Eight sometimes, nine sometimes?

Pat Harrington

Plan your play in 3NT with the hands shown below. You are playing in a team game that is scored by IMPs. The opening lead is the 5.
♠6 4 2
J 10 4
A J 8 6 5 2
♠J 10 9 3
K 7 4
♣ A K 6 5

West North East South
Pass 1 Pass 2NT
Pass 3NT All Pass

South’s rebid shows a balanced hand too strong for a 1NT opening and not strong enough to open 2NT. Using 15–17 1NT openers, the 2NT rebid shows 18–19 high-card points. Notice that South skipped over the spades. I usually advocate showing your major on the one level but make an exception with opener’s 2NT rebid.
With a game-going hand, responder still has room to show a four-card major. The only time a major suit will be missed is when responder is very weak and passes opener’s highly invitational 2NT rebid. With that
weak a hand, however, responder will frequently bid a four-card major the first time. North carries on to game, hoping that the long diamond suit will be a source of tricks in 3NT.
When planning your play in notrump, count winners. You have two hearts, two diamonds and two clubs in top tricks. Three more tricks must be developed. The diamond suit offers the chance to build the needed
tricks. The question is how to play the suit. The Q is missing. Should you bang down the ace and king, playing for the queen to drop — or should you finesse?
The bridge maxim “eight ever, nine never” may come to mind. You have nine diamonds between your hand and dummy, so the saying suggests playing for the Q to drop. (With
eight or fewer cards in the suit, the saying advises the finesse.)
Bridge maxims are often good advice, but they don’t replace logical
thinking. What if the Q doesn’t fall under the ace or king? You can lead a third diamond to drive it out, but you will find yourself looking at those diamond tricks you worked
so hard to develop sitting in dummy with no way to reach them. Entries are very important when developing a long suit. Once you recognize that, you might opt to take the finesse to assure your contract as long as both
opponents follow to the first trick.
The full deal:

♠ 6 4 2
J 10 4
A J 8 6 5 2
♣ 9
♠ Q 8 ♠ A K 7 5
Q 8 6 5 3 9 7 2
Q 10 3 9
♣ 10 8 3 ♣ Q J 7 4 2
♠ J 10 9 3
K 7 4
♣ A K 6 5

Cashing the K and finessing the jack ensures your contract, but on this occasion, you end up making an overtrick. Recall that the form of scoring is IMPs. Overtricks are nice
at any form of scoring, but at IMPs the reward is small. One undoubled overtrick will translate into a gain of 1 IMP at best. While some team matches are won by a single IMP, many more are lost when one team makes a game that went down at the other table.
It’s not so simple when you are playing in a pairs game. In that setting, even 10 extra points can mean several matchpoints — the difference between an average score and a top. But is it worth it when you could go down?
My advice is that when you (the newcomer or intermediate) play in a pairs game, look for safe overtricks but don’t risk your contract for them. When you get better and play in a field of experts, you might occasionally risk your contract to go for an overtrick.

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