What goes through a world-class player’s mind when he or she stops to think for an age during a hand? I always find it slightly humbling: are they calculating probabilities, spotting chances, and creating contingency plans that mere mortals would find hard to grasp? Almost certainly that’s true, but they’re also doing something else: sizing up their opponents. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve presented a declarer-problem to a top player, only to be asked: ‘Who am I playing against?’
Take this hand. When I asked David Gold how he would tackle the diamond suit, his immediate response was: ‘How good is my left-hand opponent? How good is my right?’ (see diagram)
The ♠10 is led. You play low. East wins with the ♠K and returns a spade to dummy’s ♠A. You now play a low diamond from dummy to your ◆J and it holds. You continue with a diamond towards the ◆AQ and West follows small. What now? Both defenders have played in perfect tempo. Obviously if East began with Kxx you have no chance.
Here was David’s reasoning. If East is a good player, he could well have ducked smoothly holding ◆Kx. But if he’s less experienced, you should assume he doesn’t hold ◆Kx, and finesse the ◆Q rather than play to the ◆A and hope the ◆K drops.
But what about West? Holding ◆Kxx, very good players would duck the ◆J smoothly. So if you rate West highly, that’s another reason to finesse the ◆Q. But if West is an average player, you should assume he doesn’t hold the ◆K and go for the drop.
And now for the really hard part: you need to balance your opinion of West against your opinion of East. If East is the weaker player, go for the finesse. If West is the weaker player — go for the drop! No wonder they sometimes take so long to think…
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10