What do we want? We want to play bridge. But who anticipated Covid-19 was going to close every bridge club in the country — make that the universe — and also cancel (or postpone) every tournament, big or small, world championship or fun. It seemed to take a nanosecond to move everything online and not much longer for Dutch player/writer/journalist Jan van Cleeff, with help from Holland’s bridge elite, to set up the ALT Invitational series which ended its first season last week, with Team Gupta beating Team Lavazza (both fielding multi world champs) in a virtual world-class final. Would they have got this one right at the table? (See diagram).
N/S had done well to get to 3NT, given West’s point-poor opening. West led the ♠Jack to Declarer’s Queen. What would you play at trick two? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get it, there are prob only a handful of players alive who wouldn’t automatically take the diamond finesse through the opener. But here, success lies in planning a trick ahead. West may be favourite to hold the ◆K, but what if he doesn’t? A Spade will come back and there will be no chance to build a ninth trick in Hearts, as West must then have the Ace.
Strong chess players sometimes talk about ‘reversing the move order’, and that’s what Declarer must do here. The correct play, perhaps surprisingly, is to lead the ♥King from hand at trick two — a Merrimac Coup. West will probably take and continue Spades. South wins the third round and only now tries the Diamond finesse. It loses, but the defence has run out of communication; Declarer has time to go to dummy and play a Heart toward his Jack for the tenth trick.