District 25
NEBridge - John Stiefel: Can't Cost #2

The Can’t Cost (CC) Principle #2

by John Stiefel

Originally printed in the U126 Kibitzer

To review the “Can’t Cost” (CC) method of play: if you know a particular play can’t cost, just do it. You don’t need to figure out if or how it might gain, only that it can’t lose. Said another way, it’s often easier to figure out a “can’t cost” play to an early trick than all the details of what might happen later. CC Chapter 2 features this hand from a Regional Knockout where a very fine player went down but would have made it if he had applied CC. (Would I have made it? Of course! I know the East-West hands!)

West dealer
Both sides vulnerable
K J 3 2
A 2
K 7 2
Q 8 4 2
Q 10 9 4
Q 9 4
10 9 4
10 7 6
8 6
A Q J 8 6 5 3
A J 9
A 8 7 6
K J 10 7 5 3
K 5 3
South West North East
  P 1 1
1 P 1N P
4 P P P

Opening lead: 10.

The auction is interesting, and I have a couple of comments. First, I prefer 3 to 1 with the East hand. With West being a passed hand and East having a low-ranking suit, East-West don’t rate to buy the hand; so why not apply some pressure? East at the other table did that, found himself on lead against North’s 3NT (after South bid 3) and ended up setting the contract four (!) tricks.

Second, what about North’s rebid of 1NT with four spades? Most people would rebid 1♠ but I think that’s wrong based on “Dynamic Hand Evaluation” and “9 < 10.” “Dynamic Hand Evaluation” says that the value of the North hand started out at 13 points but fell to 10 points (most likely) in a suit contract when East overcalled. In a notrump contract, however, the North hand is still worth 13 points. “9 < 10” says that game in notrump requires only nine tricks while game in a major requires ten. So which is better, a hand worth ten points to support a quest for ten tricks or a hand worth thirteen points to support a quest for nine tricks? Also, South might have a hand strong enough to be interested in a suit slam, so isn’t it a good idea to warn him now about potential wasted strength in diamonds?

At any rate South bids 4 and ducks and ruffs the opening lead. Then:

Trick 2 – Trump to North’s ace, East and West following low

Trick 3 – Trump finesse, losing to West’s queen

Trick 4 – 9 ruffed.

Trick 5 – King of trump, North and East throwing diamonds

Trick 6 – ♠A

Trick 7 – Spade to North’s Jack, East discarding a diamond

Trick 8 – Club to South’s king, East ducking

Trick 9 – Club, ducked by West and North, East’s jack  winning.

Trick 10 – ♦A, South ruffing with his last trump.

At this point, the three-card ending is as follows and South can only take one more trick for down one. He can set up dummy’s thirteenth club for a spade discard, but he’s out of trump, so East will cash two diamonds if he tries that.

Q 8
Q 10
8 7

Well, how does CC apply here? I’ll answer that with a question. How can it cost to start working on clubs at trick 3? East must have the ♣A, and he probably has a lot of diamonds (or West would have scraped up a raise even without many points) so therefore not a lot of clubs, and if East has three or fewer clubs including the ace, playing clubs now can never cost.

So lead to North’s A, play a club to South’s king and then a club to East’s jack at trick 4. Now East can’t tap South in diamonds without surrendering the game-going trick to dummy’s king; he has to play a major suit. He’ll probably play a heart (a spade or the ♣A won’t help). This gives South the key tempo, so he can try the losing trump finesse, ruff the diamond return, draw the last trump, take the winning spade finesse and still have one trump left when he sees that the spades aren’t going. Having the one trump left allows him to concede a third-round club trick to East’s ace, ruff the A return and score the game-going trick with the fourth round (queen) of clubs.

Going back to DT (deep thought), it’s possible to think ahead along the lines of “what if the hearts are 3-2, the Q is off, spades are 4-1, the ♠Q is on, clubs are 3-3 and East has the ace? Then won’t I have to start on clubs first so I don’t get tapped out?” Isn’t it easier, though, to ask, “how can it cost to play clubs first?”

In summary, the CC line of attacking clubs first is as good or better than the “normal” line of attacking trumps first in almost all likely layouts consistent with the opponents’ bidding (including the actual layout). Only in very unlikely layouts (e.g. East has a hand like ♠__  Q x x  AQ J x x x,  ♣A J x x) is it inferior.