Dormer on Discovery

Discovery at Notrump

The reader may be familiar with the expression “counting out the hand,” which is usually applied to a situation where the declarer works out the precise suit length in his opponents’ hands. The wheeze is that sometimes there is no real advantage in gaining count on a hand, while at other times there is. In actuality, obtaining a count will prove useful in substantially less than half the hands a declarer plays.
The great majority of players can recognize, even if only in a vague way, the types of hands on which count would be helpful to their cause. But once having made this determination, they are often at a loss as to what steps to take to achieve the desired result. It is here that discovery enters the picture.
As we saw last month, the priciple of Discovery holds that when there is more than one way to approach the play of the hand, you should select the line that is likely to tell you the most about the defenders holdings. Count hands are certainly no exception to this rule. For example, suppose you are declarer in 3NT on these cards:

♠ K Q
10 4 2
9 6 2
♣ A K Q 5 3
♠ 7 6 4 3
A J 6 3
♣ 8 2

West leads the ♠5 and East wins with the ace. East returns the ♠10 and West follows with the eight, leaving you with two possible lines of play:

  1. You can lay down the ♣A K Q in which case you will make 3NT with an overtrick if the opponents’ clubs are divided 3-3. The objection to this line of play is that if the clubs are 4-2, which is more likely, you will most certainly be held to eight tricks.
  2. You can start with the safety play of a low club from each hand. You will then get to take four club tricks when you regain the lead, even if the opponents’ clubs are 4-2. Starting with a low club would be a fine idea if you could be sure that West had no more than four spades originally, since the most you could lose would be a club and three spades. But if the spades happen to be 5-2 (and the clubs 3-3), your partner will almost certainly fail to appreciate what a fine safety play you have made.

It seems, therefore, that you are on the horns of a dilemma. If only you knew whether the spades were 4-3. But you don’t. Naturally, you again review carefully the spades the opponents have already played, but you cannot tell whether West has led from J-9-8-5-2 or J-9-8-5. Then it dawns on you — you can resolve the problem by crossing to your hand with a diamond and leading a spade yourself!
This discovery play is certain to make you a whole lot wiser. If West proceeds to cash the remainder of a five-card spade suit, you will be forced to rely on a 3-3 club break; but if West started life with only four spades, you will be well placed. If he eventually exits with a diamond, you can duck a club; if he exits with a heart, you can establish your ninth trick in that suit instead.
Genius has been defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains, but this would not describe the vast majority of experts who played this next deal in the British Masters’ Pairs championship. A neat little discovery play on a count-out hand would have made the difference between a mundane result and a brilliant ‘top.’

♠ A Q J 8
A Q 5
A 8 2
♣ A 6 2
♠ K 9
K 7 4 3
K J 10 7 5
♣ K 9

The usual contract was 6NT and the opening lead was the ♠2. Declarer’s only real problem was which way to take the diamond finesse to give himself the best chance for an overtrick.
If the diamond suit is considered in isolation, there is no doubt that declarer should play East for the queen, for even if that player has Q-9-x-x(-x), declarer will make 13 tricks without any ifs, ands or buts. However, the same could not be said if West had the Q, since declarer could not score four diamond tricks without loss if West held Q-9-x-x(-x). Most declarers thought no further than this, and initiated matters by cashing the A and leading a second one from the table. East then showed out and declarer was obliged to settle for 12 tricks.
These declarers became sadder, if not wiser, men (or women) when they had heard how the hand had been played at three other tables where declarer embarked on a form of discovery play before deciding how to handle the diamonds. As always, the idea was simply to play out a few tricks in the hope that some useful information would accrue.
Since it already seemed clear from the opening lead of the deuce that the opponents’ spades were divided 4-3, the first step was to cash the AQ. Admittedly, it did not seem awfully likely that anyone would show up with a singleton, but nevertheless, in the actual case, someone did — namely, West.
This development marked West with at least eight cards in the minor suits (assuming he had three or four spades originally) and East with no more than five. Thus the percentages favored West holding the Q, and South therefore played him for it, even though he knew he would have some work to do if the queen was triply guarded (as it was).
Declarer was very handsomely rewarded for this line of play, for after successfully establishing his 12th trick by cashing the K and finessing the 10 through West’s queen, he subsequently made a 13th trick by means of a squeeze. This was the full deal:

♠ A Q J 8
A Q 5
A 8 6
♣ A 6 2
♠ 10 5 4 2 ♠ 7 6 3
9 J 10 8 6 2
Q 9 4 2 3
♣ Q 10 5 3 ♣ J 8 7 4
♠ K 9
K 7 4 3
K J 10 7 5
♣ K 9

After successfully taking the diamond finesse and cashing A and two spades, this was the position:

♠ A
♣ A 6 2
♠ — ♠ —
J 10
♣ Q 10 5 3 ♣ J 8 7
♠ —
K 7
♣ K 9

When the ♠A was next played, East had to part with a club. Declarer thereupon discarded the 7 and West was able to afford a club. Now, however, a heart to the king turned a screw on West, whose forced club discard set up dummy’s deuce as the 13th trick.

The squeeze was not straightforward, but neither was it a particularly complicated one once the distribution of the red suits was disclosed. The really difficult thing about the hand was finding the inspiration to cash the AQ in the first place.

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