From “Take All Your Chances” by Eddie Kantar

How should you attack these hands? If you are declaring a notrump contract, count your sure tricks. If you don’t have enough to make the contract (you won’t!) look for some way to develop that missing trick or tricks. If you see at least two lines of play to secure those extra tricks, stay alive! Give yourself a chance to take both lines. At trump contracts counting losers and sure tricks is the way to go. If the total doesn’t come to 13, count your cards.

There are many hands where more than one line of play exists to make your contract. If you select the best percentage line, your chance of making the hand increases, but if you don’t … But why take the worst of it? The idea is to take the line of play, which if it doesn’t work, still allows you to take the other line, and there ever may even be a third line! This is called “staying alive”; in other words, avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket!

Unfortunately, but realistically, there will be hands where you have to decide immediately between several lines of play. The opponents have forced your hand and there is no time to try one line and then switch to another if the first doesn’t work. Now it helps to know a bit about percentages or the odds.

The bidding will be given and explained. Use the bidding as a guide in the play.

Assume IMP scoring. Play to make and do not worry about overtricks or undertricks.

West North East South
1♠ 1NT
Pass 3NT All Pass

East opens 1♠, you overcall 1NT and partner bids 3NT. West leads the ♠9, overtaken by the ♠10 that you allow to hold. East continues with the ♠K. Plan the play.

Most players would automatically hold up until the third round of spades, but the general rule is this: Take the ace when it exhausts the player with the shorter holding in the suit. In other words, because it is a mortal lock that East started with at least five spades, West cannot have more than two spades so it is safe to win the second spade.

You start with six sure tricks and can make four extra tricks if the diamond finesse works, three extra if the club finesse works. Therefore, if either finesse works you will make your contract.

However, you know that the club finesse will work and the diamond finesse won’t. How do you know?

Count points! It is a very good idea to add your high-card points to dummy’s before playing to the first trick. You don’t do this to see if partner has bid correctly, but rather to determine how many high-card points the opponents have. Here you have 28 between your hand and dummy, leaving the bad guys with 12. Because East has opened the bidding, East figures to have all 12. Translation: East has both minor-suit kings. Also, if you wish to see a really forlorn face, glance over at West, a player who does not have a single high-card point!

Cross to the A and run the ♣Q. Unless East has psyched an opening bid, the club finesse will work and you will make nine tricks. In addition, if the K happens to fall singleton, you will take the rest of the tricks – yet another reason for winning the second spade; actually a good case could be made for winning the first spade given the bidding. It is certainly the right play at matchpoints as you have a chance to take all 13 tricks with virtually no risk.

Tip: Use the bidding to guide you in the play. Make a habit of adding your high-card points to dummy’s not only to determine how many high-card points they have, but also the likely location of those points.