Dog That Didn't Bark and Matchpoint Strategy

Maritha Pottenger

Some of you have heard me say that the hardest part of bridge is “the dog that didn't bark”—referencing the Sherlock Holmes story. This is particularly important in terms of lead-directing doubles. You need to pay attention when partner makes a lead directing double—but also when partner does NOT make a lead-directing double. In the morning session of the San Diego Sectional, Hand #12, you held Q1053 973 J532 J9 and heard 1NT opened on your right (announced as “a good 14 to 17”). When a pro is playing, figure that “good 14” becomes “any 14.” You pass. LHO bids 2, announced as a transfer. Partner passes. RHO bids 2. You pass. LHO bids 3 showing a two-suited hand and game-forcing values. Your partner passes. RHO bids 4: sign-off with minimum values. Your lead! You are not going to lead a spade from your holding and a club seems wrong since Dummy has announced that clubs are his second suit (at least four and could be five or more). So, you can lead either red suit. Your only clue is that partner did NOT double hearts for a lead. So, if she has really good hearts, she must be short in the suit. You only have three, however. So, Sherlock would say: “Lead a diamond.” A diamond or a club will set the contract. A heart gives away the farm. Dummy: A7642 64 9 KQ1082. Partner has: 9 Q10852 AK86 A53. The “free finesse” in hearts erases Dummy's diamond loser and Declarer loses only two spades and one club.

Hand #4 from the morning session was interesting in terms of both bidding and play. You hold: 103 AK543 AJ864 6. LHO passes and your partner opens 1. RHO passes and you bid 1. Partner bids 2 and you bid 2. Partner bids 3 and you venture 3—still dreaming of 3NT. Partner bids 3. At this point, you are expecting a small doubleton heart opposite your suit. Hearts rate to be 4-2 rather than 3-3, so you expect two trump losers and know the opponents are likely to take two spade tricks off the top. So, you pass, hoping to eke out a plus score. Your LHO, who has been listening to the auction, leads a low spade. Dummy tables with 876 87 K7 AKJ1074. You are very happy NOT to be any higher in the bidding! RHO takes the A and returns the 2. LHO takes the Jack and plays the King which you ruff.

Since you expect 4-2 hearts, you have to do something about the diamonds. (You lack the entries to do anything about developing the clubs.) So, you play a diamond to the King, hoping to go for one diamond ruff in Dummy, trusting that the person ruffing will be the opponent with the 4-heart holding. LHO plays the Q. OOPS! Time for plan B. So, you quickly play two top hearts and a third round. It is your lucky day, because the hearts divide 3-3. LHO takes the Queen and plays another spade. You ruff with your last trump. You now cash the Ace and the J.

You have an excellent count on this hand. RHO is known to have started with four spades, three hearts, and five diamonds. So, she had only ONE club to begin with. This means that the odds are 5-1—pretty darn good—that LHO has the Q. However, you are in 3, NOT 4. In 4 the club finesse would be mandatory as the only real chance to make your game. In matchpoints, if you do not expect field to be in game—or that they might try game and go down—you just want a plus score. If you finesse and lose (if the bridge gods are snickering with two singleton Queens in the minor suits), you will go for the dreaded -200. You have 12 HCP and partner has 11 HCP and it is a misfit hand. You decide that lots of people will not be in game or making game, and you just want a plus score. So you call for the top two clubs—and yes, the Q was on your left with four more clubs.

Your matchpoint strategy earned you 12 out of 17 matchpoints (71% board). Taking the club finesse would have earned you another 3 matchpoints. However, if you had gotten the dreaded -200, you would score only 1½ matchpoints (9% board). So, your strategy was good.