Suicide King

by Matthew Kidd

This is board 7 from the December 11, 2014 Soledad Thursday night game. I sat West as opponents had the following uncontested sequence: 1 1♠; 2♣ 3♠; 4♣ 5♣. In the pass out seat, I doubled the final 5♣ contract, figuring I had the well guarded AQ behind the K, a likely spade winner, and a reasonable expectation that partner would turn up with something in diamonds, at least length. Still the hand rated to be distributional and I felt setting the hand was far from certain. The post-mortem would bear this out.

On the bidding, a trump leads seemed indicated so I plunked down the ♣3. On any other lead, except the ♠A followed by the ♣3, declarer readily comes to eleven tricks. For example, suppose a diamond is led, dummy plays high, East covers, and declared ruffs. Declarer can then crossruff hearts and diamonds while at the same time taking a ruffing finesse against the A. After the third heart ruff, dummy is down to spades. When the ♠K is led from dummy, West gets his two aces but can do no better. Even on a trump return, declarer just draws trump and throws West in with a heart to score the otherwise unreachable ♠Q. In this line, declarer gets to pitch one heart on a good diamond, scoring six clubs, three heart ruffs, a diamond, and a spade. West’s heart protection proves insufficient to escape the endplay.

If declarer guesses to put in dummy’s 8 at trick one, he can make six! But the play is different. Say East covers and declarer ruffs. Declarer must forgo a heart ruff at trick two and instead set up spades at the right moment. Declarer leads a small trump to the ♣T and continues with high diamonds, pitching hearts whenever East ducks. When East chooses to cover with the his other honor, declarer must ruff and use this entry to his hand to lead a spade in the position below.

If West rises with the ♠A, a diamond or spade exit allows declarer to ruff out spades while managing the trump situation regardless of what East does. Only low heart return tests declarer; to still make six, declarer must play West for the A, pitching a spade from dummy.

If instead West ducks, and dummy wins with an honor (inserting the ♠T is way too double dummy and isn’t beneficial), the T must be cashed next to strip West of the suit. On the ♠K, declarer pitches a heart and West is stuck as before, though he can once again test declarer by exiting with a low heart.

The actual trump lead give declarer new challenges. One double dummy line is win in hand, ruff a heart low, and lead a high diamond ruffing out one of East’s honors. At trick four it is essential to lead the spade. Suppose West wins and exit with a diamond, declarer ruffing out East’s second honor. Declarer ruffs another heart, cashes a diamond and a spade, conceding the A at the end.

Things are more interesting if East ducks diamonds twice while declarer pitches hearts. Declarer can run two more rounds of trump to come down the this position.

The ♣9 ruins West. Whichever suit is discarded, he get thrown in with the other suit. Playing the ♠2 instead of the ♣9 also works because dummy has a strong enough spade suit, not say ♠KQ8 with East holding the ♠T97 guard.

Now suppose that the opening lead is the ♠A followed by the trump. Declarer must win in dummy to start diamonds immediately. Suppose West covers and declarer ruffs. Now declarer must ruff low in dummy. East can try to complicate declarer’s life by ducking the second high diamond, as declarer pitches a heart, thereby activating the utility of partner’s 9. Declarer must now work on spades, starting with dummy’s ♠K, followed by a low spade. If East pitches a heart and declarer ruffs, we reach this interesting position.

Here declarer must lead the K, a seemingly suicidal maneuver but one that pins the now singleton J. A low heart would allow West to duck, retaining his heart tenace for the end.

If East pitches a diamond on dummy’s low spade at trick seven, declarer must toss a low heart rather than ruff. East gets endplayed through declarer is once again tested if West returns a low heart. Declarer can also pitch a small heart when East pitches a small heart with the same result. But then we do not reach the interesting suicide king position.

In the real world, declarer lost his way by not going after spades at the right time. Our side collected a +200 for down one, a close call.