Searching for a Queen by Matthew Granovetter

 

While the Spingold entries were being seeded and the Life Master Pairs was concluding in a photo finish, I was sitting in the South chair of the last round of the Swiss Teams playing my heart out for fourth place. It's moments like these when you have to stop yourself and ask, "Why am I here?" Fortunately, we bridge players don't do this -- otherwise we might never locate the queen.

 

North dealer North-South vulnerable East-West patient

 

North (dummy)

S K Q 9 3

H T 7

D J 9 6 4

C A J 4

 

South (philosopher)

S J T 7

H A K 3

D Q 3 2

C K T 9 7

 

WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH

- Pass Pass 1C

Pass 1S Pass 1NT

Pass 2NT All Pass

 

Opening lead: H2 (attitude)

 

The auction can be explained. I opened 1C in third chair and over 1S decided to keep the bidding alive with 1NT, because if partner held SA-Q-x-x-x and HQ-x-x-x-x, we were on a finesse for a game. Don't ask why I thought of this (my wife has long since stopped asking). My partner raised, and now I considered bidding 3NT with my good spot cards. But I passed. (This is the trouble with my game -- I don't follow through.)

 

West led a heart, and from the looks of dummy it was a "one-or-three" hand (similar to a "five-or-seven" hand -- if the finesse works you make two extra tricks and you're a damn fool if you're trying to score 500 or 1,000 points less by being in two or five). In other words, I had three spade tricks, two hearts, and two top clubs: seven tricks. If I located the CQ, I probably had nine tricks, not just eight.

 

But I was in TWO notrump, not three, so the stakes were that much smaller.

 

I put up the H10 and let the queen hold. East returned a heart to my ace and I led the SJ. East quickly won and returned his last heart. I won and cashed my spades as West discarded a club and then a diamond, not without first making a comment, "Oh." Oh. I wondered what that meant. He was a top-notch player and there's nothing I love better than trying to decipher those top-notch "oh's". Now where was the CQ? I had pitched a club on the fourth spade (I wanted to make sure I'd make only eight tricks if I did manage to guess the queen -- didn't want to feel bad about making nine in 2NT).

 

Time to count. What were the cards the opponents had been forced to reveal so far? West showed two spades and five hearts. East showed four spades and three hearts. Curses, seven known cards for each of them. Indeed, it looked as if West might have started with 2-5-3-3 and East with 4-3-3-3. There was not much to go on there. Then I heard West muttering something again.

 

In my experience the person who makes sounds at the table generally does not have the queen, and the silent one does. On the other hand, these two were high-class gentlemen and, therefore, capable of using reverse psychology on me. In the meantime, I apologized for taking so long and West said, "Oh, never mind, it's OK," while East said, "It's OK." Again, note East's brevity.

 

How would my students play it? I thought. (Or, what do I teach them?) Well, play the hand with longer clubs for the queen. But I can't find the longer clubs.

 

Another idea I teach is to lead the jack. If East doesn't cover, win the king and finesse back the other way. This is a strategy reserved for lesser opponents, however. Another thought is "queen over jack." After all, we did deal these cards ourselves. I wondered if there was any merit to this -- actually I've been wondering about the merit of this concept for years. Then I realized it had been at least two or three minutes and I still hadn't played a card. I realized it more when West spoke up again, saying, "If he misguesses now, he'll really look bad."

 

Those were fighting words. Good grief, what pressure! I began to sweat. I had to find the thing now. But there were no clues no clues! I took a deep breath. Why was I there? Why was I so concerned about finding this stupid queen? Why when my four-year-old boy loses his stuffed dog, I search for about a minute and then give up, telling him to go to bed without it. But now, when the stakes are so much less, why am I so desperately trying to locate a queen!

 

Then I had a great thought. Where was the board played at the other table? If it was 3NT, South will almost certainly finesse clubs by leading the ace and playing the jack. That way he takes four club tricks easily for nine winners. Therefore, if the queen is on my right, and I score 120 in my precious 2NT contract, I will achieve minus 480 points (600 - 120) for my brilliance. I must, by this sound reasoning, assume the CQ is with talky on my left (even though I don't believe it is, psychologically speaking), so that he (my counterpart at the other table) will be down one in 3NT while I will score 120 and earn 6 IMPs for the team.

 

So I led the CJ (ala my class notes), East played low, I went up with the king and finessed the 10 the other way. It won! Ecstasy! I tabled my cards. Plus 120. Put me in a straight jacket, but I felt wonderful.

 

The full hand:

S K Q 9 3

H T 7

D J 9 6 4

C A J 4

S 6 5 S A 8 4 2

H J 9 8 6 2 H Q 5 4

D K 5 D A T 8 7

C Q 6 5 3 C 8 2

S J T 7

H A K 3

D Q 3 2

C K T 9 7

 

A final thought: They played 1S at the other table, making four after a club lead, and making mincemeat of my analysis. But I did hold the loss on the board to2 IMPs. And we did manage a tie for fourth overall. And, most important, it's the next day and I still feel great about finding the queen. This is why bridge is a fantastic game. Nevertheless, I'm sure that locating my four-year-old's stuffed dog is more important. Maybe I will try harder to look for it next time.