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The Gambit

I saw this play first in one of the Victor Mollo "Menagerie" books, and so gave myself a mental "pat on the back" for recognizing an opportunity to play the role of Hideous Hog in real life. If gambit play intrigues you, there are also more advanced versions of the idea in Ottlik and Kelsey's marvelous book Adventures in Card Play. You can find more information about both these authors by clicking here, which will take you to an article where I describe my favorite books of all time.

Unfortunately, my play on this hand was far better than my bidding, so even with the success of my "gambit," I still had to go down one (this would never happen to Mollo's Hog, of course). But, even though this was a Flight A event, I received a surprisingly well above average score for -100, so there was some reward beyond the sheer fun of doing it.

Imagine yourself picking up this somewhat unusual hand:

S: AK   H: 7542   D: A   C: KQJ1032  

With your side vulnerable and the opponents not, you open 1 Club with the intent of rebidding strongly in clubs. However, your left-hand opponent throws a monkey-wrench into your plans by intervening with an overcall of 4 Hearts. Partner and the next person pass, leaving it back in your lap. What do you do? The auction has been:

Me      West       Pard      East
1C 4 H Pass Pass

Ideally you would like to make a penalty double here, but you are playing with a fine partner who plays in the modern style, so a double by you here would be for take-out. Probably I should pass, but at the table I decided to bid 5 Clubs, which ended the auction. This is a poor bid as it is unlikely I will be able to dispose of my many heart losers: East will certainly be able to over-ruff dummy.

In any event, no one doubles me so 5 Clubs ends the auction. The opening lead is the 8 of diamonds and here's my "catch":

S: Q 10 8 7 5  
H: 3  
D: K 10 7 4 3  
C: 7 5  

S: A K  
H: 7 5 4 2  
D: A  
C: K Q J 10 3 2  

Prospects are bleak. Dummy has some decent cards, but due to the blockages in spades and diamonds I'm completely cut off from them. The diamond lead is strange; if West had eight hearts she would have all the outstanding hearts, therefore a suit headed by the AKQ -- and so would never have opened a diamond. I'm guessing she has only seven hearts, perhaps headed by the AQJ10 with her partner having the singleton king. None of this helps me very much -- if I try to ruff hearts in dummy, East will surely overruff; if I try to draw trumps, they hold up their ace until the second round, then take four heart tricks. Either way I'm likely to be down three.

But something about the three and two of trumps in my hand reminds me of a Victor Mollo hand, and I come up with a better idea. I win the opening diamond lead, unblock my spade A-K, and play the K of trumps. East ducks, so I lead the Q of trumps; West shows out, so trumps are breaking 4-1. East wins and tries a diamond back, but I ruff, and pull a third round of trump with the J, leaving this position:

S: Q 10 8  
H: 3  
D: K 10 7  
C: ---  
            S: 9  
            H: A  
            D: Q J 9 5  
            C: 9  
S: ---  
H: 7 5 4 2  
D: ---  
C: 10 3 2  

Now the key play -- instead of pulling East's last trump with my high trump I intentionally execute a "gambit" play by leading instead my 2 of trumps. East makes an unexpected second trump trick, and can cash her Ace of hearts, but has to concede the rest to dummy, as spades are splitting 3-3. I get to discard all three of my little hearts on the revived dummy -- I've gambited one trick and won back three!

Now that I look back on it, I notice an interesting symmetry to the hand, with myself having blockages in spades and diamonds with my AK doubleton and A singleton, but the defenders also suffering from the blockage of their singleton A of hearts. South couldn't get to North and East couldn't get to West and thus had to play the role of stepping-stone to allow declarer to cross the river.

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