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Bridge 2/21

If you must lose, do so early

Sir Stuart Thomas said, "I am a man, not a duck, llama, or fish. Once a man, always a man."
    Part of that is relevant to a well-known card-play technique that arises in this deal. South reaches three no-trump and must plan the play after West leads the spade queen. What should he do?
    North's transfer sequence shows the values for game but not slam — some 10 to 15 high-card points — with exactly five hearts.
    First, South should count his top tricks (instant winners). He has eight: two spades, two hearts, three diamonds and one club. So, he must establish one more trick.
    If clubs are 3-3, that suit will do the necessary. But a 3-3 split happens only one time in three (35.53 percent). Instead, declarer should play on hearts, where he can set up a third trick if the missing cards divide either 3-3 or 4-2 (84 percent). If they are 4-2, though, the shortage of dummy entries must be noted.
    The correct line is to take the first trick (do not risk West's finding a club shift) and to duck a heart, playing a low heart from both the South and North hands.
    If the defenders persevere with spades, take that trick, then play a heart to the king on the board, and cash the heart ace. If the suit is 3-3, declarer can claim an overtrick. But when East shows up with four, another round of hearts establishes dummy's five as a trick, with the diamond king as the key entry card.
    When you must lose a trick in a suit to set it up, it is usually right to lose it as early as possible.

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