In previous posts I talked about bidding and showed an example of how to play a really good hand. This time we’re going to see how to play a marginal hand, one that isn’t such a cinch. Let’s say you’re dealt this hand:
A♥ Q♥ J♥ 9♥ A♠ 10♠ Q♠ J♠ 9♠ A♦ K♦ J♦ K♣ Q♣ 9♣
Since you have three holes (100 Aces, 60 Queens, Spade run) you go ahead and bid. You get the bid for 230 and get these three cards in the cat:
K♥ 10♣ K♦
Well we didn’t hit any holes but we do have 110 meld: 40 for the Heart marriage, 40 pinochle, 20 for the Club marriage, and 10 for the dix. Hearts are going to have to be trump even though we only have five of them. We could go with Spades since we also have five of them and they’re a little stronger, but we need the extra 20 points the Heart marriage will provide us if it’s trump. That means we need to get 120 points, i.e. 12 tricks, to make our bid. This one is going to be tough because we have a shaky trump holding and a lot of losers. The first thing to decide is which three cards to go down with. I’d go with these three:
10♣ K♦ K♦
Since we melded in every suit we’re not going to be able to clear one out. We want to keep all our Spades because that’s a good secondary suit, so that leaves the Clubs and Diamonds. We’re probably going to lose all those counters, so we should go down with them rather than giving them to the opponents. And that’s 3 of the 12 tricks we need, so we’re 1/4 of the way home! Also notice we’re going down with two of the cards we got in the cat 😦 Thanks a lot!
So how do we play this hand? Well the one thing we’re not going to do is play trumps since we only have 5 of them. We’re going to have to use them to trump in on the opponents’ tricks and we’re probably going to run out even if we don’t lead with them. So what should we do? Remember that a common plan for declarer is to try to establish a second suit. Here we have a nice Spade holding, so we should play it every chance we get. If we’re lucky we may even be able to save our 10♠. So we lead to the first trick with our A♠. Both opponents follow suit with the Jack and Nine. Now we can play our Q♠. If we get lucky one opponent will have to play the remaining Ace and our Ten will be good. So we play the Queen, but unfortunately LHO wins with his King, and RHO adds the other Queen. Looks like LHO has all the remaining Spade counters and we’re not going to be able to knock them out.
LHO leads the A♦ to the next trick. RHO follows with the Ten, and we play our Jack. LHO tries the 10♦, RHO follows with the Nine, and we win with the Ace, leaving us with this hand:
10♠ J♠ 9♠ A♥ K♥ Q♥ J♥ 9♥ K♣ Q♣ 9♣
Well there’s no miracle play we can make at this point; playing trumps is still a bad move and the Clubs are losers no matter what we do, so we just keep leading Spades and see what happens. We lead the Jack, LHO follows with the King, and RHO trumps in with the 10♥. Ah-ha, well at least we burned one of the opponents’ trumps! RHO leads the Q♦ and here’s where the trouble starts. Now we’re going to have to start burning trump. We play the K♥ (that should usually be the first card you trump in with) and LHO follows with the other Queen. We play another Spade and at this point it becomes a little “trumping war” which is a common situation. The bidder and the defenders make each other burn their trump, hoping the other will run out first. After another Spade-Diamond exchange, we’re left with this hand:
10♠ A♥ Q♥ 9♥ K♣ Q♣ 9♣
LHO has the lead and doesn’t want to “break” Clubs (more about that in a later defending post) so he leads out with the A♠. RHO trumps in with the A♥, and we have to play our 10♠. That’s unfortunate because we were hoping to keep that Ten, but what’s more unfortunate is RHO leads out on the next trick with the 9♥! Now we have to play our Q♥, leaving us with just two trumps and three Club losers. LHO wins with the 10♥, but we finally catch a break: he only has Clubs to lead back. He leads the Ten, RHO plays the Ace, and we put our Queen on it. That annoying RHO leads out his last Diamond (the Nine), and we have to trump with our 9♥. But we catch a break here as LHO has to play his J♥. Since you’ve been counting the trump, you know that your Ace is the only one remaining. You now have these three cards left:
A♥ K♣ 9♣
and the opponents only have Clubs. LHO leads the King, LHO puts the Ace on. And we catch our final break as our King is now good, since we went down with one Ten and all the other Club counters have been played. We win the last two tricks, but alas we only come up with 10 total, meaning we’re two tricks short and we didn’t make our bid and have gone set.
So what went wrong? We played the hand as well as we could, but we had a couple things go against us. One of them was that the Spades broke terribly; if they would have been distributed a little differently we could have picked up a trick or two there. Second thing was that the opponents started pounding us with Diamonds right away and didn’t let up. Between the bad lay of the cards and the opponents’ defense we didn’t stand a chance. Sometimes it goes like that and sometimes you make one you shouldn’t have. That’s pinochle!