed the jack, and declare won the king. As he led a low club, declarer said, "I sure hope the clubs don't split, because if they do we've missed a cold grand slam." He played the A and K, East showing out, and declarer was in a bind. No matter how he twisted, he had to give up at least two tricks.
This is a common mistake. Declarer was thinking about the contract he might have been in, rather than the contract he was in. Declarer only needs five club tricks, and a simple safety play can greatly increase his chances - all he needs to do is play the a club to the ten at the second trick. This safety play still assures you of five tricks in the club suit on any even or near-even split. The 5-1 and 6-0 splits are the problems.
Eddie Grove has suggested to me that running the 8 is an even better play. The only time it loses over my play is when East has the stiff 9. It has chances to win when West started with six clubs, or when East has any stiff jack.
But does it win when West has six clubs? It wasn't clear to me that you could successfully make if clubs split so badly, but you can.
We will play West for holding and fewer than four spades and fewer than four hearts. Trick three, we duck a spade. The defense must exit in spades, diamonds, or clubs.
We win in hand (if a club exit, win in dummy and cross with the K) cash the rest of our diamond and spade winners (pitching two clubs from dummy), then play the A and Q and run your top clubs. The position on the last club trick is:
J 9
K 10
East is caught in a classic showup squeeze, forced to pitch a spade or else he will be down to a singleton heart.
By keeping the 5 in dummy, this line also works when West has four spades. Any time West has a void or singleton heart, you can take the marked finesse against East's J. If West has two or more hearts, along with six clubs and four spades, West will have at most one diamond. Once you've cashed the second diamond, this will become known to you, and you carefully watch to see if East is forced to part with the diamond guard, rather than the spade guard. A similar showup squeeze as above occurs.
But this line seems to work however I play the clubs at the second trick, so I am still not convinced, one way or the other, that playing the ten is wrong at trick two.
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Thomas Andrews (bridge@thomasoandrews.com), © 1995-2009.
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