Poor Bridge of the Week
On the Dumb-Clever Balance
By Phil Smith

There is a semi-amusing advertisement running on the telly at the moment that suggests that the world is in a clever-dumb equilibrium and that for ever clever thing that someone does a compensating silly thing is done. While I'm not convinced that this is in a one to one ratio — I suspect that there are about five dumb things that happen for each clever thing — the theory is worth exploring in a bridge context. Take the following deal.

You are declarer and, due to a slight bidding misunderstanding, you are playing the following hand with spades as trumps. You receive the lead of the C4.

S9 6 4
HK J 7 4 3 2
D8 7
C7 3
SK Q J 5
HA 10
DA K 6 5 4

How might you play the hand?

Declarer in our story was the lovely Bryony Youngs who decided to play off the Ace and King of diamonds and ruffed a third one. Finding diamonds 3-3, she played a trump to the SK and West won his SA. West decides to exit with a trump, dummy's S9 holding. Declarer then plays a heart to the HA, plays a top trump revealing the 3-3 trump break, and cashes the last two diamonds to leave the following position:

HK J 7

So to review the situation: declarer has nine tricks in the bag, the defence having taken one. Declarer is in hand and holds the last trump. The HQ and CQ are still out. The game is match pointed pairs, so taking as many tricks as possible is important. The conundrum comes down to this: should declarer take the heart finesse to make twelve tricks, risking making only ten should it fail, or simply cash out for eleven tricks?

Declarer reviewed the situation and thought about the hand a bit more. The play to the first trick had been C4 - C3 - CK - CA. West seemed massively odds on to hold the CQ. If the heart finesse was working, and the HQ was with West also, then he would be squeezed on the play of the SJ. She therefore cashed the trump and played a heart to the HK revealing that HQxx started with East so there was nothing to be done. But this expert piece of play and some good deductions allowed declarer to make the right number of tricks with minimal risk. (aside: had East held both the CQ and HQ then the squeeze still works, only when the HQ is with West and the CQ is with East — unlikely given the play to trick one — will the finesse work when the squeeze fails.)

So how does it score?

To understand why Bryony, and her partner Michael Byrne, got a bottom for this hand we have to look at the auction:


You see, Bryony felt that SK Q J 5 HA 10 DA K 6 5 4 CA J was not worth a strong opening bid. 2NT might have been a better bid. 2C followed by 2NT might have been a better bidding strategy. But a 1D opening was selected. This should have worked out fine as North decided to make an aggressive 1H response. Given a second bite at the cherry South, sadly, decided that her hand was worth a non-forcing 1S bid. It is often said that a common mistake in bridge is bidding weak hands too weakly and strong hands too strongly. This is clearly not a maxim that can be applied here.

Bryony noted in the post-hand analysis that she plays 1S as forcing with most of her regular partners, and forgot that it wasn't forcing in this partnership. And so the Dumb-Clever balance was restored.