Jeff Lehman

Almost a Grosvenor Gambit

Bruce Downing of New London, NH, sent along a neat hand he declared at a recent sectional tournament.  Was the hand more interesting as I first understood it, or more interesting as Bruce later clarified the hand?

After a 15-17 1NT opened to his left is followed by two passes, Bruce, as South, decided to balance with 2.  His partner, Mark Conner of Grantham, NH, having been dealt a 20 count, raised to 4.  The opening lead is the A (from AK and length).











East signals encouragement to the diamond lead.  West continues with the K, and then a third diamond to dummy’s jack and East’s queen.  You ruff.

Your side has 22 HCP, East has just played the Q, and West promised 15-17.  At most, one would think, East has the J.

You lead a spade toward dummy and West wins the A and exits with a spade, East following suit.  To reach your hand to draw the T, you cash two top two clubs from dummy, followed by a club ruff to hand.  East follows with the 9, you ruff, and West follows with the Q.  Well, the Q and T are equals once you played the J on the second round, and so West’s playing the Q really does not disclose the location of the T … plus playing the card (the auction shows) he is known to hold is the right play.  The fourth club in dummy is a threat to a defender, but you do not know which defender.

You draw the last spade with your jack, coming down to this position:







As I first understood the hand, West followed suit to the last spade and East pitched a heart.

What do you play now?  Well, if West is down the Qxx, and T, and East is down to Jx and two diamonds, then the winning play is to play your last spade, squeezing West in the rounded suits.  But if West is down to QJx (the rest of the cards are irrelevant), then the winning play is to hook the 9, ruffing a club back to your hand in case West splits his honors.

Which play is best?

The title of the post discloses the answer.  If East discarded to Jx on the play of the J, then he just gave you a chance to make a contract for which you previously had no play.  Only if he were fooling with your head, and creating a Grosvenor Gambit, could the squeeze be the right play.

Alas, follow up communication from Bruce clarified that it was West who discarded a heart on the J, while East followed suit with the final opposing spade.  So, now which play do you prefer: to squeeze West in the rounded suits, playing East for an original holding of only two hearts and three clubs?  or to double finesse West in the heart suit, playing West for QJx(x) and not caring about the location of the T?

Since the only incremental gain from the squeeze compared to the double finesse is when East’s original heart holding was precisely Jx, the double finesse must be the percentage play.  That is the play, Bruce reported, that he took at the table.  And it proved to be the play to land his contract … for a big Swiss team IMP gain against 1NT making at the other table.


RobinMay 18th, 2011 at 4:41 am

This hand brings up some interesting points. First is that at quick glance, it seems like ♣T versus ♣Q is a restricted choice situation (they being equals). But of course when you’re known to hold the Q and you play it, restricted choice doesn’t apply – the opponent can make no valid inference about who has the T now.

After the ♠J has been played and LHO has pitched ♥x (ergo LHO has no diamonds left), the situation is one of the ten following layouts:

♥QJxx ♥x♦xx♣T (3) Double-finesse works

♥Qxxx ♥J♦xx♣T (1) Nothing works

♥QJx♣T ♥xx♦xx (3) Everything works

♥Qxx♣T ♥Jx♦xx (3) Squeeze works

It appears to be a 50-50 proposition as to which line will work in the six cases where our play matters. However, there is one bit of evidence we haven’t considered. Does their card show “5 card major common” (though admittedly this isn’t much to go on). But if we should be double-finessing, LHO opened 1NT with 16 hcp and a five-card heart suit to the QJ. Furthermore, LHO did not lead a heart but chose to lead AK from ♦AKx. I think there might be a slight inference that LHO has the ♣T, especially if common 5-card major is not marked, in which case the squeeze is the winning play, assuming of course that LHO is a good enough player to drop the ♣Q when holding ♣QT. But it’s all very close!

Jeff LehmanMay 18th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

In cases where LHO’s last three cards include HQJx, why must his fourth card be either a club or a heart? How can you eliminate the chance that his fourth card is a diamond? I think the only inference I would draw from his heart pitch on SJ is that he has at least three hearts remaining; that is, he has retained length parity with dummy’s three-card heart holding.

I think that HQJx Dx/Hxx Dx CT is a possible four card end position. And if that is the case, then the scales tip in favor of the double finesse.

One added point in favor of the double finesse: although both the blog entry and Robin’s comment correctly state that LHO should play the CQ from a then holding of CQT, there is always a chance that LHO failed to recognize the need to play the “known” card of CQ from that holding. Accordingly, there is some increment in favor of his CQ being the only card he could play … how significant is that increment depends upon the quality of LHO.

RobinMay 21st, 2011 at 1:51 am

Well, it is true that LHO could have one of the two remaining diamonds, but since that suit is not a factor in the ending it seems proper to pitch any diamond on the last spade. But in the heat of the battle LHO might hold on to a diamond, just like he might in fact play the T from QT equals, if he had it.

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