THE NEA BRIDGE by Phillip Alder
TRY NOT TO BET ON A 3-3 SPLIT
Wayne Gretzky, the ice hockey superstar who surprisingly won the Stanley Cup only four times (the record for a player is 11, held by Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens), said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
Experts carry a fair number of percentages around in their heads. Less capable players know a few. This means that when two lines of play present themselves, the expert can usually calculate which is mathematically better. But someone else might have to rely on instinct.
In this example, how should South play in three no-trump after West leads the club queen?
North might have used Stayman to try to find a 4-4 major-suit fit. However, with his points in his short suits, it was reasonable to raise to three no-trump. Using Stayman is fine when you have a 4-4 major-suit fit and game in that suit makes. But when you do not have a fit, employing Stayman just gives the defenders extra information about declarer’s hand.
South starts with seven top tricks: one spade, one heart, three diamonds and two clubs. If declarer can take five diamond tricks, he will be home. But should he cash the top honors or start with a finesse of dummy’s 10?
A priori, a 3-3 split has a probability of 35.53 percent. Most players know that. But few will be aware that the finessing line will work 42 percent of the time, making it the preferable choice.
Win the first trick with your club ace, play a diamond to dummy’s 10, cash the diamond queen, and claim nine tricks.
In general, try not to bank everything on a 3-3 split.