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July 8, 2014

Do you need to win five tricks or six?

Edgar Fiedler, an economist who worked under presidents Nixon and Ford, said, “Ask five economists and you’ll get five different answers -- six if one went to Harvard.”

In this deal, how would you play the club suit if you need five tricks? What if you require six?

South is in six no-trump and West leads the heart jack. With the given hands, what should he do? And suppose the diamond king were only the queen. How would that affect declarer’s approach?

South’s leap to six no-trump with only 17 high-card points seems optimistic, but since North has shown at least a six-card club suit and all of South’s points are in aces and kings, it is a reasonable gamble.

South needs five club tricks to go with two spades, three hearts and two diamonds. As he can afford one club loser, declarer should take the first trick and cash dummy’s club ace. Here the king drops and South can claim. But if the king does not appear, declarer crosses to his hand and leads a club toward dummy’s queen. The likelihood of success is about 72 percent.

Now let’s weaken the South hand by metamorphosing the diamond king into the queen. South can get home with either five clubs and two diamonds, or six clubs and one diamond. To find out which way to turn, he should take the diamond finesse first. If it wins, he tackles clubs as just described. But if the diamond finesse loses, declarer needs six club tricks. He must play low to dummy’s queen and hope West started with exactly king-doubleton. South’s chances have dropped to just under 50 percent.

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