Sometimes an opponent makes a play which causes you to misplace the cards and go down in a makeable contract and you sit there asking yourself "Did he do that on purpose? He doesn't look like he knows what day it is, let alone what a brilliantly deceptive card he just played — yes, it must just be another case of my rotten bad luck." A good way of telling is to look him in the eyes to congratulate him on his fine play — and try and catch how surprised he is. But you forgive him really. After all, if it wasn't for players like that you wouldn't keep getting those 52% scores, and you wouldn't have any bad-beat stories to tell in the pub after the weekly duplicate.
But what if the inference you draw is based on a read of your opponent and not on anything in the cards themselves? Could you then call yourself unlucky if it backfires?
Oxfordshire's Nick Smith relates this hand from the English inter-county teams of eight competition:
Warwickshire's Superglue Coup, by Nick Smith
For Oxfordshire at the National (Tollemache) Championships, it was a case of deja vu all over again. We are used to being drawn in the Group of Death but Group A contained not only our usual adversaries, Gloucestershire, Cambs and Hunts, Middlesex and Yorkshire but also Warwickshire, Notts and Berks and Bucks. Internationals at every table. Oh, and the Channel Islands.
Sure enough, like a familiar Richard Curtis script, this year's Tolle was the same old story. By ten o'clock on Saturday night, the halfway point in all eight matches, Oxfordshire was sitting vertiginously on top of the group. But there's always that one last set on Saturday night, the real killer after a hard day. I will spare you most of the grisly details of this late-night horror show against Warwickshire (yes, them again) but one hand sticks in the memory (or gullet) because it featured the little-known Superglue Coup:
My partner, Tim Prior (South) opened a Precision 1 and the Warwickshire West overcalled 1. I made a Sputnik double and East raised to 3. Tim's 4 was now sufficient to buy the contract. West started with two top spades. How would you plan the play?
Tim ruffed the second spade and tested the trumps, discovering the 4-1 break. He crossed back to hand with A, noting the fall of the Jack with some satisfaction, and led 5. West dithered for a moment or two and then placed Q and 3 on the table simultaneously. It looked as if the two cards had been unluckily glued together.
The TD was summoned and he explained that West would have to select which card he wanted to play while the other would become a minor penalty card. Clearly still in two minds after plenty of time for reflection, West opted to play the Queen. Tim won with the Ace in dummy, crossed back to K (with the Queen also dropping) and led 2.
Of course, West now followed with the three. Well, which card would you play from dummy? Tricky, eh? But this is where the true value of the Superglue Coup becomes apparent. Since Q and 3 came out stuck together, they must surely have been adjacent cards in West's hand. Therefore the one card he does not have is 10. The only chance of avoiding two losers must be to rise with the Jack, playing West for KQ3 trebleton.
Reasoning thus, Tim rose confidently with J but a quick glance at the full deal shows how fully he had been stitched up. West had bought himself some thinking time with his cunning double-play, then played the only card, the Queen, to give declarer a realistic chance of going wrong, then reaped the full benefit.
Even though the club honours had come down, there was no way to draw trumps and avoid losing the fourth round of clubs, so Tim finished an unlikely one off. We were on our way down...
Group of Death Final Result: 1st Warks 114 VPs (qual), 2nd Cambs and Hunts 112 VPs (qual), 3rd Yorks 91 VPs, 4th Middx 88 VPs, 5th Oxon 86 VPs.
Other Superglue Coup Positions
The Superglue Coup has many applications. In each of the following positions, West can gain a trick he isn't necessarily entitled to by playing two cards at the same time:
|A K 7 2|
|Q J 6||5 4|
|10 9 8 3|
South leads the 10 and when the Q6 fall simultaneously from West he will more likely play to drop J4 with East than take a second finesse.
|A K Q 9 8 2|
|J 10 6 3||4|
East has made a splinter in your trump suit during the auction, marking him with a singleton or a void. You lead up to the long suit planning to finesse the 9 but West drops the Jack and 6 together, choosing to play the 6 and keep the Jack on the table. Isn't it natural to assume he hasn't got the card in-between and change tactics to try and drop a singleton 10?
This coup can also work well on the opening lead — for example:
|A 10 3|
|Q J 8 6 2||7 4|
|K 9 5|
A no-win situation for West if he has to lead this suit. But what if he plays the Queen and 6 together and elects to have the Queen stand? If South takes the view that there are no intermediate cards in his hand, won't he rise with the Ace, playing East for J8742? Due to the difference between a major and a minor penalty card, it's important for West to choose to play the Queen here.
A Phantom Show-Up Squeeze at trick Seven
Examine the following hand:
South plays in 3NT on a spade lead and wins the second round. With only eight tricks on top, provided diamonds behave, and an almost certain defeat as soon as he loses the lead, he basically has to guess which finesse to take when on table with his one and only entry, the 10. First of all, though, he has a go at dropping the stiff Q. It doesn't work, but West, fumbling a little (was he acting?), drops the 8 and 9 at the same time, obviously following suit with the heart.
Declarer has a little think. If the 8 and 9 are lying adjacent to one another in West's hand, then either the 8 is his highest heart and the 9 his lowest club, or the 9 is his highest club and the 8 his lowest heart. He is probably holding one of the following (note the adjacent 9 and 8):
A: K J 9 8 7 6 J 10 8
B: J 10 8 Q 10 8 9 7 5
B: J 10 8 Q 10 8 9 7 5
Which is it? Play some diamonds and find out! On the third round he pitches the 9 but on the fourth round, West has to make a revealing discard. Having started with five spades, he can't pitch one without costing a defensive trick (you then just play the K J and set up your 10 — the defence can only take three spades and a heart), so he pitches the 6.
Of course, this means that the 8 was the highest heart in his hand (hand A above) and consequently you choose to finesse the J. Had he discarded a low club instead (hand B), you would come to the conclusion that the 9 was his highest club and therefore the club finesse must be right.
Sadly, not all plans come together, for this was the full deal:
You congratulate West on his intricate web of deception, but note that had you been left to your own devices, you would surely have guessed wrong anyway — you always do!