This is a problem from the "Card Play 101" column from the Feb 2021 ACBL Bridge Bulletin (page 44)

South holds: (S) 6 3; (H) A K 9 8 5 2; (D) A K 4; (C) 7 6. (West deals, E-W vulnerable, matchpoints)

The bidding goes

West North East South
1 S Pass Pass 3H
Pass 4 H All Pass

West leads a low spade, and the dummy (North) comes down with:

(S) 7 5 4; (H) J 10; (D) Q J 10 9; (C) K Q 10 9

East wins trick 1 with the spade A, and returns the spade 2. West wins with the K. West leads the club A which wins. West leads a low club, won by dummy's K. The question is, how should the declarer (south) continue.

South cannot afford to lose a heart trick to the Q, so should south finesse against East, or play for the drop against west?

The column author argues that since west opened with 1S, and east has already shown the spade Ace, if East had the QH as well, east would have had six HCP and would not have passed. Further, that the defenders only have 17 HCP between them, and if East had the spade A and the H Q, West would not have opened at the one level with only 11 HCP. Therefore the proper play, says the column author, is to cash the AK of H in an effort to drop the Q, as the finesse is hopeless.

However I disagree with this reasoning. If I were west and held the QH singleton or doubleton, I would discount it and pass. If as West I held KQJxxx; xxx; x; AJx; I would open 1S, even without the HQ. Therefore, it is not exactly assured that W will hold the H Q in my view. Given this, should south finesse or play for the drop? why?


3 Answers 3


On further consideration, while E might hold the H Q, East cannot hold the H Qxx or better, because then East would have responded to 1S, probably with 1NT. Therefore the finesse is either hopeless or pointless, because if East has the QH singleton or doubleton it will drop. Playing for the drop is still the better play, although it will fail if west has the QH in a 3 or 4 card suit. So the author was right, although the reasoning was incomplete.

  • I'm a bit confused by this answer, because you say in the OP that the article author leads with this, and then adds in addition, that W probably is not opening those 11 count hands anyway.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 20:53
  • @Joe The article author makes two points, saying that both lead to the same conclusion: 1) if E held the HQ east would respond to 1S; 2) If W did not hold the HQ, west would not bid 1S. Therefore, the author says, W must hold the HQ, and playing for the drop is the only chance. I think that E might hold the HQ bare or Qx, but in those cases the HQ drops under the AK anyway, so playing for the drop is still right. Is that clear? Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 21:05
  • Okay, I understand the point you're making - the original post doesn't totally make clear that they're considered entirely independent (I read it to mean that E doesn't have Ax(x) Qxx, and even if E somehow did, W wouldn't hold the rest).
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 22:11
  • 1
    Agreed here. But, you should not discount Qx very much, and you should upgrade aces more than you would discount Qx. (computer simulations have shown that 4321 points significantly undervalue aces) All advanced and expert players will respond with a fitting A and a Qx. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_evaluation for some competing theories on hand evaluation. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 3:50
  • @DrewHoskins: I would also raise to 2 Spades with Axx support and any hand not 4333. Only the fact that the doubleton is in Spades would keep me from showing the valuable A with a response. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 20:22

The outstanding Spades are QJT9 in West's hand, West having already played the 8 and K to East's (original) doubleton A2.

Assuming OP hasn't misled on describing the Spade spots, the Heart Q is absolutely marked in the West hand - doubleton or singleton - by the failure of West to lead a (setting) third round of Spades at trick 4.

After winning Trick 2 with the Spade K, West was looking at the Heart Q and knows that there is no chance for a heart over-ruff of Dummy, and that Declarer is looking at 11 tricks if the potential heart loser is avoided. That is the reason for the passive cash of Club A followed by a low Club. West is trying to deceive by playing innocent.

Also, holding heart Qxx a strong West would claim down 1 after seeing the second Club won by Declarer. Lead to the Heart AK in hand and watch that doubleton Q fall.

There is one other possibility: West holds Q 4-times in hearts.

If you trust your opponents to be capable, ruff the third Spade from hand on the board and lead the remaining Heart back to hand. This will hold you to just Down 1 when West was originally 6403 or 6412.

If West really did lead the Spade 8 from an original holding of KQJT98 then I will really expect West to come down with:


East has disappointed West by not finding the Diamond switch at Trick 2; but West could have made the read easier with an opening lead of the Spade Q (playing standard leads) or J (playing Rusinow leads) instead of the Spade 8 at trick 1. East is looking at 6 small Diamonds in hand and 4 in Dummy; and surely can find the correct switch once returning Spades is obviously wrong.

  • 1
    I don't see why E should switch to, Diamonds at trick 2. N/S hold the top 5 diamonds. A switch allows a C loser to be dropped on the 4th round of D. -- Oh I see, this is if W has a D void. Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 23:58
  • @DavidSiegel: Exactly. Lead a Spade that DENIES Spade K, will force a switch from East. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 1:22

I agree with the assessment made in the article, if you assume this is aimed at beginners. Advanced players would consider E's lack of bid as more significant, and not W's choice of bid.

West has the following hand:

Suit Cards
S KQJTx(x)
H (Q?)x(x)
D xx(x)
C A(J?)x

Or something close to that (could have Q stiff hearts and 4 diamonds, etc.)

So the question is, without the Q, can West open 1S? For beginner-level players, playing solid 1S bids, they probably would not be taught to open that 1S - they'd open that 2S with six, and not open with 5. For even intermediate players, this definitely could be opened 1S - but given this is a beginner-focused column, it makes sense it wouldn't be.

Suit Cards
H x
D xxxx

That's a really aggressive hand to open, first seat, vulnerable. A bare eleven count, with pretty mediocre shape? Add the Qh to it, and you get something at least considerable.

Suit Cards
H Qx
D xxx

Yes, you discount that Qh slightly, but not a full 2 points worth; and I don't necessarily add much for the singleton there, when the spades are so solid (and that x is a 9 or an 8, or maybe both).

Either way, the idea is that the balance of probabilities is with West having the Q - sure, maybe some outlier cases W doesn't, but it seems unlikely. That combined with E's lack of ability to respond after 1S despite holding Ax(x)?

I'd add to this the fact that W almost certainly has six spades, given E's lack of response. If W only has five spades, then E's even less likely to have that Q.

But if W has six, S KQJT98, and only 10-11 points, a beginner is opening that 2S.

Suit Cards
H xx
D xxx

That's almost the textbook 2S for beginners. Yes, for more advanced players it's 1S, but at the beginner level it'll be taught to be opened 2S.

  • Suppose W has KQJTx; xx; x; AJxxx? Wouldn't that be opened 1S under the rule of 20? Granted it is an outlier hand. Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 20:44
  • @DavidSiegel I think we can be very confident W has 6 spades in any case where E has Qxx hearts - see that second part of my answer. How does E not answer 2S with Axx Qxx (any minor suit holding)?
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 20:46
  • KQJxxx; xx; xxx; AJx is an automatic one level opening for all but the most sound opening pairs these days. Yesterday I opened 1S in first seat on AKQxx; xxxx; x; xxx (but we were playing a light opening Precision). Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 22:02
  • Interestingly, the article would be wrong against my Precision partnership; we routinely open KQJxxx; xx; xx; Axx and routinely pass partner's 1S opening (limited to 15) with Ax; Qxx; xxxx; Jxxx. Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 22:12
  • @AlexanderWoo Of course against precision this wouldn't hold ;) I do think that I at least have a strong preference for 2S with that hand, whenever 1S and 2S both describe it, I think 2S is better - you're right that 1S is not invalid per se there, but 2S is just so descriptive, especially with Ogust et al, that you get to the right contract way more frequently with 2S openings than 1S with 11 count 6 card suits. And it eats up so much space when you're not declaring, as well!
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 22:15

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