Monday, May 28, 2018

Sometimes a bad split can be your friend

We all know, when we are declaring a contract, that bad splits are the enemy. It's nearly always harder to make our contract when suits don't split well. Nearly always!

Let's take the following contract as an example:

Clearly, this is going to be no problem if diamonds split 2-2. So, we draw two rounds of trumps and duck a diamond. Another heart comes back and you ruff. What do you pitch from dummy, by the way?

Now you play to the DA but unfortunately, RHO pitches a heart. Down one.

Not so fast! You aren't down yet. Cross back to your hand with the SK (RHO plays the Q) and, using vacant places and restricted choice you confidently run the nine. It wins and you are able to pitch your losing diamond on the fourth round of spades. You didn't pitch that little spade earlier, did you?

I wish I could tell you that I played like this. I could have. I should have! But I didn't. I just lamely conceded a diamond for down one and got on with the next board. As Eddie Kantar writes in his wonderful book Take All Your Chances, you should never just give up when there's even a glimmer of a hope. Notice that if spades had split a more normal 3-3 or 4-2, there would have been no hope at all. Well, it would make sense to run all your trumps and hope for a bad discard. But against good defenders there'd be no hope.

But the moral of the story is: sometimes a "bad" split is better than an even split. And, when there's a massive preempt at the table, this becomes even more likely.

The full layout:

If you're interested in the odds of the S9 winning the trick at T8 (as described above), then we know that East started with at least 8 hearts (based on the bidding and the opening lead), a diamond, two clubs and the spade Q. He has one vacant place for either the SJ or a ninth heart. West has shown 3H, 2C, 3D and so has five vacant places for the SJ. Taking restricted choice into account, the odds are 10 to 1 that running the nine will be successful.